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Posts tagged ‘weather’

Galveston, Oh Galveston

After my workshop in Houston ended last Thursday, I had a half day to kill before my flight home. Being a child of the ocean, I was going to check out the waterfront – and that meant a run down to Galveston.

I love history, and Galveston is dripping in it. The island city is probably best known as the victim of the 1900 hurricane which killed 8,000 of Galveston’s residents, still the worst natural disaster in American history. You can’t travel around the city without seeing signs of the storm, from the monuments along Broadway to the stone mansions that survived the storm, to the impressive 10-mile-long seawall that was built after the storm and allowed the height of the land behind it to be raised by over 10 feet.

Pink granite groins - imagine how many countertops that could have made!

Speaking of impressive, you should see the local choice for break wall materials. Like many beach cities, Galveston has a series of groins – short perpendicular break walls that extend from the beach and slow the lateral movement of sand. We have similar structures in Redondo, and use local materials to create them. For us, that means modest granite blown out of the quarry on Catalina Island. Here in Galveston, the material is also granite – but it’s pink, and looks to be high quality. Can’t help but think the stuff would look a lot nicer in some high end home somewhere.

The architecture of the homes here belies the biggest threat from a hurricane – storm surge. In 1900, the surge was several feet higher than the highest point in the island and basically swamped it; as a result, most of the deaths came from drowning. Even with the additional height of the seawall, the island is dangerously low – Hurricane Ike in 2008 managed to overtop the wall. Builders accept this a certainty, and take it into consideration when they design their homes. Most houses – and many businesses – have a sacrificial lower floor, consisting of little more than an enclosed staircase and a carport. All of the living spaces are on the second or third floor, presumably above any potential flooding.

Driving in this morning, and as I explore the island, it’s clear that the damage from Ike was significant. Nearly half of the waterfront homes show some level of damage or repair, and construction activity is evident everywhere. There are several piers on the south side of the island, and you can see that several are missing the final segments, presumably due to storm damage. On the bright side, one pier destroyed in 1961 and bashed again by Ike is about to debut as a tourist attraction on a par with our own Santa Monica Pier.

The wind is actually blowing pretty good here in Galveston today, and I suspect there are at least Small Craft Advisories in place. As you can see from the video I shot down at the seawall a little while ago, it’s no day to be on the water:

And this was only three out of five on the warning flag scale they use along the beach. Good thing it was low tide, or it would be slapping the seawall.

I actually started this MB entry while sitting in a restaurant on 61st street in Galveston, waiting to enjoy a different kind of cultural experience – a Waffle House breakfast. As a Cali guy, there are certain experiences that aren’t available to me, so I feel obligated to seek them out when possible. Last night, a bacon-and-cheese Whataburger; this morning a Waffle House All Star breakfast. Quite the cultural enrichment … :-)

Hot Enough For Ya?

And it's only partly sunny ...

You know, if I didn’t know better (or at least, hope better), I’d think Al Gore might be right.

We went all summer without anything that resembled summer, and now in the first week of fall we have the hottest day in the recorded history of Los Angeles. It hit 113 degrees this afternoon at the recording station downtown – so hot, in fact, that it broke the station … it may have been even hotter! Out in the San Fernando Valley, where it’s objectionably hot on even the most pleasant of days, it got even warmer. It was so hot today in Los Angeles (“How hot was it”), you could have cooled off by driving to Palm Springs … :-)

Those of us who pay extra to live at the beach do so to avoid such unusual occurances, but as you can see from the graphic we didn’t avoid the heat even here at the Home Office. Partly sunny and 98? Miserable … just miserable.

I’m thinking this afternoon would be a perfect time to curl up in a hammock under a couple of shade trees with the one you love. Now if I only had some trees, a hammock, and a one … :-\

Hoping For The Best, Fearing The Worst

As I write this entry, rescue teams are rushing to the last known position of 16-yr-old Abby Sunderland and her 40-ft sailboat, somewhere in the Indian Ocean.  Less than an hour after talking with her support crew, the emergency beacon on Sunderland’s boat was activated as she sailed through a storm.  Readings from the beacon indicate the boat speed is currently only 1 knot, leading searchers to believe that it is adrift.  The condition of Sunderland, or if she is even still onboard the boat, is unknown.

When the crisis struck, Sunderland was just over half-way through her round-the-world voyage.  She set out in January from Marina Del Rey, hoping to set a record for the youngest person to singlehandedly circumnavigate the globe without stopping.  Mechanical glitches forced her to make a pair of unplanned stops, but she sailed on, planning to arrive home sometime in October.

It was nearly a year ago that the world welcomed home Abby’s brother Zac from his own solo circumnavigation – we even chronicled it here.  And, as we pointed out at the time, it was an admirable if dangerous accomplishment.  But in the six months between Zac’s arrival and Abby’s departure, Zac’s record as  youngest to accomplish the feat was beaten, and a second sailor fell just short.  Now Abby is lost at sea, and you can’t help but wonder if this isn’t becoming a grossly misguided pursuit of records.

At sixteen, Abby Sunderland couldn’t even drive her friends to school without parental supervision, yet she is sailing around the world. In a society that won’t let their kids walk to school in fear of what might happen, three sets of parents stood dockside and watched their kids sail over the horizon – one pair twice.  I appreciate the willingness of parents to encourage and even endulge their children’s dreams, but shouldn’t there be a limit?  In recent months, we’ve seen a 13-year-old climb Mount Everest (while a member of another climbing party was killed), a tourist company be criticized for their introduction of a child-sized shark cage for swimming with great white sharks, and now this.  I pray this isn’t some kind of sibling oneupsmanship gone tragically wrong.

A few years ago, there was a similar episode of younger and younger children setting records in a particular accomplishment – in that case, piloting a plane cross-country.  The string of flights only ended when one young pilot was killed, and the FAA was forced to step in.  I think the appropriate authorities really need to take a look at these teenage circumnavigations and determine at what point someone should be allowed to put themselves so completely at risk.

But that can wait for another day.  For now, join me in praying for the safety of Abby Sunderland.

UPDATE:  A Qantas airliner chartered to search for Abby spotted her dismasted boat and was able to make contact with her.  She can’t do anything but wait to be rescued, but at least she’s safe.  Judging from the reports I’m seeing, we’re going to get the best of both worlds – rescue for Abby, and a serious question about the wisdom of sending teenagers into harm’s way in such a fashion.

Wasn’t It Just Summer?

With all due apologies to my friends in the Pacific Northwest and on the East Coast, who will no doubt laugh at my whining … I’m getting pretty tired of rain. This is the Sunshine State, but we’re not used to liquid sunshine.  Just yesterday, it was somewhere in the mid-80’s and summertime was taking hold.  Now, look – it’s another storm rolling in tonight! Someone go fire up StormWatch …

Now, for most of us the rain is little more than a nuisance. It interferes with my riding schedule and makes my backyard look more like a mudbog than turf, but it’s pretty hard to really complain. The folks with the biggest issues – and, apparently, the loudest voices – are the people living in the canyon areas that burned last summer.

The amazing thing is that we haven’t even reached what would normally be considered the “rainy” season here in SoCal, and we’ve already gotten 11 inches of rain. Compare that to the normal yearly average of 14, and perhaps you can understand everyone’s consternation – and the concern of the folks in the hills.

Normally, I’d make some pithy comments about how those folks should have known what they were getting into living up in the canyons, and how tiring it is to hear them complain about the authorities forcing them to evacuate for their own safety – and then complaining even more if they don’t – but I think I’ll let them slide for now … 😉

On A Clear Day, You Can … See!

LA takes a lot of justifiable abuse for the two most-visible by-products of our super-sized population:  traffic and smog.  Politicians work hard to resolve both (generating a lot of hot air in the process … ) but the truth is that neither will be solved until we figure out how to decrease the local population – and we all know that’s not gonna happen any time soon.  Every once in a while however, nature steps in and lends a hand, if only temporarily. 

Los Angeles is a basin plain, wedged between mountains on the north and east and oceans on the west and south.  The prevailing sea breezes would like to sweep the smog to the east, but it only makes it as far as San Bernardino before it backs up, leaving us with the hazy skies we’re known for.   The further west you live (and the Home Office is about as west as you can get), the better the air quality, but it’s only gonna get so good.

This winter, though, we’ve been fortunate to be hit by a series of stronger-than-usual storms.  Well, perhaps “fortunate” isn’t the right word, or is at least in the eye of the beholder.  I suppose if I lived in one of the burn areas and was watching 4 feet of mud roll through my living room I might have a different opinion, but for the rest of us there’s a huge upside.  Once the rains end and the front passes through, the breezes that follow on the back side of the storm are usually strong enough to flush the smog out of the basin for a couple of days – and the results are breathtaking.

I was driving up from Long Beach yesterday on the 405 and as I passed the blimp port in Carson I glanced to my left and was amazed to see the Hollywood sign – clear enough to read.  Just to the right, the dome of the Griffith Observatory and off to the left, the Getty Museum.  Behind them all, the snow-capped mountains. 

Once in a while, nature reminds us what an amazing place this really is … :-)

Big Help, Little Man …

Yesterday, a particularly grumpy rodent was dragged from his burrow on Gobblers Knob and trust into the air before a large and eager crowd.  I refer, of course, to the annual appearance of that Pennsylvania Prognosticator, Punxsutawney Phil.  Phil’s pudgy body did indeed cast a shadow on the snowy ground, which legend holds indicates another six weeks of winter.  Considering the National Weather Service is already predicting “epic snowfall” for the East Coast this weekend, you can imagine what a popular guy ol’ Phil is right about now.

If you saw the movie – one of my faves, btw – then you may already know the myth:  German settlers brought the knowledge that hibernating animals were better at understanding the weather than they were, and watched the reaction of the groundhog to determine when to plant.  Over time, the traditional holiday of Candlemas was usurped as a celebration of this ritual, and Groundhog Day was born.

It’s worth noting that while Phil has predicted a long winter 85% of the time, he’s only been right 39% – which would still get him a job with any local TV station in LA …

Is That … Sunshine??

Homer says five and a half ...

Homer says five and a half ...

Here at the Home Office we love to laugh at the weathermen, but once in a while they get it right.  They predicted we’d get pounded with rain this week, and boy did we!  I’ve lived in this house for 15 years, and with the exception of the particularly nasty storms we got back in ’98, this was the worst I’ve seen.

Looking at the trust rain gauge – otherwise known as a Homer Bucket, we can see that 5 1/2 inches of rain has fallen here since Monday morning.  Most of it came in four fast-moving storms that were each followed by eerie calm, although today was a more traditional soaker.  In any case, it’s more rain than we’ve gotten in many full seasons, and a welcome gift.

The truly amazing thing about these storms is the relatively minor impact they’ve had on the hillsides that surround Los Angeles, particularly the ones where last fall’s wildfires left them particularly vulnerable.  Nearly 1000 homes were preemptively evacuated, fearing the rivers of mud that all this rain would doubtless cause.  So far, though, the hillsides are holding.

This weekend is supposed to be clear, but there’s a possibility of another storm next week.  It’ll be nothing like what we saw this week, though – and I suspect it’s going to be quite a few years before we do again!

Here Comes The Rain Again … And Again … And Again

We like to make fun of the local TV weathermen for the panic-stricken way they react to every cloud in the sky, but the truth is that most Calis (myself included) are pretty much clueless when it comes to weather. One of the reasons we live in SoCal is so we don’t have weather, and most of what we know is from experiences living elsewhere or hours spent watching the Discovery Channel. For the vast majority of the time, the forecast for LA is unchanged – sun, light breezes and mild temperatures.

Once in a while, though, the weather gods throw us a curveball. Most of the storms that roll off the Pacific pass to the north of us (are you listening, Portland?) – all we get are a few annoying clouds. But when the El Nino phenomenom fires up in the equatorial Pacific, things can get a little interesting – like they’re gonna get this week.

The following is the summary from a much longer forecast from Samuel Johnson of the USGS up in Santa Cruz. To say it catches ones interest is quite an understatement:

In short, the next 2-3 weeks (at least) are likely to be more active across California than any other 2-3 week period in recent memory.  The potential exists for a dangerous flood scenario to arise at some point during this interval, especially with the possibility of a heavy rain-on-snow event during late week 2.  In some parts of Southern California, a whole season’s worth of rain could fall over the course of 5-10 days.  This is likely to be a rather memorable event. Stay tuned…

To hear it described, we’re supposed to see a series of really fast, really nasty storms that will dump a couple of inches each on us here at the beach, and even more in the mountains surrounding LA.  That could be problematic for the folks in the foothill burn areas both in LA and Orange counties, where sandbags and K-rails aren’t going to do much against a wall of mud.

I’ve seen a couple of other forecasts that use the word “biblical” to describe what’s gonna happen this week. Naturally, I have to spend most of it in a class at a Boeing facility in Huntington Beach, which means I get to experience rush hour freeway traffic right in the middle of this slop. Should be … fun.

I’ll have the Home Office Rain Gauge deployed before the first drops fall – we’ll see together just how deep it gets.

Stay tuned …

Wait … You Mean It’s A Joke?

Ever since Don Henley sang about the bubbleheaded bleach-blonde at 5, the stereotypical portrayal of local newscasters has been of talking heads hired more for looks than brains. I’ve had the chance to get to know several of our local anchors through Facebook, and I can tell you that it couldn’t be more true for them, yet the visual remains. Here in SoCal, where the loca; stations go on “StormWatch” at the first cloud, or break into programming for yet another car chase, they’re ripe targets for parody.

I was forwarded this video from a couple different sources, and it’s a classic. We’ve all seen the competing local stations trying their hardest to squeeze in as much in as little time as possible – this may be where the concept jumped the shark … :-)

I Love … Livin’ In The City

Here’s all you really need to know about living in Southern California …

Tonight, we’re under a tsunami advisory because of the 8.0 earthquake in Samoa, and fire weather watch due to the low humidity. Now, to be honest, the tsunami wave – scheduled to hit tonight around 9pm local time – is only predicted to be 20 inches high, and I live about 5 miles away from the closest potential wildfire source, but hey – warnings are warnings.

I love LA … :-)