Two of Thule's Extreme Storms

  • Published
  • By Staff Report
  • 821st Air Base Group
DEC. 27, 1957
The Ballistic Missile Early Warning Site dispatcher to the system controller reported the winds on site were 26 mph and at Shelter 7 they were 23 to 25 mph. At 6:50 p.m. a shuttle bus was dispatched to BMEWS. Shortly after, a Phase Alert was declared. The winds jumped to 68 to 70 mph and Phase II was declared at 6:55 p.m. The winds at Shelter 7 had risen to 78 to 80 mph, hurricane velocity. An attempt to return the shuttle bus to BMEWS was made, however the bus stopped because visibility was so poor and the exact location was not clear to personnel in the bus. 

At 7:30 p.m. BMEWS was upgraded to a Phase III condition with winds of 70-80 mph on site. Shelter 7 had 115 mph winds, while Shelters 4 and 1 were calm. Winds on Thule Defense Area began to pick up. On base Phase II was declared at 7:51 p.m., and Phase III at 8:00 p.m. People were caught in the theater, education center, BX, gym, and the clubs. 

At 7:55 p.m. an operation to rescue people in vehicles caught in various locations on base began. The winds at BMEWS were 80 to 108 mph, while at Shelter 7 they were 114 to 140 mph. 

At 10:19 p.m. the shuttle bus reported that the windows, which had cracked earlier, were broken. The wind was a steady 140 mph, with gusts of 160 mph at Shelter 7. 

At 10:20 p.m. the system controller was instructed to dispatch a trackmaster in an attempt to shuttle personnel from the stranded bus to the nearest shelter. At 1:13 a.m. the shuttle bus advised that five windows were gone. At 2:30 a.m. two trackmasters departed the base heading towards BMEWS. At 2:42 a.m. some of personnel had been picked up, after almost seven hours without heat. They were okay, and the two trackmasters proceeded towards BMEWS. 

At 3:10 a.m. the trackmasters were reported stopped again because of high winds and zero visibility. Winds at Shelter 7 were 69 to 92 mph. At 3:52 a.m. a snowplow dispatched to rescue the stranded bus headed down the hill with winds at Shelter 7 reaching 92 to 104 mph. A stranded trackmaster was located in the middle of the road, near the airstrip. The passengers were picked up and the bus was located at 4:25 a.m. At 5:00 a.m. all personnel from the shuttle bus were safely inside Shelter 9. The trackmaster driver volunteered to stay in the shelter until the passengers could be picked up ensuring an Arctic trained person would be available if the storm were to worsen. 

Although still in Phase III, on base and at BMEWS, a bus and snowplow were dispatched toward Shelter 9 and arrived back on base with all personnel at 8:45 a.m.; 12 hours after the busses' initial departure from BMEWS.
During cleanup and recovery operations, 92 vehicles were processed through the Motor Pool for snow removal, drying and servicing. There was only one injury: a broken arm suffered by a Danish Arctic Contractors employee.

MARCH 8, 1972
The storm, perhaps the worst ever to hit the Thule Defense Area, was so severe that it set a meteorological record for the highest low altitude winds observed on the earth's surface: 207 mph. The actual wind speed is unknown as the anemometer was broken and blown off at the 207 mark; it is estimated that if the equipment would have been able to survive the storm, the true amount would have been higher. At 9:55 p.m. two J-Site dispatchers, Mr. Wayne Whaley and Mr. John Kurasiewicz, reported 207 mph winds were buffeting Shelter 7. The shelter is about three miles from J-Site. Both men were part of a team employed by ITT/Arctic Services Inc. at J-Site who constantly monitor a remote wind speed indicator for Shelter 7. By comparison, the highest wind speed ever noted on earth was 231 mph on top of Mount Washington in New Hampshire in April 1934. 

The Thule storm originated over the central United States and moved north along the west coast of Greenland. For more than 15 hours - from 4:55 p.m., March 8, to 8:05 a.m. March 9, the storm battered Thule and its vicinity producing one of the longest Phase III conditions ever. Thule Air Base experienced the second highest winds ever seen on the base - 110 mph at 11:55 p.m., March 8. As with most storms, off base locations were subjected to far worse wind and temperature conditions. P-Mountain experienced winds of 115 mph or greater for seven and a half hours from 7:30 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. and during three of those hours had winds of 140 mph or greater. J-Site reported winds of 115 mph or greater between 10:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. with a peak gust of 146 mph. "Honors" for the highest winds went to Shelter 7 which experienced winds of 120 knots or greater between 9:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. The average temperature at all off-base locations was -15 F, giving an equivalent chill factor of -75 F. Winds off-base were so strong that they hurled rocks the size of baseballs for considerable distances. Jack Stephens, heating plant operator and weather observer at P-Mountain, has been in the Thule area since 1965 and gave this account: "This has to be the worst storm I've ever seen here. At the worst point, the sides of the building where I work were constantly being pelted by huge rocks and chunks of ice. And for the first time I can remember, even the roof really took a beating."