Posts Tagged snow

The State of happiness

Those of you American citizens who (like me) enjoy our unalienable pursuit of happiness should see where your home State ranks in this list presented by economists Andrew Oswald and Stephen Wu.

Our local newspaper headlined this report with the suggestion that we Minnesotans “try living in a sunnier State.”  I have a hard time arguing with moving to Hawaii or Florida – both near the top the Oswald-Wu list.  Louisiana (#1) is a good choice too, I think, despite the setback of Hurricane Katrina.  I spent time there and in the neighboring State of Mississippi (#7) last March – a great time to get out of Minnesota (#26).  However, I really do enjoy our winters here in the northernmost part of the lower 48.  At this time of the year our sun sits nearly at its lowest point (Winter solstice being mid-day tomorrow), which makes any rays one can catch all the more dear.

This morning a little Canadian ‘clipper’ topped off our existing blanket of snow with another inch of sun-sparkled crystals.  It was good to be outdoors walking the dog through our little “Sunwood” park of evergreens again after taking a little break on our daily strolls last week due to the bitter cold.  Maybe it was just as well we stayed home because a cougar came through our neighborhood (called “Croixwood”) as evidenced by the huge paw print pictured here .  The cougar was last sighted in Wisconsin.  My guess is that this cat is headed for Florida. =^.^=

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Graupeling for words to describe nature’s emanations

Late Friday I took a call from a client in Hawaii. All day long here in Minnesota the weather forecasters had been harping about the dire prospects for over a foot of snow. The Hawaiian sounded skeptical when I told him of my positive view on these developments. Believe it or not, many of us Minnesotans enjoy the opportunity to ski, snowmobile and just revel in the contrast of winter with our other three seasons.

The first round of snow hit that evening. It was quite unusual – pelletized like Dippin Dots or IttiBitz ice cream, created by flash freezing the sugary dairy mix in liquid nitrogen. Something similar must have occurred naturally over my home town of Stillwater. The American Meteorology Society (AMS) describes this frozen phenomenon as graupel. Evidently it’s a cousin of hail, which we see in the summer-time when thunder storms become severe. This graupel was great for shoveling. I’ve got a low-tech, but amazingly effective, snow scooper, which just pushed it out the way and, with a quick twist, dumped it over. The pellets just poured right out.

That was only the first wave of the storm. Over the next 24 hours, another half-foot of snow fell. The neighbor across the street was really fired up about getting his snow blower running for the first time this year and promised to shovel my driveway after all was done with this winter storm. However, it took so long to start the disused engine, that I scooped him.

Getting back to Hawaii (a very attractive thought at the moment), I once visited their namesake “Big Island” and saw lots of lava from Kilauea. There I learned that Hawaiians differentiate flows as “aa” – rough, versus “pahoehoe” – smooth. (See details by volcanologist J. M. Rhodes.)

Having hand-shoveled snow for half a century, I can readily characterize their types. However, I must hand it to the Hawaiians for putting words to what Mother Nature puts in ones path. More snow is forecast later this week for Minnesota. I predict that this may precipitate many Minnesotans to have an “Aa, ha” and book an impromptu getaway to Hawaii or another warm State!

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Weather to be or not to be, that is the question

Last night I got a panicked call from my host for a talk scheduled tomorrow night to a group of quality professionals and their student section at Purdue University. Predictions had just firmed up for a major winter storm that might dump up to a foot of snow in parts of Indiana. Which parts would get snow was hard to forecast, but it seemed likely to be rain south of Indianapolis – my flight destination, icy there and snowy to the north in Lafayette – home of Purdue. Thus, given I’d be driving through the middle of this wintry mess, my host’s bias toward canceling the meeting met with little resistance from me. At the moment, based on tonight’s weather reports, it appears that we made the right decision. However, I’ve seen plenty of dire weather predictions fizzle over the years, particularly for snow and/or ice, which often end up precipitating as relatively benign rain due to unexpected warmth.

North American winter storms can wreak havoc on a grand scale, for example, when ice builds up to a point where power lines come down over broad areas. However, hurricanes like Katrina really strike fear in the hearts of insurance underwriters. Richard Mullins of the “Tampa Tribune” reports* on the use of simulations for predicting the financial scale of disasters like this. According to him, some storm models sell for as much as $10 million! For that price, one would assume the results would be unbiased. However, non-profit and privately-funded researchers interviewed by Mullins agree that results from studies underwritten by insurance companies naturally fall to the high side, whereas ones done for the public interest tend to the low end. The range went from $2 billion to $12 billion for 2005’s Hurricane Wilma!

Things really get wacky when one tries to assess risks of buying a vacation property in Florida to escape the wretched winter weather of the northern USA, from Indiana on up. Where would one be safest in a beach home – a place like Jacksonville that’s experienced no category 4 hurricane in 150 years? Maybe they are ‘due’ for one. A contrarian might take an opposite tack – buy where the most recent horrific hurricane hit, such as the surprisingly robust Wilma that tracked in to Florida after clobbering Cancun.

My idea is to simply rent a haven in Florida during the winter – the season when there are no hurricanes. I would leave at the first sign of snow up north and not go back until it melted. I wonder if any fellow northerners have thought of this?

*“Calculating Disaster,” Sunday, 2/11/07


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