Saturday, August 15, 2009

Day 11 - the final day!

Last day of class! Three units in 11 days, instead of 15 weeks - phew! To their credit, all the students showed up today on time at 9:30am, and immediately flipped open their laptops and resumed analyzing all the data.

And we seem to have a lot of data! We did 11 soundings (a couple were funky, but most looked good). We also had a morning's worth of sodar data, and two sets of data from the RAWS, one lasting over 24 hours. This is something we'll have to think about in future - if you do all this storm chasing and instrument deployment, you get a ton of data, but no time to analyze it! We've given the students a couple of weeks to get their analyses finished up and turned in.

I'd like to thank the instructors - Mike Voss and Craig Clements - for all their hard work in making this a successful course. I'd also like to thank the students for being such good eggs! They all worked hard without complaint, and were fun too!

Thus endeth the blog. Thanks for reading!

Day 10 - a Sierra launch!

Day 10 dawned kinda early after our late excusion. I ate breakfast out and spaced on going to Schat's bakery. Apparently I missed something good!

Anyhoo, we drove north to Lee Vining, and then headed west over Tioga Pass. Craig Clements gave us an interesting mini-lecture on the diurnal winds of Lee Vining canyon. The story involves the Zephyr wind...look it up! And then on up to Tuolumne Meadows for lunch and a radiosonde balloon release. Hey - we got into the park for free! Something to do with having "CA exempt" plates. The balloon launch went spectacularly well, and we tracked the sonde up into the stratosphere. Of course, none of us thought to apply sunscreen, so there were some red faces the next day...

The drive down from there was pretty long. Long and winding road out of Yosemite, and then a high speed dash across the valley to home, arriving on campus at 7:30 pm. Most of the students in chase vehicle #1 slept and dozed all day - I think the students were pooped out by the trip. I know I was! In my case, it was party due to my excessive consumption of junk food on the last day in the van. As we all know, junk food consumed on the road does not count toward ones daily caloric intake. Road rule #1.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Collateral damages (finished!)

On a trip this long, there were bound to be a few boo-boos etc. Luckily, nothing serious! For example, the vans always started, and there were no flat tires. Most importantly, the A/C worked!

On the other hand, on the second drive day outbound, your truly was driving chase # 1 eastbound somewhere east of Barstow, when there in the road was a snake, stretched to its full length across my lane (i.e., perpendicular to traffic, which was unfortunate). I'm not sure if I hit it - didn't feel a bump, but the snake was wriggling like crazy in the rear-view mirror! But we're ALL sure that Dais, driving chase # 2, squashed it. And get this - Dais was all "what snake?". Score "1" for the team. And BTW, Dais' handle is now "snakekiller".

On the return trip, we overnighted in Bishop (and you know my thoughts on the hellacious drive that day). Originally we were going to do some field experiments in the region, but that idea didn't pan out, so we were left with just the Ramada Inn. BUT - it happened to be the peak night of my favorite annual meteor shower - the Perseids. Every year I make some kind of effort to get out and watch, the best ever being on a moonless night beside Lake Tahoe a few years back. Anyway, we assembled at 10:30pm, squashed ALL of us into the van (remember that Mike had gone home, so there were 12 of us), and headed uphill west out of Bishop. For Craig & I in the front seat, there was a spectacular "wow" fireball-like meteor. We pulled off the road in a large dirt area, and spilled all over the ground. Within about 10 minutes we'd seen a couple more really good streaks, and then some weaker ones. Meanwhile, a spectacular view east over the Owens valley and over Bishop in the distance, and the Milky Way was resplendent. ALSO, there was a gentle cool downslope breeze blowing steadily - so we could justify this as a meteorological outing!!!

OK, you say, where are the collateral damages in this story? Well, by midnight the moon's brightness was drowning out the sky, so we baled out. So there we are, bombing downhill at about 50 mph, lights on bright so I can see for miles (for you see, I am driving). And then a couple cars are coming towards me (note: this restricts me from swerving into the other lane)(unless we all want to die). So I dim the lights, and that's when an entire family of animals (raccoons? possums?) darts out in front of me. Larger animal (mom?) and two smaller ones. With the brights on, I might have seen them. With no traffic oncoming, I might have swerved (dangerous), but events conspired so that there was nothing I could do. THUMP. Thump, thump, thump. Score "2" for the team.

Here's the funny thing - we could have all sobbed all the way back to the Ramada, since I was pretty sure I'd killed mom. But no. The reaction of the day was peals of laughter! Go figure! Also, Craig, Jamie & Dais did a crazy sunrise hike the next morning, and drove past the same spot. Hence the confirmation: raccoon.

No other dead stuff that I know of (luckily, we saw the elk buck or else there would have been a big elk-shaped dent in chase #2).

The only other major trip damage was to shoes. At one point, one of Allison's shoes fell apart, and had to be repaired with duct tape. By the end of the trip, the other shoe had failed and also had to be repaired. Now, I don't know about you, but at this point I'm thinking "new shoes", but Allison had ruled this out due to being very fond of this particular pair of shoes. Perhaps in the mode of copycat, Steve P. felt the need to apply duct tape to his sandals during the trip, as they too were suffering. The duct tape was one of the last things we remembered to bring, but of course was vital!

Day 9 - a long drive

Day one of a two-day drive home. We had at one time planned a 24-hour stay in Bishop for some local wind studies. FYI, Bishop is in the Owens Valley along the eastern Sierra. Getting there from FLG meant a long drive west from FLG to Barstow, and then northeast/north through the Mojave to the Owens Valley. We left FLG at 9 am, and pulled into our hotel in Bishop at 7:30 pm - groan. Luckily at every hotel they have been ready for us, with a pack of room card keys ready to hand out.

On the FLG-Barstow leg, the speed limit in AZ was 75 - that helped! We had an interesting lunch in the small town of Ludlow, CA. We had a choice of a cafe and a DQ. I have always thought of DQ as an ice cream place, even tho' I have seen the DQ menu! But instinctively I chose the cafe (to Craig's continued irritation, continued as of Aug 13!) The two waitresses in their prarie dresses were a novelty; the food - average. I had eggs and potatoes - hard to mess that up.

As for the Barstow-Bishop leg, urgh. Don't get me wrong - I love the desert, but there was just nothing to look at, at least thru Lone Pine. I was getting suicidal by the end. Even the students were catatonic.

To save the day, we had a really nice dinner in Bishop - delicious Mexican food at Las Palmas restaurant! Highly recommended by all!

And then - drumroll - I dragged everybody out to see the annual Perseids meteor shower! We crammed all 12 of us in the van. Theoretically there are seatbelts for 12, but I would guess 12 small people! Anyhoo, the nice thing about Bishop is that a 10 minute drive out of town in any direction, and you're in almost wilderness, and there is plenty of dark to go around. As we drove westbound uphill, Craig and I saw an intense fireball in front of us. We found a good dirt area to park in, with a spectacular view east towards Bishop in the distance, with an orange half moon rising. Within about 10 minutes we had all seen really good meteorites, followed by several smaller ones.

By midnight the moon was bright enough to wash out pretty much everything, so we bagged it. Had a little incident on the way home, but you'll have to read the "collateral damage" blog to see what that was!!!

Day 8 - a day trip!

Day 8, and we have a veritable mountain of data to process! Not to mention that we are all busy with forecasting every day, meaning individual forecasting and team presentations.

Thus, we toook the morning to focus on data analysis. So far, we have RAWS data from two sites, sodar from one, and ten balloon radiosonde soundings. To slow things down (unplanned), the Matlab installation on the laptops didn't work. Something to do with accessing the license (and yes we did buy the software legally!) Anyway, there are always work-arounds.

In the afternoon, we felt it was necessary to take a quick sightseeing drive down to Sedona, which most/all of the students hadn't seen. In fact, many of them had not heard of this infamous "vortex site"! It's a fast, scenic drive down and back, so we just spent the afternoon.

We went out to Red Rock State Park ( for a hike-ette. It was just under 100o, so we didn't stay out long. And when we got into town, there was a dash for the misting stations! Uptown was nice, and many souvenirs were purchased!

It's our last night! We went into downtown FLG for an asian fusion dinner at a restaurant called "Monsoon". Fitting since we were here to study the monsoon. Unfortunately this year we studies the non-appearance of the monsoon, but there's always next year!

No time to pack! Back to the hotel and back to work for the students to prepare their last forecast of the class. Another late night, with class 'till after 10:30...

Day 7 - morning PBL campaign

Today, I learned these things about field work. (1) You have to get up at zero-dark-thirty - not my idea of fun (unless it's for a flight to an exotic location!) (2) You might ram into something large on the highway due to driving while groggy. (3) After all the fuss, the stupid instruments might not work. On the plus side, you might see into something large and fun on the highway while driving, and you might get some good data, and have fun along the way! elaborate! (1) We gathered at 5 am. Funnily enough, we had set the students free the night before, free to roam and graze alone in town. Specifically in the watering holes in town. This accounts for why they arrived back at the hotel at 1:45 am :-)

(2) One the way to the RAWS site, located 45 minutes northwest of FLG, and on the way to the Grand Canyon, we encountered a HUGE buck elk standing in the middle of the raod. MANY points. VERY impressive. The female in the road about a mile on was less impressive, but STILL...! If we had hit either, this would have been a big negative, but instead goes into the positive column!

(3) OK, so we arrive. Oh and by the way, the "managed" fire in the region had laid down overnight. Hence - huge smoke cloud at the surface. The RAWS site was luckily between the two thickest spots, otherwise we'd probbaly still be lying out there having choked to death (and "found two week s later by hunters"). We bombed along the dirt road, and did a speedy balloon release. So far so good. And now, the moment of truth - we set up and turned on the SODAR (like radar but with sound). Power up, wait, wait, wait (repeat for many moments), and ... nothing. Fizzle. Sodar not working. Craig assuring us that it worked on campus.

This is the part about the bloody instruments not working! So we turned the thing on and off many, many times, as one does (right???), and finally Dais stood next to it and cooed something in its ear - and it turned on! Joy of joys!

OK so the sodar starts to ping happily away, one ping every 2 seconds I think. Meanwhile we are standing around yapping about weather, smoke, data etc. etc. When we realize there is dead silence, i.e., the sodar has died. More turning on and off, some gentle cursing, a great deal of sighing. And then, when all hope seemed lost, the dang thing burst into life again (ha! bet you thought it was gonna burst into flames!). And stayed alive!

So much joy this time that we ALL jumped into the vans and sped off to the tiny town of Valle, to partake in breakfast. The nice folks at the (only) restaurant managed to seat us, coffee us, and provide an excellent repast - thanks! Have you ever been in a restaurant and seen a group of 13 get seated and think "we'll never get our food now"? Well, we were that group of 13.

Back to the site. We ended up there from post-breakfast (8:45-ish) to noon, launching balloons to watch the development of the morning boundary layer. At some point the smoke had lifted and was now drifting to the northeast - the early low-level wind had been steadliy from the southeast before the low-level inversion mixed out.

We gave up after the noon balloon, and went back to town. Where some students fell into a coma for the afternoon :-)

Mike left (pre-arranged), so the story continues with just Craig and Alison in control. Dum-dee- dum-dum.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Weather records

Over the past few days, several weather records have been broken in Arizona. Unfortunately for us, all of them are in the wrong direction for generating convection.

With no moisture in the air to prevent heat loss, Flagstaff's overnight lows on Friday and Saturday night broke records. Saturday night's low (on Sunday morning) was 35o, breaking (shattering!) the old record (set in 1999) of 44o. In fact, as we gathered at 5am to do our sunrise balloon launch, my iPhone mentioned that it was 37o in Flagstaff AND in Barrow, Alaska. Brrr. Of course, nobody brought winter wear, so it was multiple tee shirt layers!

The previous night's low was also 35o, breaking the old record (1950) of 39o. Meanwhile down south, the Phoenix TV stations are reporting record-breaking low dew point temperatures. Unfortunately these are not archived by the NWS, but the numbers we're been seeing both in Flagstaff and in Phoenix are really low. Normally they would be in the 50's or better in the monsoon season. In fact, the record high dew point temperature for today (8/10/09) in Phoenix is reported as 73.9o. As I write this, Td in FLG is 23o. Rats!

Precipitation forecasting is pretty accurate in these conditions. Even I can do it! Forecast: zero.