July, 2004....J. Dana Hrubes...updated July 31, 2004 , 0717 GMT

The local weather watcher shortly before the temperature dropped to -107.9 o F, the record so far this winter.
Just days earlier we missed reaching the all time low barometric pressure of 641.7 mbar by only 0.7 mbar
bringing us to an equivalent altitude of over 12,100 feet.

July at the Pole - dark and cold

July brought us the coldest temperatures and lowest barometric pressures of the year so far. We broke the all time record for the coldest average temperature for the month of July with -88.4o F (-66.9o C). The low temperature so far this year  of -107.9o F was on July 21st and we almost broke the all time low barometric pressure of 641.7 millibars a few days earlier. At that pressure we were essentially living at an equivalent elevation of about 12, 100 feet making it a bit difficult to breathe while exerting yourself. Some of us are hoping to break more records in August, historically the coldest month of the year. We have dropped below -100o F ten days this year so far, giving the winterovers here ample opportunity to join the 300 club. To join the 300 club, you must wait until the temperature outside is below -100o F and then we turn the upper berthing sauna up past +200o F and we sit in the sauna until we can't stand it anymore. At that point wearing nothing but boots and a smile we run out of upper berthing down the dome tunnel through the dome door, climb up the 35 foot drift to the polar plateau and then to the geographic pole and back.    300 club patch    

Between periods of extremely cold weather, the winds will increase and the temperatures will rise into the -80's and sometimes into the -70's . This is when you see the heavy equipment operators furiously trying to get work done that has been piling up. Generally there is no vehicle activity with the caterpillars below -80 F because of temperature related equipment failures. During this time I am usually shoveling drifted snow out of my back door on the first floor lab of skylab in an attempt to keep the door accessible.   outdoor access to skylab with stairs cut out of the drifted snow       Meanwhile meteorology department continues with daily weather balloon launches no matter what temperature we are experiencing.       balloon launch  (photo by Kris Perry)     

I have had to do outside work on the SETI telescope as well as many of my other projects frequently this winter. This type of work outside has similarities to working extravehicular activity on science hardware in space. You have extremely bulky protective clothing making everything you do take many times longer, the environment is extremely hostile and unforgiving, visibility is poor, exposure time of sensitive components and your body is limited, mistakes cannot be tolerated, and maintaining sufficient manual dexterity is difficult. The telescope is mounted on the 35 foot high telescope tower exposed to the winds. Working on the telescope, particularly when opening up heated components at these extreme temperatures, requires hours of preparation. This preparation is necessary because once the heated telescope interior is opened and exposed to temperatures down to -100 F, you only have minutes to complete your work before you must close the unit so the electronic components will not get too cold and fail. In addition, when working on these delicate components you must wear thin polypropylene gloves to get the necessary dexterity. This gives you only minutes to work before your fingers begin to freeze. In these situations it is impossible to avoid some frostnip.... the trick is to know your limitations and to keep it to a minimum.     leaving the meteorology office to walk to the SETI tower (you need to bring all equipment you need and might need because time is crucial when components and your fingers are exposed to the extreme cold and wind)    

the SETI/AASTO telescope tower with small blanket windbreak set up ready to perform work     

working on the telescope at -95 F            working on the telescope         

SETI telescope tower and service building backlit by the star field of the Southern hemisphere 

Aurora Australis over the new South Pole Station illuminated by the full moon on July 2
(it was the highest full moon of the season at 26o 30')

Once again, we experienced many breathtaking auroras this month.   Some were taken during the two weeks the moon was up and some were taken during the moonless, extremely dark periods.   These photos are time exposures; therefore, in the moonlit photos, objects appear brighter than they really are.     big aurora over skylab (no moon)        Atmospheric Research Observatory with the atmospheric turbulence LIDAR laser beam in the near horizontal position (no moon)          aurora over the moonlit new station         aurora over the SETI telescope (no moon)         SETI aurora (no moon)         aurora over moonlit skylab and dome        aurora over moonlit skylab      aurora over the moonlit VLF transmitter building     

The construction of the new station is proceeding rapidly.     hallway second floor       new galley       kitchen     For photos of the inside of the old dome and the buildings, etc. see my web site for the year 2000-2001.    home page    The May entry has quite a few photos, but the other months also show photos of the old dome.   

Since there is no food service on Sundays volunteers frequently cook for the station crew. Last Sunday four of us made a sushi dinner for the station. There was no raw fish here, but we used things like fake crab meat, canned mackerel, tuna, cucumbers from the greenhouse, etc.      sushi making         serving the crew 

We had no gigs planned for the South Pole band this month we just practiced new songs bringing our total song list to over 30. Our next gig is August 21st.      band after practice in the skylab lounge        This is the time of year when people who are not cutting their hair (like myself) are getting a bit ragged        July hair  

NEXT MONTH:   the coldest month and the beginning of astronomical twilight.....

       A Real-Time Photo of South Pole Station as Seen from the ARO Building (live when satellite is up)

           A Comprehensive South Pole Web Site by Bill Spindler

          Winterover Web Pages (Bill Spindler's List)