Something Strange is Happening at the Coldest, Driest Place on Earth

For someone who has experienced “freaky weather” in the Antarctic up close and personal, reports this week that baby Antarctic penguins are freezing to death due to “freak rain storms,” came as no surprise.

Fellow explorer Jon Bowermaster had this to say:

Everyone talks about the melting of the glaciers but having day after day of rain in Antarctica is a totally new phenomenon. As a result, penguins are literally freezing to death.”

The sad truth is there's been a lot of freaky things happening in the Antarctic lately.

If little baby penguins freezing to death isn't enough, a new study out last week from the University of Washington has found that penguin populations are plummeting due to climate change, pollution and other factors like fish stock depletion and loss of breeding habitat.

Despite it still being the winter season in the Antarctic, with temperatures as low as minus 85 Fahrenheit, the massive Wilkins Ice Shelf is collapsing as we speak.

And then there's the “freaky snow.”

With all that ice, it might seem kind of backwards to call snow at the South Pole “freaky,” but it is. The Antarctic is literally a desert of ice with an average of 1-inch of precipitation each year.

Antarctica is in fact the the coldest, highest, windiest and driest continent on earth.

Last year, when I attempted to become the first American to reach the South Pole, solo and unaided, it was the “freaky snow” that stopped me in my tracks.

At first the snow fell only lightly. Clouds of tiny crystals sank from the sky like plankton to the sea floor. I stood for a while, still hooked to my sled, unbelieving. It was not clear if what I was seeing was real. My mind and body had become so deeply worn from the hundreds of miles of hauling that at first I could not be sure. I was alone, exhausted and doing my best o stay alive and reach the South Pole on a dwindling supply of food and fuel.

Many days before, injury had taken my expedition partner, along with too much of our supplies. The image of the evacuation plane was now a foggy and distant one, and now here I was, standing alone in the middle of Antarctica witnessing something not easily believable - it seemed to be snowing in the driest place on earth.

But what began as a curious illusion soon turned to real alarm.

Within hours the crystals thickened and turned heavy - and soon visibility would be completely chocked off. By midnight a rare easterly rose, climaxing at to 40 knots. What began as a crystal dance now turned to a full-blown blizzard - the equivalent of torrential rain in the middle of the Sahara. What I was seeing was real, the world had indeed turned upside-down, and it would be more than a week before it could right itself.

I was trapped, wrapped in a blizzard somewhere around the 83rd parallel. A few hundred miles away at Base camp - things were no better. I spoke by satellite phone from my buried tent to Mike Sharp, the Logistics Veteran who had not missed an Antarctic season since 1977. He could offer little comfort:

I've never seen anything like this mate. I don't know what to make of it, but whatever you do, don't move”

Of course I moved, I needed to move, I was running short of food… Struggling over the ice, blinded by fierce white, I began to wonder what had caused this. Could this be an isolated event, or was it part of a bigger system? Could this be part of larger phenomena - like Global Warming?

Last year I was wondering, but now I know for certain that even in the coldest, driest place on earth something just isn't right.

On November 8, 2008 Todd Carmichael will attempt to become the first American in history to reach the South Pole, solo and unaided.

Sign up for Todd's newsletter and get expedition updates live from the Antarctic.


someone scoff at the notion that a warming climate means increased snowfall at the poles.

Anyone who has ever lived in the Great Lakes region can easily understand this.

Let it get cold enough for the lakes to freeze and the lake-effect storms cease. It then takes a storm in off the Atlantic, where there’s moisture to evaporate, to deposit appreciable snowfall.

Makes total sense. It’s so cold at the pole that there’s no moisture evaporating inro the air to make the rain (or in this case) snow clouds. Thanks for the explanation exusian.
And good luck on your solo attempt todd!

Exactly, but you also have to remember that the elevation of the Antarctic ice cap means atmospheric pressure atop it is pretty low, plus the air is very cold, meaning it can hold very little moisture. (Look up relative and absolute humidity.)

Flaming Penguin Kebab


2 pounds ground or whole penguin
2 sliced onions
2 sliced green or red bell peppers
1 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground garlic
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
2 Bay Leaves
3 sharp skewers


Slice penguin into 1-inch cubes. Mix spices in with olive oil. Marinade cubes in spice mix. Refrigerate overnight, stirring occasionally. Slice onions and bell peppers into wedges. Place vegetables and penguin cubes alternately on skewers. Brush lightly again with marinade. Grill for 10 to 15 minutes until golden brown outside. Douse lightly with brandy or lighter fluid and light before serving.

Yeah, it’s always only about the penguins and polar bears, right? Those Bangladeshis, those Inuits living in Kivalina who are affected by coastal flooding, they simply don’t exist! Or even if they do, we can treat them just like penguins and polar bears!

The world economy can do without Inuits, but it can’t do without Angry White Males! Thus said Galileo.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- International Journal of Inactivism
“Al `Fat Al’ Gore [is fat]” – Harold Pierce

I contemplated taking this comment off of the blog because I find it so offensive and so utterly disrespectful of the living - animals and humans alike. I decided, however, that it illustrates perfectly the lack of a coherent, intelligent response by those who deny climate change and how far and low they have to reach when science doesn’t work in their favour.

“I contemplated taking this comment off of the blog because I find it so offensive and so utterly disrespectful of the living - animals and humans alike.”

I can assure you the penguins are anything but alive when they are served. Rather, they are delicious!

“I decided, however, that it illustrates perfectly the lack of a coherent, intelligent response by those who deny climate change”

Listen, missy, you can deny whatever you want, but nobody can deny that Flaming Penguin Kebab is a mouth-watering treat that’s sure to satisfy even the fussiest of dinner guests.

“and how far and low they have to reach when science doesn’t work in their favour.”

Ha! Why not do yourself a favour – Try my recipe for Flaming Penguin Kebab. You’ll be smacking your lips, and coming back for seconds!

P.S. You eat chicken, don’t you, you big cry-baby?

epicure, first you ignore the existence of Bangladeshis and Kivalina Inuits – both groups which are affected by coastal flooding.

Then you ignore the fact that you ignored these people.

Perhaps it’s because you just discovered that you’re a racist fool who thinks the only people who matter are Angry White Males? And that you’re too embarassed to admit this fact?

You’re disgusting, and I hope you freeze in Inuit hell.

-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- International Journal of Inactivism
“Al `Fat Al’ Gore [is fat]” – Harold Pierce

As usual these articles are long on adjectives and short on data.

Exactly what are “freak rain storms”? Do they happen yearly, every decade or every century? How much history do we really have? The rain is taking place on the Antarctic Peninsula which is north of the Antarctic Circle as far north as about 63 degrees south which means it’s no further south then Reykjavík, Iceland is north. The Antarctic Peninsula is also part of West Antarctica which is only one-third of the continent. West Antarctica is warming. East Antarctica (two-thirds of the continent) is cooling. When you read about Antarctica melting notice how it’s West Antarctica they mention. Little or no mention will be made of the much larger East Antarctica cooling.

“The massive Wilkins Ice Shelf” is melting. The Wilkins Ice Shelf is 150km X 110km or 16,500 sq km (80mi X 60mi or 4,800 sq mi). Now 16,500 sq kilometers sounds like allot but as of June 2008 there was 14.5 million sq kilometers of ice around Antarctica. That by the way compares with 13.8 million in 2007 and 12.6 in 1979 (the first year of satellite data). The June 2008 number is the record most ice for June in the short, 30 year history of Antarctica. Did you notice that they didn’t mention that ice surrounding Antarctica is increasing?

“Freaky snow” Todd Carmichael states that Antarctica is a desert that gets only about 1 inch of precipitation each year. I’ve actually seen 2 inches. One inch is a rough equivalent to about 10 inches of snow and 10 inches of “dry snow” will have less water in it then 10 inches of (wet snow) so it could be more. I’m also betting that it snows more in Antarctica in the summer then the winter. He spent 23 days out there so he should expect to see some snow. He mentions a “rare easterly” wind but also mentioned Antarctica is the “windiest and driest continent on earth.” He never mentioned how much snow actually came down.

“I’ve never seen anything like this mate.” That is hardly a definitive statement.

He ends with this gem “Could this be part of larger phenomena - like Global Warming?”

The bottom line is that any and everything can be and is blamed on global warming.