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

Monday: 9 January 2012

Do NOT Laugh  -  @ 05:01:26
Of course, that's exactly what the vet, tech, and I did when he bobbed and bumped around the first few minutes.

Max is wearing what we called an Elizabethan collar - now it's called something else, I gather ("a satellite dish is in your future," the vet said). He's not sick, but he does have a head wound that wouldn't heal because he kept scratching at it.

So when I took him in on Friday, I pretty much knew what was going to happen, and I was right. He has to wear it for another week, probably.

It's surprising given the number of cats we've had that we've only had to do this one other time, years ago. She hated us forever after. Of course, the collar was much lower tech and heavy - looked like someone had cut it out of an empty bleach bottle. This one is very stylish: lightweight, and transparent so Max has some peripheral vision left to him.

The vet fashioned a cunning little harness out of bandage stips that pass behind his front legs and around his body so he can't pull the cone off. And so far it's worked well - he hasn't wriggled out of it yet.

He got used to it fairly quickly, and much more resents not being able to go outside except under supervision. His main problem is that it's hard to find a good position for sleeping - he can't put his head down easily. He's solved this mostly by hanging his head off an edge.

Another problem is that he can't wash, and he can't get to his head, which is of course the point. But it itches, so we spend a lot of time scratching it for him, which he appreciates. In fact, immediately starting this kind of attention was probably a big reason for him getting used to it as quickly as he did.

The impulse to give himself a tongue bath, though, is a powerful one that we can't do for him. He frequently begins to wash, and ends up just licking the surface of the cone, and then he realizes, oh yeah.

Poor Max!

Saturday: 7 January 2012

The Month of December  -  @ 03:06:15
It's The Month of December, Number 71 in a series. After an uneventful three months of autumn, December was a considerably warmer than average month. Being December, it also brought to an end 2011, but we won't talk about the entire year here yet. YET.

Here are the usual temperature anomalies products, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. The high and low temperature anomalies can be had on a new page by clicking on the image below.

The northern half of the US continued to be unusually warmer, especially eastward, and this month the rest of the eastern US joined in too. West of the Rockies is a hodgepodge of mostly somewhat warmer or somewhat cooler zones. The parts of TX, KS, and NM that were so hot during the summer must have felt some relief with a cooler than average December.

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

The northern midwest largely continued a drying trend since at least September, at least in the northernmost tier. Again, most of the US east of the Mississippi had normal to wet weather, but dry conditions continued to persist in parts of the southeast, especially along the Atlantic Coast and Florida. New England got some rain relief, but the northwestern US remained dry, and most of CA/NV was very, very dry.

For the Athens, GA area:

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

Temperatures averaged out warmer in December, although we did have four distinct cold snaps (or four distinct warm periods, if you prefer). Our average highs were 60.7 degF, compared to 55.8F average. Our low average was 38.4, compared to 35.0 average. We had ZERO nights greater than one standard deviation below the average low, where 4 such nights is average. To balance that off we had 8 days warmer by more than one standard deviation than the average, where 6 days is normal.

Since we find that temperatures were warmer than normal, we'll look at a plot of the high temperatures, for the month of December in Athens. As usual, the black dots are for the years 1990-2009 (black dots), 2011 (green line), and 2010 (red line).

You can see how much colder last December was than December 2011!

For temperatures to go up and down is normal in December, but there were fewer cold nights and cold days, and more warm days.

Here is a histogram that shows the deviation from a ton of Decembers:

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. The bit of yellow shows that we had a dry period mid month where accumulated rain fell significantly below average.

Athens (shown below) received a total of 3.68", just about the mean of 3.71" for December. Fourteen miles east in Wolfskin we had 3.98", so slightly above average. Rainfall was homeogeneous, and we did have a tornado watch in the afternoon and evening of December 22.

What is the neat prognosticator telling us? You can take a look at it for your own weather, but for the Athens area we have a week or two of coolness, and then warmer and drier for the remaining three months. Again I think that latter is based on historical La Niña trends, and we know from the last two winters that there is one thing that can turn that on its head:

And that would be the Arctic Oscillation, which has been acting up during its effective time in the winters of the last two years. At that link you can see the current AO of the last few weeks and the prediction for the next two weeks (it's very hard to predict the AO much more than a week or two in advance). To get snow we'd expect a considerable period with the AO dropping negative (which is where it is right now as I write this!). We must continue to watch it!

ENSO stuff:

The ENSO PDF update can be found at this page. It continues to tell us that La Niña conditions are present again, and likely to remain so through the northern hemisphere winter. This would normally bring us dry and warm winter conditions, and explains the December weather. At the end of December the Arctic Oscillation dropped into negative values and released a blast of cold air that hit us in the first of January, but that's another story.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for November is available, and is worth a read for your region. December should be appearing soon, as should the summary for the year; regionally, nationally, and globally.

Tuesday: 3 January 2012

Meteor and Fire Weather  -  @ 05:57:54
The Quadrantid Meteor Shower peaks tonight (Jan 3) and tomorrow morning (Jan 4). It has a sharper peak than the Big Two (Perseids and Geminids) so unless you are taking serious data it's probably not all that exciting in the week before or after. The debris that constitute this display occupy a much tighter location in space.

The past and future history of the Quadrantids has been linked to involvement of the orbit of the debris with the planet Jupiter. The Quads haven't always intersected Earth, and by 2400 they won't again, so better get out there.

You'll find far more information than you need in order to view this meteor shower. All you really need to know for this or other meteor showers:
The time range for the max, which I've just given.

Meteor entries become increasingly abundant after midnight, since our part of the earth is increasingly facing into the debris. Doesn't matter where you are - your local midnight on until dawn will almost certainly be the best time for viewing.

The link below (and many others) will show the precise location of the radiant. For most of us, the precise location doesn't matter, just the direction that it lies in, in this case northward. Just look to the north and maybe a bit eastward, but essentially take in the view of the sky as you see it from that direction.

The moon isn't cooperating very well this year - it's 75% full - but it shouldn't fade things out too badly.

Now, about the weather. Active precipitation is limited over the US to the extreme northwest, and east Atlantic coast, perhaps cloudy around the Great Lakes. Otherwise, it's pretty clear everywhere.

However, it's also cold east of the Mississippi. We're getting our coldest weather so far this year, and the reason is that the Arctic Oscillation has gone negative and spilled all that cold air down south instead of sweeping it eastward. Here's a 36-hour model prediction for surface temperatures early Wednesday morning, from the Unisys GFSx model page:

A note on our local northeast Georgia fire weather conditions:

Yesterday I mentioned that it was extremely dry, and today it will be even drier. 25% relative humidity or lower from 11am until 7pm, and down to 15% RH by 3pm. Maybe a little less wind than yesterday, but not much less. Cooler than yesterday, with highs 40 degF or below, but that doesn't matter.

Winter conditions here fool people. They fool people partly because temperatures tend to the cold, and for some reason people imagine that cold temperatures mean fire can't really start, can it? Of course it can. We actually do have fewer brush fires in winter, but they come as a surprise when they do. Canopies in the summer actually suppress fires by raising local air moisture - those canopies are absent in the winter. They've fallen as dead leaves, which add fuel to the ground. And plants aren't carrying xylem and phloem water in the winter, thus rendering the above ground live fuel even more combustible. Windy conditions aren't buffered by a mass of leaves in the upper branches. So when weather conditions - extremely low humidities, high winds - surface as they have now, fire potential zooms.

So there were two brush fires in the northwest and north part of Oglethorpe County yesterday, which is well above average for a typical day. We did get a supporting role call for one of these, but were canceled shortly after the page. We can expect more of this today and tomorrow.

Monday: 2 January 2012

Coasting  -  @ 06:58:20
It may be a few days (and potentially longer) before I'll be able to get a Month of December out. Another virus outbreak has the computer headed out to get its memory wiped, hopefully after saving non executable files. I don't believe in hell, but I wouldn't be disappointed to be wrong if it meant that the enablers of entropy got the most painful punishments. Is this wrong of me?

That means I don't have the photos of the cemetery hunts last Thursday, either. This too will have to wait.

After a warm December, we're in for a few days of cooler weather, highs in the 40s, along with gusty winds especially today. The main trouble will be that the relative humidity will be very low - 20% today with 20mph winds, and 15% tomorrow. That's extremely dry for us, and wildland fires will be a distinct hazard.

It's always ambiguous as to whether "Oct 16-Jan 1" is inclusive or exclusive of Jan 1, but regardless today will be either the first or second day free of deer hunting season. It's now safe(r) to walk in the woods, and I'll have access to the downstream area for the first time since last autumn.

The cats were anxious yesterday, peering around the corner to the south of the house. I took a look and there were half a dozen big turkey vultures on the ground and in the trees. Sure enough, there was a dead armadillo in the ditch. No photos, please, it wasn't a pretty sight. I left the vultures to their business, which they're good at.

Sunday: 1 January 2012

The New Year...  -  @ 07:11:57
...and welcome to it. A Happy New Year to everyone.

I was uplifted by the qualified return of an old blogger friend. No, I'm not going to tell you who it is, just that that particular voice has been missed.

Completely unconnected, but something I find worth thinking about:
A large part of being insane is having been insane.

I'm not being literal about being insane here, although others are better judges of that. But I do like what it says about the role of habit in forcing behavior. Habit can be a cruel, soul-killing master. It says something that I remember the quote largely word for word, despite having encountered it last many years ago. It didn't take too long to track it down to "The Ethics of Madness", by Larry Niven.

So may the force of habit be broken for you, if you want it, in the new year.

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