Tuesday, January 04, 2011

From Deadhorse Alaska - 1-4-2011

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My sister Connie is working above the Arctic Circle in Deadhorse Alaska.  Here is her update:

Most of the time I was at home this last rotation, the weather here was horrible. More than 40 below zero and wind chill factors more than 70 below. The temps killed our truck, in fact. The day I landed in Anchorage it was 44 degrees above zero, and the next day things began to warm up on the slope.

I flew out of Anchorage in perfect weather, but a blizzard was raging on the slope. It was warm enough to snow…minus 7 degrees, but the chill factor was about 40 below. When we landed, winds were gusting to around 60 mph and the plane was rocking like a boat on waves. Again, I have to tell you how amazing these pilots are.

Getting off the plane was a trick, I’ll tell you……..the first few steps there is nothing to hold on to and the platform was really slick. I grabbed the hand rail and wrapped my arm around it and got down the stairs to the tarmac. The snow was already drifting in piles even though it had just been cleared. I made it to the bus and got on without falling, but at least one other person wasn’t so fortunate. I don’t know how the folks managed that had to walk all the way to the terminal, or like my alternate, Jack, who had to walk from the terminal and get on the plane to fly out.

You would think they wouldn’t be able to fly in that kind of weather, but not so. When you get off the ground, all that stops…..you can see and the wind is no longer a factor. And the sky is so beautiful; the horizon is a soft blue and there is a red glow where the sun looks like it may be going to rise. I often think about the experience Jodie Foster portrays in the movie, “Contact” when I look out the window of the plane. She is so overwhelmed by what she sees that she can only say, “It’s so beautiful.” That’s how I feel sometimes.

Anyway, the slope was in phase II, approaching phase III weather conditions and my coworkers had all been sent home. The bus was escorted by a snow plow to the BOC, so I was in my office pending calmer weather. The weather did not improve, so I ended up in a room at the BOC for the night, because it was not safe to travel to my camp.

The weather since has been great. It’s hanging around zero and pretty clear and calm. This is a strange place!

There is a phenomenon here with the ice crystals in the air and light that I’ve never experienced anywhere else, though I have lived in quite a few really cold places. When the weather conditions are just right, lights do not glow outward as we are accustomed to when we see things like street lights or ball-park lighting. Instead, the light makes a vertical shaft that goes hundreds of feet straight up, like a laser beam. Sometimes it is a light here and there, but once in a while it will be every light. It is spectacular, and I wish I could explain it in a way you could envision.

Picture this in your mind: A circle about 10 miles across with a road running through the middle. The circle is made up of buildings and structures covered with lights. Most of the lights are white, but some are yellow and others, such as the airport’s are green or red. Now, picture these thousands of lights shooting straight up as far as you can see in perfectly defined straight columns. It’s magnificent to behold. Twice while driving to work in the morning, all the lights have been this way. I wish so much that I could share it.  Connie

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