Thursday, April 23, 2009


Our communications with the "Real World" go through the BITF (Black Island Telecommunications Facility). My coworker, Antz Powell ( is in charge of keeping the satellite communications gear out there working.

There is weather monitoring gear at BI, and the weather folks here keep tabs on the wind, etc. there. Black Island is across the bay from us, about fifteen miles roughly south of us. BI gets a lot more wind than we get here on Ross Island-- 100MPH winds are not uncommon there.

During our last big storm (last weekend), it really got howling out there. The weather station reported that winds peaked out at 192 knots (221 MPH). Breezy!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Snowy April

After the last post we got another big storm, breaking the record for snow in a 24 hour period in April again. 20 inches this time. Snow generally doesn't just fall here, though. It's so windy that we get ten foot drifts here and there, with little snow in between. I don't know about the statistics, but I think I've seen more snow in the last two weeks than in the previous twenty-some months on ice. There is a drift the size of a school bus in the driveway to my shop-- about ten feet high and forty feet long.

It snowed all day yesterday and all last night, and it wasn't particularly windy. I had to wade through ankle-to-knee-deep snow to get to work this morning-- very unusual for McMurdo. This whole continent gets on average less than two inches of precipitation a year, so it's a big deal that we've gotten about four feet of snow in the last two weeks. Some drama in the last storm, too-- we had two fires in the firehouse, and off-continent communications were down for 16 hours, due to power failures.

Some time in the last couple of days (I lost track) was the last sunrise. We still have a bit of light in the middle of the daytime, but the sun is no longer getting above the horizon. This weekend will be the first Polar Plunge of the winter. The Kiwis will hack a hole in the sea ice so we can jump in the sea water. Woo Hoo!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Digging Out

It's now Thursday (Trivia Night! Woo Hoo!).

Sunday and Monday were the big storm. We got 14 inches of snow, which was the record for a 24 hour period in April. It's really hard to measure snowfall, though, when it is literally horizontal. The winds were crazy, and the visibility nil. I spent all day Monday in my room, as travel was prohibited.

We awoke Tuesday to find up to ten foot snowdrifts all around town. My work building had a seven foot drift over the door to the AGE shop. All this week the major challenge has been to avoid being run over by the ubiquitous loaders mining snowdrifts all over town. There is so much heavy equipment trying to dig us out right now that it's pretty scary to be a pedestrian.

Most of the snow has been scooped away now, and we're getting close to a more normal winter. That was the biggest storm I've ever seen down here, but far from the biggest one we've had.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Condition One

Big storm blowing through right now. It's been really crankin' for the last 20 hours or so. Last night the wind speeds got as high as 90 knots (104 mph), rattling my dorm something fierce. Didn't get much sleep.

We have three designation of extreme weather here. Condition three is normal weather-- no restrictions on travel. Condition two means the weather is worse-- no unnecessary travel and no recreational (hiking or skiing) travel. Condition one comes in if we have sustained winds over 55 knots, wind chill under -100F, or less than 100 feet visibility. When "Con 1" is called, we have to stay right where we are-- no travel permitted. In previous Con 1 storms, there have been incidents like a huge fuel tank exploding (not on fire, but the top was ripped off), and sheets of plywood flying through the air like playing cards. One even stuck in the wall of one of the dorms.

We never did have a condition one last winter, until just after the first plane of Winfly arrived. Condition one was called this morning, and I'm stuck in my dorm. I went over to the galley for breakfast, and was directed by my boss not to go to work until the weather gets better. I'm glad I came back to the dorm-- it's not too bad to be stuck here.

Here's a good illustration of what condition one is like: It was filmed by my coworker, Antz Powell, featuring his wife, Christine. This is the entrance to my dorm. Pretty much what it's like now. Yikes.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bye Bye Sun

We're just about out of sun now. It's pretty much pitch dark when I leave my dorm in the morning, and it's getting pretty dusky when I leave work. It's pretty light in the middle of the day, but Hut Point Ridge obstructs the sun until the afternoon. This picture was taken about 4PM on March 28th. I'm gazing into the sun for one of the last times.

There's a webcam up on Crater Hill looking down on McMurdo at: It's pretty snowy and gray out there right at the moment. I'm not sure if the webcam is sensitive enough to see the town lights in the winter-- we'll see. On a nice day you'll be able to see the Royal Society Range (picture from

I'm not looking forward to the darkness, but I'm not dreading it too much, either. It is what it is.