Saturday, December 31, 2011

Howl

I saw the best snow of my season destroyed by madness,
melting hysterical naked,
dragging crystals through elite trails at dawn,
looking for a freezing fix...

With my apologies to Mr Ginsberg...

I'm almost reeling from the emotional beating My Mountain meted out last night, or rather Mother Nature's indifference meted out on my innocent self.  After a humbling night...tiptoeing around what's left of My Mountain, I felt like I was slinking outta there this morning at 0830...I may be taking all this a little too personally...

I grabbed a couple of things at the market and took refuge in the DaveCave.

After I steamed up a pair of Caspers Famous Hot Dogs (with everything-hold the relish) for lunch, I heard the bluster of increasing winds outside. Before long the Tweets started coming in...

@SkiNorthstar: "It's snowing in the Village at !"

@sugarbowl1939: "It's snowing! We need your help to keep it around - do your snow dance!"

@skialpine: "It's snowing ! Everyone, share your pics! "

@skihomewood: "It is at Homewood! WooooHooooo! Who's excited?"

Is this My Salvation? Probably not. Freezing temps will however, improve my world by orders of magnitude. The snow will improve everyone's mood and outlook, even if it won't be measured in feet...

To sleep, perchance to dream...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Hot To Trot

 NOT!

It was kind of muggy today in Truckee...too warm...too gray and too overcast...thankfully, no rain fell from the clouds. My Mountain hasn't been below freezing in three nights. I'm going to work tonight loaded with trepidation. I'll keep an eye peeled for a half-full glass...

The Reno AFD says a cold front is coming to visit Friday morning...all the TV weatherpeople have been teasing rain chances almost all week. I feel their pain...

Reno says what little moisture there is to this system will stay north of Reno and Tahoe. Rain may fall as far south as Susanville and Gerlach.

I'll be remembering The Prime Directive...do no harm.

9:37AM Update:
Arrgghhhh! I won't put a gun to my temple...I won't put a gun to my temple...I won't put a gun to my temple...the wind is out of the West...still warm...

My Mountain is Totalled! Rain and fog overnight Wednesday undid twelve days of spot-on grooming...hurry Winter! Better yet....hurry freezing temps!  C'mon Arctic Oscillation....phase change...for everyone! Pleeze?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Heat Wave

OK, this is getting ridiculous...I raised a sweat Wednesday, and I was standing still! In a short sleeve T-shirt and long nylon "running pants". I was standing next to the fuel pump at the Sparks COSTCO filling up the car. I could feel the weight of the Temperature Inversion, and you could see the compressed wood smoke/smog layer laying fetid across the Truckee Meadows.

Smog is probably the wrong word if I'm going to be precise...it's probably been a decade or more since I've seen genuine smog in America. Smog implies emissions of pollutants from manufacturing, transportation, and power generation. I recalled real smog Tuesday morning when I watched SpeedTV's replay of April's Chinese Grand Prix, and I was reminded of the horrific scenes from the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics.

The long outdoor shots from Beijing were frightening...during the bicycle road races, I feared for the health of the competitors! This year I saw similar smoggy views from the Grands Prix in South Korea and the new India Grand Prix near New Delhi.

Reno's wood smoke layer paled however to the fantastic vista of clouds hugging onto the peaks of the Carson Range, under towering stacks of lenticular clouds looking like impossibly huge science fiction pagodas. I would not have been surprised to see spacecraft whizzing to and fro like a scene from a STAR WARS Sequel! Backlit by the high clouds it was an awesome tableau..I kicked myself for leaving my camera at the DaveCave.

I rolled back up the Truckee River canyon, and caught a glimpse of the old Lincoln Highway on the north side of today's Interstate 80 near Floriston. As I climbed the hill to the Martis Valley, there were flurries evident over the Sierra Crest. Sadly they were falling over Tinker's Knob, midway between Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley USA...not that they would produce measurable amounts of snow anyway...again it was a missed photo-op...and of course, it missed all the ski areas.

Back at the DaveCave, I stowed the groceries and worked for an hour on the pickup's distributor project before I washed up and laid on the bed for a minute...I woke up at 9PM and pondered dinner...home made pizza? NY Steak on the BBQ? I woke up again at 1:39AM

I was itchin' to write today's blog. I quickly scanned my social sites. Jeweler Facebook-ed that tonight was his first night back in his tractor. I toured the webcams and remote sensors...no joy...another night of tall temps in Snowmaking City. The Tahoe Basin has been flirting with record high afternoon temps for three days. and it's forecast to continue for a couple more days. Three days remain of December, it looks like Reno will record it's driest December since 1883!

I'd be lying if I said all this waiting on Mother Nature wasn't taking it's toll on my psyche...for solace, I looked at the sober Tahoe Weather Discussion Blog...I was comforted...check it out, good news may be on the horizon. He's a one-stop-shop worthy of a bookmark.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pick Up Sticks

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all thro' the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse...

Well, my traditional Christmas observance has passed...making corduroy on My Mountain as Santa makes his rounds...as always it was a quiet night...enlivened only by the miracle that Jobs made, the iPod.

Radio is dominated by Christmas music on Christmas Eve and Christmas Night. I like a little blast of Yuletide Tunes, but eight hours two nights in a row kills the mood, don't you think?

After a little carol time, I tuned into the Tinfoil Hat Set's fave show, Coast to Coast AM (Art Bell's old show)...not much to hold my interest there, so I deployed the iPod.

I listened to a nice album of Frank Sinatra covers "Dear Mr Sinatra" by John Pizzarelli with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, and Steely Dan's 2003 studio gem "Everything Must Go" before catching up on some podcasts of my favorite radio shows.

There's one thing about podcasts...there's no news at the top and bottom of the hour...if there is still news that wasn't edited out, it's old enough not to be news anymore. After two nights and two days of this I end up a little news-starved...even during Christmas news happens, and I'm nothing if not a junky for news.

There's Phobos/Grunt news, it began to trickle out again on the Winter Solstice a couple of days before Christmas. At the time, I posted my Quick Phobos/Grunt Update 5. Universe Today fills in some more blanks and covers the possible recovery of the Planetary Society's Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment (LIFE)

Should Phobos/Grunt's debris land in Afghanistan as USSTRATCOM predicts, finding the intact LIFE experiment would be a small victory...the little package is designed to survive the heat of reentry, and sustain a 4000G impact, so a miracle is theoretically possible.

Speaking of impacting space debris, there's more on the Siberian fellow who's roof was penetrated by falling parts of Roscosmos' latest launch failure. After escaping with his life because he was out of his easy chair hauling in an armful of firewood, the homeowner fixed the roof himself while authorities wrangled over exactly who would repair the damage.

A Russian Proton rocket had troubles on the launch pad Monday. Fortunately the launch was aborted and the spacecraft is in for repair before it's rescheduled launch.

In my neighborhood, several Lake Tahoe Basin towns flirted with record high afternoon temperatures for Boxing Day. Truckee missed tying the 1976 record of 56°F by a single degree. South Lake Tahoe tied their 1976 record, and Reno will be flirting with record highs Friday and Saturday. Still no relief in sight on the snowfall front...sigh...

The Locals are getting restless and starting to talk. The Sierra Storm King weighs in, and the Sacramento Bee wonders, "Where's the Sierra Snow?"

Sadly, pioneering Surf Swell Forecaster and founding genius of Surfline.com, Sean Collins passed away Monday in Southern California...Godspeed to a true meteo-pioneer.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quick Phobos/Grunt Update 5

Space watchers around the world are starting to pay attention to Phobos/Grunt as it's end draws near.

Australia's News Headlines: "Toxic Space Invader: Failed Mars Probe Phobos-Grunt could crash land in Australia"

USSTRATCOM's prediction for an Afghanistan reentry on January 14th is making news, with the Russian Space Agency saying 200 kilograms of debris in 20-30 pieces could reach Earth's surface.

Here we go again...I think I'll just keep my hard hat hanging on my hat rack. Valentine's Day? Really?

Stay tuned, Folks!

Phobos/Grunt Lost In the Holiday Shuffle

With Christmas crowds on My Mountain, chores around the DaveCave, and Holiday closures, lots of stuff that interests me has escaped through the cracks this week.

After I took Christmas Night off when lack of snowmaking temps lightened the work load, I returned to the DaveCave around 0100, and started looking for some Phobos/Grunt news...it's been quiet all week...too quiet...

Roscosmos, the Russian Space Agency continues to struggle. Friday, a Soyuz rocket carrying a Russian military communications satellite failed during it's third stage rocket burn, and crashed in Siberia. Ironically, some debris landed on a house on Cosmonaut Street!

On the Phobos/Grunt front, not much new was forthcoming until today. Russia's National News Agency, RIA Novosti reports that USSTRATCOM says Phobos/Grunt will reenter over Afghanistan on January 14th, around 2:22PM PST

I'm not a rocket scientist, but the Sun has been stirring a bit of late, sunspots are appearing with greater frequency, and a Coronal Mass Ejection emanating from Sunspot 1387 will strike a glancing blow to Earth on December 28th. While not a "Killshot" by any means, the M4 class flare will cause auroras over the poles, and may puff up the atmosphere enough to increase drag on Phobos/Grunt, and hasten it's orbital decay.

CorduroyPlanet's Phobos/GruntWatch is anxious to fire up after the New Year's Celebrations!

Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Joyeux Noël à tous.

In what I hope isn't a new Christmas ritual, I was awakened by little Randy's screams of "I can't put my arms  down" over and over. I realized that "A Christmas Story" was blaring away on the Tube. "You'll shoot your eye out kid"...the newest Christmas Classic Movie is 28 years old already!

Tonight, I'll be able to avoid another less desirable Christmas Tradition...the 24 hours of Christmas Music on every radio station. Thanks to the late Steve Jobs, I'll be listening to podcasts from my favorite radio shows instead!

Another longstanding Christmas Tradition just occurred to me...like I have for almost every Christmas Eve throughout the past three decades, I'll be up on My Mountain grinding around in my BR350, while Santa is out indulging in millions of servings of milk and cookies.

Now! Air Line, now! Water, now Ratnik and Snow Fan.
On! Tiller, On! Pumphouse, On! Snomax and Bison.
Now Dash away! Dash away! Dash away all.

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas to one and all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Shopping

I don't have a big Christmas Shopping List. There are no little children in our family, so we adults have downsized the gift exchange. I've been making presents for the family for the last few years.

When my Dad took ill a few years ago, I became the Thanksgiving Chef for the family. Aside from Mom's famous jello ring salad, there was no paper trail to Thanksgiving Feast Nirvana.

Now Dad was no Galloping Gourmet, but he did enjoy making the Thanksgiving turkey feast. The feast was Dad's culinary Mt Olympus...but no known recipes survive him. I never saw a scrap of paper in the kitchen while he joyously prepared the bird and all the fixins.

I found my recipes in my email inbox! I subscribed to "Fine Cooking" magazine from their first issue, and for several years before I didn't renew as part of the simplification jag I got on when I moved to the DaveCave. When the magazine came to the internet, I signed up for their weekly newsletter, and many of the key recipes I used came from their Thanksgiving newsletter that first year. Without exception, they were all a hit.

The next Thanksgiving was our first without Dad. The recipes I'd printed from the ,magazine's website were lost in the shuffle. Fine Cooking's website evolved into a membership site, and I couldn't search it unless I joined and paid up. This was no way to run an airline...fortunately Thanksgiving was still a couple of months away.

The November newsletter arrived, and the recipes were no longer pay-walled. With a sigh of relief, my idea of a Family Cookbook was born. Everyone in the family got a copy for Christmas, and every Christmas since, I give new pages with new finds from Mom's recipe file, and recipes I've culled from the newspaper and my Food Channel favorite chefs. The cookbooks are looseleaf binders with a photo of Dad carving the turkey on the front, and Mom watching the show from the kitchen table on the back. I print the pages on National Geographic's Adventure Paper, which is waterproof once the printer ink dries. It's not actually paper, it's tear proof too. It's heavy and has a surface feel like velvet. I suspect it's made of spun olefin fiber similar to Tyvek housewrap.

This year's pages are the Thanksgiving recipes. Some of the Juicy ones I blogged about in November.

So I finished my shopping when I woke up a little early tonight. I won't be home for Christmas...not on the 25th anyway...I'm taking the train home from our family Christmas, when we have it later in the week.

Friday, December 23, 2011

My Dark Places

OK, here I am on my first night off of the season. I had planned to chronicle last night's shift when I punched out this morning. After sleeping on it, I've decided to protect the guilty. We made the unrecoverable mistake during shift change, and circumstances prevented us from recovering before tonight.

So I guess all the anticipation and waiting, coupled with the excitement and emotional investment since I climbed back into my BR350, catalyzed by last night's failure follies, have caused my brain's give a damn center to shut down...a temporary condition one hopes...

Given my position as a card carrying "glass half full" guy, I'm sure I'll recover full function when I get back on the hill tonight. Prime snowmaking conditions hold sway tonight, so the recovery will be complete by the time I grind past the scene of the crime.

Well then, I'm off to the grocery store for some midnight retail therapy.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Do No Harm

First, do no harm... It's a long way from Hippocrates' Classical Athens to Captain James Tiberius Kirk's 23rd Century United Federation of Planets and The Prime Directive. Whether the founding of Western Democracy, or one of it's most fully realized Science Fiction futures, the Principal endures. As it should.

The quality of early season ski trails isn't a life and death issue the way medicine or a balky warp drive can be, but those trails are My Universe, and they do seem perilously frail, given the forecast outlook and skier interest.

This season's quiescent start to the water year is unlike any season I've experienced in my 30 years on My Mountain. KCRA3's Chief Meteorologist, Mark Finan cited the record books for his 11 O'clock News Tuesday night. Mark said in the past 100 years, 19 winters started in similar fashion. Of those 19, three finally finished above normal precipitation-wise.

From my memory, I would cite the 1990/1991 Season as most like this one. Californians will remember that winter for it's "March Miracle". The season ended with about normal precip after a slow start. I have a feeling that it was the 90/91 winter that was responsible for finally bringing snowmaking to Northern California.

So here we are tonight...My Mountain is running half of it's chairs, and one fourth of it's trails...all on 100% Man-Made Snow. The AFD's say clear weather for the foreseeable future. One side effect of the entrenched blocking high off the Pacific Coast are the Temperature Inversions plaguing the Tahoe Sierra snowmaking crews. Which brings us to last night.

I pulled into the shop parking lot at the usual hour. The compressor farm was running and there was a breeze coming from the East. I donned my slicker for the walk to the shop. This was an improvement over Sunday's shift...No wind Sunday=Inversion Layer=No Snowmaking Temps.

Snowmaking was marginal at midnight. Warmish for snowmaking, the fans and guns weren't pumping much water, hence not a lot of snow was being made. As the night continued, the breeze died down, and temps slowly rose from bottom to top (classic inversion profile) until my 2-Way crackled. Jeweler wanted my advice.

We met 10 minutes later. Jeweler was looking a little tortured, his shift was turning from bad to worse. He wanted an ally to help him justify the Shutdown Call. He made his case, and ran through his laundry list of increasing negatives. I stopped him before the bitter end. "Don't make rain" I told him. "Right" replied Jeweler. We discussed the options, and I reminded him of the Prime Directive, and said we can't afford to make a mistake we that can't recover from on that shift... making rain would be that worst case mistake. Crestfallen but slightly vindicated, Jeweler transmitted the decision to his crew and rumbled into the night.

Two and a half hours after the snowmakers went home, the east winds began to freshen and the temps plummeted into the teens. As I tiptoed about the trails, I ran through the inventory of my shifts since I started back on Friday night.

Thanks to the coordinated attack of our snowmakers and groomers, I'd watched the conditions improve every night until last night. Skier Visits are holding steady at around 1000/day. 1000 happy sliders is a lot of sharp edges scraping away our precious piste. Throw in some stiff east winds and that snowpack can shrink daily. At least we held our ground last night...we didn't improve from the previous night, but we forestalled any degradation.

So that in a nutshell is our mission for the rest of the year. Hold the line...improve wherever possible...don't make any unfixable errors, and those 1000 will tell their friends about the amazing conditions at My Mountain, and 1000 scrapers daily will come and enjoy our wares.

Looking as I always do at the remote sensors, there will be great temps tonight. The winds are up, hopefully they'll stay low enough to ward off the inversion and allow us to capitalize on what the Reno AFD says will be a couple of cold dry days.

We should do fine as long as the well doesn't run dry...but that's a story for another night

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

1000 Words

I earned it this morning...it's the nature of the beast known as snowmaking.

My Mountain is open in Limited Operation due to Mother Nature's intransigence. We're running half our chairs, and two dozen trails...all on manmade snow. This is no small miracle as the weather keeping our winter storm systems at bay has also brought a pattern of temperature inversions that have made snowmaking impossible many nights...hence our limited acreage.

It's Christmas Week, so 1000 skiers and snowboarders were on My Mountain Monday...when I was logging the Grooming Updates this morning, ticket sales were 20% ahead of Monday's numbers at the same time...word is getting out, we've got good conditions...all things considered.

All those sliders confined to such limited acreage, do take a toll on our snowpack...throw in some East Winds, and a little of that snowpack escapes into the sky or into the trees where my fleet of BR350s and Bisons, and BisonXs can't retrieve it...enter Snowmaking!

Of all two dozen of our currently open trails, only two are soldiering on without nightly snowmaking. Thanks to aggressive "Summer Grooming", these trails are golf course smooth, so a good 6-8 inches of snowmaking get them in opening shape, and they stay decent as the skier traffic doesn't find any obstacles as it scrapes away our pricy piste. One groomer can groom all of these acres, plus ancillary projects in under three hours.

Over the rest of the trails, snowmaking holds sway. Weather permitting, tons of water is turned to snow, that when the planets align, falls right onto the myriad obstacles...this is a good thing!

Most of the time however, Mother Nature isn't exactly a team player, so that snow must be moved from where it falls to where it's most needed. All these machinations take time...we pray for 24/7 snowmaking conditions, but of late...were lucky to get 12 hours in. This sets up a game of Groomer's Chicken...for lack of a more refined term.

Having the mountain meticulously groomed when the lifts open at 9AM sharp, always means a little juggling to get it right. When we're making snow to cover bare ground and rocks on open trails, you want to keep the guns and fans running until the last possible second.We routinely run late enough that we sacrifice any "margin of error"...if we a machine breaks down, we're screwed.

Last night I pushed it to the limit...two minutes over the limit it turns out...when I run the crew this close to the deadline, especially during a Holiday Week, the 2-way radio comes alive with my call number...or worse, my name, as Operations starts quizzing me and reminding me of the impending deadline. This always begins 10 minutes before opening. As the deadline gets nearer, I become sort of a Morning Zoo-style DJ who can't shut up over the precious airwaves as I almost end up narrating our egress from the piste...As my crew moves down the mountain, I'm telling Operations our position, which lifts they can open safely, and out ETA to safe cover...whew!

Do 1000 words fly back and forth during our rumble to safe cover? Some mornings...Easy!

Take a look at this, it's easily worth 1000 words:

Tale Of The Tape, from Reno's NWS Office
I'm guessing I've written ten thousand words about it this fall. The forecast says this will be "The Same Old Story" until the New Year

Monday, December 19, 2011

Quick Phobos/Grunt Update 4

@SPACEFLIGHT101 reports: Attempts to fire Phobos-Grunt's engines are stopped.

"Attempts to start the Main Propulsion Unit of the Phobos-Grunt Spacecraft via direct commands from the ground have been stopped. ESA has ceased contact attempts last week and will not continue its efforts unless the Mission’s situation changes which has not been the case since our last update. During the brief period of constant sun-exposure, no contact was made with the Spacecraft suggesting that there is no chance of establishing any type of communication with the vehicle. Russian Mission Controllers have also stopped sending commands to the spacecraft that would fire its engines blindly to raise its orbit somehow. According to Russian Sources, the engine can not be fired because the vehicle’s orientation is unknown and an ignition could send the spacecraft the wrong way. Teams will continue attempts to obtain vehicle telemetry should there be any life left in Phobos-Grunt. These communication attempts via Russian Ground Stations will continue until the Re-Entry of the Spacecraft, but officials have already indicated that the Phobos-Grunt Spacecraft is lost.

The Spacecraft is currently in a 198 by 270-Kilometer Orbit inclined 51.4 Degrees. Phobos-Grunt’s decay rate is showing normal properties and is responding to solar activity which has reduced drag over several days of last week – pushing back re-entry predictions by about 24 hours. Also, the Vehicle seems to have found a stable orientation as satellite trackers did not report any new indications of obvious signs of tumbling. This is not necessarily due to the attitude control system making adjustments. Many previous re-entering spacecraft have shown a stabilization period because the vehicles achieve an aerodynamically stable position due to trace amounts of air particles that are present at these altitude levels. Official Russian Entry estimations range from January 6 to 19. Space Surveillance sources are currently predicting a January 12 (+/- 5 Days) Re-Entry."

I planned my workflow perfectly last night to put myself in optimum position to see Phobos/Grunt transit the early morning sky...alas a building East Wind brought a cloud of moist valley fog right over my position minutes before the Mag. 1.5 spacecraft was due. That wispy cloud, backlit by the waning quarter moon made seeing the dim satellite invisible to my trained eyes.

Phobos/GruntWatch will light up first week of January pending status changes in the probe's orbit.

Cool

Well Saturday night was pretty much like Friday night's shift, except I got more done, and took a 30 minute lunch break. Mostly I buried geological outcroppings (Or as we've called them for decades...rock groups- Without irony I must say)

The weather was a little too nice, I parked and only heard the sounds of snowcats far up the mountain. The silence of the rental compressor farm only confirmed my shirtsleeve temperature observation. I walked up the shop road with my jacket over my arm, quite the difference over marching into the brisk East Wind the night before.

Long story short...The snowmakers finally fired up around 0430...just barely. The persistent temperature inversion kept temps warm all over the mountain save for the lowest trails around the base areas. Snowmakers were shutting it all down at 0830...I felt their pain...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Good Night!

I just woke up from a solid 8 1/2 hours of deep sleep after 9 hours of slowly grinding around My  Mountain.

In 2 hours, I'll be checking out my tractor in preparation of doin' it all over again.

My Boss didn't lie...my trusty ol' BR350 is running like a Ferarri! In 9 hours, never once did I use max RPM or max Track Speed. Her performance belies the 9000+ hours on her clock.

All things considered, conditions were great...yes, there was more geology lurking below the thin coating of manmade snow than I'd prefer, but that's the hand we've been dealt.

I saw a great sunrise from the Top of The World, and tonight I've got a shot at seeing a pass by Phobos/Grunt, seeing that the moon is in it's last quarter. Monday morning brings a more optimum opportunity at 0615.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

That Christmas Eve Thing

It's 3PM...I've been in bed for half an hour...I'm not sleepy...I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve! My alarm is set for 9:30PM...it's my first worknight of the 2011-2012 Season! I'm sipping on a stiff eggnog, listening to some talk radio. Hopefully naptime catches up with me soon.

I just got off the phone with my Boss...things sound pretty good on My Mountain, and he says my favorite BR350 is running like a Ferarri. Furthermore, when I asked he said: "Every snowcat on the hill is in fine fettle...even the 2-Ways are all installed and transmitting".

So, this turn of events is thanks to a favorable week of snowmaking conditions, and yeoman's work from our snowmakers. It's gonna be nice seeing first hand how things look...I'm beyond bored with telepresence!

Oh, webcams, PWSs, and Remote Sensors are modern miracles of the Information Age, but when you boil it down to basics, they're just an electronic fishbowl view, akin to the Chamber of Commerce-style weather forecasts that make the forecasters and their TV weatherman customers happy at the expense of the resorts, their customers, their hard working crews, and the bean counters. There's an awful lot of beans to count when you're blowing snow around the clock and Mother Nature's not chippin' in!

Looking at the AFDs and forecasts, I don't see any change to the entrenched blocking pattern in the Eastern Pacific for another week, maybe two, maybe I don't want to think about it at all for a while...

Tonight I'm just looking forward to strapping on my groomer, looking at the Work Orders, and reacquainting myself with Grooming 101, and our snowmakers' finest!

Friday, December 16, 2011

I've Got Good News and Bad News...

Vanity Fair's Christopher Hitchens passed away Thursday evening. Dead from esophageal cancer at 62. Godspeed Hitch. Bad news indeed...I wonder if he's still an Atheist...

A Universe away, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the Environmental Impact Report for waterfront construction for the America's Cup Regatta.

The Boss called...they've made enough snow that now they need me in my snowcat this weekend!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Going Around In Cycles

Looking around the web for some kind of sign that Winter might miraculously appear on the West Coast, I found this Sacramento Bee story on our La Niña. The tone, or basic climate assumptions displayed by the reporter (and the editor...do newspapers still employ editors?) really fired me up! NOAA's "Year for the Record Books" isn't as scary as it sounds...Irene was the only hurricane to qualify in the Billion Dollar Club, most of the events are Springtime tornado outbreaks.

Incredibly, the reporter likens our "Pineapple Express" to hurricanes! By definition hurricanes are circular, well organized storms...think our weather makers on steroids.

There is hurricane news: We're enjoying a period of low intensity Atlantic Tropical Cyclone activity. In fact each day that passes sets a new record for Days Without a Major Hurricane landfall on the United States.

 This is born out by the historical reanalysis by NOAA of the hurricane records. No December forecast for next season's Hurricane Season was issued, and Colorado State University is not defending the long range models anymore. They noted:

"We strongly believe that the increases in atmospheric CO2 since the start of the 20th century have had little or no significant effect on Atlantic basin or global Tropical Cyclone activity as extensively discussed in our many previous forecast write-ups and recently in Gray (2011). Global tropical cyclone activity has shown no significant trend over the past thirty years."

I cooled off and found another Long Period Cycle turning to the Cold Side:

AMO begins negative (cold) phase "This is the first time the November value has been negative since about 1996. It appears the down cycle has started. This portends a cooler period, especially winters."

 La Niña will be weak to moderate through late Spring says NOAA's Climate Prediction Center's 90 Outlook issued today.

AO, the Arctic Oscillation is trending to the cold side, though NOAA has some problem with the data at present.

That's a lot of cold. It's probably bad news precip-wise. Cooler ocean temps mean less convection which is the pipeline that fills weather systems with moisture.

With my head filled with cool thoughts, I decided to stay awake to watch some actual falling snow. I watched the 10 O'clock and 11 O'clock News weathercasts...I watched Luc Besson's "The Fifth Element". Around 2AM I looked at the webcams and saw a little bit of dusting. I looked at my front porch...not a flake yet.

I fired up another SciFi Classic, Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" on Blu-ray I must have fallen asleep around 3AM. I woke up and looked outside a 0430...still no joy. When I looked again, there was a little dust on things, but it wasn't snowing anymore. Blazing sunlight burned through my blinds at 0830. Chain controls were up over Donner Summit for a time, but they'd been lifted in time to cause enough spinouts to cause CalTrans to hold westbound traffic for a time.

I missed the last morning weathercast on the TrainWreck News, so I found one online.


Thanks Channel 8 KOLO Reno!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Falling Back On History

I just watched the 10 O'clock News, and the 11 O'clock news, and both weathermen looked weary. They both said we'd get some showers Thursday, but they were displaying zero enthusiasm when it came to actual amounts of measurable precipitation. KCRA3's Mark Finan did say "Maybe a tenth of an inch"

I won't lie...this is starting to get to me...though it's been colder this week, temps are still favoring snowmaking only 15-16 hour of the day. So it's one of those good news/bad news things...Yes, we're making snow...no, we're not getting anywhere fast...just a long slow slog...

I've been watching it all happen of course. Thanks to the miracle of webcams and the internet, I've been keeping an eye on it from the cozy comfort of the DaveCave as I putter about straightening up the place in preparation for when I finally do get back to work.

Fortunately, I've been entertained, or rather cheered up by @RosiesWWII Twitter stream. She's started a Facebook page now for those not on Twitter. As I suspected she would, Rosie is introducing us to all the players in her life and neighborhood along with events from the war. As I think about it, I'm grateful...after all Rosie has undertaken a four plus year long project. That's quite the commitment. Love of history can motivate much.

I looked it up, this is CorduroyPlanet's 635th installment since I began back in August 2009. Amazingly, I've rarely had a hard time finding something that I needed to say, though today I didn't have one thing that excited me...I just put it in gear, and well, here we are...

Now that I think about it, it reminds me of those Russian nesting dolls with several layers like an onion...this commitment. Twitter...140 characters whenever events dictate. Since I've been tweeting, I've gained a new respect for brevity. 140 characters (spaces count against the 140) isn't much to declare a pithy thought...say pose a question and answer it.

@CorduroyPlanet started using Twitter three months after I began the blog. In the beginning, I used Twitter like I use the radio...I listen. Save for the 2-Way Radio in my snowcat, I never broadcast. I didn't really start tweeting for quite a while. Still, I mostly only tweet the link to each blog, and even there I'm not exactly clockwork...the rest of my tweets are baseball and satellite stuff...yeah, blowhard city...I made CorduroyPlanet's Facebook page about a month after I started the blog.

@RosiesWWII did the onion/layer thing the opposite way. Twitter, then Facebook, and now her blog Rosalind Sinclair where she fleshes out her tweets, posts photos, and videos.

Yeah, I guess I really had nothing tonight...would it hurt you to like Rosie's Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, or bookmark her blog?

Too many more of these slow weeks, and I might have nothing to say more often! Rosie's world could be your fall-back position...sorta pick up my slack, so to speak...OK?

Thanks for hanging in there today!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Quick Phobos/Grunt Update 3

A Ray of Hope
All's been pretty quiet on the Phobos/Grunt front, however there's still a slim chance that controllers may regain control of the spacecraft.

@SPACEFLIGHT101 reports:
Over the past week, Russian Ground Stations continued daily attempts to restore contact with the Phobos-Grunt Spacecraft and try to command its engine to start boosting it to a higher orbit. All attempts have failed and the spacecraft continues is steady path that will eventually lead it to a destructive re-entry should further attempts fail as well.

Today, ESA's Maspalomas Station has also made new attempts to make contact with Phobos-Grunt after standing down over the weekend and on Monday. After the attempts, PG’s Orbit remained unchanged, there was no engine burn. The current orbit of the stranded spacecraft is 283 by 201 Kilometers with a period of 89 Minutes.

One last spark of hope remains however: Over a period starting today at 17:00 UTC and ending tomorrow at 23:00, Phobos-Grunt will have constant sun exposure during all portions of its orbit around Earth. Should the vehicle be in working condition and sunpointing, the odds to make contact with it are much higher because PG won’t switch back and forth between safe mode in darkness and operational or contingency mode in daylight. However, it is unknown wether 1) the spacecraft is still alive and 2) it is maintaining attitude. Russian Officials have indicated that Mission Controllers do not know if the vehicle is stable.

Satellite observers have seen fair indications of tumbling earlier in December, but there are no new sighting updates from more recent observations. Mission Controllers will try to use this phase of optimized conditions and make contact attempts via two Ground Stations in Russia and Kazakhstan. It is also expected that ESA will make further attemtps to send commands to the Spacecraft via Maspalomas and/or Perth.Still, the odds of getting the spacecraft out of Low Earth Orbit remain very slim at this point in the mission."

According to Russian Sources, attempts to communicate with the spacecraft will continue on a daily basis until re-entry. Russian Officials and personnel of NPO Lavochkin, the Spacecraft Designer, have declared the mission a failure and do not see any chance of it accomplishing any of its objectives. Teams concerned with the Entry Process and any tasks associated with Entry Response have been formed. Currently, the spacecraft is expected to re-enter on January 10, 2012 +/- 5 Days.

More when I get it, Phobos/GruntWatch keeping eyes and ears open...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Spaced Out

SkyWatch
Maybe all this waiting is beginning to take it's toll...this entrenched blocking high has limited snowmaking to around 8hrs/day most of the week. Fortunately the weather allowed for good viewing of Saturday morning's Total Lunar Eclipse.

Friday morning my alarm roused me before 6AM, up early to listen to some radio hijinx. Between programs, there's lots of "dead air" on streaming internet radio. During the silence, I heard what I thought was the Landlord on the front stairs...but wait the footsteps weren't coming down the stairs...they were loitering at the top of the stairs...weird. No sound of doors opening, garage door quiet...about then it dawned on my just awakened brain...I wonder if it's a bear?!

That's when I heard Mrs Landlord yelling from the bottom of the stairs: "Hey Bear...Get Outta Here Bear...Go Away Bear...Go Bear...Go Away Bear"

Saturday morning I thought about that bear as I crested the top of those stairs a few minutes before 6AM on my way to clear skies to view the eclipse...nobody home. Full disclosure...I didn't hear any loitering sounds as I rigged my camera stuff.

It was cold enough that the car's windshield had real ice on the windshield, not just a patina of frost. I scraped enough off with a CD case to drive the two blocks to my viewing spot. There was another skywatcher already there...bundled up, he looked comfy in the bed of his pickup truck, the crossbed toolbox doing duty as sofa cushions.

I pulled over and parked, grabbed my camera and home-made SteadyCam (my tripod is down at the Ancestral Digs) It was about five minutes from totality so there was still a bright white crescent at the bottom of the Moon. My little point and shoot digital camera didn't have enough zoom...the Moon was tiny, too tiny to post here. (The images were clear though despite the long exposure time, thanks to the SteadyCam/Tripod) It was freaking cold! I knew I couldn't sit out there for an hour waiting for the Moon to get closer to the mountaintops, so I drove up to Donner Summit for a closer look.

I pulled onto Sugar Bowl's parking garage and had a magnificent view of the Moon sinking in the West. Still in totality, the smoky red hue was beginning to fade against the deep blue dawn sky. It was at least 10°F warmer than in Truckee.

I could see the lights of the Bowl's snowmaking fans across Summit Valley...they looked lonely spread out across the slopes. They looked like they were barely making any snow...it was marginal conditions at best. They were all shut down when I looked at the webcam about 8AM. Saturday's high was the warmest in a week, high 40s.

Phobos/GruntWatch
The bells will soon be tolling for Phobos/Grunt, and the finger pointing has begun. The news is making it's way into the mainstream press now. The Washington Post has today's update.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Changes

Not much change on the weather front this week...or for next week either, say the weather gurus. I'm getting a little verklempt what with all this waiting. I want to have some skin in the game!

Yesterday I put away my builders tools and tidied up the garage to give myself some elbow room for the pickup's distributor project.

Friday I ran down to Reno for some provisioning and a tank of gas. As I entered the Truckee River Canyon, I realized that I forgot to grab my camera.

I'd hatched a little photo scheme in the morning...I'd take the Mt Rose Highway home and maybe get some photographic evidence of the Temperature Inversion Layer that's been giving us fits all month.

As it turned out I didn't need the camera...the air has been so still that the air is heavy with haze...it has been wood-burning cold in the valleys while the higher elevation have been barely freezing. No need to climb Mt Rose I thought...with this heavy haze, I probably couldn't even see the Lake...never mind the inversion layer!

Reno was a madhouse! I pulled right up to the pump at COSTCO, but I couldn't find a parking place anywhere at the warehouse. I bailed, and made my way to WINCO and grabbed a couple of sacks of groceries while the last of my patience evaporated. Way too much hustle and bustle for such a fine fall afternoon.

I cancelled a trip into downtown...those were discretionary shopping lists anyway...I wanted to hit the Truckee Safeway before the rush.

Heading up the Truckee River Canyon in the afternoon light, I noticed something new. The hills were golden...golden like California's grassy hills once summer heat toasts them. These hills had always been Sage Green...they were sagebrush scrub on volcanic soils and rock...they were supposed to be sage grouse color, period.

These were the hills that burned in 2001. The Martis Fire burned for two weeks and consumed 15,000 acres between Hirshdale, just east of Truckee, Incline Village, over the ridge on Lake Tahoe's North Shore, and Verdi, NV where the Truckee River Canyon opens into the Washoe Valley. Even Peavine Mountain, south of Stead Field, which has burned annually for a decade, had the new coat on. Whatever had been the indigenous ground cover had burned off and had been replaced by a low growing grass that didn't turn the hills green in spring, but did turn golden before winter.

I wondered how the Sage Grouse were holding up now that their camouflage was useless...

I pulled into Truckee, picked up my mail, and found a parking spot right in front of Safeway. I got everything on my Safeway list except the first item on the list, the best Loss Leader in this week's circular, T-Bone Steaks $6.99/lb in the Extreme Value Pack...damn

Back at the DaveCave, I put the groceries away and fired up the internet...I wanted to know more about that grass that took over the Truckee River Canyon...no luck. I searched and found the Truckee River Watershed Council...no luck...I spent an hour or so before I surrendered. I filled out a Contact Form to email my question to the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest Info Address...we'll see next week...

I watched another Martin Scorsese film, "Casino" I won't belabor the Academy's slights come Oscar time. Scorsese is one of the living legends of American Cinema. Not only does he make amazing films, the music he puts in his soundtracks is sublime.

While I finished dinner and my movie, I opened my mail. BajaBabe wins the Christmas Card Sweepstakes.

She gets me...notice the lack of snow?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Living History

This week I discovered two very cool Twitter Accounts. These are folks who tweet events from history, WWII to be exact.

I discovered @RealTimeWWII a week or so back. It tweets events from 1939 in real time. 72 years ago, the Soviet Army was fighting it's way into Finland, while The Fascist Grand Council in Rome just voted to confirm the "Pact of Steel" alliance with Germany, but also to stay neutral in European war.

@RealTimeWWII has a cadre of followers, many who translate and retweet in other tongues...German, Italian, Turkish, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, French,  Portuguese, and Russian so far.

Readers who don't do Twitter can like @RealTimeWWII on Facebook

I've found @RosiesWWII to be much more compelling. Written by "Rosie" who lives in 1940's Seattle, and tweets events from 1941 This account feels much more like literature. A Novelized account of events in real time from 70 years ago if you will.

Perhaps it was so compelling to me because I began following @RosiesWWII a few hours before sunrise in Honolulu, Hawaii on December 7th, 1941. This is the only event from WW2 that I know personally "the Count and the Amount". It's no accident that every momentous event in history was measured against Pearl Harbor Day.

About My History
I was born six years and eight months after V-J Day, September 2, 1945 the day that the official surrender documents were signed aboard the battleship USS Missouri, anchored in Tokyo Bay.

General MacArthur reads his opening speech at the Surrender Ceremony while Allied signers look on. September 2, 1945
Here's a link to the photo above and the names of the other Allied Signers.

Every adult I knew when I was a kid "remembered Pearl Harbor". The 1950s and early 1960s were a time of growth, optimism, and unlimited possibilities for Americans.The national mood was powered by equal measures of pride and relief. America had helped to remake the World and come out of the Great Depression, and was confident in it's future for the first time in a decade and a half.

Little boys of my age all "played Army" or "Cowboys and Indians" before our teen years when we discovered cars and girls. America was the Victor, and proud of it. Our victory over Nazism, Fascism, and Imperial Japan was virtuous, and as a country we were all looking forward.

I was in sixth grade when I first heard the phrase "This Generation's Pearl Harbor" The Baby Boomers' Pearl Harbor Day was November 22, 1963, another "Day that will live in infamy" President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas that day.

JFK had visited my town just two months earlier, and his motorcade passed my school on September 23,1963 on his way out to the airport. The whole school got out of class and walked to the end of the block to see the president's convertible limo go by. I don't know for sure that it was the same Lincoln Continental limo he was riding through Dallas' Dealey Plaza near the grassy knoll that fateful November afternoon, but even in the black and white television images we all watched that day and after, it looked to be the same car. JFK's Assassination was "my Pearl Harbor" until the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster in 1986, and then September 11, 2001....but I digress...(Some day I'll be at the dais, addressing a roomful of people, and I'll say "but I digress" as a laugh line)

World War Two history was never something I studied in depth in school. Growing up in it's living history aura, it wasn't anything I paid any serious attention to. WW2 was "Settled Science" in my world..enter the Internet Age...

The Internet Age came to the DaveCave in 1996, and in 2004 I justified a Broadband Connection. As part of the broadband provider's come-on, they gave me a $50 Amazon.com Gift Card. I'd never shopped at Amazon at the time...Amazon was mostly books back then, and I was very chauvinistic about book stores then because my two favorite books stores in Reno were run out of business when the first tiny little Barnes&Noble set up shop...I did however, spend the Gift Card...

I ordered "World War II Day By Day" a coffee table book of the war in pictures and newspaper clippings. Each pair of pages covered a day in all theaters of the war, and the capitol cities where the war was steered from. After having WW2 DNA in my veins so to speak, this book was a revelation. This was the first time I understood the scope of the war...until I began reading this tome, everything WW2 had been organized by Theater...Europe or the Pacific...the relevant Capitols? MIA

I read the book a day at a time, sixty years after the actual events, and finished up in 2005 around V-J Day. Now I understood the concepts of World War and Total War. The War happened all across the Earth. Even after experiencing events in chronological order on the real timeline, my perception was still colored by my early upbringing in post WW2 America. That changed finally in 2007.

"The War- a Ken Burns Film" series on PBS delivered the final pieces of the puzzle to my impossibly resistant history filing system. Burns' documentary focused much more on The Homefront during the war. Four cities including Sacramento, CA were featured to focus the war's costs at home and abroad, and to tell the story of how Americans and America were changed by the War. Until I had a few hours of Burns' film under my belt, I never realized that for most of the war, the outcome was in doubt. That there was ever any doubt was a huge shock to the kid who grew up in the war's victorious aftermath, where the "Homefront" was a forgotten concept...or one never taught to yours truly.

I asked my mother about it (she had just turned 22 when Pearl Harbor was attacked) She said yes, we had our doubts all along. She related her memories of the aluminum drives, the USO dances, the troop trains crossing the country passing through her town, Americans even saved and donated bacon grease for munitions manufacturing. News of the war trickled in by newspaper, newsreels and radio, and by mail from soldiers abroad.

Getting WW2 news is much easier than ever to get today thanks to Twitter, @RealTimeWWII and @RosiesWWII give 'em a whirl...better yet, hip your kids to their accounts. Kids should know America's history. I hated history back in my school days, and I doubt public education has found a way to induce a love of history in today's students. Today's kids all have smartphones, add a Twitter App, and drip, drip, drip...history is knocking!

In his oft misquoted axiom, American philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who can not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Those with a basic knowledge of history at least have the option of remembering it or not. But what of those who were never taught the past in the first place? Like idiots, they wander aimlessly about stumbling into wars, recessions and social disasters.

The Internet Age
Today the real internet delivery of history is possible thanks to folks like @RosiesWWII and @RealTimeWWII I hope other tweeters will follow suit...I would so follow tweets about Roman history, The Crusades, The Space Race, America's Founding, and The Civil War...there's a lot of history back there...

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Waiting History

I'm having mixed feelings today, they started last night while I was watching 2004's "The Aviator", the Martin Scorsese biopic about Howard Hughes, played by Leonardo DeCaprio. Leo DeCaprio never did a thing for me until I saw his Howard Hughes in "The Aviator".

After the movie I went back to scanning the 'net for snowmaking intel...webcam views, and the latest forecast prognostications...this is the major component of my increasing funkiness I'm afraid...The temperature inversions are back in control of our snowmaking microclimates again, and production is way down.

As I knocked around cyberspace, I saw these two things...Alec Baldwin got thrown off an American Airlines flight at LAX, and veteran character actor Harry Morgan passed away at 96. This was a little unsettling for me as I just watched Baldwin and Morgan's M*A*S*H costar Alan Alda in several pivotal scenes in the movie.

Alda played US Senator Ralph Owen Brewster and Baldwin portrayed PanAm founder Juan Trippe, who were a little too chummy in the Crony Capitalism way that's become far too commonplace in America today. DeCaprio's Hughes testifying at Brewster's Senate Hearings was the movie's tour de force performance, setting up the film's climax.

As my day turned to Wednesday, I realized  that it was the 70th unhappy anniversary of Japan's surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Although certainly the most infamous event of all December 7ths, some other stuff happened that pulls my strings too...

NASA introduced Mercury Mark II in 1961. We now know it as the Gemini Program.

In 1995, NASA's Galileo became the first spacecraft from Earth to orbit Jupiter.

My life has been pretty wrapped up with history these past few months...I've taken on the Lincoln Highway this summer, and visited a couple of historic WW2 fighting vessels, the battleship Iowa, and the Victory Ship Red Oak Victory.

There's lots of history to Baseball, Formula One auto racing, and the Tour de France is nearing it's Centennial Year, too.

Tons of baseball news has come out this week, including SF Giants trades. Baseball is having it Winter Meetings in Dallas. Some of my favorite players from the Giants' miracle 2010 World Series season are gone. Reports say the Giants have maxed out their 2012 budget. Cody Ross, Andres Torres, thanks for the memories...

In bicycle racing, teams are coming together while reacting to the continued downturn of sponsorship money worldwide. Team RadioShack merged with Team Leopard Trek, the AMGEN Tour of California has announced the 2012 Start and Finish Cities, but not the routes.

What really had me on tenterhooks was waiting for news from FIA World Motor Sport Council meeting in New Dehli, about the inaugural US Grand Prix at Austin, TX. Promoters of the race were shocked when F1 honcho Bernie Ecclestone threatened to void the 10 year contract to hold the US Grand Prix on the under construction Circuit of the Americas unless promoters paid several years in advance! Construction had been halted last month when the "new deal" became public. Time is of the essence for the November 18, 2012 race...a race I plan on attending!

The news was good when I got up Wednesday morning...construction resumes immediately outside Austin. In other F1 news for the New Dehli meeting, Finnish racer Kimi Räikkönen returns to F1 next season with Team Lotus after racing rally cars last season. That makes six World Driver's Champions on track next year!

March seems a long ways off today...let's hope Winter gets going soon...

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Quick Phobos/Grunt Update 2

Some more Phobos/Grunt news streamed through my Twitter stream this morning...

The ESA is helping Roscosmos again, utilizing their Maspalomas 15M dish, and will continue in support until Friday December 9th.

Spaceflight 101 updates efforts to contact the Mars Probe

Space Safety Magazine mulls Phobos/Grunt's likely reentry.

Twitter has been my best source. Here's who I'm following:
@PhG_Reentry
@PhobosGrunt
@riascience
@esa
@esaoperations
@SPACEFLIGHT101

While your following the above, you can follow me too @CorduroyPlanet

Thanks! More as it trickles in.

Kids, Don't Try This At Work

A Ski Resort Owner in Maine is recovering from injuries after being run over by the grooming machine he and an employee were working on. The newspaper said "David Beers, 40, and another man were trying to fix a track on the vehicle when it accidentally slipped into gear, onlookers said Sunday."

As with all things Slope Grooming that I read in the Civilian Press, the details are pretty sketchy here...not sketchy are Mr Beers' injuries. Surprisingly, besides cuts and bruises, the only real damage is a broken jaw and dislocated ankle! He's one lucky guy!

Grousers and belts on the machine's right hand track
It sounds like Mr Beers and his helper were "tracking-up" the snowcat when the accident happened. "Tracking-Up" is Snowcat Mechanic-Speak for installing the tracks. These tracks are made of steel "grousers" driven by reinforced rubber belts. Each belt is fastened to itself with "lacings" which are nothing more than hinges really. A hardened steel bolt with a locknut keeps the connection secure.

The grooming machine in question is an LMC 3700CF It's a mid-engine cab-over hydrostatic driven tractor, built by Logan Manufacturing Company. Until his legal troubles with the DEA and DOJ began, LMC was owned by John DeLorean, and named DMC as in DeLorean Manufacturing Company. Back in the day I demoed it's predecessor the Bear Cat. It had to be in the mid to late 90s.

Hydrostatic snowcats don't have gears in the sense that automobiles have gears. Hydrostatic drives are oil driven motors and controlled with valves that select forward or reverse and zero to 100% speed. There's a center detent (think neutral), and a parking brake which blocks the control oil pressure from activating the drive. Modern cats have door safety interlock switches that prevent the pumps from being stroked so no motion will be generated by the track drive motors.

This is why I don't understand the accident. When I'm sitting in the Driver's Throne of my BR350 groomer, and I'm working with a mechanic, I either have the parking brake set, or have the RPMs set to idle with my finger on the Parking Brake Switch. I've never run over a mechanic, or anyone else for that matter...(Oh, I did "pinch" a lift operator between my tracks and a fence once, but no harm, no foul, he became a rookie groomer the following season, was a quick study, and enjoyed a good career for a few years at My Mountain....earning the handle Cap'nDan.) Man, I loved working with him...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Quick Phobos/Grunt Update

The news trickling in about Phobos/Grunt is not good.

Two second exposure shows Phobos/Grunt is tumbling Click to enlarge
Experienced ground observers have seen signs that the spacecraft is tumbling. That's a dead spacecraft's signature.

Spaceflight101 has a roundup.

NASAspaceflight has the story too.

The brightside? It should be quite the fireball when it reenters!

PhobosGruntWatch should resume in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Grind

As I was grinding the French Roast this morning, I noticed the trees outside the DaveCave's kitchen window were still for the first time in what, Four days? The weatherdude on this morning's Trainwreck News said the wind would return Sunday night.

Damage-wise the Tahoe Sierra got off easy. The blustery winds became hurricane-strength Santa Ana Winds in SoCal and really tore things up. Even the Big Valley suffered worse than the mountains. Sacramento TV News was full of fallen trees on cars and houses.

So where does all this wind come from? Well, there's a huge Blocking Ridge parked on the Pacific Coast. This ridge of high pressure causes all the storm systems spinning out of the Gulf of Alaska to travel up and over the ridge before diving down in to the Rockies. The wind is from the system's western edges, the dry side of the low.

The winds rekindled some hot spots from the Caughlin Ranch Fire that burned into Reno on November 18th. Reno Fire Dept doused the little hot spots in no time. Originally, it was another blast of high winds that caused the Caughlin Ranch Fire in the first place.

As the coffee began to course through my veins...doing it's magic, my curiosity began to reach cat-level, so I clicked around the local webcams, weather stations, and PWS pages. In total, since the winds brought the snowmaking-friendly tempeartures the crews were able to make snow fourty hours straight, and overnight for a couple of days. Temps raised above freezing about the time I started dripping this morning's pot of French Roast.

So snowmaking looks to be a long grind this week...it's that watched pot thing, I'm afraid. Snowmakers are earning it while groomers are payin' their dues. The blocking ridge isn't going anywhere for the next week, and the forecasters don't look more than a week ahead anyway.

Tic...Tic...Tic...Tic...Tic...

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Loose Ends

Spaced Out
Time is running out for Russia's Phobos/Grunt Mars Probe...the latest attempts to contact the spacecraft have failed. Contrary to what I posted Thursday, NASA did lend an ear after all before returning it's assets to full support of the Mars Space Laboratory launch.

Today I read that the European Space Agency had to pull back to support other duties. The Russians say  that Phobos/Grunt's fuel tanks full of toxic fuel would likely burn up during reentry, now in February. Roscosmos continues to try to hail Phobos/Grunt, should they regain control, they probably will use that  control to steer the probe into a safer reentry.

USSTRATCOM is tracking the probe now. Spaceflight 101 is keeping score.

Just in
Latest orbitals have Phobos/Grunt reentry on or about January 6, 2012

WinterWatch
@kcraFinan says we set Sacramento's record high for December 2nd. The winds that blew through yesterday went on to become hurricane strength Santa Ana Winds that tore up SoCal overnight. A second wave of NE Winds came to the High Sierra today with warmer temperatures ending the around-the-clock snowmaking hopes of the resorts.

It could be worse, witness the Austrian Alps that I caught on last night's 10 O'clock News:




The AFDs aren't exactly crowing about any pattern change in the next week. While snowmaking won't be producing around the clock this week, overnight temps will allow continued whittling on the To-Do Lists.

There is a "Silver Lining" however...Before dawn next Saturday December 10th, early risers on the West Coast of North America can see a Total Lunar Eclipse! At totality, The Moon will be almost setting in the West, so it's gonna look huge!

Why is this a "Silver Lining"? Because all these astronomical wonders are always obscured by clouds in My World! Usually it'll be snowing!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Citizens Of The World!

We're all La Niña's Children now!

I noticed that the World Cup Ski Races in Val d'Isère scheduled for December 10-11, have been cancelled due to a lack of snow, and rescheduled for Tuesday-Thursday December 6-8 at Colorado's Beaver Creek.

@Liftopia linked a story about Swiss Ski Season's Start Stalled By Snow Shortage.

Here atop the High Sierra, we're woefully short on natural snow so far this season as well. Weather so far has not favored snowmaking, either. It's been the better part of two weeks now since the fans and guns ran around the clock. Wednesday I saw a couple of fans making snow at Boreal, but a look at Boreal's Webcam at 4PM showed they'd already shut down. My 2PM-ish view showed some wind...the snow looked like it was heading into the trees between trails. The nearby PWS showed peak wind gusts were into the 40mph-50mph range, on top of 18mph-20mph steady winds at the time. High Wind Warnings are up all night.

It's funny...after reading the AFDs from Reno for snowmaking, and Monterey/SFO for Tomales Bay Crab Fishing forecasts, I remembered my "new tool" for North American Precipitation Prediction, Europe-Asia Snow Cover. I wrote about it earlier in June. I took a look and a picture is worth a thousand words...

Today's picture shows Europe almost devoid of Snow Cover.

Last year looks a lot fatter...as was our early season snowpack.
 


Here they are side by side...

There's many more data points to look at but geez, NOAA doesn't make it easy to correlate all the different ocean oscillations that matter.

Big winds with cold temps finally visited the Tahoe Sierra Thursday, and snowmaking crews went to work. NOAA's Remote Data was impressive...big winds and diving temps. Ski season will begin in earnest sometime...sooner than later is my wish.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Wind In the Lodgepoles

With the wind howling this afternoon, I didn't want to have the hood of my pickup up like a sail braving the gusts, so I grabbed my camera and headed up to Donner Summit to check on snowmaking conditions. I made a loop up Old Hwy 40, East from Soda Springs up I-80 to Boreal where I turned around and retraced my route back down to Truckee.

Donner Ski Ranch needs Mother Nature's help.

Looking across Old 40, Sugar Bowl shows some very scary glaze on Mt Disney. (All the bright patches are shiny ice crusted "pseudo boilerplate" that didn't show it's shine in the photo) This snowpack is mostly what remains of the October 6 storm, and hasn't been opened to skier traffic yet. This snow has frozen and thawed several times since and was rained on last weekend before refreezing Wednesday. New snow that falls atop this glaze is going to have lots of trouble adhering to it. It's will be a natural avalanche slab-fracture waiting to happen. There's plenty of snow blowing across the ridges here too...fresh manmade snow?

Soda Springs had a lot of windborne snow moving too, but the Sun's position was not cooperating with my photography mission.

Boreal had 50-60 cars in the parking lot, assuming that maybe 20- 25 were employees' or construction workers' cars, all but one patron must have been in the lodge/bar/ski shop. The Accelerator Quad that runs to the top was on Wind Hold, I saw the one slider riding on the Castle Peak Quad.

Again, the Sierra Nevada doing it's best Himalayan Impression. Those streams of snow famously blowing from the tops of the Himalayas are powered by The Jet Stream, our are just the damn wind!

I stopped to snap Donner Lake and the barren Carson Range featuring the nearly snowfree Mt Rose.

I snapped the original Lincoln Highway below the original US 40.

The sheep were all over Donner Lake's West End Beach...and all three miles to the eastern shore.

I must confess here that all these photos were made from the comfort of the driver's seat of the car. On a few shots, dust and sand were blowing into my face and the camera upon the wind which was a steady 35mph!

High Wind Warnings across the Tahoe Basin were more than some sand in the face for these surfers on Tahoe's West Shore. I swiped the photo from KTVU 2's weatherman Bill Martin's Facebook Page.

As I write at 8PM the power is still trying to go off as it has been for more than 24 hours. The ADF says the winds will subside to a dull roar Friday afternoon, before petering out Saturday.

Random Rambling

From the "No News Is Bad News" Department:
Controllers have had no luck communicating with Russia's Phobos/Grunt Mars Probe. The errant spacecraft is still trapped in it's Low Earth Orbit after it's rocket booster fail to fire sending the probe to the Red Planet. Roscosmos the Russian Space Agency has been playing it pretty close to the vest, so precious little news has been forthcoming.

Unofficially, the Ex-Commandant of the Russian Ballistic Missile Early Warning Radar System believes that the Alaska based, high powered research radar system, HAARP caused the probe to misfire. Mars Daily has the story.

Officially, Russian President Dmitry Medevedev sounded like he was channeling Joseph Stalin when he called for the punishment for those responsible for the recent spate of rocket crashes and space blunders. Medevedev is up for reelection in early December. SpaceflightNow has the full story.

The ESA is modifying their 15 meter Maspalomas dish antenna on the Canary Islands to have a better shot at talking to Phobos/Grunt. Missing in action are NASA's radio telescope arrays. It turns out that the Chinese satellite hitching a ride to Mars aboard Phobos/Grunt presents a roadblock to NASA helping out. US policy won't let NASA help China's space program.

Finally, UniverseToday weighs in on the Human Cost of Russia's Spaceflight Troubles

I was scanning Twitter this morning
when I saw @CorduroyPlanet mentioned in a tweet
by @LincolnHwyAssoc saying: blogs about the :lincolnhwy.org/news/?p=967 
How cool is that? Dare I say...it made my heart twitter a little...

Skunked?
Not exactly skunked...for it to count you must first go fishing and catch no keepers. SturgeUrge and I had planned to hit Tomales Bay one more time Thursday,  but the next under-performing cold front will usher in high winds, Small Craft Warnings and Gale Warnings from Wednesday afternoon through Friday. Officially we've Scratched the trip. Dang, I wanted to have another 3-4 day Dungeness Crabfest!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Silly Seasons

I'm up early today enjoying the Formula One Finale from Brazil. I'm feeling mixed emotions actually, my favorite racer didn't win, but continued his record setting season...a season like Sebastain Vettel's only comes once in a career. His car betrayed him today, a knackered transmission caused him to back off early, eventually allowing teammate Mark Webber to gain the lead and the win. Still, this season, Vettel stood on the podium 17 times in 19 races, 11 times on the top step. Vettel and his Red Bull Racing Team dominated. The best driver in the best car is an irresistible combination.

In previous seasons this kind of domination would have spelled pure boredom, with the dominant car pulling away at the front of a virtual parade of also-rans. Not so this season! Rule changes and engineering wizardry combined to make this season so exciting...and record breaking. There was so much passing on the track this year! The numbers aren't in from today's race, but overtaking maneuvers numbered almost 1500 in the first 18 races! That's about 80 passes per race...a lot of overtaking for open wheel road racing!

After the checkered flag waved, my Tumblr exploded with F1 fans gushing over the phenomenal season,  and F1 fans moaning that it's 112 days until the next F1 race in Australia on March 18, 2012

A silly story caught my eye before bed. From Geek-Tech site Lifehacker: Behold the DoItYourself Snowmaking Machine! This made me break out in a big old smile. Times may be better than the News would have you believe when folks might shell out $75 to give the front yard a proper Christmasy look! On the other hand, maybe the 9% unemployment rate is giving us a little too much time on our hands...

It seems many people ended up with too much time on their hands over the Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend. So many of you fended off the Post-Turkey Coma by reading this blog, my traffic doubled over the four days! Thank You All!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Up And Down

This can't be good...it's Saturday's 2:50AM PST AFD from NWS Reno:

DRY CONDITIONS WITH ABOVE NORMAL TEMPS WILL PREVAIL THRU THE REMAINDER OF THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND AS UPPER LEVEL RIDGE AXIS OVER WRN CA MOVES EAST ACROSS NV TODAY AND INTO THE ERN GREAT BASIN ON SUNDAY. AS 700 MB TEMPS SURGE FROM -1 C YESTERDAY TO +5 C BY THIS AFTERNOON THE MOST SUBSTANTIAL JUMP IN TEMPS WILL OCCUR IN HIGHER ELEVATIONS. MEANWHILE, LIGHT WINDS WITH LIMITED MIXING IN LOWER ELEVATIONS WILL YIELD A MORE MODEST RISE IN TEMPS COMPARED TO YESTERDAY. AREAS OF CIRRUS WILL RETURN TO PARTS OF ERN CA-WRN NV LATER TODAY AS THE RIDGE AXIS MOVES INTO CNTRL-ERN NV, BUT COVERAGE IS NOT EXPECTED TO BE THICK ENOUGH TO HAVE MUCH EFFECT ON TEMPS EITHER DAY THIS WEEKEND. WITH INCREASING SW FLOW ALOFT ON SUNDAY, THE INVERSION IS LIKELY TO BE WEAKER AND ALLOW FOR WARMER TEMPS IN VALLEY AREAS WHILE HIGH ELEVATION TEMPS LEVEL OFF. TEMPS IN MOST LOWER ELEVATIONS SHOULD CLIMB WELL INTO THE 60S ON SUNDAY.
ON MONDAY, THE RIDGE WILL FLATTEN IN RESPONSE TO A WEAK SHORTWAVE MOVING ACROSS THE NWRN US AND ADVANCING SOUTHEAST THRU THE GREAT BASIN. A BACK DOOR COLD FRONT WILL BRING TEMPS DOWN A FEW DEGREES COMPARED TO SUNDAY, BUT STILL WELL ABOVE LATE NOVEMBER NORMAL HIGHS WHICH ARE AROUND 50 DEGREES IN THE RENO AREA. MOISTURE WILL BE LIMITED TO A BAND OF LOW-MID CLOUDS JUST BEHIND THE COLD FRONT PASSAGE, WHICH IS EXPECTED TO BREAK UP BEFORE REACHING THE I-80 CORRIDOR. A FEW SPRINKLES MAY ACCOMPANY THIS FRONT PASSAGE FROM EXTREME NRN LASSEN COUNTY TO THE FAR NW CORNER OF NV MONDAY MORNING, BUT MEASURABLE PRECIP IS UNLIKELY SO WILL LEAVE OUT MENTION OF ANY SHOWERS SUN NIGHT OR MONDAY. MJD

The week ahead looks to be a down one for Sierra Resorts and Snowmakers. The Monterey/SFO AFD calls for mild not wild going forward, but not enough warming to qualify as a late "Indian Summer"...

Tahoe Sierra resorts need to make snow to stay open, but I fear the best they'll be able to do is hold the line...barely. There may not be enough snowmaking hours to replace the snow that melts daily...Fingers Crossed...

All Things Mars:
Somehow I missed the LIVE launch of NASA's latest Mars Mission, the Mars Science Laboratory. It roared into space atop a Saturn V rocket from Cape Canaveral Saturday at 7:02AM PST. I thought it was going up around 3PM...I must have gotten my launch times and launch windows confused...

Despite my MIA Status, MSL had a brilliant launch and left Earth's orbit, and is on course for Mars. If all goes as planned, MSL will touch down on Mars in mid-August 2012.

I love that the American Space Program brings cars along when NASA visits other worlds! Remember the Moon Buggy? The first car we sent to the Moon was a four wheel drive...Think 2-Seater Jeep with a satellite dish!

MSL is the size of an American SUV, one ton of nuclear powered, independent suspension, six wheel drive, science-doing machine with satellite dish! As an American 4X4 driver and satellite-o-phile, I couldn't be prouder...


Meanwhile back on Earth...
No contact has been made with Russia's errant Mars probe Phobos/Grunt. Ground observers report that Phobos/Grunt's orbit has stabilized so the chances of success for the next scheduled communication passes on Monday are improved.

I've found Twitter to be unrivaled in getting timely news of these spacecraft.
@PhB_Reentry will keep you up on Phobos/Grunt as it's orbit decays until it reenters in mid-January.
Russia's International News Agency RIA Novosti tweets as @riascience
@PhobosGrunt appears to be the "Official" P/G Twitter Account, charming for it's semi-butchering of the Queen's English
@ESA and @esaoperations are the European Space Agency's Twitter Streams. The ESA operates the communications outpost in Western Australia that's been "talking" to Phobos/Grunt

Here's the MSL-centric Twitter feeds that @CorduroyPlanet follows. I'll post new ones as I find them:
@MSL_101 is @SPACEFLIGHT101's MSL specific feed.
@MarsCuriosity is the probe's "Official" twitter account, from JPL I think.

That's it for business, now I can concentrate on the final weekend of the 2011 Formula One season! Thank you one and all for taking the time this holiday weekend to read CorduroyPlanet, you amaze me! Thanks so much.

12:20AM PST Sunday Update:
My look at the Remote Sensors shows temps holding at or above freezing since cooling from the afternoon highs in the high 50s to 60°F at the Snow Lab in Soda Springs. Humidity is up as has been the rule all week.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Juicy

I just love leftovers from Thanksgiving! Today I had a turkey sandwich on whole wheat for breakfast. I almost drooled the Homer Simpson donut noise...it was that good!

I snacked on some dark meat around four in the afternoon, and enjoyed a reheated turkey dinner with a new batch of braised brussels sprouts for dinner. (Thanks Sister K!) Even after sitting in a Ziploc bag for 24 hours in the garage refrigerator, the breast meat was so juicy...not to mention yummy!

Perfect Turkey Hints:
Here's the trick I use to insure a succulent turkey breast every time I roast a bird...it's all about orientation...I owe it all to Fine Cooking Magazine. I lifted the tip from one of their email newsletters in 2008. Save the link for Juicy Roast Turkey, bookmark it, you'll never roast a whole turkey any other way ever again!

Here's the secret: Roast the turkey upside down for the first hour in the oven! That's all there is to it! I know it sounds a little daunting turning a hot slippery turkey over after it's been roasting for an hour in a 325°F oven, but it's a snap...oven mitts on each hand with a wad of paper towels, and it's over and done in under 20 seconds!

I learned a new trick when turning yesterday's bird. I don't stuff the bird, I make my Cornbread and Italian Sausage Stuffing on the stovetop and finish it in the oven, so I just grabbed the bird by the body cavity and with a lift and a twist of the wrist, it was breast side up for the duration!

Here's another tip to insure a great roast turkey...buy a decent bird to begin with! I swear by Sonora's Diestel Turkey Ranch. I've never bought another turkey since the first Diestel I tried. I get mine at Lunardi's Market in Walnut Creek. Safeway has 'em too. I buy a fresh one, not frozen. They taste like turkey!

Stuffing Recipe Hints:
I prefer to use mild sausage, but I fatten up the pinch of crushed red chilies.
I prefer red and yellow bell peppers to red and green...the stuffing is much brighter without the unripe (green) bells. (I don't taste 'em later if they aren't in there either)
If you make the cornbread from the linked recipe, halve the salt.
I use white spelt flour instead of white wheat flour in the cornbread...originally because the Siskyou Wing of the family thought they had a problem with wheat gluten. When it turned out they were A-OK with the gluten, I kept using the spelt for it's extra nutty flavor.

After all was said and done, I managed not to succumb to the Turkey Coma...in fact I was still goin' strong when the 11 O'clock News came on. I watched KCRA3's newscast, and they had some footage from Sugar Bowl of holiday skiers sliding down the slopes. Except for the overcast and the flat light, it looked for all the world like late-April snow...I mean slush! The reporter doing the story said it was more springlike than holiday weather...that was one juicy looking trail!

Don't think I wasn't paying attention! I looked at the remote sensors, I didn't see enough cold temps to make snow going back for a week at least, and the last blast of cold-enough temps was accompanied by very high winds.

Looking ahead, the forecast isn't promising...I even looked at Sacramento's AFD (maybe the Chamber of Commerce-Style forecast might feature a glimmer of hope!) Reno's AFD concured, a Blocking Ridge builds in and temps trend up, up, up for the next week. Oh, and the inversion layer stays.

That's a lot of juicy afternoons on the horizon...maybe the NWS forecasters will have time to answer a phonecall and chat about the forecast models and haw the help fine tune them going forward...

A man's gotta have a dream...