Midway Weather

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Hasta la proxima [See you next time]

Mother Nature decided to give me a going away present.  This morning the clouds parted and I was able to see the crescent moon and a sky full of stars for just the third time in the last three months.  When the sun rose at 10:30AM, it showed a cloudless sky with calm winds.  By noon the temperature had shot into the high 30's.
What a nice way to end my tour on the island.  Hopefully the island will look as kindly on my replacements.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Land's End

My planned departure in a few days has provided a break to the monotony and brought frenetic packing / tying up loose ends.

I made time to complete the tradition of leaving a set of prayer flags fluttering behind.  This set is blowing in the breeze at the East end of the island where others have put up signs to point towards home.  Years ago someone put up the 'Just Ahead, McDonalds - 1500 miles' sign during their free time.

This set will join the flags I've left behind at many previous postings.  Perhaps my small attempt to leave a mark on the land.  No kids, so I need something to remind people, "I was here, don't forget me"

Friday, December 27, 2013

New Year, New Latitude [New Attitude?]

It looks like my next posting may be Midway Island after a few months at home.  As part of the Minor Outlying Islands of the US, it isn't a part of any state.

I've been told the C-130 flight to the island every two weeks has to fly in at night without any runway lights, so that the chances of a bird strike are minimized.  Sounds like my kinda place.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A not white Christmas

While pecking away at the keyboard this afternoon I had the sudden sensation that something was different.  It took a few seconds to realize the sun shining in the window was the cause of my confusion; we haven't had direct sunlight in weeks.

Adding to my surprise was the limp flag out front.  Sunshine and no wind! What a Christmas present!

I got in a nice half dozen mile run in before the clouds came marching back over the island.  Along South Beach I found an old concrete structure [above] that has been artfully decorated.  No idea what its original use was.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Polar Opposites

It's the start of winter here on Shemya, but hardly feels like it yet.  The old timers here say that there's usually 4-5 feet of snow on the ground by Thanksgiving that lingers until April.  As of today, we still have bare ground with the occasional dusting of snow.  Temperatures are steadily in the 20's.

Oddly enough, I just checked the McMurdo webcam at the other end of the world.  With the start of summer having recently arrived, they've still got a sprinkling of snow on the ground and daytime temperatures in the 20's.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Season/ life/ location change

Life on Shemya has been slow and monotonous over the past three months.  For the last month and a half there has been little reason or opportunity to go outside.  The days have strung together into a repetitive series of coming down to the first floor for work in the clinic and cafeteria visits, inter coupled with trips upstairs to the residence.

I'd been hoping for more opportunities to wander the deserted beaches and jog the perimeter roads, but the winds and short days have prevented any attempts recently.

Still it hasn't been all bad.  The slow pace and isolation have allowed for some much needed introspection we rarely get these days.  It's so easy to get caught up with the frenetic pace of modern living - its been incredibly cathartic to have a break from it all.  You can keep the 24 hour news, text messages and animated freeway billboards.  I'll take the lonely outpost at the end of the map.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The burden of responsibility

It's closing on on 2AM and still in the clinic - seated next to a patient that I've been trying to get medically evacuated off the island for 14 hours.  We're getting hit with 70 MPH winds that are coming across the runway instead of safely down the middle.  Haven't found a pilot yet that is excited about making the potential 8 hour flight across the turbulent Pacific only to find they can't land due to the  weather here.

We're not expecting a break for seven days.  I'm hoping for a MEDEVAC before then since I'm already running on fumes ...

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Liquid sunshine

Sunrise yesterday, the first day of November, didn't rise until 10:20AM.  It set just a few hours later.
At its zenith, it only climbed to 25ยบ above the horizon before plummeting back down to a watery grave in the Pacific.

I can feel the hibernation instinct kicking in hard these days.  It seems natural to sleep late in the morning and tuck under the covers early in the evening.

We're loosing 3 minutes of light each day; I don't know if I'll be able to stay sane for the two months left until the winter solstice.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The only constant is change

Attu in the background [last island in the Aleutians]

Over the weekend we were blessed with a spell of nice weather.  Though the wind was still blowing at around 30 MPH, I took my chances and headed off for the long route along the North Beach Rd.  Within a few miles I was stuck in the middle of our first snow storm of the season.  I spent the entire upwind slog back to the barracks dreaming about the dry sauna in the gym.

Russian influence

The Klyuchevskoy volcano is erupting again.  It seems to be one of the more active volcanoes in the world, with frequent eruptions and ash clouds.  Several days ago it started up again and now there is concern that the ash cloud may be headed our way.

We are only a couple hundred miles East, so there is a real concern about any ash debris affecting aircraft engines.  If the weekly flight get cancelled today, it may be a while until we see fresh food again.

Shemya double dip

Local folklore says that Shemya Island is one of the few islands in the world that has two different bodies of water touching it, the Bering Sea to the North and Pacific Ocean to the South.  One of the fun activities here is to swim in both the ocean and the sea simultaneously.

This weekend a friend and I took the work truck out to the West end of the island for the 'double dip' experience.  Fortunately the weather broke and we had a beautiful view of the Near Islands [in the foreground] and Attu [peak in the background].  The experience consisted of wading into the Pacific [on the left of the picture] then sprinting across the sand to wade into the Bering [right side of the picture].  It was truly surprising to feel that the Bering was noticeably colder, even though the two spots were only several hundred feet apart.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


52°43′27″N 174°07′08″E

I've been scratching my head since arriving here, trying to figure out why the sun rises at 9:30AM and sets at 9PM.  It seems like our time zone is a bit out of sync here, even though Shemya and Adak are in their own unique Alaska time zone [UTC -10]

In an 'oh duh' moment, it came to me.  We're beyond the International Date Line here, out in the Eastern longitudes.  This location should actually be in UTC +12; three hours different from our actual time zone.  We share this time zone with: Cook Island, French Polynesia and the Johnston Atoll.  I wish the weather were as nice here as our time zone counterparts.

Holiday weekend lock-down

This last weekend was three days because of the federal holiday.  There were plans for a 5k fun run round the island, that unfortunately was cancelled because of weather.

In fact the entire weekend was CON2, with restricted travel outside any buildings.  The monotony of being stuck inside is starting to wear on the soul.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Scruffy the Shemya mascot

Every place has a mascot of some sort.  Here it is the Blue Arctic Fox, called 'Scruffy'.  The species was introduced to the Bering Islands by the Russians some 200 years ago and left as a fur source.  Since then the population has maintained itself on a harvest of ground nesting birds and mice.  When the island was heavily populated by military folks [some 5,000 people at the height] they took to 'supporting' the fox population.

Rumor has it that there was a heavy extermination effort several years ago that culled the numbers down.  These days there are a few foxes that try to sneak into the buildings, but most mind their distance [unfortunately for me].

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Blue Mistress

I took the clinic vehicle for a tour of our wind-swept island yesterday to become familiar with the 4 square mile rock that is home for the next few months.  There are a few tucked away places to explore; but I think I've found them all.

I've been told that Shemya is one of two islands in the world where two bodies of water meet [the Pacific on our Southern shore and the Bering to the North].  The surrounding ocean is omnipresent on the island, and a bit overwhelming to think about.  According to the satellite imagery, it is a straight 9,800 mile journey from here to Pine Island Glacier without touching land in-between.  Our nearest human neighbors are in Adak, 400 miles to the East.  On the Western skyline I can see Attu Island - the next landfall is the Russian Commander Islands, with mainland Russia another 100 miles beyond them.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Weather watching

With not much to do here on 'The Rock', it has become important to keep an eye on the weather an get outside whenever possible.  The old-timers [some folks have been working here for 40 years] say that pleasant weather is infrequent and fleeting.  The flag pole outside my unit is a stand-in anemometer; though the Weather Underground works well too.

Within the next few weeks winter weather is expected to set in soon.  I've been told to expect frequent bouts of Condition 1 weather [wind > 70 knots and/or more than 5 inches of rain per hour].  Should be fun!

Behind the Iron Curtain

Though the Cold War is long over, it seems that we are stuck behind a veil of secrecy here at the 'Black Pearl of the Aleutians'.  There are signs everywhere about not saying anything over the phone or internet that would violate security protocols.  There are warning signs on doors and underground tunnels that aren't supposed to exist.

It's all quite fun ... for now.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Private air travel

Over the years I've got to have some pretty amazing commutes.  For ski patrol there was the pre-dawn CAT rides to the top of the mountain with a backpack full of dynamite.  The Forest Service delivered us to remote fires via helicopter.  With the Coast Guard, I got to drive a rescue boat out to our 'work' on the water.  Then I had the pleasure of 'commuting' by C-130 and Twin Otter in Antarctica.

But nothing is as good as commuting by G-3 to a remote military base in Alaska.  The coffee and snacks in the back were self-serve, but the views of the Alaska and Brooks Range outside Anchorage more than made up for it.

In the land of giants

Almost two years to the day and I'm leaving from the same airport, with the same luggage and the same clothes.  This time its bound for Northern latitudes.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Paradise found?

I've been scouring the internet for recommendations on what to pack for Shemya.  There is a general consensus to bring lots of liquor, since none is available on 'the rock' - not that I'm that interested.

A large government contracting website I found discussed the difficulty they encountered at the location.

 Eareckson Air Station is, “one of the most inhospitable places on the face of the earth,” Samson laments. A normal day is 35 degrees F, and whether it is raining or snowing, it’s always blowing horizontally. “It’s usually foggy and cold and very wet,” 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mailing Address

For the next few months I'll be stationed at 'The Black Pearl' of the Aleutians - Shemya Island.  The last inhabited island in the Aleutian chain before Russia.  It's actually closer to Tokyo than Anchorage.  Should you take pity and wish to send a care package, please address to:

c/o CFSI
PO Box 6901
Elmendorf Air Force Base, AK 99506


Last weekend the siblings got back together for the annual 'Bro Retreat'. For the last few years we've been getting together the weekend after Labor Day to reconnect. This year we choose the Champion Mine, a long forgotten mining mining camp in Eastern California. Over the years volunteers have maintained the sleeping cabins, kitchen and museum in top condition. We made the easy 1 mile hike into the collection of cabins and [luckily] found ourselves alone in the hanging valley above Bishop, with nothing but the sweeping views of the Sierras to entertain us. As we explored the various buildings, mine shafts and equipment I got a healthy dose of time passing. Shafts had slowly caved in, buildings had been nudged off their foundations by repeated scree slides. Initially it was disheartening to see the destruction of so many historic relics; until I realized that it is actually just the entropy of nature returning the mountains to their natural state. And so too has entropy applied its pressure here at home. After a period of time working a regular job - its time to get packing again. Antarctica was the first big adventure after a many year hiatus for professional development. Recently an opportunity came up to get involved with an organization that specializes in providing remote medical care and I jumped. Adventure ahoy ...