Now that climate change has really settled in there are loads of free fun winter activities that we can’t do in Pittsburgh. I was reminded of this when I heard that the Beaver County Snow Shovel Riding Championship was postponed last Saturday. Last year it was eventually canceled. As the Beaver County Times wrote last month:
The Beaver County Snow Shovel Riding Championship returns in 2020. That comes with the major assumption that sufficient snow rests on the 165-foot hill at Old Economy Park, just off Route 989 in Economy, on Jan. 11 or the makeup date of Jan. 18.
Last Saturday, 11 January 2020, was so hot that it broke a 130-year record. At Pittsburgh International Airport, nine miles from that Beaver County hillside, it was 71 degrees F. Of course there was no snow.
Other winter fun we’re missing includes building snowmen, making snow angels, and cross country skiing. These still might happen for a day or two if we get one big snowfall.
But some winter fun is just plain dangerous in today’s world. Ice fishermen used to count on our frozen lakes but these days the ice is missing or very thin. Unsafe!
To emphasize this dilemma, the Great Lakes were virtually ice free on January 12.
No winter fun.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons; map from U.S. National Ice Center; click on the captions to see the originals)
For temperature, the redder the color the more likely it will be hotter than normal. For precipitation, green means it’s likely to be wetter. Pittsburgh is high in both categories, hot and wet. So is Alaska, especially in temperature.
At the end of The Inferno, set in the year 1300, Dante and his guide Virgil escape from Hell climbing upward to reach the Earth. They’ve almost emerged when Dante looks through the opening ahead and sees the heavens above.
we climbed up, he first and I behind him, far enough to see, through a round opening, a few of those fair things the heavens bear. Then we came forth, to see again the stars.
On rare occasions, winter weather and the sea conspire to make ice balls that stack on the beach when they roll ashore. This ball ice, about the size of softballs, covered Stroomi Beach at the Baltic Sea in Estonia in December 2014.
Ball ice is so rare that it made the news last month in Alaska and Finland. Similar to hail, it forms in bays where the water is relatively calm and just cold enough to make ice. A “seed” of ice or grit starts the process, then wind and gentle waves keep turning the floating ball as it grows.
Sometimes two cool things happen at once. In this tweet from NWS APRFC, a field of ice balls in Alaska acquired pointy hats when snow or rime accumulated on one side.
Interesting formation of ice on the banks of the Wulik River near Kivalina. We suspect a combination of strong waves and super cold water created these ice balls. pic.twitter.com/oIM19Jle2N
Today the sun will pause at 11:19pm Eastern Time and begin to move north again — or so it will seem to us earthbound humans.
The far north will be dark but not inky black everywhere. At Kotzebue, Alaska, 26 miles north of the Arctic Circle, the sun will rise at 12:56pm and set 1 hour and 43 minutes later, similar to the solstice photo above, taken at Bering Land Bridge NP. Kotzebue is the furthest north I’ve ever been though I didn’t get off the plane..
Here in the Lower 48 we’ll have lingering sunsets …
Since 1957 when the Space Age began, our unused equipment has created a garbage patch in outer space. Over the years we’ve launched 5,000+ satellites though only 1,300 are operational today. There’s a lot of junk up there that’s out of control (can’t be navigated anymore) and potentially explosive.
Meanwhile we’re launching more satellites every year at a faster pace than before. At the end of 2018 it had taken a decade to launch 1,000 CubeSat nano-satellites, only four-inches across, but there are plans to add 1,000 more by 2021. Outer space is so crowded that NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) work every day to steer satellites away from dangerous space debris.
The 2016 video above describes space junk and how we’ve coped with it so far. Note that it doesn’t talk about CubeSats because the video predates those plans.
ESA’s 2017 video below describes the problem in technical terms with dramatic background music. I’ve cued the video to start at Low Earth Orbit. Watch for two minutes (beyond the first fade-to-black) and you’ll see lots of collisions.
Our planet isn’t the only one that has these clouds. This photo of Saturn’s north polar vortex shows Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds on the spinning edge. Photographed by the Cassini spacecraft in April 2013 and colorized by NASA, this image is called The Rose but is actually a violent, relentless storm. And it’s big!
According to the Cassini Mission at NASA, “Measurements have sized the eye at a staggering 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) across with cloud speeds as fast as 330 miles per hour (150 meters per second).”
Our own polar vortex is mild by comparison.
(photo from NASA via Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)