Mount Washington wind chill hits minus-108, snapping U.S. record
Feb. 4, 2023 Updated Sat., Feb. 4, 2023 at 6:31 p.m.
The wind chill at the summit of New Hampshire’s Mount Washington dropped to minus-108 degrees on Friday, marking what meteorologists and climate scientists say is probably the lowest recorded in the history of the United States at a time when the Northeast is getting battered with dangerously cold air.
Videos recorded by the nonprofit Mount Washington Observatory show how the extreme cold and strong winds of more than 100 mph from the arctic air blast walloped the summit on Friday afternoon – and made the mountain with the tallest peak in the Northeast look like it’s not from Earth. In fact, the eerie scene atop Mount Washington was slightly colder than the average temperature on Mars this week, according to NASA.
The wind chill at Mount Washington, a 6,228-foot peak known for its erratic weather, surpassed the record of minus-102.7 degrees set in 2004. The observatory forecast winds to blow as high as more than 100 mph sustained on Friday night, with gusts around 128 mph.
The Mount Washington Observatory tweeted on Friday afternoon that the daily record temperature set in 1963 had already been broken and that temperatures were “expected to plunge even lower overnight.” And they did just that, dropping to minus-108, according to the National Weather Service. (The Mount Washington Observatory clocked the wind chill at minus-109 degrees.)
“The 96 mph winds (gusts to 127 mph) are producing a wind chill of -108 F,” the agency wrote Friday night.
A spokesperson with the Mount Washington Observatory did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday morning.
Francis Tarasiewicz, a meteorologist with the Mount Washington Observatory, told WMUR in Manchester, N.H., that the record-breaking wind chill capped off “an amazing day, an awe-inspiring day and actually a bit of a frightening moment.” Tarasiewicz noted how the strong wind, which he described as “a topsy-turvy whiplash,” blew the hinge off a door at the observatory.
The meteorologist, who pleaded with hikers to stay off the trails on Saturday, warned that such extreme wind chills would result in frostbite on exposed skin in less than a minute.
“On some of my observations, there have been tiny little gaps in my mittens and the spot that was uncovered to the wind felt like a bee stinging my arm continuously,” Tarasiewicz said.
The National Weather Service said the temperature at Mount Washington dropped as low as minus-46 degrees on Friday night.
“Right now Mount Washington is living up to the reputation of having the worse weather in the world,” the National Weather Service wrote.
The record-breaking wind chill at Mount Washington is part of the dangerous cold air invading the Northeast that has nearly 50 million Americans in 15 states under wind chill alerts into Saturday. Parts of Maine are going through their most extreme wind chills in at least a generation, while New England cities like Boston, Providence and Bridgeport, Conn., all set record daily lows in temperature, according to the National Weather Service.
Brian Brettschneider, a climate scientist based in Alaska, tweeted how the last time the wind chill could have hit at least minus-108 in Mount Washington would have been 138 years ago. Using old climate forms showing the temperature and 24-hour average wind speed, Brettschneider estimated that Mount Washington would have seen a minus-108 wind chill on Jan. 22, 1885.
Meteorologists and weather experts from across the country were blown away by the record-breaking wind chill.
“Mount Washington, New Hampshire, has experienced the most extreme weather on planet Earth today,” wrote Colin McCarthy, a storm watcher based in California.
“Mind-blowing observations from Mount Washington,” said Lee Goldberg, a meteorologist with WABC in New York.
“Woah!” exclaimed Brandon Orr, a meteorologist with WPLG in Miami.
Others on social media noted grappled with the extreme weather they were witnessing at Mount Washington.
“[The] Mount Washington summit looks like another planet,” one observer tweeted.
As weather experts pointed out, Mount Washington found itself in the stratosphere Friday night as the result of a lobe of the polar vortex that barreled south. The atmosphere becomes more compressed as it cools, meaning that the boundary dividing its two lowest layers, the troposphere and the stratosphere, known as the tropopause, will sink in altitude.
That’s what happened on Friday night – said Terry Eliasen, a meteorologist with WBZ in Boston, who noted on Twitter that the atmospheric heights were so low on Friday that anyone above 4,000 feet, such as the summit of Mount Washington – would be in a different atmospheric layer.
“This layer is typically 4-12 miles up, but tonight it will be less than a mile!” he tweeted on Friday alongside a graphic projecting how far the stratosphere would dip.
By Saturday morning, there was good news and bad news for Mount Washington, according to the observatory.
The good news? The wind chill was no longer minus-108 degrees at the summit.
The bad news? The wind chill was a balmy minus-77 degrees.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe now to get breaking news alerts in your email inbox
Get breaking news delivered to your inbox as it happens.