Sunday, August 29, 2010

You call this SPRING?

Ah, Spring… flowers, bees, 98 below zero, -140F windchill.  We were all fooled by the South Pole for the last few weeks, thinking the temperatures were beginning to moderate as the Sun was returning, but this week Pole is giving us the coldest temperatures so far this winter.  It did drop to below -100F three or four times earlier in the year, but there was no wind when that happened.  We have wind now and the windchills are really low.  It is everyone's opinion that we would rather see -100 with no wind than -70 with a 15 knot wind.  Today we have both.

But Spring it is, and cold or not in only 21 days the Sun will be above the horizon again.  The first flight into Pole is scheduled for three weeks later on October 15th  (note I say scheduled, the weather plays a big part).  Not that any of us winter-overs will be able to leave on that flight – it is just to bring people in, and we hope some bananas and tomatoes…and oranges and grapes and lemons and kiwis and… oh my!  But before the first flight arrives we have to prepare the station for the influx of summer people.  Since no one got killed or pregnant over the winter, there are still only 47 of us to do that.
All winter the snow-drifts have been piling up around the buildings that were unused, and we have to clear, heat and prep all of those before the summer crews arrive.  At the beginning of winter we shut down and basically forgot about most of the out-buildings so there will be a lot of snow shoveling.  I have put my name down to dig out three of the twelve Jamesways (summer housing units), plus a few other tasks.  Plus everyone still has to do all the other things they have had to do over the winter.  The summer folks don’t know how lucky they are – they leave the place filthy and come back to a station ready and waiting for them, down to clean linens and fresh pillows on the beds.  South Pole winter-overs - the most expensive maid service on the planet.  Where else do the maids get dressed in 20 lbs of ECW gear to go make a bed and turn on the heat before the guests arrive?

The sky is getting lighter all the time and walking outside is very nice these days.  It isn’t so dark that you can't see your hand in front of your face (or any of the snow-drifts that trip you up and unexpectedly throw you to the ice), but still not so bright that there is no contrast on the snow.  Of course, a few clouds coming over the Pole changes everything and we can go back to pitch black in a few hours.  The window coverings come off the station windows next week and we will be able to look outside without actually going outside for the first time in six months!  For several weeks we will only be able to see a glow on the horizon as it spins around the Pole, but that will be pretty darned nice.  I’m also sure there will be people complaining about the constant light and having to wear sunglasses in the dining room a few weeks after that.

Although the first few planes that arrive will be Baslers (updated DC-3s) that can operate in very cold temperatures, the LC-130’s that bring in the full summer crews (and take us home!) can’t land until the temperature is above -50F.  They say that usually happens around the last week in October, so 95% of the winter-over crew is scheduled to leave on November 5th after about a week of turnover.  That’s my departure date.  I’ll go to McMurdo Station from Pole and then on to New Zealand the next day.  But it's really too early to start thinking about that – there are still more than two months to go before we leave Pole.  Since the winter season is nine months and the summer only three months, we winter-overs still have what counts as nearly a full season for the summer people. 


Anonymous said...

Hi Chuck, Just wanted to let you know I have enjoyed reading your blog page. B J gave me the address, but am just slow to leave comments. I am Bill, her youngest brother. I spent two winters in Alaska so I thought I would enjoy hearing about your cold weather experience down there. The coldest weather I experienced was 60 below, which seems like hot weather compared to what I have read that you have been in. Also, there was no wind with our cold weather. I was going to ask you about the SPRING WEATHER, but you just answered it on your blog. Good luck with the rest of your stay, and thanks for keeping us up to date with your experience through your blog.

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