27 December 2006


The trip is over, I'm back at the folks' house for a few days before returning to Columbus on Friday. Here's the details of the end of the trip:

I left McMurdo on Thursday night. The plane was scheduled to leave at 9:00 PM, and we were required to report for transportation to the airfield at 5:30 PM. I grabbed a quick dinner before getting dressed in ECW gear, turning in my room key, and going to the shuttle. We boarded "Ivan the Terra Bus", a huge vehicle that took us to Pegasus Runway in just under an hour. There we waited for two hours before boarding the plane. There's a small building for waiting passengers, but most people remained outside, as it was sunny and warm. We got on the plane about 8:30 PM, and left about 9:15 PM. I tried to grab a seat in the back row again, but some people had already grabbed those. At least I got an aisle seat. It was a comfortable ride, once we got airborne and steady, I took off the boots and windpants, and got to ride in regular street clothes. The only annoyance was that someone near me was farting, I'm guessing it was the woman next to me.

We landed about 2:15 AM in Christchurch, in pouring rain. As I mentioned earlier, it wasn't much warmer than when we left. I'm guessing it was maybe mid-30's when we left, and mid-40's in Christchurch. We boarded buses which took us to the immigration and customs in the main passenger terminal. After immigration, it was on to baggage claim, which was fast compared to a typical commercial flight. Customs was no big deal. The screening was not as strict as when we arrived from the U.S, as all items we purchase at McMurdo go through New Zealand. Then it's about a 10 minute walk from the airport to the CDC. I didn't load my bags onto a truck, and instead carted them with me on the walk. More on this later. Once I got to the CDC, I went to the changing room and emptied out my carry-on bag of personal items. I got all of the issued gear together, and an employee checked items off as I threw them into a big pile in the middle of the room. I was doing this before the truck with the bags arrived, so I was happy that I had carted my bags and got through the clothing return before the big rush. I claimed the bags I had left in New Zealand, got my travel arrangement documents, and went outside to get a shuttle. They were arranged by hotel, so I ended up waiting at least a half hour for other people on this shuttle. So my prior efficiency turned out to be useless, but not a big deal, I just dozed off in the shuttle for awhile. Some guy was freaking out, wondering why we couldn't leave. I can understand some of the frustration of people that were leaving the next day. I overheard conversations from people that would only have 1-2 hours at the hotel to shower and rearrange baggage before going right back to the airport again. I checked into the hotel at about 4:15 AM (The Heritage, the same hotel I was in on the way to Antarctica back in November). It's a really nice hotel, and I had a big corner room on the 10th floor. I unpacked my stuff and had a snack from the mini bar before going to bed as dawn broke.

I didn't do much on Friday, as I slept until 12:30 PM. I took care of some laundry, did some shopping, and had a nice dinner at the Viaduct along "the strip" on Oxford Tce. Most restaurants in this area have outdoor seating, but it was in the 50's and very windy, so I sat inside. I had a chicken, cream cheese, and cranberry pizza. It was really good, and must be a common variety there, as I saw an ad on TV for the same toppings from Pizza Hut. I also made arrangements for activities for the rest of my stay. These included a Lyttleton Harbor wildlife cruise and a gondola ride on Saturday, and a city bike tour on Sunday. On Saturday I went for a run at the hotel's health club, then checked on my planned activities for the day. It had been raining all morning, with low clouds. The wildlife cruise got cancelled, and I decided against the gondola ride, since there was no way I was going to be able to see anything. I decided to go out to the International Antarctic Centre. This is the same complex that the CDC is in, but there is a big science exhibit there that USAP participants get 50% off admission for. So I took the bus out there and spend a couple hours. They have a room filled with snow where they simulate a storm, a bunch of exhibits and videos, and other stuff. It was a good way to spend a rainy day. That night I went to McDonalds for dinner, it tasted fine, but I felt awful the rest of the night. Not sure if it was the food itself or that I hadn't had fast food in three weeks. I watched a cricket match for awhile that night on TV. I'm still not clear on all of the rules, but it looks awesome. I would definitely follow it if I lived there. I love baseball, and it seems similar in many ways.

On Sunday I had the city bike tour at 10:00 AM. It was a nice morning, and the bike tour was great. It started at Cathedral Square, and there was the tour guide, two gentlemen from Los Angeles on vacation, and myself. The tour was two and a half hours, and we rode through part of the city centre area, Hagley Park, and some nice neighborhoods. We got off the bikes for awhile and walked through Riccarton Bush (the only native forest left in the area). This was well worth the money and maybe the best part of the trip.

That afternoon I went to the gondola. As I was getting on the bus to go there, it started raining. When I got there it was still raining and the clouds lowered, restricting the view. It cleared a little bit and I could at least see Christchurch from the top.

After having fish and chips for lunch at the restaurant, I walked around the trails just below the gondola station. After returning to the hotel, I had dinner at another restaurant on Oxford Tce, Sticky Fingers, where I had roast lamb. That was Christmas Eve, and I went over to Victoria Square where there was caroling. I didn't make it to church at midnight, since I had to get up fairly early to leave the next day. As I was on a shuttle to the airport the next morning, it started to clear up and got nice outside. Figures. I enjoyed a little of that from the observation deck at the airport. The flights back went fine, I again had my own row on the trans-Pacific flight. From Los Angeles, I went through Salt Lake City on the way to Milwaukee. That last flight was delayed almost two hours from mechanical issues (we had to switch planes).

I'm finally caught up on sleep now, but still getting caught up on Christmas cookies. As the title says in flight forecast code, this is the last report, with no further amendments (unless I screwed something up). Hope you enjoyed it!

24 December 2006

Flight Brief

I'm back in New Zealand, and getting ready to leave for the U.S. tomorrow. It was a long day last Thursday, the day I traveled from McMurdo back to Christchurch. The flight did not leave until 9 PM, we got into Christchurch in the pouring rain at 2:15 AM, and I finally checked into the hotel at 4:15 AM. And seriously, it was not much warmer in Christchurch than in McMurdo. The weather hasn't improved a whole lot here, but I've had a good time the past few days. I'll have more details and some pictures in a couple days, I'm paying for internet right now so I want to keep this short. Have a blessed Christmas,


18 December 2006

House Cleaning

Tomorrow (Tuesday) is my last "normal" day here in McMurdo, as I hope to be leaving on Thursday. Last Thursday when my roommate Markus left, I realized I had been here for two weeks, and it seemed like that time went by very quickly. I still have the same feeling now, that the past week, and my entire time here, has gone by fast. I'm ready to head back, first to New Zealand for a couple days of R & R, then back home to see the family for a few days, then finally back to Columbus. I'm not sure why I'm ready to leave, I could not think of anything today that bothers me here. My work is going well, I have my own room now, which is nice, I'm eating well, getting regular exercise, and get to watch ESPN and many sporting events. This doesn't differ much from my existence back in the U.S. It may be choice: from what and when to eat, where I live, more retail options, and so on. If I was here longer I would also miss pets: I miss my cat Wendy, along with the two dogs and two cats at my parents house. But I've had a great stay here, and I'm very proud and often in awe of the operation that the United States has in this harsh and remote region of the world. Just another reason why it's is the greatest country in the world.

Here's some of my activities from the past several days:

On Thursday afternoon I spent a few hours with a weather observer (Jen) at Williams Field. This airfield handles the ski aircraft that fly to South Pole and some of the field camps. The observer takes observations every hour and otherwise when needed of standard meteorological variables. I got to see some of the equipment there, along with learning some more on how cloud levels and visibility is taken. It was also fun taking in the take-offs and landings (I still like watching this at any airport). Anyways, here's a picture of the small tower:

On Friday night, I got to help launch the weather balloon. Weather balloons go up at 0000 UTC and 1200 UTC every day, around the world. I went over to the balloon shack with one of the observers, Cliff, who happens to be an Ohio State meteorology undergrad. He got the equipment set up and filled the balloon, and we went outside to launch it. Here's me just before launch:

and here's the balloon, long gone:

These things can go up to about 13 miles into the atmosphere before blowing up. If you ever come across the December 15th 2006 1200 UTC McMurdo sounding, I let that sucker go.

On Sunday afternoon I took a tour of the pressure ridges near Scott Base. These form as two converging ice sheets buckle (at least that's the layman's explanation). Apparently the ice moves up to 3/4 meter per day, so that the field is constantly changing. We walked around the marked trail for about an hour, and got to see some cool ice formations. The overcast sky also brought out the bluish hue of some of the ice. We also saw a couple of seals (I forgot what kind). I got someone to take my picture:

This morning I took the hike up Observation ("Ob") Hill, which is just outside of town. I can't remember the elevation and I can't find it right now, something around 200 m sounds familiar. Anyways, there's a trail up there, and it was another beautiful, warm, and calm day today, so I decided to go for it. Here's a view from the bottom:

The first section of the climb was tough, probably because I had just woken up. Once I got warmed up, it wasn't too bad, although the trail has some spokes and dead ends and I had to backtrack a little bit once. It tested some climbing and hiking skills that I don't have (there's likely no way I'd do something like this elsewhere). It's a great view from the top though, the view down to McMurdo is a near-famous picture. I set up my camera on some rocks, set the timer, and got a crappy picture of myself in my goofy cone-shaped hat:

That's the cross in memory of Scott's 1912 return expedition from the South Pole in the background. The descent was annoying, as I was hoping not to break my knees and also trying not to fall down and gouge myself on the sharp outcroppings.

As I said, tomorrow is my last normal day, because Wednesday I need to get ready to leave. I'll have to clean my room to specifications (it shouldn't be too bad because it was cleaned last week when my roommate left), then turn in my checked baggage that night ("Bag Drag"). By tomorrow we should get a better idea of the weather for the flight back Thursday.

13 December 2006

Traveling Violation

Nothing too exciting in this post, just some updates:

My travel plans got rearranged Tuesday, big time. The original plan was to fly back to Christchurch on December 19th. Well, the C-17 flight got cancelled. So I was left with either December 14th or 21st. I chose the 21st because leaving today would be a bit hasty and I still have some work to do. Part of my trip report involves documenting model performance for selected cases while I'm here. Well, we've been under weak flow and unorganized weather since I've gotten here. It's made for very nice conditions, everyone is loving it, and the met. manager noted that no flight operations in/out of McMurdo were affected at all last week by weather, and he cannot remember that ever happening before. But its boring weather for me and it's hard to gauge model performance for this almost chaotic weather (scattered clouds and light snow).

Anyways, my original plan included two days/three nights in Christchurch on the way back, meaning I leave Christchurch and get back to Milwaukee on December 22nd. By leaving on the 21st, my choices were to keep my original commercial-carrier flight plan and head back on the 22nd (basically no time in New Zealand) or stay until the 25th, because they would not be able to book me on either the 23rd or 24th. I decided on the three days/four nights in Christchurch. Any delays leaving McMurdo could put a December 22nd departure for the U.S. in jeopardy, and I don't want to pass up a couple days vacation in New Zealand. Of course I'm missing Christmas with the family, which is tough because I've never not been home for Christmas before. But I think I got the best possible option out of what was available to me. It's disappointing that they cancelled that flight on the 19th, and surprising to me, with the mass exodus of beakers (scientists) from here before Christmas. The flights on Dec. 14th and 21st out of here are packed. But it's out of my control, all I can do is deal with it.

Pun City alerted me to the fact that there are two people from our hometown of Grafton, Wisconsin in Antarctica right now. Ryan Hammetter (Grafton H.S. class of 2001) is at the South Pole right now with UW's IceCube project. My guess is that he was here in McMurdo last Thursday between flights. I don't know him very well, the only connection I can possibly think of is 1998 Grafton JV baseball. I would need to go through my records to confirm this. But it's exciting that two people from a town of about 12,000 people are in Antarctica at the same time.

I've been trying to take in some of the area activities while I'm here. I've been to the Protestant service at the Chapel of the Snows:

both Sundays I've been here. Tuesday afternoon I went to New Zealand's Scott Base:

to visit their station store. It's a short, maybe 10-minute, shuttle ride from McMurdo. It's much smaller, I think it maxes out around 100 people. But it's a well-constructed base, it's very nice inside and it appears that most if not all of the buildings are interconnected. I went there last Thursday for "American Night", when their bar is open to us. Had a good time and the people there are very friendly. But the store was closed, so I needed to make a return visit. They had some really good candy there, I got a chocolate bar with pineapple-flavored filling and a pack of milk-flavored gummy pieces. Both were delicious. While I was waiting outside for the shuttle back, I was standing too close to their helicopter pad, because it almost hit me when it came in. I just got blasted with dust and dirt as I was moving away.

Tonight I went to Burger Bar at Gallaghers. Got a double cheeseburger, fries, and root beer. It costs money, but is a nice change of pace. The guy from Cudahy I met in Christchurch and attended happy camper school with was there, so I ate with him and one of his colleagues.

My roommate took off for New Zealand this morning, so we'll see if I get another roommate during the rest of my stay.

08 December 2006

Live Feed

I've been in town for a little over a week now, and have settled into a nice routine (it was interrupted a bit by happy camper school, but not a big deal). Here's some information about my life here so far.

First of all, here's a picture of the dorm I live in (208):

and here's a picture from inside the room:

that's my half of the room, the refrigerator, TV, and my roommate's half of the room are behind the picture.

I've been working roughly 2 PM - Midnight in the forecast office, which is a portion of the top floor of this building (165):

In a way I am on my own in regards to the work I am doing here. My advisor and I, with the help of some of the more senior graduate students in our research group came up with a plan for my work here. It's a bit open ended and dependent on what I initially found here. I'm here from the AMPS (Antarctic Mesoscale Prediction System) project, developed by NCAR and the Polar Meteorology Group at Ohio State about five years ago. I'm here to get feedback from the forecasters on AMPS, whether it be specific products or its performance. They are the "customers" of AMPS, as they work with it real time every day. Also, work has been done to transition AMPS from using the MM5 forecast model to the new WRF model. We're also looking for any feedback on how the preliminary AMPS WRF has been performing during the field season. I'm also on the lookout for case studies of events that occur while I'm here. There hasn't been much so far, but that could change soon. Finally, we came up with a small research project for me to do while I am here, regarding model forecasts of meteorological variables important for flight operations. Along the way, I'm also learning a lot more about weather forecasting for this region, which poses many difficulties not seen in the United States.

A big topic of conversation around here during the past week was this article, one of a series by an MSNBC correspondent. This got around town quickly, and he was labeled as a whiner by many here (his next posting details some of the backlash). Incidentally, he was on the same flight south as me, and also stayed at the same hotel in Christchurch. I was aware of an MSNBC crew in Christchurch, but did not meet or talk with him or the photographer, and did not put everything together until last Sunday. My feeling was that he may not have been familiar as to what the trip down here would be like. Overall, from the empty Los Angeles-Auckland flight, the nice weather in Christchurch, the fact that the southbound flight left the day it was supposed to and we got some extra sleep that morning, and getting to ride in a C-17, we had it pretty good. I felt like I had a lot of the same problems as the correspondent (hasty flight connections in the U.S., lost luggage, first time here, alone). But I got advice and guidance from my friend and colleague Ryan, who has been down here three times and told me a lot of what to expect. So that helped a lot. I don't think anyone would argue that the trip from Christchurch to McMurdo makes for a long day, and I'm guessing other people also feel tired and disoriented from all of the travel (as did I). I heard others here say that the article was good, in that it shows some of what people go through just to get down here. I just tried to prepare the best I could, and deal with whatever happened on the trip here, and everything ended up working out just fine.

In the spirit of being positive, I'll close with some things I really like here so far:

  • Free food
  • Casual conversation in the forecast office
  • No traffic
  • Soft-serve ice cream with jimmies
  • Armed Forces Television
  • Weather nicer than back home (so far at least)
  • Sunday brunch
  • 24-hour daylight (it's still a novelty to me, all of the pictures in this post were taken at about 10:30 PM in the evening)
  • Having a brat for lunch today
  • Talking with my roommate about his work with seals

06 December 2006

Somewhat Happy Camper

For the past two days I was at snow survival school, better known as "Happy Camper School." It involves camping out for the night on the ice, as well as other instruction and scenarios. Many of you know that I am not much of an outdoors person. My outdoors activities usually involve golfing, biking, watching sporting events, and walking through the parking lot to the mall. I cannot recall a true camping experience in my life, and despite the gracious hosts and company on trips to northern Wisconsin, I never really enjoyed them. So this was something I was a bit apprehensive about.

The program started with a briefing about cold-weather injuries and vehicle survival packs. From there they drove us to an intersection between Scott Base and Willie Field. We hiked the mile or so from there to the program site, which is a cluster of small buildings and open camp space. There we were instructed on the use of portable stoves, and then we went to the actual camp site. We were instructed on how to build snow walls, how to put up various types of tents, and other survival skillz. Early evening the instructor left, and spent the night at the small instructor hut down the road. We finished up the snow wall and made dinner, which consisted of hot beverages and dehydrated food. Here is a picture of the finished camp:

We were free to chose our shelter for the night. The options were in one of two Scott tents, smaller mountain tents, in ditches, or in a quinzee (a snow hut). I found an old quinzee that I shared with another guy. All of these were built by the classes earlier in the season that had more people. Here is a picture of the quinzee I stayed in for the night:

The entrance is to the right. The quinzee was actually very nice. It was quiet, and for the most part warm, although it got a little chilly at night. There was plenty of space for two people and our gear. I put hot water in my water bottle and put that in my sleeping bag, which helped. I didn't sleep that well, not from the cold but just being uncomfortable (I'm a light sleeper). It's light out 24 hours a day, which doesn't help either. The next morning I managed to get dressed in there, and we packed up camp and went back to the camp buildings.

The rest of the day we had a couple briefings, some practice using HF and VHF radio, and some survival scenarios. The first one was a "burning vehicle" situation, where we had to quickly make camp and establish communication with Mac Center. I ended up digging yet another trench to make snow blocks from. Then in the bucket game, we have to find someone (in this case a duffle bag) in white-out conditions, which is simulated with having buckets on our heads. A rope is attached to a fixed point and we have to find the victim. We didn't do it the most efficient way, but I actually found the bag and we eventually got back to the building.

After that we cleaned up, hiked back to the intersection, and went back to McMurdo, where we watched some videos on helicopters and the environmental impact on the Dry Valleys. Then we were done, and it felt great to get out of the ECW gear, take a shower, get some hot food, and sleep in a warm bed.

So overall it wasn't too bad. We had great weather (mid 30's both days, low teens at night, sunny skies, for the most part light winds). The views of Mt. Erebus, Mt. Terror, and Castle Rock were impressive. There were plenty of snacks and water, although dinner wasn't that great (I got stuck with a black beans and rice dehy meal). I didn't get sunburned, since I vigilantly applied sunscreen, I just have more freckles on my face. The group was good, we had twelve people from diverse careers (several base support staff, two Raytheon techs, an oceanographer, a teacher, and a grad student (me)). One of the Raytheon techs is from Cudahy, so we had a good time talking about Milwaukee. Several of the people are ex-military, so I enjoyed talking with them. One of them has been to Iraq at least once, I believe in more of a logistical support capacity. But it's interesting talking to those people about their experiences there, and the positive changes that have occurred in that country that are not reported in the media.

Here's a picture of me (the first one of the trip)

Hopefully I'll get another post out tomorrow about my overall experiences here at the base so far.

01 December 2006

Indoor Living

I made it to McMurdo on Thursday. The plan was to wake up at 4:15 AM for the 5:30 AM shuttle to the airport in Christchurch, with a 9:00 AM departure to McMurdo. After I got out of the shower at 4:45, I got a call from hotel reception stating that the flight was delayed three hours and the shuttle would now leave at 8:30 AM. Cool, so I went back to bed. At 8:30 we left for the USAP facility in Christchurch, which is near the airport. I stashed the gear I was keeping in New Zealand, and got dressed in my ECW (extreme cold weather) gear. Here's a picture after the changing room was pretty much emptied:

After that it was off to the terminal to get screened and checked in. NZ customs checked everything out, mainly for hazardous materials and bag size. They give us two orange bags, one of which is checked and the other is carry-on. The carry-on needs to fit into a box, which no one's does, but I got drilled about that. So I "rearranged" it, and went through again with a different person checking it, and got through fine. Then we had time in the waiting room or around the facility. They played TV news and a movie (Oceans 11) while we were waiting (and sweating)...

Then our bags were screened, and we took buses to the plane. I wanted to pet the drug-sniffing dog (a nice black lab) but decided against it. The C-17 was actually a very comfortable ride down.

I took a center section ("economy") back row seat so I had some extra storage space. The side seats ("first class") can give me motion sickness in any vehicle, but I had plenty of room in the center. We got a big sack of food (Two sandwiches, two bags of potato chips, apple, orange, two different candy bars, a fruit bar, a bottle of water, and a bottle of juice). I ate everything except for a candy bar and the orange. The flight was five hours, and we got off at Pegasus Runway (here's a picture of the C-17 after arrival):

We then took shuttles through the snow (about 30 minute ride) to McMurdo. There we got dinner, briefed, and were let loose. I found my dorm, showered, got my luggage, and got settled. I have one roommate (some kind of researcher from Oregon, he works with seals) and have a bathroom that is shared with one other dorm room. I'm in a nice dorm, some have 4-5 people with communal bathrooms. Overall it reminds me of college (dorms, dining hall, mass sickness). Yesterday I met up with the forecaster in the weather office, and got familiarized with their operations. I'll observe and learn from their work, along with doing some of my own.

I have a pretty cushy job here. I work inside all of the time (even though it's not bad here, low 30's, light snow). I don't really have set hours, and am pretty much on my own. This morning I went for a run, and will take care of some errands before going to the office. It's not good for me to be there in the morning when they are busy with flight briefings, so I'll work a second-shift schedule. It doesn't really matter because it's light outside 24 hours a day (there's slightly less light and colder during the night-time hours, but it's a weak diurnal cycle).

I'll have more about my work and life here as the days go by...