The Antarctic is the perfect base for a meteorologist fascinated by the extremes in weather. It’s a rare work environment where the topography is so steep that katabatic winds can roar down the slopes reaching several hundred kilometres an hour. These winds whip up snow and reduce the visibility to such an extent that even your shoes disappear from sight.
These conditions affect all activities on and off station including boating, helicopter and fixed wing aviation operations, field traverses and whether we can play cricket on Australia Day.
The ‘Met Team’ comprises weather forecasters, observers, and specialised technicians. The technicians maintain all the ‘met’ computing systems, networks, and automatic weather stations that collect wind, temperature and cloud data across the region.
Observers are based on station and at each of the aerodromes. They form an important component of the observations network by providing an accurate account of the current weather conditions for aviation purposes, climate records, and by releasing daily sondes (balloons) that record atmospheric data.
This information feeds into the model data used by forecasters who are tasked with predicting upcoming weather patterns. After an early morning start, forecasters will analyse and interpret the data before the remainder of the operations team, project scientists and pilots arrive for their 8am weather briefing.
Challenges in predicting the weather are not limited to a sparse observations network and infrequent satellite imagery. Restrictive model data can underestimate the effect of small-scale features leading to winds that are in reality 200% stronger than the models indicated. Conditions can also worsen rapidly, and we’ve seen around 50-knot mean winds suddenly gust to 96-knots which could easily knock you off your feet.
As a natural consequence of working and living together, we meet these challenges as a close-knit team. To know that our forecasts assist scientists with the vital work they do here is rewarding in itself, but to have the opportunity to live in this remote and awe-inspiring wilderness is truly a unique and breath-taking experience.
No matter your role here on station, you’ll find yourself enthralled by blizzards, turbulent wind storms, cloud formations, snow showers and watching the gradual summer-time melt of the sea ice.