The Air Is Rare Up Here

The views just kept getting better!

Today was the day. Time to stop being a mile high and become two miles high, the drive from Boulder to Twin Lakes just outside of Leadville. But first I decided I wanted to ride the Yeti up Boulder Canyon. It was meant to be an easy ride to acclimatize to a reduction in oxygen.

For the Aussies Boulder sits at around 1,600m, so bottom of Thredbo. Rode easy up the canyon enjoying the river and unfolding vistas until I got to the end to the path and was checking the map when a local Boulderite came past (fit and as beautiful as they all are) and told me about some of the local trails. He failed to notice my considerable girth and directed me to a local dirt road (mainly closed, not the realm of hikers and bikers).

Looking back on from where we came.

Well, present me is sending some huge gratitude to past me for starting my training months ago. The road was lovely, starting in dense pine forests and tight switchbacks which allowed me to look up the hill and see the climbing to come. Initially I said “lets ride until 7:15am and make a judgement call then” then it was 7:30, then 7:45.. Views just keep getting better and better so the ride ended up much more epic than intended. Ended up climbing 460 meters to spectacular views at the peak of flagstaff mountain. And then there was the descent.

Locked, loaded and ready to roll..

The features on the road to divert water flow, when hit at 20+mph ended up being super fun little kickers allowing some great jumps. Rolling back into the hotel it was time to pack and say “see ya later Boulder” and we hit the road for Leadville. Raced along the front range and hit E470, ripping through tunnels and seeing vistas at every turn. Our Subaru Outback, Ollie, took it all like a champ even when packed to the gills with stuff.

The air is rare up here.

I could write pages and pages describing the drive. From the awesomeness of the avalanche scars to the monumental if somewhat of a crime against nature sight of the Climax molybdenum mine. We rolled into Leadville at just after 1:30pm, grabbing phenomenal sandwiches at Buchi Cafe Cubano. After that all that was left to do was provision at safeway and drive across the alluvial plain of the Arkansas river headwaters, through Twin Lakes to Bob’s (Bob the living legend Graham) cabin. Bob met us and gave us the tour.

I could myself as blessed beyond belief to have made to many friends since moving to the United States 11 years ago. Quality friends. Genuine friends. And I am grateful to Bob for sharing his slice of heaven with us. I will talk more about the cabin in coming days but, suffice to say, this is rarefied land. And, yes, the altitude is hitting us all very hard. More to come soon, including our mimo antenna set up to get internet, the slowest internet on the planet but enough to keep things ticking over. Greetings from two miles high.

Colorful Colorado

 Geology… It happens. Part of the entertainment on this 17 hour drive has been watching the changing landscape. The change happens slow and subtle. From flat Illinois, to rolling Iowa to uber flat Nebraska. And then it changes, quick. Due to the smoke haze from fires we did not notice it until we passed Denver. More on that soon. Today was a quick jump from North Platte to Boulder. Roads in Nebraska were just amazing at 7:30am in the morning.

Big sky Nebraska.

Most truck drivers were still asleep on off ramps etc in their rigs. We could see them! This meant a super easy roll with the cruise control and the amazing eye-sight system on the Subie keeping us flying along at speeds Australians can only dream of (speed limits in the USA are odd. I plead the 5th and refuse to explain it to you).

Collis’ in the USA west.

We crossed into colorful Colorado at 8:30 Central (now 7:30 Mountain) and the landscape changed into rolling hills replete with yellow wildflowers. You could tell we were in the rain shadow of the Rockies. Corn fields from Nebraska onwards were irrigated so we were entertained by talking about the different technologies we saw for bringing the water to the corn.

Flatirons.

While it does not rain much in the near-Rockies plains (cut off from moist flow from the Gulf of Mexico) it does rain and snow over the mountains giving rise to dependable (in most years) rivers allowing irrigation. As we got closer to the mountains cropland gave way to pasture and beef and, as aforementioned, just after Denver the ethereal outline of the front range could be made out.

A+ Art. B Taste.

Also, for me, the roads suddenly became more familiar from many work trips to Boulder. The view of the Flatirons did not disappoint, and I was thrilled to introduce River to their first view of Colorado mountains. We made insanely good time, so our hotel room was far from being ready. This was a good thing as we had good coffee at Boxcar and had a short fun walk in the Boulder canyon.

A just amazing lunch and a few tasty beers at Avery and we checked in to a pretty thinly staffed Marriott. We left River to be a teenager for a few hours and walked to Twisted Pine for what ended up being a fun time playing with puppies and dogs. Now I am writing this from Backcountry Pizza in the middle of a pop up hailstorm! Yep, colorful Colorado!

In the right place

Great coffee and cringe worthy T-Shirt

Greetings from North Platte Nebraska! Today was the big day for us (keep in mind we don’t do big road trips). 7.5 hours across Iowa and Nebraska. We broke it down into four blocks with three rests. Iowa city to Des Moines. Des Moines to a rest stop. Rest stop to Kearney. And Kearney to North Platte. Kind of felt like we took a good luck potion as, well, we kept having good luck. First, the breakfast place we found in Des Moines; St Kilda café was awesome. Yes, it was Aussie themed, but it was not kitschy, it was good. Fantastic coffee and great food. I had salmon, poached eggs (amazing) and lentils. Rest stop was clean and has some lovely grounds for a quick walk to refresh the mind and legs. The arch at Kearney was 100% random, and very nice. Designed as a museum to Nebraska, Buffalo etc it had great amenities and River loved the gemstones they picked up there (highlight for them which was amazing given how random it was. For me, I had two highlights.

Run around the car to wake up

Our dinner spot, Pals brewing in North Platte and the 7+ crop dusters that entertained us along the plains. Oh and the changing landscape from hilly in Iowa to sandy and flat across Nebraska. Gives me a newfound awe for our chose home we will soon be citizens of. A very timely road trip! Ok, the crop dusters first. These planes were just amazing. I am an aviation geek. I used to forecast for Australia’s aviation center which sparked this interest. These planes were slow, low and agile. I swear they flew lower than the trucks driving along I80 and weaved between them. Like a Star Wars trench run! Pals brewing, good food, beer (REALLY GOOD BEER. And I know good beer) and super friendly service. Geographically speaking, if this was Australia there would be literally nothing. And in the middle of Nebraska there is not much. So it was amazing to find such quality in the corn fields outside of North Platte.

Great day traveling across the plains, really hits home the impact of national infrastructure and national security. It’s no longer about rifles and cannons, it is food security and highways. Seeing the wind farms in Iowa really tickled me! Energy from the wind, amazing engineering and farmers getting $$$$ for a small footprint on their land.

The Arch!

On a final note, I had an epiphany on the road. I did not realize how poor my mental health was.  About 2 hours out of Iowa City I had a deep exhale as my eyes fixed on the distance, I realized I felt trapped in Chicago without knowing it. The vacation that seemed like a good idea was, in fact, a necessity. Our family likes distant horizons, it is what inspired us to uproot to a whole new country. Is the USA better than Australia? Not necessarily…

If rocks could talk!

Is Australia better than the USA? Also, not necessarily… Are they different and better and worse in different ways. Absolutely. Right now, seeing the industrious plains of the Midwest it is driven home to me like better before that, for us, the USA is a land of massive opportunity and is the right place to be. Bring on the Mountains tomorrow!!!

Go West

Loaded!

Greetings readers. I have been slack. and not like salesforce slack.. Slack at updating this blog. News is we are undertaking our longest roadtrip ever in the USA. Actually, I thought it was the second longest as I drove with a friend from Gladstone QLD to Canberra way back in in the early 2000’s … But some googling tells me I was wrong and this will be my LONGEST roadtrip ever (yes I will tell you what it is soon). Difference is, as a stupid 20 year old I (with my friend… Can’t remember his name to save my life, straight shot it, 18 hours, 3 hour shifts, sleeping, running around the car… Good/bad times 🙂 )…

So, we are heading out on a long earned two week vacation to Colorado. Unlike the 20 year old me I now have responsibility for two other humans, Louise and River. So we are taking three days to trek across the great U.S.A. Staying in Iowa City, Iowa the first night, North Platte, Nebraska the second and, a place I have frequented often, Boulder Colorado (sorry friends there, no time to catch up on the way there, hopefully on the way home) on the third.

Lunch on the Mississippi.

This post is being written from the lobby bar (YES Lobby bar! It’s been a long time thanks to COVID-19) from the Courtyard Marriott in Iowa City. Drive from Chicago could not have been smoother. Great stop Leclair, IA on the Mississippi river at a very nice German pub (AC was out and they were suffering bad from the “Big Quit”).

I’ll get to more details of our trip and plans later. In a nutshell: Mountains, stars, mountain biking and the kindness of strangers (Thank you thank you Bob Graham).. 90% vacation, 10% work on the road.

Fun note, call from WTTW Chicago to appear on Chicago Tonight as we went through Dekalb.. First time in over 10 appearances I turned them down.. Sorry folks.

We rolled into Iowa City, a college town, at around 4pm. Checked in and headed out on foot for grub and beer. Wow, so much development in the middle of the corn and soy of Iowa! Lovely town. Headed to a local, Sanctuary, on a very sweaty, Friday for a Pint.. Quaint… They headed by Vue, a rooftop bar at the new Hilton in the middle of town.. Vue had a view! Chatted with the staff and some very nice locals. Iowa city, thanks to the University is in the middle of a development boom, that’s why we are saving like mad for River’s college… We loved this place. Tomorrow is the big day. 7 hours, 24 minutes, to North Platte Nebraska. Lots more corn to come!

Software Defined Radio Reading of a Personal Weather Station

I am very lucky to be involved in the Sage Cyberinfrastructure project where I am kind of acting as “Chief Science Evangelist”. Basically I help motivate the hardware and software engineering with real world science use cases. Discussions with friends like Profs.

Pi4 with the RTL-SDR reading 915MHz data. Pi3 syncing via scp and displaying on UnicornHat-HD

Eric Brunning and Tim Logan have led me to Lightning detection as an interesting problem and several folks in the team are big fans of Software Defined Radios. So I purchased one (and then three more!) and started playing. Several months ago I purchased ($169) an Ambient W2902B personal weather station. It sends signals to a base station via PCM @ 915MHz. The base station then sends data to ambient you can download via an API. Issue is you can only download 1 minute data and the head unit transmits every 16s. I was ok with that for the price. Well, enter the software defined radio! I knew the RTL-SDR 2832U unit I have can tune into 915MHz.. And looking on gqrx I cold see the pulses so I thought I could write some code to decode the data..

Output from rtl_433. Note my Ambient 2903B tags itself as BOTH fineoffset-WH24 and 65B

Well cool thing is I did not have to! As I always say to my students: Google that! I did and found this excellent blog. It was as simple as a apt-get rtl-433 or, on the Raspberry Pi4 compiling from source and you have a pulse code decoder that can read everything from a weather station to a tire pressure gauge in your car. I then simply set it to run with a nohup on my Raspberry Pi4 and save JSONs to a file. I wrote some simple code in Python using ACT (a module that builds on xarray) to visualize.. You can see so much more in the 16s data! Like the turbulence reflected in dewpoint and temperature data when the boundary layer builds. Now I want to include a Software Defined Radio in every Sage node so we can connect instruments wirelessly using the 915 and 433MHz standards. More on lightning detection later!

Bingo! My own weather data saved and plotted without using a 3rd party API.

The weather in Chicago is like an angry teenager….

IMG_5474
From a dog on the deck day …

As well stated by my friend Rajesh Sankaran “While I have you here, what is up with the weather? Why is it behaving like an angry confused teenager going through puberty here in Chicago/Midwest? This hot and cold is not fun.”. First, it’s not due to COVID19. Yes, as I said on WTTW Chicago Tonight, there are clear impacts on the atmosphere and our ability to predict it however, the variability that saw us go from shorts weather to snow is a normal seasonal phenomena. In previous posts I have compared the

IMG_5497
To this! Charlie does not approve!

upper level winds to “railway tracks” these winds are referred to at the Jet streams or jet stream pattern. At the moment these patterns are very buckled sending storm systems bearing tornadoes and hail into Alabama and southern states while pulling arctic air down over Chicago. If this were mid winter it would be a Chibera, however because things have been warming we are seeing snow and just above freezing at the surface… What is crazy about these snow systems is we are seeing snow at up to +5 degrees celsius! This is because the temperature is cooling so rapidly with height that snowflakes are not melting on their trip from the freezing level to the surface… Silver lining? well hopefully the snow is good for stay at home orders and social distancing.. meanwhile I am getting back into baking to make the house warm…

GFSNA_500_spd_000
Current Jet Stream pattern that helps direct the movement of weather patterns… 

Char Kway Teow – For Eric

Back in Australia we had this great place in Canberra called the Dickson Noodle House.. It was a noodle house, in Dickson, about as unpretentious as you can get.. Well I loved two things from there… Laksa and the Char Kway Teow.. I have been trying to perfect my home cooking of both since moving here to the USA.. here is my VERY ROUGH recipe for Char Kway Teow. For those in the western burbs you can get most ingredients at Wholegrain market.

Shopping list:

  • Bunch of kale, shredded
  • Garlic
  • sesame oil
  • BBQ pork Char Siu, sliced
  • ~1lb chicken thighs chopped (sorry, don’t substitute breast.. needs to be the naughty cut)
  • dark soy sauce
  • fish sauce
  • sugar
  • flat fresh rice noodles cut into ~1cm wide strips
  • your favourite hot sauce
  • two eggs

Cooking:

First, lay all ingredients out.. This will be action cooking. Prepare the sauce by mixing ~2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 2 tsp of fish sauce, 2 tsp of sugar and ~1tsp of dark soy sauce.

The rest of the cooking will be done in two batches in a HOT wok.. Heat the wok with oil in it.. Add 1/2 the garlic crushed, 1/2 the chicken and 1/2 the pork.. Once the chicken browns add 1/2 the noodles and stir fry until the noodles begin to brown a little. Move mix to one side of the wok and add an egg.. scramble the egg, thow in 1/2 the kale and a tsp of the hot sauce.. Continue to stir fry everything together! Once the kale is good and wilty/cooked splash in 1/2 the sauce mix and stir thoroughly. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat for the second batch… Once that batch is cooked add the first batch back to the wok and heat.

A few tips: First thing to hit the oil should be the garlic.. Keep it hot! there will be some charring but when you do the second batch this gets “absorbed” into the mix.. Do not cook for long once you add the sauce.. you do not want to reduce the sauce or the meal will become very salty..

Perhaps later I will add pictures 🙂 And here is hoping I did not forget anything 🙂 Happy quarantine-eating!

 

Riding My Age

I need to update this blog more often… I have not even talked about training for the 2020 Barry Roubaix. I nailed last years edition and plan to do even better this year despite some health issues.

IMG_5139
A clean bike is a fast bike!

Training is going very well, Zwift has been a godsend and has really allowed be to ramp up my Chronic Training Load (more on that later). But the trainer can only do so much. With Louise starting a new job she has a near zero vacation balance. I, on the other hand, have been working hard and have plenty of time saved up.. So when the forecast for my Birthday looked… ok… I took the day off and decided to ride the number of miles I just turned (inspired by my friend Jeff Bolam). Route was a simple on out here in the Western Chicago Suburbs, wind my way down to centennial, enjoy the westerly push from Romeoville to Willow Springs and the struggle back against the wind home.

IMG_5155
Mile 25! I was 25 years old when I married Louise. A good year and a good mile!

The challenge with winter (well early spring) riding is picking the time to head out. To early you freeze, to late, well let’s say school pick up time is a death zone. I took my first rest day yesterday in a long time. Legs were still pretty fatigued but managed to hold up well. Recent training meant 180 to around 200W was a very comfortable power output and at times the legs got happy and I was able to lift to 220+W for sustained intervals (mainly when I had a nice tail wind and felt the

IMG_5158
New bridge at the eastern end of Centennial allowing linking up to Willow Springs.

speed!  Centennial trail was so much fun, the ice has only just recently thawed on the trail so it was my first time there in a while. It is 19.6km of uninterrupted cycling goodness. No lights, very limited to no stopping. A great work out and a gem in the ‘burbs. Following the Des Plaines river and the Chicago Ship and Sanitary Canal you get a mix of lovely forest and interesting look at the mechanisms that keep Chicago running. After finishing on Centennial I had a lot of miles to make up after the nice tail wind assist. Rode back along German Church to Clarendon Hills road both climbing and pushing the wind.. It was slooooooow.  After heading north up Clarendon Hills road I still needed ~8 miles so a quick loop along Burlington had me round out at 68.32km or 42.46 miles.. Strava entry is here.

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 3.42.47 PM
Route courtesy of Strava.

Well that was a bust….

In case you are not aware yet the forecast from the last post was an epic bust… To quote Prof. Steve Nesbitt (UIUC):

Out of a possible 12 inches in my neck of the we saw about 2.5.  And the pavement was so warm I didn’t even need to clear…

My thoughts were captured by WBBM Reporter Bernie Tafoya:

cott Collis is an atmospheric scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and leads the Geo-spatial Computing, Innovations and Sensing Department.

He said Tuesday a lot of information was fed into weather simulations from Sunday’s 55-degree temperatures to the oncoming sub-freezing temperatures. The way the air was moving in the atmosphere made it a real “challenge” to forecasters, especially because the weather system was relatively small, only a couple of hundred miles wide.

Collis said the axis of unstable air actually moved farther to the south.

Full article here: WBBM Web article.

Well, sorry fat bikers, no snow.. Maybe it will dry out and we can get some gravel grinding in!

More Snow! (February 26th event)

This winter has been a rollercoaster! I was riding outside yesterday with temperatures in double digit celsius (55F). Well this was the peak of the ride and now we are about to come crashing down. Whenever you have unseasonal warmth there has to be a gradient in temperature somewhere and nature likes to destroy those gradients with nice juicy weather systems. The story for this system is all in the middle of the atmosphere. NAMUS_500_avort_051

The above figure shows the vorticity of the winds. Or how much they are spinning. There is a whole heap of math I could lay on you but simply put vorticity helps air go up. And rising air (also called unstable air) allows clouds to form as it cools as it rises becoming saturated. So the other thing we need is moisture.

2020022412_NAMNST_042_41.77,-87.9_severe_ml

The figure above shows temperature (red) and dewpoint (green, a measure of moisture content) throughout the atmosphere and is referred to as a Skew T Log P diagram. To the right of the temperature trace you can see the wind barbs. The direction is from the “flags” to the tip. In this case we can see winds from the North East up to about 3km. These are coming right off the lake! The lake is running very ice free at the moment so those cold winds will be fully saturated as they move over the water. And with the aforementioned vorticity forcing the air to rise we should see very effective “wringing out” of the air like a sponge! Now, there is one more ingredient. To get real good snow you need there to be plentiful saturated air in the dendritic growth zone (see previous post).

2020022412_NAMNST_048_41.84,-88.03_severe_ml

A second forecast sounding (from the “North American Model, NAM“) , shown above, is truly remarkable. For one the vorticity is forcing ascent so effectively you have a rapid cooling of temperatures with height. This is very unstable air. Second, you have a deep slab (~3km) of saturated air between -10c and -15c. If this verifies this will be a snow making machine!

12Z-20200224_NAMNSTMW_prec_ptype-1-60-10-100

The only real part spoiler will be if the models (simulations) are being initialized with bad data. This is entirely possible (and I think the NWS in Chicago are thinking this given their forecast) and the surface layer of air is way warmer that the model analyses (simulation time step zero). Prediction: If it pans out the way the NAM/GFS are predicting we will see rain turn to light snow Tuesday morning around 4am. Snow will remain light as the vorticity maximum remains to our west until around 3pm when snow will begin to intensify (if it is not rain). Overnight the party really starts with the most intense snowfall rates right in time for Wednesday morning’s commute. Again, big uncertainty is rain versus snow. My bet is for that cold air to replace the warmer airmass we have over us pretty quickly. Despite the warm weather our closest soil temperature measurement in St Charles shows 4in temps of 33F.  So we will not see much heat coming from the soil into the air. The Chicago region could see from 8 to 14 inches for this event. However this is a complex system and small errors in the location of that high vorticity air could have a big impact. FUN TIMES!