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Expected record lows for Mount Washington prompt warnings against travel

Clouds gather over Mt. Washington in the late afternoon of a winter day in 2022. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Clouds gather over Mt. Washington in the late afternoon of a winter day in 2022. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Hikers should avoid traveling to the White Mountains this weekend, officials warn, as a cold snap headed for New England poses life-threatening conditions in the popular winter destination.

At the region’s highest peak, Mount Washington, weekend temperatures could reach record-breaking lows.

The worst of the cold is expected Friday night into early Saturday when a combination of low temperatures (-45 to -50 degrees Fahrenheit) and extreme winds (80 to 100 mph) may cause the summit to feel like -100 to -101 degrees Fahrenheit, said Francis Tarasiewicz, a weather observer at the Mount Washington Observatory.

“It’s really a generational cold event up here in the White Mountains,” he said, speaking from the summit.

If the observatory’s predictions come to pass, Friday’s temperatures would beat out the all-time low of -47 degrees Fahrenheit that was recorded in 1934.

Though it’s possible temps falls short of the forecast by a few degrees, Tarasiewicz is confident the reading will surpass the lowest temperature ever recorded on a Friday. (The lowest monthly recorded temperature for February was -45 degrees Fahrenheit in 1943.)

Tarasiewicz said people should heed the do-not-travel warnings from the stateseveral New Hampshire departments, including officials Fish and Game and Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

“We’ve put out extended messaging up [I-93] into the White Mountains to encourage our hiking community to try to curb their activities through the weekend as we see these extreme temperatures,” said New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu at a joint press conference Thursday.

Jay Broccolo, director of weather operations at the Mount Washington Observatory, emphasized how “dire” the conditions would be for anyone who happened to get caught in the White Mountains: “It could really only take taking a glove off and then within a minute your fingers are almost unable to move.”

Other warnings the experts shared? Breathing outside can freeze over goggles and impair vision. Camp stoves may not work, and fuels may become gelled.

And maybe the most serious: The severe weather would likely hamper rescue operations.

“The reason why this is [so] noteworthy to us is it takes a very small mistake to then cast a cascade of poor decision making and failures, which could ultimately lead to death — and has happened many times before,” Broccolo said.

All buildings in the upper alpines are closed. Only buildings for weather operations, like the observatory, will stay running.

And Tarasiewicz reassured that he and his colleagues there will be fine.

“We’re in a well heated building. We’ve got kerosene fuel that actually won’t freeze in these types of conditions,” he said. “We’ll be hunkering down and looking out for each other in the summits.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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