Sunday, September 25, 2011


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?

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 (

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.