A Few Fun Links & Disaster Movie Idea

Fun if you like science and weather.

Here’s a New York Times feature on the snow in California. Cool science, great pictures. Here’s another one, with more information on Dr. Painter and his team who do all this great science geek stuff from an airplane, measuring snowpack and water content.

(Aside: Whenever I read about California in the NYT, I get this sort of Dr. Livingston vibe, as if they’ve sent civilized people out into the dangerous wild to gather intelligence on primitive but remarkably sophisticated (meaning: like New Yorkers) tribes. Not as much as I get when reading about the South – there, the vibe is more like: Surprisingly human-like Southerners may be our closest living relatives, after dolphins and Californians. But I digress…)

Observation: in these articles, it is acknowledged that only with the advent of the super high tech NASA/CalTech level gizmos Dr. Painter employs do we have any realistic idea of how much water is in them thar hills. This has only been going on for a few years. Useful records only go back to about the 1980s.Before that, we have guys with poles spot checking here and there, and then guessing about snowpack and water content over an area of thousands of square miles with variations in elevation of 10,000 feet or more – problematic, to say the least.

In the accompanying graphs, 1983 shows up as the record year, with this year close behind. (A couple more storms set to roll in this weekend, a couple more feet of snow expected, so 2017 may end up a record year after all. However, these are of the typical cold and relatively dry Gulf of Alaska variety, and not the warm and wet Pineapple Express flavor we’ve mostly gotten this year.) Yet, as that article from yesterday that Mike Flynn alerted us to, 1861 is the record year – I’ve seen 252% of ‘normal’ snowpack thrown around for that year, which must be a ‘reconstructed’ number, unless there were some pretty dedicated (and widespread) prospectors and Miwok doing science as a hobby.

Good Data is Hard to Find. I might need to get that put on a T-shirt.

Snow
Yea, there’s snow.

Believe it or not, I often edit these posts down, as – and I know you won’t believe this – I tend to ramble. A little. Yesterday, I cut a section wherein was speculated how the California water system would have to fail if we were to have another year with 1861-1862 level storms. Turns out, all we need are 2017-level storms: Melting record snowpack could flood LA Aqueduct and Owens Valley. Owens Valley, of Chinatown fame, is on the eastern slopes of the southern Sierra. Mulholland & Co pretty much drained it dry to supply water to L.A. Now, with all that beautiful snow perched in the mountains set to melt over the next six months (ski areas are planning to stay open into the summer this year), that valley – and the L.A. aqueduct that runs through it and on to L.A. – looks to get flooded.

If a 160% or so snowpack can take out much of L.A.’s water supply, imagine what a 250% snowpack and the associated rains might do. Oroville Dam, which has been dramatically in the news lately, is one of dozens of dams on dozens of reservoirs around the state. All the major ones rely on run-off from the Sierra. This year, they all filled just with rain, and are now frantically dumping water so that they have capacity for the snow melt. In a 1861-level event, all those reservoirs would be wiped out by the first few weeks of rain alone – leaving the snow melt to keep the flooding goings for a few more months.

And sewage treatment for 38 million people? Gone. No drinking water, sewage everywhere. Dead bodies will start piling up – hey! Sounds like the Enlightenment view of the Middle Ages!

There’s a pretty good disaster flick script in there – well, better than Sharknado, at least… Lonely hydrologist tries to warn everybody.  Lovely young mom in a troubled marriage lives on a small lake in the Sierra. Stupid politicians. Greedy developers. Cop and his best buddy fireman in some small farming town. 5th generation fisherman on the Bay. North Beach stripper with a heart of gold. The rains and snow start. People get trapped, dramatic rescues, tragic deaths. Rising waters push a tangled flotilla of boats and ships down to the Golden Gate, where they get stuck, restricting water flow and flooding – Berkeley! Yes!

Image result for sharknado
Hmmm. Sharks would kick it up a notch…

(Unfortunately, the parts you really want flooded are up in the hills. And nobody wants to flood the library. Fiction! We can do anything!) Silicon Valley under 10′ of water. Day of reckoning: Hydrologist surveys the damage, casts accusing eye on politicians and developers. Lessons Are Learned.

We are so, so doomed. Even without the movie.

Time to Leave California!

Mike Flynn links here to a nice write-up in SciAm about the epic California Winter of ’61 – 1861, that is. I’d noticed that, for the few places with records that go back that far, rainfall and snowpack records in California were set in the 1861-1862 rainy season. I didn’t know, until I read the article linked above, that that storm was an epic of even greater than Biblical proportions: it rained for *43* straight days and nights.

(above: typical California weather. Don’t let them tell you otherwise!)

To sum up: every 100 to 200 years or so, over the course of a few weeks, epic ‘atmospheric rivers’ flow into the West Coast, hit all those lovely mountains, and dump feet upon feet of rain, turning all those lovely rivers into raging torrents and the Central Valley into a lake, washing people, animals, farms, etc. into the Bay, flooding Sacramento (there’s alway a bright side) under 10′ of water – and so on, all up and down the coast.

OK, I give! Uncle! Public service announcement:

Do Not Move to California! We Are So, So Doomed! 

On the bright side: Sacramento gets flooded out! Uninhabitable for months! Well, OK, there are the 1.4 million people who are not politicians and courtesans who live there, so maybe not so bright. Man’s gotta dream. On a similar let-God-sort-them-out despicable fantasy don’t-really-wish-this-on-anyone vein: only part of Hollywood is in the hills – the rest is getting washed out into the Pacific! My hometown of Whittier is nicely nestled in the hills above the San Gabriel River, so it’s probably safe. But then again, so is Beverly Hills – well, you can’t have everything.

So sorry, that was mean of me. Really, I don’t wish harm on anyone – that’s why I’m warning you all to Stay Away! Don’t Do It! California is a Death Trap!!! I will be softly weeping at our fate as I try to console myself sipping fresh lemonade out in the hammock on the back lawn under the shady walnut trees in perfect 75F weather  all the rest of the spring. I promise!! It’s the least I can do. No, really.

A curious thing: all this doom and gloom only came together in the last couple decades – since 1998. Before then, the existence and nature of ‘atmospheric rivers’ and the periodic nature of the intense rain and flooding had not been known, nor had it been recognized as a basic feature of the planet’s climate – the same thing happens along the west coasts of Europe, Africa and South America, and even in the Southeast – the flooding in Tennessee a few years back was caused by atmospheric rivers arising in the Gulf of Mexico.

But wait – that means that no climate models had these mechanisms incorporated in them. Seems a rather serious omission, like omitting ocean temperatures and cycles. Hard to see how meaningful and useful predictions can be made, lacking as the models did such a dramatic and important mechanism.

At about the same time, satellites carrying the new Special Sensor Microwave Imager were for the first time providing clear and complete observations of water-vapor distributions globally. The imagery showed that water vapor tended to concentrate in long, narrow, moving corridors that extend most often from the warm, moist air of the tropics into the drier, cooler regions outside the tropics. The tentacles appeared and then fell apart on timescales from days to a couple of weeks.

The above quote tells us that the technology needed to start to understand atmospheric rivers wasn’t in place until 1998 or so. But the article elsewhere also says (as required by law, it seems) that the epic storms they sometimes cause will become worse because of global warming. Um, didn’t we just say we’d not noted their existence until less than 20 years ago, and have not even had one cycle through to study them, and that we’re not exactly sure what makes them go? An inquiring mind might want to know how, in such a sparsely populated factual environment, we could even have a hint which way changes in global temperatures would affect atmospheric river formation and intensity. Ya know?

I’m expecting 2018 or 2019, tops, as The Year California Washes Out To Sea. Why, one might ask? Well, intense weather tends to travel in packs – having one really wet year increases, it seems, the likelihood of another. And we’re due. And if we’ve learned anything from this last election cycle, one should start panicking as soon as possible and not let the lack of any real evidence slow you down.

I’m getting more lemonade.

 

Musical Interlude #1

Autobiographical nonsense follows – warning issued.

Background: We Moores are a semi-musical family, as in: Elder Daughter has a music degree (voice) and plays violin and piano; Younger Daughter plays piano, guitar and ukulele and sings – she’s that modern ‘there’s a YouTube showing me anything I don’t understand’ generation, so few formal lessons; Caboose is a bit of a phenom on fiddle (meaning: he’s remarkably good for how little he practices – sigh. But he just turned 13, so there’s plenty of time). I torture both musical instruments and my audiences (those unwilling to chew off their own limbs to escape) with piano, guitar and singing.

This leaves Middle Son, 20 at the time, who showed little interest in music until, suddenly, he decided he wanted to play guitar after hearing some Rodrigo y Gabriela. He wanted to learn this song:

Here’s where the dad stuff gets a little challenging:  I certainly want to encourage him, but this is piece is just short of insane – It would take a good guitarist – better than me, for sure – months to get this down. And that’s just Rodrigo’s part. What Gabby is doing on the rhythm guitar, with the complex stums, strikes, and pops at breakneck speed is just nuts – she’s done ‘how to’ videos (see: ‘there’s a YouTube showing me anything I don’t understand’ above) and, even slowed way down, even after multiple viewings, I don’t understand what she’s doing. ‘Understand’ and ‘can do’ being separated by a wide gulf.

Yet, this is the piece my son wants to *start* with. Not House of Rising Sun, or Good Lovin’ or Louie, Louie or any one of a bazillion 3-chord rock/pop songs that kids back in my day started on. Nope – straight on to graduate school without picking up the Bachelor’s first.

Soooo, what the heck. We get him a cheap guitar (nylon string with the cutaway – because that’s what Rodrigo & Gabby play) and I sit down and watch videos with him and figure little snippets out on my own, and we work on it.

And he’s smiling from ear to ear and playing until his fingers, while not bleeding, are very very sore.  A year later, he can in fact play Rodrigo’s part – not to speed, not quite in rhythm, but he’s got all the fingerings and notes.

And still grinning ear to ear. Amazing.

So: when we got his first guitar, we went down to Guitar Center (because, you know what? They have a LOT of guitars). I played a bunch and showed him the differences, tried to describe tone, action, intonation and so on. He nodded along. We picked a nice cheap guitar. Perfectly playable, decent tone, nice intonation, looks nice. What else do you want in a first guitar? Thomas was thrilled.

Sheer luck had Rodrigo Y Gabriela playing up in Napa a few week’s later, and, total fanboy waits over an hour (with me cooling my jets in the car) to meet them and maybe get his guitar signed. Which they very kindly do. Which creates problems: do you play the signed guitar and risk slowly erasing the signatures? Or do you do what collector’s do, and hang it on the wall?

Thomas feels guilty. He just got the guitar, he doesn’t want to turn it into a decoration. Yet, he soon discovers he is in fact slowly erasing Rodrigo’s signature – Gabby’s is more out of the way. After a year, Rodrigo is half-gone.

This weekend, down at TAC visiting him, we make a run to the local Guitar Center. He has hopes of maybe using a pick guard to shield what’s left of Rodrigo’s signature. While he’s looking into that, the Caboose and I head over to the guitars.

I play my way through the offerings, starting with the not-quite-so-cheap ones and working my way up. By the time Thomas joins us, I was up to the $700 guitars – very nice. So, I hand him the one step up from his guitar, describe it and tell him to play in. Not much reaction. Then I hand him the $700 guitar. He later admitted he had no idea what I was talking about regarding tone and playability and all that when we’d got his first guitar, but now, after a year and hundreds of hours of playing, he understands. So that $700 guitar sounded and played A LOT nicer. He go it.

Finally, the nicest cut-away nylon string they had was this beauty:

Image result for Cordoba Fusion 12 Rose Acoustic-Electric Nylon String Classical Guitar Natural

I played it for a minute. I lusted in my heart. Plays and sounds fabulous. Handed it to Thomas to check out.

Thomas could not get enough. For the next half hour,  he played through everything he knew at least twice(1). Then he asked me to play with him. Seizing the opportunity, grabbed a $1k Taylor dreadnought off the wall, and we jammed a little. (I’ve never bought a guitar anywhere near that expensive – I’m a hack and I know it, not dropping serious cash on a toy.)  The ear to ear smile never left his face.

Now Thomas wants that guitar bad. But he’s been raised well enough that that level of impulse buy isn’t happening. And he’s going to college at the moment. Maybe for his birthday, which is in November, we can pool some family resources and swing this for him. And that way cool signed guitar car retire to the wall.

  1. The help at Guitar Center were pretty cool – they asked how we were doing a couple times, otherwise left us alone to play with their expensive toys.

GKC: Viva la Difference!

Some just so terribly non-PC stuff from the master, G.K. Chesterton, addressing the then-current (1930s) panacea of coeducational schooling in an essay titled Two Stubborn Pieces of Iron:

The school will never make boys and girls ordinary comrades.  The home  does not make them that.  The sexes can work together in a school-room just as they can breakfast together in a breakfast-room; but neither makes any difference to the fact that the boys go off to a boyish companionship which the girls would think disgusting, while the girls go off to a girl companionship which the boys would think literally insane.  Co-educate as much as you like, there will always be a wall between the sexes until love or lust breaks it down.  Your co-educative playground for pupils in their teens will not be a place of sexless camaraderie.  It will be a place where boys go about in fives sulkily growling at the girls, and where the girls go about in twos turning up their noses at the boys.

Now if you accept this state of things and are content with it as the result of your co-education, I am with you; I accept it as one of the mystical first facts of Nature.  I accept it somewhat in the spirit of Carlyle when somebody told him that Harriet Martineau had “accepted the Universe”, and he said, “By God, she’d better.” But if you have any idea that co-education would do more than parade the sexes in front of each other twice a day, if you think it would destroy their deep ignorance of each other or start them on a basis of rational understanding, then I say first that this will never happen, and second that I (for one) should be horribly annoyed if it did.

Amen.