Hut-bound

The storm lasted a total of three days. We had barely begun to search for banded birds and GLS tags down at the colony when the storm forced the four of us inside our tiny 2-person hut. What does one do when itching to be outside yet stuck in an orange box in the middle of Antarctica with the wind raging at 70-90 mph outside? Eat, read, eat some more, make tea. Be thankful for the four walls and roof that are still standing strong. I tried to learn R, sorted through my photos, read, and played with penguin data from last year’s GLS tags.

One night we tried to retrieve our sleeping bags from the tents so that we could sleep inside. The wind was so strong that I could barely make it past the corner of the hut (where the wind picks up speed) and up the 10 m to our Scott tent. I could lean into the wind but not move forward. I finally retreated to the lee of the hut and gave myself a running start, hit the wall of wind with enough momentum, and went headfirst into the oncoming blizzard. Returning to the hut with a flapping sleeping bag in my arms was equally challenging, but I clutched it with all my strength, braced my steps, and finally came around the corner of the hut totally out of control, slamming into Amélie who was about to open the door with all of her sleeping gear in her arms. We laughed and retreated into the comfort of our tiny space.

My favorite thing to do when the wind is so strong is to stand outside and let it hold me up. My mind is still tempered by the relative mildness of the temperate climate I grew up in (the climate in northern Italy is pretty uneventful by comparison), so I am still blown away by the fact that any wind can be so strong as to hold someone up or, as the case may be, blow someone away. (Rumor has it that happened once at McMurdo. I don’t know how strong the wind was, but the person stepped outside and was never seen again.) This wind was definitely not strong enough for the latter, so Grant and I stood on the snow and played with how far we could lean before falling. I attained a near 45 degree angle several times before gravity took over. Even better is to lay flat on the ground, where the wind is blowing above you but not so low to the ground, and watch the snow blowing and the clouds swirling overhead from your layer of relative calm.

Our internet, of course, is dead. The WiFi repeater on top of Mt. Terror is probably covered with ice, so we have to wait for the comms shop people to fly up there to fix it, which will probably take at least a week. On November 23, two days after the storm ended, I flew to Cape Royds, the smallest Adélie colony on the western side of Ross Island, where I am spending 5 or 6 days working with David, and the internet here works great.

Some more photos from the storm:

Grant tying down the wireless dish during a lull in the storm

Amélie coming back to the hut (photo by Grant)

Streaky clouds that form at high altitude during high winds. Our wind turbine, which compensated for the lack of solar energy and kept the hut fully powered during the storm, is in the foreground.