Visitors to Antarctica may be familiar with the whiteout, a type of weather condition
that causes confusion and has been described as like “wandering around inside a
Ping-Pong ball.” They occur wherever snow lays over large, flat areas. Caused by fog,
blowing snow, or fine precipitation, they occur in clear, calm air under an unbroken
layer of heavy, low-lying cloud to stretches across the sky. The overcast sky diffuses
light and causes it to reflect between cloud and snow, making it impossible to tell the
earth from the sky.
Because there is no horizon to serve as a visual reference, it is difficult to judge
depth or distance. Shadows and surface details vanish. Small holes and large crevasses
are indistinguishable from surrounding snow, so that a single step could end up as a
fatal fall. Vertigo is common, making movement dangerous. Whiteouts can be especially
dangerous to pilots who fly into them while trying to land.
Whiteout veterans have discovered their own plan for survival - sit down and wait. The
light eventually returns to normal so that people can once again distinguish landscape
features and resume travel.