This week at Casey: 1 February 2019

The difference a day makes

What's the weather today?

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.

Nyssa Lonsdale

2018/19 Met Team standing in front of the balloon building including (from left to right) Deb, Tanya, Nyssa, Sean, Jane, Craig and Ken.
2018/19 Met Team including (from left to right) Deb, Tanya, Nyssa, Sean,…
(Photo: Ben McCormick)
Sunrise with the Automatic weather station at Casey in the foreground
Automatic weather station at Casey
(Photo: Ken Cheung)
A wind storm brews in the distance before bringing a blizzard to Station
A wind storm brews in the distance before bringing a blizzard to…
(Photo: Ken Cheung)
Blizzard at Casey Station showing Red Shed and Green Hagg blurred by snow
Blizzard at Casey Station
(Photo: Tanya Maddison)

Get to know a Casey expeditioner - Mic Rofe

From: Blue Mountains, but grew up in Sydney

Previous seasons? I was at Casey last summer

Job title: Senior Field Training Officer (SFTO)

Describe your role in two sentences:  I lead a team that supports the station in all of their field activities.  This ranges from helping toxicologists searching for tardigrades to training tradies in use of a GPS or travelling on sea ice.

What did you do before your joined the AAD? I have been fortunate to work in a diverse range of outdoor contexts: teaching outdoor recreation in the Blue Mountains, delivering adventurous training for the Army, guiding canyoning & climbing as well as leading mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas and Andes.

What is your favourite part of your job here at Casey? Getting absorbed in some really satisfying work; like teaching quadbike riding skills or problem solving to fix a broken seismic installation… then pausing for a moment to lift my head and smile as I think how fortunate I am to be doing this work here in Antarctica.

If you were not a field training officer what would be your dream job? I am not sure it has a title, but I love working with people in mountain landscapes where I can craft adventurous, playful experiences.

How does this season at Casey compare to your previous seasons down south? This station is always a little hectic and frantic.  This season the melt has been mild, so we have been very active locally visiting huts and running travel training.  But the weather has been challenging with wind and cloud keeping us on our toes shifting to plan b, or c, or even d.

What do you like to do in your spare time? I love listening to the stories of other expeditioners.  Nowhere else in the world is there such a concentration of amazing and diverse people.

What song sums up your Casey experience so far?  The Waitress, by The Waifs

Favourite piece of Australian Antarctic Division kit? Merino thermals.

What is your favourite book or movie and why?  Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.  Just cos’

What is your typical 'Slushy FM' genre? Do you have a particular favourite? Shuffle

Describe your Casey experience with: a sight, a smell, a sound, a feeling and a taste.

Sight:  First half of season penguin eggs, second half it’s tardigrades under the microscope.

Smell: 2-stroke exhaust.  This smell means I am on my way to see icebergs, seals or seabirds.

Sound: Hearing Emperor Penguins for the first time.  Such a sweet melody in contrast to Adélies

Feeling: Anticipation as we surround the BOM forecaster each day at the 8am weather brief.

Taste: Gluten free treats made by Jordan, Arvid and Justin.  Yum.

Do you have a favourite quote that you’d like to leave us with?  Never turn down a cup of tea.
Digging snow away from the door of Wilkes Hilton after a blizzard
Digging snow away from the door of Wilkes Hilton after a blizzard
(Photo: Mic Rofe)
Building anchors in the snow with mutiple points to hold ice lines during resupply
Building anchors to hold ice lines during resupply
(Photo: Mic Rofe)
Helicopter on sea ice near Chick Island, 250nm East of Casey Station
Landing on sea ice near Chick Island, 250nm East of Casey Station
(Photo: Mic Rofe)
Two lego men standing on a rock with the bay and Shirley Island in the background
Trying to share my Antarctic experience with home!
(Photo: Mic Rofe)