The Veterans War Memorial Tower in winter. Temperatures at the top of Mount Greylock can reach 30 below zero.
The Veterans War Memorial Tower in winter. Temperatures at the top of Mount Greylock can reach 30 below zero. (Eagle file photo)
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ADAMS -- The climate at the summit of Mount Greylock has been hostile to any structure built there, including the Veterans War Memorial Tower and two other towers that came before it.

"This time of year it's nice up there, but starting in September it starts to get harsh, and it stays that way sometimes through May," said Henry Art, professor of biology and environmental studies at Williams College. "It is a beastly environment."

With temperatures bottoming out at minus 30 degrees at the summit, 70 inches of average snowfall and acid deposits left by clouds containing pollution, vegetation and manmade objects have a rough time in the winter, Art said.

"Acids being deposited on the tower will attack the mortar" in between the granite stones that make up the tower's exterior, he said.

Then there is the ice and frost. When the moisture thaws and then refreezes, the expansion cracks the granite and the mortar.

"It gets very cold at night, and if there's a bright, sunny day it tends to thaw," Art said. "So you get that freezing and thawing and freezing and thawing, sometimes on a daily basis.


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At 3,491 feet in elevation, Mount Greylock's summit is the only subarctic, or boreal, climate in southern New England. To put it in perspective, most of Sibera has this environment of very cold winters and cool summers.

In a 2009 report on the history of Mount Greylock authored by Deborah E. Burns and Lauren R. Stevens, it is noted that there have been four towers at the summit.

"Of the four towers that have stood on the summit, all but one have suffered greatly from the severe conditions," the report reads. "The first tower known to have been built on Mount Greylock, in 1830, had decayed by 1841, when the second tower, containing meteorological instruments, was built."

The second tower burned down after a lightning strike. A third tower fared better: It was an open ironwork observation tower, which was taken down to make room for the Veterans War Memorial Tower.

During the winter at the summit, Art said, nearly everything is coated with hoar frost -- trees, rocks and towers. It is a white wonderland -- wonderful to look at, but hard to survive.

Art said that he and some students have gone to the summit in January and February to measure the meteorological conditions, and found it to be an extremely hostile environment.

"I took my gloves off to adjust an instrument, and my hands wouldn't work," he said.

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com,
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