It has snowed three times in Pinkham. It’s not even Halloween yet, not to mention Thanksgiving or Christmas. That’s not to say that is has snowed in New Hampshire three times already; on the contrary, merely one mile down the road there have barely been flurries, and no measurable accumulation of snow. Why the discrepancy? Is the Pinkham Notch Visitor Center cursed by Boreas, god of the cold North Wind? Does Pinkham have the cruel misfortune of being situated at a magic portal to the Netherworld?
Surprisingly, the latter statement is not far from true; Pinkham sits at the base of Mount Washington, proudly infamous for being home of the world’s worst weather. Pinkham is truly a gateway for hikers to ascend the snowy heights of this seemingly cursed mountain. Still, despite this proximity, the real reason for October snow lies in elevation.
For every 1,000 feet of elevation gained, air temperature decreases approximately 3-5° F and precipitation increases approximately 8-10”. This is equivalent, in fact, to hopping in the car and driving north 500 miles.
So, if for example you were visiting the neighboring valley of North Conway that sits at 550’ above sea level, you may still enjoy comfortably sunny weather and nearly peak foliage. But drive up the highway a few minutes, the mountains begin to loom overhead, the temperature starts to drop, clouds are suddenly visible overhead, and you notice that the foliage is all gone as if in the dead of winter. In a matter of moments, as you reach the turn for Pinkham, you car has climbed to 2032’ of elevation, and you may very well step out into a white blanket of romantic wintry snow.