Saturday, October 3, 2009

Up All Day

When Ski Season is about to begin, or is in full swing, I'm up all night. During my Off Season, I join the masses...sleeping at night, in the dark, as God intended. I'm up right now, like the Sun.

There's been a little more chatter about our Star these past few months than I usually hear...Granted, my interests are more Sun-Centric than your garden variety Everyman's. I dig Radio, I have since I was just a little boy. Once I became a Groomer, radio took on a more important place in my work life. Groomers communicate by radio, and groomers listen to radio to enliven our workspace. The state of the Sun has much influence on radio here on Earth. Every band can be affected by Solar Activity. When the Sun is hyperactive, say near the peak of it's Sunspot Cycle, radio waves can carry Worldwide with very little radiated power. The Sun, when really churning, excites the Ionosphere, turning it into a mirror for Radio Waves.

Over the years, I've heard Low Power Ham Radio stations from the other side of the world as clearly as if they were a 50,000 Watt "Blowtorch" AM Station in the next town. I heard a sailor by Ham Radio, transmitting aboard his small sailboat from South of Tahiti, using his Backstay as his antenna. I listened to him over a space of four or five days, as he worked the local (to him, in the South Pacific) cruiser nets.

Cruiser Nets are Ham Radio or Marine SSB Networks of boats cruising waters across the world. Every Sea popular with Cruising Sailors has one or more Radio Nets. Baja California, for example, has several Cruiser Nets, where cruisers check in daily to report on their location, the sea state, local weather observations, and other data of interest to cruisers in the area. These nets meet every day at the same hour, and often feature a detailed weather report. After the weather report, and once everyone on the net checks in, then specific traffic between boats on the net is arranged to pass communications between themselves and land stations, or make telephone calls over the air using a radio/phone patch.

Before I got on the internet, I would monitor the Sonrisa Net from Baja as part of my annual run-up to our October Baja Fishing Expeditions. Tango-Papa, a Ham from SoCal did the Weather Report daily from his van parked in the parking lot of his place of employment. Tango-Papa was deservedly a legend in Ham and Cruiser circles. He was quite the character, and a joy to listen to. He's been written up several times in "Latitude 38", San Francisco Bay's Free Sailing Monthly.

Closer to home, I've come to rely on my "Police Scanner" during the season. Properly named "Wide Band Receivers", scanners are radios that can search for radio traffic in the Business Mobile Bands, like Ski Resorts and Towing Companies use. Local law Enforcement, Fire Departments, Local Municipality Snow Removal Crews, Rail Roads and CalTrans Operations can all be heard in the clear once you know their assigned frequencies. This is instant, up to the minute intelligence, that makes getting to and from work during Storm Periods much less hassle.

My little hand-held scanner can listen to 500 stations at a time, tuning in the station that's active now, and returning to scan mode once the frequency is clear of traffic. I can listen to the NWS Weather Radio too, though I don't Scan the frequency because weather Radio transmits non-stop, so I wouldn't hear any other Comms. I turn the scanner on when winter weather begins, and turn it off once the season winds down. During the off season, I'll turn it back on if there are any wildfires nearby.

To recap, the long distance comms like the Cruiser Nets are High Frequency (HF) also known as Short Wave. The scanner listens to VHF and UHF bands, and these comms typically are short distance, line of sight services. The HF Comms depend on the Sun to excite the Ionosphere, so the 100W or less signal can skip around the world by "bouncing off" the ionosphere.

The Sun can on occasion, have an effect on local VHF traffic too, especially in the Tropics. When the Sun heats the tropical waters in local Summer and Fall, lots of thunderstorm-style clouds build. These banks of thunder storm clouds sometimes act like an excited ionosphere, reflecting radio waves over long distances. The phenomena's is name "Tropospheric Skip", and radio waves from very low powered transmitters sometimes are heard thousands of miles away from their source.

So what about all the Solar Chatter I've been aware of lately? The Sun is quiet...too quiet. After a couple of Sunspots transited the face of the Sun last week, the Sun is once again without Sunspots. Scientists say 2009 is Seventh on the list of Least Annual Sunspots. Of the past 100 years, 2008 ranks #2 and so far, 2009 is in 6th. I haven't fired up my Shortwave radio lately, but I doubt I'd be hearing anything from the other side of the planet. These are probably frustrating times for HF Hams.

Climate Scientists cite another effect of the Quiet Sun, the Sun's Magnetic Field is way down too. The Sun's Heliosphere deflects most of the Cosmic Rays that find their way into the Inner Solar System where we reside. This Study reports the Cosmic Rays reaching Earth are up 19% over the past 50 years.

Cosmic Rays are responsible for cloud formation world wide, and increased clouds result in a cooling climate World Wide. Increased Cloud Cover may be responsible for a Dramatic Cooling Event in 2007/2008

Now that you don't need to learn Morse Code to get a HF Ham License, I hope we're not in for a serious Solar Minimum. When I get my HF Ham Ticket, I want to Talk Back to that Cruiser in the South Pacific!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Up All Night

After I became habituated to GraveYard Shift, and once I had enough hours in my Cat to relax a little, I began to wonder what all the stars overhead were all about. I've been a "Space Nut" since NASA began blasting American Astronauts into Space. Astronomy was another science that I paid little attention to until I was twenty-one years old, and Comet Kohoutek promised to light up the night sky.

In the Bay Area of the early 70's, a whole Kohoutek Community blossomed, pending the coming of the Amazing Comet. Art Shows were staged, and art galleries were chock-full of comet-themed works. My friends and I attended several concerts performed by an ambient music artist (who's name isn't important) on a home-made instrument named "The Cosmic Beam"

The Cosmic Beam was 10 or 12 feet across and had piano strings strung from end to end, the artist had it draped in Persian Rugs and silk scarves, beads and the like. Various percussion pieces were integrated into the whole "Meta Instrument". We heard it at a few different venues, but I only remember the "Hippy Catholic Church" on the Cal-Berkeley Campus. Somehow, the organic architecture of the Church coupled with the otherworldly sounds of The Cosmic Beam etched an indelible memory in my mind, that's always aligned with Comets in my mind's database.

Hippies loved Kohoutek, so did "Hippy-Come-Lately" kids like me. There was something perceived as Spiritual by the Youth of the day. There was a palpable electricity in the air, leading up to Kohoutek's Big Show. Journey recorded a song on their debut album named "Kohoutek", the comet inspired the cover art of Weather Report's "Mysterious Traveler" album, and I'm sure many others.

Kohoutek was a complete fizzle, a no-show in fact. It was just an all around failure...Hippy Spirits were dashed, and along with them, any interest I'd had in astronomy went dormant.

Flash forward twenty-three years and another Mysterious Traveler awakened my latent astro-interests, Comet Hyakutake.

As it happened, Hayakutake was the Icing on the Cake for me. One of my crew had a deadbeat room-mate who skipped town owing their portion of the monthly bills. Said roomie left some dirty laundry, and an abandoned, abused telescope. My guy offered it to me, and I took it home.

I think I got the little 'scope the winter after Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 impacted Jupiter in 1993. It's a Celestron C-90, an old orange one, that had a broken finder scope mount, and it was missing the diagonal and eye piece. I made a roadtrip off the mountain to visit Lumicon in Livermore to pick up a diagonal prism, and a 26mm Plossl eye piece. The next week, I took my telescope with me on a visit to ChicoDupre's place and I saw Jupiter's Galilean Moons for the first time. These are the moons that Galileo first observed in 1610. Who knew I'd get so much joy from seeing those moons! Even today I get a thrill when I see them, in fact my ardor for them is such that whenever I see Jupiter, my Mind's Eye thinks it sees them unaided by optics at all!

The first comet to visit after I had the telescope online was Comet Hale-Bopp, a beautiful twin-tailed visitor that had comet freaks all abuzz before it was forever tied to the Heaven's Gate Cult Suicide.

Art Bell's radio shows around Hale-Bopp time were really entertaining...lots of Tinfoil Hatters calling in with predictions of Extraterrestrial Mother Ships hitch hiking behind the comet, and other fantastic beliefs enlivened the nights leading up to the tragedy in SoCal and the comet's closest approach. Hale-Bopp had two tails, one white, one bluish...a stunner.

Hyakutake made it's entrance the following winter. It made the kind of appearance that we'd hoped Kohautek would make. On the night of it's closest approach, I was working on the Mountain, and the skies were crystal clear.

I planned my night so I'd have the fullest view of the sky around lunch time. As it worked out, I was having trouble keeping my eyes open about then, so I pulled up to my spot, and doused all the lights, reclined the seat and called one of the crew for a call back in 15 minutes. The Cat-Nap did the trick, and I woke up just before the radio call-back. I was in a Bombardier 275, and I had the Driver's Window open. Awakening with my night vision fully in force, I focused on Hyakutake thru the open window. I had to step outside to see the whole tail! It was the "Mysterious Traveler" Album Cover come to life, minus the dawn colors in the sky! What a sight...I was warmed by Pure Joy at the sight...I'll never forget it.

Saturday night is the Harvest Moon, Jupiter is up now too. Jupiter's Big Red Spot will be in full view with a decent telescope, dark skies and "good seeing" Good seeing is a stable atmosphere over the observing site.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Chain Controls

September is gone now, but Mother Nature got her licks in as the month ended. Tonight's Bay Area 10PM News shows had video of snowplows working on the Mount Rose Highway. Chain controls were in effect over the top of Mt Rose Summit. The 11PM News had video of Boreal Ridge, where they fired up some snowmaking fans overnight, making a few patches of ManMade on Gunnar's Run for the cameras. All on the last night of September.

Hearts are aflutter, and newbies on the mountain didn't get much sleep overnight. I remember that giddiness from a few decades ago. Not much responsibility back then to keep my feet on the ground, staying 'till last call at the local watering hole reveling in the turn of the weather, and the day off due to the snowfall. It was an occasion, after all, to be celebrated! Not a care in the world, maybe time to get a Chain Control Pool together at the Highway Lodge Bar.

Those Chain Control Pools seemed so Big and meaningful then, though they were just a part of the Fall Rituals, that turned our heads towards wintertime pursuits. Rituals are respite from the months or more of cutting, splitting, hauling and stacking cord upon cord of firewood. When I lived on Donner Summit, firewood was a Summer/Fall project. We'd cut firewood a couple evenings a week after work, hauling it home every time we made a truckload, and in time we had a small mountain of firewood along side the cabin.

In fall, we'd bring home the hydraulic splitter and split and stack the dozen or so cords that would see us through Winter. They say "Firewood warms you twice"...Clearly, "they" obviously never did their own firewood...there's plenty of hot, sweaty work involved...several warm-up cycles worth, in fact.

Another month from now, the next step in the Fall Ritual Cycle is the return to Standard Time. Spring Forward, Fall Back is the mnemonic, and it used to coincide with the other Major Fall Ritual, Halloween, but Washington DC didn't see fit to leave well enough alone, and meddled with the timing of Daylight Savings Time a few years back. The idea was to save a little more energy, and tip the hat to saving the Planet at the same time. Studies say more energy is used lighting and heating the dark hours at schools and homes around the country since the change...oh well, they meant well...

The first snow always gets everyone's attention in the mountains, Winter's coming...get ready! The racing hearts always give way to the reality that ski season isn't likely to really open before Thanksgiving. It's rare that any Mountain opens before the last week of November...except Boreal Ridge. Boreal strives to turn their one lift over an acre or two of ManMade snow in time for Night Skiing on Halloween Night, and the Live Remote News cameras.

It's another Fall's Celebrated, really...on the Mountain anyway.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Change Has Come Today

So, I'm running a little behind today. I've gotten plenty of sleep, and I've fully recovered from the Driveway Project, but I guess I'm just synchronizing with the seasonal changes in Daylight and Darkness...I've always said I'm Solar Powered.

Mother Earth has been busy over the past two days! Some big earthquakes out in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and (this just in) South America. Closer to home, the first Autumnal Cold Front moved through NorCal and into Northern Nevada providing a little shower action overnight.

Here in the Inland Valley, the temperature is down close to 30F. I'm spending a little more tme than usual surfing the net this morning...putting off the Garage Clean-Up until it warms enough to go with shorts and a T-shirt.

There's more noise about the weak El Niño slated for the early Winter Season. Clearly it exists, the Atlantic Hurricane Season almost rates a No-Show for 2009, a statistically significant indicator of an El Niño out our way.

Bloomberg reports that Heating Oil Futures are up today, most likely in response to this Report.
The Markets are nervous of late, though it's more likely Politics than Weather that have the Traders wound up. I won't have much to ponder until the October 15th 90 Day Climate Discussion is published. It's all just noise until enough data is in to run the models and make a forecast, anyway.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Snowmaking 101F

It's damn hot here in the Inland Valley. I won't lie, I'm still bone tired from my driveway work, and the heat isn't helping. One more day, and SturgeUrge and I hit the waters of San Francisco Bay for another Halibut Hunt...should be cool, though reports aren't that anyway.

Looking at the Forecast Discussion is like hearing the proverbial stuck record. Same old, same old...the Bay Area Summer Forecast Mantra. There should be enough wind Monday to keep us cool in the afternoon...let's hope the halibut are hot to trot.

I could use some Snowmaking Temperatures! The radio weather tease said we wouldn't even get into the 60's over night here. Iced coffees and Czech-style Pilsner aren't gettin' the job done tonight, either. I clicked up to the Reno NWS Discussion, hoping just maybe I could feel some relief.

Well, change is afoot in the High Country. A Fire Weather Watch is up for Monday owing to gusty winds associated with an approaching Cold Front. Some records fell Saturday for High Temps, but the models say a big cool down begins Monday and Tuesday in the mountains. The Weather Guy said the cold front probably would not bring any thunderstorm activity, though showers are possible when the mercury drops another 15F into Tuesday. The High Country is Scary Dry right now, so some rain without lightning would be a Godsend.

Snowmaking crews across the Central Sierra have to be getting the itch. In just a couple of weeks, truckloads of Air Compressors will start arriving at Ski Resorts, crews will be recalled from their Summer Pursuits, and the Preseason will begin. Inventory will be taken again, hoses and fittings will be checked, valves and hydrants serviced and sensor packages will be deployed. Software upgrades will be installed and crew schedules will be penciled in...Then the Waiting will Begin.

At first, the waiting is for Mother Nature to cool enough to get everyone excited. Once this happens, the waiting becomes the Wait for the Cooling Trend. Once the Cold Trend is established, then the crew will spread guns and fans, and hoses around the mountain, ready for the first shot at making snow for the season. Then they're really, really... waiting.

I don't know how definite the Cooling Trend will be this Fall. Based on the variability of the past six weeks, I'd say trends won't be obvious right away. The past weeks have been full of wild, unexpected swings in our weather, with never enough time for changes to organize into a trend.
Tonight both Monterey and Reno NWS Offices say next week will be very Fall-Like.

Here in the Inland Valley, the 11PM Weathercasts are all trumpeting a cool-down by Tuesday/Wednesday. The models have been running and running, and they must all be starting to agree on the timing of our first big Fall cool-off...I hope they're right...I'm waiting too...