Happy New Year! This year, I rang in the new year at Kitt Peak National Observatory. My shift started on the first and I wanted to get to the observatory before too many people who had been up late celebrating hit the road. Also, this time of year, there can be ice patches on the road to the observatory, which meant that I wanted to be as alert as possible during my drive. Up here at the observatory, the weather is force we have to contend with regularly. The photo below shows a rain storm happening in the valley below the observatory. Imagine what it’s like when a storm like that is on top of us!
Clouds that threaten rain or snow keep us closed not only because optical telescopes can’t penetrate such a layer, but also because the precipitation will damage the equipment. One job of a telescope operator is to make sure the equipment remains functional and observers stay safe.
Rain and snow actually can present a bigger hazard than simply stopping observing. Rain can cause rock slides on the road to the observatory and has been known to unseat boulders larger than my car! The wind up here can blow strong enough that it’s almost impossible to open the door to the telescope enclosure. In fact, one night we had a wind gust so strong that it caught the door and slammed it into the back of a co-worker’s head, stunning her! She went to the emergency room, which is over an hour away, but fortunately she proved to be okay.
Sometimes when we get snow at Kitt Peak, it builds up on the catwalk that surrounds the outside of the building, where we can walk around and get an unobstructed view of the surroundings. If temperatures freeze that snow becomes chunks of ice which can plummet fifteen stories to the ground below. One of those hit my boss’s car, destroying his trunk.
Stephen King wrote about monsters lurking in a mysterious fog in his novella The Mist. However, sometimes I find the weather itself can be as scary as any monsters I might imagine out in it. I explore that idea in my forthcoming novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. When I write about weather trapping people in buildings and doing damage because something large has been hurled into a dome, I’m writing from experience!
I hope the weather doesn’t get too severe for you in this new year. If it does, I hope you can relax somewhere in warmth and safety with a good book. Until The Astronomer’s Crypt comes out, I might suggest Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order or Vampires of the Scarlet Order. All best wishes for the new year!