“Whether the weather be fine, Or whether the weather be not, Whether the weather be cold Or whether the weather be hot, We’ll weather the weather Whatever the weather, Whether we like it or not.”
The United States Antarctic Program’s (USAP) McMurdo Station is located on the southern tip of Ross Island, Antarctica. The station is positioned 850 miles north of the South Pole and 2,415 miles south of Christchurch New Zealand.
The mean annual temperature at McMurdo is -18°C (0°F). In the summer months (October-February) temperatures can rise to a cozy 8°C (46°F). However, now (September) we are currently at the end of Winter.
The temperatures during winter can drop to -50°C (-58°F). While the air temperature is often in the tolerable range, the wind chill decreases the temperature substantially and can make it unbearable for any exposed skin. The average wind is 12 knots (2.3 mph), but winds have exceeded 100 knots (115 mph) in the past.
Here is a snapshot of today’s weather forecast. Sunbathing anyone?
Earlier this week, the visibility looking across the McMurdo Sound was substantially reduced due to heavy winds carrying snow. A view that normally looks like this…
… quickly turned into this:
To track how the snow storm, I set up the GoPro on a tripod looking out of our lab window in the Crary Laboratory Building and started a timelapse. I started recording at 3:30 pm on Thursday and stopped recording at 09:30 am on Friday (so 14 hours total). I then sped up the video to condense it into a 30-second clip.
At the start of the timelapse, you can glimpse MacTown citizens scuttling around at the end of their work day. Then the snow starts to gather on the window as the sun sets. During the night, through the gaps between the snow, watch for the waxing crescent moon glide across the sky. Finally, in the morning, the storm has passed and we are welcomed with the glorious sight of Mount Discovery in the distance and the warm rosy pink sky.
While the gathering of snow drifts and heavy winds shown here may seem extreme, this was actually just a mild day at McMurdo. In fact, when I asked whether it was categorized as a storm or a blizzard, I was laughed at. Thanks Andrew!
The weather conditions here at McMurdo are split into three categories, and each category has restrictions regarding if and when we can go outside. Here are the descriptions of the three weather categories and their corresponding travel restriction, as defined by USAP:
Condition 3 – Considered the normal weather condition in McMurdo. Check out with the Firehouse or Central Communications is not required for vehicular travel during summer months, but is required during winter months. Recreational travel is only permitted during Condition 3 weather.
Condition 2 – You must check out with Central Communications by radio prior to leaving McMurdo and check in upon your return.
Condition 1 – All travel by vehicle or foot requires prior approval from the NSF station manager.
Under condition 1 conditions, everyone must stay in the building where they are at the time of the announcement. If you are out in the field, you need to set up your tent from your survival kit. As you cannot go outside, people just have to hunker down and stay put until the storm has passed. Depending on where you are, you may end up stuck in your office building overnight, or if you are lucky, be stuck in the galley! For this reason, it is important to always have food (and a book) stashed in multiple places around town, just in case. Normally, the weather office is able to give people a 2-3 hour warning ahead of time, but not always. The weather in Antarctica is highly unpredictable, and can change at any moment!
Acclimating to the weather here is an important process, I am discovering. As a tropical coral biologist, I usually pack sunglasses and swimsuits when I go on field expeditions for my research. Now, anytime I want to go outside it is a 5 min ordeal of getting kitted up! Once, I made the mistake of thinking I could just run between buildings in just my base-layer clothing. Let me tell ya: that was a mistake! #regrets
If even a tiny part of your skin is exposed to the elements for a minute, all the moisture soon starts to freeze! Here’s Lila after our short walk last night:
Hey Maybelline, got any ice-proof mascara?