The National Zoo's Antarctica Expedition is sponsored by the National Science Foundation's Office of Polar Programs.
All photographs depicting Weddell seals were taken under NMFS Permit No. 763-1485-00 issued under the authority of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
September 28, 2006
Weather conditions are defined in the U.S. Antarctic Program field manual as follows:
Condition III: Winds up to 48 knots, wind chill down to -75 degrees F, and visibility over 1/4 mile. Unrestricted travel and activity are allowed.
Condition II: Winds 48 to 55 knots, wind chill -75 to -100 degrees F, or visibility 100 feet to 1/4 mile. Restricted pedestrian traffic only between buildings is allowed. Vehicular travel is allowed in radio-equipped, enclosed vehicles
only, and checkout is required.
Condition I: Winds over 55 knots, wind chill lower than -100 degrees F, or visibility less than 100 feet. Severe weather is in progress. All personnel must remain in buildings or the nearest shelter.
McMurdo has been on Condition II for two days now, threatening to slip into Condition I, and we are watching the weather with keen interest. A change to Condition I would mean that everyone must stay put in whatever building he or she happens to be in at the time. It’s rather like a slow and gigantic game of musical chairs. People seem vaguely pleased (a change from the routine), and there is a subdued holiday atmosphere. Some of us are trying to estimate the chances of an imminent change to Condition I, and which is the best building in town to get stuck in—the Galley (food, hot drinks, people) versus one’s dorm (TV, bed, privacy). I head for my office in the Crary Lab, where I have access to all the essential creature comforts—hot drinks, bathrooms, company, warmth, and an Internet connection. This really would not be the worst place to be stuck (I have Big Red to sleep in if I have to), but I have trouble believing it will really happen.
The dry language of weather classification fails dismally at conveying the reality of walking outside into a white chaos of solid water being hurled through the atmosphere at almost 50 miles per hour. It is still surprisingly warm, and so exposed skin can, surprisingly, bear the touch of the wind, which feels cool but has lost its carnivorous bite. Still, I cover up against the assault of the snow that seeks to sandblast my face and eyes. On my way home, I walk in a cocoon of warmth through the storm, carefully, because the wind is strong enough to trip me. Just for fun I spread my arms to catch the wind and skip a few steps, laughing, thinking how much I must resemble a bright red beach ball.