AZ Thunderstorm!

Looking out the window, I’d thought of taking a dip in the pool. Pretty windy! I went outside to look around. Light rain, then, ka-BOOM! Okay, no swim this evening. Light rain, just enough to tease the the landscape plants a little bit, but the patio’s still too hot to stay damp. Heat lighting: a parade of kettledrums dances invisibly across the sky. I step out to the pool to inspect what looks like a bird’s nest, blown into the pool. There’ll be lots of skimming tomorrow morning! Then, a blinding flash-CRASH, very close! I wait for the sound of the fire engines, but it never happens. Now, light rainwater trickles lightly down the downspouts. Open the windows and sliders: free air conditioning. This Arizona springtime T-storm may not be much; we’ve seen a lot worse here. But it’s enough to keep me indoors!

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Politically Strange Weather Year

It’s raining here right now. No, not drizzle – you can hear the rain dripping off the eaves. Shhhhh, the National Weather Service web page doesn’t know about this yet. For my area, they’re forecasting an iffy 30% chance of rain tomorrow, and patchy fog today. But what’s the forecast for the next 10 years, or 100?

Today, maybe we’ll get enough of the wet stuff I won’t have to water. The American Southwest could use more of this stuff. According to a randomly selected chart, “Cool-season Precipitation in the Southwestern USA since AD 1000“, precipitation follows a roughly 10-year cycle and (alarmingly) we are nearing a peak of a good cycle.  The paper is posted by  the University of Arizona (tree ring research), and copyright by the Royal Meteorological Society.
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Notes From All Over – or Not

I was reading a New Yorker article about Afghanistan. A successful independent radio and TV network there was said to receive grants from foreign governments and N.G.O.’s. All right, I’ve seen the abbreviation before, but could only guess it meant “non-government organization”. So I was goaded into looking it up on Wikipedia:

A non-governmental organization (NGO) is a legally constituted organization created by natural or legal persons that operates independently from any

There you go. Too bad we can’t Google magazine pages directly. No, I am not getting an iPad.

Getting to “or Not”, I’m always on the lookout for new gas stations on my road trips. I like to get in and out fast, so am willing to try stations a bit to the left of “off the beaten track”. That means making some mistakes, too.

NOT: Shell station, Lebec, California (I-5, on the grade up to Gorman). They boast two stations, a Shell and a Chevron. I tried Shell first. Red flags on all the credit card scanners: “Out of Order. Please prepay at cashier’s.” You know what that means: underpay, and you resume your trip with less than a full tank. Overpay, and you get to make another trip inside, stand in line again, and watch them figure out how to give you your change or modify a debit or charge. SO: I crossed the road to the other station.

NOT: Chevron station, Lebec, California. This one was cleaner and friendlier, but the pump LCD displays were absolutely illegible. I couldn’t get the pump to dispense. I had to go in and see the clerk. This is kind of rare, because I’ve been doing this for over forty years. She asked me if I hit the CANCEL button on my debit transaction when I couldn’t get the gas to pump. No. I had never had to do that before. She asked me if I lifted up the lever under the nozzle handle. Sheepishly: No. The newer pumps do this automatically, and I had gotten out of that habit.

The nozzle still didn’t pump well. I had to milk the handle trigger to get something approximating a full tank. The clerk had been very polite, but it’s not likely I’ll stop in Lebec again.

NOT: Lamont, California (about 10 miles north of Lebec, June trip). This town has one gas station that I could find. All I remember about it (or want to) was that the parking was practically non-existent, and you have to get a key to use the one tiny restroom. I think they were charging about $3.89 a gallon, too. Far be it from me to inconvenience them again.

NOT: Blythe, California (1st offramp).  It seems that I had been to BB Travel Center before, but something had changed, and it was in the air that you breath (or not), not the air in your tires. There are better stations in Blythe for those who can wait the extra few minutes to take the second or third offramp (or just drive across the Colorado River into Arizona and save over 20 cents a gallon). But I had to, well, I was anxious to make a stop as soon as possible. Something wasn’t right about this place. As soon as I opened the door to the “Travel Center”, I was hit with a heavy whiff of the problem. I surmised a pipe must have broken, specifically the one that empties into the sewer system or septic tank.  To my immense relief, it wasn’t in the restroom. There was an old gent eating lunch at a table near the door. The smell was still enough to gag a maggot. The old gent appeared not to notice. That doesn’t speak too highly for the quality of the food fare.

YES: I’m a fan of the PBS’s Poirot series, originally dramatized in Agatha Christie’s mystery novels, which I have never read, but now surely intend to. The PBS TV series stars David Suchet as Hercule Poirot. Suchet does such a delightful job in this unique role, and I never miss a showing if I can possibly help it. Tonight Suchet did a one-hour PBS “Masterpiece” special as himself, not as Poirot: David Suchet on the Orient Express. The Orient Express has been in service for about a hundred years, and ran for most of those years from Paris to Istanbul. Service was extended from the UK after completion of the “chunnel”. It rode for the last time in 2009. The TV show explained how the elegantly restored old railcars corresponded exactly to the passenger seating and sleeping compartments on Agatha Christie’s actual train trip. She got the details down exactly for the famous thriller novel. And David Suchet was as refined and personable as the Poirot character he plays, if not more so. A perfect TV special for train buffs, Christie fans, history hounds and anyone looking for one hour of very solid and informative entertainment.

YES: In that vein, I also enjoy Martin Clunes in Doc Martin, and he did a one hour special last month, in which we again get to be introduced to the actor as a person. Clunes toured countryside and oceanside  settings of England and Scotland, offering a thoroughly delightful hour of personality and travelogue. If you know the TV series, “Doc Martin” is a brilliant physician and means well, bringing to the show a monomaniacal devotion to the arts of healing and diagnostics, and a TV personality as thoroughly and insensitively abrasive as you might have the good fortune, in real life, to be exposed to only once in a lifetime. One desperately wants to like Doc Martin, but his embarrassing behavior is suspiciously like Asperger’s syndrome as one character in the show finally suggested. Somehow, he always gets past that to do the right thing, which is why I like the show. Martin Clunes (actor as a person) is winningly likable and personable. Like Suchet, it makes one appreciate how much real acting skill has been required to deliver to the audience such convincingly eccentric yet brilliant roles.

THE WEATHER here in Phoenix, officially 106F today, “about average” for this day and month. I arrived yesterday afternoon. The shock of walking from the air conditioned car into a 100-degree house is just wilting. A dip in the pool helped, but I felt like I was in shock for most of the evening. What you do, down here, is turn on the AC and let it cool down to 78-84 (78 the first day, to get used to it, and gradually adjust it up during the course of the week). If you shoot for much more than a 25 degree indoor/outdoor differential, the AC will run pretty much continuously, and you’ll pay for that in the utility bill, if not a huge repair bill. What I still can’t wrap my mind around: I can afford to cool the house down to about 80, in the summer, which is warmer than I can afford to heat the northern California apartment up to, in the winter.

Monsoon season is almost here. 10% chance of T-showers this weekend. Yippee!

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Morning Report

Hot Enuf

Hot Enuf

Yep, that reads 105 in the shade , and it will be over 110 by mid-afternoon. It’ll get hotter through the weekend.  They say it’s due to a high pressure cell over the Phoenix area, but what else would we expect in Phoenix in July?

In other news, the latest Scientific American has a feature article on biofuels.  It’s “good-bye Corn” and “hello Grass” – the switchgrass weed or even plain old lawn clippings can be made into large-scale biofuel resources. This is important: not only does it look bad when the wealthiest nation is diverting corn, a nutrient and water-hungry worldwide food resource, into biofuel — it’s an inefficient way to replace coal and petrochemicals.

Biofuels should be looked at as the stopgap they are, and not as a way to reduce our contribution to global climate change.  While importantly reducing our dependence on increasingly scarce world petroleum reserves, biofuels contribute to the CO2 greenhouse buildup just as rapdly as more familiar products from Shell, Exxon and Chevron. It would be a leap of the imagination to expect electric cars in every garage by tomorrow morning, but the sooner we are able to regard the internal combustion engine as a “legacy device”, the better.

We can’t just stop using legacy fuels and devices, we can only transition with all deliberate speed.  At the moment I am grateful for anything that keeps the AC running here. Opening the windows at night is no good when it only gets down to 88F at night. I would like a device that costs under $10 and  converts sunlight directly into a heat pump. But who wouldn’t?

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Complaining About the Weather

Everybody’s favorite pasttime becomes more popular in a heat wave. On Thursday we had a heat wave that set some records for the date, and, according to the National Weather Service, for all time. Oh, we’ve had hotter days in the SF Bay Area, I suppose, but it hit 107 in some of the interior regions of the “East Bay”. It hit 101 right here in Castro Valley, which does often catch the last of the sea breezes before the hills block off the counties in the eastern interior.

The thing is not the absolute temperature magnitude, but what folks are used to. It will hit 112 in Phoenix today, not bad for June. On those days when you folks along the plains states and eastern seaboard get triple digits AND 100% humidity, you’d welcome a “dry heat”.

Here, 101 “feels like” 111. But the spell is broken. I had to put on a T-shirt this morning. It’s 70 outside, 80 inside. It took all night to cool the apartment down from 88. Once the massive frame of a house or apartment soaks up the heat, it takes days for that heat to be released with ordinary, non-air-conditioned ventilation. You can feel residual heat when you walk near a wall.

Near the ocean in northern CA, very few people have air conditioning. In the interior, anyone who can afford it, has it. In Phoenix, it’s not just a quality of life issue, but it can be a medical issue. When it’s over 120, you go outside as little as possible. If the planet continues to lose ice caps at the currently accelerating rate of breakup and melt, the southwest US could become largely uninhabitable by 2050.

I’ve updated’s Weather page to include regional and national  links to the NOAA – National Weather Service. NOAA offers much more detailed weather info, including an old-fashioned text summary and weather overview, so you can see where we’ve been, and why, and where the weather is headed. I retained the at-a-glance summaries, though there is really little content there beyond the daily high-lows.

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Heat Wave

I remember the year it snowed in the Oakland hills – 1976. I remember the Week of Thunderstorms, when the SF Bay Area had more or less continuous heat lightning and thunder for a straight week. This was in the late 1990’s – I don’t remember the exact year. This little exercise of my faculties establishes two things. We don’t have a lot of extreme weather in this area. And I don’t remember those few very well.

This week, the SF Bay Area experienced record three-digit temperatures and some Severe Weather Alerts. Yes, we do get heat waves, but they’re unusual in May. No, citizens of Phoenix, you would not have found anything remarkable about this week, here up north, but it’s rare to find days when it’s hotter up here than down there.

Air conditioners are rare up here, so the trick is the old one used in homes of thick adobe walls in the old Southwest: open up all the doors and windows at night, and seal in the cold air by closing everything up during the day. Even so, I found myself working late “on call” at home the other night. It was still 86 in the computer room.

The heat wave is about over. Opening the apartment to the night air got the place down to 70 degrees. Early this morning, there is a slight breeze running through the apartment. I had to go and toss on a T-shirt. They’re calling for a high of 82 today. I can certainly welcome that!

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Groundhog Day

I don't see no shadowPunxsutawney Phil may have seen his shadow in Pennsylvania yesterday, but’s own C.Bear says: “I didn’t see nothin’ …”

Perhaps that’s because our photogenic little mascot was posing for the camera, as usual. Here, captured indelibly for the world to see, is the proof that C.Bear missed: behind him, his shadow.

Be that as it may, our household will have to grant that overstuffed hibernating Punxsutawney animal one thing: it’s going to be a long winter.

Here in Northern California, we survived the record once-a-decade torrential rains of January 4, though a bridge and the entire Marin County did get shut down for a while. Since then, it’s been wave after wave of wet storms cascading in from the Pacific, the reservoirs are starting to refill, and a sunny day in California has become a remarkable thing of wonder.

The commuter lanes are clogged daily with hundreds of thousands of clean, shiny cars – washed and rinsed in the purest rainwater. Car wash business is WAY down. The landscape gardeners still show up to shatter the still of the wet mornings with their Toro and Ryobi leaf blowers, as if they could actually disperse the sodden piles of leaves that are pasted to the pavements and walkways of urban America.

When the rains come, shoppers wait it out, staying off the roads. If you need to go to the store, this is the best time to avoid the crowds. Then, the asphalt begins to dry, and humans boil out of their homes and apartments like ants in a flooded garden. It is all part of the natural cycle of things.

Maniacs queue up in long lines in the Sierras, behind the snowplows and California Highway Patrol 4×4’s, to catch the skiing at the best resorts. It is cheaper than shoveling snow in New England and paying those huge heating oil bills. But, for the most part, by the lights of Midwesterners and veterans of the Northeast, we Californians are spoiled sissies. We don’t know how to drive in the snow. You can look at any rainy freeway and see that half of us don’t even know how to drive in the rain: we like to tailgate the swirling mists and spray of the big-rig semi trailers, where the visibility is almost zero.

Such are the  pitfalls of living in a temperate climate. My family came from New England to California in 1950 to avoid shoveling snow. In the next five decades, California’s population exploded exponentially as others claimed a slice of the easy life. Now, a small house in a bad part of town costs ten times as much as an acre with a sprawling modern home in Missouri – in fact California housing isn’t affordable at all.

 It appears it really is possible to have too much of a good thing. In the latest population trend, folks are fleeing California to inflate housing costs in places like Las Vegas and Phoenix. Oregonians were sick of us decades ago. Will the last Californian please turn out the lights?

So, while it’s true everybody tends to blame the weather, there are times when the weather explains almost everything, and, they say, in coming decades, global warming may explain wars.

While the world keeps a wary eye on the future, here at we just keep a wary eye on the monthly electric bill, and C.Bear prepares for another six weeks of winter.

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Northern CA Storms the Real Thing

It’s not nice to tease Mother Nature. A few days ago I posted a snide remark in PHOTO Notes about “drizzle which makes the ground look wet, yet mysteriously does not wash the cars.”

Well, worry about dirty cars no longer. High winds and torrential rains hit the Bay Area last night and all this morning, shutting down all of Marin County, the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in both directions, Highway 101 in both directions, and parts of other surface streets and major thoroughfares. Wind damage has been extensive. Over a third of a million customers are without electrical power at this time, and PG&E may not be able to restore power until late this weekend due to the dangers of working in high winds.

I had to drive into Berkeley around sunrise this morning. I made it there and back safely, but I got drenched (despite my umbrella and down jacket) before feeding the parking meter and making my appointment there. You can tell when I’m concerned about driving conditions, because even I stay at or below posted speed limits.

Will I make my flight to Phoenix this weekend? The flight seems to be on schedule, the San Mateo Bridge seems to be open (I’m writing this from home in the East Bay), and SFO departure delays have dropped from four to zero hours. I won’t know what time I’ll arrive at PHX Sky Harbor International, if at all, until we touch down.

I take back all those smart-alec things I write about Northern California Weather. Just give me back my drizzle.

1:20PM Update: Flight canceled. the phone rang; a US Airways recording advised that my flight has been canceled. I called them and canceled the return leg as well. They didn’t want to do that. I know from the news that there are already hundreds of stranded SFO passengers. From past experience, they will be using my A319 to ferry other passengers who are already stuck at SFO – when the storm abates. It will be a zoo there all weekend. I politely declined their offer to book me on a “later flight” (it turned out to be a Saturday flight – no good for a weekend turnaround). Jot down in your little notebook: the magic words are “my travel plans are not flexible”.

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Rain in Phoenix Nov 30 – Dec 1

L1000042.jpg Rain in Phoenix... Click image for larger file.

It finally rained in Phoenix last weekend …

I snapped this Saturday morning (12-1) at the tail end of three inches of evening and overnight rainfall. There were no floods or gulleywashers, but everything got properly soaked. They say it last rained down there on May 18. But it’s been a long, dry spell. We had no monsoon rains in August at all. This was just the ticket.

You can see from the photo that it’s cool (60F), the deck is soaked from the recent rain, and there are still a few sprinkles falling in the pool. The patio is a mess from wind-blown debris I had not had a chance to sweep up. The overturned chair is not the wind. I up-ended it until I can break it up and stuff it in the trash, so no one will sit in it again.

It was 40F at 630AM Sunday morning; winter is definitely on the way, even in Phoenix.

Click image for larger file.

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