This past week has been a quiet one for Mark and I. But when it’s quiet for us, that usually means it’s hectic elsewhere.
There has been a storm parked over West Antarctica for the past several days now. A weather observer who will be going to West Antarctic Ice Sheet camp (WAIS) has been in correspondence with the folks who are already at the camp, and he says WAIS has been experiencing Condition 1 weather for the past 2 to 3 days! Here’s a recap of the 3 different “conditions” that the United States Antarctic Program classifies in Antarctica:
Severe Weather Condition I
- Winds greater than 55 knots sustained for one minute, or
- Visibility less than 100 feet sustained for one minute, or
- Wind chill greater than -100°F sustained for one minute.
Severe Weather Condition II
- Winds 48 to 55 knots sustained for one minute, or
- Visibility less than ¼ mile, but greater than or equal to 100 feet sustained for one minute, or
- Wind chill -75°F to -100°F sustained for one minute.
Weather Condition III
- Winds less than 48 knots, and
- Visibility greater than or equal to ¼ mile, and
- Wind chill temperature warmer than -75°F.
These categories are used primarily for work and travel purposes. If the weather is too harsh, it can be potentially deadly for someone to drive a truck out to the airfield. They are also an easy way to describe how harsh conditions have become. Also, one thing I find amusing is how extreme the weather needs to be just to go from Condition 3 (good weather) to Condition 2.
While weather was terrible at WAIS, it was also poor over the Ross Ice Shelf. Very windy conditions over the shelf and in McMurdo led to many flight cancellations, and the town was almost at a stand-still for a couple of days this past week; science groups like ours who were hoping to get either helicopter or Twin Otter flights were cancelled, and flights to and from Christchurch were cancelled.
Although staying in town may not be glamorous, it can be very helpful for our field work. It gives us time to reorganize tools and equipment and prepare cargo for future visits. One of our station visits to Harry AWS, from WAIS will involve swapping out the existing electronics and instruments with new ones. During this downtime, Mark and I were able to gather the new instruments and test them to make sure they were working properly. Now we can get them into the cargo system to be shipped to WAIS. We are now preparing for flights for next week by talking with the helo and Otter coordinators and letting them know what sites we would be able to visit so they can consider those when they make the daily schedules.
Given the bad weather at WAIS, it has delayed our group’s deployment out to the field camp. The Condition 1 weather has set the camp staff back a day or two, as they will now need to dig out from all of the accumulating and blowing snow they’ve received the past few days. They also need to re-prepare the airfield at the camp so planes can land there safely. Mark and I have received word that we will hopefully be going to WAIS before the Thanksgiving holiday (which is 28-29 November here, rather than actual Thanksgiving on the 26th), so we will just have to wait and see. In the meantime, we are trying to do as much work out of McMurdo as we can.