Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Roofalanche Warning!

The average person who doesn't ski, or skis/boards/recreates only inbounds at ski resorts, doesn't need to know a whole lot about avalanche safety.  However, a glaring exception comes with roof avalanches, or "roofalanches".  These can strike anywhere that gets a fair amount of snow, and can injure or kill anyone hanging out near a structure.

Our conditions here in Girdwood are ripe now for roofalanches.  It has been very cold for very long, with about a two foot compacted snowload on the roof.  Our temperatures in December have averaged 10.7F below normal, and we've only been above freezing for a few hours, and that wasn't enough to shed the snowload.  

Roofalanches can occur in any conditions just like any avalanche, but are especially prone to happen when temperatures rise above freezing for the first time in a long time.  Not all roofs have enough of a slope to avalanche, but in Girdwood it snows so much that you need a sloped metal roof (or else you need to shovel it).  Our roof is metal and sloped, but not sloped enough to shed the snow after each storm, so we need the above freezing temperatures for it to shed.

Above freezing temperatures are on the way over the next few days, along with some rain.  Roofalanche warning!  Our worst roofalanches came our first winter here, the winter of '06-'07, when roughly 4-5 ft of snowpack roofalanched.  As the snow freefell about 10 ft off of the roof and onto the awning out back, it snapped some of the beams and we had to have the awning replaced, and with stronger beams this time.  That could be your bones snapping!  The whole house shakes when we get a roofalanche, probably about like during a 4.0 earthquake.  It freaks the animals out (and us too), and wakes me up from sleep every time.

Not only is there the risk of trauma from the freefalling snow, but you can easily be buried (just like in a real avalanche) and die.  An avalanche forecaster at the Chugach National Forest Avalanche Center, Jeff Nissman, was killed by a roofalanche just down the road in Portage back in 2004.  What can you do to protect yourself from roofalanches?  Basically, look upward at your surroundings when around a structure.  When we're under the threat of roofalanches, I don't walk near the side of the house.  It happens fast and you won't have time to avoid it!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Falling in Love with Cross Country Skiing

I've toyed around with cross country skiing in winters prior to this one, fitting in maybe 10 cross country days per winter and 40 downhill days.  But this winter, I've become addicted to cross country skiing, with 17 cross country days under my belt so far, compared to 8 downhill days.

My parents used to tell me that cross country skiing was a great idea, that supposedly it was peaceful skiing through the beautiful woods, but in reality, it was a terrifying and difficult experience.  I will certainly attest to it being terrifying at first (how do you stop?!).  I broke a pole my first time out!  However, this year I've begun using metal-edged cross country skis on the more difficult cross country trails and off-trail through the woods.  It's made a huge difference.  I still use the regular cross country skis on easier trails, or if conditions are too bad to go off-trail, but the new metal-edged skis eliminate the terror of tough hills.  The metal-edged skis are only a little heavier so you don't lose that much speed on flat ground, but you can turn or snowplow in them when going downhill, or even do "telemark" turns if you please (where you drop your knee to turn), though I haven't tried that yet.  They're also better in sidehill areas thanks to the metal edges.

I should mention that both my pairs of cross country skis are "classic" style rather than "skate" style, and waxless (ie low maintenance, so I get out more).  I've never tried skate style skiing, but it's much faster and more of a workout than classic style, not that classic style isn't a decent workout.  However, the big downside of skate skiing in my mind is that you're stuck on-trail.  I enjoy getting off-trail when I see something that catches my eye, and don't mind the slow pace to enjoy the scenery.  Plus, going slow I have less of a chance of startling a moose, or falling and further hurting my bad back.

The Anchorage area really does have some of best cross country skiing of any major city in the world.  There are endless places to ski and you never have to repeat routes day-after-day.  The main thoroughfares are the greenways, such as the Chester Creek Trail, Coastal Trail, and Campbell Creek Trail: great for super-long distance skis, but not necessarily my cup of tea.  Then there are tons of groomed trails within "parks" around the city, though these "parks" are really more like wilderness areas.  Endless exploring is available off-trail through the woods in these "parks".  So far this winter, the snowpack in Kincaid Park on the west side of the city isn't enough for off-trail exploring (~1 foot), but in East Anchorage in Far North Bicentennial Park and on the Hillside, the snowpack is deep enough (~2 feet).  In East Anchorage and on the Hillside, there are also many singletrack mountain bike trails which are also used for skiing.  I love these trails because they are really just have to watch for the narrow curvy hills at times and not be ashamed to take off your skis if needed.

Another great thing about the Anchorage area is the abundance of multi-use trails.  I love sharing the trails with happy dogs and bikers.  I'd say the culture here is more dog friendly than most places, and off-leash dogs are generally not frowned upon even in the technically on-leash areas, as long as the dogs are fairly well behaved.  Plus, we need the dogs here to protect us from the moose and grizzlies!

Night cross country skiing is also popular around Anchorage.  There's an abundance of lit trails, but I have a great headlamp and prefer venturing off the lit trails at night for the solitude.  I am amazed at how few people use a headlamp to take advantage of the unlit trails.  I think it's because only a few of the headlamps on the market are bright enough.

I've been talking about "Anchorage", but there are tons of trails northeast of Anchorage toward Palmer/Wasilla that I have yet to be able to check out.  Girdwood (where I live) also has about 6-km of groomed trails, and a new 5-km loop coming in a month or so.  I have helped to groom these trails.  Unfortunately, skiing through the woods is kind of tough in Girdwood due to the thick canopy, so we need about a 4 ft snowpack for tree-skiing to be practical; we're only about halfway there.  Also, the frequent rain events in the winter makes the cross country skiing less reliable than colder/drier Anchorage.  We may get one of those rain events later this week.

Jenevra and Nimbo Skiing in Girdwood (last winter)

East Anchorage/Lower Hillside Skiing

Has all the talk of cross country skiing made you want to get out and hit the trails?  If so, you need a good map, as signage for trail names and travel direction is pretty poor.  Get the Anchorage Nordic Ski Club's map for $8 at their office at 203 W. 15th Ave (between A and C St.).  There are some maps on their website (, but they different and not as detailed as the official Anchorage Nordic Ski Club Map, which is waterproof by the way.  I used to always get lost before I got this map, and I am a map nerd.  Just keep in mind that there are other nice places to ski that are not on this map.  One of my favorite little-utilized areas is Ruth Arcand Park: lots of nice, ungroomed trails and paths.

Favorite Trails
I am still kind of in my infancy exploring Anchorage trails, but if I had to pick my favorite trail(s), it would be Spencer Loop on the Hillside for skate/classic, Lake Loop in Kincaid Park for classic-only, and East Anchorage east of Campbell Airstrip Rd for nice off-trail tree skiing.  The woods in this latter area are aesthetically pleasing and absolutely dreamy.  Toughest trail if you want a challenge: Lekisch Loop in Kincaid Park.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Geospatial Revolution: Are You Ready?

With smartphones becoming part of the everyday life for a big portion of the population, geospatial technology is booming and becoming more mainstream.  Our smartphones can do all sorts of whiz-bang stuff that only handheld GPS units, or PNDs (personal navigation devices), could do before.  Your iPhone or Android shows where you are on the map, which way you're pointing the phone, and tells you how to get to your desired destination.  Not only that, but smartphones have a "geosocial" function that GPSs/PNDs can't do, like show where on the map all your friends and family are located (and describe step-by-step how to get to them).  But with this so-called "geospatial revolution", here are some words of caution.

Most smartphones do not have the accuracy of true GPS units.  At least not yet, anyway.  Smartphones generally rely on cell towers for navigation rather than satellites.  In areas of good 3G/4G coverage, they work reasonably well, though I've still observed a delay of 10 seconds even with a good "lock" when driving down a road.  That's enough to make you miss your turn if you're relying on voice navigation from your smartphone.  Things fall apart in "edge network" coverage (that includes where I live in Girdwood and even parts of Anchorage), where you're lucky to get your position within a mile.  And guess what happens when there's no cell phone coverage?  No location at all!  I really hope people aren't using their smartphones to navigate through the wilderness.  The results could be disastrous.  Handheld GPS units are the smarter choice because they rely on satellites rather than cell towers, though even they can have issues when it's cloudy or in areas of steep terrain.

Battery life.  The battery life of smartphones, frankly, sucks.  And the battery life is way worse when you're in navigation mode or one of your apps is using navigation in the background.  And if you're in the wilderness, you can't just recharge your smartphone at any time.  The battery life of handheld GPS units is a little better, but it's always smart to have spare batteries. And most importantly, have a paper map as a backup and know how to use it!  Smartphones simply must get much better battery life, and fast, to take advantage of the geospatial technology boom, or else consumers will be turned off all-together to the new technology.  Apple, Google, are you listening?

Getting down to the core of the issue, I worry that the whole rapid integration of technology into geography is not going to work nearly as well as it could because of the geographic ignorance of our society.  To illustrate this geographic ignorance, did you know that many people think that the satellite imagery in Google Earth is real-time?  I wish!  I fear people will blindly rely on their device's commands to tell them where to go, so much so that people will drive their vehicles off a cliff because their device told them to do it.  I also fear people will get lost more and more in the wilderness because of the "false comfort" that the device provides them, and their inability to truly "read the terrain".  Bottom line, people must have a basic core geographic knowledge and instinct to take advantage of new amazing technology.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Eliminating Sleep

I recently listened to a podcast talking about how science is trying to phase out sleep.  So far, science has been pretty unsuccessful.  The hosts of the podcast (and I imagine lots of you) think that trying to lessen the amount of sleep required is idiotic.  However, sleep itself hasn't been shown to have a lot of benefits, other than the fact that we function terribly without it.  As a popular broadcast meteorologist in Alabama says, "Sleep is for sissies".

There are a very small amount of people (<1%) who naturally need less sleep than the rest of us to be fully restored and energized.  What if science could use whatever this gene is and implement it in the rest of us?  Then there's people like me who need a freaking 10 hours of sleep to be restored.  What if I could get by perfectly well with just five hours of sleep per night?  How much more productive could I be?

I don't want to get into the science in this post, but rather explain what I see as potentially huge benefits to society getting by with less sleep.   I mainly want to point out that a society who needs less sleep would much more productive.  I would even venture to say that needing less sleep could solve most of society's problems, at least economic problems.  Not only could a 24/7 society result (of which I explained the benefits in a previous blog post), but each person could be infinitely more productive, perhaps working 60 or 80 hours a week instead of 40 hours and be paid the same amount, but still have the same amount of free time.  Now I know you all are laughing at this point and thinking how ridiculous and undesirable this sounds.  But look at it this way: don't you often feel like when you wake up in the morning, you just went to bed?  If we can get these restorative effects through some other means than sleep, what does it matter the method of this restoration?  Lessening or eliminating the amount of "traditional" sleep needed would be like discovering the fountain of youth.  Seriously.  

I know this all sounds crazy, and I have doubts that science could actually lessen the sleep needed with there not being serious side effects.  And there's the concept of dreams: do dreams make our brain "grow" more than being awake?  Are people who have many dreams smarter than those who don't?  Can this magic drug make you dream a lot during your two hours of sleep?  I am merely trying to get you thinking about how incredibly powerful a discovery it would be to phase out sleep, and that there are certainly benefits.  I predict this will become a real hot button and controversial issue 10 or 20 years down the line.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

FTC "Do Not Track List": Great or Stupid Idea?

You may have heard of the "do not track list" for the internet that the FTC is considering.  Basically, any internet user would be able to opt not to be "tracked", with this functionality ideally being built into the browser with an easy option not to be tracked.  They're modeling it after the famous "do not call" list.

The proposal of the "do not track list" gave me chills, and not in a good way.  On the surface, this proposal sounds great.  After all, why not protect consumers' privacy?

First off, can you imagine how costly and difficult (if not impossible) this would be to implement and enforce?  If you can't fathom how difficult this would be, then you obviously have no concept of how the internet works these days!  And with the transition of the internet from browsers to apps and other things we probably can't fathom at this point, it'll get even more difficult to enforce.  Plus, the economy sucks, and government (taxpayers) would have to foot the bill for this effort.

Do you like using Facebook for free?  How about Google?  So much wonderful stuff on the internet is free because these companies know what we like/don't like based on our surfing habits, and can offer us targeted advertising.  This allows these websites to make money because the advertisers are happy, hence the websites give us a free service.  I actually enjoy getting targeted advertising occasionally.  There are even sites out there such as whose main purpose is to join products/services with the consumer, based on the consumer answering a bunch of questions about himself.  A lot of people really enjoy getting targeted advertising, which often results in special deals (Foursquare being a classic example).

Unfortunately, we are way too far along with the internet to go back and have the government set some privacy rules.  The U.S. Government was too slow.  Privacy is dead.  I do think there should obviously be some ground rules...that certain things online should be illegal, such as stealing credit card information.  However, is it really so wrong for companies to try to target folks who most want their products/services?  The consumer is the ultimate winner when this occurs.

So what do you think?  Am I totally off-base?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Changing Role of Twitter

I didn't begin using Twitter until recently, but my perception had always been that it was a bunch of people saying nonsense such as what they are eating at the moment.  I also had the perception that you had to "tweet" a lot to get any value out of Twitter.  Boy, was I wrong.  Twitter has changed.

Sure, the old Twitter had a bunch of nonsense, but in the last year or two, there are an increasing number of "tweeters" who tweet useful information, in particular links to interesting blog posts or news stories.  And since you can "follow" only who you choose, Twitter can be used as a great source of news, but with only the news you care about.  For example, a lot of people (especially men) only read the sports section of the newspaper.  With Twitter, these people could follow various sport columnists, athletes, and sports media outlets, getting the news that they care about in near-real time.  This is how I use Twitter: I follow a bunch of technology, geography, and science folks/businesses, and I often know about breaking news in these fields a day or more before the masses.  Plus, I get valuable information in one spot without having to poke around dozens of different websites looking for the articles that interest me.  The 140 character limit really helps make for fast, concise reading.

So how should you use Twitter?  I advise against using it to communicate with friends and to say what you are doing.  For the average person, that is what Facebook is for (and where most of your friends are anyway, rather than on Twitter).  Instead, unless you are a business with customers, just use Twitter as a way of keeping track of the stuff you care about.  Another great function of Twitter is the ability to search everyone's tweets (not just people you follow or people who follow you).  This is a great way to "plug-in" to a significant current event, getting the latest information before nearly everyone else, and perhaps contributing information of your own.  Doing twitter searches by location to "plug-in" is an incredible way to gain valuable real-time information during significant weather events, such as winter storms, hurricanes, or tornado outbreaks.  You can also search twitter to see what people might be saying about a topic of interest to you.  For example, you're wondering if it's worth going to see the new Harry Potter movie; search for tweets related to the movie to get opinions.

In summary, don't dismiss Twitter as a bunch of banter about nothing like I did.  Use it to keep in touch with the latest in subjects you care about. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Future Direction of the National Weather Service

I often wonder if the public understands what in the world we (the National Weather Service) is saying when we issue a forecast.  In other words, there are probably a lot of terms we use that only we as forecasters understand.  For example, does the public know the difference between "patchy fog" and "areas of fog"?  Which is more significant?  And what's the difference between "rain likely" and "rain", or "isolated showers" and "scattered showers"?  National Weather Service folks of course know the answer and often agonize over these decisions, but does the public care?

I am really happy with the direction that the National Weather Service is headed, which an increased emphasis on understanding how the public makes decisions based on our products and services.  After all, you can make the most accurate forecast, but it means nothing if our customers make poor decisions based on the forecast, or doesn't see the forecast at all.  And to make things trickier, different people have different thresholds that they deem as important.  For example, the snowplow operator may want to know if it's going to snow 2" or more, but the avalanche forecaster may only care if it's going to snow 6" or more, or may even be more concerned about wind rather than snow.  The trick is allowing our customers to easily extract information from our forecasts which can help them make better decisions.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Freezing Rain to Snow

After some warm temperatures and freezing rain, it's finally snowing again!  Not a whole lot, though: about 4" with maybe a little more to come.  Looks like about the same amount or a little more in Anchorage.  Skiing today at Alyeska was kind of awkward, with about 4-5" new snow on top of an icy base.  It wasn't terrible, but wasn't great either.  I was definitely rusty and fell a few times.  The Chair 6 bowl (upper mountain) was open, but there were a lot of hazards including a lot of glide cracks, which are basically like crevasses that you really don't want to fall in.  Below is a webcam shot of Anchorage late this afternoon.

The ice storm earlier this week was a big deal.  In the Interior in places like Fairbanks, it was roughly a once a generation event.  Big ice storms are not common in Alaska.  School was out for several days in Anchorage and Fairbanks.  For Anchorage and for me in Girdwood, it was more like a once a year or once every two year event.  In most places, the ice accumulation was far heavier on the roads than on the trees and power lines.  This was because temperatures during the event rose to near or just above freezing, but the ground was slower to warm than the tree branches and remained below freezing.  Thus, we had, especially on side streets, freezing rain with temperatures above freezing.  I noticed when browsing the FAA webcams that Ruby did have significant ice accumulation on the trees.  Check out the Ruby webcam below with the trees leaning over.  I noticed when looping the cam that some of the trees fell.  Ruby is in the Interior along the Yukon River west of Fairbanks, in "Bush Alaska".  The Iditarod goes through there every other year (not this year).  Perhaps that's fortunate, given that there may be a lot of trees down on the trail.
Ruby, AK.  Notice how much the trees are leaning over.

Ballaine Rd in Fairbanks (not my photo).  Notice all the cars (and a school bus) off the road.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A 24/7 Society

It has always bugged me that the world operates on a roughly 9am-5pm schedule, but it has been bugging me more lately since I have transitioned from shift work to an all day schedule.  Sure, it's nice having a normal sleep pattern.  However, it was nice being able to shop in off-hours when there's nobody else around.  One major inconvenience is the hours of the post office here in Girdwood.  Because I commute and I'm not home from work until about 530pm on weekdays, the post office is already closed.  Therefore, the only time of the week I can pick up/send packages is from 1000am-noon on Saturday, which isn't terribly convenient either since I like sleeping in on Saturday.

Since weather doesn't take a break at night, meteorologists with the National Weather Service work 24/7, of which I am very proud.  I often wonder if the world would function better if it ran on a 24 hour clock.  Some benefits include the lack of rush hour traffic, being able to shop any old time, and being able to play a round of golf on Sunday without ridiculous crowds.  A drawback would be not being able to coordinate with all your coworkers (like we experience at the National Weather Service).  Strange sleep patterns wouldn't be a problem with a 24/7 society as long as those who work nights work nights consistently, and those who work days work days consistently.

The change to a 24/7 society would have to occur in pretty much all aspects of society for it to be truly effective.  However, I think we are headed in this direction.  For example, even for those who work 9-5, it is common to check and respond to email through the evening, or even during a bathroom break in the middle of the night.  Also, more people are telecommuting in an increasingly global society.  There are probably a lot more benefits and drawbacks to a 24/7 society than I have mentioned here.  I doubt it will ever happen completely, but I can dream.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Temperatures are Stupid

Is it just me, or does it seem like a sunny 25F day with snow on the ground and light winds can seem warmer than a cloudy, windy 55F day?  I've always believed that the temperature itself tells very little about what it actually feels like outside.  Let's start out with summer.  Growing up in Alabama, when the temperature got to 90F, there was a huge difference between a 72F dewpoint and a 68F dewpoint.  Playing golf all summer, on the 90/68 days I'd hardly sweat, but on the 90/72 I'd be dripping.  Cloudy, breezy days in the summer always felt way better too, all other things being equal.

However, once the temperature gets below about 60F, high humidities have a different role: they make it feel colder.  This gets extremely noticeable for temperatures near or just below freezing.  This may sound crazy, but I perceive winters up here in Alaska to only be a touch cooler than where I grew up in Alabama.  This is because in Alabama it was often quite humid when it was cold.  Plus, there's just something about snow on the ground (in Alaska, not Alabama) that makes you feel warmer than if there isn't snow.  Perhaps part of my perception of Alabama as cold is due to the fact that for some odd reason I loved wearing shorts in the winter, but I digress.

Wind is obviously another factor in how it really feels.  Obviously, there's a little thing called wind chill.  However, I've always thought that it's a bit overrated.  Let me explain way. 
  1. If you are properly dressed when it's really cold out, you don't have any exposed skin, thus the wind matters little.
  2. You can usually turn away from the wind, protecting yourself at least somewhat.   
  3. 33F is still 33F no matter the wind.  You can't get frostbite at 33F even though the supposed wind chill may be well below freezing.  Well, perhaps you could get a little frostbite if the air is really dry and your skin is wet with evaporative cooling going on, but generally speaking you need temps below freezing to get frostbite.  Of course, hypothermia can occur at much warmer temperatures.
  4. The wind you experience when outside is rarely the wind observed at an official measurement station, at least not for sustained periods.  Wind is measured is a big open field usually at an airport at 33 ft above the ground.  Not exactly representative for what you're experiencing.  An important exception is if you are on a ridgetop.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Ideal Climate

Being a weather nerd, I often ponder what the ideal climate would be for me.  Girdwood has its perks, but rain in the winter is no fun.  Case in point, after getting over two feet of snow in recent days, now it's raining.  So here are my criteria for my dream climate:
  • Cool, long winters, but not too cold.  Girdwood fits this pretty well, if only it was maybe 5F cooler in the winter.
  • Very snowy winters.  1,000" sounds good.  Girdwood gets about 250", but the mountains around Girdwood get near 1,000" at about the 3,500-5,000' elevation.
  • Changable weather, with pretty good fronts as a high frequency.  Although the weather in Girdwood is somewhat changeable, it's not nearly as changeable as what I experienced when I lived in Billings along the Front Range of the Rockies.  A bit too much of a marine influence here.
  • Mild summers, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 40s.  A fair amount of sun in the summer, but not so much that the vegetation dries up with lots of wildfires.  Prefer synoptic systems for rainfall, not thunderstorms, as lightning scares me.  If there has to be thunderstorms, have them be only on easily predictable days and not every day.  Girdwood is a bit too cool in the summer, and we could use some more sun.
  • Gorgeous fall colors with some trees.  There aren't quite the beautiful fall colors in Girdwood.  Anchorage has a bit more color, but is not as good as it could be because of the evil birch leaf miners.
  • Orographic weather.  There have to be at least decent sized mountains, at least 2,000-3,000' in my ideal climate.
  • And getting even more specific, I want a gentle north-facing slope in a small valley in the higher elevations of an area.  North-facing to keep the snow, a small valley to get some radiational cooling, and higher elevations to have more snow than surrounding areas.
So, does this ideal climate exist anywhere in the world?  Where is it the closest?  In Alaska, I think the Western Susitna Valley up against the Alaska Range would be my pick.  If only the NWS would put a new forecast office at Hayes River. 
What is your ideal climate?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NWS Budget Thoughts

First off, WARNING: dry work-related article!  And a disclaimer: the thoughts are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the NWS as a whole, though I do agree with the basic ideas of the higher-ups in the NWS.

I've been pondering: how can we save money in the NWS if we are forced to?  Not that I want a budget cut or anything and I'd fight hard with what little/no power that I have to at least keep our present level of funding.  But if we get a budget cut, how can we save money?  Here are some thoughts (feel free to add more).
  1. Less travel and more virtual conferences.  Travel is extremely expensive these days, and although you can't quite get the same networking experience at a virtual conference, it's a huge money saver.  The technology is certainly out there to pull it off.  I've never played around with "Second Life", but I hear that you can have a conference using it.  How cool would that be?  And there are many other options.  I love to travel, but I think in 5-10 years travel will be somewhat obsolete.
  2. Related to virtual conferences, improve communication between NWS employees to reduce redundancy.  There are many ways to do this, which I won't go into here.
  3. Utilize cloud-based technologies.  In the past, the NWS has generally taken the idea that if it's not ours, it's no good.  There are a lot of great innovations going on these days in computing.  Let's face the fact that in a lot of areas, we just can't quite keep up.  We should actively seek things that others are doing well.
  4. As far as consolidating forecast offices, not a good idea.  Local knowledge is key to forecasting, and this makes it easier to interact with our core partners and the general public.
  5. Eliminate old, obsolete products or technologies.  We have a lot of great services that we would like to add over the next few years, but it's hard to keeping adding without eliminating some things.  Better to eliminate products or technologies than people, though. 
  6. Automate the balloon releases.  Upper air is automated other places in the world, and although there would be some up-front cost, in the long run it would save money.
  7. Decrease everyone's salary!  (Just kidding.)  That would be about the worst thing you could do, as it would kill morale and lead to the end of the NWS.  Cutting positions would have a similar effect.  There are plenty of things we could do before it comes to that.
  8. Educate and engage with the public so that they know better what we do.  The public pays our salary, and can be a great advocate for the NWS in hard times.
Any other thoughts out there?

Monday, November 8, 2010

It Snowed

So it snowed.  Bigtime.  We got 24.4" of snow in about 24 hours, with 1.47" of water.  I'd estimate it has a recurrence frequency of about a year.  Winter was a bit late to start.  As usual, when it's slow to start, when things crank up they crank up in a big way.  Although temps were 29-31F during the event, it was fairly low density.  Lots of cars stuck in Girdwood, and as usual lots of rollovers in Anchorage.  I hope everyone has their studs on by now.  Snow depth at the top of Alyeska is 75-80" now, and ski patrol is out getting things ready for opening on the 24th.  For those of you who don't know, I live in Girdwood which is where Alyeska ski resort is located.

I tried out some new skis tonight around the neighborhood and was pretty happy with them.  They are kind of a hybrid between alpine (downhill) skis and cross country skis.  Basically, they're waxless heavy-duty cross country skis with a metal edge.  I plan to use them for meadering off-trail through the gentle woods or for the steeper cross country ski trails, but not for downhill skiing at the resort.  I went up a hill in the neighborhood with ease, and then back down, turning or snowplowing.  You can see the skis up against the house in the pic below.

I don't think the Davis Weather Station is measuring water anymore. :)

I don't know if Nimbo can get in the doghouse anymore.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Is the Loss of Privacy Good or Bad?

Times are a-changin.  It seems these days people can know you intimately without having ever met you.  Google someone and you know just about everything, not only their address, phone number, and age, but also what their house looks like (Google Street View), or even where you are at any time, thanks to facebook, twitter, foursquare, and such.  Is the loss of privacy a good or bad thing?

First, the negatives of the loss of privacy.  Obviously, there's the concern of identity theft, or having your house robbed if you check into McDonald's using social media.  Also, anything you say on the internet, even within facebook, can be read by anyone.  This includes your boss or prospective employer.

However, I'd argue that the general loss of privacy is a good thing.  If everyone knows all about you and what you're doing, wouldn't you be less likely to do bad things?  I've got nothing to hide, and as long as you have nothing to hide and don't write things on the internet in a druken stupor, you're fine.  Plus, with less privacy comes the ease of networking, working with others to develop solutions to problems that by ourselves we cannot solve.

I'll be interested to see how this all turns out.  If you are a very private person, just please ask yourself why.  Is there something really bad you are trying to hide?

Air Travel Rants!

Okay, so having just been on a plane trip to DC and to Huntsville, I figured I'd share some of my thoughts on air travel and airplane ettiquette.  Let me know what you all think.

First off, what's up with everyone reclining seats?  Leg room is limited enough as it is and the tight space is vertigo-enducing for me.  Does leaning the seat back just a touch really make things more comfortable for people?  I have a bad back, and if I leaned my seat back, that would be a less comfortable position for me.  And is it worth making the person behind you miserable?  To which you might be wondering why I don't just tell the person in front of me not to recline.  Well, I'm a wimp and don't want to start a fight.  Plus, do you think the person in front of me would really put the seat back upright?  I might have some more respect if the person in front of me asked before reclining, but that has never happened to me.

Another thing.  Does the airline industry not realize the problems they've caused by introducing baggage fees?  Now everyone (not me, though) takes their ridiculously large luggage onto the plane and makes it take much longer to load and unload the plane, as well as creates a safety hazard for tumbling heavy luggage.  Airlines are just another example of businesses putting greed before customer service.  What I think businesses don't realize is that they'll make more money with good customer service, especially in these days with the consumer having more power.  Just look at the United guitar guy.

Another rant.  Why do so few people look out the window on a plane?  I am always in awe of the beauty that I see from the air and love flying for this reason.  It just seems that so many people don't appreciate the beauty that exists all around us.  There could be a spectacular glaciated mountain out the window, and people will just shut the shade.  I don't know what it is.  Maybe part of it is all the technology these days having desensitized people to the beauty of nature.  Or maybe most people are just robots.

Obama Mentions National Weather Service

Quote from President Obama:
"And so, you then have to start making some tough decisions about how do we pay for those things that we think are important? And you know, we're not gonna be able to balance the budget just by slashing the National Parks budget, even if you didn't think that was a proper function of government. We're not gonna be able to balance the budget by, you know, eliminating the National Weather Service."

I'm impressed the president actually knows about the National Weather Service, and is aware that our budget really is tiny in the overall scheme of things.  The NWS really is one of the best values for the taxpayer that exists.  I could go on and on explaing why it's a great value, but trust me, it is.  One good forecast for a high impact weather event can make up for a whole year's NWS budget. 

The problem is that we (the NWS) have never really been that good as marketing ourselves.  I tell the general public that I'm a meteorologist, and 90% of the time they ask what station I work for and have no idea what the National Weather Service does.  I think part of it is due to the fact that we (meteorologists) are generally introverted and keep to ourselves.  We've got to get out more and tell the community what we do.  One great way to do this is through social media.  We've got to stop hiding and start standing up for ourselves! 

My First Post

Okay, so I've finally decided to come into the blogosphere.  I'm not quite sure what will come of this blog, but basically it'll be my ramblings, many related to my professional life, but also some miscellaneous stuff.  The line between my job and my personal life is often pretty blurred anyway, since my work does happen to be what I'm passionate about.  I am making another new blog covering our new baby girl who is coming in March.  Both Jenevra and I will be writing posts for that blog.