The first week of November, 1994

I guess the big thing has been the WEATHER. A big storm moved in last Wed. (I think it was Wed, it seems MUCH longer than that!). We have a convention for describing weather here. Any condition is considered a "severe weather condition" but there is "severe weather cond. I", "severe wx cond. II" and severe wx cond. III". Condition III means things are calm, visibility is good, and the temps are tolerable. Condition II means that either the wind has picked up or the temps have dropped, and the visibility is poor. In Cond. II you are supposed to travel in radio equipped vehicles and check in and out with the Firehouse via the radio for travel on roads My job takes check-outs for anything off the established roads (flagged routes on the sea ice). Condition I is the worst. It means the temps are intolerable, next to no visibility. In a condition I you are NOT allowed to drive, and you cannot check-out. You cannot move from where you are, and have to call in and account for yourself People are not allowed to work outside.

We have been fluctuating between condition II and I for a few days now. Mostly in McMurdo it is only a II. There are landmarks that keep the snow from really whipping around, and we feel a little protected. The ice runway and Willy Field out on the ice sheet are another story; it gets NASTY out there.

Wed. we had a mass casualty drill. It is a drill to practice the chain of events that would happen if a planes crashed (or some other catastrophe). It usually takes about 4 hours for us to go through a drill, but during this one the weather started to move in, and they cut it short after 1 1/2 hours. During the drill we had asked to keep radio traffic to a minimum. The weather dropped to a condition II during the drill, and vehicles in the drill were told to cut it short. People could still check out though.

During the drill one of my coworkers was answering the phones and took a check-out from a scientist going out to Cape Royds, out on the sea ice about 25 miles away. It was a cond. II and he was alone on a skidoo. I noticed the guy hadn't called in two hours later when he should have gotten there, and I called Cape Royds (to his camp) and asked them if he had showed up. Their answer was "no". I told my supervisor and went home for the day.

Well, the next day at breakfast someone said "hey, they found the guy". It was then I found out that they had to launch a Search and Rescue for him about 1 1/2 hr after I left work. It took the SAR team 6 hours to find the him, because the weather had deteriorated to cond. I and they just couldn't see. Apparently they saw some movement in the distance and checked it out. It was a penguin. They followed the penguin tracks and found the guy! He had been out 11 hours WITH NO RADIO and NO SURVIVAL BAG (two BIG no-no's). He was OK, only mildly hypothermic! What a relief.

The storm kept going and it STILL is going as I type. You can feel the buildings rattle! It got past 100mph at Black Island and blew down a new project that was under construction. No flights for a week, no helos to camps, no mail, no fresh veggies,.... There are 7 planes waiting in Christchurch to come down.

I didn't mention that after the SAR team was up all Wednesday night, they had to go out again on Thursday night to "rescue" 27 people that had been out at the ice runway for 48 hours. They went out there for the Mass Casualty Drill, and then got stuck out there. Since it was still condition I out on the sea ice, they had to call the SAR team to go out there. Apparently there were no MRE's out there (that's military speak for Meals, Ready to Eat) nor sleeping bags. You can bet the SAR team has seen to it to get both items out there since!

We have this mega-big bus that you wouldn't believe unless you saw it. I don't know how much it cost, but I bet it was a LOT. The tires on that thing are taller than me! It is called a "Terra-bus"; .I think because it can handle all kinds of terrain? Anyway, we had a contest to name it last year and "Ivan the Terra-Bus" won (groan). Everyone just calls it the terra-bus, though.

The SAR drove that monster out there and had to have a tracked vehicle to escort it. It turned out to be quite an ordeal. The weather really can have a big impact on you when you live in a place like this.

I loved being out in the thick of it. I am volunteering to work in our hydroponic greenhouse, and had to go get a lesson last week. It is a 10 minute walk or so, but with the wind screaming around it took me longer. It was so haunting to hear the howl of the wind and have these gusts of blowing snow swirling around me as I felt the wind battering against me. It wasn't very cold either as long as I kept myself wrapped up against the wind. I took out my camera to try and capture it on film (I think that was a mistake), and my hands got really cold in no time from the strong winds. But the thermometer said something like +25F, which is quite warm for us! At work and at home you could hear the constant howl of the wind outside and you could feel the walls rattling and shaking! Two years ago a big storm blew off the roof of one of the buildings here, so you can't be smug or secure when it is Mother Nature you are dealing with!

I learned how to take readings in the Greenhouse, and helped harvest some lettuce! We just monitor temperature, water levels, pH, and nutrient levels. It is a great place to go since there are huge bright lights and humidifiers going all the time there. It also smells "green"! I think it is the plants and moisture. We are growing all kinds of varieties of lettuce, some peppers, cucumbers, herbs (basil, thyme, chives, cilantro, oregano) and tomatoes. I helped pick 6 1/2 pounds. of lettuce the other night and I think I ate about 1/2 lb. in the process, it was so good! It isn't enough to keep McMurdo fed for more than one or two meals right now as we have about 916 people here, but it is a substantial amount! Best of all it lets me be a gardener, and not have to deal with slugs or bugs!

I am also very much enjoying my aerobics class on M,W,F. We do step aerobics and they actually purchased real "aerobic steps" for using last year! The class is well attended, about 35 people!

My roommate is a carpenter and keeps getting sent out on jobs. During the month we have been here, she has been gone 2 weeks total on jobs setting up camps for scientists. It is great for her to be able to get to some neat places in Antarctica that people rarely get to visit, and nice for me to have the room to myself!

Last year a friend gave me a little portable black and white TV which I never used as my roomie had a TV. This year I found it and just last night got an adapter to hook it to cable. Now I can get the 3 McMurdo local channels AND the live satellite link channel! Pretty nifty...although the screen is only about 3" square!

Well, that is enough for now.