Tag Archives: -100F

One Hundred Degrees Below Zero

So we’ve hit the magic number three times now – this past Saturday setting the record low for the year: -107.9F

A picture of our weather page showing the coldest temp yet.

A picture of our weather page showing the coldest temp yet.

This cold marks a whole new definition of the word. It’s hard to explain. Physical properties are different. Even finding words to describe it: frigid, biting, harsh, sharp…even the word “cold” seems too soft, describing a frosty fall morning or goose bumps. This cold makes metal tracks on the equipment pop and crack, sounding like rice crispies. It freezes huge sharpie markers after a minute or two leaving only a streak of black felt scraped off the tip. Filmy plastic bags become so brittle even being bent by the wind will snap them in half. Elastic bands on headlamps freeze solid, cracking sharply if you try to adjust or stretch them. Rubber seals break in half at the lightest pressure. Zippers and anything metal is cold enough to burn your fingers if you touch it with bare skin. Cameras slow until the shutter freezes in place. Hard plastic will crack if dropped or banged. Electrical cords crack or snap in half if bent. My breath freezes in the air so quickly there’s a sound to it – a gentle exhale, silent in warmer temps, produces a rushing sound as if I were blowing out forcefully…The snow squeaks like styrofoam, the air is perfectly clear. Sound travels amazingly well, footsteps echoing and voices carrying deceptively far.

It’s a cold sharpened by the wind, and with a wind-chill of -150F it’s cold enough to freeze your skin after only a few minutes.
Bundled up in our “ECW”, or extreme cold weather [gear], it’s tolerable for an hour or two at most. To work outside in these conditions I layer up: Wool or fleece long underwear, expedition weight thick socks, insulated carhartt bibs, a fleece jacket or hoodie, a thick fleece gaiter, a wool and fleece hat, my insulated carhartt jacket, warm liner gloves, and thickly padded leather mittens. On my feet I wear big FDX “blue boots.” With my gaiter pulled up to just below my eyes and my hat pulled down leaving only a half inch or so to see through I am set.
That said, it’s not instant death to step outside – I often run down DZ to drop of a bag of waste in just my jeans and hoodie. The only important part is to cover your mouth and nose with a sleeve or tuck it in the neck of your shirt…the cold air can burn your lungs resulting in a cough that lasts several days.

Ultimately, it’s so dry here that while it’s extremely cold it doesn’t feel quite as bone-chilling as a 40deg rain in the PNW.

Me at work just after lunch, rolling up a cargo strap on one of my waste triwalls at DZ - Photo by IceCube winterover Felipe

Me at work just after lunch, rolling up a cargo strap on one of my waste triwalls at DZ – Photo by IceCube winterover Felipe

An excerpt from one of my favorite folk songs that keeps coming to mind:
“The weather tried to beat him.
It tried its level best.
At one hundred degrees below zero,
He just buttoned up his vest.
It froze clear down to China,
It froze to the stars above.
And at one thousand degrees below zero,
It froze my logger love.”

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300 CLUB

We’ve finally hit the magic number: 100 degrees below zero! I woke late this past Sunday, our one day off each week. There were a number of people sitting in the galley working on crosswords and chatting. The ambient temperature outside was in the mid 90’s and everyone was keeping a close eye on it betting whether or not it would keep falling. The legendary 300 Club was potentially eminent! Most years temps reach -100F in winter, but not all.
At -98F… Someone ran down to turn on the sauna.
-99.8F… We were all running for our gaiters, boots, and towels.
-100.1F… Thirteen of us were crammed into the small sauna which was cranked up as high as it would go. Boots on, gaiters in hand, a head lamp or two and nothing else but towels we sat sweating, watching the thermometer in the sauna creep up to 180F…190F…195F…

A radio call to our contact at a computer who was watching the temp outside – “Is it still -100?!”
“-99.9F, but hold on…” A loud groan from everyone around me “Noooo, Come on! So close!” We waited, people moving to the lower benches, stepping out for water bottles. The thermometer in the sauna moved slowly to 200F…then 205F.
A minute later another radio call temp check…
“-100F!” then “-101!! GO! GO! GO!”

We piled out the door and down the metal encased stairs we call the ‘beer can.’ Tossing towels on the stair railing we donned our gaiters and dashed out the door. There’s a steep drift like a bow wave in front of the station. Some people stumbled. Out to the Geographic South Pole and around. Hooting and hollering we shouted into the night. Pausing for a moment I watched a gorgeous aurora stretch itself undulating across the sky, a streak of blue green color through the bright stars and velvety black sky. Thick steam rose from my hot skin, now numb against the cold. I looked down to see every hair on my arm sticking up, coated in frost. Stumbling over sastrugi, guided by the sound of heavy footsteps in the snow and the beer can glinting in the star light I finally made it back inside. Clutching my towel around me I ran up the stairs to join the others in the sauna to warm up, gasping and laughing as we recounted the adventure: who fell, who almost ran into someone else, who saw the auroras, who accidentally grabbed the wrong towel, who didn’t wear their gaiter and would cough for a day or two…Craziness.

A 300 degree difference between sauna (200F) and ambient outside temperature (-100F) = The 300 Club.

The Wikipedia entry for 300 Club: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/300_Club

Komo News even did a short cover on the 2010 event: http://www.komonews.com/weather

No cameras for the actual event, but this was "drawn" with a headlamp and a long exposure - photo by Blaise

No cameras for the actual event, but this was “drawn” with a headlamp and a long exposure – photo by Blaise

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Filed under Antarctic, South Pole, Winter

-98.9F

So close to 100 below…and yet so far away. We’re back up to -78F today…-98.9F

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Filed under Antarctic, South Pole, Winter