Antarctic Weather and Meteorology
The early explorers knew that the Antarctic was an inhospitable place before they arrived. But maybe even they didn't image how bad it could be. Apsley Cherry-Garrard described the extreme cold during a mid winters journey to an emperor penguin colony, and Mawson's team endured the extreme winds of the coast at Commonwealth Bay.
- World Record Low: -128.6F (-89.2C) July 21 1983 at Vostok Station, Antarctica
- Highest recorded wind velocity in Antarctica: 199mph (327km/h), Dumont d'Urville, July of 1972
The antarctic is colder than the arctic because of the altitude of the high snow plateau which makes up most of Antarctica, and because the southern ice cap reflects most of the sun's radiation back into space. The world record low temperature was recorded at Vostok Station during the winter (July 21 1983) at -128.6F (-89.2C).
While the present world record cold temperature was recorded at Vostok, it may be expected that Dome Argus (known as Dome A) could be colder, as Dome A is higher (about 600m), and higher places are colder. However no one has ever been at Dome A during the winter to see how cold it gets. Recently an AWS (Automatic Weather Station) was installed at Dome A which will allow the weather during the winter there to be monitored remotely. The AAD has a Dome A Weather Web Site which allows everyone to watch the temperature in real time. May through September is the time to watch this site and potentially be the first person to see a new world record cold temperature!
The story of Sir Douglas Mawson's winter at Cape Denison, chronicled in his book "The Home of the Blizzard", cemented Antarctica's reputation for strong winds. The strong winds of the Antarctic are called katabatics and are caused by cold air flowing down a steep slope under the influence of gravity. As mentioned earlier Antarctic is mostly a high plateau. The terrain is mostly flat with a steep slope in the last few miles to the coast. The extremely cold and dense air quickly gains kinetic energy flowing down this steep slope gaining tremendous speed. Katabatic are also associated with glaciers which funnel the cold air from the interior towards the coast.
- Highest point in Antarctica is Vinson Massif 4897m high (16,067ft)
- The polar plateau is mostly between 2,000 and 4,000 meters
- South Pole is at an altitude of 2,800m (9300ft)
- Altitude of Dome A is 4084m
- Altitude of Dome C is 3233m
The highest recorded wind velocity in Antarctica is 199mph (327km/h) recorded at Dumont d'Urville (near where Mawson wintered), July of 1972. This is comparable to the strongest wind gust recorded on the surface of the earth, 371km/h (231 mph) at Mount Washington, New Hampshire (USA) on 12 April 1934.
The definition of a blizzard is not well defined. In non polar regions the definition can be different to used in Antarctica. A combination simultaneously of the following 3 conditions is a widely accepted definition in Antarctica.
- Freezing temperatures (0C or less)
- Gale-force winds (or stronger)
- Blowing snow causing the visibility to be reduced to 100m or less
Gale force or stronger being 34 knots, 39 miles per hour, 62km per hour, or greater.
Live Weather from Antarctica
Climate Data for the South Pole
The following data has been supplied by the USAP Meteorology Section.
South Pole Station Records 1957-2001
- Maximum Temperature -13.6 / +7.5 on December 27, 1978
- Minimum Temperature -82.8 / -117.0 on June 23, 1982
- Average Temperature -49.5 / -57.1
- Peak Wind 48 kts (55 mph) from 330 degrees on August 24, 1989
- Average Wind 10.7 kts (12.3 mph) from 020 degrees