During a recent job, I found myself working in the field with the advance crew performing survey and ice check. We were aware that weather was coming in and made plans to be back at our crew change location ahead of the anticipated weather. The weather decided to change plans on us. We arrived at our crew change location as the weather was moving in. It wasn’t unmanageable or unsafe to travel just yet. But, within about 15 minutes, the snow and wind had increased so much that we were not able to see more than a few feet ahead of our vehicle. The decision was made to stop any movement of our vehicle and wait for the weather to improve (the winds to die down). We contacted our journey management and supervisors and they concurred with this decision. It’s better to play it safe than to try to push through. The Incident Management Team (IMT) for the area was mobilized and the weather was deemed to be at the highest level possible. That means that everyone was to shelter in place and that no one is allowed to travel on the roads except in an emergency and they must have a heavy equipment escort (snow plow, bulldozer, etc…).
During orientation for each job, the discussion of carrying extra food and water comes up repeatedly. One must always have their warmest winter gear with them as well, even if the gear is not being worn out to the field. This is advice that I always heed. It came in handy on this particular day. The temperature was pretty warm for the area, so I did not wear my heaviest gear. I’m glad I had it with me. As visibility dropped, I put on my gear. I also stepped out of the vehicle to take natures call as I didn’t want to try to accomplish this in heavy winds. Over the course of several hours, the weather did not seem to improve at all. I was glad that I packed some extra food. I attempted to sleep in the vehicle, but the combination of the not-so-comfortable seats and the shaking of the vehicle from the wind made it difficult.
After several hours (we arrived at the crew change point at 5:30pm), the IMT contacted us to let us know that a bulldozer should be to us within an hour. It arrived quickly. At around 3:30 in the morning, we were being rescued and headed to a location where we would be out of our vehicle and inside. Woohoo! But, that feeling was gone quickly as we realized that our vehicle would not shift into gear. We were not going anywhere in that vehicle. We had another vehicle with us and were able to climb into it and follow our escort out. We made it to the new location and to bed at around 5:30 in the morning.
At no time did I feel as though I were in danger. Why? Because I was prepared. I had my heavy cold weather gear along with food and water and plenty of fuel. I had an attitude of gratefulness toward the training that I had received.
Weather can be fickle. Always be prepared for it to change quickly. Not just in the arctic circle, but at home as well.
By Scott Nelson, B.S., NRP, MICP