There was a huge storm here a couple of weeks ago. It was literally the first time all season that we had a full-blown storm. Prior to this, we were living under constantly blue, sunny skies and I do mean constant. I think there had been one or two days with clouds and of course, with 24 hours of sunlight, you notice things like that. Suffice it to say, having a storm that gave us all reason to hole up in the station was a nice change. In a way, it was comforting in that I-want-to-curl-up-and-read-a-book way.
The storm itself was long lasting (two and half days) and really intense. According to Katie, who has been here before and thanks to her sweet disposition, seems to know everyone, it was the worst storm that the Area Director has ever seen at the South Pole in the summer.
The storm started on Friday afternoon with the skies clouded over and the wind picked up. When I woke up on Saturday morning, snow was blowing all over the place and there seemed to be a haze around the station building when I looked at it from my Jamesway. When I went to bed that night, wind chill was down to -45 F, wind speeds were up around 25 knots and the air was thick and stinging thanks to blowing ice crystals. Walking outside with any piece of your body uncovered was inadvisable for more than the 10 seconds it takes to run from the door of the Jamesway to the bathroom. Otherwise, the stinging of the ice would be outweighed only by the much-longer-lasting pain of frostbite that would form almost instantly.
Sunday morning (and indeed, most of Sunday) was the capper though. When I walked out to make a phone call, I was almost knocked over by the blowing wind. The storm interrupted phone service enough to make calls close to inaudible and snow was blown and tracked into every entryway on station. Walking to the main building across the 1/4 mile or so of open space was an adventure in and of itself. Head down, body hunched was the only way to do it. Now, from my Jamesway, the building was barely visible and when I made it to the halfway point (the cargo office) it was still clouded in blowing snow and ice so much so that it’s edges seemed to melt into the sky around it. I actually had to wear my wind pants to cut the affects of the gales across my body. It was the first time I had even thought of wearing them since getting to the ice.
Monday morning the sun was shining again, everything was covered in drifts and fresh powder was all over the place. I had to spend an hour cleaning it all off the deck so we could put away the food being delivered. There were also a ton of snowmobile accidents all over the place as inexperienced drivers hit the drifts and went end over end into the snow. Good thing it was soft and fluffy. The interesting thing is that after a storm where sustained wind speeds hit 30 knots per hour and there was 6 inches of fresh snow all over the place, it never actually snowed. Remember, the South Pole is a big, cold desert. It’s one of the driest places on Earth and on average, we get 9 inches a year. All the accumulation was thanks to drift and nothing else.
Here are a couple of videos of the storm. This was taken on Saturday, when I thought it was bad. This on Sunday, when it really was. This one was taken minutes later from the halfway point between the station and the Jamesway. Notice how little the view of the station has changed. Finally is this one, taken the day after. It’s actual melting ice at the South Pole with dripping water outside. The deck where I store food is exposed to sun all day long and protected from the prevailing winds, so it actually warms up. It’s not really a storm video, but to see dripping water is pretty exciting at this point.