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

Friday: 19 July 2013

Breakfast  -  @ 08:33:07
Over the last month I've had a couple of instances of medium to high fever and a flu-like illness. These have been flu-like in that the six days or so of fever have been accompanied by aches, but not by respiratory problems, which made me suspicious.

The last bout of fever, which started on Sunday, was also accompanied by a painful, swelling manifestation that proved to be a scrotal abscess. Glenn described the symptoms to his urologist's nurse on Tuesday, and they set me up with an appointment on Wednesday, apparently concerned about sepsis. On Wednesday the urologist took one look, ordered blood work done, and I was in surgery three hours later. It still hurts, but in a good way. Depends are great for catching the drainage, and I feel better than I have in at least a month. I had a checkup yesterday, and will have another one in a few hours.

So I haven't been able to get out since Sunday, but on that day I did run across Ernest again, for the third time this year. She was happily munching on one of our big red millipedes. When we saw her last, she and Reuben were mating, so she might be eating for a half dozen now.

A couple of times I've run across a turtle with a red-stained beak, and was puzzled by what it might have been eating. I think I now know.

Monday: 15 July 2013

Puzzle  -  @ 08:01:27

First, some observations:

We've had an incredible amount of rain the last couple of months - fully twice normal, and for July actually more like 3-4x normal, so far. Here in Wolfskin, we're about ready to break the 10" mark since July 1, when 1.67" is normal up to this point.

So those areas of the alluvial floodplain that can flood, are. I made this path past the wetland I identified several years ago, and which has not been a wetland since, really. The path is covered in several inches of water.

And that's where I found this brightly colored female. She was actually swimming in a deeper area, but quickly moved to the edge of the path when she spotted me.

She's a new one, which is no surprise on the new west property. It has a long property line from which box turtles can and do move back and forth, and except for the first turtle this year I've yet to rediscover another from this area.

There is no turtle so pretty that it can't be improved by wetting.

This is here to tell you that whenever possible, get a photo of the plastron. Not only can you identify the sex in most cases, the plastron patterns are the easiest to match at a glance, if you're keeping track of your local neighbors. Carapace patterns are just about unique identifiers, but it's harder work to do pattern recognition on, and I like to use those secondarily.

Of course, you wouldn't want to disturb a female laying eggs. Carapace photos from a distance are fine there.

Now, the puzzle. I've been trying to explain a conundrum - why are box turtles so inactive this year? I've found a lot, but I've had to work 2-3 times harder in terms of time and miles spent, than I did last year.

The conundrum is that by any measure, this has been an amazingly benign year weather wise, so far. Temperatures have only gone above 90 a couple of times - that's incredible on its own. And rainfall has been more than abundant. You can see that there's plenty of food - mushrooms abound in densities I've seldom seen before. Arthropods, worms, mollusks, all out and about, and box turtles like all these things. So why am I not seeing as many as last year? Last year, while not awful, was certainly more stressful to box turtles than this year.

I think the key is this seemingly unrelated supposition: box turtles have a rigid shell and can't get fat. They have to stop eating at some point. Can you figure out the rest?

Tuesday: 9 July 2013

Mid Year Review, with Box Turtles  -  @ 08:21:07
The calendar year is just over halfway done. The meteorological calendar for summer, JJA, is just about half over, too. Time for a review.

Here is what serves as our mid year weather review, here in Wolfskin. These data are unofficial, and apply only to the Wolfskin area southeast of Athens, GA. The very small details apply only with a dozen miles or so. They quickly become mildly different with distance. The overall weather pattern, though, is pretty accurately reflective over the much larger northeast Georgia Piedmont region.

In all graphs below, red means 2012 and blue means 2013. I do that to have a comparison. Both refer to temperatures. Green refers to precipitation.

To start things off, we have a 100-point running average of temperatures. Since 8-12 temperatures are taken during the day, there are 10 days averaged together in each point. Each point is an average of the previous 50 (5 days) and the next 50 (5 days) temperature readings. The brownish smooth curve is the long term NWS average for Athens KAHN.

This makes the absolute temperature approximating some kind of mean, but mostly it just smooths out those hourly and daily jags so you can get at the longer term pattern beneath.

And you can see how our year in blue, this year, has largely been cool to average. Except for a few drops and rises, it's been remarkably smooth, too, compared to last year's red (which is notably all "above the line"). Right now we're noticeably on a cooling trend as we approach the summer peak (ignore the last few dropoff points at the end).

Below is the grand summary plot. I have one of these for each year since 2008, with the previous year also present. Admittedly, the inclusion of two years is confusing to most, especially with the cloud of individual measurements, but it's not hard to see through that cloud and it's important sometimes. I really like to be reminded of those red points sitting there, at the Jun-Jul line of last year, at a record 108-109 degF. Really different today!

A larger version can be had upon clicking on the image, but what I'm interested in mostly is the greenery here - the precipitation!

The vertical bars are this year's individual rainfalls, and their y-axis is the right one.

The lighter green trending line is the cumulative rainfall for the year, and its y-axis is the left one. (The dotted line is the NWS Athens cumulative rainfall Jan-Dec.)

(I've boxed in the area of May-Jun-Jul, which you can see it below.)

You can see that we took off in mid February, rose above the normal rainfall line, and never looked back. We now have so much surplus rain that if it didn't rain until October we'd still make normal annual rainfall. It's just about 10 inches above normal, which is more than 20% of annual rainfall for this area.

It's been a long time since we've seen this kind of thing. It's also been a long time since we've seen such a frequent occurrence of 1+ inch daily rainfalls, which are really easy to detect on the figure.

I'm noticing quite a large effect on the landscape. Some of this is very obvious to anyone. It's like the continuation of one very long spring, with the greenery just becoming more so (along with finding slugs where you never saw them before).

Other things I'm noticing, especially after this past week's torrent, are more subtle. Over the last few days of walking, with copious amounts of rainfall exceeding soil saturation, I'm seeing patterns of erosion that I'd say are exacerbated by the last few years of armadillo churnings. This past week of rain has scoured the creeks clean of several years anaerobic buildup in places, and removed a lot of organic debris. It looks beautiful, but those were still several years of microhabitats completely changed over a large scale.

And I think this cooler to normal temperature regime, along with the much increased rainfall, has had a revelatory affect on box turtle behavior. I've mentioned that box turtles have been in low activity this year (at least compared to last year). Well, that continues, and yes it does sound odd. Why wouldn't box turtles be absolutely out there, running about enjoying the bounty and good weather? I think I have a handle on why that is, or why it may appear so.

Saturday: 6 July 2013

The Month of June  -  @ 10:35:23
It's The Month of June, Number 89 in a series. For us in northeast Georgia, it continued cooler than an average June, and our surplus of rain became even larger. It's a little disconcerting how this is so at variance with what's going on outside our region.

Here are the usual temperature anomalies products, at the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center. Displayed is the mean temperature anomaly. Click on it and you'll get the high and low temperature anomalies on a new page.

Some anomalous warming has continued in the East, but it's a weak signal. The region of unusual warmth in the West continues to expand and deepen, especially in the southwest. The anomalous warmth in NE Georgia is technically accurate, but for unusual reasons seemed cooler. I'll go into those below.

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

The plot on the right shows the oddities in the rainfall patterns in June. The pale pastel greens and browns of May have intensified without much movement into much deeper greens or browns. Very dry conditions have spread northward and westward in the Southwest US. The Pacific Northwest, including northern California, are an odd blend of drier *and* wetter than normal.

Much of the east has had or continued to have a surplus of rain.

For the Athens, GA area:

Below is what I've finally come up with as a daily rain/temperature plot. The spiky lines are temperatures recorded during the days, and the lighter blue bars are Wolfskin rainfall measurements.

To my eyes there are two features that stand out. The temperatures were amazingly even throughout the month. We only went above 90 degF three times, which is a very low frequency. The frequent and in many cases high daily rainfall deliveries are also unusual, and we'll get to the below. (We weren't here for the two heaviest rainfalls, which I more or less split evenly, not having an automated rainfall gauge. That's why you don't see any temperature readings, either.)

The average monthly temperature for June was 76.9 degF, just about the same as the 30-year average of 76.8F. This is reflected in the first figure in this post. However our average high was lower than usual, and our average low was higher than usual. This resulted in the evenness of the rain/temperature plot above, and in a general feeling that the month was cooler (cooler days, which people notice, even if the nights were warmer).

So it should come as no surprise that we had, again, 0 day more than 1 standard deviation above normal highs (4.6 normal). We had 2 nights with temperatures more than 1 standard deviation below normal lows (4.9 normal).

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

This time around we do have excursions into significance, if you accept the 1 standard deviation bars as the threshhold. As already mentioned, we had fewer 90-deg days than normal, and they ended up as significant additions of 80s days, 24 such, and significantly higher than the usual 16.

The right side of the figure above shows the same thing: more nights in the 60s, and fewer in the 70s. All this might seem at variance with the overall averages, but that's why a breakdown like this is good.

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 22 years, and the river of peach shows the standard deviation.

For the second month in a row, we had the welcome blue of surplus rain, greater than one standard deviation, for most of the month. This time, however, we maintained that surplus through the end of the month. I guess I should really call it a supersurplus.

Here are the remarkable stats:

Our total rainfall out here was 7.20", and the official recording in Athens (shown here) was 8.21". 4.18" is normal for June (yes, the new 30-year average for June is much lower than in past 30-year windows). This was our 7th rainiest June here since 1920, but it isn't that hugely uncommon. Kind of a once in 14-year event.

Overall, we have stayed above average rainfall all year since mid-February. By Wolfskin measurements we are almost at 34" for the year. The usual rainfall by this time is around 25".

Prognosticator stuff:

What is the neat prognosticator telling us? Once again it has told us the truth about the previous month. The West did continue to get hotter and drier than normal, and the East largely was wetter, if not all that much cooler.

As of June 30, the next month has two July predictions of interest: higher rain than normal to the southwest, especially the most afflicted drought regions. This continues for the southeast (except FL), mid Atlantic, and Appalachian states too. Temperatures are predicted to be normal in most regions except for the west, where they are much higher in the Rocky Mountain states. Some improvement for the southwest, except southern California and much of Arizona.

Temperatures seem not unusual over the three month period (JAS)except for the West, where higher than normal is maintained and spreads east into the Plains states, and Texas.

Precipitation continues to be below normal for the Pacific Northwest and west Texas. It continues to be above normal for all the southeast, including Florida. This seems to be a change from merely normal rainfall made a month ago.

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 Jul 1, ENSO neutral conditions continue, and are expected to remain neutral throughout the Northern Hemisphere summer. We've remained ENSO neutral now for over a year. The last such lengthy period was 10 years ago, 2003-2004. You can't use an El Niño or La Niña to explain extreme weather this year.

NOAA's Monthly State of the Climate product for May is available. And last year's annual report for 2012 regionally, nationally, and globally is also available.

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