Weather delays Pole flights
Last effort to reach 90 degrees south for report on climate change pays off for Today Show crew
Posted November 8, 2007
Antarctic weather doesn’t respect schedules, even for national television.
Today Show anchor Ann Curry, reporting live out of McMurdo Station for a series called "Ends of the Earth," has been stymied in her effort to reach the South Pole due to severe weather conditions, mainly at McMurdo.
But at about 1 a.m. local time on Friday, Nov. 9, Curry and crew finally touched down at the South Pole.
“We can feel the altitude,” Curry reported back on Thursday morning's Today Show. “I can feel all the moisture on my face freezing as I’m speaking to you. We’re the first NBC News team to make it to the South Pole. We’re feeling really lucky. The sun is shining. It’s absolutely beautiful here. It’s flat. Lots of great people. We were actually, if you can believe it, greeted by ‘Welcome Ann’ signs. I can’t believe that.”
Four ski-equipped LC-130 military aircraft made the trip from McMurdo to South Pole as originally scheduled on Oct. 31 to deliver people and supplies, according to Ray Gabriel, U.S. Antarctic Program transportation planner. But unsettled weather had grounded any additional flights until Curry's arrival.
“When we have cancellations for the whole day, it’s got to be [weather in] McMurdo,” Gabriel said.
Bill Turbull, manager for Antarctic Terminal Operations at McMurdo, reported on Thursday (local time) that there was condition one weather at the research station for three hours on Wednesday (local time). Condition one is called when visibility is less than 100 feet or wind speed is greater than 60 mph or wind chill is greater than minus 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
When asked whether any flights would make it to Pole on Thursday (local time), Turnbull coyly said, “It’s not out of the question.”
Weather has also mucked up flights for three days from Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo. Though scheduled to fly north on Thursday (local time) for Christchurch, the Today Show team opted to make one last effort for a quick trip to the Pole, with hopes of returning in time from the six-hour round trip to catch their flight home.
In a live broadcast from McMurdo on Thursday (local time), with wind and snow blasting the red parka-clad newscaster, Curry said the news team had plenty of reason to give up but wouldn’t.
“First of all, we’re understanding the flight there is so bumpy that people often get nauseated during the flight,” she told fellow Today anchors Matt Lauer and Al Roker. “We’re told that the flights sometimes turn around and come all the way back, flying three hours over and three hours back.
“And worst of all, we’re told that these are considered balmy conditions —blowing snow at McMurdo Station — compared to what you experience at the South Pole. So are we giving up? Heck no; in fact, we’re scheduled for the next flight out, and weather permitting ... we’re going. Call us crazy — bye.”
Apparently being crazy paid off. “We sure tried a lot,” Curry said via satellite phone at the Pole, where she said the temperature was minus 53 degress Fahrenheit. “There were many, many, many days of waiting, but I guess perseverance pays off, guys. This is a moment everybody on our team will never forget.”
Flight delays to South Pole in the early part of the austral summer are not unusual. The longest delay occurred during the 1997-98 season, when weather conditions kept the first flight of summer from reaching the station for 12 days. The first flight of that year was scheduled for Oct. 27 and arrived Nov. 8.