1 November, 1999
Well, we finally got some weather. Antarctic weather and how.
Yesterday it clouded up and began to snow. This was the first falling snow I had seen since I got here. There was less then an inch of accumulation of the dry snow, but the wind is constantly blowing so the blowing snow causes visibility problems and the drifts have to constantly be removed from the roads. This morning the weather had deteriorated markedly so I paid a visit to Mac Weather. I was told that an area of low pressure was over the southern Ross Ice Shelf and is moving to the North. As this low-pressure system moved closer, they thought the winds would increase. They were right. As I looked at the satellite image of the low-pressure system, I was a bit confused. It was showing clockwise rotation. Then I remembered that I was in the Southern Hemisphere. Low-pressure systems, such as winter storms, rotate in a counter-clockwise direction in the Northern Hemisphere. Here the rotation is the opposite, with highs rotating counter-clock wise and lows clock-wise. (In fact, I am very surprised I have not gotten any questions about which way the toilets flush in Antarctica.) Once I made this adjustment, I started to recognize the components of the storm system.
They have a system of classifying weather conditions here in order to determine safe travel conditions. The conditions are classified as condition One, Two, or Three. Condition ONE is when any one of the following are true: Visibility is less than 100 feet; Wind is greater the 55 knots; The wind-chill is greater than - 100 F. Condition TWO is when any one of the following are true: Wind speed is between 48 - 55 knots; Visibility is less than 1/4 mile but greater than 100 feet; The wind-chill is greater than - 75 degrees F but less than - 100 degrees F. Condition THREE is anything better than condition TWO. In other words, Condition Three is the best weather; Condition One is the worst. We have met the visibility criteria for Condition Two (less than ¼ mile) in McMurdo and the visibility in some places has dropped below 100 feet. Making it Condition One. (See notice below.) We have also had wind gusts reported as high as 46 miles per hour. Do we ever have Condition One weather in Wisconsin?
During a Condition Two, travel outside of McMurdo is limited. During a Condition One, travel is not permitted. The road to Scott Base, the center for the New Zealand Antarctic program, is under a Condition One. The Kiwi scientists, including many of the people who work on the Cape Roberts Project, have been stranded in McMurdo for the night The weather has also prevented core samples to be flown by helicopter form the drill site, so this has given all of the people in the lab a chance to catch up on the backlog of samples. All in all, no one seems too upset by the weather caused inconveniences. If you would like to see a polar-orbiting satellite image of the Ross Sea area including Ross Island go to: http://www.mcmurdo.gov/operations/weather/dailysat.html.
Another very exciting thing happened today. A New Zealand film crew working for Fox TV was in the lab today. They are doing a special for American TV on Antarctic research. They have been filming segments on much of the research centered out of the Crary Lab. They took some of footage of me processing samples in the palynology lab. Maybe you'll see me, or at least my hands, on the Discovery Channel someday! Tomorrow I will tell you all about my visit to Mac Weather and forecasting on the 7th Continent.
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