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Mount Washington Museum To Get Big Overhaul

This article is more than 7 years old.
In this Feb. 1, 2007, file photo, wind and driving snow are seen on the top of Mount Washington, in New Hampshire. (Jim Cole/AP, File)
In this Feb. 1, 2007, file photo, wind and driving snow are seen on the top of Mount Washington, in New Hampshire. (Jim Cole/AP, File)

A small museum atop the Northeast's highest peak is about to get a whole lot cooler.

The 40-year-old museum run by the Mount Washington Observatory is planning a major overhaul designed to give summer visitors a feel for the mountaintop's extreme winter weather. The 2,750-square-foot space will stripped down to the studs and filled with modern, hands-on exhibits that will educate the public about what it takes to research some of the world's worst weather.

"The new museum will deliver the winter experience to the summer visitor," said observatory director Scot Henley, who announced the plans Thursday. "The days of having specimens behind glass in a museum is on the way out. This new museum experience is built on interactivity."

For decades, Mount Washington was known as home to the fastest wind gust ever recorded on Earth — 231 mph on April 12, 1934. It lost that distinction in 2010, when experts reviewing extreme weather data discovered that a 235 mph gust had been recorded in Australia during a 1996 cyclone. But Mount Washington still claims to be home to some of the world's worst weather given the combination of bitter cold, snow, wind and freezing fog it frequently experiences.

The new museum, designed by Jeff Kennedy Associates Inc. of Somerville, Mass., and dubbed "Extreme Mount Washington," will include the instruments used to record the famous 1934 winds, along with log books and other items from that era. Children will be able to climb on a snowcat vehicle and use its controls to "drive" up the mountain via a video simulation and experience what Henley called the "craziest commute in America."

Other exhibits will feature video footage captured by documentary filmmaker Tom Guilmette, who spent nearly a month on the mountain recording its fierce weather and frigid beauty. An exhibit on rime ice, the feathery substance that forms when super-cooled water droplets in clouds freeze onto rocks and structures, features Guilmette's time-lapse video of the ice growing into the wind.

The Mount Washington Observatory is a private, nonprofit organization that maintains a weather station at the summit of the 6,288-foot mountain. Its mission includes weather observation, research and education, and the museum is the key component of that, Henley said. It has raised $719,000 toward the project's $825,000 total cost, and is hoping more donations arrive soon to allow it to stick to a rigid construction schedule.

Given the mountain's extreme weather, demolition must happen in the fall in order for the museum to reopen next spring, he said. The exhibits and other structural elements will be designed to be easily transported to the summit yet durable enough that they won't require much maintenance, Henley said.

"The interior building work, the partition walls, the electrical, the networking — all that kind of stuff — has to happen over the winter months, so when the last bit of ice melts off the auto road in the spring, it's going to be like a huge 'Extreme Makeover'-style effort," he said. "Renovating a museum from the ground up on top of a mountain is quite a task."

This program aired on May 23, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.

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