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“Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is”*…

While wandering around a snowy New York City this past December, the artist Jan Baracz began to notice patterns forming in the grates of storm drains. “They reminded me of the I Ching hexagrams and ideographic language systems,” he writes. “They also reminded me of when I lived in Japan and researched how water patterns (from vapor to ice) are represented in kanji. It was a time when I had given my apophenia free rein. I was transfixed by logograms and language characters built upon symbolic origins. I thought these snow glyphs may be a perfect set of images to reflect this intense time in which we seek signs and project meaning onto the physical world that surrounds us.”

More of Jan Baracz‘s portentous photos at: “Snow Oracles.”

See also Vivian Wu‘s marvelous “Snowflake Generator.”

*”For the listener, who listens in the snow, / And, nothing himself, beholds /
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.” – Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man”


As we search for signs, we might note that today is National Weatherperson Day, honoring individuals in the fields of meteorology, weather forecasting, and broadcast meteorology, as well as volunteer storm spotters and observers.

It is celebrated on this date in honor of the man credited with being America’s first (scientific) weather observer, John Jeffries (born on this date in 1744), who began making and recording daily weather observations in Boston in 1774.

Jeffries sided with the Crown in the unpleasantness that soon followed with the British, so fled to Nova Scotia in 1776, and from there to London, where his observations continued. In 1785, Jeffries and inventor/aeronaut Jean-Pierre Blanchard crossed the English Channel in a balloon, becoming the first human beings to cross the Channel by air; Jeffries measured the temperature throughout the voyage.

John Jeffries


“We’re not in Kansas anymore”*…

Randy Shoemaker embraces his son Conner, 6, after surviving a deadly tornado that killed at least seven people in Chatsworth, Ga., in April

In March 2019, a violent tornado plowed through eastern Alabama, flattening houses and demolishing mobile homes. Twenty-three people were killed including four children, ages 10, 9, 8 and 6.

Exactly one year later, on March 3, 2020, a tornado gusting at 170 mph ripped through central Tennessee, killing 19 people. Four of the victims were children between the ages of 2 and 7.

The twisters spiraled along the ground for only minutes, but they are the two deadliest natural disasters in the United States since the start of 2019. They received fleeting national attention.

The mortal storms illustrate an alarming trend that is overlooked amid concern about hurricanes, wildfires and floods: Tornadoes are increasingly occurring in the Southeast, where they are twice as deadly as tornadoes elsewhere in the United States…

A shift of tornado activity from the Great Plains to the Southeast has brought heightened danger by concentrating twisters in a far more perilous landscape — one covered by forest that conceals tornadoes and is filled with mobile homes that are easily demolished…

Tornado Alley has moved from the Great Plains to the Southeast: “Migrating tornadoes are the nation’s deadliest disasters.”

* Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz


As we contemplate the consequences of climate change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1896 that the Cedar Keys Hurricane finally disapated. Having passed as a tropical storm through the Lesser Antilles on September 22 (the earliest known activity), it grew to hurricane strength over Cuba, then passed on to Florida, over the Keys. Before being absorbed into another low pressure area, it made its way to southern New York State, where it finally gave out.

Its winds stayed high throughout its journey, and it was prodigiously wet: it left 19.96 inches at Glennville, Georgia, caused flash floods in the Shenandoah Valley, left the White House grounds in a wreck, and downed trees at the Gettysburg Battlefield. It is estimated to have caused 130 deaths and $1.5 million in damage (in 1896 dollars, which would be about $46 million today).

Storm victims pose with damaged houses on Cedar Key


Written by LW

September 30, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Reason is the first casualty in a drought”*…

The 100th meridian runs from pole to pole, 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. It cuts through six U.S. states, forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. Powell identified this line as marking the point where the average annual rainfall dropped from 61 centimeters on the eastern edge to 46 centimeters at the western edge. New research shows a sharp aridity gradient still exists, but it’s moved east a bit, closer to the 98th meridian. Climate models predict it will move farther eastward in coming decades. Credit: National Atlas, modified by K. Cantner, AGI.

n 1878, without benefit of the Landsat program, GPS or Google, and just a decade after the creation of the National Weather Service, John Wesley Powell first advanced the idea that the climatic boundary between the United States’ humid East and arid West lay along a line “about midway in the Great Plains” — almost exactly 100 degrees longitude west of the prime meridian in Greenwich, England. This line, the 100th meridian, runs from pole to pole and cuts through six U.S. states, forming a partial boundary between Oklahoma and Texas. The 100th meridian also corresponds roughly to the 600-meter elevation contour as the land rises from the Great Plains toward the Rockies.

In his 1878 “Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States,” Powell identified the “arid region” as the land west of the 51-centimeter-per-year rainfall line, which closely tracked the 100th meridian. This amount of rainfall per year is about the minimum that permits farming without irrigation, and it also greatly influences the types of crops that can be grown. The line Powell noted as dividing the arid and humid sections of the continent has become known as the “effective” 100th meridian.

Powell’s original goal in describing the effective 100th meridian as a dividing line was to persuade the federal government to bear in mind the greater aridity when planning for settlement and development in the western territories, which would be very different than in the moisture-rich east…

Today, the 100th meridian is still considered a climatic boundary line, but that will likely change in the coming decades: The 51-centimeter rainfall line is gradually moving east due to climate change, according to recent research…

The very middle of the U.S. is becoming increasing drier, with what are sure to be huge consequences: “Dividing line: The past, present and future of the 100th Meridian.”

* Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water


As we ponder parching, we might send environmentally-unfriendly birthday greetings to C. Montgomery Burns; he was (fictionally) born on this date in 1893. A recurring character in the animated television series The Simpsons (voiced initially by Christopher Collins, and currently by Harry Shearer), he is the evil, devious, greedy, and fabulously wealthy owner of the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant and, by extension, Homer Simpson’s boss.



Written by LW

September 15, 2020 at 1:01 am

“You have to be in the right place at the right time. Or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your perspective”*…




Hailstones are balls (or spikes, or flattish pancakes) of frozen precipitation that measure at least 0.2 inches across, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Severe Storms Laboratory. Several other types of smaller frozen precipitation are known as “ice pellets,” reports the National Snow & Ice Data Center, and may take the form of graupel (soft balls of water droplets clinging to a snow crystal and looking like Styrofoam) or sleet (essentially icy raindrops). In the sky, either of these can serve as an “embryo,” the little nucleus around which a hailstone can grow. The longer a fledgling hailstone stays lofted in a thunderstorm’s fierce updraft, the bigger it gets. Beyond that minimum 0.2-inch threshold, there are a few finer distinctions between hailstones, thrown around by researchers and sometimes forecasters at the National Weather Service. “Severe” hail has a maximum dimension of one inch or more, “significantly severe” stones are larger than two inches, and “giant” hail is bigger than four inches.

“Giant” sounds pretty big, but this crop of researchers didn’t think it seemed quite big enough. A hailstone of more than four inches is “certainly very large,” says Matthew Kumjian, a meteorologist at Penn State University and lead author of the paper. But, he adds, while stones of that size are rare, “they are not exceptional.” Hailstones bigger than four inches are reported 30 to 40 times a year in the United States alone, he says. Stones larger than six inches, though, are few and far between. Kumjian’s co-author, graduate student Rachel Gutierrez, combed through reports and found about 10 confirmed instances in the last 10 or 15 years, mostly in the U.S. (There were a handful of unconfirmed reports in Australia, Africa, and Asia, but photos or official measurements were missing.)

The researchers suspect that there are probably more of these spectacularly sized hailstones dropping down across the country, but they’re likely going unnoticed. When measuring hail, time is of the essence: Hailstones vanish fairly quickly, especially in hot or humid conditions, or if they shatter on impact; even large ones with cushioned falls might be overlooked. The most severe hailstorms in the United States are in the Great Plains, Kumjian says, where people are spread fairly far apart…

They’re huge; they’re rare; and they’re melting all the time: “The Slippery Problem of Measuring Enormous Hunks of Hail.”

* Matthew Kumjian, a meteorologist at Penn State University, on measuring hailstones


As we check the weather, we might recall that it was on this date in 1883 that the volcano on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa began to release huge plumes of steam and ash. Roughly three months later, on August 27, it erupted in earnest– with a sound so loud that it circled the earth four times.  (As big as the explosion was, it was not the biggest in history: experts suggest that Santorini’s eruption in 1628 BCE was three times as powerful.)

300px-Krakatoa_eruption_lithograph source


Written by LW

May 20, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”*…



Selectric I Typewriter, 1961 aluminum, steel, molded plastic.


The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s diverse collection, spanning thirty centuries of historic and contemporary design, includes the world’s coolest office, a large snail shell, snakes, a dragon and four bearded men, a cone propped up on a bench, a pair of colorful hands, a mysterious tv and a perpetual calendar.

The selection above is from the Digital Collection, which one can browse in full here… or just dive into the collection in full.

* Frequently attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, but likely first used by Clare Boothe Luce in her 1931 novel Stuffed Shirts


As we let form follow function, we might recall that it was on this date in 1875 that the first “weather map” ran in a newspaper (The Times, London).  It was the creation of polymath Sir Francis Galton, an explorer and anthropologist who was also a statistician and meteorologist.

The map was not a forecast, but a representation of the conditions of the previous day. This is known as a synoptic chart, meaning that it shows a summary of the weather situation. Readers could make their own predictions based on the information it provided.

Galton’s chart differs from the modern version only in minor details. It shows the temperature for each region, with dotted lines marking the boundaries of areas of different barometric pressures. It also describes the state of the sky in each land region, with terms such as “dull” or “cloud,” or the sea condition – “smooth” or “slight swell”… [source]

weather source




Written by LW

April 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

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