When the Weather Just Blows

The sea ice was technically opened for travel yesterday, as scheduled. However, a big storm blew in and was predicted to only get worse. We decided to play it safe and continue preparing supplies and equipment in the laboratory. This morning, we awoke to quite the storm, with snow blowing steadily outside our windows. The digital display near the dorm exit read Condition 2, meaning Severe Weather Condition 2. Under these conditions, we are only allowed to walk between buildings, and only when necessary. Vehicular travel is restricted, and no travel off station is allowed.

Criteria for Severe Weather Condition 2 are as follows:

·         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.

The air temperature had been about -13°F, down to -46°F with the wind chill. Sustained winds were up to 31 knots, with gusts at 43 knots. But the issue today was visibility. With strong winds blowing snow in the air, visibility was reduced to a few hundred feet at best. We managed to navigate between the galley and the lab for breakfast and lunch with little trouble. But we monitored the online weather report as the surrounding areas shifted from Condition 2 to Condition 1.

Criteria for Severe Weather Condition 1 are as follows:

·         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.

The winds were slowly increasing in speed, but the biggest problem was still visibility. It is easy to get disoriented in the complete white-out caused by blowing snow, even when going from one building to the next. Weather conditions shifted to Condition 1 in every area including nearby Scott Base, only 2 miles away. McMurdo Station was the only place where it remained Condition 2. If Condition 1 is declared here in McMurdo, we are required to remain inside whatever building we are in at the time, and we cannot leave. We decided that we would rather be marooned inside our dorm than in the lab, so we grabbed some extra food we had stashed and headed to the dorm.

The storm is supposed to last for another couple of days. If we do hit Condition 1 and it lasts for an extended period of time, the staff may set up ropes between the buildings so we can move safely despite not being able to see more than 100 feet away. We can hear the wind howling outside and we are grateful to have safe shelter from the storm. And for now, we wait.

Written by: Heather Liwanag

Heather Liwanag