Shoveling Snow in a Tropical Paradise

I shoveled snow in Hawaiʻi today.

Not the first time I have shoveled snow here. Somehow the novelty of snow in a tropical paradise never grows old. Not that shoveling snow at nearly 14,000ft gets any easier. The weekend storm left a foot of fresh snow on the mountain. As the Monday crew never made it to the summit, it fell to those of us working Tuesday to clear out the snow for access.

It was only a foot of snow? Not too bad? The snow came with 120mph winds, stripping the slopes bare and piling a three foot deep, fifteen foot wide drift in front of our loading dock and main doors. That was going to be a chore.

We needed power. The grader was working to clear the IRTF access road just above us. As the crew moved the vehicles I made a trip up to intercept the grader. At my request the driver joking asked how much cash I had. No. Beer? No. I offered cookies and the deal was made. A few minutes later the grader was clearing much of the snowdrift in our way.

Shoveling Snow
The crew shovels the loading dock clear while the OMKM grader clears a troublesome snowdrift.

The Front Page

An evening stop in the local market to pick up a few groceries. There is always a stack of local newspapers on the checkout counter. But this edition looked a little familiar… That is my photo! I knew Steve, our PIO at Keck, had forwarded the image to the newspaper. I did not expect it to be at the top of the front page!

The image has gotten some traffic. Posted to Facebook the news of snow on Mauna Kea resulted in the highest traffic day I have had in years for this blog. It is not even a great image, just a snapshot taken as we headed for the vehicles to get off the mountain. The light is horrible, the scene seems flat, but it is snow, and that is always big news around here.

Actually, this is my second front page image. A panorama shot from the Keck roof was featured on the front page of the Star-Advertiser earlier this year. It is always a nice surprise to see an image of mine get some press!

West Hawaii Today 0131012
The front page of the West Hawaii Today, 12 Oct 2013

Snow on the Mountain

Winter might just be starting in Hawai’i. A fall storm dropped the season’s first snow on the summit of Mauna Kea this afternoon. Not much, just enough to turn the summit white. I had to scrape the frozen snow from the windshield to free the wipers before I could drive down.

We got 1.2″ of rain at the house, quite a bit when you consider we get 10″ a year in the shadow of the mountain. I am headed back to the summit tomorrow morning, wondering what we will find, this storm is just starting.

Snow on Mauna Kea
A light snowfall marks the start of winter on Mauna Kea.

The Forecast was Correct

It does appear that we got a substantial amount of snow last night. Webcam images show quite a bit of snow. No tracks either, no one has attempted the summit yet, the snowplows have not made it up.

I am not scheduled to go up today, or even again this week. Fresh snow can be pretty, shoveling snow? Not so much. Actually, I expect that the summit crew will be sitting at Hale Pohaku much of the morning, waiting for the plows to complete their job, not the most productive way to spend the day.

The snow is expected to last through today and into tomorrow. The White Mountain should be white for a while.

Fresh Snow
Fresh snow atop Mauna Kea, the first good storm of 2013

A Little Snow in the Forecast

It was a gorgeous day when we arrived on the summit. A deep blue sky above brilliant white snow covering the slopes. It was difficult to put much faith in a forecast calling for truly dire weather. I could see nothing to the southwest, the direction this weather was approaching from, just the blue Pacific stretching to the horizon.

A little fresh snow on the summit of Mauna Kea
Oh yeah… The car is still there. It is a truly sad sight to see, the car halfway down the slope. Rumor had it that a tow truck was to come up today to remove the vehicle, but the car was still on the slope when we left.

Not a bad day, I accomplished everything on my to-do list for the day. Some work in AO to check for any stray light, removing some old servers to make way for a new system, locating and labeling some optical fibers that are already in place for this same system. Everything went well, except the lunch time cribbage game, I lost badly.

The weather was degrading all day, first the clouds loomed overhead, then they descended as a heavy fog while the temperature dropped. It did indeed begin to look like the forecasts might have a bit of truth. The prediction is for heavy snow, as much as 6-10 inches. Not sure if that will materialize, it would be nice, we have not had any real snowfall this winter. I will just have to check the webcams tomorrow morning.

It was beginning to snow when we pulled out.

Dispatch from the Summit – Chaining Up

By all accounts it was bad.

I was scheduled to go up, but ended up not joining the summit crews today. Just as well, they did not make the summit. The crew made it partway up, to about 12,000ft., into snow and freezing rain. Not a lot of snow, but a lot of slick ice, altogether much worse.

I talked to a few guys and the descriptions ranged from nasty to miserable. Pete remarked that his hair and pants were slowly icing up in the freezing rain. Kirk recalls parking the pickup to put on the chains, when getting out Michaela noted the vehicle was still moving, sliding sideways on the ice.

The road is closed to all vehicles! This is quite unusual, normally it is closed to the public when bad weather dictates, but remains open to observatory vehicles. Our trucks are some of the few vehicles on the island equipped with bad weather kits that include chains and other useful gear for dealing with ice and snow. Watching island boys with no winter weather experience trying to drive on ice can be rather entertaining.

I am scheduled for tomorrow as well. I will read the early morning reports from the rangers and decide if it worth my time. No point in going up just to spend the day sitting at Hale Pohaku. I may as well get something productive done at headquarters. Thus I pass along a photo from fellow Keck engineer Ean James…

Chaining Up
The Keck crew chaining up on the summit road, image credit: Ean James

Postcard from the Summit – White Christmas

Regular snowfall has accumulated at the summit. It is patchy, the wind sweeping the snow off the slopes, creating substantial drifts behind buildings and against guardrails. If you want to sled or snowboard, some of the north slopes have a bit of accumulation. Try the small bowl between Keck and Subaru. Need to have a white Christmas in Hawai’i, we can provide this year…

Icy Summit
The Sun setting over an ice and snow covered Pu’u Hau Kea

Light Snow Makes for a Pretty Day

A light snowfall delayed our arrival at the summit this morning. It was really only a few inches, but as usual it drifted into all the wrong places. Thus ice and drifts on the road meant we were waiting for the snowplows to break through.

Waiting was no problem, the Sun was out, creating a very pretty mountain. Olivier and I walked up to Keck from below Subaru as the snowplow cleared the last bit of road. We both had cameras in hand, enjoying the scenery. Not a lot of snow, but a fair amount of ice on any exposed surface. A few days before Christmas it all seemed appropriate.

After a quick job in the AO bench we needed to wait for some adhesive to cure. I ended up joining in with the snow shovel crew, clearing our doors and walkways of small drifts. Shoveling snow is not easy at nearly 14,000ft. Breathing hard, but having fun…

Light Snow
A light snowfall atop the summit of Mauna Kea