The 'Worst Weather in the World'

Jockey Edgar Prado signs his name and "Love Forever" on a giant get-well card to Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, site of the 138th Belmont Stakes, June 10, 2006. Prado rode Barbaro to victory in the Derby and was aboard him when he suffered a career-ending injury early in the Preakness Stakes two weeks later. AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams

CBS News Correspondent Jeffrey Kofman takes us high atop Mount Washington, a place with a climate much like that found on Mount Everest, where scientists find a ready laboratory for studying extreme winds and cold.


I confess. It was the journalistic equivalent of a Stupid Pet Trick.

We're visiting the weather observatory atop New Hampshire's Mount Washington. This place proudly boasts that it has the "Worst Weather in the World."

I believe it.

The temperature outside is 3.7 degrees F, and the winds are gusting to 75 mph. That's hurricane force. By Mount Washington standards, it's also mild. Winds are like this one out of every three days.

The peak of Mount Washington is a slice of the Arctic in the heart of New England, which is why it's so appealing to scientists. It's one of the best places to do cold weather research anywhere, and certainly a lot more accessible than the South Pole.

MT Washington Wildcard

So we've come to chronicle the story of the observatory and the research that goes on here.

On those rare moments when the clouds lift, it's a spectacular perch, surrounded by the White Mountains and the Northern Presidential Range: Mount Eisenhower etc. But for most of our time up top, there is no view, just ferocious winds and pelting ice that covers everything in minutes.

Our challenge: to capture the power of the winds on camera. What better way than walking and talking to the camera? It seemed like an inspired idea at the time.

With the camera perched in a doorway, I inched out across the roof deck and grabbed a safety rail. In order to keep the ice off the camera lens, I had to walk toward the camera with the wind and ice blowing right at my face.

I was surrounded by railings, so I knew I wasn't going to get blown down the mountain. But common sense told me to try the walk just once. With my words committed to memory, I mustered both strength and, uh, courage.

It was like wading through water fully clothed. I had to use all my weight to push forward, walking at times at a 45-degree angle...tilted toward the camera. Talking all the way, I made it, relieved and determined not to push my luck. We'd done another version of the same on camera a few hours earlier during our Snow Cat ride to the peak. If this walk didn't work, we knew we had a backup.

When I got to the camera, producer Jason Sacca looked at me in horror. Ice had formed on my left nostril and left cheek. Underneath, my skin was white.

Frostbite.

The weather station is staffed 365 days a yer. It includes bunk rooms and a kitchen/common area, as well as the data center. I stayed inside for the rest of the evening, watching in horror as my nose blistered. Fortunately, there was no lingering damage.

Sadly, the sound of the howling wind rendered ususable our recording of that perilous walk. After all that crazy effort, we couldn't use it on air. Click the video above to see and hear why we couldn't use it.

Fortunately, we had a backup on camera. It looked and sounded fine.

It's not a stunt I'd recommend.

I won't even pretend it's great journalism.

But this is a visual medium and, more than anything, pictures tell the story.

If you want to see what it's like atop Mt. Washington right now, check out the live webcam at www.mountwashington.org and find out more about the weather observatory.

And no. You will not not see me wrestling alligators on any upcoming editions of CBS Evening News.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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