Life on top

If you still think that success equals climbing to the top of corporate ladder, then you should read about success on a real “top”…

Tomasz  Nasiółkowski is a meteorologist and a tour guide who works on Snow Mountain (Śnieżka/Sněžka) for the Institute of Meteorology and Water Management (IMGW). It is perched at 1603m on the highest mountain peak in south-west Poland, and the unofficial symbol of Lower Silesia (Dolny Śląsk) region. It is also the highest peak in the Czech Republic, as the Polish-Czech border runs through the summit.

In his job, Tomasz is required to observe the state of atmosphere, conduct meteorological measurements and send in the data he collects for the creation of weather reports and forecasts. In his other job, Tomasz works as a guide around Sudetes Mountains as well as in Asian or African countries.

Meteorological measurements have been continuously conducted on Snow Mountain since 1880, which has resulted in a staggering collection of data covering a 130-year span, one of the longest-running collections in the world.

“Working on top (of Snow Mountain) is unique, because of all the environmental phenomena,” says Tomasz, who has been working there for 2 years. “Many of the meteorological events that take place in the mountains, such as Brocken spectra, sea of clouds or St. Elmo’s fire, never happen in the lowlands, and so I had previously only heard stories or read about them in books. For many, the Snow Mountain is a magical place.”

The Institute of Meteorology and Water Management (IMGW), under the Ministry of Environmental Protection, is a leading entity in Poland dedicated to studying and forecasting phenomena in the atmosphere and hydrosphere. The Institute is partly funded by the government, and is partly a self-financed entity.

Occupation: meteorological observer in a mountain station

“We work in shifts – about 2 weeks at the top, then we get about a 2-3 week break. Then I go back to Jelenia Góra where I live to work on my own business in the tourism industry, that is,  guiding tours.

Being at the top, I spend most of the day in the “UFO” observatory, from which I have a 360-degree panoramic view. During this time, I perform continuous observation of the atmosphere. I focus on the appearance and disappearance of various phenomena – rainfall, snow, storms, fog, etc. I also analyze the flow of the cloud cover, additional phenomena, as well as observing the cloud baseline and visibility – none of which can be done by a computer. Every 6 hours I have to go to the meteorological garden a few yards away, and measure the rainfall and the amount of snow cover.

I display the current weather data on the monitor: temperature, humidity, wind, etc. A moment before sending the telegram with meteorological data, I walk out onto the terrace or on the mountain top, and from there make a visual observation. I prepare the telegram every hour, but during the occurrence of dangerous phenomena, an additional warning telegram should be sent regardless of the regular hourly messages. The telegram consists of a sequence of digits known to meteorologists around the world. It is a special code which has allowed observes to exchange data and provide it to forecasters from around the wrold. Then, using data from multiple weather stations, they draw up the weather forecasts. There is a network of meteorological stations throughout the world, which takes measurements without fail every hour.

All stations operate in the same manner, have the same procedures and all of them send data every 3 hours, which goes into the international exchange. In the same exact minute that I go to the top of Snow Mountain, someone else is “toiling” in the Arctic Circle, someone is in the tropics, and someone is going to take the measurements deep in the desert.. “

The study of climate change and the “Black Triangle” region

Not all observatories are located in environmentally extreme places, most are set up at airports, in agricultural areas or in health spas. But the mountain stations provide a sort of early-warning system, because the phenomena taking place in the upper parts of the atmosphere occur much more dynamically, and often precede the situations that occur in low lying areas by several hours. In Poland, there are only two stations located in the mountains: on Snow Mountain and on Kasprowy Peak in Tatry Mountains.

“Many sectors benefit from the data we collect and the forecasts that are created from it, including industry, power engineering, transport, tourism, agriculture, forestry and even insurance companies! Meteorological data is made up of a whole series of databases that researchers have developed over the years by looking at tendencies and trends. For example, based on the data collected by me and by my colleagues, we know that the climate in the mountains of central Europe is getting warmer.

With the measurements gathered from several stations, we can look at environmental problems and climate changes on a global scale. Knowing that our data is an essential piece in the “climatic puzzle,” brings a lot of satisfaction, and then I know that I have contributed to a survey that has truly had a global impact.

20 years ago , the area where I currently work was the most polluted area in Europe and it was called the “Black Triangle”. The area was a total ecological disaster. In the 70′s and 80′s, hundreds of acres of forest died there. Therefore, in addition to standard meteorological measurements, we also study atmospheric pollution for the concentration of sulphates and nitrates.

In total, there are seven of us in the observatory, but because we work in shifts, we rarely see each other. Each shift lasts 12 hours, so sometimes I work during the day, sometimes at night. When I take over the shift, the other colleague goes to sleep and we usually pass by each other. I love the peace that prevails during my work, because I am alone during the shift. Still, a frequent meeting place for us is our kitchen. Each of us has different interests, but we all share a special bond with Snow Mountain. The longest-serving observer has worked on Snow Mountain for about 30 years”.

Timeliness, accuracy… and culinary skills

My work is primarily suitable for people who love nature, because I am constantly in direct contact with it. Besides, you need to feel good about yourself, because you work by yourself – very much cut off from the surrounding world.

If someone wants to work on the mountain station, they must be in good physical condition, must have a good sense of orientation and mobility in the mountainous terrain. It is always good to know how to perform minor maintenance work and how to repair various things – working in such a remote area often leaves us dependent only on ourselves, and from time to time the electronic equipment will fail and will need to be repaired. And it is good to have some culinary skills, because every employee on Snow Mountain is responsible for their own cooking.

During the observation period, above all, punctuality and reliability are a must. First, you need to send the meteorological message punctually. Second, it must contain accurate and reliable information. False or fabricated data could endanger people’s lives.

We often receive calls from gliders who ask about wind direction and speed, because at the height of 1600m above sea level, these parameters can be quite different than in the lowlands. It is our duty to give accurate information. If we didn’t do our jobs and gave incorrect information, it could end up tragically.”

My education and the  journey of my life

“To become a meteorologist, higher education in the natural sciences, preferably geography or environmental protection is a must. The candidates who have also completed a specialization in meteorology and climatology have the greatest chances. I graduated with a degree in geography at the University of Wrocław in 2006. Thanks to two years of specialization in meteorology and climatology, I quickly managed to find myself in this work.

But just getting that dream job was the biggest challenge. I had already been thinking about getting a job as a meteorologist at Snow Mountain during my fourth or fifth year of study, but there were no vacancies, so I had to wait. I began doctoral studies, which I abandoned after one year, and set off for an eighteen-month journey through Asia.

It really was the trip of a lifetime! In the meantime, I continued thinking about Snow Mountain, but unfortunately, there were no posts available. My patience and persistence were rewarded though two months after returning to Poland, and I finally got my dream job.

In the meantime, the trip I took turned out to be an irreplaceable life experience. I mostly hitchhiked and I tried to get closer to the local people and their culture. Then I completed the appropriate courses for a tour guide and got a license to work with tourist groups. I was hoping that these skills would turn out to be useful one day, and I wasn’t disappointed, they have already proved their worth. Recently, I’ve been starting to see how that travel has paid off and how it was the key to my present success. Thanks to my previous experience, I am now traveling to India, Nepal, Kenya and Tanzania as a tour guide and I make my living out of it.

In my spare time, I usually remain active: I go skiing, hiking or travel to visit my friends. Recently, my main job has been to repair the old but stylish apartment that I have recently bought. I am an amateur photographer, too, immortalizing the performances that occur in the atmosphere.

As in any job, sometimes there are moments of crisis

… that need to be faced. In my case, getting to work can be one of the most difficult things. When one carries a 15-20 kg backpack and comes up against hurricane-force winds, snow, fog and ice, the way up can look really bleak. Under normal conditions, the peak can be reached within one and a half to two hours, but if I encounter bad conditions, the walk can take up to six hours. Snow Mountain is a well-known place among meteorologists for its wind speed, which can reach up to 200-250 km per hour – an unbroken record in all of continental Europe – and also for the number of foggy days – almost 300 days per year. The wind and the fog are the most dangerous phenomena in the Giant Mountains and they often stop the meteorologist from getting his work done. But addressing these challenges makes us only stronger. Each walk in harsh conditions prepares us better for the next approach.

Night shifts can also be tiring, especially in the morning when, despite the fatigue, you need to stay alert. Missing a deadline on sending the message is not an option as huge consequences could come from such negligence! Additionally, another negative side of my work is its impact on my private life. I spend a lot of time away from home and one of the challenges is reconciling my work and my private life. One needs to build a relationship with a very tolerant partner, to trust each other and, like in the mountains, to fearlessly face the challenges that arise in your private life.”

There will always be someone, who tells you that this is not a way to make a living

“My interests and passions guided me through the selection of my studies. I have never regretted my choices, although I was worried about finding a job. There were plenty of students in computer sciences, business or marketing all around me, and many of them mocked me that as a geographer, saying that I am incapable of accomplishing anything. Constantly though, I was thinking of Snow Mountain, trying to find a way in, and in the end I succeeded.

Now I know that one should always follow their own path and believe in it, ignoring the voices that tell us that it is not worth it. We will always hear someone telling us that you can not live from geography studies and that only a degree in IT or business will pay off. Still, I believe that you need to head towards your goals, focus all your thoughts and energy on it, and consistently pursue the path. Your choice of major does not decide whether you are financially independent or not, but how you use the knowledge you have gained.

Professional success is also my personal feeling of happiness, satisfaction with myself and what I have achieved. I used to think about taking a similar job in the Alps, the mountains of Norway, or New Zealand. Perhaps sometime in the future that I will make the change, but for now, no way! Snow Mountain is my second home and I haven’t found any place on Earth like it.

I encourage you to visit the following websites:

About my work as a guide:

About Snow Mountain:

Thank you in advance!”

***Photos by Tomasz Nasiółkowski

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