Travel Log: December 20th, 1997

Picture of the Day
Amundsen-Scott Station

DECEMBER 20th, 1997

Janice is at McMurdo Station today, while Randy is still at the South Pole. Randy reports seeing lots of sundogs despite the cloudy weather. It's very windy at the pole with a wind chill of -49°C! Janice reports snow at McMurdo which is not unusual on the first day of Summer in Antarctica.

See also Travel Tales below!

Date: 20 Dec 97, the Austral Summer Solstice
Time: 0000 local
Location: South Pole
Weather: cold, cloudy, windy
Temperature: -23oC = -10oF
Wind Chill: -45oC = -49oF
Wind Speed: 14.9 knots
Barometric Pressure: 20.85 mm Hg

Go on to the
next day...

Dec 20th Travel Tales

Janice VanCleave at McMurdo:
SNOW: A very light snow fell for a few minutes this morning. I was able to catch flakes of snow on my glove and observe many different shapes. They were all hexagonally shaped (6 sided) and each had its own special shape. Some were more round while others had long slender arms. They were light and feathery in appearance. I regret that I did not have the materials to make slides of the crystals.

While it is summer in McMurdo, it is not unsual for it to snow. The average snow fall for each summer month is about 15 cm (6 inches). Thus far the snow fall in December, 1997 has been more like that of a winter month, such as May or June. We were lucky to see McMurdo covered in snow during the summer, which is not the norm. While the snow is beautiful its presence is indicative of unusual weather for the season which can affect flight shedules. Many flights have been cancelled. Today Randy and I both are trying to catch flights north. He is heading for McMurdo from the South Pole and I am in McMurdo heading north to Christchurch.

TRAVEL: Preparing for flights to and from Antarctica is very different that preparing for a commercial flight within the United States. First the passengers have to wear polar gear. Flights are often rescheduled or cancelled due to weather along the Antaractic coast where McMurdo is. While I've had commercial flights delayed and at times cancelled, I had more information about when the next flight would be scheduled. Here I wait for a paper to be posted and hope that my name is on it. Also I am given a priority number, the smaller the number the higher my priority and the less likely I'll be bumped from the flight. Each plane has a weight limit and if it has heavy cargo, then fewer people can get on the plane. Prior to actually boarding a plane bag drag is scheduled. This is when we come dressed in our polar gear and are weighed along with all our luggage. The term bag drag is most appropriate, since we are lined up and drag our luggage forward as each person is weighed. Sometimes bag drag is scheduled hours before transportation time, TT (time to report for the flight). I had bag drag Friday night at 9:00pm with TT being at 4:15 pm Saturday afternoon. The estimated time of departure, ETD, for my flight is 6:15. Remember that we are to wear polar gear for the flight. So for 2 hours, if we are lucky, all passengers will be waiting around for the 7 1/2 to 9 hour flight dressed in polar gear. This is really no problem here at McMurdo because we generally have the gear on anyhow. I've not worn anything else since I left Christchurch. We are not assured that the flight will continue to its destination until after it has passed the PNR (point of no return). At PSR (point of safe return) there is enough fuel to safely return, but at PSR there is not enough fuel to return. It is very uncommon for flights going north to Christchurh to return. So, if I fly out of McMurdo I can be reasonably assured of proceeding to Christchurch. Note that I am not making positive statements. I've learned that there is no norm for flights to and from Antarctica. One just has to take it step at a time because the weather can change within a few minutes from clear sunny sky to whiteout conditions with zero visibility. I certainly wish clear skys for myself and Randy for all our upcoming flights. For me, I have 6 flights before I return to Riesel. Randy has 5. We both will take some time off during the holidays to rest, but will be providing more information about our exciting trip to the bottom of the earth later. Have a Wonderful Holiday.