Wicker Park native Tom Crawford isn’t missing winter in Chicago, and he’s living about 100 yards from the South Pole.
While Chicago marked a record-low temperature of -16 on Monday, it was a balmy -9 at the National Science Foundation South Pole Station in Antarctica, where the University of Chicago researcher is working on microwave telescopes that function best in the frigid, moisture-free air of a permanent polar vortex.
“We heard about it from people in Chicago,” said Crawford, an astrophysicist. “We got all kinds of tweets and stuff on Facebook, saying how soft we are in Antarctica.”
Double-digit negative temperatures are standard in the Antarctic, even in the current “summer” months, when high temperatures seldom reach the teens, and lows bottom out at nearly 120-below. Crawford and his colleagues took advantage of the relative warmth to do some outdoor work on a telescope.
Colleagues back in Chicago proved less hardy. U of C cosmologist Tyler Natoli hiked a kilometer to and from his barracks to the telescopes each day in minus-40-degree weather while stationed at the South Pole two years ago. He admits he couldn’t bring himself to dig his car out of the snow outside his Bucktown apartment on Monday.
“My car was pretty snowed in, and it was a bit cold,” Natoli said. “I went for a little walk yesterday to experience it, but I wasn’t up to going to the lab.”
Stephen Hoover, a researcher who has been to Antarctica three times, said only three researchers made it to work Monday, all of them veterans of South Pole excursions. During a conference call with researchers at the pole Monday, no one was particularly impressed with the weather in Chicago, Hoover said.
“The temperature did come up. When you’re down there the weather in Chicago isn’t such a big deal,” Hoover said.
Crawford says he actually prefers spending January and February at -90 latitude. For one thing, the constant below-freezing temperatures mean that Antarctic dwellers deal only with snow, never its homely, boot-soaking cousin, slush. And researchers also are issued 40 pounds of Extreme Cold Weather Gear to wear whenever they’re outside.
“And you don’t have to stand in the cold, waiting around for the bus,” he said. “I have never had a great longing to get back to a Chicago winter.