WTTW Chicago tonight gave me a yell asking about the record lake levels. I have been watching the evolving large scale forcing behind the recent rains.
It is nice as my work on the NSF funded SAVEUR project (Collaboration between Argonne, Northwestern and the University of IL) gives me a little freedom to do this given our focus on Chicago and the region. In a nutshell: It’s complicated. This time of year we are not particularly strongly impacted by ENSO (Weak but persistent El-Nino) or NAO. But it has rained. A LOT. Chicago beat its all time may record with 8.25 inches (sorry about the old money) of rain.. This is over double its mean rainfall of 3.68 inches. Furthermore the rain has come from a series of torrential persistent (organized) downpours. This has allowed the soil column to becomes so wet it looses the ability to soak, store and evaporate the rain leading to increased run off.
“But wait!” I hear the hydrologists amongst you exclaim, “Only a fraction of the Chicagoland region is in the Great Lakes watershed”. Well you are correct random hydrologist! The figure to the left (from Environment Canada) shows the watersheds of the great lakes. However, take a look at this site from NOAA which shows almost every area around the lakes has received much greater than average rainfall. Furthermore, it has been cold and damp and the lakes themselves have been cold thus inhibiting evaporation. The lake levels (or more so the rate of rise of the lake levels) is the solution to a simple budget equation: The rate of rise (or fall) is water in (Rainfall and diversions from some watersheds in) minus water out (flow into Atlantic via the St Lawrence River plus water lost from diversions away from the lakes plus evaporation). Each of the terms on both sides of this equation involve very complex physics and geopolitics. For example did you know that far less water is diverted away from the lake in Chicago (to the Mississippi) than is added to the lake on the Canadian side? But there is a hard limit to how much extra flow can be added at each point (to the great relief of those living in Montreal). So with well above average rainfall, very wet soils (see this calculation from NOAA with runoff around the lakes at the 95+ percentile) limited evaporation an already modestly full lake system is now breaking records.
What a difference a few months makes. Back in January I was visiting Utqiagvik as a guest of Argonne’s Education and Outreach team. When we arrived it was -20F and lets just assume the dewpoint was -20F. Today I went for a run in Nanjing, China with a (5am) temperature of 70F and a dewpoint of 65F. In China each kg (roughly a cubic meter has 13.37 grams of water in the form of vapor. In Utqiagvik it was a mere 0.35g. From the dry to the dripping wet!
The Barry Roubaix is the worlds largest gravel bike race. It sells out at 3,500 riders. 2019 was my third time racing the Barry. I first rode it back in 2016 when my fitness was good and my weight was “ok-ish”. 2016 was when I was training for Ride Across Wisconsin, a 175 mile road ride. My time for the 36 mile Barry route was 2:35 on a dry, warm and dusty course. I had a blast! I signed up again in 2017 but bailed as it was 35 degrees Fahrenheit and raining. In 2018 my health went downhill in a big way.
Stress, over eating, drinking too much (self medicating) all leading to frankly disgusting weight gain. In 2018 I had a blast riding Barry but clocked in at 3:01 26 minutes slower than 2016. When entries opened for the 2019 edition I decided to target the ride. Having two times meant I had a great metric and a goal to aim for. Starting in November last year I started tracking my weight and I used the only weight loss technique that works for me: Religiously tracking calories. In addition Louise and I decided to do a month without consuming alcohol in the lead up to the April 13th event, something we dubbed “Mapril”. In addition I rode, a lot. Starting indoors on the trainer (Wahoo Kikr) on Zwift and, as the weather allowed, increasingly outside.
As the event drew closer I did multiple three lap rides of Waterfall Glen (9.3 mile crushed limestone loop) a similar distance to BRX. This allowed me to mentally prepare for a solid 2-3 hours in the saddle riding at race pace. And using a power meter allowed me to both manage my effort and ensure I kept the power up. As training progressed it got easier and easier to hold a power around 210W for extended periods. Periodically my Garmin head unit would prompt me to update my FTP (power sustainable for an hour, basically power at over which you start consuming energy reserves, your lactate threshold). I estimate I started training at 225W FTP and finished at 256W. I also lost an astonishing 39lb. This meant my power to weight ratio went from 1.8 to 2.3 W/kg.
Start finish line
Fitter and happier
The day of the event was cool, a little windy (15mph out of the west) providing a bit of a wardrobe challenge. The event is, as always, run spectacularly well. Its no easy feat organizing 3,500 gravel grinders keen to ride! The course conditions were great, a few areas of mud but the ground was generally very firm and fast. And I felt great! I went out to hard as usual smashing the three sisters. Eventually I dialed it back keeping it around 200W on the flat, rising to ~300W climbing with the occasional coast and recover on the downhills.
Pacing was great.. I passed 1/2 way at just over 65 minutes. Two great thing about Barry is the landscape and the people. The landscape is rolling and wooded, the people on the bikes are all characters and good natured and those off the bikes were cheering and creative! I rode the most technical part of the course, Sager Road, probably the best I have, only putting a foot down twice (and one of those was because some one fell in front of me). Sager is full of sand traps, rutted stony climbs… Awesome! The MAD WALL is the last (and hardest) climb but also signals that the 36 mile route is coming to the end.. I felt good so I upped my power to ~220W.. About 5 miles out the legs were really signing, at risk of cramp but I got tied up in a killer paceline (22+mph).
In the end I finished at 2:20:16, a remarkable improvement on my 2:35 in 2016 and another world compared to my 2018 result. Even more remarkable is I ended up 42/74 for my age group (40-42) compared to being 68/73 in 2018. Next year, sub 200lb, and 270W FTP and I will see amazing results.. What a blast.
Recently I was invited to speak at the Great Lakes Meteorology Conference.
This is a conference run by the Northwest Indiana chapter of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. The theme was Breaking Boundaries and Building Leaders. I have always wanted to visit Valparaiso University. It is home to the well known Python teacher and Evangelist Kevin Goebbert. It also has a great reputation for producing graduates who end up going far in their chosen profession. One challenge for this trip: It is in the middle of a dry (alcohol free) month for me in the lead up to Barry Roubaix. Now, maintaining alcohol abstinence at home is one thing, doing so while on the road is another thing altogether. In the evenings at a hotel I love to unwind with some TV and a beer.
Also, I came down with a killer cold the week before. But with the power of antihistamines and lots of vapor drops I drove on down to Indiana. I grabbed some cheap Thai on the Friday night, and relaxed with a diet Pepsi and a bag of crisps.
I am also in the middle of training for Barry Roubaix which means early mornings, which also meant I was up at 5am on Saturday morning. Great chance to explore the university town and take some photos of the Valpo teaching C-Band Dual Pol Radar! It is very notable for a University to have its own weather radar. Let alone one that does not have a graduate program. This is one thing the fascinates me. Another benefit of the University is a University town brings good businesses, notably: Coffee! A Latte later and I headed to the conference. Attending the first few talks it quickly became apparent the tone of my talk, to be delivered later in the day, was off. I planned to talk mainly on open radar science and then pivot to leadership.
Most presentations (from very distinguished presenters) made leadership the prime focus. I had equations in my talk! My favorite part of the conference was the forecast exercise organized by the local student organization the Valparaiso University Storm Intercept Team (VUSIT). This took me back to my days at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology when I was undergoing forecaster training and we would run Real Time Displace Scenarios (RTDS) which used a program to parcel data out as it would be received by the forecast office. I even got to teach the students a little about the perils of radar doppler velocity alaising!
Eventually it was time for my talk. I ended up skipping some of the science and instead focusing on how open source communities build the best leaders. I reiterated to the students that “Leader” is not a job title but a state of mind and if folks wait until they have “Leader” in their position description to display leadership qualities they probably should not be the ones “in charge”. Open source community projects are a great poster child for this point of view. The best packages (think: MetPy) are not run by high executives some where. They are managed, led and promoted by high character front line coders and developers. These developers manage to lead and orchestrate very large groups of people. Leaders to aspire to and leaders I implored these young students to use as role models.
After hearing that the teacher we are working with, walks to and from school I decided to give it a shot this morning! And it was a nice mild one for it at only -25ºc (-13F). The route is 0.8 miles, but I took a wrong turn and ended up walking to the east of the School. That was a little intimidating as it became a little more rural and polar bears were foremost in my mind (my heart rate was nice and high for the walk). In the end I did just over a mile on Strava. A nice way to start the day. The only real failure was not equipment, it was, as my eyes watered a bit in the cold, my eyelashes developed quite the ice accumulation making it hard to blink.
We observed one class in the morning and had some discussions on how the students were learning pattern recognition. Since I had so much fun walking to School (beats the hotel treadmill) I decided to do a repeat performance and walk home! The whole thing seems so novel to a lower 48 ‘er like me but folks here were going on like normal, kids getting off the school bus. We had freezing fog today so even at 1:30pm the light was dull. But, good news, THE SUN COMES BACK TOMORROW! I hope the fog clears enough for us to see it!
The motivation for starting this blog is to have a creative outlet for long form content. This was nucleated by a work trip to Utqiagvik (Barrow) Alaska on a project we are sub-contracting to the Concord Consortium on an NSF eduction grant called Precipitating Change. So what is so exciting about Barrow Alaska? For starters it is home to an ARM Research site, the Northernmost of its fixed network. Second it is the Northern-most city in the United States at 71.29 North, well above the Arctic circle. Yes, it will be dark the whole time we are there.. Well we will get some twilight.
And this makes for some very interesting meteorology. In places where the sun comes up we are used to the normal daily dance of the ground heating up and an equilibrium developing between warm air at the surface and colder air above. There are eddys that form that transport heat that develop a change in temperature with height (~1 degree per 100 meters). But no sun = some very funky temperature profiles! This effectively decouples layers of the atmosphere from the surface allowing for great cloud structures as talked about by Dr Joseph Hardinat last years ERAD.
More on the great weather (it’s actually looking ok for our trip with temperatures when we land around -19ºC) later. This trip is to observe 8th graders at the North Slop Borough Middle School interact with a curriculum we have been developing. The key to the curriculum: using the weather to teach computational thinking. Students observe weather phenomena, specifically large-scale circulations (Highs, Lows, Fronts), how they move and build forecasting rules of thumb. They reason out what should happen next at their location: Should it get warmer? Colder? Wetter? Dryer? Our plucky team (part of the larger project) is led by Meridith Bruozas from Educational Programs and Outreach at Argonne National Lab. I am not an education expert.. but I do ok at outreach. So this is new territory for me, both professionally and geographically. I am uncomfortable and I could not be happier!
Welcome to an experiment in providing some long form thoughts on a variety of subjects. The contents of this blog will be ~70% professional with the occasional thought that varies away from work, but always related to things open and things to do with the sky.