Dec 8 – Tuesday
This past Sunday, into early Monday morning, a strong storm came through WAIS. This storm consisted mostly of high winds and blowing snow. Winds were sustained at around 25 to 30 knots (I think – this is just my guess as I don’t have the official numbers). During this time, snow drifts accumulated and grew between the tents. Pictures, and videos, really tell the whole story, and I wish I could send those along real-time, but I’ll be sure to include them once I am able to.
Visibility decreased to around 300 feet at times, leading to “Condition 2” weather. I spoke with one of the weather observers here, and she said that while she didn’t observe Condition 1 weather when she made her few weather observations, she said that most likely Condition 1 weather did occur at times. This meant that visibility got down to lower than 100 feet! This is testament to how high the winds were and much blowing snow there was.
For much of the day on Sunday, people in the camp were either hanging out in the Galley tent or the Rec tent. We either watched movies or played board games all day. There really wasn’t much else to do!
It was very difficult to sleep in our tent on Sunday night. The winds were whipping the tent, and at times I was worried the tent would get picked up and blown away! Of course, we have the spoiled science tent to sleep in, which is large, heated and well secured to the ground. I couldn’t imagine sleeping in a single-person mountain tent during those winds. Then I would have really been worried about blowing away.
By 7 am on Monday, the winds had died down and the blowing snow had tamed. Skies cleared, and it turned out to be a very nice day. One impact of the blowing snow is that the topography of the camp becomes very uneven, so the camp crew needs to bull doze the snow drifts down and groom the surface so it’s even and easily to travel on. The ski-way, where the planes take off and land, also needs to be groomed so planes, such as the LC-130 and the Twin Otter, can use it safely. If the ski-way isn’t well groomed, a pilot may fly over it and decide that it doesn’t look safe enough to land and they will choose not to. Grooming the ski-way is very important. That Monday morning, crews got to work right after breakfast to make the camp and ski-way safe for travel again. It’s impressive to see how quickly and methodically they do this work. Everyone knows their role, and by the end of the day the camp looked like it did on Saturday, before the storm.
Meanwhile, Mark and I haven’t flown since we went to Thurston Island. When the weather has been good at WAIS, it was poor everywhere else. And of course when there’s a storm at WAIS pretty much everything is at a standstill. Today is no exception, as the weather is good here but a no-go at all other sites. Mark and I are planning to leave WAIS to go back to McMurdo tomorrow night, Wednesday 09 December. Given we wouldn’t be leaving until the night, we may be able to have one more chance to fly during the day. There’s talk of some high winds coming this afternoon and remaining until Wednesday morning, so we will see how that affects our plans.