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

Saturday: 27 October 2012

And They Drove Through the Beautiful October Sunshine  -  @ 08:40:13
Last Sunday morning Glenn and I drove the pumper twenty miles over to the Athens-Clarke County Fire Training Facility. That in itself was something of a challenge - our pumper is of 1987 vintage. Though 1987 was a good year, and though it has automatic transmission and power brakes and steering, it's still a large unwieldy truck carrying four tons of water. (Don't laugh - our last pumper was manual transmission, and the one before that didn't even have power steering.)

But we got there safely. Here we are, below, all hooked up. In the background you'll see the 4-storey burn building at the Facility. Foreground is the swimming pool where the water for the tests is kept.

Our pumper, which has an FMC body and a Caterpillar engine, needed its annual pump test, which is a requirement if you'd like, say, to get community insurance rates down. One big six-inch hose suctions water out of the pool (that's also part of the test - priming), and the truck delivered pumped water through three 2-3/4-inch hoses, (yellow lines in the photo below). The water in the pumper tank is actually never used.

Above, you can see that the three hoses deliver water to a deck gun, which combines the streams and then measures the flow rate of the blast. The blast is directed to the concrete blast deflector, and back into the pond. The blast deflector is a little more obvious below.

Here is a little detail that is important to what happened next: We operate the pump from the panel on the side of the truck, behind the driver's seat. There is a knob that you turn to change the rpms of the truck engine, which in turn operates the pump. That knob is hooked to the accelerator foot pedal through a cable.

So back to the tests. There are three major tests, which operate the pump far above levels we would normally use (it's very loud!). The first one is for 20 continuous minutes at 1000 gallons per minute at a pressure of 150 psi (we'd normally not go above 100 psi). The pumper passed that one, but failed to get up to the necessary 250 psi for the last test.

The fellow who was conducting the test said that he knew what might be the problem, and proved it by jumping into the cab and putting his foot on the accelerator. The pressure jumped up to the needed 250 psi. So the problem was the cable between the throttle control on the panel and the accelerator foot pedal. He popped the cab, tweaked the cable, and the pumper passed the tests with no problem.

(He told us how to fix it permanently. He also advised us that popping the cab is a lot easier with the doors open, and putting it back down is a lot easier with the doors closed. We did the fix at our regular training session on Thursday night, which revolved around the events I have described above. Everyone seemed to have a good time fixing things and lifting and lowering the cab. )

Glenn and I walked around the facility. Here's the main building and on the left is the burn building I mentioned earlier.

Here's the burn building from the other side, looking fairly well burned. Inside it's a torture chamber of rooms and stairs and such.

This is the close quarters obstacle course. It's fully opened on the left, but somewhere in the middle they put in a horizontal floor that partitions the space into two sections. Now that is *very* cramped.

Finally, we have dead cars for rescue training.

Thanks to the two guys from Oconee and A-CC who did the pump testing. They said they'd gone through twelve trucks on Friday and had it down to a science. Even as we backed out of the bay, the next truck from Winterville was pulling up, so they did indeed have things scheduled well.

And that was our late October Sunday. Oh - I'd guess the whole even used at least ten, maybe 15 gallons of diesel.

Friday: 19 October 2012

The Last of the Turtles?  -  @ 12:22:04
Yesterday I found, after a week without any hits, what may be the last box turtle of the season. I had found him for the first time in June, and this was my first rediscovery. That calls for a name! Suggestions welcome!

He's nestled in a "form," a term coined, according to C. Kenneth Dodd, by the late Lucille Stickel. Lucille Stickel was the Grand Dame of box turtle research. She studied turtle populations for decades as an employee, and then Director at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland. A form is a depression that a turtle digs for itself. It may partially or completely cover the turtle. I'm actually surprised I spotted this guy - he was pretty well nestled in, and I was not close by.

During the warm season, box turtles may drop for days into a drowsy state in a form during times of great heat or drought, waiting it out until some rain or cooler weather. Although we have been dry here, the temperatures have been pleasant and warm, with little nighttime cold. Yet I have seen only this box turtle over the past week. So I suspect that this finding is an indication that turtles are beginning their brumation for the winter, informed more by photoperiod than by temperatures. I presume they'll gradually dig their way deeper, in place, much as Anne Rice's vampires did (but without the significantly objectionable personality issues). Oddly, I've never seen a box turtle during warm winter days, when supposedly they rouse themselves.

Last year, my last box turtle was seen on Oct 13, and this one was seen yesterday, on Oct 18. Last year's daytime temperatures were warmer than this year's, by this time, but also had cooler nights.

I'll have more to say on this, but here are some overall statistics for what I did this year, starting March 1 and ending October 18:

I made 95 trips over a study area of 20-25 acres, averaging a little over a mile per trip. I covered a total of 113 miles, over 204 hours. I had 66 box turtle encounters, most of whom were rediscoveries of old friends. Of the others, I found 23 new box turtles (10 of whom were on a newly opened study area on the east side of the property).

It was a thoroughly satisfactory year.

Friday: 12 October 2012

Lookalike  -  @ 09:21:31
I've found so many box turtles this year that I'm now beginning to run into lookalikes, at least at first glance.

Last year the last turtle I saw was on October 13th. I'm not sure how extensively I scoped out the territory after that, so that might not be a hard last turtle date. This year my records have been much more meticulous, noting trips with both positive and negative encounters. This year, we're having about the same general daytime temperatures, but last year's nighttime temperatures were just a bit lower, so we might get a few more days out of turtle season.

I noted here, at the end of last year, that in all of 2005-2011 I had only 39 turtle encounters in the study area. This year alone I've had 65 encounters, so this year marks a huge performance jump in observing.

Here's my 65th observation, this year, compared with an old friend lookalike, Ivan, taken earlier this year:

It's rare for me to encounter truly spotted box turtles, such as Ivan, on the left in all these photos. When I saw the box turtle on Tuesday, I immediately thought of Ivan, even though this turtle would have been pretty far afield of Ivan's usual haunts. I took a quick glance at the photos and decided he was Ivan. At the time I didn't notice that Ivan has a few nicks on his tailgate.

The following photos of Ivan were taken last year in October, reference by the above link:

As it turns out, Tuesday's boy was not Ivan. This is a new turtle and although not as thoroughly spotted as Ivan, he's more so than any other turtle I've found.

I should have taken a good look at the plastron. That would have told me for sure:

Update: I should have taken a good look at the plastron. That would have told me for sure. It's Corey. Originally discovered July 20, 2009, and seen a total of six times this year. That tells you how good I am at instant recognition, not very!

Friday: 5 October 2012

A Tree Fell in the Forest  -  @ 09:09:45
No report on the sound it made.

At left, you can see that it was one of those that breaks off a ways up. It was dead and rotten, so no surprise that it snapped.

So you can see that the greenery in the top of the tree couldn't be the tree's own leaves. Can you guess what it is? (More commonly seen in pines, around here.)

Wednesday: 3 October 2012

The Month of September  -  @ 09:35:47
It's The Month of September, Number 80 in a series. Once again, for us the past month has been just about normal for temperatures, with locally variable rainfall.

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

The temperature anomalies were positive mostly in the West, for at least the second month, with the central US continuing to get relief from another incredible summer. The US east of the Rockies were relatively mild, ranging from a degree or two above to the same below, except around the Great Lakes.

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

Drought conditions continued to grow worse for the northwest quadrant of the US which was also continued to experience the hottest weather. Elsewhere conditions were mostly close to normal, with surpluses of rain in a swath across the East. The patches of very light brown are mostly broken, indicating great local variability.

For the Athens, GA area:

Here is a plot of our temperature swings in September, along with precipitation amounts as experienced in Wolfskin. Temperatures declined in steps:

Most of September was normal, maybe slightly cooler at night, for us. Our average high temperatures of only 82.9 degF, 1.1F below normal. We had 2 days more than 1 standard deviation above normal highs (4.6 normal), and 6 days more than 1 standard deviation below normal lows (5.7 normal). We broke no records.

It's almost silly to put in the temperature swings plot, but just for fun, here's what a slightly below average low temperatures plot looks like, in green. Compare with red, a low plot from last year. Blue is the historic lows for each day.

The monthly histogram shows the breakdown of high and low temperature range counts from September 1948 on. No significant difference in the high temperature ranges in September. The number of nightime lows in the >60 range just squeaked by for being significantly lower than usual, and there were just barely enough 51-60 degF events to exceed normal numbers. Somewhat cooler nights, then.

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.

Our total out here was 3.30", and in Athens (shown here) it was 4.88". 3.94" is normal for September. This was a reflection of the great heterogeneity in rainfall for places located fairly close to each other. This usually happens when we have local thunderstorms, and this was the case here.

Prognosticator stuff:

What is the neat prognosticator telling us? For northeast Georgia, it's changed somewhat since last month - cooler than average temperatures continuing for the next month, then normal or slightly greater chance of warmer temperatures for Nov/Dec. After a week or so of some dry weather, precipitation is predicted to be basically normal or even above normal through December.

Take a look at the overall drought monitor and outlook though. Improvement for the southeast, but persisting from the Mississipi west through December.

ENSO stuff:

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

As of October 1, ENSO neutral conditions continue, but there's a good chance of El Niño developing and continuing into northern hemisphere winter. It sounds like it's likely to be a weak El Niño during the winter months.

As of September 25, the US Drought Monitor continues to have us in extreme to exceptional drought, depending on where you are in Georgia. Much of the US is now under at least abnormally dry or moderate drought classification, with a lot of the country in severe or extreme drought.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for August is available. The summary for 2011 regionally, nationally, and globally is also available.

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