More About the Island

I’ve been here for almost three weeks now. Sometimes it feels like longer, and sometimes it feels like the time has just flown by.

In short, I’m adjusting well and still loving it here. Of course there are the little quirks and a few inconveniences (e.g., dial-up…), but if you can get past that, I think it’s terrific.

Actually I don’t think I’ve felt this stress-free and relaxed for years. Granted, there’s still a ton for me to learn about work stuff, but I’m up to the challenge and also haven’t felt this motivated for years.

Work

I’m still doing training shifts at work, and will continue to do so through about the end of the month. Mostly it’s involved me doing the forecasting work and then checking with the meteorologist on shift and discussing any changes I should make before issuing a product. I’ve also started to learn a bit more about the weather radar as I’ll be taking over some of the radar meteorologist tasks when the current radar guy leaves in a couple months.

After about three weeks of day shifts (9:30 am to 5:30 pm), I’ll start swing shifts (5:30 pm to 1:30 am) on Tuesday. I’ve heard swing shifts are typically slower as there’s less to do, but it does involve launching a radiosonde (weather balloon) at 11 pm as the techs typically aren’t around after about 4 pm (they launch the morning balloon at 11 am).

The company I work for is based in Norman, and they have a couple of meteorologists there who forecast remotely for Kwajalein between 1:30 and 9:30 am (8:30 am to 4:30 pm Oklahoma time). Our phones forward there when they are forecasting, so if anyone calls the weather station they’ll get someone from Norman.

Speaking of phones, we don’t have to dial international to dial off-island, and the same goes for people calling the island. On Kwajalein Island, we use an area code from California, so if someone called my number with a cell phone, it would be just like dialing someone in the States.

Anyway, I’ll be on swings for a couple weeks (including working some weekends and then just getting other days off) and then I’ll be back on days for the last week of August. My first scheduled day “on my own” is Tuesday the 30th. In early September, I’ll work a few of the morning shifts just to see the subtle differences and so I know what to do if I get called in or have to otherwise work that shift for some reason.

The real bread and butter of this place is the missions, but it’ll be a while before I participate in the forecasting duties for the launches we provide support for. Some of the mission stuff is sensitive, so I can’t talk much about that outside of work, but if you want to have an idea about a typical mission, do a Google search for Vandenberg missile and Kwajalein Atoll (check out the news section of Google, too, and you may find one about a launch during my first week here).

Questions?

Ok, now to answer a few questions I’ve received from friends and figured I’d answer for everyone.

In my last post I mentioned the bugle call. So apparently bugle calls are typical at army forts around the world. The USAKA (United States Army Kwajalein Atoll) scheduled bugle calls are as follows (it’s not an actual bugle, just a recording broadcast around the island):

6 amReveille (US flag is raised, everyone in earshot is supposed to stand at attention [not that everyone does…], the military day has official begun)

12 pmMess Call (self-explanatory)

5 pmRetreat / To the Colors (flag is lowered at the end of the work day, everyone in earshot is supposed to stand at attention)

10 pmTattoo / TAPS (end of the day)

There’s also a siren that blasts “all-clear” for 20 seconds each work day at 6 pm (the first time I heard it I was confused as it sounded like a tornado siren…). There is a siren warning system here, but not sure I’d be able to remember which siren is for which warning as there are several outlined in the phone book.

Another question is what music is on the radio. Well, it’s an army network I think, and there are only a few stations. I haven’t tried tuning in to the stations, but I think there’s a Marshallese music station, an NPR station, and a country music station. I think there’s another one or two sometimes too.

I did bring along my entire, diverse music collection, so I still have a lot to listen to.

Someone recently let me borrow a small TV, so now I’ve been able to tune in to the AFN (armed forces network) channels. We have about 10 channels on the island, including a couple news channels, a sports channel or two, a channel that plays movies, a channel that plays semi-recent US TV shows, a “family” channel that plays recent and older shows and movies from at least the Disney and ABC family channels, the community activities channel (slideshow of stuff going on on Kwaj, set often to pop music), and the weather channel (not THE weather channel, but OUR weather channel, which plays satellite and radar loops, forecasts, current weather, tidal info, sunrise/sunset info, etc. set to usually NPR radio).

A TV guide comes out every Saturday, along with the “Hourglass”, the island’s newspaper/newsletter.

Other questions I’ve gotten have been about the weather. As we’re on a tiny island in the tropics (about 8 N, 167 E) the ocean moderates the temperature very well. Highs throughout the year range from about 84 to 88, lows from about 74 to 78. The average daily temperature range is less than 10 degrees. One of the meteorologists told me the record high is about 93 and the record low 69.

The dewpoint is typically in the low 70s, so it is very humid here.

Also, since we are in the tropics, the sun does go straight overhead. So even if it’s not 100 degrees, we get maximum solar radiation and it can feel like the sun is literally cooking you. I bet the stores make a lot of money on sunscreen out here!

Speaking of the sun, it takes a bit getting used to the sun going down so “early” in the summer. The length of days doesn’t change much here (maybe an hour throughout the year). Currently the sun is rising just after 6 and setting about 7:40.

The rainy season is about May to November, when light easterly winds and frequent showers dominate (if you want to know more, do a search for the ITCZ, inter-tropical convergence zone). December to April is the windy season, when strong northeast trade winds blow (strong being about 15-20 knots) and typically there are only a few light showers.

This year I heard there wasn’t much of a dry season, though, and we’re currently about 20 inches of rain above average! The average annual precipitation is just under 100 inches.

Typhoons / tropical cyclones don’t occur here very often, but they are possible. About the strongest one would maybe be about a Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, but even that could cause some considerable flooding and damage.

Tsunamis are even less of a threat, as the ocean floor slopes so steeply from here. It’s about a 1:1 ratio, so if you go a mile out to sea, the floor is about a mile down (probably one of the reasons swimming in the ocean is prohibited). A big wave just couldn’t build up. Still, a few inches of a wave could cause a bit of flooding and erosion around the shore.

I’m not sure of the temperature of the water in the ocean or lagoon, but both feel fairly warm. I’d guess in the low 80s, at least in the lagoon. Maybe upper 70s.

Okay, I think that’s all for now. Even if I don’t take the time to post photos (though sometimes I will, to make things more interesting!), I’ll try to update more frequently and answer certain questions thrown at me. 🙂

Maybe next time I’ll talk more about the stores and businesses and such on the island…

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