Remarkably we seem to be making it out of O’Hare. 4 inches measured at the official Clarendon Hills site (a stick in my yard) but United ground crews are working hard to get our plane boarded.. A 1:45 layover in Denver has me hoping our de-icing goes smooth.. Lots of ice on this plane… I don’t like traveling on weekends if I can avoid it, but if I did not I would only be in Utqiagvik for two days. Meridith has, very thoughtfully, procured a bag of fruit we are taking up. Like us, everything in Utqiagvik is flow in and out in the winter and most of the summer. So everything is expensive and fresh produce is rare. Its a shame I will not get any last sun before the northern journey. But here is hoping we get a few clearer nights and see some Aurora (bucket list for me!). Camera gear is all packed but I have no idea how it will work in the cold. Next dispatch from Alaska!
Could the trip be nixed even before it begins? A low pressure system is surging out of the south drawing up warm moist air. And Chicago is right where that air and cold air from where I am going (the Arctic) are meeting! What’s worse is the low is making the winds turn North Easterly on Saturday. This means the wind will come of a nice body of water around 36F turning on a lake snow machine! Usually I would be egging this bad boy on, but I have a flight to Denver connecting to Anchorage leaving at 8:50am.. Will I even get to go North after all?
Current North American Model forecasts a total of just on 10 inches between snowfall start and my flight’s departure time. I am hoping that I am on a 757-300 will mean: Its a bigger plane, less prone to weather delays AND a harder decision to cancel as a fill 757-300 is a lot harder to re-accommodate than, say, a small regional jet. (Probably not how this works, but its my blog and I am sticking to it). To make matters worse (or better for snow lovers who don’t need to catch a flight) there is an isothermal (same temperature) layer around 1.5km high at around -10ºc. This is the ideal temperature for transferring water out of the atmosphere (water vapor) into snowflakes (called a dendritic growth layer). This is weather geek speak for ITS GUNNA SNOW HARD. So now I place my hopes on a missed forecast, which is entirely possible as this all hinges on the model nailing the trajectory of the low pressure system. Hardly a given at this time of year. Small errors in low location changes the surface winds considerably and could nix this whole system. Here is hoping! (sorry snow lovers). Graphics come from the College of DuPage’s Nexlab. Kudos folks!
The motivation for starting this blog is to have a creative outlet for long form content. This was nucleated by a work trip to Utqiagvik (Barrow) Alaska on a project we are sub-contracting to the Concord Consortium on an NSF eduction grant called Precipitating Change. So what is so exciting about Barrow Alaska? For starters it is home to an ARM Research site, the Northernmost of its fixed network. Second it is the Northern-most city in the United States at 71.29 North, well above the Arctic circle. Yes, it will be dark the whole time we are there.. Well we will get some twilight.
And this makes for some very interesting meteorology. In places where the sun comes up we are used to the normal daily dance of the ground heating up and an equilibrium developing between warm air at the surface and colder air above. There are eddys that form that transport heat that develop a change in temperature with height (~1 degree per 100 meters). But no sun = some very funky temperature profiles! This effectively decouples layers of the atmosphere from the surface allowing for great cloud structures as talked about by Dr Joseph Hardin at last years ERAD.
More on the great weather (it’s actually looking ok for our trip with temperatures when we land around -19ºC) later. This trip is to observe 8th graders at the North Slop Borough Middle School interact with a curriculum we have been developing. The key to the curriculum: using the weather to teach computational thinking. Students observe weather phenomena, specifically large-scale circulations (Highs, Lows, Fronts), how they move and build forecasting rules of thumb. They reason out what should happen next at their location: Should it get warmer? Colder? Wetter? Dryer? Our plucky team (part of the larger project) is led by Meridith Bruozas from Educational Programs and Outreach at Argonne National Lab. I am not an education expert.. but I do ok at outreach. So this is new territory for me, both professionally and geographically. I am uncomfortable and I could not be happier!