Conditional Approval

In my previous post, I said we’d be heading out to the Dry Valleys on a helicopter on Saturday. I had hoped to have all kinds of excellent pictures to show you by now. Alas, the weather was not with us, and all helicopter flights on Saturday were cancelled. There are no flights on Sunday—it’s a coveted day of respite from McMurdo’s six-day workweek—so we’ve been rescheduled for tomorrow. Unfortunately, if things go as predicted by the weather staff, tomorrow may be even worse for flying.

This kind of weather-related delay is pretty much par for the course in Antarctica. You may recall that some time back I said I’d be leaving on the 9th of October, and you may note that I am in fact still here. This is because the flight with the helicopter pilots on it was delayed five days, by weather and mechanical issues, so the helicopter schedule was also pushed back. I am beginning to learn that, whatever your plans may be, Antarctica has final say in when they happen.

Dealing with weather is an interesting part of daily life at McMurdo. There are three official designations for local weather:

Condition 3 is the default. In Condition 3, station life proceeds as normal.

Condition 2 means that the weather has become somewhat hazardous. The weather forecasters will officially designate Condition 2 if one or more of the following apply:

  • Wind speed between 55 and 63 miles per hour, or
  • Wind chills between -75F and -100F, or
  • Visibility of 1/4 mile or less.

In Condition 2, travel outside the station is restricted, and if Condition 2 is called because of low visibility you’re encouraged to use a buddy system when traveling between buildings.

Condition 1 essentially shuts down the station. Condition 1 means:

  • Wind speed above 63 miles per hour, or
  • Wind chills below -100F, or
  • Visibility of less than 100 feet.

For the most part, once Condition 1 goes into effect, you’re not supposed to leave the building you’re in. I am told they train people to navigate in Condition 1 by putting a white plastic bucket over their head; the effect is evidently similar. If severe weather lasts long enough, the safety staff will string ropes between buildings so that people can get to meals or go to work.

While I’ve been here, we’ve had Condition 2 a few times—earlier in September the wind chills went below -75F on a fairly regular basis, and once or twice blowing snow has reduced visibility enough to be considered Condition 2. We’ve yet to experience Condition 1. Personally, I almost wish we would; if the weather is going to continue delaying us, we might as well get some excitement out of it.

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2 Responses to “Conditional Approval”

  1. deborah Gooden Says:

    Gina: Thanks for the excellent and detailed sharing of an adventure that none of us will ever have. Of course us motherly types like to know you are ok and happy, both of which seem true. Love and kisses, the Goodens

  2. Amanda Says:

    Hope you get home safely! Everyone in the department misses our coffee czar!

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