17.12.2017 Weathering the storm
deutsche Version (ohne Fotos)
Unfortunately, the weather forecast was correct and since Wednesday we have blizzard conditions. Blowing snow and wind speeds up to hurricane force, so that working outside is as good as impossible. The observatories 1.5km south of the main station and also the little bivouac huts are connected to the main station by hand lines, which are set up between metal or bamboo poles that have a distance of about 5m. So you cannot get lost as long as you stick to the hand line.
The little huts that are connected by handlines to the main station (on the left ) The right hut is where I sleep.
In theory. The tricky thing is: While our old base was underneath the snow, the new one here is built on poles, 6 m above the snow surface. If it had been built simply on the snow surface, it would have been buried by snow within a year or two due to the frequent blizzards. To avoid this, the station is built on poles and additionally raised every year by about 2 m, so that meanwhile it is situated on a big snow hill. The wind blows over the hill and through the gap between the underside of the building and a wooden platform 6 m below. Due to the “funnel effect” the wind speed underneath the station is approximately 40km/h higher than in the surrounding areas and the deck is always snow-free. And no hand line on the deck, since people have to transport large things in and out of the base over the deck.
View from the station window to the huts outside. the hand line with the bamboo poles is clearly visible. In the full storm you cannot see anything out of the window.
Wednesday morning, when I walked from my little hut to the main station the wind hit me with brutal force when I reached the deck. From my experience on a summit weather station I thought it should be possible to just crawl, so I would give the wind less resistance and the wind is also weaker close to the ground. When I tried this, I was immediately blown away by the wind, I felt completely out of control, so I hurried to get on my feet again and, stemming myself against the wind, I somehow made it to the main entrance.
Before I went out again, I asked the wintering staff for advice how to handle the deck. Hauke, the meteorologist, suggested to walk to the east of the deck, where the wind speed is supposed to be lower due to a snow hill that forms in a storm a couple of meters east of the deck. Ok. I closed the main door behind me and tried to get to the eastern edge of the deck, but in spite of my efforts of leaning into the wind, I was simply blown back to the door. Obviously there was some turbulence right at the edge of the staircase tower, which increased the wind speed even more. So I aimed at a south-easterly direction (45° angle) now, made it to the snow surface east of the platform, and there the wind was really pleasantly “weak”, so that I could walk around the deck and then hit the hand line that starts at the southern edge. On the way back, I tried the same strategy, however, the moment I set my foot on the wooden deck, coming from the east, with the storm from behind now, the wind packed me and blew me westwards with an unbelievable acceleration. I was completely out of control again, and I thought before I get smashed at one of the pretty blue poles I rather go down to the ground. Getting up from there turned out to be very difficult, too, so I ended up crawling on my elbows and belly the last meters to the door. A colleague, who just came out of the door, did not even see me in the blowing snow, even though he was only 3m away from me. That sounds scary, and it was! I have never experienced anything like this in my whole life before. We had been out in storms with hurricane force winds, but always on snow, and with the hand line, not on a slippery wooden deck without anything to hold on. It is like standing on the roof of a Mercedes that moves with more than 80 mph along the highway with nothing, no rail or anything to hold on.
Sofia, the air chemist, and Tim, the base leader, fighting the storm on the deck. The windspeed was about 130km/h, at least in gusts.
Incredible! The wintering crew somehow managed to get along; the men, who are taller and heavier than we women seemed to have less problems, but even the air chemist, Sofi, a woman of about my size and weight, had developed a technique to handle this deck under such conditions. (To my comfort, some men of the summer crew had problems, too, and avoided the deck.) Well, for me it came a bit too sudden, so I stayed for two nights on the base, and afterwards I found out, that west of the deck the wind gets much weaker. Additionally, different from our old base underneath the snow surface with an entrance that was hardly visible in a snow storm, the big new base can always be seen, the snow-free deck is dark and you cannot really get lost. Also we have GPS nowadays, so you could always find your way home, even if the wind blew you a couple of meters away, so that you were surrounded by nothing but a whirling white hell. In the old days, without GPS, we used to cling to the hand line for our lives, and this was really necessary. People have got lost and found frozen to death just a few meters from a building in Antarctica (not here, thankgod).
Sofi and Tim disappearing in the blizzard
Probably, for me to adjust to the conditions here was more difficult than for a newcomer, because I had it ingrained in my brain that I never must go anywhere in a blizzard without a hand line. So, that was quite an impressive new experience, but meanwhile I am quite relaxed since I know I can handle this and I feel absolutely comfortable on the snow surface west of the deck, even at very high wind speeds. You are never too old to learn…!