Observing

Stuck on La Palma in a Blizzard

by Matt Burleigh

Sarah Casewell and I arrived at the summit of La Palma on Wednesday 9th Feb 2005 for a 10 night run on the Isaac Newton Telescope. There had been snow in the previous week but the roads were clear and everything was operational. We never opened that first night. It started to snow. And snow. And snow. And thunder and lightning and hail and gales and freezing fog and a total blizzard. For 65 hours. Yesterday afternoon (Saturday 12th) it started to clear....

Panoramic views from my bedroom window in the Residencia towards the telescopes on the summit

Close-up of the ING group under an angry cloud.

Snow piled up outside the residenica. Some of the cars have been completely buried. The snow is 4 feet or more deep in places. We cannot get up to the telescopes, and presume the CCDs have all warmed up by now. The road to Santa Cruz is closed. The road to Garafia is just about useable by 4x4s.

Me in the car park. This is the worst weather seen on La Palma in years. There was snow in villages on the west of the island yesterday, where they'd never seen snow before. Its carnival week anyway so you can imagine the locals' reactions!

Sarah and I (by now exceedingly bored) were watching Return of the King on DVD last night in my room. After the first disk I took a look outside and the sky was perfectly clear. So I climbed out of the window, as you do when the snow has reached the same level as the windowsill. (Actually I went out to rescue a beer can I'd sent flying off the ledge where it was cooling down). The snow was as hard as rock, and 4 feet deep. The sky was amazing. Shame we couldn't actually get up to the telescopes.

Sarah climbs back through the window. We are keeping the beers cold with the help of nature.

Latest news: Sunday 13th Feb. Another weather system has moved in this morning. More snow and thunder. The Residencia are starting to worry about supplies of gas and food. The ING engineers will attempt to reach the telescopes by foot tomorrow to see what needs to be done/rescued. The roads dept will attempt to clear the Santa Cruz road tomorrow but not if this new weather system develops into something nasty. Its coming straight off the Sahara and apparantly its raining sand in Santa Cruz. It's at least two days before any observing can be attempted. We have been offered the chance to go back to Santa Cruz (via the Garafia road, and thats a long way round!) to sit it out, so we are heading down now. Paul Dobbie's coming out here Tuesday for two nights on the WHT..... you might not even get up the mountain Paul, so see you in Santa Cruz for beers....


This document was last updated on 13th February 2005 by Matt Burleigh