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Winter arrives

It’s already snowing across eastern Pennsylvania and much of New Jersey and upstate New York:

first snowStill raining steadily here in New York, but hey: snow might come. Either way, Winter’s here.

Here in the temperate zones, summer is beaches and picnics and biking and dinner on the deck outside. It is also thunderstorms and airport delays.

Right now a line of thunderheads  is sliding northeastward across New Jersey. Here is how it looks to FlightAware‘s map of aviation and weather activity for Newark Liberty Airport:

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.46.14 PMNotice how the incoming flights are threading through and around the heaviest rain, which is where the nasty winds are. I’m sure the approaches are still bumpy, in spite of the avoidings.

You’ll notice, if you click on the map above, or this link, it says,

Newark Liberty Intl (KEWR) is currently experiencing:

  • inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 4 hours 38 minutes due to low clouds
  • departure delays of 1 hours 46 minutes to 2 hours (and increasing) due to weather

For a national context, here is FlightAware’s MiseryMap

miserymapThat’s just a screen shot. Go to the actual map and hit the blue play button. Impressive, huh?

I also like Intellicast’s map of lightning strikes:

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 5.59.25 PMThe lightning is striking the ‘hood right now, and the rain is coming down hard.

I also like Intellicast‘s maps and phone and tablet apps. Check ‘em out.

And now my phone just went off like a smoke alarm. The first time I’ve ever heard a sound that grating. The screen says this:

Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 6.13.57 PM

A flash flood warning.

Dark Sky, I should add, is another good app. Tells you how many minutes will pass before it rains, and then how long it will likely last.

iTransNYC is also the best of the New York transit apps. “Incident” is, I gather, a euphemism. If the problem is a police action, a sick passenger or a derailment, they say so. If it’s a worse casualty, they call it an “incident.” Averages about one a week.

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I grew up on Woodland Avenue in Maywood, New Jersey, a few miles west of where I am now in New York City. Flexible flyerThe street was unremarkable, except when it snowed. Then the town would often block it off, so kids could sled on it. It wasn’t a big hill — just an ideal one for sledding: steep at the top, with a long glide path. With a good start you could ride your Flexible Flyer down past Garden, Cole and Elm Streets, all the way to Cole’s Brook. On the other side of that was Borg’s Woods, which was then owned by the Borg Family. They had a steep back yard behind their house on Summit Avenue in Hackensack, and kindly encouraged neighborhood kids to sled there.

So snow was a big deal for us, and still is for me. I love it. Alas, too often Winter forecasts in New York went like this: “Snow, changing to rain.”

Well, that’s what happened today in New York. We had a beautiful snowy day before it turned into rain and worse. For the last hour or so we’ve also had lightning, thunder and hail. The result is thick white slop, atop the frozen and half-thawed mess left over from the last storm. Here is how it looks right now at Weather.com:

I am sure there are kids in Maywood (and all over the East Coast) who wish the snow didn’t turn to slush today. My inner kid knows how they feel. (I’m also hoping my grandkids in Baltimore fared better. They got a bunch of snow today too — I think with less rain.

(By the way, our original Flexible Flyer looked just like the one above, only a bit longer. It could seat three or four kids. And nobody ever wore helmets.)

The power is out and won’t be back for awhile. That’s what the guys in the hard hats tell me, down where they’re working, at the intersection where our dead-end street is born. Many trucks are gathered there, with bright night-work lights illuminating whatever went wrong with the day’s power pole replacement job. The notices they left on our doors said they’d be done by five, but now it’s eight and I’m sitting in a house lit by candles, working on the nth draft of a writing assignment, in the absence of a steady flow of electrons off the power grid. Also in the absence of connection except to the physical world alone. Connectivity = 0. My laptop is good for another four hours or so, but without a connection I lack the building materials I need for constructing the piece. So I’m writing this instead.

Some other utilities are unaffected by the power outage, of course. I have matches, and can fire up the gas stove. Water runs, cold and cold. It also drips out of the little motel-grade refrigerator upstairs, defrosting itself into towels I’ve fed under it. The freezer in the kitchen remains closed, to keep whatever is in there from thawing and requiring use in the next couple days. What I’m witnessing is a gradual breakdown that is easy to imagine accelerating fast, especially if I was coping instead with a wildfire or an earthquake.

Three interesting facts about California and the people who — like me — choose to live here:

  1. The state tree is the California redwood. What made these things evolve into groves of spires with thick bark, standing at heights beyond three hundred feet, with branches in mature specimens that commence a hundred or more feet above the ground. I say they are adapted to fire. A cross section of a mature redwood will feature black edges to rings spaced thirty, fifty, two hundred apart, all marking survival of wildfire at a single location.
  2. The state flower is the California poppy. Here is what makes poppies thrive in dry rocky soils that are poor for agriculture but rich with  freshly exposed minerals: they are adapted to earthquakes. More than any other state, except maybe Alaska, California is a product of recent earth movement. Imagine looking at the southern Appalachians in the U.S. or the Blue Mountains of Australia, two million years ago. It’s not hard: they would pretty much like they do now. If you looked at the site of the future California from anywhere two million years ago, you would recognize nothing, unless you were a geologist who knew what to look for. All of California has been raised up or ferried in by tectonic forces that have been working at full throttle for a couple hundred million years, and aren’t moving any slower today.
  3. Neither of those facts teaches caution to human beings who choose to live here. For example, the home where I write this, in Santa Barbara, has been approached, unsuccessfully, by two wildfires in recent years. The Tea Fire in November 2008 burned 210 homes and the Jesusita Fire in May 2009 burned other 80 more. The Tea Fire came straight at us, incinerating everything but rocks and soil for a mile in its path before stopping a quarter mile and ten houses short of where I’m sitting right now. (Here is my report on the aftermath.) The Coyote Fire in September 1964 burned the same area, and much more. The Sycamore Fire in 1979 came even closer, burning houses just up the street from here.

“We live in the age of full convenience,” John Updike wrote, at a time when it made sense to think copiers and fax machines marked some kind of end state.* But the lessons that matter at the moment arise from the absence of the two most essential utilities in my life, and probably yours too: the electric grid and the data network. (Yes, I can get on the Net by tethering my laptop to my mobile phone, but both use batteries that will run out, and the phone is down below 20% already anyway.) So here are three lessons that come to me, here in the dark, all of which we are sure to continue ignoring::::

  1. Civilization is thin. A veneer. Under it nature remains vast, violent and provisional. In the long run, which may end at any time for any of us, nature will prove no easier to tame than the tides. For three great perspectives on this, I highly recommend John McPhee‘s The Control of Nature. The title is taken from a plea to students, carved into sandstone over the door of a building at the University of Wyoming in Laramie: STRIVE ON — THE CONTROL OF NATVRE IS WON, NOT GIVEN. (I also recommend this blog post, by Themon The Bard, who went to UW and provides a photo.) Its chapters are “Iceland versus the volcanoes,” “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains” and “The Army Corps of Engineers versus the Mississippi River.” The New Yorker re-ran a set piece from the third of those, right after Hurricane Katrina, which produced what New Orleans natives call “The Flood.” In it McPhee describes what would happen to New Orleans when a levee is breached. Here is the original, published years before reality certified true McPhee’s prophesy.
  2. Humanity is insane. A good working definition of psychosis is disconnection of the mind from reality. As a species we have proven ourselves nuts for the duration, as the examples above attest. Present company included. (Further proof: war, genocide.) It should be clear by now that humanity is not merely at the top of the food chain around the world, but a pestilence to everything God (or whatever) put in position to be exploited in the short term, regardless of the obvious fact that it took approximately forever to put those resources in place, and how much of it cannot be replaced. While it’s true that in the very long run (a billion years or few), the aging Sun will cook the planet anyway, we are doing our best to get the job done in the geologic present. This is why many geologists propose renaming our current epoch “Anthropocene.” Bonus question: Why do political conservatives care so little about the long-term conservation of resources that are, undeniably, in limited supply and are clearly bound for exhaustion at any consumption rate? Before categorizing me, please note that I am a registered independent, and in sympathy with economic conservatives in a number of ways (for example, I do like, appreciate and understand how the market works, and in general I favor smaller government). But on environmental issues I’m with those who give a shit. Most of them happen to be liberals (or, in the current vernacular, progressives). George Lakoff provides some answers here (and in several books). But, while I love George, and while he has probably influenced my thinking more than any other human being, it still baffles that opposing conservation of resources fails to seem oxymoronic to most avowed conservatives.
  3. The end is in sight. Somewhere I’ve kept a newspaper story that did a great job of listing all the resources our species is bound to use up, at current rates of exploitation, and how long that will take. On the list were not only the obvious “reserves,” such like oil, gas, coal and uranium, but other stuff as well: helium, lithium, platinum, thorium, tungsten, neodymium, dysprosium, niobium… stuff we use to make stuff that ranges from balloons to hard drives to hybrid car engines. Many of the heavier elements appear to have been deposited here during bombardments by asteroids several billion years ago, when the Earth has hard enough not to absorb them. Helium, one of the most abundant elements in the universe, is produced on Earth mostly by decay of radioactive elements in certain kinds of natural gas. Much of the world’s helium comes from the ground here in the U.S., where our enlightened congresspeople decided a few decades back to hand the reserves over to private industry, where “the market” would decide best how it would be used. So, naturally, we are due to run out of it within maybe a couple dozen years, and have not yet found a way to replace it. Read on.

[Later...] I wrote this three nights ago, but didn’t put it up until now because I was already way overdue on the  writing assignment I mentioned up top, and I had to deal with other pressing obligations as well. So I just went through the post, copy-edited it a bit and added some links.


* Special thanks goes to anybody who can find the original quote. I’ve used it so often on the Web that I’ve effectively spammed search results with unintended SEO. The closest thing I can find is this from Google Books, which fails to contain the searched-for nugget, but still demonstrates why Updike’s criticism earns the same high rank as his fiction.

West Fork Fire

On my way back to New York from Sydney on Wednesday, while flying east over the San Juan National Forest and the Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado, I shot what at first I though was a controlled burn, but later realized was the West Fork Fire. I knew it was a big one when I watched the smoke fan out to the east, starting with the San Luis Valley, where some of it pooled over the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and against the Sagre de Cristo Mountains. (Here are pictures of those in clearer conditions.)

But it went far beyond there, coloring the skies over Kansas and beyond. (More when I put up the rest of the photos from the trip.) Here is a story on the fire’s visibility from space. And here’s a link to a search for “West Fork Fire”.

flightawaremapYesterday we were in Melbourne. Then we flew to Sydney, got some sleep, and caught flights to Auckland, Los Angeles and Newark.

Except, we’re not in Newark. A storm there delayed things, and we’re on the ground getting re-fueled at Dulles, near D.C. This kind of thing happens with aviation and weather. That planes fly at all is a kind of miracle. That flying has become as mundane as bus travel — and far safer — would also be miraculous if it weren’t so routine. Except for times like this.

See the line of red dots over there on the right? Those are the airports with delays caused by storms that were beautiful to watch as our eastbound United 757 flew past them to the south. I got some pictures, but they aren’t very good.

Now, here on the ground, I’m watching Flightaware and Intellicast to see what’s up with aviation and weather. Flightaware is an amazing site. If you have any interest in aviation, or just need to know what’s currently screwed up with air travel, it’s the best of its breed. Intellicast has great maps, which project into the future while also running through the recent past. Right now I see by Flightaware’s map below that flights are getting in and out of Newark as the current storm (the green blotch) passes.

I also see by Intellicast that the line of storms I observed south of the Great Lakes and across Pennsylvania will arrive in New York in a few hours. So our window of opportunity isn’t large there.

It would be nice if Intellicast has links to maps, but they don’t, or I’d link to the one for New York. The good thing about Intellicast is that it is somewhat less crufty with promotional jive than Weather.com and some other weather sites.

Another passenger is grumbling about United’s flight operations. “Worst in the business,” he says. I don’t agree. After well over a million miles with United, I have no evidence that their flight operations is anything other than fine. And, given the size of the fleet they manage, that’s a compliment.

And hey, while I’d love to be in New York now, I’d rather be safe than any of the many kinds of sorry I can imagine.

Postscript: We got to Newark eventually, and then took another few hours to await a bus and a delayed subway before arriving at our place around 7:30am. This was close to 40 hours after departing Sydney. Got a little sleep, and now we’re ready to go again. :-)

Parc de la Villette

That’s the Parc de la Villette, also variously known as Parc La Villette, Parc Villette, or just Villette, here in Paris. I shot it two days ago, when we got here and the weather was clear. It got cloudy and wet after that. But it looks like things will clear up for:::::

OuiShareFest

From the About page:

The first major European event dedicated to the collaborative economy.

This three-day festival will bring together a global community of entrepreneurs, designers, makers, economists, investors, politicians and citizens to build a collaborative future.
Paris, May 2-3-4, 2013.

Not just another business conference.

Co-designed with its community, OuiShare Fest will feature a wide range of hands-on activities and great live music.
Day 1-2 will gather 500 professionals and public officials.
Day 3 will be free and open to the public.

Can’t wait.

I’ll be speaking there on Friday morning at 9:30. The title: Markets are Relationships. I’ll be there for most of the rest of the show too. Great line-up of topics, speakers and attendees. After that, it’s Silicon Valley for IIW.

See ya theres.

 

6:42am — Flights are starting to land at JFK, I see by Flightaware. Not yet at LGA, EWR or the New England airports. More links:

It’s getting light out, and the snow has stopped.

6:10am — Dig:

5:58am — Fittingly (given the local coverage concentration below), Maine appears to be hardest hit, though farthest from news outside the area. CNN and The Weather Channel are all about Boston, Providence, Hartford and New York.

5:30am — Looking for live local coverage from TV stations. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

That’s it. One in New York, one in Hartford, none in Boston and three in Portland. Maine wins! Corrections, of course, are welcome.

Also: the NYTimes and the Wall Street Journal have both dropped their paywalls for storm coverage. The Boston Globe‘s is still up.

03:30am — This is as quiet as New York gets. No traffic flowing. No horns blowing. No jets on approach to anywhere, or taking off. From our encampment in “upstate” Manhattan, there is just the sound of snowplows scraping Broadway clean.

The Weather Channel (aka Weather.com, aka TWC on my Dish Network channel list, aka @WeatherChannel), calls the storm #Nemo, as they said they would last Fall. The National Weather Service, aka Weather.govisn’t playing along. Neither is AccuWeather.

They should. I’m sure the success of the Nemo nickname has their sphincters in a knot, but they should loosen up. This isn’t just another nor’easter. For parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts, it might be the biggest storm since the last glaciation, named after Wisconsin. (Probably not, but still.) Earthquakes get named after epicenters. And hey, we live in networked times. These days the vernacular wins, fast. Best to get ahead of that curve.

Here’s a view of aviation, as of 3:00am this morning:

Normally thin anyway at this hour, it’s absent in the Northeast entirely. The nearest named flight is a United one inbound to Dulles (UAL981). An un-named plane is passing over Philadelphia, and another over Binghamton. That’s it. (The green color is not for rain, by the way. It’s precipitation density. That’s snow there.)

It’s raining here now, in Manhattan. It was snowing earlier, but then came the sleet, and now the rain, and the slush. Here’s what I shot with my phone a few minutes ago, on my way back from the subway:

Blcch on broadway

And here’s what this kind of thing looks looks like on Intellicast‘s radar:

Blcch map

The red X marks where I grew up, on Woodland Ave in Maywood, New Jersey, about 5 miles from the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan. Woodland Avenue was (and still is) a hill. Not a big one; just one ideal for sledding. It had a nice steep slope at the top, and a long flat stretch at the bottom, so you could get up some good speed and glide a long way. Sometimes the town would designate Woodland Ave as the sledding hill, and block off the top and the bottom except for residential traffic. If the snow was deep enough, cars would pack it down and make sledding better.

Terrace Ave, one street over, was good for sledding too: steeper at the top, with a shorter glide path at the bottom. So was the back yard of the Borg house on Summit Ave in Hackensack, which was a short walk through Borg’s Woods, also owned by the family. (It’s now a nature preserve.) The Borg family owned the Bergen Evening Record (now just The Record).

This was back in the 1950s, which were simpler times. There was no cable, no Weather Channel. Almost nobody in our social stratum went skiing. Few civilians had four-wheel (or even front-wheel) drive vehicles. For kids, sledding was the favored recreational activity in snow, and the best sleds were Flexible Flyers. The family had a big old heavy one, good for seating two or three people. It looked like the one on the right (from 1936), but a bit longer. It may have been that old too. We also had a smaller one, good for solo flights.

If snowy weather threatened, as it does now, we’d be glued to our radios, eager to hear a forecast that did not include the dreaded word “rain.” The most disappointing forecast was this one: “Snow mixed with and then changing to rain.” It was also the most typical for New York. An inch or few of snow would fall, and then it would turn to sleet, or drizzle, and then rain, and the street would turn to slush. These days they call snow/rain combo “wintry mix.” That’s the pink on the map. Almost always the forecast would say something like “significant accumulations in the outlying suburbs.” Those are the areas in blue already.

So my heart’s is back in Maywood today, while my ass is in Manhattan, watching the blizzard fail to happen — at least here. On the iPad is the Weather Channel, tuned in to our Dish Network box in Santa Barbara. The forecast, as always with TWC, is breathless and dire. They (or somebody) have named the storm “Nemo.” Oy.

In a slightly more ideal world, we would have already rented a four-wheel drive, thrown a suitcase and ski clothes in the back, and have driven up to Hunter Mountain, or some place in Vermont. I’ll bet the skiing up there will be perfect for the next few days. But we’re busy, and not in a position to indulge.

TWC says it’s still going to snow later, with accumulations even as close as Maywood. So, for the sake of the kids out there, I hope the pink turns blue.

One day, back around 15,000 BCE, half a mountain in Southern California broke loose and slid out onto what’s now the Mojave desert. The resulting landform is called the Blackhawk Slide. Here it is:

It’s that ripple-covered lobe on the bottom right. According to Robert Sharp’s Geology Underfoot in Southern California, it didn’t just flow off the mountain, as would happen with a typical landslide. It actually slid intact, like a toboggan, four and a half miles, on a slope of only two to three degrees. It could not have traveled so far, and have remained so intact (with rock layers preserved, in order, top to bottom), if it had merely flowed.

Geologists can tell it slid because it didn’t just heap at the base of the mountain from which it detached. Instead it soared, at low altitude, four and a half miles, on the flat, on a cushion of air, out across the desert, before plopping down.

To get some perspective on this, here are two facts to consider. First, we’re talking about ten billion cubic feet of detached mountain face here. Second, in order to travel that far out onto the desert, shattered but essentially in one piece, it had to glide on a cushion of air, at speeds up to 270 miles per hour. Or so goes the theory.

One wonders if humans were there to see it happen. Ancestors of native Americans were already on the continent by then, thanks to the last glacial maximum, which still had several thousand more years to go. There may have been some ice on the mountains themselves, and perhaps that helped weaken the rock, which was already raised to the sky by pressures on the San Andreas Fault, which lies on the back side of the San Bernardino Mountains, a couple dozen miles from here.

I came along a bit late, but was glad to get my first chance to gander at the slide, the day after Thanksgiving, on a United flight from San Jose to Houston. I was shooting against the sun, and it was a bit hazy, but I was still able to get a good look, and this photo set too.

Additional links:

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