Antarctica – The Chance of a Lifetime

The Dream

Ever since I was a kid and picked up my first book of the continents, and saw Antarctica way down south at the bottom of the world, I’ve dreamed of going there. Antarctica is remote, cold and barren. I’m not sure what this says about my personality, but I’m drawn to it. Soon, I will get my chance to see it. I have accepted a contract position with Raytheon Polar Services to work as a fire dispatcher at McMurdo Station from October 3, 2009 to February 20, 2010. Raytheon Polar Services Company provides the logistical support for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) . The USAP is funded by the National Science Foundation with the goal of supporting the Antarctic Treaty and furthering scientific research.

Where is McMurdo Station?

McMurdo Station lies on the southern tip of Ross Island, on the shore of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. It is 2,200 miles due south of New Zealand at 77 ° 51 ′ South, 166 ° 40 ′ East. This is solid ground the farthest south that a ship can sail. While the continent of Antarctica is 98% covered with ice, McMurdo Station is built on bare volcanic rock.

Political Map of Antarctica

Political Map of Antarctica

Who is at McMurdo?

McMurdo Station is the largest American Base in Antarctica. The population in summer is around 1,100 people with fewer than 200 in winter. McMurdo serves as the logistics base for American operations in Antarctica as well as a science research facility. The station includes an airfield, heliport and harbor, as well as over 100 buildings. While the primary focus of American operations in Antarctica is science, most residents of McMurdo are support staff including cooks, mechanics, carpenters, plumbers, information technology, emergency services and others.

McMurdo Station

McMurdo Station

What’s The Weather Like?

It’s pretty cold at McMurdo. The average annual temperature is around 2°F, with the average high around 8°F and the average low around -5°F. While I’m there, from October through February, it will be spring and summer. October will be the coldest, with average high temperatures around 4°F, and lows around -10°F. December and January will be the warmest, as it will be summer. Average highs in December are around 30°F and lows around 21°F. While these temperatures are cold for summer, they are balmy compared to the interior of Antarctica. At places such as Amundsen-Scott Station (the American base at the South Pole) temperatures are far more extreme. Not only is Amundsen-Scott at the center of the continent away from the moderating influence of the ocean, it is also at an elevation of more than 9200 feet above sea level, compared to McMurdo’s 78 foot elevation. Average summer temperatures at Amundsen-Scott remain below zero, even in the warmest months. The warmest temperature recorded there was 7.5°F on December 27, 1978. Temperatures at McMurdo can rise to 46°F on warm summer days.

Where Will You Live and What Will You Be Doing?

While at McMurdo, I will be living in a dormatory with at least one roomate. Food service is cafeteria style. Housing and food are provided for those working in Antarctica. In the photo above, the four large buildings in the upper left are the dormitories. Below them, toward the center of the photo, is the medical clinic (with the purple/reddish roof). The brown building, with the white vertical stripes, just to the lower left of the clinic, is the firehouse where I will be working as a dispatcher. I will be working twelve-hour shifts, just as I do now, but I will be working three days, followed by three days off. I hope this schedule will allow me free time to take plenty of pictures of the landscape and wildlife, and to meet new people. McMurdo has numerous recreational and social activities I am looking forward to enjoying.

Why Are You Doing This?

I’ve always wanted to go to Antarctica. As a boy when I first learned of it, Antarctica has been an interest of mine. As I grew older I began to realize that somebody must be there working in a scientific capacity. Then several years ago, I read Ice Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole. It tells the story of Dr. Jerri Nielsen who, while spending the winter at the South Pole, discovered a lump in her breast. Unable to leave the South Pole, she relied on other doctors and experts via satelitte and email as well as her fellow “Polies” to help treat herself until she could be flown out for treatment. It was after reading that book that I realized there are regular people just like you or me working in Antarctica. They just happen to be working in one of the most extreme and remote locations on earth. Once I decided to get there, I learned who was hiring and how to get there. After several years of trying, I was offered a position on June 4, 2009.

Are You Crazy?

People have asked me if I’m crazy. Maybe I am. But I consider myself lucky. I’m lucky to have the support of my wife and family. Everyone at my volunteer firehouse is with me. And I get to go someplace I’ve dreamed of going since I was a young boy.

People have also asked about my current job as an emergency services dispatcher. I have requested a leave of absence from the municipality for which I work. I hope it is granted, as I intend to return to my duties there. If it is not granted, so be it. I’m approaching this adventure with an open mind. I guess I need to find myself. (How cliché!) I may find that I want to return and be an emergency services dispatcher for the next twenty years. I may find that I’m a good photographer. I may decide to be a truck driver or a plumber. Or a writer. Or whatever.

Sometimes you just need to take a leap.

And hope you can fly.

Why Were You So Nice To That Guy?

Treating People The Way You Would Like To Be Treated

I was at work the other day when a salesman named Humberto came in asking for someone in a purchasing capacity. His product was a waterless cleaner and dispenser that law enforcement could use to quickly clean up when dealing with people. It was originally developed for athletics, especially wrestlers. He was excited about his product and was eager to talk to someone about it. I’m sure he was on commission, but that’s not the point.

Anyone who could have spoken with Humberto was either busy or disinterested. So I spoke with him. He was a nice guy with an interesting product. We spoke for about 30 minutes and when he was through with his pitch, he shook my hand and said, “Thanks for your time.” When I went back into my office and explained the product to my coworkers, one of them asked, “Why were you so nice to that guy?”

Why I Was Nice To A Salesman

  1. It was easy. When I greeted Humberto, he spoke to me not as though I was simply someone in the way before he got to who he wanted or needed to speak to; he spoke to me as if I was the person he came to see. He asked how I was before going on with who he was and what his business was. Too often people refer to me and my coworkers as “just dispatchers.” They are less than polite and make it clear we aren’t the people they are looking for.
  2. He was pleasant, confident and well spoken. Humberto was pleasant to talk to. He was enthusiastic about his company and its products. He believed in what he was selling and was confident in his delivery.
  3. I put myself in his shoes. When a coworker asked why I was so nice to Humberto, I replied, “Because my wife does sales for her business and I know how hard it can be.” Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes is helpful in any number of circumstances. My wife does sales, my sister did telephone sales when she was in school. I know it isn’t easy, even if you love the work and are good at it. Why not listen to the person and act as though it were you in their position?
  4. I’m awesome. Just kidding. (Not really)

Lessons Learned

  1. Take the time to listen to someone. You might be the person asking for that courtesy next time.
  2. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. See above. You may think you have job security now, but what if things change? What if you are the salesman next time?
  3. Look at it as a break. Sometimes people are genuinely busy. I don’t know if I would have taken the time to speak to Humberto as I did if there were emergencies and great calamities occurring. But there weren’t at the time, so taking a few minutes to speak with him was like a quick break from the office.
  4. There may be an opportunity for you in the future. During Humberto’s presentation, he mentioned his cleaning product was originally marketed to high school athletic departments, specifically wrestlers. Someone mentioned that law enforcement might be a good market for the product, so they began selling to police departments. I asked if they had considered the fire and EMS market, as they certainly have physical contact with the public. He replied that they were taking things in stages and fire and EMS would be their next step. I told him I’ve been a volunteer firefighter for almost twenty years and if his company needs any more salespeople to give me a call. I was joking at the time, but as I thought about it later, I realized there might be an opportunity in the future. If I hadn’t taken the time to speak with him, there would be no opportunity.

It’s easy to be disinterested and cynical. Believe me, working in public service and emergency services can easily make one hardened and cynical. But if you treat others as you would like to be treated, you may find that it makes things much more pleasant for everyone involved.

Minnesota Experiences 66 Degree Temperature Range at One Time

Minnesota is a fairly large state and can experience a wide range of temperatures. Occasionally, there can be a 40 degree range of temperature across the state at any given time and on rare occasions, a 60 degree range. On Tuesday, May 19, Minnesota experienced a temperature range of 66 degrees. At 5:00 PM (CDT) the temperature in Granite Falls, in southwestern Minnesota reached 100°F. At the same time, Grand Marais, in the northeastern part on the state, recorded a temperature of 34°F, due to the lake breeze off of Lake Superior. (The high in Grand Marais only reached 42°) The hot temperatures by themselves were record setting. Minneapolis/St. Paul reached 97°F, setting the record for the warmest temperature so early in the season. Previously, the earliest date to record temperature of 97° was May 22, back in 1925, and only three years have ever had a 97°F reading in May prior to yesterday: 1925, 1934 and 2006. While the warmest reading for the month of May occurred in 1934, at 106°F, only about half the years between 1890 and 2006 have recorded 97°F or hotter for the entire year.

Minnesota Temperatures - 5/19/09 5:00 PM CDT - Click for Larger

In the above image, you can see the range of temperatures across the state. On each weather icon, the temperate (°F) can be seen as the number to the upper left of the circle in the center of the icon. The circle itself indicates the percentage of cloud cover. You can also see the wind direction. The little wind vane sticking out of the circle shows the direction from which the wind is blowing. You can clearly see the areas that are coldest are experiencing winds from the east or southeast. These easterly winds are cooler as they are blowing across the cold Great Lakes. However, in areas where temperatures soared to the upper 90s to 100°F, you can see the predominant wind direction is from the south and southwest. Here, the air is not influenced by any body of water, but rather by the warm, dry air from the Plains States. Also at work was a phenomenon called compressional, or adiabatic heating, where the air is warmed as it sinks and is compressed by high pressure.

Not only were these temperatures and the range of temperatures across the state interesting, it was rather rare for Minnesota to experience some of the hottest and coldest temperatures in the lower 48: At the time it was 100°F in Granite Falls, it was 21 degrees colder in Houston, TX, at 79°F and 25 degrees colder in Miami, FL, at 75°F.

Is It Safe To Come Out Yet?

I’ve been hiding in the basement in an attempt to avoid swine H1N1 flu. What really scared me and forced me into seclusion was the following memo I received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since it was on the internet and appeared to have the CDC logo, I assumed it was 100% accurate.


The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Swine Flu to be a level 5 risk. The response to a Level 5 outbreak is complete panic, supplemented by paranoia and failure to give the risk any context in relation to other disease threats routinely faced. Here is a quick FAQ followed by tips for survival.


1.     What is Swine Flu?

Swine Flu is like regular flu, but a thousand times worse because it has swine DNA mixed into it, so the moment you contract it, you not only have the deadly flu to deal with, but also the introduction of porcine DNA into your bloodstream.

2.     Isn’t it true that Swine Flu has not proven to be more deadly than regular flu in he United States?

Yes. So? This is Swine Flu, ok? This is an advanced flu never before faced. The fact that it is not killing people in the United States is no reason not to panic. It could be allowing survival simply to mask its rapid spread before it unleashes itself all at once at midnight on the night of the full moon, as foretold in Mayan prophecies.

3.     Should I take reasonable and ordinary precautions against contracting Swine Flu?

No! The only reasonable response is complete panic. The fact that Swine Flu is dominating the news cycle tells you how dangerous this is. This will make Avian Flu and SARS massacres that happened in the United States look like non-events! In the time you take to read this alert, the flu will have spread even further. It is coming, and it is coming for you.

Tips For Survival

It is unlikely that you will survive. But you have a chance, if you are smarter, craftier, and sharper than your soon to be dead neighbors. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Avoid planes, trains, subways and cars with more than one person in them.
  2. Avoid buildings with people in them. Don’t even think about getting on an elevator. Take the stairs, but only when the coast is clear.
  3. Buy supplies at night, when other people are sleeping. Beware the daywalkers, who move about in sunlight despite being infected.
  4. Quarantine everyone, including yourself. Segregate your home into individual sealed cleanrooms and allow one person per chamber. Communication should be by text or cell only.
  5. After you wear an outfit, burn it. Wear a new one each day. Do not allow the virus to gain a foothold in the loose weave of used clothing.
  6. Completely cease any interaction with society. If possible, relocate to a remote area of the Montana forest lands, or to the South Dakota Badlands where you can see the infected coming.
  7. Despite all your efforts, the infected will come for you. As they do, you are likely to meet a few (two or three) other intrepid survivors. Join with them to fight the infected.
  8. If any person in your small group of survivors is bitten by the infected, or in any way has the blood of the infected enter their mouth or an open wound, kill that person immediately. They will be infected and will attack you without mercy or feeling once the virus takes over.
  9. Remember, this is a Level 5 virus. If you make it to a safe house, you will proceed to Level 6. The virus will be at its toughest, and you may have to face infected with special powers, but if you make it past Level 6 you will be rescued and the pandemic will be over
  10. I can write nothing else. They have come for me. Good luck and remember survival of the human race depends of y… Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!

Silly isn’t it? While we are getting all worked up over Swine (H1N1) Flu, thousands of people have already died from seasonal flu. In fact, on average, seasonal flu kills 36,000 Americans each year. Worldwide, 250,000 – 500,000 people die of seasonal flu annually. Approximately three times per century, a pandemic occurs, killing a million or more. The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-1920 killed anywhere from 70 million to 100 million people. Other pandemics include the Asian Flu in 1957-1958 which killed 1-1.5 million worldwide (70,000 in the US) and the Hong Kong Flu of 1968-1969 which killed 750,000 to 1 million worldwide (34,000 in the US). Currently, 44 deaths have been confirmed in Mexico and 2 in the United States. For a grand total of 46 deaths. Forty-six.

Of course, the main stream media reports exhaustively on the latest developments, going so far as to report on the panic that they themselves have helped create. Our government officials are no better. Vice President Biden announced that he would avoid buses, subways and other enclosed places. Brilliant. Let’s all avoid mass transit and car-pooling and instead drive individually. This way we can marginally lower our risk of catching the flu and greatly increase our chances of being killed in a car crash.

I can’t help but wonder if this hysteria is simply a way for the media to avoid reporting on something else going on that is really important, say high level government officials’ involvement in torture?

Nah, couldn’t be. It must be the fever talking.