Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
The new Washington
Post Weather website
Jump to CWG's
Latest Full Forecast
Outside now? Radar, temps
and more: Weather Wall
Follow us on Twitter (@capitalweather) and become a fan on Facebook
Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 01/ 8/2010

Ann to Antarctica: There and back in one day

By Ann Posegate

* More wind and cold: Full Forecast | Cold weather in a hot climate *

View of Antarctic continent from airplane. By Ann Posegate.

CWG's Ann Posegate is part of a group of journalists selected by the National Science Foundation to travel to Antarctica and report on weather, climate and environmental science research going on there. Read more about Ann's trip and itinerary here and here.

Wednesday, our delayed flight took off from Christchurch, New Zealand, en route to McMurdo, Antarctica. After five hours in the air, we boomeranged - that is, turned around and flew back to Christchurch because weather conditions at McMurdo were too bad to land on an airstrip made of ice. However, as you can see in the photo above, we were lucky enough to fly over the Antarctic continent before doing a u-turn.

Our total flight time was about 10 hours. Buying time on a military cargo jet with 170 other people (all using one small bathroom) with earplugs in the entire time, no in-flight entertainment systems and no overhead bins, all while wearing cold weather gear, it is quite the experience. However, it was all worth it (and then some!) once we saw the ice.

View of Antarctic sea ice from airplane. By Ann Posegate.

Keep reading for more of Ann's flight tales and photos...

It was a treat to meet the other passengers: world class astrophysicists, microbiologists, engineers, dignitaries, reporters and more. We all took our seats inside the U.S. Air National Guard C-17 cargo jet with the same anticipation about the journey ahead of us.

Inside the U.S. Air National Guard C-17 cargo jet. By Ann Posegate.

Skies at McMurdo Station had cleared from a storm earlier in the week and visibility had improved. Forecast models suggested that the window would remain open through early afternoon, but hinted that conditions could again deteriorate.

In the off-chance that weather improved at McMurdo, the pilots waited until the last possible minute to decide whether or not to turn back. Four porthole windows and a visit to the cockpit allowed us unparalled views of landscapes of white sea ice and glaciers under the bluest of skies, until we came within 130 miles of McMurdo. We circled around McMurdo for one hour before the pilots received the report that the weather would not clear any time soon. The cloud ceiling was too low, visibility was too poor, and pilots would not have been able to distinguish the clouds from the runway of ice about 2500 feet below.

View of mountains over Antarctic continent from airplane. By Ann Posegate.

Antarctic weather has a mind of its own and can be tricky to forecast. Without internet or satellite data, Dan Satterfield, Chief Meteorologist at WHNT-TV in Huntsville, Ala., and I - both part of the Antarctic reporting team traveling this week - had fun trying to guess what was happening. Even though travel delays and long flights have resulted, the past three days' weather-related changes to our itinerary have been rather exciting for weather folk. I wish I knew more about Southern Hemisphere and polar weather! It will be exciting to speak with meteorologists at McMurdo and the South Pole.

I have spent the past week in transit to this astounding continent and have now seen it with my own eyes, yet the atmosphere has not been ready for us yet. It was a difficult feeling to fly over the ice without landing. If there's one thing you can't blame, it's the weather. Still, I feel like one of the luckiest people in the world to view this amazing scenery from the air!

We've just received word that today's flight is a go. Let's hope the fourth time's a charm.

UPDATE: After a five-hour flight, we landed safely on the Pegasus Ice Runway and boarded "Ivan the Terra Bus" snow tractor for a one-hour drive over the Ross Ice Shelf to McMurdo. Weather was "Condition 3" -- winds less than 48 knots (about 55 mph), wind chills warmer than -75F, and visibility greater than 1/4 mile. During Condition 3 weather, recreation and short-distance travel is permitted from the station. "Condition 2" weather occurs with wind speeds of 48-55 knots, wind chills of -75 to -100 F, or visibility less than 1/4 mile. The worst weather occurs during "Condition 1," when there is one or more of the following: wind speeds greater than 55 knots, wind chills colder than -100F, or vis of less than 100 feet. During "Condition 1" weather, only "mission critical" travel is allowed, with approval needed from staff managers to venture out-of-doors.

View the webcam and current conditions to stay up-to-date with weather at McMurdo.

By Ann Posegate  | January 8, 2010; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  International Weather, Posegate  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: Light snow exits as arctic blast arrives
Next: PM Update: We're back in the icebox


How totally cool (okay, downright frigid)! I'm looking forward to seeing pictures and accounts from on the ground. Hope the camera doesn't freeze up!

Posted by: B2O2 | January 8, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

As I recall this is supposed to be MIDSUMMER in Antarctica...

FYI the Russian station at Vostok, normally the world's coldest at 10,000+ feet, is currently reporting -24F...not much colder than western North Dakota @ 19 below!

Posted by: Bombo47jea | January 8, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

12z 204 Hour (1/17) looks interesting....for now

Posted by: StormChaserMan | January 8, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I'm looking forward to seeing the photos and hearing about the weather conditions. Here's a sunrise/sunset chart for McMurdo:

It appears that the next sunset is in March.

Posted by: Kevin-CapitalWeatherGang | January 8, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

Glad to know you're on the continent, friend! Good day and good luck.

Posted by: RBMoreno | January 8, 2010 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for taking the time to post things - really cool that you get to do this; thanks for sharing it with us!

Posted by: hhsten | January 8, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2012 The Washington Post Company