Antarctic Weather


My flight has been delayed 2 hours already and word on the street (read: I had breakfast with the airfield supervisor) is that it will be cancelled for both weather and logistics reasons.

The whole time I’ve been in McMurdo, the weather has been gorgeous. Upwards of 30 degrees, generally clear, and mild wind. Naturally, the day we want to leave is the day I wake up to thick fog and stronger winds.

Weather is Antarctica is classified into 3 categories based on temperature, winds, and visibility. Condition 3 is the best weather. Wind is below 48 mph, wind chill is above -75 F, visibility is more than 1/4 mile. Not everywhere would 55 mph winds and a wind chill of -75 be classified in the best weather category, but this is Antarctica.

Right now it’s condition 2 outside, mostly for visibility reasons I think. Condition 2 is characterized by winds ¬†between 48 and 55 mph, visibility of at least 100 ft, or a wind chill of -75 to -100 F. That’s the stage we’re in outside at the moment. Apparently conditions are nice at the runway, but getting there from town will be tricky due to low visibility. In Condition 2 weather, it’s possible to drive out there, but isn’t generally recommended.

Finally there’s Condition 1, which I have yet to see. Condition 1 has winds over 55mph, visibility less than 100 ft, or a wind chill below -100 F. This is the bad stuff. Everyone is restricted to stay inside buildings in town and no one would be travelling out to the runway, much less taking off.

I’m about to board a shuttle to go out there, but am not expecting to go anywhere today. This is in part because I heard at breakfast that a C130 at South Pole is having mechanical problems and so they’re sending parts and mechanics there on the plane we were supposed to take to Byrd. That could always change, but we’ll probably spend 4 hours getting out to the runway and back if that happens. Sunday is a no-fly day because the airfield employees generally have off (no aircraft control, no refueling), so if we don’t leave today, we’ll be in McMurdo til Monday.

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