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Goddard Space Flight Center

Astrophysics Science Division | Sciences and Exploration

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TIGER in Antarctica

December 18, 2001

A Storm!

For the last 4 days, McMurdo has been in a "Herbie", which is local slang for a hurricane-blizzard. In the town of McMurdo, things were not really bad, they were what is called "Condition 2", which means that you should take care when moving between buildings and you should travel in pairs. Everywhere outside of town it was "Condition 1", which means that travel outside is not allowed. So we were stuck in town for the four days.

McMurdo During Storm The temperature, luckily, was actually not bad and stayed just below freezing for the entire storm. There was some falling snow, but there was also a lot of blowing snow that had been picked up on the ice shelf. Wind gusts in town got up to 70 mph. I was almost lifted off a set of stairs when one of the big gusts hit me right in the back and one of the TIGER graduate students, Lauren Scott, was knocked down when he tried to take a picture with his back to the wind.

Photo on right: McMurdo during storm

There is enough to do in town that it wasn't so bad. We could get to the cafeteria, the science building, and the bars without much problem. There were people that were caught in tents on top of Mt. Erebus and in a hut on Black Island, who basically just had to hunker down and wait the storm out.

A Nodwell Even after the storm was over, it took a day to clear out the road to Willy Field. Then we were able to send out a limited group to check out how things weathered the storm. I got to be the sole representative of the TIGER science team because I could check out the computers, the instrument, and then could help shovel snow after the checkout was done.

Photo on left: A Nodwell

The road was still not in good enough condition for the wheeled vans, so we had to take an old Nodwell, with a passenger "box" on the back. The steering of this venerable vehicle was also somewhat the worse for wear. It basically only had three modes: 1) Roughly straight; 2) HARD LEFT; and 3) HARD RIGHT. The driver kept apologizing as we were getting thrown around in back.

Eric climbing snow drift from storm When we got out to Willy, we found that everything was in order inside the buildings and the power had stayed on the entire time. There were 15 foot snow drifts right outside the barn, however, and I did a fair amount of shoveling. The snow was already nearly the consistency of styrofoam and you can see in the picture at right how the wind had sculpted the top edge of the drift. I didn't have to shovel this drift, however, a bulldozer will eventually take it out. But there were several places close to the buildings that the bulldozers can't reach that had to be cleared by hand.

Photo on right: Eric climbing snow drift from storm

It's going to be several more days before things are back to normal. Even though we're ready to fly, the Willy Field runway and the road to town have priority for the road crews, and the launch area is last on the list. One of the road crew, who has been coming down here every year for 23 years, says that this is the worst summer storm she's ever seen. And we can't find a single person in town who disagrees. Not quite as bad as the worst of the winter storms, but I definitely feel like I've now really experienced Antarctica.

This was Eric's last journal entry. At 12:30 a.m. on December 21, 2001, TIGER was successfully launched from Williams Field. The flight landed at about 9 p.m. on January 21, 2002 (McMurdo time), 31 days 21.5 hours after launch, setting an endurance record for a long-duration balloon flight.

Photo of Dr. Christian

Dr. Eric R. Christian
Eric's Featured Scientist Profile
This page was last modified on December 19, 2002