Achooo….

While much of the country has been “enjoying” the beginning of spring with trees and flowers blooming, things come along a bit later here in the Rocky Mountain West.

The heavy snow in the mountains today is evidence of that!

Plants produce pollen, A LOT of pollen! According to Sheila McCormick, adjunct professor of plant and microbial biology at U.C.-Berkeley “In general, most plants produce much more pollen than is needed. For example, a single corn plant produces 2 [million] to 5 million pollen grains, and an ear of corn has a few hundred seeds. This is especially true for plants that are wind-pollinated.”

Some species of pine can produce up to 5 pounds of pollen in just a few weeks, says Robert Barton, associate dean for extension in the department of forestry and environmental resources at North Carolina State University. Why so much? Well, the more pollen a plant spreads, the better chance it has of successfully seeding offspring.

Matt’s Tree Service in Seattle, WA took this video in May 2019

2011 Tornado Super Outbreak

NOAA Photo Library

Prior to the spring of 2011, the record number of tornadoes in a single month was 542, set in May 2004, while the record for April was only 267. The 2011 Tornado Super Outbreak by contrast, had 362 confirmed tornadoes.

A powerful low-pressure system combined with moist and unstable atmospheric conditions to produce this now-infamous tornado outbreak. Between April 25 and 28, hundreds of tornadoes violently struck the southeastern United States, resulting in roughly $12 billion in damages (2021 dollars) and leaving an estimated 321 people dead.

Until April 2011, three years had passed without a single EF-5 tornado—the strongest rating on the Enhanced Fujita scale, associated with winds in excess of 200 mph. However, this system spawned three EF-5 tornadoes in only a four-day span in addition to 12 EF-4s and 21 EF-3s.

The outbreak challenged and surpassed the records set by almost all previous tornado events, ranking as one of the deadliest and most expensive meteorological disasters on record. April 27, 2011, likely remains the “deadliest day for tornadoes” in the last 85 years. And, the event as a whole killed more people than any outbreak since 1936, when 454 individuals died.

Scientists attribute at least part of the 2011 Super Outbreak’s notoriety to chance. In April 1974, an even more powerful outbreak took place, producing more intense tornadoes—EF-3s to EF-5s—than the 2011 Super Outbreak. But, the 1974 system caused fewer deaths and less monetary damage than its more recent counterpart. Why? Because it struck fewer urban and suburban areas than the 2011 Super Outbreak.

The most ferocious damage of the 2011 outbreak occurred in Alabama. Alone, the state accounted for 69 of the tornadoes and fell victim to the event’s costliest tornado. At its peak, this EF-4 was 1.5 miles—more than 26 football fields—wide, and its winds reached 190 mph. It traversed 80.3 miles, passing through the cities of Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, causing 65 fatalities and over 1,000 injuries. Debris cleanup in Tuscaloosa alone cost $100 million.

Before (left) and after in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, representing damage from April 2011 super tornado outbreak. Before photo courtesy of Google Earth and after photo taken April 29, 2011, from NOAA’s King Air Aircraft, courtesy of the National Geodetic Survey.

The thunderstorm system that created this EF-4 began in Mississippi. It then moved over Alabama, Georgia, and eventually into North Carolina, generating many additional tornadoes along the way.

The tornado outbreak affected almost one third of the nation over its four-day span. While Alabama was hit the hardest, the system had significant effects on Arkansas, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, and Oklahoma, in addition to generally lighter consequences on some of the surrounding states.

Powerful tornadoes struck outside of Alabama as well. In fact, the first EF-5 of the outbreak developed near Smithville, Mississippi. Boasting wind speeds of approximately 205 mph, this tornado destroyed 18 homes and resulted in over a dozen deaths. On April 27, another tornado tracked almost five miles through Chattanooga, Tennessee, causing eight fatalities and injuring ten others.

The total of 362 tornadoes that spawned during this four-day period not only surpassed the previous record for all of April by nearly 100, but also accounted for almost half of the 751 confirmed tornadoes during the month.

I thought I knew a lot about dogs.

Brody on the prowl.

Having been around dog for most of my life you get a good sense of their wants, needs, enjoyments, ailments and irritants.

There’s no doubt I love dogs. Now, I’m not an exclusive dog person, with “grand-kittens” like these how could I not but be smitten be felines also?

Grand-kittens Salem and Smudge.

My good friend Brody is just coming up on 9 years old. He’s a healthy, strong, active dog who has definite ideas about what activities need to be done and when the need to be done. I call him my Chief of Staff.

Brody, Chief of Staff.

Sometime in the past few months Brody had some trauma to his upper canine tooth (the big ones) and we decided to have it removed before it had any infection or other complication.

A root canal was also an option, but that does weaken the tooth so after weighing all of our concerns we opted for the extraction.

Brody is terrified of the Vet. Our doctors and staff at Mandalay Animal Hospital are spectacular and they treat us and our boy with the greatest care. I think Brody has PTSD from his time as a stray when he was about 15 months old. He was found on the streets of Fort Collins and spent some time in the animal shelter…can’t be good memories from that experience.

On Monday we took him in for the surgery and he was there most of the day. He came out very groggy from the anesthesia and pain meds, but with a couple days of rest and care he’s doing really, really well.

It’s about time I made my point about what I DIDN’T know about dogs. There teeth are amazing! We kept his extracted tooth and the root to tooth ratio is astonishing. The evolution of dogs from wolves may have softened their personalities but there bodies still strongly display the one and only weapon (for survival) that they have, their teeth.

Brody’s upper canine tooth.

After seeing my Brody’s canine tooth, all of his canine tooth, I marvel at the natural world even more.

From Kitty Hawk to Mars

The speed of technological development and innovation is dizzing. On December 17, 1903 the Wright Flyer achieved the first powered flight in human history.

This morning NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter took flight on another planet.

NASA’s experimental helicopter Ingenuity rose into the thin air above the dusty red surface of Mars on Monday, achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet.

The triumph was hailed as a Wright Brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter even carried a bit of wing fabric from the Wright Flyer that made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

“Altimeter data confirms that Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet,” said the helicopter’s chief pilot back on Earth, Havard Grip, his voice breaking as his teammates erupted in applause.

It was a brief hop — just 39 seconds — but accomplished all the major milestones.

Project manager MiMi Aung was jubilant as she ripped up the papers holding the plan in case the flight had failed. “We’ve been talking so long about our Wright Brothers moment, and here it is,” she said.

Flight controllers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California declared success after receiving the data and images via the Perseverance rover. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly upon their arrival in an ancient river delta in February.

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.

When you run into a situation or problem that seems insurmountable, take heart, there is always a positive path forward

This image from NASA’s Perseverance rover shows the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter right after it successfully completed a high-speed spin-up test. It was captured by the Mastcam-Z instrument on Perseverance on April 16, 2021 (the 55th sol, or Martian day, of the rover’s mission). The image has been slightly processed (stretched and cropped). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Download image ›

Weather and war

You’ve seen my “Weather Is Everything” tagline here on the WXPERT site. Sadly, weather has played a major role in armed conflict throughout human history.

Data extracted from the oldest surviving document recording Korean history shows a strong correlation between extreme weather events and war.

The research, which was recently published as a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows the three states that ruled over the Korean Peninsula from 18 BCE to 660 CE were more than twice as likely to be involved in an armed conflict with a neighbor when also experiencing a weather shock such as drought or excessive rainfall.

For the study, Santa Fe Institute External Professor Rajiv Sethi (Barnard College, Columbia University) and co-author Tackseung Jun of Kyung Hee University in South Korea analyzed data extracted from detailed accounts of conflicts and extreme weather events contained in the Samguk Sagi, or History of the Three Kingdoms.

Originally commissioned by King Injong of Goryeo in the 12th century, the Samguk Sagi provides scientists access to rare historical data involving a set of stable political entities for which both weather and conflict events were recorded over several centuries.

Their analysis revealed shocks were far more likely to result in a state’s invasion than for one to go on the offensive.

Additionally, they identified food insecurity as a critical source of vulnerability to invasion.

The researchers’ work sheds new light on the relationship between climate change and war. It could ultimately help with efforts to identify and protect people living in the world today that are particularly vulnerable to climate-related conflict.

“Extreme weather events and military conflict over seven centuries in ancient Korea” is published in PNAS.

Goguryeo armor mural, lifetime 37 BCE-668 CE. Credit: Public Domain

From snow to severe

It may seem crazy to talk about severe weather on a day when it’s snowing, but big thunderstorms are coming right around the corner. Colorado is no stranger to tornadoes. In fact, 13 years ago on May 22nd, 2008, a powerful tornado, rated an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, moved through portions of northern Colorado. The tornado cut through Windsor, CO on its 39 mile path, leaving behind a path of destruction, at least 78 injuries, and one fatality. Damage estimates exceeded $100,000,000 from this tornado. While large tornadoes are not as common along the Colorado Front Range as they are across the Eastern Plains, they are possible given the right conditions. The location was not the only oddity with this significant tornado; the tornado moved from southeast to northwest. Only a small minority of all tornadoes move northwest. Also, the tornado formed just before noon, well before the usual time frame when tornadoes are most common. Tornadoes typically form during the afternoon to early evening hours across Colorado.

The tornado threat in Colorado increases rapidly in May and continues through August. Ninety percent of Colorado tornadoes occur during this four month period, but tornadoes have been reported as early as February and as late as November. On average, Colorado experiences 53 tornadoes annually.

Tornadoes have occurred in most areas of the state, but historically 95% of tornadoes occur along and east of Interstate 25 where heat and moisture in the lower atmosphere are often more abundant. Tornadoes can occur at every hour of the day, but most occur between 1pm and 8pm.

Across the country, about 90% of tornadoes are considered weak with winds less than 110 mph. About 10% of tornadoes are considered strong with winds up to 165 mph. Strong tornadoes are responsible for nearly 30 percent of tornado deaths. Violent tornadoes account for only 1% of all tornadoes, but they result in nearly 70 percent of all tornado fatalities because they destroy much of what is in their path.

Supercell thunderstorm produces tornado.

Bora, Bora, Bora

At the base of mountain ranges we get so used to winds that come “downhill” and warm us up. Not today!

Today’s wind along Colorado’s Front Range is called a “Bora” wind, which is a cold (or chilly, depending on what your tolerance is to temperature) that blasts down the slopes putting a bracing element to a spring morning.

Bora winds form when cold, dry air heads up one site of a mountain range. It cools off pretty fast as it goes up in elevation. When it comes back down the other side of the mountains it warms up only to a slightly higher temperature than where it started. Combined with the speed of the wind, it creates a “tear-inducing” breeze that cuts right into your best windbreaker.

The Chinook wind we’re so used to happens when cool and damp air is forced upward by mountains. The air doesn’t cool off very fast because of all of the moisture it carries, which usually ends up raining/snowing out over the mountains. Well, when this air heads down slope all dried out, it warms up way, way faster than it cooled down and… VOILA! The “Snow Eater”

Cold, cold, cold cloud temps!

Holy long underwear! A new paper led by Dr. Simon Proud, research fellow at the Department of Physics and the National Center for Earth Observation, reveals the coldest cloud-top temperature in a severe thunderstorm cloud in the Pacific, observed by an Earth-orbiting satellite.

This temperature of -111°C is more than 30°C colder than typical storm clouds and is the coldest known measurement of storm cloud temperature.

In the lowest section of the Earth’s atmosphere, known as the troposphere, air temperature decreases with altitude and can reach as low as -90°C in the tropics. Thunderstorms and tropical cyclones can grow to high altitudes, up to 18km (11mi), and therefore the tops of these storm clouds become extremely cold.

On 29 December 2018, the VIIRS sensor aboard the American NOAA-20 satellite, overflew a severe thunderstorm in the South Western Pacific, approximately 400km South of Nauru. This storm was so powerful that it pushed through the troposphere and into the stratosphere; continuing to cool as it gained height despite the surrounding air being warmer: An event known as an overshooting top. This overshoot led to the storm cloud becoming the coldest known storm cloud temperature recorded, -111°C, and the tops of the clouds reached an altitude of over 20.5km (12.8mi) above sea level.

Dr. Proud explains. “We found that these really cold temperatures seem to be becoming more common—with the same number of extremely cold temperatures in the last three years as in the 13 years before that. This is important, as thunderstorms with colder clouds tend to be more extreme, and more hazardous to people on the ground due to hail, lightning and wind. We now need to understand if this increase is due to our changing climate or whether it is due to a “perfect storm” of weather conditions producing outbreaks of extreme thunderstorms in the last few years.”

Coldest cloud-top temperature ever recorded. Observation done by the the NOAA-20 Satellite.

Where was the “Guthrie Gibson”?

Now that the “Guthrie Gibson” is safely on its way to Tulsa I can tell you the repairs done to it were executed by the extraordinarily talented Edward Dick at Victor Guitars https://victorguitar.com/ on South Broadway.

Edward also teaches the art of lutherie there at the shop. The Colorado School of Lutherie is where skill and artistry combine to create new musical instruments. https://coloradoschooloflutherie.com/

Awesome History

Something a little different today… Over the weekend I had the pleasure of visiting one of my favorite stringed instrument shops run by a brilliant luthier who is also a good friend.

For security reasons my friend asked that I not reveal his name or location because the object in his temporary possession has huge value, both monetary and historical.

So, during our conversation my friend says to me, “I have to show you something incredible”. He brings out a 1940 Gibson ¾ LG-1 guitar that belonged to renowned American folk music icon Woody Guthrie.

My luthier compadre was finishing a small repair on the instrument before sending it on today to The Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa, OK (https://woodyguthriecenter.org/).

My picture does not capture the energy and draw of this fascinating guitar.

I get “butterflies” in my stomach even now just thinking about all of the music this guitar has made and the miles it’s traveled.

Woody Guthrie was a force in American music and society. His influence goes way beyond his most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land”. His music and life influenced generations of performers including Bruce Springsteen and Bono. You can learn more here: https://www.woodyguthrie.org/biography/biography1.htm

Not a bad experience for a casual stop in at a friend’s shop! Tomorrow I will reveal the name and location of the shop.

1940 Gibson LG-1 owned by folk singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie.