Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Sunday: 6 July 2014

The Month of June  -  @ 09:02:20
It's The Month of June, Number 101 in a series. For us, June was mostly above average in overall temperatures, and drier than usual.

Nationally:

Here are the usual temperature anomalies products, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. Displayed are the mean temperature anomalies, not the absolute temperatures.

Click on the image for the high and low anomaly graphic on a new page:



Overall anomalies in temperature became became a little more accentuated in June, this time with considerably cooler than average temperatures in the upper tier of western states, centered in Montana and Wyoming. It was still considerably hotter in locations in the southwest, with the anomalies expanding in Arizona and New Mexico, but the most extreme anomalies were still fairly localized.

Most of the eastern states were a bit warmer in June, continuing that trend from April. The central states were a mix, and within a degree of average. Nearly all parts of the country showed larger nighttime low anomalies than daytime high departures.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center's precipitation plots are no longer being updated here. Last month's alternative is also not being updated here. *Now* the closest I can find to the old familiar anomaly map is accessible from here. It's still much less flexible but at least looks a little more like a precipitation map should.



It looks like much drier weather continued in the West, and now creeping up into the coastal northwest. The reduced precipitation (10% of normal) now covers at least six western states, especially California, Arizona, and most of Nevada and Utah.

Most of the eastern US was slightly drier than normal, but areas in the central states had distinctly more precipitation than normal.

For the Athens, GA area:

Below is my usual daily rain/temperature plot visualizing the changes in temperatures and precipitation. The spiky lines are temperatures recorded roughly ten times a day, and the lighter blue columns are Wolfskin rainfall measurements. The black line is the 30-year average daily temperature, which is steadily moving upward as expected.



As was true in June, temperatures were fairly monotonous through most of the month, with two short periods of cooler than average weather. These were associated with our two periods of rainy weather. The heavy rainfall of June 23 began a period of very humid, uncomfortable conditions.

Here in the Athens area, we were somewhat above normal for the average temperature in June. The Athens area mean temperature during June was a little less than 2 degF above the average 76.8F. We didn't break any record highs or lows.

We had 6 days more than 1 standard deviation above normal highs (just a bit above the average of 4.8 such days). We had 0 nights with temperatures more than 1 standard deviation below normal lows, well below the average of 4.8 nights, and a reflection of the greater low temperature anomaly.

The monthly histogram below shows the breakdown of high and low temperature range counts from June 1948 on. The error bars are just plus/minus one standard deviation, which I arbitrarily set as the limits outside of which are "significantly" anomalous.



Unlike in April and May, we had two temperature ranges that showed a significantly larger number of events. We had 19 days 90F or above, compared to the usual 10 such. And we had 28 nights of average 61-70F, which is higher than the usual 22.

Below is the monthly accumulation of rain in Athens, GA. The river of peach is the long term standard deviation of all the daily black dots in the last 15 years, and the red line is the daily cumulative average. We're the green line this year, and for almost half the month it cradled that surplus of blue above the one standard deviation mark.



Athens had one significant period of precitation in June, while out here in Wolfskin the rain of June 23 was much more intense. So we had 3.74" in Athens and 3.88" out here in Wolfskin. Both were slightly below the average June precipitation of 4.18". We're still a bit below average for this time of the year.


Prognosticator stuff:

What is the prognosticator telling us (as of July 5)?

Very roughly, for the next 6-10 days the chances of higher than normal temperatures are going to prevail for the north, and for both the east and west portions of the country. For the following 2-3 months, this pattern of higher than normal temperature chances will continue for the Southeast and the West.

In the east and southeast, we're scheduled for more rain over the next few weeks, while the West has a high likelihood of continuing dry. We'll all trend into a more normal rainfall expectation in August and September, except for some parts of the South and the Gulf Coast.

ENSO stuff:

The folks at CPC have a version of PDF or HTML that is much different from their previous presentations, but at least it's there and the link isn't broken.

As of June 30, ENSO neutral conditions continue, but with above average sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. The chances of an El Niño developing continue as in June at 70% by the end of summer, and 80% overall. The planet has remained ENSO neutral now for 25 months. The last time we had such a lengthy period without an El Niño or La Niña must at this point have been in the 1990s.

An El Niño will probably shake things up for the winter here in the US. Overall it will also release a lot of heat stored in the oceans into the atmosphere, so expect to see global average temperature anomalies increase over the next year.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for May is available.

Summarizing from what I see on the map: The West and Alaska continued with abnormally warm temperatures. Major snowstorm across the Central Rockies.

Here is the final annual State of the Climate report for 2013 regionally, nationally, and globally. It's pretty US-centric, but there are comments for climate globally too.


Tuesday: 17 June 2014

Update on Katherine  -  @ 09:53:50
I appreciate the input on my role as observer versus conservator, as regards the box turtles that have come to occupy my attention for some years now. For those who aren't familiar with this situation, I ran across Katherine, a box turtle I've found many times over the last three years, and she had a substantial neck swelling that I tentatively identified as a tumor or abscess.

I think the comments there, as well as gentle input from Glenn, make it pretty clear that the conservator role is just as important as the observer role. Bev checked with an acquaintance who said that this looked like a treatable aural abscess. Since I had a similar sort of thing last summer (in a different place), I know it's potentially life threatening because of septicemia, but relatively simple to treat.

So yesterday I scoured the area for a couple of hours and was unable to find her. My intention was to take her to the UGA Vet School for emergency treatment, and then rehab at home for as long as necessary. She's probably where all other box turtles stay when they aren't in sight on top of the ground - she's burrowed under a pile of leaves, or under a log, and there are huge piles of leaves and logs in the area.

I'm continuing to look for her - the first time I've actually gone in search of a particular turtle. I haven't heard back from the UGA Vet School on an email I sent them yesterday but they do handle exotic animals.

I really appreciate the comments from Gin and Bev on the realities of the situation. The loss of an adult box turtle, especially a female, is a blow to any population, especially those in jeopardy.

Sunday: 15 June 2014

Unfortunate Encounter  -  @ 07:57:12
Box turtles continue to exhibit low activity compared to 2012 and 2013. Still, yesterday I ran across Katherine, who I first found in 2011. She's the one with the mangled front carapace. She may be quite old - the scute rings are very crowded but there could be as many as 35. (The rings are unreliable for determining age after there are more than 15 or so.)



I've been using Excel to construct simple maps that show some of the particulars of my box turtle encounters. The lines and points are derived from GPS readings. The map below does not contain many geographical features, but does show the boundaries of the property, and particularly Goulding and SBS Creeks, as well as the "dry creek" that runs across the western 20 acres. You can fill in the rise of hills if you imagine a floodplain of variable width on either side of Goulding Creek, and hills rising with variable steepness on either side of all three creeks. The scale is approximate; each gridded box is 3.5 acres, if you prefer.

Here's the map for Katherine. I've indicated in the title the year first observed, the number of observations, and the average distance from the centroid of all the observations. That gives me an idea of the home range. For Katherine, I've never found her far from upper SBS Creek (the creek flows south to north).



Unfortunately, Katherine seems to have a very large swelling on the left side of her neck. I suppose it could be a tumor, an abscess, or a result from constant abrasion against the jagged remains of her carapace margins. Probably in descending order of probability. I checked the photos from last year and there was no sign of it then.



At 460 grams, she weighs the same as she did a year ago when I last saw her. Whatever the problem is, I doubt she's likely to survive much longer. She can't withdraw into her shell now - she had trouble doing it completely even before the swelling. She'll probably run into a predator sooner or later, and then that will be it.



Saturday: 7 June 2014

The Month of May  -  @ 08:42:09
It's The Month of May, Number 100 in a series. For us, May was just about average in overall temperatures, but a bit wetter than usual.

Nationally:

Here are the usual temperature anomalies products, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. Displayed are the mean temperature anomalies, not the absolute temperatures.

Click on the image for the high and low anomaly graphic on a new page:



Overall anomalies in temperature became even further reduced in May, with somewhat warmer than usual temperatures dominating. It was still considerably hotter in locations in the southwest, especially southern California, but the most extreme anomalies were fairly localized. The upper midwest was only slightly cooler than normal, as was the southern borders of the US as far east as Louisiana. But again, the extremes were much less widespread than in April and even in March.

Most of the eastern states were a bit warmer in May, continuing that trend from April.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center's precipitation plots are no longer being updated here. Last month's alternative is also not being updated here. *Now* the closest I can find to the old familiar anomaly map is accessible from here. It's still much less flexible but at least looks a little more like a precipitation map should.



It's hard to compare the rainfall anomaly map in April with that in May, but it looks like much drier weather continued in the West (excluding the coastal northwest). Most of the eastern US was only slightly drier or slightly wetter than usual, except along the northern Gulf Coast which continued a rainy trend.

For the Athens, GA area:

Below is my usual daily rain/temperature plot visualizing the changes in temperatures and precipitation. The spiky lines are temperatures recorded roughly ten times a day, and the lighter blue columns are Wolfskin rainfall measurements. The black line is the 30-year average daily temperature, which is steadily moving upward as expected.



Most of May displayed even warm days except for one near-week long period midmonth. This period was dominated by cold rainy weather that accounted for about half our rain for the month. A later heavy rainfall period on May 25 did not result in particularly cool temperatures.

Here in the Athens area, we were somewhat above normal for the average temperature in May. The Athens area mean temperature during May was a little more than 2 degF above the average 70F. We didn't break any record highs or lows, but did come within a degree of matching the cold record of 42F on May 17, almost identically with the cold event April 16.

We had 9 days more than 1 standard deviation above normal highs (average is 4.7 such days). We had 5 nights with temperatures more than 1 standard deviation below normal lows (average is 5.7 nights). By these criteria, temperatures in May tended warmer.

The monthly histogram below shows the breakdown of high and low temperature range counts from May 1948 on. The error bars are just plus/minus one standard deviation, which I arbitrarily set as the limits outside of which are "significantly" anomalous.



As was also true in April, only the high temperature range of >90F showed barely significant deviation above normal events in that temperature range. We had three extra days in that temperature range.

Below is the monthly accumulation of rain in Athens, GA. The river of peach is the long term standard deviation of all the daily black dots in the last 15 years, and the red line is the daily cumulative average. We're the green line this year, and for almost half the month it cradled that surplus of blue above the one standard deviation mark.



Athens had one significant period of precitation in May, which contributed most of the surplus that we ended the month with. Out here in Wolfskin we had an extra period of rain that Athens did not experience. The average May rainfall is 3.00", and we had 3.46" in Athens and 4.10" out here in Wolfskin. We're still a bit below average for this time of the year, but April and May did help.


Prognosticator stuff:

What is the prognosticator telling us (as of June 6)?

It's a little hard to describe the temperature and precipitation patterns for the Western US, so you should look at them yourself. Things do look like they're going to switch around over the next three months for many locations that have experienced unrelenting drought and high temperatures to date. Southern California will continue with high temperatures, though, but precipitation will return to normal. This is somewhat at variance with the drought montior also found at the above link.

In the east and southeast, we're scheduled for more rain over the next few weeks. We'll trend into a more normal rainfall expectation in July and August. Temperatures will be higher than normal for the next couple of weeks, and then cool off for the end of July and beginning of August, picking up again after that. The eastern US does not seem to be in danger of drought over the next three months.

ENSO stuff:

The folks at CPC have a version of PDF or HTML that is much different from their previous presentations, but at least it's there and the link isn't broken.

As of June 2, ENSO neutral conditions continue, but the chances of an El Niño developing are now at 70% by the end of summer, and 80% overall. The planet has remained ENSO neutral now for 24 months. The last time we had such a lengthy period without an El Niño or La Niña must at this point have been in the 1990s.

An El Niño will probably shake things up for the winter here in the US. Overall it will also release a lot of heat stored in the oceans into the atmosphere, so expect to see global average temperature anomalizes increase over the next year.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for April is available.

Summarizing from what I see on the map: The West and Alaska continued with abnormally warm temperatures. Heavy rain in the East, with nearly two feet of rain in two days along the northern Gulf Coast. Tornado outbreak in the Midwest and Southeast.

Here is the final annual State of the Climate report for 2013 regionally, nationally, and globally. It's pretty US-centric, but there are comments for climate globally too.


Wednesday: 21 May 2014

Box Turtles of May  -  @ 09:51:36
So far, anyway.

I've mentioned that my encounters with box turtles have seemed rather unsuccessful this year. It's true that I found none in March, and April seemed sort of disappointing too. But when I look at actual box turtle activity (number encountered relative to the time I spent looking), I find things weren't really all that bad:



2012 is shaping up in retrospect to have been an anomaly, and I attribute that to the extremely warm March that year.

In 2014, I just haven't been on as many walks as I took last year. There is one caveat: I've been more selective based on past experience. April was either cold and wet, or warm and very dry, with few days that would inspire a box turtle to emerge. I tended to focus on those days, plus the warm ones regardless. And one previously seen turtle was dead, of course. I think that if I had been more random in the sampling, then I would see April's activity go down quite a bit.

May is still in the works, of course. But I've accumulated a few points of interest. Two new turtles in places that I've sampled extensively, three old friends, and an odd appearance.

Two for ones are always gratifying. Glenn said that it was remarkable how many turtles I've come across in the act of mating. I'm now thinking that maybe because we see box turtles as slow, we imagine that they must also be lacking in enthusiasm. I think that's not the case.

On May 12 here's Sylvia and a new turtle, who is quite dirty. So dirty that I couldn't photograph him for identifying features. I used most of my water bottle to clean him off, which alarmed him enough to disengage (except for his rear legs, which males always seem to get caught by). It was quite clear that I have not seen him before, once I went through all the composites. He also has quite a bit of damage to his frontal marginals, which look like they've been substantially chewed upon by something. If I find him again, I just might name him Pigpen.



As I've mentioned before, I started using a hanging scale to weigh turtles (when possible). The male here weighed 410 grams, which is insignificantly larger than the average 402g (+/- 67g) for the 38 male weights I made last year. What was odd was that he was 14.5 cm long, which is just about the longest male I've ever found. It challenged my 6" ruler for the first time!

Sylvia, who I've now found mating three times since last year, was 430g, just under her 446g (+/- 11g) average last year (n=5). At 445 +/- 58 grams (n=30), females tend to be about 10% heavier than males. This, by the way, is my 18th encounter with her since I first found her in 2006. It was great to see her again.

So why was that male so dirty? I've never found a turtle so covered in dried mud. Even early in the season they tend to be quite clean, and I've assumed they quickly get to water after digging out, or that the next rain will wash them off. Since we had had a fairly significant rain two days before, I'd guess this turtle just emerged in the last day.

It's probably also worth noting that this supports the idea that he actually did dig down for the winter, and wasn't just under a thick pile of leaves and detritus.

On May 13, I found this new turtle. He was on the upper ancient roadcut leading down to Goulding Creek. He weighed 360g, so on the small side for a male. His 19 scute rings represent only a minimal age - once you get to that number, the rings aren't very informative anymore.



I found the handsome fellow below just climbing out of the creek at the southernmost tip of my route up SBS Creek. As it turns out, I also saw him last year on June 7, for the first time, probably 50 feet away from where he is now. He needs a name now. He weighed 510g, which is quite heavy for a male (last year it was 490g).



Finally, our old friends Cory (left) and Reuben (right).



I've found Cory now 14 times since my first discovery in 2009. He's a small turtle, averaging 320 +/- 7 grams, and weighed just 300g on May 12. He's always been in the same general location, on the north slope. He's made at least one foray into the fairy ring south of the house, where I found him once last year.

Reuben, who was the first turtle I found in 2012, has been rediscovered 11 more times since then. He tends to haunt the lower half of SBS Creek, and I've found him mating twice (once with Sylvia!). He's at the upper end of the male range, at 450 +/- 11 grams, and on the 12th he weighed 460g, so has probably been out and about for some time now.

We had some unusually cold weather the last five days, with considerable rain, and I haven't seen any turtles during or since then. But we're climbing out of that cold spell now, and I expect today could net some more May discoveries.



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