A gray cat named Nimbus is providing cozy companionship to weather observers atop the highest peak in New England.
Nimbus joined the Mount Washington Observatory staff In New Hampshire in April 2021, joining a long list of resident mousers who have lived at the facility since its inception back in 1932.
The first known MWO cat was Tikky, and subsequent cats include Oompha, Blackie, Ammonuisance, Elmer, Manx, George, Inga, and Nin.
The summit cat prior to Nimbus, Marty, passed away in late 2020. Marty was well-loved by the staff and fans around the world, and a search was launched to find another cat with an equally sociable demeanor.
The staff chose the new cat from four candidates at the Conway Area Humane Society and decided on the name Nimbus because of the cat’s gray color.
“He’s named after the type of cloud that produces rain,” said Francis Tarasiewicz, a Weather Observer & Education Specialist.
Kitty of the Clouds
“Typically, (cats) have been used to help with mousing, as well as kind of helping with morale up here…a cuddly friend, especially up here on the summit…just how brutal it can be at times,” said Tarasiewicz. “Our entire 90-year history has featured furry friends.”
Nimbus is still a youngster, at just a couple years old. He was transferred to New Hampshire from a rescue in Oklahoma.
Before, he was pretty aggressive, grabbing hot dogs…and things like that.
“Many of us suspect that maybe he, in his past life, was a street cat just because of his lack of hesitation with going after food,” said Tarasiewicz. “He’s gotten a lot better, but before, he was pretty aggressive, grabbing hot dogs from the state park side of the mountain where they sell hot dogs and things like that. There’s even a little sign that says, ‘naughty Nimbus’ and has his face like a wanted poster.”
The Observatory, located at an elevation of 6,288 feet, monitors the weather and reports observations to the National Weather Service for use in nationwide forecasting models and regional reports.
MWO is staffed around the clock, operated by two alternating crews who live on the summit for a week at a time, with two day observers and one night observer. Crews can drive to the summit via a road; in the winter, access is often through a snowcat.
“He Really Makes This Place Home”
The Observatory shares the multi-level building with Mount Washington State Park, and Nimbus has the run of the place.
“He’ll not only stay on our side of the building, but he’ll also go over to State Park, where I think he gets a few more treats than maybe he should,” said Tarasiewicz. “Pretty much the summit is his own.”
Tarasiewicz said Nimbus has food bowls in the pantry and has two litter boxes.
“He’s got one downstairs in the living quarters and then one up here in the weather lab,” he said.
Tarasiewicz said Nimbus isn’t allowed to sleep with staff members.
“As much as I would love for that personally to be different…we’ve got a bunch of people coming and going from the summit, so if anyone has a cat allergy, anything like that, we don’t want dander on the bunk beds.”
So, the favorite sleep spot for Nimbus is the couch in the living room.
“He likes to nestle his way into the between the couch and the armrest,” said Tarasiewicz. “That’s a pretty common spot for him.”
On the Job
Nimbus is a skilled mouser.
“Pretty much on a weekly basis,” said Tarasiewicz. “And he lets out a pretty creepy yowl noise. I kind of listen out for it every night and it’ll wake me out of sleep sometimes.”
Nimbus is a comforting presence for Observatory staff members, particularly during overnight shifts when there’s just one person on duty.
“Nimbus will kind of assume his spot on the desk,” said Tarasiewicz. “Or what we’ll frequently do is set up another chair for him. So, I like to lift him gently and then place him on the chair and he’ll fall right asleep on the chair.”
Zoomies at 6,000 Feet
On the flip side, Nimbus can be a mischievous storm cloud.
“(He) specifically sits on our various weather forms that we’re trying to fill out,” said Tarasiewicz. “I’ll set out other papers, I’m like, oh, here’s a perfectly warm pile of papers fresh out of the printer, and nope, I think he likes the attention. But then he tries to bite the pencil as you’re writing down information, he’ll try to bite the eraser and turn it into a bit of a game where he’s kind of batting it around. So, he’s helpful sometimes but sometimes I think he over-extends himself.”
And in typical cat fashion, Nimbus gets the zoomies at all hours of the day.
“I don’t really know his schedule quite yet,” said Tarasiewicz. “But typically I would say around dinner time, it’s a good sort of prime zoomie time, and then, surprisingly, in the morning as well. I’ve seen him, um, get his zoomies and usually, you know, it’s kind of getting ready to run when he’s digging his claws into the carpet a little bit, winding himself up, hyping himself up, and then he’ll just take off. And he’s, of course, the dark gray kitty so he’ll blend in with the background, and sometimes he’ll come up and surprise the heck out of you.”
Summit cats typically live out their lives at the Observatory, but some do “retire” due to failing health or advanced age.
“They generally go to the valley,” said Tarasiewicz.
The white and black cat named Nin, who inspired the book “Cat in the Clouds,” was taken in by park rangers when he retired in 2007 at age 19 or 20.
A True Adventure Cat
When the weather is nice, Nimbus does like to venture outside.
“We’ll typically find him hiding in some of the little caves in the rocks and things like that,” said Tarasiewicz. “But he knows where his food is, so he’ll come back reliably.”
Nimbus wears a tag that reads, “Hi, I live on the summit. Please do not remove me” because previous cats were “rescued” by visitors who thought someone abandoned them on the summit.
Any donation to the nonprofit MWO qualifies you for a one-year membership—funds are used to continue climate and weather science on Mount Washington, as well as Nimbus’ care, and members are able to take tours of the observatory where they might even catch a glimpse Nimbus on one of his daily patrols.
I honestly feel like I know him more than my cats sometimes, because we all go through such extreme weather.
“If they’re lucky, (Nimbus) will be out. But he’s very much on his own schedule. He doesn’t mind new people necessarily, but it’s always a bit of luck to catch sight of him in person…but he does like pets and scratches, especially.”
Weathering the Storm
In February 2023, Tarasiewicz was among the scientists staffing the weather station through 13 hours of -45° F temperatures and 15 hours of wind chills below -100° F. While it was an all hands on deck event for the staff, Nimbus was cozy, warm, and blissfully unaware.
While social media followers appreciated the hard work of the staff, they expressed concern about Nimbus.
“We’ll make a few social media posts in a row about the weather or you know what observers are going through and people are like, ‘That’s amazing and all, but, uh, how’s Nimbus?’” said Tarasiewicz.
Throughout the years, summit cats have been featured on postcards, T-shirts, and other souvenirs. Nimbus is depicted via a stuffed animal that’s available for purchase in the Observatory’s gift shop.
“He’s family for sure,” said Francis. “You really do get to know him. I have [my own] kitties, but I honestly feel like I know him more than my cats sometimes, just because we all go through such extreme weather. He doesn’t seem too bothered by the extreme weather overall. But he really makes this place home. I’m sure the rest of the crew agrees.”