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The Old Scout: Sun Weather

This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.

The storm raged outside the bar, hail pelting the windows and rattling on the sidewalk outside. Someone said something about the weather being “unseasonable”, and “It’s defina-aly a-changing’, it is. It’s the sun that does it, you know.” Someone else shouted them down as an idiot, and the good natured debate began as the beer continued to flow.

Finally, someone asked the old man in the corner, “what’s the worst place you’ve seen for weather, old timer?”

He brushed back his hair, thought for a second, and began to tell his story.

“Back in ’03… or was it ’13… Or ’93. Anyway, I had the old IISS Samantha, and been assigned to act as a ‘coast guard’ ship based off a planet on the frontier. You know, a little rescue work, a little customs enforcement, a little anti-piracy show the flag stuff.

“Place had started out as an Imperial research station, with all manner of astronomical equipage to study the variable star the rock orbited. Weather was… horrid. Apparently the place had been pretty decent up to about 500 years ago, and then the star went variable. It had a 413 day year, which was nice, so you nominally had seasons of about 100 days. Nominally.

“Except the star was on a 1000-odd day cycle, where it would ramp up and ramp down its output. So you’d have a year of really really cold winter, no summer, and then it would ease into a hot-hot year, and back.

“As the astronomers started expanding their science station, someone noticed the ice looked funny in the coldest part of the winter. And then they noticed some weird crystals in the summer. And some really weird metal on the ground after the boiling and burning in the Hot Summer.

“As the oceans boiled down, they’d expose a big cliff of Monazite. It was near what was, in the wet part of the double-year cycle, a volcanic island. What was interesting was that as the cliff cooked and the water boiled down, the sea water trapped in the volcanic pool would boil, cracking the land sort of like fracking.

“That would release a seepage of sulfuric acid.

“Over the course of weeks, it would rain when the humidity got too high… and the rain was marginally cooler than the cliff side. Eventually, by the end of Hot Summer, you’d see this grey mud, with streaks of silver in it near the top of the hill, and then farther down the hill this… goop… with metallic flecks that would set off a rad counter.

“Yeah, slow natural separation of Lanthanum and Thorium.

“You can imagine how fast LSP jumped on that.

“So now there’s this whole complex of miners, all living aboard converted GCarrier skiffs, and operating grav dump trucks and loaders and such. During the times the world isn’t hellishly hot or freezing cold, they work the cliffs, pushing mud back up to the top of the pile so it’ll self-process next year. Worst part of the year, they migrate between the poles, avoiding the worst of the weather.

“Now and then, though, one of those gypsy miners has a mechanical problem with their skiff… and then it gets kinda interesting to go bail them out.

“But the weather… So there was this one fine spring day that the star’s output was ramping up. Winter had it around -20C at the equator, and most of the miners had been hanging out at the north pole, pointed more toward the star, and it was only about 5C there at noontime. Helluva spring day.

"I get this radio call that a skiff was having problems, could I help out… so we load up the Type-S, figuring if the wind is too bad we’ll just go exoatmo and not worry about it.

“Fly down there, great tail wind as the warm air made this high pressure zone and blew south… and then just past this mountain range, that warm, moist air hit a cold front and just went to ice. Of course, the pole is getting this heat pump, and the star isn’t particularly stable, so when it has a CME, it ramps up heat output fast for a couple days.

“We’d found the skiff, grounded, and were in the middle of trying to fix the problem with his gravitics when the weather went into hurricane strength winds. That went on for a few days, but unlike a normal hurricane where it loses some strength at night, the pole was in the 30 days of straight daylight. It just kept getting fed more comparatively warm air all 20 hours a day.... all dosed with water vapor from the ice cap.

“Which promptly condensed as it came over the ridge, and dropped as sleet driven by 100 to 120 kph winds.

“Ended up just battening the hatches in the S, with me, my second, and the miner and his wife and 2 kids aboard. Took six days for the storm to break, and another 2 days of hard work to clear enough ice off the hulls for us to lift.”