Behind the Scenes: Ahead of the Storm

For those of you familiar with field work, you know there is often a tight deadline for sampling. Weather, equipment, migration or movement of the critter you’re studying, and access to interns all play a role in how quickly and when you can start and complete sampling. Many sites can be dangerous say if the water is running too high or too low, if there are steep or unstable banks, or if you are trying to outrun a storm… in this case a tropical storm.

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The agenda for the day was to be up and on the road before the sun peeked over the horizon; boat, gear, and lunches loaded. We had to drive a couple of hours to reach the boat launch for the first site. Our goal was to complete sampling at 4 sites to finish out the two-week sampling dash because a tropical storm was heading up the coast and was expected to make landfall late that evening. We had been working 14-hour days and through the weekend – on the road by 5:00am and typically back from the field at 7:00pm, some days not until 9:00pm, and only had a few sites left.

The first few went smoothly – boat anchored, divers in the water, samples loaded and on our way to the next site in under an hour. As we were wrapping up site #3, the wind picked up and the water started getting choppy… stirring up the bottom and rocking the boat just a bit more. We could see a line of dark clouds out on the horizon, but our next (and last) site was on our way back to the launch so we went for it!

Sampling here took a bit longer since visibility was low, but we were on our way back to shore just as it started to sprinkle. Glancing behind, we saw a dark bank of clouds and the haze of heavy rain over the water. 189496695-big-sur-thundercloud-seascape-rainMinute by minute the waves were getting larger, the rain was coming down harder, and the sky grew darker. The rain pelting down didn’t phase the divers since they were still in wetsuits that offered some protection from the stinging rain (if you’ve been on a motorcycle in the rain you know what I’m talking about – even going 35 mph hurts!). I, on the other hand, had on my swimsuit, shorts, and a t-shirt.
So I grabbed some foul weather gear – the bright yellow jackets and/or pants that you may have seen on Deadliest Catch. Of course being only 5’2″ the jacket hung down to mid-thigh and I had to roll up the sleeves three times to have my hands free to hang on to the boat! No need for the pants, I had my own foul weather dress 😛gage_weather_watch_hooded_jacket_hi_vis_yellow_wwjhv

Waves rocked our little boat as we sped back to shore, trying to outrun the wall of rain that was catching up with us. The divers were getting worried about the waves and making it to shore… and my reaction to the storm since this was my first summer doing field work on the water. On my part, I felt like I was on a rollercoaster; up and down, being jostled by wind and waves, clutching the bars near the wheel to keep my balance… it was awesome! I looked up with a huge grin on my face when they asked if I was doing alright and shouted over the rain: “This is so much fun!”.

ir11wav2Fun? Fun!? Yep, I was having a blast. I may be a bit of an adrenaline junkie, most people don’t expect that of me since I am often quiet and can be found curled up with a book, but like people say… it’s always the quiet ones.

Anyways, we made it safely back to shore, stowed our gear, loaded the boat on the trailer as quickly as we could and hopped into the truck. Of course the rain let up as soon as we got back on the road, starting the two hour drive back to the lab… one diver decided to take a nap, and I pulled out my book.

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