Monday, November 30, 2015

Weather Warning

First warning of this school year:

Tuesday's freezing rain will probably have no effect on school openings, but teachers should consider the wisdom of leaving home early.  You might need to drive slowly.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Evolution Doesn't Always Work The Way We Expect.

It is a common misconception that evolution causes organisms to become more complex.  We think of those single-cell organisms evolving into multi-cellular birds and dogs and cats.

But it can also work the other way.

Evolution is the method by which living things adapt to their environment.  Sometimes that means becoming simpler.

Internal parasites do not need complicated ways to capture food, because they are surrounded by it.  As a result, they can become simpler.

Recent DNA studies of a simple parasite have discovered that it is really a jellyfish!   That's right, a jellyfish that has adapted to being a parasite, becoming smaller and simpler.

Life is fascinating.

There is more information here:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

That's All, Folks

Yesterday the oaks were holding tightly to their leaves.

This morning, even though there is not a bit of wind, the leaves are raining down.  

The branches are bare and the ground is covered.

End of Autumn.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

All Over Until Next Year

October 31:  Sunny, bright, the maple trees blazing with color.  The last day of the Autumn season.  Harvest is done. 

November 1:  Cloudy, gray.  Only the oaks are holding on to their leaves.  Winter.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Hello Winter

Astronomers divide the year into four seasons, based on obvious (to astronomers) benchmarks:  the two solstices and the two equinoxes.

Meteorologists use what they know - temperature.  For them, Winter is the three coldest months, December, January, February.  Summer is the three hottest months, June through August.

People who are not meteorologists and don't spend their lives looking up and who don't get outside enough tend to go with the astronomers, mostly because that is what they hear on the television.

The End of Autumn.  Hello Winter.
People who do spend their lives outside as much as possible have a third way of telling the seasons.  Like the farmers and herders of thousands of years ago, they look at nature.

When the snow starts to melt and the first green appears, it is Spring.  Putting it on a western calendar would mark it as the start of February, now called Groundhog Day, Candlemass, Imbolc.  That actually arrives half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  It takes the Earth a while to warm up.

First growth is over and flowers appear at the start of Summer, around May 1st, Mayday or Beltane.

Fruit and grain start to ripen as the days get noticeably shorter, at the start of August.  August 1 is called Lammas, from loaf mass, the blessing of the first new bread.  Now we are in nature's Autumn.

And then, around the end of October, the colorful leaves fall, the gardens die, we celebrate Samhain or All Hallows Eve (Hallowe'en, the first harvest thanksgiving), and winter arrives.  Sometime in the next week a storm will sweep through, the trees will be swept bare.  Hello Winter.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Deadly. And coming your way.

Imagine the damage that an F5 tornado could do, with winds over 200 mph.

Now imagine that the tornado is over 100 miles wide.  

You have Hurricane Patricia, the most powerful storm ever recorded in the Pacific, now approaching the west coast of Mexico.

Besides the high winds, Patricia also has broken the record for the lowest air pressure, at 888 mB  (average air pressure at sea level is 1013 mB).

Patricia is expected to dump 6 to 12 inches of rain over the Mexican states of Jalisco, Colima, Michoacan and Guerrero. Life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides are possible. The rain will then cause flooding in Texas.

As of right now, the storm is expected to reach Connecticut by Wednesday or Thursday, bringing about 2 to 3 inches of rain. 

More information is available from the National Hurricane and just about every news station.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A Different Kind of Storm

Now that we've gotten the first snow storm of 2015-2016 out of the way, here is a different kind of storm - of meteors.

Halley's comet has a 75 year orbit around the Sun.  One of many interesting things about Mark Twain is that he was born, and he died, in a Halley's comet year. 

Every October, the Earth passes through the trail of debris that the comet leaves behind.  It is happening now.
If you can get up before dawn tomorrow (October 21) you should get a treat, the annual Orionid meteor shower. Forecasters expect the shower to peak tonight, Oct. 20-21, with as many as 20 meteors per hour. No matter where you live, the best time to look is during the dark hours before sunrise on Wednesday the 21st.  Visit for sky maps and more information.

The showers get their name from the fact that they seem to be shooting out of Orion's hand.  So, get up early, face southwest, and look for Orion.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

In a Universe Without Chemicals, Nothing's Matter

There are over 69 chemicals in an organically grown chicken egg, NOT including the shell:

  1. Dihydrogen Monoxide (75.8%)
  2. Glutamic Acid (14%)
  3. Aspartic Acid (11%)
  4. Valine (9%)
  5. Arginine (8%)
  6. Leucine (8%)
  7. Lysine (7%)
  8. Serine (7%)
  9. Phenylalanine (6%)
  10. Alanine (5%)
  11. Isoleucine (5%)
  12. Proline (4%)
  13. Tyrosine (3%)
  14. Threonine (3%)
  15. Glycine (3%)
  16. Histidine (2%)
  17. Methionine (3%)
  18. Cystine (2%)
  19. Tryptophan (1%)
  20. Octadecenoic Acid (45%)
  21. Hexadecanoic Acid (32%)
  22. Octadecanoic Acid (12%)
  23. Eicosatetraenoic Acid (3%)
  24. Eicosanoic Acid (2%)
  25. Docosanoic Acid (1%)
  26. Tetracosanoic Acid (1%)
  27. Octanoic Acid (<1%)
  28. Decanoic Acid (<1%)
  29. Dodecanoic Acid (<1%)
  30. Tetradecanoic Acid (<1%)
  31. Pentadecanoic Acid (<1%)
  32. Heptadecanoic Acid (<1%)
  33. Tetradecenoic Acid (<1%)
  34. Hexadecenoic Acid (<1%)
  35. Eicosenoic Acid (<1%)
  36. Docosenoic Acid (<1%)
  37. Omega-6 Fatty
  38. Acid: Octadecadienoic Acid (12%)
  39. Omega-3 Fatty Acid:
  40. Octadecatrienoic Acid (<1%)
  41. Eicosapentaenoic Acid (Epa) (<1%)
  42. Omega-3 Fatty Acid: Docosahexaenoic Acid (Dha) (<1%)
  43. Glucose (30%)
  44. Sucrose (15%)
  45. Fructose (15%)
  46. Lactose (15%)
  47. Maltose (15%)
  48. Galactose (15%)
  49. E160c
  50. E160a
  51. E306
  52. E101
  53. Phenylacetaldehyde
  54. Dodeca-2-Enal
  55. Hepta-2-Enal
  56. Hexadecanal
  57. Octadecanal
  58. Pentan-2-One
  59. Butan-2-One
  60. Acetaldehyde
  61. Formaldehyde
  62. Acetone
  63. (E170)
  64. Benzene
  65. Benzene Derivatives
  66. Esters
  67. Furans
  68. Sulfur-Containing Compounds
  69. Terpenes

Friday, October 2, 2015

And... Gone. Maybe.

I have been very interested in Hurricane Joaquin for several reasons.

First of all, it is the most powerful (category 4) storm to approach North America in a long time. 

Secondly, it seemed to be heading straight towards me.

5 Day Prediction as of October 2
Predicting hurricanes is tough.  Unlike most weather, which follows (mostly) predictable patterns, hurricanes ride the winds, bouncing off high pressure (dense, dry air) systems and being sucked towards low pressure (less dense, moist air) systems.  And of course those high and low pressure systems keep moving.

There are about a dozen computer models that are used to predict the movement of hurricanes.  All but the European Model were consistently saying that the storm would move west and hit the New Jersey shore.  The European Model showed it moving out to sea.

The European Model has been the most accurate over the past few years, so i waited.  Sure enough, the other models have changed their predictions.  It now looks like Joaquin will be a miss for Connecticut.

As you were.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Herding Cats

While most weather in North America is relatively easy to predict (compared to the stock market or the lottery), hurricanes are like cats.  They do what they want and go where they want.

Hurricane Joaquin now has 115 mph winds and seems to be going more to the east than predicted yesterday.   As of this morning, it is headed right up the Connecticut River Valley, hitting on Tuesday as a tropical storm.  That's winds between 39 and 73 mph.

A storm like that just might close school as it blows down trees and electrical wires.

Be prepared to go without your gadgets on Tuesday.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

I've Had The Flu - I'll Take The Shot

World War I (1914-1918) killed about 17 million people.

The 1918 flu epidemic killed between 50 and 100 million people.

I just got my flu shot.

I'm Back - And A Wet Weekend

I know that I have not been updating my blog for a while - I've been enjoying my retirement a bit too much and have been away from home more than I have been here.  I will try to do better.

If you haven't looked out your window lately, it is raining - a lot. A warm front brought warm, damp air up from the south, and then some cold, dry air from Canada came to visit us.

As the warm, moist air floats up and over the denser cold, dry air, the warm air cools, the water condenses, and ... rain.
Hurricane Joaquin predicted path as of Wednesday 9/30

As of right now, it looks like it will be damp right through the weekend, with the possibility of Hurricane Joaquin coming to visit.

The computers aren't sure of the exact path, but most models show the hurricane moving west, crossing New Jersey or Pennsylvania and then passing up through New York.  We will miss the worst of the storm, but the weekend could be a wash.  

No snow days predicted...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

I finally made it!

For years Iceland was a part of my teaching.  It has plate tectonics, volcanoes, geothermal heat, and is warmed by the Gulf Stream.  My students saw lots of photos of Iceland - but I had never been there.  I've finally made it to Iceland, taking a 3-day layover on a flight from France.  It is just as wonderful as I had thought!

The original Geysir
The one that all of the others are named after
Geysir erupting
Reykjavik harbor

45 degrees F and windy in June
Geothermal energy


Steaming land


Where the 2 plates meet -
North America and Eurasia
The famous trail between 2 continents
Mr. Redwing with his mouth full of food for his babies
Greylag goose

Wild thyme

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Went To NYC, Just Because ...

Yesterday R and I went to New York City, just because. Wandered through my old haunts at the American Museum of Natural History, had lousy food at a place to get wonderful tea, saw birds and flowers while wandering through the barren wilds of Central Park.

This T. Rex at the AMNH had tooth trouble
A special exhibit on .... tardigrades!!
Selfie-sticks in action in Central Park
And people rowing on polluted waters
R looking across the waters and
wondering who she's gonna call
The deserted wilds of Central Park

The gardens in the park are wonderful

Virginia spider-wort in the park
I hadn't seen the Canada violet for over 40 years..
and Central Park is full of it!

Tiffany knew his plants - at the NY Historical Society

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Some Like It (Too) Hot

Exposure of US population to extreme heat could quadruple by mid-century

May 18, 2015
National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
US residents' exposure to extreme heat could increase four- to six-fold by mid-century, due to both a warming climate and a population that's growing especially fast in the hottest regions of the country, according to new research. 

More Information:

Thursday, April 2, 2015

"Warm-Blooded" Plant Emerges from the Snowpack

The ice has finally gone out, releasing the streams
Skunk cabbage flowers are "warm-blooded."  That is, the flowers generate their own heat by metabolizing sugars, just like mammals do.

The benefits gained by this expenditure of energy are several:  

Since warm air is less dense and floats on cold air, the odor released by the flowers rise up to attract pollinators.  Believe it or not, there are insects that think that the odor of skunk is attractive.

By generating heat, the flowers create a nice, warm, place for insects to rest on cold spring days.  So the insects come in for a visit and get coated with pollen before heading out for the next flower.

Skunk cabbage flowers!  The first flowers of spring.
And, the warm flowers can actually melt their way through the snow, popping up before any other flowers.

Excepting, of course, for this winter when the deep snow has lingered long past its welcome.

I usually expect to see skunk cabbage flowers by the end of February, even in the hills where I live.  This year I finally found some yesterday, April 1.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

No Snow Day This Week ! Happy Equinox and Hello Eōstre!

Friday's (March 20) snow won't start until the afternoon so the best I can give you is an early dismissal along the coast and maybe some after-school activities cut short in Weha, so lets think about something better - the Spring Equinox, the day that both northern and southern hemispheres get the same amount of daylight.  The direct rays of the sun will be over the equator at 6:45 pm EST and heading north!
Nearly every religion has similar holidays - something at the solstices and equinoxes having to do with lights and fire and the return or leaving of the Sun.  

And since the growing seasons change with increasing or decreasing sunlight there is something in between, such as All Hallow's Eve (Hallowe'en) which marks the end of the growing season and the start of the cold, dark, leafless winter, and Easter which marks the start of spring flowers.

Many of the "Christian" holidays on the calendar have ancient roots.  Missionaries knew that you can't just erase old customs, so they re-branded them.

Eōstre is an example. Now it is attached to the lunar calendar (the 1st Sunday after the 1st full moon after the equinox) but it is very much a spring holiday. 

Eōstre appears to have been a Germanic / Celtic goddess of the return of life in the spring (rebirth, like the Christian Easter and the Jewish Passover - note that the Spanish name for Easter is Pascua) and fertility in general.  She has given her name to Easter and the "female" hormone estrogen.  Her ancestors would have included fertility goddesses going back through Astarte and Ishtar.
The Seder plate - eggs, green plants,
eggs, and the Paschal lamb.

Easter and its cognates are about the return of life in the spring.  The symbols of these holidays are the symbols of fertility, such as eggs, green plants, baby chicks and rabbits.

Another spring equinox holiday is Nevruz, an ancient Persian holiday still celebrated in Turkey.  According to the old Persian calendar, the equinox is the first day of the year and the start of spring.  Sound familiar?  I'm off to check it out this year. 

Dutchman's will soon be blooming.
Certainly this year, where winter has outstayed its welcome, it will be a good thing to see the returning green and the blooming flowers.