Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Year of the Wind

Windy view from the hut (photo by Kirsten)

kat•a•bat•ic - adj. Meteorol. (of a wind or air current) moving downward or down a slope. Cf. anabatic (def. 1) [1915–20; <>

Hut day #4. The wind has been oscillating between gale force (32–63 mph) and storm force (64–72 mph) since Friday, with occasional forays into hurricane force (>72 mph). We kill time by searching for adjectives for wind: howling, blowing, whistling, blustery, raging, tearing, blasting, gusting, slashing, furious, maddening, screaming, shrieking, whooshing. From the hut it sounds like a soft whoosh, a slight whistle, a large breath through the heater vent. From the tent it howls, blows, and ululates, flapping and snapping the tent canvas like a mad animal (there are no land mammals in Antarctica, but when the wind picks up the tent ropes and fabric make sounds like small animals scurrying around the rocks just outside the tent - we call them the toothy scrapers). When you are outside you don't hear the wind as much because you're so busy trying to stand upright as it pushes you around like a top. It's been windy like this, on and off, for the past month, delaying flights, keeping people inside, and exasperating everyone. Cape Crozier, as usual, is windier than everywhere else - the katabatic winds flow down from the cold, dry polar plateau, across the Ross Ice Shelf, and past Cape Crozier virtually unhindered, pusing out the sea ice and whipping up the surface of the water into foamy whitecaps and spindrift. Penguin life is mostly unaltered - they are shaped like small, heavy torpedoes, and don;t get blown off their nests until the wind goes above 120 mph.

My favorite wind words are for things shaped by the wind: ventifacts, rocks that have been faceted, grooved, and polished by wind-driven sand; sastrugi, ridges of wind-carved snow; spindrift, spray swept by a violent wind along the surface of the sea; anemosis, a flaw in wood caused by the action of strong winds upon the tree trunk; yardang, a keel-shaped crest or ridge of rock formed by the action of the wind.

Lenticular cloud shaped like a squid, announcing high winds (photo by Grant)

Snow petrels love to fly in big winds


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