Mount Washington Observatory host grand re-opening of mountain-top museum

By John Koziol
Union Leader Correspondent
June 14. 2014 5:52PM
Joined by dignitaries including Sen. Kelly Ayotte and her son Jacob, who assisted Owen and Cabot Henley, Gov. Maggie Hassan on Friday cut the ribbon at the grand re-opening ceremony for Mount Washington Extreme, the Mount Washington Observatory's $1 million transformation of its 41-year old museum atop the highest peak in the Northeast. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

GREEN’S GRANT – With Gov. Maggie Hassan, Sen. Kelly Ayotte and other dignitaries on hand, the Mount Washington Observatory on Friday celebrated the $1 million grand re-opening of New Hampshire’s highest and most popular museum.

Built in 1973 as the Mount Washington Museum and operated since then by the Conway-based MWOBS, the new museum, which is billed as “An interactive experience at the top of New England,” will be known as Mount Washington Extreme.

The name change, which was made possible by four years of planning, extensive fundraising and some creative construction, better reflects the observatory’s focus, which is weather and more, specifically, the winter season, said Executive Director Scot Henley.

Located at the 6,288-foot summit of the highest peak in the Northeast, the MWOBS is one of the few mountain-top weather stations in the world, Henley added.

Hassan noted that the old museum drew 100,000 visitors annually during its relatively brief season.

The governor was one of several speakers who pointed out the irony that Mount Washington – which is generally agreed to have “the worst weather in the world” – reinforced that perception on Friday when rain and heavy fog on the Mount Washington Auto Road forced the grand-opening ceremonies to be held in the auto road’s Base Lodge rather than in the new museum itself.

Famous for the auto road, which is the oldest manmade attraction in the U.S., Mount Washington will always be remembered for the “Big Wind” of April 12, 1934.

On that date, at 1:21 p.m., observers at the MWOBS recorded a wind gust of 231 miles per hour, which is the highest wind ever recorded by human beings, and, according to the observatory, “the highest natural surface wind velocity ever officially recorded by means of an anemometer, anywhere in the world.”

In April 1996, tropical Cyclone Olivia generated a top wind of 253 mph when it passed over Barrow Island, Australia, but the speed was recorded by automated equipment, not by human beings, which allows Mount Washington to maintain its unique honor.

The anemometer used to record the “Big Wind” is one of the items on display at Mount Washington Extreme which also boasts a new hands-on snow cat simulator that gives visitors the opportunity to feel and see what it’s like to drive up the auto road in winter.

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