Monday, August 29, 2011

8-29-11 Quick Follow Up on Hurricane Irene

As most of you know Hurricane Irene went straight north from New York City into southern and central Vermont and eastern New York via the Poconos. It did not come up the Connecticut River Valley and curve towards the east and Central New Hampshire as anticipated. However, the Mt. Washington Obs reported heavy rains of 6.6 inches during Sunday and a peak gust of 104 miles an hour with a day-long average of 44 miles per hour. Several videos emailed to me show intense flooding in the Pinkham Notch-Jackson, NH area. Youtube has this video, made by Jim Doig of Jackson NH, for viewing:

Flooding throughout the White Mountain National Forest, I imagine, is on the scale shown in this video of the Wild River in Jackson. There were reports that the Ellis River in Pinkham Notch was particularly high and it's logical that the Dry River, the Ammonoosuc, the Peabody, the east and west branches of the Saco River, the Gale River, etc. must have been at those same flood levels. I'll forward any data I get.

8-31-11: Keith Wehmeyer sent some photos this morning of Crawford Notch at height of rain over the Irene weekend. Here's a link to see the pix:

He also reported that the most damage reported was at Guyot Shelter not from the storm but from a bear (an old friend of mine) that ransacked the caretaker's tent. Thanks for the info Keith!

A photo of the Ellis River in Pinkham Notch during above normal, seasonal floods in the fall of 1976. As turbulent as this looks it probably was dwarfed by the volume of water generated by the Hurricane Irene storm system. The river last Sunday (8-28-11) may have had 3 or 4 times more water than this and 8-10 feet higher during peak flows.

The volume of water in the stills and videos provided by Keith and James show rivers and streams turned into monsters. With that kind of force the water can move just about anything. It's safe to say that whether it was careening down an existing channel, or moving in sheets downhill through tracts of forest it will be moving thousands of tons of logs, rocks, whole trees, boulders, gravel, soil, probably animal carcasses, and wiping out anything in its path that isn't tied down. It's rare, with the exception of a tornado, to see anything as destructive as water when paired with gravity. Remember the photos from last year's massive avalanche in Ammonoosuc Ravine? Just think of water volume in the Ammonoosuc River last Sunday with that much water and that much raw power and then think about all those trees the snow shattered on its way down the mountain. I wonder where all those trees are today.

8/31/11 Another email from Keith Weymehr reporting that the damage to roads and the back country is astronomical. Route 302 in Crawford Notch is closed and will be for a while. Route 16 through Pinkham Notch is negotiable but rough in sections. That will probably change during the week. The biggest news he had to report were the number of new landslides that have been seen including a large on on Mt. Bond. Information will get more accurate about slides during the next 10 days, particularly with the three day weekend coming a lots of folks out on the trails. Thanks Keith.

9/4/11. Doug Dodd called this morning. He drove through Pinkham Notch from the south and as far as Pinkham. He then climbed up through Tuckerman's Ravine to Lakes of the Clouds and then down Boott Spur. He said it was amazing to get a sense of the enormous amount of water that was funneled down the trails he was hiking on. All the water bars were filled with gravel and sand, but he said at one point on Sunday afternoon the volume of water must have been a once in a century occurrence. He reported that Rt. 302 is still closed, Rt. 16 in Pinkham Notch has a lot of washed out edges, the Zealand Road is closed, Dolly Copp B road is closed, and the Jefferson Notch Road is also closed. He didn't know about the Base Station Road but we were both wondering what the Ammy looks like from the Cog Station up to the top of the Ravine.

9-8-11 Ellis River Photos

Jim Hamilton sent in these photos showing the Ellis River in Jackson close to peak level during the storm, and, below, for comparison, taken after the water subsided a bit. The difference between them appears to be 15 feet. Jim, thanks. The comparison helps.

The Ellis River from the same spot as above a day after the surge.

9-17-2011-I haven't been North of Northampton for 2 months now. It seems like ages, but I'm churning to get up and look at the ravines around the Presidentials, and Walker Ravine on Lafayette, etc. Updates regarding Hurricane Irene have dropped off but the storm hasn't been forgotten. Even though Hurricane Irene, in its fury, didn't come close to the White Mountains the intense storm system it pushed North will always be associated with the name Irene and considered an epic event in the White Mountains. The amount of "precip" the storm system unleashed was profound. It "flushed" the entire WMNF system of brooks, streams and rivers, pushing these water courses to record (or near-record) hydraulic tolerances. In the process the storm was responsible, probably, for moving millions (and millions) of tons of detritus including logs, sand, gravel and rocks of all sizes miles downstream closer to the ocean. It was a "mass wasting spectacular", you might say, moving the mountains a little closer to the sea.

Friday, August 26, 2011

8-26-11 As I was driving home from work tonight a message from Ari alerted me to this astonishing event:

The U.S Forest Service has announced the closure of the entire White Mountain National Forest for two days due to the unprecedented danger posed by Hurricane Irene. This includes all AMC and RMC (Randolph Mountain Club) huts and shelters, all U.S.F.S. shelters, all trails, and all campsites. The White Mountain National Forest will be closed from 6 pm Saturday night, August 27th, until midnight Monday night, August 29th.

The warning has several implications the most obvious one being that the Mount Washington Weather Observatory has issued a warning of intense flooding in some areas and with the amount of rain that's predicted (possibly 4-5 inches) this would pose an extreme danger for hikers and campers almost anywhere within the WMNF. High winds, including some above 100 mph, or even higher, may occur and will exponentially increase danger to hikers and campers.

From all the predictions being aired tonight (8-26-11) this storm is truly a major event, one we allude to as a major "disturbance" (like the 1938, 1954 and 1958 hurricanes) or a Century Storm (sometimes referred to as a "100 Year Storm" which means that you only see one this intense, or memorable, in a 100 years). At any rate it seems we're about to witness a storm of great intensity that may cause intense damage to areas in the WMNF. We can expect some landslides, a lot of flooding of all streams and rivers in the forest with resulting damage, and possibly long term changes in some areas including disappearance of roads and trails due to wash outs (as in the great storm of 1826 that destroyed the road in Pinkham Notch). It's a terrible thought but this storm could cause major damage to any of the AMC and RMC huts and shelters. Closing the WMNF is a first for me. I don't remember any other time in the past 60 years, at least, that it has been officially closed like this (which isn't saying that it hasn't been closed at some point possibly due to forest fire hazards at one time or another).

I have a copy of a letter written by Carl Blanchard to a friend describing his experience riding out the 1938 hurricane at Lakes of the Clouds Hut. It was quite an adventure. He described how the whole hut "quivered" in the wind and how the heavy front door of the hut kept blowing open
violently and repeatedly no matter how well the croo tried to secure it. At one point Carl tried to pull is shut just as the door blew off its hinges and nearly took him with it down the Ammy as it sailed out of sight in the storm. The door was later recovered.

I have to say I'm one of those people who wishes I could be up at Lakes or Galehead, or any of the huts, to ride out Hurricane Irene. It would be a great adventure. I'm also frustrated that I won't be able to be in the mountains the days following the storm to document the damage it does. Ah well, maybe next time.

This Just In: All hut croos are to stay in their respective huts for the duration of the hurricane (unless they decide to go and raid another hut). Nifty!

8-23-11 Convalescing and Waiting for Irene

This is a photo of Mt. Adams from Sam Adams taken at 6 pm August 30, 2010. I'm republishing these photos (below) that first appeared in a story about Madison Spring Hut exactly a year ago. I've done a little more work on them, tweaking them in Photoshop, while I recover from major surgery that occurred on August 1st. It's been a long haul, but an adventure, too. Three or four days on morphine was kinda fun. When I arrived at the hospital the morning of the surgery I was confident that I was going to hop up off the operating table after the operation, thank the doctors, and drive back to work but it didn't work out that way, alas. Instead it was a week in the hospital and another week pretty much on my back at home with strange tubes sticking out of me. Anyway, that's all behind me and I now have the added confidence that I'm in excellent health.

In the meantime, my daughters were here taking care of me, and Liz spent some of the time going through my iPhoto albums and picked out photos she particularly liked including these from the Madison overnight last August. I agree with her. I took them in a swirl and printed them right after the trip. Looking at them now I see some that are indeed lovely but needed more work. They include the following series of the sunrise from Mt. Madison looking over at the clouds on Mt. Adams and the sun coming up over Madison (all happening simultaneously) the morning of August 31st (2010). The light is astonishing.