Valley Fever

Arizona dust devil. Photo credit NASA/Tom Gill

Dust in the air in Arizona is not only irritating, it can severely damage your health. Valley Fever is caused by the the Coccidioides fungus which grows in dirt and fields and can cause fever, rash and coughing.

George Mason University’s Daniel Tong, one of the first scientists to discover the link between dust storms and Valley fever is leading a NASA-funded team to track the airborne spread of Valley fever across the United States for the first time.

There are about 15 thousand cases of Valley fever in the U.S. each year, and approximately 200 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

A cake pan filled with marbles is one of the sampling tools designed and built by Tong’s team. This is installed at a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) facility. Credits: NASA/Daniel Tong

Tong and his team are combining NASA satellite data and high-end computer modeling with homemade dust catchers made of pans for baking cakes and marbles. As wind passes over the uneven surface of the marbles, the interrupted flow causes the air to release the dust and spores it’s carrying. As the sediment falls through the layers of marbles to the bottom of the pan, it’s protected from being picked up by wind again, stored safely until the scientists come to collect several weeks’ worth of samples at a time.

The MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite captured this image of thick plumes of dust stretching from northern Mexico into Texas and New Mexico on March 31, 2017. The Sand and Dust Storm Warning Advisory and Assessment System by the World Meteorological Organization now has a Pan-American node that is incorporating NASA Earth observations like these. Credits: NASA/NASA LANCE/Jeff Schmaltz

Tong says that with more dust storms there will be more instances of Valley fever. For reasons that are not well understood, some people are more susceptible to the effects of Valley fever than others. Only 40 percent of people infected have symptoms, and 8 percent of those go to the hospital. “There’s no vaccine – the fungus lives with you for the rest of your life,” said Tong. “Those infected are paying about US $50,000 per hospital visit, and a quarter of those people have to go ten times or more.”

The team is working with local agencies to place the sensors in areas with frequent dust storms to see where Valley fever might be affecting the most people. Local health agencies like the Pinal County Public Health Department in Arizona and community physicians are already incorporating these data to inform health and safety measures like increased testing and public education.

From NASA written by Lia Poteet/Edited for blog my Marty Coniglio

There’s no D like 3-D

Got your Red-Blue 3D glasses handy? If you do, check out the latest severe storm imagery from NASA.

A 3D composite of GOES-16 and GOES-17 imagery collected every 30 seconds on April 23 and 24, 2021 over a region along the Texas and Oklahoma border. Reports of large hail, high winds, and tornadoes acquired from the NOAA Storm Prediction Center database are labeled on the images. Hail exceeding 3 inches in diameter was reported at 2245, 2305, and 2347 UTC.
Credits: NASA/Kris Bedka and Konstantin Khlopenkov

NASA’s Langely Research Center in Hampton, VA is making 3-D imagery available. Following a severe storm outbreak that brought large hail, high winds and tornadoes to parts of Texas and Oklahoma on April 23 and 24, Langley scientists Kris Bedka and Konstantin Khlopenkov collaborated to create a 3D composite loop of satellite imagery collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s GOES-17 and GOES-16 satellites (visible above). GOES-17 is in a geostationary orbit (high Earth orbit that allows satellites to match Earth’s rotation) southeast of Hawaii and GOES-16 is in a geostationary orbit approximately due south of Virginia’s Hampton Roads region.

An annotated 3D composite, right, highlighting a variety of features present in the image compared to a single view from GOES-17.
Credits: NASA/Kris Bedka and Konstantin Khlopenkov

Since the two satellites collect images as often as every 30 seconds, and within just a few seconds of one another, combining imagery this way could be a game changer for researchers who study thunderstorms.

“Pairing the high-resolution 3D view with the very rapidly updating imagery really opens up a lot of doors for us in unraveling storm dynamical processes and how they lead to severe weather,” said Bedka.

The detailed 3D perspective also gives scientists a more accurate way to measure cloud height, which they currently do through a bit of inference by taking satellite-observed cloud temperature and matching it to weather prediction models, which provide gridded height and temperature profiles throughout the world. This method works well most of the time, but weather models do not always correctly simulate temperatures near the tops of powerful storms. By also incorporating the best possible 3D rendering of the clouds at the highest possible time intervals, scientists can track patterns visually and better unravel severe-weather processes. Bedka and Khlopenkov are currently working on an algorithm for automating cloud height based on the 3D imagery.

An annotated 3D composite, right, highlighting a variety of features present in the image compared to a single view from GOES-17.
Credits: NASA/Kris Bedka and Konstantin Khlopenkov

Cooperation works

Fengyun meteorological satellites. Green: retired satellites; White: satellites in orbit; Yellow: satellites to-be-launched
Credit
National Satellite Meteorological Center of China Meteorological Administration

Weather is a world-wide phenomenon that requires world-wide study and analysis. Scientists around the globe have overcome economic, political, and geographical barriers to work together in learning more about what makes out atmosphere tick. We all benefit from this collaboration.

We have superb NOAA satellites monitoring the Western Hemisphere, but weather is a global system, so we need more data. China began the development of the Fengyun (FY) series of satellites in 1970. As you would expect they have gotten more and more sophisticated with 17 total launches, seven of which are currently in orbit.

“Several approaches for FY satellite data access have been developed for real-time users, scientific researchers, and public users.” said Dr. Peng Zhang, the deputy director of National Satellite Meteorological Center of China Meteorological Administration. “All FY satellite data products are open to the world users and free to download.”

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and weather forecasting agencies in China have assimilated the wide array of FY data into many numerical weather prediction (NWP) models. Since the 1990s, coupled meteorological satellites and numerical models have changed the way scientists understand the Earth. You may remember that the ECMWF is famously more accurate in medium and long-range forecasting than the American Global Forecast System (GFS). https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2014GL059839

While it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a global community of dedicated scientists to produce life-saving weather information.

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”