Winter Is Coming: After Record-Breaking Warmth, Snow Returns to Mount Washington

October 2, 2017
Photo: Courtesy of Mount Washington ObservatoryEarly season snowfall is a common event on Mount Washington. Here a young snowman welcomed winter on October 9, 2012.

On the last day of September, the summit observatory atop 6,288-foot Mount Washington recorded sub-freezing temperatures (27 degrees Fahrenheit) and 0.3 inches of snow. It wasn’t the season’s first snow atop the Northeast’s highest point—that actually occurred a month earlier, on September 1—but it was a telling reminder that the creeping fingers of Old Man Winter have begun to tighten their hold across the high elevations of New England.

All this following three straight days of record summit warmth earlier in the week, with new all-time highs set on September 24 (65 degrees Fahrenheit), September 25 (63 degrees), and September 26 (67 degrees). To put this in context, consider that the highest temperature ever recorded in any month atop Mount Washington is just a few ticks higher (72 degrees) and that the average daily high in September is a chilly 47.1  degrees.

It’s another classic example of New England’s wildly variable weather, which routinely whipsaws between warmth and chill. It also illustrates the challenges and risks of tackling the region’s high peaks in fall, when summit conditions can be significantly colder, windier, and more hazardous than what hikers experience at lower-elevation trailheads. (Consider that reported ground conditions atop Mount Washington on the morning of October 1 were “patches of snow w/ ice/rime covered rocks”—a small example of the treacherous hiking conditions that can await in New England’s alpine zones.)

At this time of year, it’s even more crucial than usual to check the observatory’s Higher Summits Forecast before you hit the high mountain trails and to always carry adequate clothing and gear to handle winter-like conditions, including warm layers, a hat, gloves, and—perhaps most importantly—an outer layer that effectively blocks the bone-numbing winds that rip across New England’s mountainous roof.

For a quick review of recommended gear, check out AMC’s comprehensive hiking checklist for winter conditions. And for general safety tips and guidance on hiking in New England, also be sure to review the wealth of information available at HikeSafe, an initiative specifically designed to promote hiking preparedness and educate you on how to be prepared.

Finally, remember that the days are getting rapidly shorter at this time of year, which makes it essential that you pack a headlamp or flashlight in the event that your hike takes longer than expected.

Hike on!

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Matt Heid

Equipped blogger Matt Heid is AMC's gear guru: He loves gear and he loves using it in the field. While researching several guidebooks, including AMC's Best Backpacking in New England, he has hiked thousands of miles across New England, California, and Alaska, among other wilderness destinations. He also cycles, climbs, and surfs.