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Going to extremes to rebuild a mountaintop museum

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 20, 2014 at 11:56 am •  Published: June 20, 2014

Just last Sunday, the weather changed from blue skies and sunny to foggy with 70 mph winds in seconds. Visitors struggled to stay upright as they moved about outside. Inside, they were able to still enjoy the view thanks to a feature of the new museum: three large screens that show a 180-degree image taken on a clear fall day.

Demolishing the old museum down to the studs and rebuilding it wasn't easy.

Once the museum closed for winter last fall, crews from the Appalachian Mountain Club went to work preparing the site while the new exhibits were built in Massachusetts. As soon as the snow melted enough to make the auto road passable, another crew drove them up in box trucks.

One group got stuck at the summit for an extra two nights because of a late May snowstorm, and heavy rain and wind forced the museum's official ribbon-cutting ceremony last week to be held at the base of the mountain instead of the summit.

"It's pretty ironic that extreme weather messed with the opening of an extreme weather museum, but we roll with whatever Mount Washington dishes out," said Scot Henley, executive director of the Mount Washington Observatory, a nonprofit research and education organization that has operated the summit weather station since 1932 and the museum since 1973.

A centerpiece is a snow machine simulator that lets users experience what Henley calls "the most harrowing commutes in America." Sitting in front of a large video screen, visitors use a joystick to "steer" the machine down the snowy auto road.

The museum also features the original anemometer used to record the 231 mph wind. A remote sensor recorded a 253 mph gust off Australia during a 1996 typhoon, but Mount Washington's record was observed by man, hence the distinction in the record books.