The World's Worst Weather
from the book, "Petrified Lightning"

Book: 
Petrified Lightning

The World's Worst Weather

The top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire has been designated as the place with the worst weather in the world. Situated at the convergence of three major storm pathways, the 6,288—foot summit of Mount Washington almost never has a nice day.

Combinations of bitter wind, intense cold, snow and ice, clouds, and fog are responsible for Mount Washington's unsavory reputation. The strongest wind ever measured on land, 231 miles per hour, was clocked on this mountain. About 250 inches of snow falls annually at its summit, and the average year—round temperature is below freezing. A layer of permanently frozen ground extends from a depth of about 20 feet to 100 feet below the surface. The mountain's official low temperature is 47 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, but cold combined with consistently high winds at the summit produces wind chill temperatures that often exceed 150 degrees below zero. On one out of three days between November and April, the winds exceed 100 miles per hour, and clockings of over 150 miles per hour are recorded almost every winter.

As inhospitable as Mount Washington is, the mountain has always held a fascination for adventurers. Called "Place of the Great Spirit" by native people of the region, the mountain had become a popular tourist attraction by the 1860s, when parties of mountain climbers flocked to the summit. Nearly a hundred people have died in their attempts to climb the mountain. Deaths resulted from falls, exposure, and simple inexperience in how to deal with the capricious mountain weather. No matter how bad the weather at the beginning of the climb, it can always take an impulsive turn for the worse.

One of the best known and earliest of all the mountain's recorded victims was Lizzie Bourne, a member of a climbing party that began an ascent to the peak on September 14, 1855. Arriving at a rest stop, Halfway House, the group was advised to stay overnight and complete their climb in the morning. Disregarding the advice, the climbers continued upward and quickly encountered strong winds, freezing cold, and dense fog. Finally the exhausted adventurers built a stone windbreak and huddled together to spend the night. Lizzie Bourne died of exposure in the late evening. The next morning, the survivors discovered that they had given up their struggle against the storm only a few hundred yards away from Tip Top House, an inn located at Mount Washington's forbidding summit.