Sunday, December 11, 2011

Reflect

I watched Sarah Kay's TEDX talk on "How many lives can you live?"

So I took her literally:
kid,  student, friend, businessman, builder, athlete, teacher, lecturer, laborer, master, accountant, stormchaser, traveler, adult, mentor, husband, stepdad, dad, scientist.

What do you consider your lives?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Killer tornado perspective


Caption: Far upper left is a zoom-in of the Tornado histogram by year, middle is a spinogram (the vertical scale is 100 percent and the bin width is the histogram count) of the magnitude of tornadoes, and below that is the map of killer tornadoes (inset shows 1460 tornadoes highlighted in red, out of the sample population of 55 439). To the right are the log(fatalities) histogram, below that is the log(fatalities+injuries) spinogram, and below that is the log(length*width). The red shading (the 1460 or 2.63% tornadoes) reflects the conditional distribution (based on fatalities). The color brushing is based on the bins of the log(fatalities+injuries).

I was just playing with the tornado data to see where the killer tornadoes have occurred and their stats. You can see the peak in 1974 from the Super Outbreak. The killer tornadoes, statistically, are those that are long-track and wide. Clearly these are also a function of their strength.

I really like the color brushing feature where I highlighted the log(fatalities+injuries) or large impact tornadoes regardless of fatalities. It appears that the distribution is shifted to the left  (attempting to filter out the yellower shade) in the log(length*width) plot or shorter path lengths and not as wide.

The software I used to generate these plots is called Mondrian. The software is really pretty cool that you can visually play with the data. Exploring the richness of your data set becomes pretty easy in this framework. And at least you don't need to write a bunch of code to discover any patterns or even make associations.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Earthquake 5.6

Update:
The NWS at Norman made an awesome illustration from the radar of all the bugs and birds who took flight during/after the earthquake. With the new dual polarization upgrade to the radar, now we can "see" the echo and know they are non-meteorological scatterers.

I love having new experiences like this one. My perception of the world has changed, and that experience is now filed under "surreal".

******
Well, scratch 1 item off my bucket list. A record 5.6 magnitude earthquake struck about 40-50 miles away. Had some real good noise, shaking (P waves), and rolling action (S waves) for about 20 seconds. It seemed longer than that since really my concerns were focused on "will this apartment collapse" when the first rolling wave went by. It took me nearly half the quake to realize what was happening (when the first rolling motion hit), because really I was wondering why the train didn't blow his horn when it was going by. Then I realized there was no train. When it was over I filed my USGS shake report. Made for an interesting evening. I now am well versed in earthquake preparedness. Probably will print off a copy of the Red Cross earthquake preparedness plan for future reference. I did not expect to ever need earthquake knowledge in Oklahoma. Hoping this is not a precursor for Mondays potential  severe weather event. But you have to pay attention to the signs after a crazy year like this one ... even if it is just superstition.

Friday, November 4, 2011

eductional ramblings

I was reading the NYT article on STEM education and the attrition rates associated with them. I guess they got a hold of engineering students to discuss this. They said things like classes were hard, theory driven, not practical, and wasn't until senior year when things got made or designed. Good news, folks. Such is the state in most fields where math is applied. The problem for students is that they have to do the hard work before they can get to the fun stuff.

In a disappointing turn of education, some educators try to only have fun by teaching kids cool stuff, then afterwards explaining what it means and why it works. This type of education is what you do in high school. Its called the "make it fun" principle. It is a functional distraction. It serves a purpose but is not in and of itself a framework for education. It may be considered a tool.

But the goal of education is not to make learning fun. The goal is to enhance curiosity. By making it fun we hope to get kids passionate, a level of built in motivation, to learn about what they are interested in. The other goal is to help students teach themselves. When they are motivated and passionate they will be curious.

Benefit of practicality
The other issue is how "slow" professors in college are adapting to these quickly bored/discouraged students. I find it great that professors are incorporating more application into their classes.  It is always important to stop and smell the roses, evaluate where you are, what you have learned, how it applies, and build.

This is actually my talking point in atmospheric sciences at least as far as it concerns forecasting (the practical application). if you will ever be involved in forecasting, you should probably be doing that activity on a rigorous schedule both in and out of class. Paging the 10,000 hours concept. If you want to get good, you need to have experience with the real weather to compare with theory. Without this background, then all of the conceptual models remain exactly that...idealized reconstructions that you will never observe in isolation. It is why meteorology textbooks have lots of maps and examples in them!

And yet the folks who write the great books with maps and examples, don't actually teach forecasting. They leave it for the students to learn on their own...a legacy of the boomer generation. It is how they learned. A educational generational divide. And it needs to be overcome.

More More More
Another aspect the article touched on was the production rate of scientists and engineers saying it would not meet some random number. better look around for all the scientists and engineers that are out there in other fields because when they graduated there were no jobs. Move on and adapt. Think its a mystery why they do that? Engineers get a hard lesson in economics (a necessary skill in engineering) in their senior year. After all, you can't make stuff that loses money. So is it any wonder that engineers go into finance where the math is essentially simpler and they can make more money instead of being unemployed?


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Rejection

I started this weather blog so I could train. I am training to write. Training to identify my poor writing habits, to find my voice, and eventually improve my technical writing. This is not a task, it is a process. I recognize my failings as a scientist and the one thing I have struggled with is my writing. So it was not a surprise to find my recent paper submission was rejected. It was rejected because I failed to communicate my points, create proper linkages, and explain what I had done.

What I have continued to struggle with is to treat my writing as a reviewer rather than the author. I have no trouble being a reviewer. I really put forth a sincere effort to do a lot of paper reviews in the hopes I could retrain my brain to take the self reviewer role. Being a reviewer has helped my ability to review, but not to self-review. I have been successful at times in this process, but not consistently so.

My own self analysis of my writing process revealed that I lack the ability to restart my writing. That is, I begin writing early to get into the flow, but then fail to improve that writing. I am a writing hoarder; keeping sentences that are poorly constructed and writing around them to make up for those deficiencies. I really need to start repairing my thoughts rather than working around sentences. I don't have a solution at the moment. I had hoped that outlining and expanding those outlines would help.

In a lot of ways I have not found my voice and find writing and communicating to be one of the hardest activities in science. I am an excellent support scientist but I really need to take the time to communicate better. So I am trying to reject my bad writing and find a way to becoming a much better communicator.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

More on learning

I added a new link to the right hand side: Dr Rick's blog from Sylvan Learning Center. The guy is a powerhouse of top ten lists. Give it a read, because why wouldn't you want to know why a book report is worth doing.

After reading that post I realized something. This next generation of students are task masters. They have to-do lists of everything: How to get into college, take tests, get good grades, activities that are fulfilling, etc.  But a to do list is just a statement of the tasks. It goes no deeper than that. The realization was that not only do kids need explanation for why something is important they also need context to understand its importance. This is a step beyond the task.

This understanding is normally called Learning. But, alas, this one step thinking (task mastering) permeates everything we do as a society. It is propagated by our politicians and our news media. It only goes so deep because "people wont understand if we get too complicated". But complicated is what everything is. We have to have higher expectations of our citizenry.

The book report post was an excellent example of how teachers and parents can measure the propensity of independent thinking in their classroom. A check on who is a taskmaster and who is a thinker. You have the chance to know how to reach a student even by that crude assessment. To discuss and question the topic at hand is crucial to learning, even to forming educated opinions. Seeking out a bunch of dissenting opinions and knowing where to do so is even more crucial as one advances in their learning. Organizing your thoughts coherently, using logic to bring them a step or two further. Then communicating that information in a way that is readily accessible to your audience. This last step is called writing. Bring your new found knowledge to the masses (journalism).

The book report post  though was filled with tasks! As good as it was, it was still a checklist (a well communicated and contextualized list). I am thankful it was directed at parents (and teachers in my opinion). [I don't have a solution to hypocrisy, as I recognize that my world is filled with it as well.]

Sunday, September 11, 2011

I remember

I remember very clearly where I was when Challenger exploded, when the Berlin wall fell, when Iran Contra dominated the news, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and we invaded Iraq, when the OKC bombing occurred, and when the towers fell. I remember because I immediately looked at the weather as a possible cause and quickly ruled it out. I hoped it was an accident. But I knew better. I was surprised when the second plane hit but by then it was just the surprise of actually being able to see the plane hit the WTC.

I was at school listening to the panic unfold locally as "threats" had heard about the nearby capitol and local students frantically tried to make sense of both a far away tragedy unfolding and the threat of a more personal tragedy.  I recall having toured the WTC on a field trip for grade school, it having been the only skyscraper I knew of let alone having been inside. I remember wondering if I knew anyone who might work in or around the city having grown up not more than 50 minutes away in southern CT.

School was cancelled around 3, and a few of us stuck around the map room to talk. I can't recall what we specifically talked about but it probably had to do with terrorism. Of course this was before we really knew anything about 9/11. I rode my bike home and subsequently came down with the flu. I literally watched the 24 hour news cycle being born in those 2 days of being home sick. I keenly remember Elizabeth Cohen, a CNN reporter, showing the buildings containing missing people flyers and being overwhelmed by what she saw. It was a very moving, raw piece of reporting. I never did see her on the air after that. It was years before I realized she is now a Health reporter. I missed her reporting.

I also remember cancelling my class of 120 students on Wednesday and returning on Friday. I walked in,  got ready, and realized I had the complete attention of that class. I said what I felt: "That was some fucked up shit. Pardon my French."

I remember the feeling of getting on an airplane not too long after that. Back then TLH tested our bags for explosives and drugs. Those tests had new meaning. I was extra alert for suspicious people, as probably most people were. I was extra cautious and that feeling took a few flights to settle down. I still look around but for what I have no idea.

There was a lot of talk about heroes today. The heroes that died. The heroes who made it back out alive. The heroes who worked on the pile. The heroes who are the family members who read names aloud, who have read those names for ten years, who have raised their children and have helped their friends, family, and neighbors cope with the loss of a loved one. They continue to sacrifice.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The sequel

There are two things that blow: Wind and Politics. Just add some wildfires and see what happens. Texas is in the middle of a series of wildfires that are absolutely large in terms of fire sizes and number of fires. They have received very little rain statewide for the last year and this was a record breaking hot year. Almost off the charts hot. The drought will continue for the foreseeable future with another (expected weaker) projected La Nina.

What struck me about all of this is what has happened in the political mainstream as of late, with Ron Paul (representing the Galveston area) having stated that FEMA should be deconstructed (circa just last week) and Gov. Rick Perry stating outright that states can handle disasters better as long as FEMA still gives him money to handle them (circa early 2009). But then the wildfires took the mainstage and Perry backed off of criticizing FEMA, arguing on TV that the issue he was discussing was in the past and was more about efficiency and equipment and that discussion would left for another day.

But then factor in this: Texas had planned in their state budget to cut firefighting budgets from 30 to 7 million. All of these facts seem to be playing into the type of disaster that *could* go down as being a natural disaster turned into human accelerated disaster. This is exactly the type of disaster we will face more of in the future.

This same problem will crop up in Iowa ... in the 500 year flood plain where rebuilding will be the norm and those same people will be flooded out. I believe Iowa is actually trying to navigate that situation by doing actual work on developing a risk analysis and presenting it to the people through research and outreach.

The same problem is occurring in New Orleans, sitting below sea level, where new homes have to be built on stilts. Or in Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi coastlines where hurricane strikes and storm surges will be the main threat. Lets add New Jersey and New York to that list.

The bottom line is that we as a society (the entire United States) are more vulnerable because of human decisions and risk-taking. Natural phenomenon have not changed all that much, but our level of risk-taking, and our exposure has. And for every decision we make there will be consequences.

Throw in a little bit of climate change (adding new potential weather threats) to communities unaccustomed to them, and you have the makings of a period in our history where there will be significant disasters every year ... accelerated in part by our poor decisions.

I am reminded of the Veggie Tales (kid substitute for the bible) story about the 7 year feast/famine episode. What would you do if you knew you had seven years of extreme prosperity and then seven years of extreme hardship? We should be in that mindset instead of coasting for seven years then scrambling for seven years complaining how we didn't do anything to plan for it. This is actually being discussed in some of our scientific disciplines (Space Shuttle program for one). But it needs to be in the general electorates mind as well.

And lets not forget that Presidential disaster declarations for 2011 are on a record pace. Remember La Nina? She took some blame for this years disasters. Are you ready for the sequel?

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2011/0909/Politics-of-fighting-wildfires-Did-Rick-Perry-s-Texas-do-enough-on-its-own

Sunday, September 4, 2011

cold frontal passage

A much welcome cold front, complete with high dew point and high humidity passed through Oklahoma last night. If it ain't the heat its the humidity. It did bring 0.2" of precipitation with it, and yet another band of very light precipitation will hit us today. (update: no extra rain.)

It appears that the continental modified air mass made its way down as expected albeit shallow. It looked more like an outflow boundary passage than a cold front (see Norman mesonet time series below). The next shot of "cooler" air comes later this morning with the drop in humidity but as the sun comes out it won't actually be cool. The baroclinic zone associated with a reinforcing shot of actual cold air is still in KS. Lets look at the sequence of potential temperature gradient maps from the University at Albany (http://www.atmos.albany.edu/gopher-local/surface/theta/).

The sequence is from 1200 UTC 9/3/2011 through 1200 UTC 9/4/2011 (I left 0900 UTC on 9/4 for brevity). You can see all kinds of baroclinic (yellow to red shading implies stronger potential temperature gradient) zones from around tropical storm Lee, to the cold front in KS, to the dryline in TX, to the hints of the modified cold front approaching OK but already into CO and the TX panhandle, and the back door cold front into AZ. 

From this perspective, the real cold air will actually arrive later today and tonight. Last nights 2" soil temperature under bare soil was 87F and this morning it was 74, while our 12" soil temperature under sod is still 82. It will be interesting to see what our actual versus forecasted high temperatures will be given this initial condition change. Currently our forecast high for today is around 83 and tomorrow it is 76.






Saturday, August 13, 2011

Heatburst

There have been quite a few heatbursts in Oklahoma this year, and one occurred last night here in Norman. What is so fascinating about these heatbursts are the variety of signatures they produce ranging from 10 to 180 minutes of strong temperature rises and dew point falls, to weak temperature rises and strong dew point falls, gusty winds, and strong pressure falls.
Note the two heat bursts from Norman between 4 and 5 am having increased the temperature by 10F from 70 to 80 over that 45 minute span. Notice how long the episode is but how sharp those peak temperatures are. I also found it interesting that the pressure drop was 4 hPa with wind gusts to 30 mph just preceding the first burst, but a lack of gusty winds on the higher temperature heatburst with a pressure rise.

I was curious if the NSSL-WRF had a similar feature but I could not zoom into the old forecast graphic to see anything so sharp in the temperature field, but there were strong dew point drops for a similar area. This suggests that this event had some predictability. Further analysis awaits.

Much credit is due to the Oklahoma Mesonet for collecting this data, and the citizens of Oklahoma for supporting such science activities.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Bores

The last few days have seen what I hope to be the start of a drought buster the drought get busted here in Central OK and it started off with the transition to Northwesterly flow aloft. Convection developed up in Kansas and produced outflow which propagated south and resulted in the production of a bore which transitioned to a series of solitons. The latter are atmospheric gravity waves (amplitude ordered) which propagate on the interface of the inversion aloft. You can see the waves on radar (below).
What I find interesting is that these waves passed over the Oklahoma mesonet and were well resolved with the 5 minute interval data collection. As the waves approached Norman there were 3 or 4, and passing through Norman there were 5, and afterward possibly a sixth wave.

The following day we had two waves which may be another set of bores. These waves contributed to the development of convection in eastern OK which gave the area some much needed rainfall and kept temperatures down for the whole day.

On the 10th, the radar depiction above, the NSSL WRF model did a good job depicting the convection and outflow, but I doubt there was a bore as it might not be well resolved spatially on a 4km grid. One thing I know that will be beneficial in model development is to output time series so we can see what kind of waves (density currents, gravity waves, bores, solitons, etc) emanate from model generated convection. In this way we can test whether the models are capable of simulating these features. This will probably be more valuable at finer resolution as has been shown in research grade real-data simulations down into the sub 1km grid spacing range.

These waves can be implicated in all kinds of processes, from pre-conditioning the environment to being the cause of convection initiation, to doing nothing. Exploring these fine scale features and quantifying their impacts on the model simulations (through physics sensitivity) is just another way to help understand the fine resolution models (and maybe contribute to our understanding of the real world).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Skipping class

There was an interesting blog entry over at Freakonomics concerning "how professors should incentivize classroom attendance". There is a good example which I won't repeat because it only fit economics classes. I do want to address the questions they posed.

1. Is the student a consumer?
Yes, the student is a consumer of knowledge. The basic assumption is that the professor serves as both a translator of the textbook from a set of facts into useable knowledge and someone who applies that knowledge. Now not all classes allow themselves to be taught like this. In almost all classes there is some foundation upon which all subsequent learning is built. An Intro class though probably has more foundation than students care to master.

The student is not a consumer of grades. Grades are not something to be mastered, the material is. Oftentimes the true meaning of what you have learned takes additional perspective, additional time, and application to find its use and/or value. At the time it may seem like a neat trick. Later it may become something you use often and becomes second nature. The pythagorean theorem comes to mind.

Making class about reaching some set number of points becomes more about the points than actually achieving learning. I have seen it before in a class I TA'ed. A student did all the extra credit. He did well on his tests. He did most of the homework. He filled in "A" for all 50 questions on the last exam, saying he needed only 20 points to get an A. It was difficult to know if this student had learned anything or just did the work he was supposed to do. It was at this point that extra credit was not on my good side as a reward system.

2. Does classroom attendance equate to learning?
I used to think that Yes was the correct answer. The number of learning styles in the classroom has increased dramatically. So to reach larger audiences with different learning styles with one professor is difficult. It is not impossible, unless the student views him/herself as a consumer. But lets assume (in my ideal fantasy) that this is not the case. The best professor's can bring the material to life if it is bland. They can also add perspective, nuance, and practicality that can make the material more interesting. They can also be lively, interesting, humorous, engaging, and approachable. In this way the classroom experience can be mined by each student for that which captures their imagination.

But nothing a professor can do will ever change the motivation, attitude, and expectations of the student. These are simply not in the professors agenda for lecture everyday. But they go a log way to make learning possible or at least make the knowledge accessible.

So I think that classroom attendance is a necessary first step in achieving motivation and allowing an interaction to develop between the professor and students. The interplay that develops is thus a function (nonlinear) of the student and professor relationship inside the classroom. If that relationship goes stagnant for whatever reason it is the students responsibility to improve it. There is time available for this type of activity: Office Hours.

I once begged my students that were struggling to show up. They did and we worked on learning. It may not be classroom time but it served the same purpose: face to face contact. Did it work for everyone? No of course not. See the student responsibilities I listed above.

3. Are students a fair market to judge professors?
Once the class is over and they have perspective on the material and the relevance to their life or career, then yes. Immediately after they took the class? Not so much. See student responsibilities. It isn't a one way process, this learning thing. It is two ways. If you go in expecting me to to feed your brain, and your brain simply remembers it, then you missed the point and need to click "Next Blog" at the top of the page.  I even demonstrated this in class once.

I got a silver platter. I gave a student all my knowledge (which easily fit on this platter). I asked if the mere act of giving them knowledge worked at helping them learn. It was rhetorical. I can stand there and talk. for. ever. and. ever. Will they just suddenly get it by showing up?

I found out that students in that class didn't like to read the book.

4. Do bonus/penalty systems work?
No. See the extra credit assignment I discussed above. But when I started taking them to task on the book they at least opened it, flipped through it. Which I wanted. I incentivized the book and thus learning. I asked what the chapter was about. It wasn't a hard question, but how many missed it the first time? Quite a few. I kept them on their toes with simplicity. Note that I did not incentivize the grades. I got them to commit to act. Or not.

Really in the end a bonus or penalty system only works if they CARE. You cannot make a student care about learning if they walk in not CARING. The best professors care about learning. They don't care about grades, or points, or even exam scores. They use exams as a metric to monitor learning. If you cheat, the professor gets the sense that you are learning. How can we help you learn if we already think you are learning. That is the students penalty and the rationale for the honor system.

The only system that works for getting students to learn are the burden of responsibilities that students place on themselves. We talk alot about personal responsibility. But when you start buying stuff and want your money's worth, logic goes out the window, and it is about someone else's responsibility to fulfill a deal. Bonus and penalty systems make the system seem leveraged (in your favor ... a discount) when they are not. By that I mean bonus points are a plus for you in the absolute sense. Penalties are a bonus for you if you bet your classmates will be penalized more than you and thus are relative. Both can be advantages to your grade but not your learning.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

twice the Scientific communication?

I recently read two articles by Dr. Alan Betts pleading to the scientific community that more effort be devoted to communicating their science to non-scientists. This is indeed a potential benefit to the public but it does have serious implications.
The good:
1. The "public" has a translator for science reducing the sensationalism of every finding
2. The science could be beneficial
3. The "public" would become more aware of what their tax dollars pay for and why it is deemed important
4. Scientists could help educate the public through this type of outreach

The bad:
1. Scientists would spend time writing two papers for every paper they publish
2. Not all science needs to be communicated to everyone so who decides which papers are worthy of translating
3. The scientists would be doing the work of science journalists

In general it is a good idea IF we could figure out which science is deemed public consumable. Not every published paper necessarily needs to be communicated. Rather a body of work which presents specific findings on a public-relevant topic. Along these lines it would be nice to have a report, for lack of a better term, which describes what the funding accomplished. Usually this is described in a researchers CV or resume as what papers were published in relation to particular research efforts.

But again, it is time consuming. Time consuming though is code for not worth the extra effort since you already wrote up the paper to specifically communicate with those in your field.

This is why journalism was created: To report relevant information to a curious or demanding public.

So has journalism been doing a great job? In the words of Jon Stewart: "The bias of the mainstream media is towards sensationalism, conflict and laziness".  Thus I believe it is time to wake up the true journalists.

Journalists were good when they sought to lead people toward knowledge (at least I hope there was a time when that happened). As of now most journalistic efforts focus on dumbing down science ... on purpose. Even the words. As we all know this strategy has been implemented for centuries. In politics. With remarkable results.

In fact all news organizations employ the latest greatest strategy for attracting viewers: opinion. But not just offering an opinion, but soliciting your opinion. Everyone can have an opinion, but are all opinions equally qualified? The mere act of offering an opinion is like placing a bet in a poker game. You now have something to lose by playing. This is what politicians do. They comment on anything. Sometimes with great care, other times off the cuff. Off the cuff usually gets them in trouble, because someone holds a more informed opinion, and will find fault with your opinion (sometimes based on facts).

This is where social media enters the picture, because social media is an opinion playground. This is where you voice your opinion and others can agree with you, making it feel like you are correct because others hold similar opinions. Does that make your opinion correct? Maybe. Maybe Not.

What is clear is that communication is needed in all realms especially as more information is available. This requires education and "smartening" up the science to be consumed by a more intelligent public. The public is clamoring for more knowledge. They are seeking ways to not struggle, ways to not get screwed, and ways to succeed. It is clear that knowledge in all aspects of our lives is to our benefit, whether its how care for yourself so you have fewer health problems, to how to protect yourself from weather. They are rediscovering they need this knowledge to survive.

In this case, I like the idea of better scientific communication but not at the expense of science. The system as a whole needs to serve the public better. I don't think that a one sided solution will work so I propose that we fix the system. We need better education, less sensationalistic journalists, less sensationalistic information consuming habits, and more communicative scientists.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Meeting an astronaut

When any high-ranking official comes to the Weather Center, we all get to jump. I won't bore you with the topics of weather conversation. Meetings are called, visits are made, speeches are provided during meetings. This week it was Dr. Kathryn Sullivan from NOAA. First US woman to walk in Space. Was on the mission to put the  Hubble Space telescope in orbit. Flew on the shuttle 3 times. Also served as NOAA chief Scientist in the 90's.

When I read her bio, I was excited to even be offered a chance to hear an astronaut speak. Yeah, I know I sound like a kid. But I really enjoyed her stories. Being stuck in the airlock when the hubble's solar cells did not deploy, then having a tech "fix" it, thus stopping a perfectly good EVA. Especially when she casually mentioned that training for fixing anything on Hubble took 5 years! Not to mention stating that she got the same look at Hubble as we did here on Earth, being stuck in the airlock after all just in case the solar cells did not open through commands. It was also interesting to hear about the risk of that mission, running models to make sure the density calculations were correct for Hubbles' drag, since the thrusters to maintain its orbit were weak, so initial placement was critical. And, as she said, "the astronauts wanted to make sure we had enough fuel to get back", since they were headed to an orbit twice as far as the space station.

She flew in April 1992, 3 missions before I saw my first Space Shuttle launch in August 1992. Back when the shuttle flew often. A silly personal stat, but one of significance for me. It was cool to meet her and hear her down-to-earth stories. I should have asked for an autograph.

Hazardous Weather Testbed

I spent some time blogging about the activities of the HWT, specifically the Convection Initiation component. Here is the link:
http://springexperiment.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A good chase Part 2

It is always very instructive to go back and learn something about the storms you chase. This is really the only way to chase for me, and now that I have access to vast amounts of data with actual data visualization capabilities, like zoom, without writing massive amounts of code (downloading, storing, processing, picture making, looping, then zooming) I looked at our storm from Saturday.

Turns out there wasn't just one merger but at least 3, in different parts of the storm right about when we stopped just before Follet, TX to the west of Shattuck, OK. I had assumed that the one storm merger I saw coming was the culprit for the crazy behavior we thought was happening. The data present a different picture of what I might call a weak storm.

The storm really was weak in terms of rotation from the lowest elevation angle as seen from Amarillo. Visually we recognized this fact, but the slow moving storm, was really trying to generate rotation that may just have been small enough to avoid radar detection at relatively long distances from the radar.

So around 7:25pm a new storm went up to the west southwest of our storm (achieving 40 dBz) and merges to the north by 7:43pm. A new storm forms on the southern side of our storm at this time (hitting 35 dBz) and merges to the southeast by 8:01pm. Another storm initiates by 8:10pm and merges 9 minutes later.

All of these mergers had a constructive effect on the storm, helping it achieve a substantial size (even squareness) that made it resemble an HP supercell. The result was a decent vortex at 8:15pm (after we had already seen a few attempts at tornado-genesis) and while we were in the second RFD surge. As we continued after this surge, basically following close behind the demarcation between rain driven RFD and decent conditions, we re-entered the RFD and then after a brief "lull" another RFD hit us. This is, I think, the effect of the older circulation RFD hit us, the mesocyclone moved east and then southeast, and a new meso formed back to the north moving southeast. So our two RFD surges on 15 east of Follet were from different circulations, and it was the second circulation which jumped further southeast that produced a tornado which hit 6 miles north of Shattuck.

Just as a reference for the environment I saved the Amarillo and Norman soundings:


The bulk shear in the 0-6km layer is at or above 40 knots, the instability is marginal at AMA but if we account for a solid 10F increase in dew point where our storm was, then the instability was probably in the 3200 ballpark. Arnett, OK dew points just to the south of Shattuck maintained a 60 dew point well into 7pm. The other difference at Amarillo is the wind direction in the lowest layers, which was southerly in the sounding, and southeast at 15 knots, probably lengthening the hodograph.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A good chase

Saturday, 11 June 2011 looked like a decent day to chase storms over in the panhandles. After spending 5 weeks in the Hazardous Weather Testbed we were eager to once again let mother nature show us how much we didn't know. En route we targeted Woodward but continued on west and wanted to be in Lipscomb county Texas where we intercepted our first storm of the day. It took a while to get going and looked a bit ragged at times, but slowly it matured into a rotating supercell. And man was it slow moving. We watched it for nearly an hour, and in the latter half of that time it kept on trying to spit hail and rain on us, with each pulse a little stronger, and then finally rear flank downdraft cuts emerged and multiple spin ups at cloud base resulted. It was wild to see the mesocyclone occlude and wander back to the NW, while the next spin up emerged a little further east and south. There was a small funnel we observed at this location, and also a possible brief tornado, though it was pretty far away to know for sure. I think it was reprted as a brief rain wrapped tornado, though. At one point it appeared to jump to the east, right over the road we were, but another of rotation developed over the car. The cloud motions were awesome, and the bases of the clouds that were higher were slowly, but step function wise, lowering.

I was also struck by the interesting fact that the storm was half heartedly splitting, with the left mover barely making it out before essentially evaporating at the base. There must have been at least 3-4 splits, marked only by the ragged low-mid level cloud (remnant updraft).

So we headed south to Darrouzette to reposition further east, essentially trying to get northeast of Follet. But, another storm blew up right in our storms flank. So we stopped on 15 just before Follet and got to watch a few tornado genesis attempts, which were pretty cool. As we were watching, the RFD came surging out, maybe 40 mph winds from the west.  The circulation had jumped further south and was heading east. So after watching this for about 25 minutes we pushed on east and within 5-10 minutes we got slammed in some RFD rain. This was about 8:11pm and the hail started to get bigger (maybe at most a few golf balls) and the winds were around 50-55mph, and it was pretty amazing. After a 5-10 minute stoppage, we carried on and re-entered the RFD but this one was a little different. It pulsed in severity, maybe getting up to 70 mph, with a few larger hail stones. We got hit with at least two rfd surges at this location maybe 4 miles east of Follet, perhaps a few miles from the border of OK. That was as intense as I have seen an RFD surge with nothing but north winds. We turned the car out of the wind, and eventually turned around to head further south since we couldn't very well keep putting ourselves into the RFD.

We made it south, finally got cell coverage and realized that our storm was a giant high precipitation supercell. We couldn't make around Higgins and get back on the storm so we stayed back and watched the next supercell to the west which was attempting to form a wall cloud, so we watched that storm for a while. The group collected lightning still shots from this storm. We attempted to follow it as night set in. As we drove North to the nearest east option we took out a ginormous raccoon, injuring my chase partners vehicle. We fishtailed, but through some superior driving, we recovered. The raccoon lost the battle but won the war (aka. a bit of car damage to the front fender (fender is a poor word for shitty fiberglass front panel attached by plastic that breaks easily). But then again it was probably a serious 30lb raccoon.

There were quite a few animals roaming around last night, including coyotes. Glad none of them decided to run across the road.

We also drove through quite a few towns without power. Shattuck being one of them. This was because our original storm produced a tornado around 830pm, while we were back in the western RFD surges. I will have to look over the storm merger process to see what exactly happened (lost iPhone coverage for about 30 minutes). I doubt we could have seen the tornado unless we were really up in the rain which would not have been a safe position. Either we waited too long after the failed tornadogenesis attempts, or we were already too late as the storm merger took over the evolution.

First  shitty cell phone picture is of the remnant left splits and the second, from the 2nd location (on 15 west of Follet but within ear shot of the sirens) is te first tornado genesis attempt. 



An arrival home at 130am made for a fantastic, classic storm chase. It was easy going with all the long stoppages. But rather complete with all types of lurking danger. I had a ton of fun reconnecting with mom nature, something every storm observer likes doing I think. It was quite a show and we were lucky enough to have good seats to this one. I don't think anyone was hurt in this storm so that is also good news considering this years events.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Caring about teachers

I was pointed to this opinion piece:
 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/04/opinion/04zimmerman.html?_r=1&emc=eta1

I was appalled by the first quote. Clearly that person was more than angry. She stopped caring. Whatever her reasons, she should cease being a teacher. Because after that quote she wasn't going to be saving anyone in the classroom either. The rest of the quotes from teachers were just free speech. Hardly can anyone say that privacy was violated by exposing names. I guess an argument can be made that if you know the teacher then you can figure out the students. But the statements are too general. And general statements like those were not made in haste. They were made after comparison to other classes. And if they weren't, then they were quick generalizations stated such that a teacher can realize the challenges that lay ahead for this class.*

The conclusion of the opinion piece was spot on. Watch what you say and to whom. Complain to the people who care about you the most, because those are the people who should know your specific frustration. But let the rest of us hear your general plight, the general concerns you have about the state of education, the state of our students, and what you think we need to hear to address your grievances. My hope is that the dialogue does not get lost internally and that the teachers are supported by their colleagues and principals and school boards. But the reality is that speaking your mind just gets you in trouble. And social media lets everyone know what you said, when you said it, and it never gets deleted. Once its out there ... its out there. Then you have to go on a PR tour to defend your comments.

The problem isn't people speaking their minds (most of the time). The problem is that a lot of people can not put themselves in your shoes (e.g. lack of empathy). Nor can they take criticism without getting offended. There is also an issue of "it's someone else's problem".  Like Teachers. I give you my kid and you teach them. Its your job. The tendency to segregate the roles can lead to failure. Teachers assist learning. They expect active participation. It is not passive. It is not passive for parents either. 

Forcing teachers to be passive and under strict control doesn't lead to successful outcomes. Teaching requires taking risks. It also means letting teachers have control so they can take those risks. Like telling parents they need to step up and stop making excuses, just as much as they need to tell their students the same. I just hope they allow themselves to hear that message.

I doubt I am being eloquent here. But we should always be on the side of our caring teachers while supporting the students. And we should be really concerned if our teachers stop caring.

*Yeah I know. Sounds like I am making excuses. Perhaps. But I know that frustration. I have complained too. But it needed to be said for my benefit and for my students. Not as an insult for those lazy, whiny students ... it was the truth. Some of them admitted as much. Some of them gave up, stopped doing required work and hoped that by persevering they would pass. They became passive. Some of them passed or excelled when I cited their passivity to their faces. They knew that passivity wouldn't work. They appreciated the honesty and that I cared.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Endeavor

I napped too long today so now I am awake. While blogging about the Hazardous Weather Testbed, I had the computer tuned in to http://www.spaceflightnow.com where I was watching the NASA video of the new instrument going to the ISS. [mental note: I know so many acronyms that they are starting to repeat.] It is called the AMS and will look for really cool particles (dark matter hopefully) and figure out where they came from. Truly spectacular experimental platform. They do really cool science and I am always awestruck at how risk averse science can be. Especially at NASA. Risk averse probably isn't even in there vocabularly.

They probably use a word like redundancy. Take big risks but only if you can make a back up system for it. So I over-dramatize. Sh. This is my blog. Seriously though. They spend decades building equipment, that helps them design big experiments. The satellite that entered orbit around Mercury? They built a giant umbrella to protect it. They have fancier names like heat shields but whatever. The umbrella is made of stuff they had to dream up, before they could even consider flying to Mercury. And they had to prove it could withstand the heat and protect the satellite. They are so close to the sun, that the solar panels have to be at an angle to the sun or they would melt away. Talk about taking risks.

And that is yet another reason why watching shuttle flights is so powerful. It isn't just the 385,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and 143,000 gallons of liquid oxygen that are placed in two tanks in the external tank ... next to each other ... at -423 F and -298F respectively. It isn't just the fact that when mixed those volatile substances power the shuttle to orbit and oh by the way, makes water. Its all the stories of the astronauts, the science they do in space, the science produced to get to space, the engineering required to make it all work, and the payloads they carry that will produce more information which leads to robust and powerful understanding of the universe. And every now again we hear about the science that mission provides to us right here on this blue dot.

It was a risk to start with and it will always be risky to go beyond what we think we are capable of. Yet, this year NASA will launch or has launched a number of truly remarkable satellites. More space discovery awaits even though the shuttles will retire. Instead of mourning the loss of the shuttle fleet we should take the time to appreciate our accomplishments via the shuttle program. The next time we launch our astronauts into space, it could be aboard a commercial rocket. And that will be another milestone in space exploration. I hope I get to at least wait in line for my ticket into space.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Don't dumb it down

The Outbreak of 27-28 April 2011 was incredible. Incredible loss of life in a relatively high population density area, amazing damage to what we believe are sturdy structures, amazing long track tornadoes, some incredible supercell storms, incredible LIVE coverage of the tornadoes, and an incredible number of warnings, and a pretty good warning lead time performance for the weather service.

What I also find incredible is the disconnect between the linkage of science and society as it pertains uniquely to journalism. I will not pretend I am a journalism expert. I am not. So take the following with a grain of salt.

What makes a great story are personal details. Something the reader can relate to and understand. As if they were there, reliving the story with themselves as the subject of the story. There is implied intelligence here. This human story does not require anything more than what happened and how did you feel and what was going through your mind. This gives that sense of being there only without the mystery of what happens next. The spoiler was probably the title, and the fact that a person was interviewed means they survived.

To add to the story writers like to add facts for perspective. They look for all kinds of facts. They ask the experts and then they modify the words for effect sometimes losing all coherence. They like to add words like rare and extreme.

Then they add their own perspective. They cite their experience of why they are qualified to offer an opinion. Read that sentence carefully. There is only one. Assess if they are truly qualified to make a statement. It is usually obvious. If you ask a wrongologist, they would remind you that the writer is like the coyote chasing the road runner off the cliff (not having fallen yet). They keep writing because they are on a roll and havent taken stock of where they are. Then they realize. They look down and fall.

I have read a number of articles where the writer just hasn't realized. Then they make statements which seem plausible but wouldnt stand up to a thorough review by a subject matter expert. Remember the experts? They are interviewed first. The editor has the last say. Think he/she is a scientist?

The disconnect is in the presentation of "dumb-downed" science. The public may not understand everything about the science, but surely they are capable of learning. We need a more educated public. A more educated public is quicker to adapt. They are harder to confuse. They are privy to the "inside" information ("inside" will fade away when everyone knows the information). They are more likely to prepare because the risk is that much more understandable, that much more real, and that much more on their radar (pun unintended).

I like when people on TV say things like: "We are not used to this like people on the Great Plains." Thanks. I accept your accolades. You just insulted all your listeners. You told me that other people are more prepared, more accepting of the risk, more in tune with the violent weather risk. You also admitted publicly that you haven't done enough to prepare your listeners for that dreadful day.

Ask any survivor if they are used to being in a tornado that is ravaging their lives. The people are used to warnings and watches. They believe they are at risk, rightfully so, but usually are not directly at risk. Tornadoes tend to be small. That is one aspect of the problem. Big mile wide tornadoes are somewhat rare and also somewhat weaker on average, a fact I still find surprising. (I await that data being published in a peer reviewed journal.)

Not all stories or opinion pieces are bad though. I have read quite a few amazing stories, seen even more on TV. The father and son who left their mobile home to seek shelter face down in a ditch. The apparent life saving act was a tree falling on them to keep them anchored to the ground before it was lifted off of them by the tornado trying to suck them up. I guess the word is getting out to the mobile home folks, even if it is a relative few. This was the 2nd such story I read where people left their mobile home and sought refuge in a ditch. Others who stayed in theirs, were not so lucky.

****
Was this event rare? Rare in the once every generation rare. In terms of the meteorology it was certainly unique to have so many supercells producing long lived, long track tornadoes. The violence of those tornadoes was certainly not rare, but the number of them that were violent in a high population density area could perhaps be described as rare.

The EF5 in MS received the following description from the NWS Storm Survey: "appliances and plumbing fixtures in the most heavily damaged area were shredded". That to me is rare, having not been a storm surveyor, but only because I too think that the safest place to be in a house without a shelter or basement is the bathroom. Where all the pipes essentially reinforce the walls at least in a small area.

I should also refer you to this blog: http://stormeyes.org/wp/ for more perspective on this outbreak. It was well worth the time.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Impressive rain totals

A ton of rain has fallen in the last few days but the image above shows the last 7 days. Is it any wonder that a levee in MO is about to burst? From Central AR through TN, and across MS and AL will also fill in as more severe storms and rain affect the region tomorrow and Wednesday. Tonight it appears OK will add to its catchup rainfall.  Below is the 5 day precip forecast from HPC:

Certainly the human impact will be a bit more wild as all the rain floods some areas and puts them at risk for the severe weather outbreak. Today was the first time that the Storm Prediction Center issued Moderate Risk areas for Day 1, 2, and 3. Regardless of the tornado impacts, it is going to pour down rain on already wet ground tomorrow. Add some tornadoes and wind, and trees are going down. Add more rain and certain locales will experience flash floods and your regular run-of-the-mill flooding.

And if that isn't enough, a nasty bow echo with tornado warnings is currently going through Little Rock. A quick glimpse at the storm total rainfall product from Little Rock shows 15"+ rainfall in the last few days over a non-trivial area. The bow echo should add even more to those totals.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

NSSL WRF performance

The more I looked at the NSSL WRF forecast from yesterday the more interesting it was.

While the model initiated storms off the warm advection cloud band in Iowa after 0100 UTC, which did turn out to be correct, it was not severe nor was it the major player. Observations indicate this was part of an alto-cumulus castellanus area.

The area in NE where storms initiated in the real world along the warm front sharpened until 23-00 UTC where in model land it weakened considerably. There was an indication in the model that reflectivity was small but non-zero when the convergence was strong. This is a good albeit weak signal.

Another area under consideration for convection initiation was along the dryline in KS and northern Oklahoma where one storm formed around 23 UTC. The model had little in the way in convection here until 2 hours later, along the dryline.

Another area was in SW OK, where observations indicated a small, weak storm developed around 01 UTC and quickly died off. The closest model storm was at 05 UTC. Of course, the whole forecast goes awry in these latter two isolated storms as the model initiates convection all along the dryline from KS through Southern Oklahoma. The last 6 hours of the forecast looks little like what happened in terms of storms. I would caution that the model is not entirely wrong, just very aggressive. The cloud fields in the model develop into convection but closely resemble the cloud fields observed.

We are just beginning to harvest the wealth of information contained within such forecasts. I believe we will learn a lot more about these types of forecasts when we get down to looking at cloud fields (not at the grid scale but over substantive areas) and use these to compare the model with observations. This perspective should give forecasters more confidence in the overall appearance, and solidify what to look for when examining fine resolution forecasts. I think information extraction will be much more successful than reflectivity alone.

http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/wrf/110409/

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Supercell buffet

It appears that parts of Iowa, near Mapleton and points east and southeast were hit hard by 3/4 mile wide tornado (according to the storm reports).  The storms took a while to develop and mature but sure enough once that cell crossed into Iowa it was going nuts. Here's why:

1. The instability was high, up around 3600 J/kg and moisture was 13.6 g/kg through a deep layer.
2. The low level shear was 27 knots and the bulk deep layer shear was 62 knots.
3. The hodograph is a classic quarter circle up to 6 km.


Of course the other storms in Nebraska were prolific splitting supercells, with the left mover racing north.  A very impressive supercell buffet. This area was highlighted well by SPC, despite the NSSL WRF having nothing in this area today. This was also despite a relatively good forecast by the same model for events last night in the Ohio River Valley. The cloud simulation looked good too, but perhaps the resolution was just too coarse to really capture the boundary layer processes responsible for convective initiation of relatively small thunderstorms.

UPDATE: Sounding image obtained from SPC, and radar image from College of DuPage (http://cod.weather.edu)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Chasing supercells

Pretty good chase day today. Any chase day is a great day, but this was good because it ended my absence on the Plains after roughly 4 years. It culminated in a splitting supercell with near tennis ball size hail in a marginal low level shear environment, but favorable bulk shear environment.

Hard to say what the issue with convection initiation was, but most of the updrafts that initiated at least marginal vertical cumulus growth seemed to tilt and then result in small turrets on the top. The clusters of clouds that did manage to grow finally did so after 2200 UTC, and by 2300 UTC we had a nice storm to chase at least from its radar presentation. The base was elevated a bit but a clear updraft bell had formed, and when we drove north on I35 to stay ahead of it, noticed pretty good size hail on the ground. Maybe 2-3 inches in diameter, low-density. I even found some that had split in half so you could see the rings. Most of the hail in the grass was unbroken, but the stuff that had hit the pavement was easily smashed.

The model scenario played out fairly well. A moisture pool was left over from the late afternoon mixing of the dryline further south. Last nights NSSL WRF simulation had 1 storm form west of Tulsa and I took this to be a positive sign that CI was probable. Of course the model had some pretty high moisture values so that was a concern. However, afternoon observations indicated that dew points would hold near 64 F. Of course the low level shear was weak as was the SRH, but the bulk shear was up around 20 m/s. Plenty good for supercells, but not so good for tornados.

The focus for initiation was along a convergence zone in Northern Oklahoma that would eventually redevelop rapidly north, at least in model land. I will have to investigate if this actually occurred.  I think its worth investigating from the modeling standpoint, especially the structure of the boundary layer that led to the mixing out event further south but kept enough moisture further north.

The storm we were on is to the east-northeast  of WDG on the image below at the time tennis ball hail was falling while we were on I-35.


Glad to be back chasing storms...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Old Weather

http://www.oldweather.org/

Pretty neat project to go through old Royal Navy logbooks and record weather observations from the scanned images and read the reports offered by the officer at the helm. It is tedious but pretty interesting, especially when you read about them taking prisoners, sighting a ship and pursuing it, or firing on ships. Check it out...

Friday, March 18, 2011

Khan part 2

I have an obvious criticism of my previous post about the guy who made lectures available on line as part of this new "revolution" in education:
Does he think that every kid will watch 6 hours of lecture video at home and go to school?

The other issue regards what the role of a teacher actually is. A teacher is there to provide guidance and help and knowledge. The teacher has not only subject matter knowledge, but experience in teaching to a wide array of students. They know what works, how it works, and they have time to perfect their craft. Often times the delivery is just as important as the messenger. So by using a different teachers' videos, you are adding a challenge for the student to learn the same material from two different people. This could be an advantage in some instances, providing perspective on problem solving skills.

But the reasons that Khan cited for why this system worked were somewhat enlightening:
1. They could pause and rewind at will wasting less of my time.
2. They could go slowly through the material taking time for mastery.
3. They could work around exploring the material.

Well, I am not sure I want students to forge their own path through the material not should I expect younger learners to do this on their own. As for the other two, we are to blame for that. The standardized testing contributes, and so does the need to finish school in a year, so to speak.

Perhaps this is just evidence that we are caving to the social norms of this generation. Immediate gratification. Or it means that we recognize that we have too many different types of learners mixed into our classrooms. Does this mean we should segregate them? Smart kids go to advanced school, while slower kids go to slower schools? But really we already do this by separating the kids within the school into what I knew as "tracks". I was in the college track and even the name was daunting for kids not in it. They immediately knew what it meant to NOT be in that track.

I will bet other kids feel that same way with regard to funding, especially in the inner city and probably in the rural areas too where the smartest kids stick out like a sore thumb.

I believe Europe has a very interesting approach to education. I have only heard about the process around pre-college level: At some point in high school you are deemed worthy to attend college. Others are sent to develop a trade or craft I presume through some sort of apprenticeship. College though is just the first step. After 2 years you are selected into a major based on your math and science skills. But the principle in college is simple. You have 1 year. Show up to class or don't. Your choice. There is 1 test at the end. Pass and you advance.

The demonizing of teachers and the lack of funds mentality we pass on to our kids is showing up in the classroom. The American dream is no longer attainable for the masses. It is for the smart, or the big risk takers, or the already wealthy. This too is entering the classroom. The process of education is suffering from societal apathy. It is also suffering from "it is their job to teach you" or outsourcing of responsibility mentality. It is the students' job to learn.

I know this country has an outsource mentality, but we can not outsource education to be delivered outside the classroom. The outsource mentality is that someone else will do the grunt work ... the jobs no one wants to do. We don't have that problem in the classroom. Teachers like teaching. Ask them. They will tell you and in the process will invariably mention: "well, its not for the money". And they are correct. They enjoy the process as much as the material. They want their students to be successful.

At the least Khan is identifying issues in the classroom and pointing out that teachers are overworked. At best he is providing some help for teachers. Whether this works for the student, I think, depends on parents.

I am surprised that no one has investigated how well tutor businesses are doing. Their business was booming in my former "affluent" educational community. We could really learn a lot by looking at the whole picture (public, private schools, tutor companies, individual tutors) instead of only addressing portions of the problem; and only then by applying band aids to stop the hemorrhage.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Education for thought

I stumbled across a working paper talking about incentives in Education through the freakonomics blog. The article basically states that incentives for teachers don't improve student performance.  It was an outlier among other studies in other countries.

The article, while a difficult read, referenced some data from the digest of education statistics which stated that student to teacher ratios were DECREASING from 17.3 in 1989 to 15.5 in 2007. It also stated that average class size was around 23 in secondary schools and 20 in elementary schools.

I find this hard to swallow, but data is data. There are obviously some things taken into account which I have no idea about. All I know is anecdotal evidence suggests that in SOME schools class sizes are increasing.

I feel out of my league here with all these stats. I am stubborn so I haven't changed my mind on what I think is wrong. But perhaps other components of education have been harmed such as student motivation and enthusiasm, poor student-teacher interactions, or overworked teachers (incentives can't solve time problems). Lets just remind ourselves that learning is up to students. Teaching is up to teachers. I wonder what teachers would say is going awry in student achievement?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Privatizing education

I have been thinking about  privatizing education, mostly because I believe this is what is behind the attack on unions.  It isn't an attack on education per se, but with how education is delivered. It is not an assault on teachers per se, it is a full scale offensive on acquiring the right to fire ALL teachers.

Getting costs on labor under control, to borrow that phrase, is an excuse to lower education costs such that states can issue vouchers. Vouchers which can be used so that students can pick the "best" schools and go to them. As if this is even a solution. Can you imagine if everyone wanted to go to the "best" school? Shouldn't they all be good? The only real option is specialization. But even the high school level is too early for specialization.

After careful consideration, I think we would end up with the same problems. Labor costs are not going to go away. More kids require more teachers. More kids require more buildings. More buildings and more teachers  require more money. Its not a labor problem. Its a population problem.

Idaho has taken some bold steps. This includes stripping tenure, increasing pay and increasing classroom size to compensate. They are also going to offer bonuses for performance. How exactly do you increase student performance while adding more students?

To borrow some of the economic terms, have these people really assessed the indirect cost? Teachers who love to teach will HAVE to work harder to maintain performance with larger class sizes. More brains in the room demand more teaching time since the old methods don't have an efficiency rating of 100 percent. May be something in the forties. Which forces an innovation component to teacher prep. This alone is time consuming because it relies more on the delivery than the long term plan. The more focus on delivery the less time you have to advance through the material you wish to teach. And the more methods you use to deliver to reach a wider audience, the more short term a teacher is forced to consider. Diminishing returns springs to mind.

The other indirect cost is the loss of older more experienced teachers. What if you have a bad year as an older teacher? Will they even consider your body of work or just label you as ineffective? Experience is difficult to quantify. There is a collective classroom management skill to consider, not to mention the skill of dealing with individual problems from student issues to teacher issues.

So without tenure or job security, what will teachers resort to? They will be virtually forced to teach testing skills to keep their job. Skills that have absolutely nothing to do with LEARNING. Education hinges on class size and quality of teachers. But sometimes you have to have bad teachers to know what good teachers do so well. There needs to be perspective. I could not possibly imagine a school where every teacher was rated as "A" level. There are just too many different learning styles and personality types and preferences for how students learn and who they learn it from.

The public model is not failing. Just our ability to cope with the actual problems of an increasing populous and rising costs.



The legislation looks more like self sabotage.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

5100 critics

UPDATE: Controversy abounds because of the journal in which it was submitted; the fact that the work did not undergo internal review; the fact that it did not pass a "more prestigious" journals' peer review.

Here is an example of unprecedented peer review work involving Dr. Richard B. Hoover, a NASA scientist, who claims to have found life in meteorites that have landed on Earth.

http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/03/05/exclusive-nasa-scientists-claims-evidence-alien-life-meteorite/?test=latestnews

I find it awesome that before the paper is published, the work will be distributed for comment to 100 scientists, while another 5000 have been invited to review the work. Dr Hoover is clearly outnumbered! But he welcomes the challenge, precisely because this is about science, and scientific discovery. He is simply looking to explain what he has found and make some sense of it. Science is a remarkable process and whatever the outcome of the peer review and comments process we are sure to learn something new.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Uncertainty and skill

I was reading about what the National Hurricane Center will be doing this year. It was quite interesting:
1. Watch lead time to 48 hours; warning lead time to 36 hours
2. The size of the cones will be based on 5 year running mean of 2/3 of track error.  The cone size radius varies in the Atlantic basin from 36 to 59 miles from 12 to 24 hours and grows about 35-40 miles per 24 hours thereafter.*

This means they have skill out to 48 hours in advance. They will be communicating actively their uncertainty via the graphical product (cones).

My foolish expectation would be to shy away from any sort of climatological cone of uncertainty and use ensemble guidance. This may not be the best option since it could provoke the so-called meteorological cancer i.e. over-dependence on models which have little value, not necessarily little skill. On the plus side it allows forecasts to be naturally consistent ... fairly certain in their ability to track where storms are, where they are going in the immediate future. To be fair the cone widens for a reason: tropical storms and hurricanes can encounter harsh or favorable environments quickly and these types of environments are hard to recognize over the ocean at longer lead times. Of course these environments can bring about changes to the inner workings of tropical storms in which case certain status quo forecasting rules may not work so well, and of course models also tend to not be spot on with hurricane intensity changes.

If nothing else, just seeing the products and how they are discussed should be interesting. It will be worth paying attention to see how the "public" reacts to be under "threat" for longer periods of time.

* I have not seen what this will look like but it will certainly be interesting!

budget impacts to schools

I have more questions than answers.
Has anyone in charge of the budget crisis given any thought to their actions from the perspective of young students or teenage students?

Villifying teachers by saying their benefits and salary are too large is just plain non-sense. Does anyone realize that teachers are on a 9 month pay schedule? Or that they work from home at least 2-3 hours per evening? And they do these things because they believe that education makes a difference in the relative success of our young people.

Do your children think about Teachers after school? Do they wonder where homework is graded, or how many classes are taught, or how many students are in their classes? Can they fathom the willing sacrifices that are made to achieve success as a teacher? Do parents teach their kids to "Walk a mile in someone elses shoes"?

If we say education matters but cut funding from schools, what does that say to kids?

 Kids are listening to what we say about education and are watching we do about education and it does not compute. They know education is important but they act like it isn't. I hope you aren't wondering where they get that from.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Uncertainty cont.

I have been able to examine the NSSL-WRF, 00 UTC and 12 UTC NAM this morning.
With regard to the trough that is forecast to be the major player, it is likely that significant severe will break out colocated with the strong forcing along the triple point, in the dry punch into MO, and then another round even later in AR.

The main uncertainty lies in OK, where my hopecast suggests storms could try to break out along the dryline. The problem is that it occurs just around 22-23 UTC when the wind profile might be considered terrible for tornadoes. The wind profiles in general become more favorable further east and later on putting the tornado threat into AR but the window for discrete supercells appears to be small. Rather a squall line of some type will form with probably the chance for embedded supercell structures.

Further south however, there are better wind profiles, but the cap is somewhat stronger. The 00 UTC NSSL-WRF forms a squall line there as indicated by the synthetic satellite imagery.

I don't have a good intuitive feel for what may occur given some of the wind profiles I have seen. I do think the overnight models will struggle as they are typically too far east with any convection. They also struggle to produce individual storms ... will only produce storms in stronger forcing. The resolution of the models, the tendency to produce weaker lapse rates, etc all contribute to the storm bias. That said, the main threat appears to Normans east (Tulsa area and north), northwest (along the triple point), and southeast (secondary dry punch). There is still a chance for central OK. It all depends on if any storms attempt to go up along the dryline, which ultimately depends on the relative balance between the depth of moisture in the warm sector and the cap strength.

I am hoping that LMN and OUN will launch 21 UTC soundings, and maybe 18 UTC soundings so we can really examine the wind profile evolution as well as the cap. This will be a good case for analysis either way as it is a strong forcing case that is highly dependent on mesoscale details that our models may not get correct.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Uncertainty foci

1. The trough in question is still only half over the upper air network, thus there is uncertainty in its exact structure. It appears to be currently moving more south than east but that trend may be shifting to more east.

2. I found a website to scrutinize the 3 hourly soundings from the NAM. It turns out the cold air advection over OK around 00 UTC may actually be a reflection of a boundary layer deepening up to 550 hPa at KGAG! Thus while it is getting cooler aloft, it does not necessarily imply a forcing mechanism for ascent. Note that 3 hours later, descent is implied from the inversion yielding net warming in the same layer while the boundary layer significantly cools.  The exact role this feature plays remains uncertain.

3. Soundings from central OK show a very shallow moist layer and cap aloft which although weakens some remains strong until after 03 UTC. This is saying a lot since the previously mentioned odd double low level jet is clearly playing a big role in the development of deep moisture. Its even difficult to get moisture into KLZK under this scenario.

Severe weather potential

Interesting forecast shaping up for tomorrow evening. Somewhat strong trough will move into OK tomorrow bringing with i the chance for significant severe weather to central and eastern OK and continuing eastward overnight.

The more certain portion of the forecast is the later period late Sunday night when it appears probable that a severe MCS/squall line will tear up parts MO, AR, LA again. I think its likely as more time will allow for more moisture to advect northward in what amounts to me to be an odd linkage between a pre-existing low level jet well east of the effects of the trough and the trough. The apparent phasing of the two will occur later sunday evening. These highly dynamic environments lead to some interesting MCSs.

The early part of the threat in central OK is less certain. To me, at the moment, the most interesting part of the forecast is that the features of interest appear to slow down before entering it the Plains, then speed up once they do. This makes for a confusing scenario. The prominent features I see this morning are the dryline in western OK, the dryline warm front intersection in NW OK, and the rather strong 700 hPa cold advection over the dryline all at 00 UTC. Now, I have no idea what to expect in this type of slow then fast large scale regime. This fact alone adds uncertainty for my limited experience of significant severe weather in OK during Feb.

What is not clear is if the cold advection aloft will be enough to remove the cap, and if the instability will be large enough to be realized. We just had some rain followed by cold temperatures, and soil water fractions are high apparently. The last 10 and 30 day rainfall maps show that western OK is dry and eastern OK has seen around 2+ inches. So it is possible that strong sensible heating will take place on Sunday in areas that are drier ahead of the dryline. Will this actually matter? I will tell you on Monday.

The other major issue is how the dryline and shear align. At the moment the mean wind for sunday evening appears to be from the SW and the dryline is oriented more north-south. This angle difference will allow storms to move off the dryline. The shear vector should also orient itself across the dryline but the magnitude of that angle will be very important to storm mode.

I guess my inclination at this moment are that all the necessary ingredients can be found, it will be a matter of how they come together and when that will occur and for how long. For now, at least, it is important to get that moisture screaming northward. I could use a good storm chase.

A lot will change. But I think there is a chance for supercells. I am uncertain where convective initiation will occur, and where severe storms will get going, and what that initial mode will be. I will evaluate the Short range ensemble Forecast (SREF) when the 15z run becomes available later this afternoon.  Really this is just me getting my thoughts ramped up ... otherwise known as situational awareness.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trying not to lose

http://www.spacenews.com/policy/110208-house-earth-science-funds-manned-spaceflight.html

The point of the article is a bunch of lawmakers who want to reorient NASA back to human spaceflight. They will do this by taking climate monitoring funding, referred to in the article as global warming funding, away.

I believe a policy like this does 3 things: gives lawmakers the power to control research directions (even if only on this one particular goal), it hurts the climate monitoring via satellite initiatives that we sorely need, and it presumes to send humans back to the moon via, I assume, the constellation program.

I don't think the moon is a good goal and I really like that commercial space transport and delivery is making significant accomplishments via SpaceX and Orbital Technologies. This is good but not great news, since I doubt these companies will profit much. I think we need to think big like Mars. The challenges Mars poses are grand. Materials science, engineering, biochemistry, chemistry, biology, psychology, psychiatry, nanotechnology, etc will all need to be utilized in a major way. It could be the sputnik moment. Of course, the obvious problem is that a Mars trip is one way, right now. And that is why the moon is the next "best" thing.

The satellite issue is important since both weather and climate rely on satellite monitoring. Satellite development is long and expensive but it pays in science even though it costs a ton. The most exciting in my mind is soil moisture which the US has not been able to do, but the Europeans have. Why does NASA do satellites and climate monitoring? Because its a natural fit. They build them, launch them, and monitor them. No other agency is qualified to do that.

The controlling of research dollars and directions by lawmakers ...well...I don't care to comment on that at the moment. These are people trying to save jobs at home to guarantee continued employment for their constituents. But really it aligns with their re-election priorities and that's why it makes more sense to them. The status quo is desirable for jobs and who can blame them. Keep what you have so you don't have to risk asking for money for new job development in your region. especially in a floundering economy.

I don't really have a good sense that this budget stuff will help without a reorganization of our goals ... both public and private. I like slogans like "win the future" because really what we have been doing is trying not to lose. We need high risk high reward activities and they cost money. It will take money and the will to take big risks. But trying not to lose is not working.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Meteorological data

UPDATE: Remember when I said there are some missing data? Yeah. Only for the case I want to analyze. The exact 16 hours I most wanted. Funny that the operational data that is saved all over the place has more observations than the archived ASOS data at NCDC. Redundancy is an important part of data archival.

I am analyzing a particular case and have been looking at the unique observations that the Oklahoma mesonet collects. I want to add to this huge data source. Therein lies the issue. Merging data sets is quite a task. Of course the fancier one gets, the more trouble there is.

Recently the NWS added many stations to its list of archived, 1 and 5 minute ASOS data. It is a decent dataset even if it is spatially sparse. The issue is the format. Now regular hourly and special observations get transmitted in METAR format. There is a nice decoder written for GEMPAK which processes this data. I would say it is awesome but it is suitable. What makes it better is that it retains the whole METAR data string for subsequent data mining. This ensures that some of the metadata (+TSGRFC, PRSFR, etc) are not lost.

However, the potential research quality dataset currently being archived at NCDC undergoes no quality control and the files can have transmission problems. It also suffers because if the data are not relayed in time, the data is lost. Thus one must process the data and visually inspect for issues. I did this many years ago as part of my PhD training for the BAMEX field project and it was a nightmare to write code to process the 1 minute data. I ended up having multiple Fortran codes to deal with some of the transmission problems, formatting problems or missing data.

The five minute data are stored in METAR format, but not exactly METAR form. I would think someone could process the minute data into a quality 5 minute data set with a decent, readable format and provide some measure of quality control. (I will share my code which reads the data. ) This could be an interesting data set. As it is now it is difficult to work with, but not impossible. I heard that the community was trying to organize a network of networks for surface data. I hope they succeed and I hope they model whatever they do with the successful components of the Oklahoma Mesonet, MesoWest, and the  Iowa Environmental Mesonet.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Brief Comment on Climate Change

I read this today:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/07/opinion/07krugman.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail0=y

I think Krugman makes a good point. It is one I have written about before.

Let me say that I don't know if "crisis" is the correct word to use. Higher prices, sure, but not relative to 2007. Economies are more sensitive to weather, absolutely. And as I blogged a few days ago, under the type of climate change I believe we are in, the variability increases with respect to extremes (floods and droughts, heat waves and cold spells, etc). Whether this increased variability would occur under different climate states or different rates of change of climate states, I don't know.

The point is that this type of global weather impact can not only be disruptive and expensive, it points out how vulnerable we are to climate change. This problem will only get worse as more people require more food. Human expansion has also resulted in the fading away of the family farm, and as the current global economic crisis continues more farm subsidies will be on the chopping block as budgets get reigned in. Thus it is the human-earth system that we need to understand. I know first hand that many groups are working on these challenges both academically and through the government.

It will be a while before we know if this is the "first taste" of our vulnerability but I strongly doubt it was. Debate will rage as economic, agricultural, and climate and weather related issues all conspire in various degrees. What is clear is that we remain vulnerable. Technology may have helped in the last 90 years, but it won't save us.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

NSSL WRF performance over OK

I grabbed some 2 meter temperature forecasts from NSSL's WRF 4 km model simulation from 00 UTC 5 February 24 hour forecast to compare with what happened on Saturday.

The model did not do terribly well but it highlighted the issue with snowpack. Lets go to the pictures:

The images depict the 2m temperature in 2 hour increments from 18 to 22 UTC; with the 22 UTC image being the warmest time of this day. What stands out is the warm air over the TX panhandle which does not expand rapidly into OK. Just east of the OK panhandle it warms rapidly, but it does not expand and penetrate eastward. Over OK, the cold patch, which aligns perfectly with the storm total snowfall and thus snow pack, does not appreciably change shape but it does warm a bit. Clearly the model had a poor representation of the snow cover, both in areal extent and depth.

From the previous post, the high temperatures even over the deep snow pack near Tulsa in the core of the model cold patch, got to near 40F ... a difference of 20 F!

The situation eases later as night arrives by 00 UTC. Below are the 24 hour forecast from the model and the initialization from the next cycle.
The differences between these 2 images is difficult to discern but they are still large, because of the eastward shift of the OK cold patch and the eastward extent of warmer air. This is an interesting case where I would expect this type of model to perform better. Diagnosing the evolution of the snow pack and the low level temperature tendencies both aloft and from within the model physics (boundary layer scheme) should shed some light on why the model performed poorly.