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

Wednesday: 31 December 2008

Goodbye 2008  -  @ 06:15:09
It's been more than a year since I suggested a change in calendar, and no one's done a thing about it:
This brings up Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy and the “timeslip”, a charming idea. Mars' day is a bit over half an hour longer than Earth’s. To keep, for his colonists, a synchrony with the admittedly arbitrary 24-hour timekeeping standard, Robinson invented the midnight timeslip. At midnight, all clocks stop, for that 30+ minute period. Afterward, they resume again at 00:00:01. He does a great job of mystifying that half hour, something we here won’t ever experience.

Of course by adopting the inflexible 24-hour standard when the Earth day is just shy of a minute under 24 hours long, we accumulate our own timedebt. We resolve it once every 4 years with a leap day. And what do we do with that accumulated time? We treat it like any other day. I sense evil capitalism here. February 29 should be a holiday - why do we continue to let this work til you drop crap continue? Of *course* capitalism would take advantage of that with greeting cards, timeslip gifts, and such, *that's* not what’s particularly evil. Capitalism just doesn’t want us to have an extra day of fun once every four years. *That's* what’s evil.

Now that I think of it, Earth’s revolution period of 365 days (plus the 0.25 days each year) is awfully inconvenient for a 12-month calendar. That’s why we have different numbers of days in various months. As King of the World I say make each month 30 days (except Feb 31, once every four years). Those extra five days? End of year timeslip, and free for all. From Dec 30 to Jan 1. New Year’s Day would remain unchanged.

I'd point out that if people had listened to me, then today would be the first day of a 5-day paid holiday, after which we'd have January 1. Now that's change you can believe in, right?

Right on!

The last few days have been amazingly warm, and the sky very very clear. On Monday, at 5:20pm, I noticed that the tops of many of the pines were so yellow in the setting sun that they looked like they had been struck by lightning and died.

I idly took a few photos, and then yesterday began watching around 5pm for the phenomenon for a hopefully better recording. It didn't happen. Apparently there were just enough wisps of cloud on the horizon to diffuse the last of the sunlight, and it wasn't sharp enough to light up the trees properly.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday: 30 December 2008

Drying Out  -  @ 07:56:38
Our ongoing drought may be showing some signs of relief. As for El Niño or a recession, we won't know until some long period of time after it's over. But at least the last few months have contained enough rain under cool conditions to provoke some activity.

Fungi are making an appearance - not the warm weather mushrooms that we've missed over the last two years, but other forms that don't seem to mind the cooler weather. Although it's hard to say "cooler" with a straight face - we've had daytime December temperatures in the mid 60s now for awfully long. Right now it may be 30 degF, but again it will get up to 70 degF today, and it seems more and more like Arizona.

And then there's this, Pleopeltis polypodioides, Resurrection Fern. The fun thing about resurrection ferns is that they're able to lose 90% or more of their water and survive until rehydration. That's something we can't do!

This would be the USDA Plants map linked to above; R and T stand for rare and threatened.

Folks farther south will be amused to see the rather patheticly sparse stand of growth of this epiphyte. We do have much richer growth on other trees, but they're way up in the air. This one is down on the ground because the host tree, a green ash, probably, fell a couple of years ago. This portion of it is suspended a couple of feet off the ground, about ten feet from the little creek over which the tree fell.

For that reason, the continued existence of this colony is probably limited to how long it will take for the fallen tree to fall apart. But for the moment the plants have perked up considerably - I didn't even know they were there until yesterday, but I'll be watching them from now on.

From this abstract, there are a few new words to learn, and they have to do with desiccation response strategies.

First, two prefixes: poikilo- and homoio-. The first means "varying" and the second is its antonym, "constant." We run across these a lot - poikilotherms are animals whose body temperature is unregulated, and varies with the environment - cold-blooded. Homoiotherms (you'll also see the simplified spelling "homeotherms") regulate their body temperature to a constant value.

The concept is preserved with regard to salinity of animal body fluids, though the names are not. Osmoconformers have body salinity that is the same as that of their environment, while osmoregulators have mechanisms to keep the salinity constant.

Usually we think of the poikilo, or conformer, types as being more evolutionarily "primitive," and that's the case for plants and desiccation response strategies too.

So poikilohydric plants are plants that have no mechanisms to prevent desiccation, and so they dry out with their environment, and rehydrate when the environment moistens. Algae, cyanobacteria, many mosses, and a few ferns do this. (As do some nonplants, even some animals, the tardigrades or water bears, can survive desiccation and might be called poikilohydric.)

More evolutionarily advanced gymnosperms and angiosperms are homoiohydric. They have adaptations that prevent water loss in the first place, and attempt to maintain a constant watery environment inside their bodies. Adaptations also include (sort of) being confined to certain environments. And so we have mesophytic higher plants (moderate moisture environments) and xerophytic plants (low moisture environments).

Those bald distinctions overlap somewhat, surely. Resurrection ferns do have stomata, the little breathing holes in the leaves, and so they can open and close these, a form of regulation. But they, and other simpler plants, also have recovery mechanisms for surviving desiccation, and repairing cell functions following rehydration. Homoiohydric plants? Not so much - their body plans are more complex and the cell types too specialized to recover effectively in this way, preserving the whole plant.

All that above has to do with vegetative desiccation tolerance - simpler plants may be able to do it; complex plants have lost much of that vegetative tolerance. But complex gymnosperms and flowering plants do have one thing simpler plants don't - seeds. And for most species seeds are able to dry out almost completely and then rehydrate perfectly well, so at least that stage in the life cycle has retained a poikilohydric character. It's a reasonable hypothesis that the genetic mechanisms that protect vegetative tissues against desiccation in lower plants have been conscripted to operate in the seeds of higher plants.

As a seed matures, it engages in a program of maturation that includes setting up for water loss. This may involve actively pumping water out of the cells and the expression of LEA or dehydrin proteins for cellular protection. Rehydrin proteins, for repairing and reconstituting cells after rehydration, may be made before desiccation, or afterward, upon rehydration. Exactly how all this works is still not clear, but there's a huge amount of new gene expression going on in drying seeds.

Hans Bohnert, University of Arizona, has a readable article that expresses these concepts nicely. Disclaimer - Glenn and I spent a couple of decades working with LEA proteins (late embryogenesis abundant) and the expression and sequences of their genes in developing and mature embryos of cotton and Arabidopsis.

Monday: 29 December 2008

Athens Weather, 2008  -  @ 05:13:17
We're still a couple of days away from the end of 2008 but things aren't going to change much around here in that time. Here are the final results of near-daily recording of temperatures along with precipitation. There are two parts to this graph:

Temperatures for Athens (black dots) and Wolfskin (red dots), along with various average curves (blue, red, orange (actually looks sort of purple now)) are described by the left axis.

The three shades of green refer to precipitation and the right axis describes them. I'll get to those later.

This image links to a larger version:


The temperature points make a nice cloud around the smooth orange (or purple) bell curve that represents the mean temperature for each day, over some past number of years. They show the range of deviation but it's harder to see where the instances of extreme weather occur.

So I did running averages for my temperature measurements for 25 points (red line) and 100 points (blue line). Running averages are great for smoothing out noise. Since there were on average 9 measurements per day, the 25-point running average represents about 3 days, which wipes out the noise of day-night temperature swings. The 100 point running average (blue) represents about 10-11 days, and peaks and dips there indicate weather extremes that persisted more on the order of a week or more.

So we can see that we've had essentially seven episodes of extreme weather over the past year. Hot weather episodes occurred in the first half of January, from mid-May to mid-June, and then again in the first week of August. We've had unusually warm weather these last three weeks in December. While everyone else seems to have been socked in with snowstorms and cold, we've been much warmer than usual.

We had a week or so of unusually cold weather immediately after the January hot spell, during the last half of October, and then again in the last half of November.


The three green lines record precipitation during the year. The bottom dark green are rain events during the year. The bright green middle line integrates these for a cumulative total over the year. And the top olive green line shows what we would expect in a "normal" year.

We ended up with 36.3 inches of rain in 2008, 77% of the 47.0 inches averaged 1920-2008. While clearly a significant deficit in its third year, it's better than in 2007 where we got only 29.2 inches, 62% of normal. And though the bright green line shows we've lagged until September, two of the last four months have been normal or above normal so that has considerably helped matters.

So we had only about three quarters the rain we should have, but much has fallen at a good time, in the autumn. And this year has been just about average for mean temperatures, 62.3 degF. So it might be a little confusing that our average high temperature was 0.5 degF above the 73.1 average, and our average low temperature was 0.7 degF below the 51.2 average low.

I would speculate that the combination of a slightly higher average high this year, combined with a slightly lower than average low has to do with sky transparency. Less rain suggests fewer clouds, and that makes the sky more transparent to incoming radiation in the day, and to outgoing radiation at night.

In the end, 2008 was still a year contributing to hydrologic drought, but it was nowhere near as extreme as 2007 in terms of high temperatures.

Saturday: 27 December 2008

An Unexpected Christmas Bonus  -  @ 10:15:51
These are my two siblings, both younger than me by 2 and 6 years, and older now than in the photographs by three decades or so.

Sometimes it seems that casual Christmas exchanges bring things you didn't anticipate, but end up being the best of the holiday. Sister Susan, on the left in the photo below, sent me these two photos from the early 70s. At that time Mother and Dad had purchased some land a little north of Tallahassee, and Donna (on the right) and Susan were both enthusiastic horse fans. Our best guess is that the photo below was probably 1973 or 1974 - I was just into college at FSU, and wasn't around much, but I had my own share of riding and interactions with these two fellows. Mother and Dad were probably just past the process of having built a house.

That would make me 18 or 19, Donna 16 or 17, and Susan 12 or 13.

A few years later - Susan, on the right below this time, thinks maybe 1976 or 1977, so she would have been 15-16 and Donna, on the left, 18-19. I was very close to leaving Tallahassee for graduate school here in Athens, 32 years ago.

This decade's worth of my sisters' lives was very much intertwined with these two horses - the dark one is Apache, loosely an appaloosa and Susan's baby, and Leo, a very definite quarter horse who stole Donna's heart. Oh, ok there were plenty of other distractions too.

Apache came to us rather broken down, older than Leo, but under Susan's care put on muscle mass and made it at least a bit easier to ride bareback on his boney back. Leo was a robust, really massive individual from the very first, a younger horse who I'm reminded by Susan had a penchant for bucking and biting, and so he was the one you'd put the boyfriend you didn't like very much on.

Apache was a very sweet horse, but he did like to run. I recall being taken on a ride that ended up in a mad gallop over a large field and then across Centerville Highway and potential disaster. Fortunately it resulted only in a collapse of horse and Wayne at the fence on the other side of the road, with no bones broken. Apache was so clearly frightened, or pretended to be so, that it was impossible to do anything but try to soothe him. That's the way of horses, of course.

Broken collarbones, bruises, kicks, bites - that's the way of it. Horses are not people. Horses are a lot like cats.

I had permission to post these ; - )  . Both were taken by Dad, almost certainly. Sister Donna and Susan were lovely then and they still are. Susan can answer any questions!

Thursday: 25 December 2008

At the Scene of the Crime  -  @ 06:47:04
Yesterday's headline news was "Big feathers found on forest floor. Fowl play suspected."

These feathers were 20 inches long, the length of my arm from finger tip to just past elbow. There was another area of strewn feathers about 25 feet away, but that was it.

I'm guessing someone got an early turkey dinner for Christmas. There aren't too many other possibilities.

As for the culprit - it's the usual suspects. Coyotes, dogs, foxes, owls, and bobcats.

Wednesday: 24 December 2008

Tis the Season  -  @ 06:29:52
And with a plethora of events to choose from, best wishes to everyone. Hope you have a good one!

For ourselves, Jekyll Island will not be on the agenda this year. We all generally decided that eight consecutive years of a dozen or so people getting together could be broken this year, and that's fine. The mild anxiety of preparation that I usually feel at this point is absent, and the prospect of replacing that with a couple of weeks of comparative solitude is a pleasant one.

Not that the last week has been a lazy one. Our fire department gets a modest amount of money from the county, and this marks the end of the year for that. We've been working to consolidate all the ideas that have come up over the year, and to get the purchase orders in before that money disappears. What I'd like to see in the new year is a resolution to plan ahead a bit, and use a quarter of that money each quarter so that three quarters of it isn't left at the end of the year.

Over the last couple of weeks, watching the weather patterns over North America has been fascinating. The northwest has seen unusually intense cold and snow flowing in from the north Pacific. That's communicated with moisture flowing up from the Gulf of Mexico to produce snowstorms in the north and east of the continent. Yet a persistent series of high pressure domes in our area has isolated us here from the rest of country, as rain and snow have been repelled repeatedly. I have a feeling that this high pressure regime has not been unusual in the last twelve years, and that that more than anything has resulted in snowless winters during that period.

Still, there's always hope! It's only December, and January and February could surprise us.

Monday: 22 December 2008

Happy Monkey  -  @ 07:23:10
I'm going to have to promote PZ Myers' suggestion of the use of "Happy Monkey." You'll find the original thought here, and buoyed by the comments there, the proper usage here.

For whatever reason, it delights me. It makes me want to accomplish more tasks, satisfactorily. Just in case it's not clear from the above, it's not "Merry Monkey," and it's not "Happy Monkey Day." It's "Happy Monkey," period, and it is used, for instance, in the satisfactory and satisfaction-rich completion of some task. Though it need not be limited to that. As PZ points out, it's not an obligatory day of recognition, you need not buy anything for it, there are no cards recognizing "Happy Monkey:" it's the spontaneous celebration of the minute in both manners of pronunciation.

So, had I known, when I completed two years of NFIRS reports for the fire department, I would have shouted, "Happy Monkey!" Every morning after completing the onerous on-line evaluations of students from the night before, I would whisper to myself, happily of course, "Happy Monkey!" After writing a satisfactory blog post the only possible traditional celebration would be "Happy Monkey." Any little bon mote deserves a "Happy Monkey!" And I can't overlook the many times sitting on the ridge looking down the scope of the long hollow that I felt a pleasure that I can now give vent to: "Happy Monkey."

Yesterday Glenn swept out the house and as he completed the task I said, "Happy Monkey!" He did not hit me. Although when I think about it, the number of folks who might be infuriated by it makes me want to exclaim, well, you know.

Sunday: 21 December 2008

Winter Solstice  -  @ 09:20:12
The shortest day of the year! Actually, I didn't even notice how short it was. The sun came up and I'm sure it's going to go down later on, and I'd still like to be in a place, just once, where it did neither.

In any event it's not the coldest day of the year, any more than June 21 is the hottest. HA! January and February follow and so do the lowering temperatures. Not that we've suffered here - for the last week it's been in the 70s, that pesky high pressure area that has buffetted the most enthusiastic of cold fronts so far.

Nonetheless, Happy Winter Solstice to everyone!

Bev in email prompted this reminder - Dec 22 is the peak of the Ursid meteor shower. It's a small one but could be nice. Look to the north, low down, for this one radiates from the northern hemisphere pole star area. The several hours before dawn are the best, as they always are.

Bev also mentioned that another fireball had been spotted yesterday afternoon from Nova Scotia. We want to know more about this! And what is it about Canada that they're getting all the bolides lately?

Saturday: 20 December 2008

Islands and Surfing  -  @ 06:34:58
A couple of weeks ago I ran across this welcome bit of news. It came concurrently with the results of an investigation that allows me to use just about as harsh language as I may. And thanks to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon for demanding this investigation:
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week announced habitat protections under the Endangered Species Act for 12 species of Hawaii’s endemic picture-wing flies — small insects in the Drosophilidae family known as the “birds of paradise” of the insect world because of their colorful wing patterns and intricate mating rituals. As a result of a lawsuit and settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity, the Service on Thursday designated 8,788 acres of critical habitat for the picture-wings in four counties in Hawaii — the city and county of Honolulu, Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai.

One reason this is so welcome, beyond the recognition of value of this amazing group of flies, is that it's a repudiation of the practices of the disgraced Bush hack, Julie MacDonald. As a deputy administrator in the Dept of Interior until she resigned last year, MacDonald tampered with numerous recommendations and decisions involved with the Endangered Species Act, despite her lack of scientific credentials. The Hawaiian picture-wing flies critical habitat designation was one of these - left to her decision only 18 acres would have been so designated, instead of the 8788 acres eventually finalized. This is not the first time we've seen this sort of tampering by hacks come out of the Bush administration, of course.

From June 6 2006, I resurrect this photo of our own picture-wing species:

"Picture-wing," as a common name, refers to a great many relatively unrelated fly species - ours is Delphinia picta, and is not particularly related to the Drosophila species that constitute the Hawaiian picture-wing flies.

Adaptive radiation describes the divergence of an ancestral, small population which becomes isolated in a richly varied environment and quickly diverges into numerous distinct species. The most famous example is probably Charles Darwin's Galapagos "finches", which he ultimately recognized were separate and distinct species evolved after a South American grassquit population colonized the isolated group of volcanic islands, millions of years ago. Concurrently, in the first half of the 19th century, Alfred Wallace was doing his own intensive studies of diverse species in the Malay Archipelago, and the theory of natural selection as an explanation for the fact of evolution arose from these parallel observations.

The common thread that links all this is "islands." When I was a kid, we lived on Lake Lanier in northeast Georgia, just 40 miles northwest of where I am now, 38 years later. I was fascinated by the islands that dotted the lake here and there. We had a little motorboat and I spent not a small amount of time exploring those closest to home. Little did I know that at the same time, in the mid 60s, Edward O. Wilson was drawing his own conclusions from the investigation of mangrove islands in the Florida Keys, and building a theory of island biogeography. He found that island communities were more or less stable depending on a number of factors - the distance to the mainland, for instance. Immigration reduces the possibility of extinction, and immigration is more possible the closer to the mainland the island is.

(Let me guide you to this very recent NPR interview of EO Wilson, by Andrea Seabrook. While I'm not fond of Seabrook, she did a fine job with this one. Wilson is a delightful interviewee.)

Perhaps the most interesting predictive result was the influence of *size* of the island - the larger the island, the more diverse the species, even if the island was quite far from the mainland. Among other things, Wilson's work resulted in the idea of habitat corridors and other strategies as tools in conservation.

The Galapagos islands, while isolated, are small, rather dry, and of fairly uniform habitat. The Hawaiian Islands, more isolated (until recently), are larger, have access to greater rainfall in parts, and display an enormously more varied set of environments.

It was this island biogeography that resurrected the memory of a group of plants that I had not thought about in awhile, the Hawaiian Silversword Alliance. This is a group of 31 species of plants in three genera, Argyroxiphium (5 species), Dubautia (23 species), and Wilkesia (3 species). These are related, though they look very different, and occupy different habitats scattered through the Hawaiian islands:

Although they don't look it, these are members of the Sunflower family, the Asteraceae. Their common ancestor of 5 million years ago, what we now see as California tarweeds, looks much more like a conventional sunflower or daisy type.

Like the picture-wing flies' common ancestor, the silverswords are thought to have radiated from a tarweed that made its way from the North American west coast to the Hawaiian chain. Spreading and isolation into the vast array of different environments resulted into the speciation of wildly different forms that you see above. And like the picture-wings, many of the silversword species are threatened or endangered, usually by habitat destruction or through competition by nonnative species, the usual story.

There's a nice short article on adaptive radiation on the Hawaiian islands in general, and more photos of the silverswords here. More photos and lots of work by Gerald Carr and colleagues on chromosome diversity, intercrossing abilities, and phylogeny of the silverswords here.

Finally, all this led to my discovery of Sherwin Carlquist, a botanist who probably first noticed the similarities between the North American tarweeds and the Hawaiian silverswords. It was the presence of gel between the cells of the leaves of both groups that clued him in. Sherwin Carlquist is a pretty colorful fellow, and has quite a lot of diverse interests, here's a nice discussion of photography, but I'll let you find the others.

Friday: 19 December 2008

Pandiculation  -  @ 08:06:46
The definition of a bore:

Someone who looks something up in a dictionary and then closes it.

I'm afraid I can't find the origin of this, but I like its brevity. Upon examination it really doesn't address the full range of possibilities of being boring. Since I have something in mind in a day or so and am trying to insulate myself from accusation, let's invoke full powers and think about what it means to be boring. And just to be clear - I'm distinguishing between being a "bore", and being a "boor", mainly on the basis of intent: a bore is relatively innocent, a boor is deliberately annoying. They're like siblings to each other, or maybe cousins in the family of vapidity.

The cute definition above is of a special kind of bore - the "incurious bore". Goodness knows we've had enough of that for awhile. This sort of bore offers more of a "bore alert," someone who has great potential for boring the crap out of you, while scaring the crap out of you at the same time with his studied ignorance. In a way, he's the most interesting bore, since his incuriosity leads to alarming and ill-tuned behaviors. Like invading Iraq. For seven years. For no reason. Just remember - *please* remember: the apple does not fall far from the tree.

If you google "definition of a bore," you'll find quite a few elaborations.

The first group consists of "intentional bores." Self promotion is a steadfast motivation here.

There's the bore who can't stop talking about himself, unless it's to stop briefly, and say, "Well enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think about me?" I suppose we could call that the "personalized intentional bore."

And there's the "hypochondriacal intentional bore," closely related to the above, whose only motive in asking how you are is to open the conversation into telling you how *she* is. You don't want to see her carrying a portfolio of her illnesses, tucked in an alarmingly large briefcase.

It's just a hop, skip, and a jump to the "informational intentional bore," who disguises a self-promoting motivation with a logorrhea of facts. The most clever of informational bores can often elude detection by posting pretty pictures, and you really have to watch out for this one. He is fiendishly clever, interposing keywords between the photos so that you can enjoy the former while grasping at the latter in order to make a kindly comment.

We could call the second group "oblivious bores." They don't mean to be boring, they just are, and are most often obsessed with one minute thing or another. The oblivious bore can't stop talking about a subject for which his audience has clearly telegraphed a rapidly waning enthusiasm, a signal that everyone but the oblivious bore is aware of. Surely there are two groups of this type, based on motivation:

There's the "well-meaning oblivious bore," who is absolutely adamant about saving the whales, or whatever. She's committed to making sure that you want to save the whales too, and is impervious in her oblivious bore way to the obvious: you'd slaughter any number of whales just to be free of her clutches.

And there's also the "conspiracy theory oblivious bore," distinguishable from the above only in that his obsession is factually and logically wanting. This is distinctive because at least we could come to some agreement with the well-meaning oblivious bore that she's absolutely right, it's just that we want to talk about something else. The conspiracy bore is a little different in that you must invest much time and energy in educating yourself in the full fantasy before you can engage. This is a dangerous investment, as the conspiracy bore is viral in nature and there's a real danger of getting sucked right down the black hole.

This is just a preliminary classification, doubtless neglecting any number of important taxonomies. Surely there are more!

Thursday: 18 December 2008

Cute Rat Critters  -  @ 06:21:21

So this is what I'm reduced to, writing about squirrels.

That's our main squirrel here, Sciurus carolinensis, Eastern Gray Squirrel. We might also have fox squirrels, S. niger, but I've only seen one, several miles away. I suspect that our population of grays is so established that they run the foxes out of town.

In recent years the population around here has increased noticeably, and not just to me - neighbors have remarked on it too. Certainly we have the habitat for it. The hickory-oak climax forest is old enough (>60 years) with a healthy understory to support a large population. At any rate, they're ubiquitous.

There's probably not a whole lot new to say about gray squirrels that folks don't already know. They bury nuts for the winter, and I've been watching them do this for the last few months. Apparently they have extraordinary spatial memory and are able to recollect based on visual clues where any of a thousand or more burials are.

It seems that there are populations of differently patterned and colored gray squirrels - ours is uniformly as pictured above. But there are also all-black populations, albino populations, black squirrels with white tails, and gray squirrels with black tails.

Grays build loose nests called dreys. We have these all over the place, most often in the suitable tops of oaks. They also shelter in tree cavities, which we certainly have plenty of. They're just getting going with their winter breeding season, and will mess around for the next couple of months. Apparently there's something called the "fall reshuffle," during which a younger portion of the population will migrate as a group a considerable distance to begin a new colony.

Urban dwellers in the East will certainly be familiar with grays - probably more familiar than they'd like. Unfortunately they're just a little too fit. My impression is that where they've been introduced or expanded their range they out-compete other squirrel species. The decline of the native red squirrel in the UK is attributed to the introduction of the more robust, possibly disease-carrying gray.

Gray squirrels don't bother us. I suspect the difference is both an appropriate habitat that supports them without their having to mess with us, and an abundance of predators that are lacking in an urban environment.

In fact, that's pretty much how I view them: food for predators. Around here that would include hawks and owls, snakes, bobcats, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes. With the possible exception of the latter, all that's just fine with me.

Wednesday: 17 December 2008

Looking Up  -  @ 06:15:51
Today is the last day of finals, and so my duties are discharged for the next three weeks.

While most of the US seems to be in the cold, we've been having near-70 degF days, with the very moist air spitting out a trace sprinkle now and then. The cold front that everyone else seems to be experiencing just *stopped* right about the northwest corner of Georgia and hasn't been able to punch through.

Without much in the way of disturbance to churn the clouds, they've remained a uniform white mass covering the sky. This makes photographing anything above the horizontal a chore, so when I spotted this Dolichovespula nest, the first I've seen here, I decided to experiment with some deliberate overexposures. This shot was made from 150 feet away, and the nest is in one of the large beech trees about 80 feet off the ground. It's huge - I'd guess close to 3 feet tall.

The shot was overexposed because allowing the camera to have its way on any version of automatic produced a nice shot of the cloud exposure with an underexposed nest. So on manual I set the exposure time to 1/100 sec and opened up the aperture in a series of steps. I actually kind of like the effect, although a little goes a long way.

The nest is either of D. arenaria, Common Aerial Yellowjacket, or D. maculata, Baldfaced Hornet. Neither is actually a hornet, but rather a yellowjacket, and both build these aerial paper nests, constructed of saliva and wood. I've never seen either of these insects here.

This nest seems to have sustained some damage on its south face. The scalloping is certainly pretty - it's a real work of art.

From below and the northeast, probably 80 feet away. The nest is empty now, abandoned at the end of the warm season, and won't be reoccupied.

Friday: 12 December 2008

Trickle Down  -  @ 06:42:05
A very nice rain event, with 2.39 inches over 36 hours.

It was kind of shocking to look at the radar maps and see snow and ice in Louisiana and southeast Texas, progressing up through Mississippi and northeast Alabama during the course of yesterday. The colder temperatures are just getting here, but the precipitation is now gone.

The volume of rain and its rate of delivery was just about perfect. There was actually some runoff (left), and SBS creek (below) and Goulding Creek (last) actually rose a bit.

Thursday: 11 December 2008

Factor Analysis for Fun  -  @ 07:15:16
Well, we had no tornados yesterday. The more intense weather was elsewhere - here the rain has come down gently and consistently since 10AM yesterday, and continues with enthusiasm this morning. We've had 1.64 inches at this time, with more expected into the evening. All very good for the soil and water table!

Here's a post that can hardly be recommended to generate excitement, but I think it's interesting and have reasons for doing it. I want snow this winter!

I'm not a statistician, though I actually do enjoy dabbling in it. For reasons that will become more clear, I've always been fascinated by a particular form of statistics called factor analysis. I'm not going to get into how factor analysis is done; there are plenty of websites, such as this one, that detail this, complete with examples.

And because I'm not a statistician my explanations will probably be clumsy and not meet with approval by those who are.

Factor analysis (and there isn't just one sort; there are many) seeks to take large amounts of data and extract correlations that point toward patterns within the data. These patterns are revealed as factors. We may or may not know what these factors mean, but in the best of cases they will be independent of each other. The high correlations we may get for each factor may identify them.

Factor analysis was developed in the 1930s by psychologists and primarily used in the so-called "soft sciences;" psychology, sociology, economics, politics, and so forth. At the time it must have been grueling to perform these analyses, which use linear algebra and consume huge amounts of computational effort. Now it's very easy to perform these calculations on a personal computer, and there are statistical packages which do it for you in milliseconds. The one I used was StatistiXL, which is an add-on to MS Excel.

The basic idea in factor analysis is to acquire data from some number of "cases". The cases are the rows in a data matrix, and each case is described by "variables," one column per variable. Each case ends up being a point in "n-space," a space of n dimensions, where n is the number of variables. The points form a cloud and the width of that cloud in all its dimensions is the variation in the data. Part of my fascination is dealing with n-space!

Here's a simple example of such a data matrix:

We've interviewed ten people of young age - these are the cases. And we've obtained their weights, heights, and family income - these are the variables. Actually, I just made up the data. We're interested in seeing if there are any patterns in the data, and if the three variables can be reduced to a smaller number that still explain the data. We are especially happy when factor analysis can reduce variables from the number we employed in gathering data, to a fewer number that explain the data.

The simplest sort of thing we can do is to just produce a correlation matrix in the usual statistical way, so that we have a correlation between each combination of variable. The correlations are numbers between -1 and +1, where a "1" indicates perfect correlation. A negative correlation means that as one variable increases, the other decreases. A positive correlation means that as one variable increases, so does the other.

Here's what we get for the correlations between height, weight, and family income:

Of course the correlations between height and height are 1.000, and above and below that diagonal the numbers are the same. But the correlation between height and weight (0.716) is high, which we'd certainly expect. And the correlation between height and income is not very large but it is positive, which we might also expect. The correlation between weight and income is negative, which is interesting. (Of course I made up all these data, so I know what the story is.)

Factor analysis will take the data beyond simple correlations and produce factors, no more than the number of variables, and hopefully fewer, that will explain the variations in the data. In a simple case like this we hardly needed factor analysis to explain it - we can pretty much see what's going without it. Still, here is the result of factor analysis on the data:

The analysis has uncovered two factors that explain 98% of the variations in the data. It produced a third one as well, but that one was so small (2%) that it's trivial. Factor 1 explains 56% of the variations in the data. By looking at the numbers we can see that both height and weight are highly correlated with Factor 1. The two variables, height and weight, have been explained by a single factor, #1. In this simple example we knew that was going to happen, since the taller you are, the more likely you are to weight more.

But Factor 1 does not explain much of anything (0.002) when it comes to family income.

Factor 2, which accounts for 42% of the variation in the data, gives us some hints about family income. These are only hints, because Factor 2 shows only modest correlations (because they aren't very close to 1.000) with height and weight. Most interestingly here is that height is positively correlated with Factor 2 - the higher the family income, the taller the case. And weight is negatively correlated with Factor 2 - the higher the income, the less the case weighs.

Since the correlations between income and height, or income and weight are not strong, we shouldn't be too silly in our interpretations. We should, in fact, explore this further with a different set of variables. But we might hypothesize that a high income family offers kids more opportunities for good nutrition and physical activity, promoting height to the full potential in a positive way, and reducing the incidence of overweight kids. A low family income does the reverse. That would be the interpretation that might suggest a new set of observations to explore Factor 2.

So factor analysis is a way of exploring data and generating hypotheses. We might explore Factor 2 by coming up with numbers that describe these cases in terms of parental involvement, political affiliation, mental illness, all kinds of things. For each variable we introduce, we have to increase the number of cases - there can be no more variables than there are cases.

The other day I was wondering if we could use factor analysis to determine the conditions under which we usually get snow in the winter. If you're not aware of it, the Climate Prediction Center, along with some other resources, offers tons of data on various climate indices for teleconnections. We've talked about these before - the El Niño/La Niña (ENSO) pattern, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), the North American Oscillation (NAO), and so forth. I've also acquired monthly data for temperatures, rainfall, and in the winter months snowfall in Athens, GA since 1950.

Here's the data matrix, where the rows are the "cases," the months of January, from 1950 to the present, and so 58 of them. You're really not expected to look at the data, but I've linked to a larger screenshot anyway.

The first 12 columns are twelve "variables", which are the climate indices. Some of these may be related, and some of these may not. Factor analysis will tell us. The last three columns are measurements in January for Athens of rainfall, high temperatures, and snowfall. The question is, do any one or more of the first twelve columns (independent variables) correlate with any of the last three (dependent variables), and for me especially, the very last one, snowfall!

We'll just have to wait to see what factor analysis tells us.

Wednesday: 10 December 2008

Impending Deluge  -  @ 07:40:32
The clouds are scooting across the sky and what by all predictions seems to be a formidable amount of rain in the next 48 hours is approaching. When I woke up this morning at 4AM temperatures were very warm, 60 degF, which is about 30 deg higher than they have been at this time for the last month or six weeks. In fact, 60F is pretty much the highest they've gotten even in the late afternoon during the last month or so.

Everything here at 7:30AM, just as the sun is beginning to rise, is sepia colored, with distinct reddish tones. It's really impressive, and the photographs looking up the walk and then the driveway from the house don't quite capture this unusual effect. But here they are nonetheless. The colors have not been altered in any way.

UPDATE (10AM): Oh. We're under a tornado watch now, until 3pm. I was wondering whether that would happen. Tornado watch. In December. How interesting!

Tuesday: 9 December 2008

Purple  -  @ 06:05:34
The cold weather for us here continues, since October, and there's a reason for that that I'll get into later. I'm thinking that we could have snow this winter, for the first time (significantly) since 1996. All depends on the North Atlantic Oscillation!

And so there haven't been many arthropods out, and walks through the woods net little more than increased vistas, and lots and lots of brown.

So this was a significant sight - deep purple against the blue sky - and we'll have to revisit a plant that we just talked about toward the end of September. It's hard not to push such a productive plant!

It's beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, and surely one of our nicest and most nurturing plants around here. Ripening is now fully complete, and while most of the beautyberries are berry bereft, this one has retained nearly fully its efforts.

If you look at the late September link above you'll see there's a gradient of ripening with the more fully ripened berries at the end of the branch, and each cluster farther back a little less so. That was because, way back, the flowers at the terminal end of the branch opened first, followed by the next cluster of flowers, and so forth. Now they all appear to be equally purple, but even so there's a gradient. The berries at the terminal end of the branch have either largely dropped or been consumed, while each cluster in turn shows a decreasing degree of disappearance.

And where are beautyberries found? USDA Plants gives us the range, and so if you live in this range and you've never seen this plant (it's quite gaudy right now), might be time to ask why not!

Saturday: 6 December 2008

Viburnums and Their Congeners  -  @ 05:44:23
Back in the days when we purchased plants, we purchased several young bare-root plants each of several Viburnum species. Viburnum opulus var americanum, American Cranberry Bush, (or American Canberry Tree, or Highbush Cranberry) was one of these. It was probably purchased under the name V. trilobum but that has since been changed. (Glenn contributed to the confirmation of its identification.)

Viburnums (and there are at least three dozen species in all US states but three: Nevada, Utah, and Arizona) are in the family Caprifoliaceae, and so viburnums, elderberry and honeysuckle are closely related. Like many plants in this family this one shows rapid growth, lots of suckering (shoots coming up from the base), and, of course, seed dispersal by animals, through berries.

As you can see, it has very nice red berries. Kemper Center has a couple of nice photos of the flowers, as well.

We transplanted this one to a spot next to the south deck, where it has received full sun during most of the summer days. It's really not in the right sort of soil, since that soil *should* be dryish and this plant likes a medium to wet moisture. But it turns out that the runoff from the house roof runs through leaky corrugated plastic pipe that I buried underneath this plant, and I think it's modified the soil moisture characteristics in a micro sort of way.

At any rate, the shrub grows very well and in five or so years has attained a 15-foot height. This year it put out flowers in profusion in early summer. An oddity is that the fruits, which developed quickly, began to turn red in late August, but it took them a full eight or nine weeks to completely ripen and turn color. And it appears that they're not really all that attractive to birds!

(Note on that: Glenn confirms that the berries are not very tasty. Apparently the European variety, V. opulus, is much more pleasant. Note also that the common name is not that of the Cranberry of holiday sauce fame. That is a Vaccinium species in the Heath family Ericaceae.)

The cranberry bush has served as a setting for various arthropods this past year, since its growth now occupies a fair portion of the deck, spilling over the railing. Most of the arthropods I've detected have been predatory, and there's not been much in the way of phytophagous insects. In other words the arthropod activity looks to be opportunistic - any old plant would have done as well.

Here's USDA Plants' distribution map for this species. Highbush cranberry is not native to Georgia, according to this:

This brings up the erudite point of native and non-native species, and it's more complex than simply that. Highbush cranberry is not really native to Georgia, although it is native to North America. It's one of those purchases that I kind of sort of wish we hadn't made, but then again I kind of sort of like the plant. I ran across a set of words that begins to describe the various relationships of natives and non-natives, centering around the word congener. A congener is (in this case) a plant that is closely related, presumably in the same genus, but maybe also in another closely related genus. Presumably a congener has to be a different species than the one it is relating to.

In that link, an experiment is described in which various levels of congeners are planted together and insect counts made to determine competition levels. The hypothesis is that non-native congeners would not attract so many insects, since co-evolution for compatibility had not occurred. That seems to have been the result, as well, but with a twist that requires a few more words:

Natives: those plants that are native to an area (in that case, Delaware).

Non-native Congeners: those related plants that are not native to that area (but are presumably North American). This would be the status of our planted highbush cranberry, relative, say, to elderberry. This term is unsatisfactory for several reasons - it doesn't specify the degree of non-nativeness.

Alien: those plants that are non-native and have no congener present. Perhaps an example here would be chinaberry trees, Melia azedarach. We don't have anything here that's closely related to it.

At any rate, the finding was that the non-native congeners did have lower insect biomass, but the aliens had higher insect biomass. Since the rest of the article is under subscription, I can't answer any of the several questions I have, but that's ok.

Back to the status of our highbush cranberry: we called that a non-nativer congener, and I suppose we'd expect that it wouldn't attract many insects except by accident. That sort of seems to be the case - I'd noted it earlier. We do have a native congener to compare with, and that's the Viburnum nudum, Possumhaw or Witherrod. Now that shrub is native to Georgia, and at least during flowering and after it attracts quite a lot of insects, including flower beetles and predators.

However that too was a purchased plant. Although it's native to Georgia we don't really know where it originated - if in Michigan, then its genotype is probably somewhat different than that of a Georgia possumhaw.

There really is no category in the above set of words that describes this relationship. Perhaps distinguishing natives as being local native congeners and introduced native congeners would work. An introduced native congener such as V. opulus americana would not be so much of a problem as a true non-native congener, such as a Korean or Chinese viburnum. It's a matter of degree.

And there's an even finer level of degree here - that between local and introduced natives of the same species. The main potential harm that I can see in purchasing an introduced native species that might actually derive from a locality a thousand miles away is the introduction of alleles to plants of the same species that are actually local. It's been suggested that introduction of non-local genetics into local species could harm the local populations, since their hybrid progeny would possibly be less well adapted to the local environment. A rule of thumb seems to be that you don't worry about this if the introduced native comes from less than 300 miles away.

As I warned you, this is all pretty erudite stuff. Though planting an introduced native might be interesting as a source of harm in an academic way, it pales in significance to the harm done in several other ways: habitat degradation, pollution of air, soil, and water, and a host of others. Better to concentrate on those first.

Friday: 5 December 2008

Ground Cover in Winter  -  @ 08:33:33
Our 2.3 inches of rain at the end of November did not have a huge effect on the water volume in the creeks, although SBS Creek is now flowing fully through its course. Granted, that rainfall did occur over a three-day period, so it wasn't a deluge at any one time. Still, I think we could say that the soil is still soaking up the rain without appreciable surface runoff.

And all through the hardwood forest have popped up the leaves of Cranefly Orchid, Tipularia discolor. There may not be a whole lot of greenery around, but this little North American orchid is a source that many may wonder about this time of year. So while we've talked about this before, it's still worth mentioning again.

The orchid has a set of adaptations that work well in its habitat as a rooted, terrestrial orchid. Its leaves, one per plant, are hibernal, appearing only in winter. Thus it takes advantage of the lower number of herbivorous insects, while enjoying an opened canopy and greater sunlight. The roots are studded with corms (as many terrestrial orchids are), and these store carbohydrate as an energy source.

It seems that the seeds of the orchid germinate on decaying wood, where it's likely that the mycorrhizal fungi that the orchid sets up housekeeping with are more abundant. If this is true, then those plants that I see on apparently naked soil are quite old, as the traces of decaying wood are no longer evident. I'm reminded of Bald Cypress seedlings, which require dry land to germinate, though the mature trees may be deep in water. It's evidence of the past history of the land and water interface.

The leaves will have disappeared by midspring, and then it again becomes apparent in midsummer when it sends up a startling inflorescence of florets, the other stage that people notice. The green and brown flowers are not particularly showy, until you look closely. Missouriplants has some nice photos of all stages of the plant's appearance.

Here's a reference to the pollinators, from North American Floras. I don't think I'd like pollen bags stuck to my eyes, but that's how it works:
Tipularia discolor is pollinated by noctuid moths, the pollinaria attaching to either the left or right compound eye depending on whether the column of a particular flower is slightly twisted to the left or to the right (W. P. Stoutamire 1978 ).

The epithet "discolor" presumably does not mean that the leaves are discolored, but rather that the topside and bottom sides are of different colors. The Missouriplants link above shows the leaves with heavy spotting. We do have colonies of those, but these leaves don't seem to have spots.

Although the single-leafed plant is quite abundant here, I very seldom saw flowers toward the end of the summer this year. I did find one plant a couple of days ago that sported fruits, a clear indication that this one did make flowers.

These are very typical orchid fruits, filled with seeds that have embryos just a few cells in size. It takes a lot of work for a plant to result from one of these seeds, and fortunately there are fungi that are happy to associate and help them along.

The species is Threated, Endangered, or Rare as indicated in this USDA Plants map. The range has been expanding elsewhere, and the species is now found in southeastern Missouri.

And, finally, Wolfskin Fire Department had its elections last night and I'm Assistant Chief. I'm incongruously pleased with this, incongruously because we're all everything at WVFD. But I now know just how Joe Biden must feel! ; - ) 

In view of that let's take 35 seconds and learn how to (and more interestingly, how NOT to) put out a kitchen oil fire:

Wednesday: 3 December 2008

Post Runoff Rant  -  @ 09:10:56
Well, that wasn't so good. If you haven't heard, golf beats progress in Georgia. Saxby Chambliss (R) won reelection against Jim Martin (D). I plan on doing a more detailed analysis, if someone else doesn't do it for me. But it looks like when it came right down to it, the promises of the primaries and the general election did not carry over to a runoff, and the reasons are disturbing.

Here's a tour of northeast Georgia, with the percentage of Chambliss votes (according the the Georgia Secretary of State this morning) indicated in some counties. Understand that Chambliss is not a well-loved long-term Senator. With those numbers you might have thought that was the reason. No, he's just a Republican:

I guess we can be pleased that Oglethorpe County isn't among the worst (we marginally beat Floyd County ; - )  ). I did so love being able to say we lived in one of the reddest counties in one of the reddest states, just to fortify my resilient image, but perhaps that's not entirely the case.

The three cities indicated are apparently considered the major ones in this part of Georgia, with Martin wins by percentage in blue and in every case surrounding Chambliss counties indicated in red.

Gainesville (in Hall County, where I lived in the late 60s to early 70s) is not so much a cosmopolitan city as it is a small town that is now a huge town. Athens, of course, is the home of the University of Georgia. What would be surprising if it weren't so repetitive from year to year is the 3:1 win in Oconee County for the Republican over the Democrat - Oconee County is basically a bedroom community for Athens. But that's probably also the explanation for Cobb County in northwest Atlanta. And Atlanta... jeez... who can figure that out? It's practically not a part of Georgia at all, but the surrounding counties obviously are.

I'm in the process of doing some more number crunching - the Sec'y State website is mighty handy here. Unfortunately the numbers so far don't look like things I even like to talk about.

Turnout, by yesterday, was 2.13 million, and of 5.76 million registered Georgia voters that's 37% compared to 68% on Nov 4. Better than the 20% I was hearing last night, and sure sure, it's a runoff, but pretty pathetic nonetheless.

30% of registered voters in Georgia are African-American and 63% are Caucasian.

All we have in terms of the influence of ethnicity are early voting figures to go by. 51% voted early for the general election; 24% voted early for yesterday's election. Yay for early voting!

Before Nov 4, the AA:Cauc early vote was 36:64, above the 30:63 registered voter ratio. Before Dec 2 runoff, the AA:Cauc early vote ratio was 22:78.

Them's the numbers and it looks like African Americans were willing to get out and vote on Nov 4, but they weren't so much on Dec 2. The alternative is that AA voters preferred Saxby Chambliss, an unlikely story. Caucasian voters, on the other hand, scored higher, much higher, on the percentage scale on Dec 2. Since it was a runoff, smaller numbers of both groups got out Dec 2, but Republican voters overwhelmed Democratic voters.

One final set of numbers that places things into perspective and underscores the above point: on Nov 4 the separation between Chambliss and Martin was 3.4 percentage points, and incredibly the difference between McCain and Obama was 3.0 points. Incredible because that's 12 points higher than in Bush/Kerry 2004 - Georgia very nearly went for Obama. Yesterday, between Chambliss/Martin it was 14.8 points. Some folks were obviously motivated, and some were not.

And so I'm not at all happy about what this seems to imply. And after Glenn and a number of acquaintances spent many hours and hundreds of driving miles ferrying folks to the polls, the next person that tells me he's going to move to a blue state where he'll be all comfy in his apathy, I'm going to rip his face off. It will be no loss - a lot of fat good he's going to do.

Tuesday: 2 December 2008

The Month of November  -  @ 06:21:30
The Month of November, Number 34 in a series. Today is the runoff election between Jim Martin (D) and the loathsome incumbent Saxby Chambliss (R), for US Senate. If Chambliss wins he'll continue to be able to play golf while occupying his senate seat and obstructing progress. If he loses, he'll get to play golf even more, which is really what he wants to do. So if you're in Georgia, give Chambliss a break and turn him out to "pasture"!

From the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, this is a plot of mean temperature anomalies for the US. That's the difference in the average temperature for this November above or below the average for November over many years, plotted in colors. The anomalies are in Fahrenheit.

This is a stark view of what we already know of November. It was much colder than usual here in the southeast, and apparently much hotter than usual west of the Mississippi.

Remember though, that those are the anomalies. If you look at the mean temperature map, everything looks perfectly normal - cold as it should be in the north, grading to warm along the gulf states and southern California.

It's just that it wasn't nearly as cold as you'd expect in the north and west, and it wasn't nearly as warm as you'd expect in the southeast. Poor Florida - they're practically freezing there!

As for precipitation, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is clearly having some problems - the usual precipitation anomalies page is not accessible. However I was able to find the same plots here. The CPC website is a mess - redirects everywhere, and these data were only discoverable through google - apparently they're not linked to from anywhere on the CPC site.

So here is the plot of mean precipitation anomalies for the US over the month of November:

Very dry conditions have spread from Mexico north into west Texas and even throughout much of the eastern US. It's been unusually wet in the extreme southwest, and in the northwestern states east of the Rockies. And look at that swath of green marching through Georgia! Haven't seen that in a long time! It didn't help Florida though - as well as being cold it was also very dry.

For Athens:

Here is my plot of low temperatures for the month of November in Athens. (It seemed appropriate to present low temperatures this time.) As usual, the black dots are for the 17 years 1990-2006 (black dots), 2008 (green line), and 2007 (red line).

The cooler weather in the latter half of October continued mostly throughout November (as the first figure above shows). We broke low records on two dates, Nov 19 and Nov 22. We dipped down to 16 degF on the latter date, and that was colder than we got all winter last year.

We were more than one standard deviation above the mean high daily temperatures on only 2 days in November, compared to an average 5.4 days per November, and that's fairly significant. Accentuating this, we had 9 nights with lows more than one standard deviation below the average.

Apparently some sort of atmospheric anomaly allowed all that cold air in the north to burst through the usual pressure dam, and flood the southeast. I've been trying to figure out if this is due to the Madden-Julian oscillation (MJO) or the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO). Or both, more than likely, for once the MJO pulse moves into the Atlantic it teleconnects with the NAO to at least some extent.

Precipitation was very localized on at least a couple of occasions in November. This led to a considerable surplus for us here at Wolfskin, but a considerable deficit for Athens, 15 miles away.

The figure below shows the Athens data, which are official for our area. As usual the green line shows our actual rainfall, the red shows the average accumulation expected. The black dots are rainfall over the last 19 years, the vast river of peach shows the standard deviation. It's unusually broad because in this month we either do or do not get rain from tropical storms (and this November we did not).

Athens, at least, ended up just below average (3.71 inches) with 2.62 inches, but within the river of peach. Out here we ended up above average, with 4.40 inches, but still within the standard deviation river.

I'll continue to link to this neat prognosticator in which you can get variously timed precipitation and temperature outlooks. In October it accurately predicted (for us) that below average temperatures and above average rainfall would continue for the next couple of weeks. And now it continues to predict that the 3-month view shows a much warmer winter to come, along with much less rainfall. No snow this year, again, I'm afraid.

NOAA's weekly ENSO update tells us that sea surface temperatures in the central and east equatorial Pacific have returned to ENSO-neutral regions. ENSO-neutral conditions are expected to prevail through 2008. In retrospect it looks like the La Niña that ended in August lasted ten months. I hope you are as shocked about this climate retrospective as Wall Street was yesterday at the retrospective announcement that we've been in a recession since Dec 2007. They seem to be the only ones who didn't know it. Let's hear it for the market-driven economy!

Finally, and to reiterate the link way above, NOAA has a neat State of the Climate product. By clicking on the year, such as 2007, you can get to monthly and even weekly reports and zero in on regional descriptions that are much nicer than my own.

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