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

Thursday: 28 April 2011

Violent Night  -  @ 11:03:16
For us, it turned out to be fairly mild. We had a tornado warning at 1:30am, spotted twenty miles southwest of us and headed for us. UGA put out a warning, conveyed by text message, and Oglethorpe County Central/911 tried to alert all fire departments (but failed, largely, for reasons I'll only get into in comments). We happened to be up at the time.

It looks like northwest Georgia, Floyd County, got a lot of damage, earlier in the evening. But it's Alabama and especially Tuscaloosa that seems to have been hit the worst at this point.

Sunday: 17 April 2011

Three Immune Responses  -  @ 08:53:48
Last Monday afternoon, when driving into work, I felt a slight tickle in my throat and an odd taste, and I thought, "Uh oh". For me that's the feeling of the onset of some kind of respiratory thing of the sort that can last a lot longer than I'd like it to.

Over the last decade or so, I've been (probably undeservedly) lucky to have had very few seasonal illnesses. So when I do, I tend to record temperature measurements and monitor progress throughout the event. Yes yes, there are those who see this as a sign of hypochondria, but let me assure you that my trusty thermometer and I have absolutely no acquaintance between these widely spaced events. As any who have been here for even awhile know, I *crave* measuring things that change, whether it's weather, the rise of sourdough, or body temperature during an illness. So events like these are irresistible, and looking back at previous ones and trying to figure them out just as much so.

And what am I going to do, anyway, instead? You get sick enough to take off work, you think you're going to make the best of it - finishing all those chores, catching up with the blog, or other things... and then you feel so much like shit that you can't do any of those things. Well, I *can* take my temperature, so there.

All this started back in Spring 2005 when I had a whalloping bout of flu, and I duly recorded and reported on that here. Another event, again in Spring but of 2007, was recorded here, along with some amplification.

Here's a version of the plot that summarized these incidents of influenza, and I present it as my standard for real flu, in contrast to what we'll see later, in the second figure:

Fever followed remarkably the same pattern, spiking with high fever a couple of days after first detection, and then very gradually over the next week or so subsiding to more or less normal levels. What isn't shown here is the coughing and sneezing that accompanied the fever, but I assure you it was there!

In neither of those seasons had I had a flu vaccine, but lately I have been more diligent about that. I had both the swine flu and regular seasonal cocktail in late 2009, and didn't have flu during the 2009-2010 season.

Then last October, before a vaccine was readily available, I reported the onset of what I called The Crud, your basic respiratory misery. I took measurements during its course, but they never made the light of day, so here they are now, in green.

(Patience on the red - that's what happened this past week - I'll get to it!)

There is quite a different pattern in the green measurements. There's nothing that could be called an initial spike and decline. The daily fluctuations actually went on for more than two weeks, when I finally tired of taking their measure, but believe me I knew they were there, along with the coughing and sneezing! These daily fluctuations were not normal for me - my daily swings are much smaller, and center around a point a half degree or so below "normal."

What might this odd, low grade long term fever mean?

It was probably because of the early respiratory accompaniment that I didn't think of something that had happened two weeks earlier. Then, I reported on a bite of some kind on my left forearm. I didn't follow up on it, but it did persist aggressively for at least two months before it began to actually heal. It was bad, it was messy, but finally it began to heal. Even now, seven months later, I can detect the slightly differently colored skin where it was.

And so I have to wonder if the respiratory thing was unrelated to a long cold or the flu, and was either completely coincidental or actually had to do with the bite. And the low grade fever that went on and on - also unrelated to flu, but perhaps a result of the bite?

Now for the brief red event of the past week:

Whatever the reason, I did not get the flu vaccine in late 2010, and so that's why I was particularly concerned last Monday (remember last Monday?) when I started feeling the dread tickle and tasting the bad taste.

It quickly developed into the usual sneezing and coughing, and I began to follow the temperature changes, seen above in red.

And then late Wednesday, just two days after I noticed it, it was over. No fever, not even really the smaller daily swings that take even longer to quiet down. This is quite different from the flu progression seen in the first figure above, although over the first day it certainly seemed like it was going to follow that pattern. And it's certainly different from the several weeks long low grade fever that persisted so in October.

So those are the results, in that second figure, along with the first figure's standard of two legitimate infections. What do we make of them?

First, the long term low grade fever of the green line in the second figure: This is not typical of the infections of the first figure. I mentioned in some of the above links the role of the hypothalamus in regulating body temperature, and how it responds to cellular damage during an infection by resetting body temperature to a higher level. As far as it's concerned, 101 degF is now normal, and so you feel cold and your body shivers though you are burning up with fever, in an effort to keep it there.

But fever is a generalized response to cell damage, and not all cell damage is due to infection. I'd speculate that what went on here was that the arthropod bite that presumably released some kind of toxin was damaging cells at a rather constant rate, but that no real infection was involved. Still, the damage released the pyrogens that change the hypothalamus set point, and fever resulted. And since the results of the bite continued for such a long time, so did the fever. There was no spike, since the cellular damage was rather constant over those weeks, as I could clearly see as I looked at my forearm. I kept it clean, so there was no secondary infection.

(Parenthetically, for those who argue that fever is a natural response and should not be interfered with by fever reducers such as aspirin, I'd tend to agree. However, being a generalized response, and clumsy, it *can* be inappropriate, stimulated by non-infectious agents as might have been the case here. In any event, raising the body temperature is a crisis-level event that upsets all sorts of processes everywhere, threatening a lack of control. I now think of fever as Warp Nine, way outside of standard operating guidelines. Sometimes you have to go to manual control.)

How about this past week's red line, which showed a fever response that ended so rapidly? Remember that I did not get the CDC cocktail this year. The coughing and sneezing that occurred at the same time had me convinced that we were embarking on a week or two of misery portrayed in the first figure. But that didn't happen, although the response was so significant that for a day afterward my *hair* hurt when I touched it.

Clearly something worked, and the crisis ended abruptly, though the symptoms otherwise seemed perfectly flu-like at the time. Maybe it was just one of those "flu-like illnesses" that are not actually flu. Or maybe the infection was one of those strains of virus for which I *was* vaccinated two years ago, retaining enough memory B cells to respond rapidly, which squelched the problem not quite quickly enough to prevent a day or two of illness, but enough so that this didn't continue for a week or more.

Whatever the explanation, it's remarkable, and more than a little comforting, to see how fast it happens and is over.

Saturday: 16 April 2011

Tornado Lite  -  @ 07:26:33
Though we were under a tornado watch from late evening last night until 6am, we didn't get much rain at all (0.24"). No thunder or lightning, and very little wind.

The storm system was moving in a band SSW to NNE, and the delineation of its easternmost boundary was just west of us by ten miles or so. Apparently all that west of us experienced MUCH more activity, with rainfall amount of 1-2 inches. I see from CoCoRaHS early reports that Floyd county has the record report, so far, 3.00". That report is indicating pea size hail in all thunderstorms, with power loss. Another report from Hall County northwest of us and between Floyd and us includes similar observations.

I've found no reports of tornados in Georgia, but apparently Mississippi and Alabama got them, and rather badly.

Friday: 15 April 2011

The Progression of Spring  -  @ 07:30:31
The last few weeks have been a barrage of mostly welcome, but still time consuming stuff. There were some fire training opportunities with Oconee County that I could not miss. Last Friday the long promised Reprogramming Day actually arrived, after having been postponed at least four times since last December. As a result we now have newly programmed new pagers and old radios, and that too has demanded its attention. The reprogramming left all our old channel designations useless, so we had to discover where the old ones went, and were they consistent across all our radios. (Short answer: yes, within the particular make/model of radio; no, across make/models.)

The good news is that we have two candidates who are embarking on the eight week Firefighter One training offered here in Oglethorpe County this year. Last night we helped Charleen outfit herself with brand new turnout gear, and introduced her to her SCBA. She did a great job going through several repetitions of donning her gear - none of us ever did any better the first few times we put them on.

And now, back to Spring 2011. I have not neglected this - I have enjoyed it greatly - I have simply fallen down in my day to day blow by blow. I loved finding the rat snake, a few days ago, atop the second story deck, and imagine that it was considering the possibility of tasty batlings just ten feet up. Jezebel the snapping turtle has been observed poking her nose up above the waters of her usual haunt, the Bufo Pond. I find that comforting.

Though the reporting may be delayed, Spring does not wait on any human institution to declare or delay it.

Hard to believe it's now been four years since I discovered the wealth of Silverbells that populate our stretch of Goulding Creek. These were in early but vigorous flower April 3. Previously I had observed these in flower 4 Apr 2007, not mentioned 2008, 7 Apr 2009, and 13 Apr 2010. This is a rather tight grouping of dates, and all within a week of an average during early springs with very different late winter histories.

A week earlier, I noticed that silverbells are another of those woody shrubs (and trees) that, like beech trees and some oaks, retain their previous year's dead leaves throughout the winter.

I've never been able to resist our Mayapples. There is such a long time that they are in evidence, and in flower, that dates of my limited observations aren't very informative. These were photographed March 27, but I had noticed them emerging days earlier.

There are also painted buckeyes in the photo, but it's the fresh ground dwellers that are the mayapples. By now they're fully expanded and the ground is probably no longer visible. They dominate now, along with the emerging ground limited poison ivy and wild geraniums that seem to accompany them.

I've kept track of the Giant Chickweed, Stellaria pubera, since finding it in 2007. This plant isn't the ubiquitous common chickweed, Stellaria media, that gardeners despair of (unless they eat it). It's a rather magnificent native version of the common weed, and it is certainly not found in such rude vulgar profusion, but rather in stately aristocratic isolation. Since 2007 I've found it abundantly in isolated patches down Goulding Creek and sloping upward from the creek in the new property. The previous dates of observation: 7 Apr 2007, 11 Apr 2008, 30 Mar 2009, 13 Apr 2010, and 27 Mar 2011. Again, this is a fairly tight cluster of dates for a plant that probably flowers for two or three weeks. It's a sweetie.

So what plants don't have tight times for flowering? Our wonderful native Coral Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens, for one. I have spied these in some degree of flowering as early as February, and as late as May. For the last two weeks they've been especially visible, and the hummingbirds love them.

Dogwoods are still flowering, but are on their way out now. Redbuds are long gone. Pollen victims know well that oaks and their relatives have been flowering for a couple of weeks. Still to come, tulip poplar, and that will be our area's major honeyflow plant. This is the time that local beekeepers will begin putting honey super atop honey super, hoping that their strong hives fresh out of winter will each deliver literally tens of gallons of honey. They're also hoping that the last couple of weeks of April will not bring a night or two of subfreezing temperatures.

Sunday: 3 April 2011

The Month of March  -  @ 08:00:41
It's The Month of March, Number 62 in a series. One word won't do it for March, this year. Hot and cold, dry and wet. Innocently averaging out here to "normal," which is a word we really can't use.

Here are the usual temperature anomalies products, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.

On balance, much of the West warmed up quite a bit since a cold February. The exceptions are along the Pacific coast and into WA and OR. The northern Midwest was much colder than normal, continuing that trend from February. Much of the Southeast continued warm (on average) from February.

If you click on that image, you'll get the maximum and minimum temperature anomalies. Almost without exception, the maximum highs were much lower than normal, while the minimum lows were higher than normal in comparison.

Now what's going on there? It sounds like reduced heat loss at night, as well as reduced heat gain during the day. One possible explanation is a greater amount of cloud cover, on balance, in March. Except for the Southwest, this explanation works well with the precipitation anomalies for March:

We find the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center's precipitation plots here.

The very wet Pacific northwest is in stark contrast to the continued and expanding dry weather in the southwest. Normal to somewhat above normal rainfall fell east of the Mississippi in most places.

For Athens:

Here is a plot of our temperature swings in March, along with precipitation amounts as experienced in Wolfskin:

We had a period of ten days or so in the middle of March without rain, bracketted by copious rain in early and especially in late March. We ended up here in Wolfskin with 7.40" rain, nearly twice the month norm (and the high for Oglethorpe County, according to CoCoRaHS).

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of March in Athens. As usual, the black dots are for the years 1990-2009 (black dots), 2011 (green line), and 2010 (red line).

Our high temperatures were somewhat below average for the first ten days, and then they pogoed up and down for much of the remainder of the month, nearing record highs on three occasions. Despite this, we had only 6 days more than one standard deviation above the norm (4.9 days normal), and only 3 nights more than one standard deviation below normal (4.3 nights is normal, so this is not significant). I suspect we'd have seen more "significantly warmer" days if we hadn't compared to the standard deviation. March is so variable over the years that the variation is quite large and difficult to surpass.

The figure below shows the Athens precipitation 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 20 years, the vast river of peach shows the standard deviation.

In March, we easily surpassed the average rainfall. Athens only had 6.65", officially, while my official figure for Wolfskin is 7.40". We don't quite get out of the river of peach, but again, March is highly variable in its precipitation as well as its temperature swings.

I think it's important and instructive to take a look at the figure below, a few months a year. It helps to put things into perspective.

It's the blue line that is the most informative. This tells how much above or below we are in total rainfall expected since January 2005. A large majority of the blue trend tells the story of our nearly four year drought, which ended in mid 2009. Since that time we've had a pretty good balance between small surpluses and deficits, and have maintained a level rainfall. That it sits at -10 inches just means that if everything had been average since 2005, the blue line would now rest at 0 inches. We've never really fully made up for the long drought.

Checking back at this neat prognosticator, our local area is predicted to be warmer for the next month, and then for the next three months to go to the more typical warmer and slightly drier La Niña influence in the southeast.

ENSO stuff:

The weekly ENSO PDF update at this page hasn't been working for a couple of months, but the PowerPoint selection does.

La Niña is now in decline, after a nearly year-long manifestation, and normal ENSO conditions are expected by the beginning of summer. Just in time for hurricane season! You might recall that La Niña conditions tend to suppress hurricane formation in the North Atlantic, and now they're going away.

The Arctic Oscillation is now losing its winter effectiveness, and will no longer have much to do with our day to day weather. Instead, the Bermuda (or Azores) High will begin to dominate our weather in the southeast, bringing high pressure, high temperatures and high humidity and misery whereever it goes.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for February is now up, and so is the State of the Climate for 2010. March should be appearing soon. Detailed explanations for weather events occurring during whatever month is current can be found for the several sections of the US under the National Overview. There are many interesting weather- and climate-related items to be found here.

Friday: 1 April 2011

WVFD Announcement  -  @ 07:22:06
Wolfskin Volunteer Fire Department is pleased to announce the award of a $1.6 billion FEMA grant. The award will be used to purchase 2500-gallon tanker/pumper combos for "each and every man, woman, and child" in the Wolfskin Community.

"We just got tired of the Thursday night thing - that's what started it all off," said Assistant Chief Wayne Hughes, on condition of anonymity. "Our original goal was just to get enough funding for a new lawn mower, and then we had a major brainstorming. And it sort of took on a life of its own.

"There was all that recruitment and retention stuff - what a headache! So the thought was - why not just give the residents what they need? And, holy cow! I think in the end the panel really liked that this would bring ISO insurance ratings down to 8b, from ISO-9. Maybe even lower!"

The first of 2,330 state-of-the-art fire engines roll off the lot:

"At first we thought there might be matching grant requirements, but apparently the reviewers liked the idea so much that they added another $169 million for hoses and nozzles. We really weren't expecting that," Hughes said. "They even agreed to pay for extra cup holders."

Area residents are pumped. "I can't wait," said Lois Lane, of Lois Lane. "I've been wondering what to do with my 2007 Cherokee, and this fits the bill. Plus, we get to choose our own color fire hose."

"Just wait'll they see me in the handicap space in front of Kroger," chortled DeeDee Detweiler of the Bull Bray Road area.

Hughes said that the fire department will not be disbanding immediately. "Some of us will stay on for the rest of the calendar year, to answer questions and give tutorials. But by December we'll be taking our fire engines and going home."

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