It’s awfully cold right now in Chicago. And in Buffalo. And, of course, in International Falls, Minn., and Manitoba, Canada. You wouldn’t want to be working outside without your mittens.
Now try to imagine how Jeffrey Ryan feels. Ryan, 42, is the head sanitation and snow-removal guy at the South Pole, and when he says, “Baby, it’s cold outside,” he’s talking minus 100 or worse. At 70 below zero, exposed flesh is frozen in 30 seconds.
And yes, there is a need for snow removal at the Amundsen-Scott international scientific base at the Pole, though, as Ryan notes, “there’s very little snowfall. The accumulation comes from blowing snow.” Drifts reach as high as 15 feet, and most of the clearing is done by Caterpillar operators supervised by Ryan.
A bachelor who went to Antarctica in 1991, Ryan has served a total of 55 months—he’s required to take a two-month break between each tour—and got interested in frigid-weather living on a trip to Alaska in 1990. Ryan, the son of a factory worker and a home-maker who babysat to make ends meet after his father died, grew up in Des Moines and worked a variety of odd jobs including motorbike stuntman. In Antarctica, where he makes $51,000 a year plus expenses, Ryan is also in charge of solid-waste removal, keeping the station fueled and preparing the runway for the first C-130 cargo flights each October.
Since the snow in Antarctica never melts, if left untended it will turn into rock-hard drifts. To avoid that, Ryan has devised his own shoveling system, which he’s willing to share with those in less arduous climes. “Use the Cross-Your-Heart bra approach,” he says. “Lift and separate.”