Programming in the Extremes
It was his first day on the job, and already Dave Quigley ’12 couldn’t see a thing. The computer science and math major had been shoveling outside the Mount Washington Observatory when his goggles completely fogged up thanks to his heavy breathing and the surrounding mist. It didn’t help that he was standing on a concrete football field at the top of New England with 70-m.p.h. winds tearing at his ankles.
“It’s completely disorienting and crazy that weather can be that powerful,” said Quigley, who interned at the observatory for the winter. “It’s an extreme force on you. I was kind of nervous the first day.”
Quigley, who took the spring semester off to rewrite software for the 12 active weather instruments at the observatory, was one of two interns on the mountain’s four-person team. The Colby junior’s project increased the observatory program’s efficiency at collecting samples, a welcome contribution, as there is no full-time employee on the mountain with a computer science background. But for Quigley, who grew up skiing at nearby Wildcat, the internship was also about experiencing winter in the White Mountains.
“I just love the area, and getting an opportunity to come up here for the winter is pretty unique,” he said, noting that 74-mph hurricane-force winds occur about every other day there. “You can’t really experience stuff like this anywhere else.” The Mount Washington Observatory, a nonprofit organization, has since 1931 been collecting data that goes to the National Weather Service for forecasting, to affiliated universities for long-term research, and to ski and snowboard reports for local mountains.
A typical day for Quigley started at 6 a.m. It would involve shoveling emergency exits and entrances, climbing up to de-ice the tower, working on his internship project, or hosting hiking and university trips that came to the summit. “But it’s kind of unpredictable up here,” he said. “Any of a number of things can happen. Depending on where the winds are coming from it’s like keeping a sinking ship afloat. With a southwest wind, there’s lots of rain.”
After their shifts ended at 5 p.m., the four-person crew cooked dinner and joked around before relaxing and watching television. Added Quigley: “We kind of enjoy it when there’s no one up here.”