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New museum capture's Mt. Washington's extreme weather

Special to the Union Leader
June 21. 2014 7:40PM
Many of the individual displays at the new Extreme Mount Washington exhibit focus on the peak's extreme weather. (COURTESY)

The previous museum at the Mt. Washington Observatory, which opened in 1973, has been revamped into Extreme Mount Washington.Mount Washington Observatory/Courtesy

While the word extreme may be overused in today's popular culture, there is no better term to describe Extreme Mount Washington, Mount Washington Observatory's entirely revamped mountaintop museum.

Acknowledging the previous museum was outdated - it opened in 1973 - Scot Henley, executive director of the observatory, said the objective behind the four-year project was clear.

"We wanted to give visitors a much deeper, more memorable and educational interactive experience," he said.

To achieve that, he noted the focus was to present an aspect of Mount Washington that many area visitors rarely experience themselves.

"This museum has 100,000 visitors each summer, but many of them never see the brutal, horrible weather during the winter," he said. "Extreme Mount Washington tries to capture it."

Expressing excitement at its recent opening, Director of Education Michelle Cruz agrees and said it is important the museum helps visitors understand the "real environment of Mount Washington."

"The weather Mount Washington is exposed to is just 'wow,'" she said. "It might just appear as a bump on the earth compared to other mountains out west, but its exposure and prominence make for some of the most extreme conditions on the planet."

Noting it is the tallest point in the northeastern United States, Cruz said Mount Washington is also located at the convergence of three major storm tracks, which contributes to its extreme status as a meteorological point of national interest.

As for the exhibits themselves at Extreme Mount Washington, Henley cited their high-tech, interactive nature, noting visitors will be able to experience Mount Washington at its most extreme. In its Snowcat Simulator, for instance, a high definition video shot from the point of the driver will guide visitors up the mountain.

"Visitors can control the action, too, with a joystick that will allow them to pan left and right," he said. "The simulator also features a rumbling sound with authentic radio chatter, and the panoramic display shows both fall and winter images, which is important because the mountain itself is covered in fog 60 percent of the time."

One exhibit provides a time-lapse video on the formation of rime ice, which grows into the wind and appears to the eye as frozen clouds. Another component enables visitors to choose from a menu of videos in which individuals recount harrowing, personal "sudden weather" stories on Mount Washington. Video in other portions of the museum will cover a variety of subjects, such as what it is like to work a winter shift at Mount Washington as well as the peculiar weather dynamics atop the mountain that, in fact, make it so extreme.

According to Henley, the end result of the museum's major overhaul is "a dramatic improvement of the visitor experience. This is the most visited museum in the state, so we want to educate visitors about Mount Washington and reinforce the fact that even though it is beautiful now, flip the calendar four months and you have the most brutal place on earth," he said.

For more information about Extreme Mount Washington, go to www.extreme.mountwashington.org.

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