Archive for the ‘Meteorology’ Category

A news report from The Tribune caught my eye a couple of days ago. It is a piece, which you can read here, on king tides. The gravitational pull from the moon causes the water on the oceans of the earth to bulge out towards and away from the moon, and to pull in at right angles to the moon. This is what causes tides on earth. The gravitational pull from the sun does the same thing.

King tides occur when the pull of the sun and the pull of the moon line up, aided by other weather factors, and result in the highest tides of the year. And that is going to happen fairly soon. The maximum high and low tides for California will occur on December 4th causing the tides along the California coast to change by as much as 8 feet! This is going to mean some impressive high tides with possible flooding and increased wave action, and also some amazing low tides that will offer up some terrific tide pooling opportunities!

So, go out to the rocky coast at low tide as see what you can find!

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Information is important. With information each of us as individuals, and our society as a whole, can learn about the world. With information, we can all make decisions that make sense. With information, we can all discuss ideas.

Without information none of that is possible. Without information, we are, at best, at the mercy of our current, limited knowledge, and our base instincts. Without information we are, at worst, at the mercy of the limited knowledge and instincts of someone else.

This is why the gag order, and insistence that all reports and data be pre-screened before release to the public, issued by the President to the EPA are so concerning to me, and I think should be so concerning everyone else. This is exactly the kind of action that limits access to, and spread of, information. It will only hamper all of our abilities to operate as rational, critically thinking individuals. It is the kind of action that is put in place to control what we, as citizens, know and when we know it. This is censorship and it has no place in science or a free society.



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We who live in California are pretty accustomed to droughts.  Water shortages are pretty common since drought years occur every 2 to 3 years in this state, according to the California Department of Water Resources.  But even taking our frequent lack of water into account, 2013 was an impressively dry year.  For example, Sacramento gets an average of about 20 inches of rain each year, but in 2013 it got only 6.13 inches.  San Francisco has an annual average of about 23 inches, but in 2013 it received 5.59 inches.  Los Angeles gets an average of about 15 inches of rain each year, but in 2013 it received only 3.60 inches which has not happened since 1877!

California usually gets most of its precipitation in the months of December, January, and February.  We have just finished an extremely rain-free December, and there is no precipitation in the forecast for early January.  Most of our major reservoirs are down to about 20% of their capacity, and the snow pack in the Sierra is very thin.  These low water levels will mean a very dry summer of 2014, and an increase in the number and size of fires in the late summer and fall.  Now, all this dry news should be tempered with the fact that we usually get most of our precipitation in just a small number of major storms, so there is still a chance that we will get some refreshments in the next month-and-a-half.  March is also a potential rain month which may help further.  In other words, it is still too early to start freaking out about water levels in 2014.

But, it is not too early to start thinking about conserving water in our daily lives.  For example, while you are waiting for the water to get hot, keep a pitcher next to the sink so that you can collect the cold water instead of letting go down the drain.  This can be refrigerated for drinking water or used to water your plants.  Do not buy plastic water bottles.  Do not water lawns in winter, but instead let them go dormant.  Visit car washes that recycle their water.  Soak pots and pans instead of keeping the water running over them.

Water shortages are going to become an ever increasing issue as climate changes and the human population continues to grow.  This means that the drought water levels of today may become the standards of tomorrow.  This makes drought years useful learning opportunities for how to get by with less.

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My first memory of Rich Stallcup is actually not a bird memory at all, but rather a frog memory.  I was probably about ten years old when my mother, brother and I joined him on a bird walk.  But the very first thing he stopped to show the group were several Bullfrogs.  He got his scope on them and let us watch them breath.  He told us about how they were an invasive species and voracious predators that were eating the tadpoles and larva of other animals and so driving down their populations.  My second memory of Rich is a bird memory.  We went on a bird walk to Limantour Beach that Rich was leading that focused on gull identification.  I remember standing looking at a large flock of gulls and listening to him point out the subtle differences between different species, and the even more subtle differences between different aged birds of the same species.  I remember being amazed at the level of detail that he could notice and even more amazed by the concept that there was so much more detail out there to be noticed then I had ever realized before.

These memories, and so many more, point out what I feel were some of Rich’s greatest qualities.  He was a naturalist in the truest sense of the word.  He was the best birder I have ever known with an encyclopedic knowledge of birds, but he also knew tremendous amounts about mammals, reptiles, butterflies, and dragonflies.  He even kept a wildflower life list.  In an age of ever increasing specialization on smaller and smaller scales of knowledge, Rich went the other way and proved that a person does not have to choose between being a jack of all trades or a master of just one, but instead could master quite a few.  It is a lesson that I have tried to learn and an ideal that I continue to strive for.  And his attention to detail was incredible.  While standing watching a group of Bushtits work their way through a willow stand, he finally decided that he was not missing any other birds in the flock when he started recognizing individual Bushtits in the flock!

Of course, Rich’s professional accolades are many.  One of the prominent discoverers of the amazing natural history of Point Reyes and the fact that the outer point acts as a tremendous vagrant trap attracting unusual birds from across the continent when they are disoriented by a predator attack or a storm.  The outer point now also attracts birders from around the world.  Rich was also one of the founders of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory, an organization that is now one of the foremost international conservation NGOs.  He has written books, papers, and articles; and also led countless bird walks and pelagic birding trips, all with the aim of introducing people to nature.

I had the good fortune to be able to bird with Rich for many years.  When he and Ellen Blustein started the PRBO Youth Bird-a-thon Team in 1999, the four founding youth members were myself, my brother,and two of my best friends.  I have continued to participate in that event ever since.  Even after I got old enough that I could not count as a youth anymore, Rich seemed happy to have me stay on as a mentor to the incoming generations of youths.  When he learned that I was expecting my first child he told me that, as long as the kid was more than two days old, I should bring him or her on the Point Reyes Christmas Bird Count!  I was very happy that he was able to meet my wife a couple of times, and saddened that my child will never get the chance.

Rich Stallcup died on the 15th of December, 2012 of Leukemia.  His loved ones were at this side.  He was a naturalist who inspired me and many others with his knowledge, passion and generosity, and he will be greatly missed.

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The Arrival of Fall

A shift in the weather was taken place here in West Sacramento, CA!  For one thing, the temperature has dropped suddenly and dramatically.  Two days ago, it was an uncomfortably warm 95 degrees F, but yesterday it was about ten degrees cooler.  This difference in temperature was accompanied by a constant, moderate strength wind from the west all day long.  And, so far, today seems to be bringing more of the same.  There is certainly a weather system being driven this way by a significant change in atmospheric pressure.   These changes likely signal a final end to summer in central California and the beginning of fall.  It is extremely odd that this should occur as late as October, but it has finally happened.  One of the things that make it so impressive is that it occurred so quickly.  This year, there is no doubt as to the day on which fall began.  It may not have coincided with the autumnal equinox, or the calendar date for when fall was supposed to start.  Nature does not work that way.  But this year, fall did arrive on a particular date, at least here in central California, and that date was the 4th of October.  Happy fall everyone!

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