Planning around the mountains

Combi with a view.

It’s monsoon season in the mountains. Warm August sun heats the high peaks where the atmosphere is cold. This leads to unstable air and clouds and, if the upper atmosphere is not too dry, storms and rain. And the atmosphere is not to dry at the moment. This is good on so many levels, primarily it allows the high country to flourish and blossom. And it puts a damper on the fire danger. For visitors and locals alike, it means one needs to plan around the weather. I am no expert in Leadville local scale meteorology but through a 5-day in-situ study it seems that clouds build shortly after 8am, get taller and spread on ranges west and east of the Arkansas headwaters valley at around 10am, precipitation can start at around 11am with storms moving in after noon. The NWS had upped its wording for today (Saturday the 31st, last day of July) with stronger terms. Good forecast as it validated nicely, albeit later that forecast which seems to be a recurring theme, or, more on point, accurate with the probabilities assigned (a topic for a later post perhaps). Well, enough weather geekery! Seeing the forecast and discussing priorities with Louise and River we decided today was Kayak Day and we needed to go as early as possible. A call to Mt Elbert Kayak (can’t recommend highly enough) and we were booked in at open at 8. We made it to Twin Lakes at 7:30am, enough time for a Coffee and breakfast out of a WV camper. Delicious and a great view. Paul at Mt Elbert Kayaks was amazing. He made safety fun! He showed us the ropes (almost literally) and got our rental watercraft strapped to the Subaru. We were doing the full-on mountain life! The benefit of being up and out so early is the water was glass. The plan was to launch at the “Red Rooster” (no idea) boat ramp and paddle across the Interlaken “ghost town” resort for a snack. The same place I took some MTB photos earlier in the week! I suffered from some geographic embarrassment, not realizing we were in the west basin not the east of twin lakes.  

Different sky and a different lake.

It ended up as a happy mistake (vale Bob Ross) landing on an isolate beach for a rest break. Not a soul in sight but a screech from the trees alerted us to a predator. We were treated to what I think was a kestrel or some other hawk or eagle. Magnificent against the backdrop of the high Rockies (and uncapturable on an iPhone or all but the most expensive camera gear so this one is captured in our memories). Realizing our (my) mistake we headed out to the channel between the two lakes (Twin Lakes.. it is what it says on the tin) and headed towards the old town of Interlaken, made up of cabins of the well-to-do who wanted to enjoy mountain life (history, it seems, repeats). Now home to bats and a welcome rest stop for hikers, bikers, and paddlers alike. There is something special to a place that cannot be reached by vehicle. Pardon my arrogance, but the filter to the lazy means only those that put in the effort can reach the special places and this keeps them quite and nice. We enjoyed a very pleasant lunch of salmon bagels, cliff bars and water and boarded our craft for the paddle back. It was close to 11am and, as predicted there were some impressive clouds developing on Mt Elbert. Only a matter of time until they have overcome mid-level dry layers and “gone deep” producing rain and, much to my worry, graupel inside the clouds and lightning. Also, as those clouds were rising, they were sucking in air along the Saguach range (of to which Mt Elbert belongs) creating winds across the lake. So we headed back with a cross tail wind and some fun waves (but no mirror surface).

2 Mile high brewing. Beer with altitude.

Back towards the channel with the full fetch of the wind across the east basin we had some small waves that were sometimes a hindrance and sometimes a fun benefit providing a bit of a surf.  Through the channel the waves ceased to be part of the picture. Just as we approached the boat ramp the rain was starting on the southern shore of the Twin Lakes. We quickly hauled out and dropped out kayaks back in Twin Lakes. A highlight of the trip and as you, dear reader, can see from the photos, a spectacular, indelible memory for life. Arms sore, souls, again, very full we turned to fulfilling of the belly. And, boy, was the weather turning! Our luck was amazing (funny how clever folks are lucky). Back into Leadville and on the race across the Arkansas headwaters valley the atmosphere let off some fireworks with storms exploding all around us. With a couple of stops with Louise and River enduring the fact that, when the sky delivers, I am always on the clock we headed into Leadville for some chores and some great beer, food and company at 2-Mile-High Brewing. Don’t go looking for bowing and scraping service at this establishment. Beer was good. Not a fan of the larger, that need some work. All the ales were excellent, and food was great grub. Atmosphere was kind of the “Anti-Aspen”. I hope Leadville continues to value the down to earth nature of places like these. It attract folks like me who seek an authentic mountain experience.

Pure Mountains

Seriously, the best pic of a bike I have ever taken.

Today was a sampler of some of the best of the high parts of Colorado. Pure mountain biking, pure Colorado “highways” and Aspen, a pure (albeit touristy) mountain ski town. First, the mountain biking. Herein follows a review of the Turquoise (LINK) lake single track just out of Leadville. MTB project touts that the reviews and rating are submitted by local riders. I do not doubt this is the case for the blue rated out-and-back 6 mile (so 12 mile if you do it out-and-back) trail along the north shore of Turquoise lake but it shows a rider who considers themselves to be “blue” (intermediate) based out of Leadville are far more skilled than us flatlanders from the midwest.

The trail starts very easy, some rocks to navigate but plenty of space to prepare and recovery from the feature. I say this is mountain biking (specifically XC MTB) at its purest as, even though the trail is maintained (no erosion etc) zero attempt has been made to make the trail “flow”. Totally un-artificial and I rode it to see the amazing landscape unfold as it can only do on a loop. Some parts were a joy to ride, and some parts were technical, some other parts got gnarly where you did not have a clean run at a feature and you had rock gardens followed by rock gardens so you could never really get back on balance and some part were hike-a-bike for all but living legends. If you take at the MTB project link above you will see the peak in the middle, that is where most of the hike a bike is. The rest is ridable by any solid intermediate rider who is used to the trail and elevation. This intermediate rider is NOT used to the elevation and was riding it blind so more than a few flubs of a run up to a rock garden forcing a walk to get started. Louise will be happy to learn that there were no spills today. So, to answer the question: Was it worth it? Do you like technical rocky sections? This is for you.

Clouds forming over the ranges on either side of the Arkansas headwaters valley near Leadville.
Pure mountain driving.

Do you prefer flow but are willing to suck it up for world class views? It’s worth it but judge your risk tolerance carefully. Good news, the whole trail has cell service for your significant other to send the authorities your way, as always set a “no contact panic time”. Are you familiar with the world class views Leadville has to offer and love the flow and think pushing your bike is for chumps? I would say avoid. Let me put it this way: I chose not to do the out and back again, opting to take part of the Leadville 100 route and then turn off for a mad descent to the dam wall and where I parked. Strava file here: Link .

Best pizza! Worth the steep bill.

Arriving back at the cabin we discussed priorities. The weather was forecast to close in so we opted that this afternoon would be Aspen. We climbed the Independence Pass again (discovering it was named for the, now ghost, town of Independence. This time, instead of stopping and turning around we descended the other side. The road down on the Aspen side is very different. It starts a lot mellower than the Twin Lakes side but quickly narrows, a lot! The story on the Twin Lakes side was avalanche scars. On the Aspen side it is rock falls. This means the road narrows in several spots to a one lane road with some unwritten rule making it work. Crazy there are not more issues (perhaps there are but we witnessed none today). Aspen sits at around 7,900 feet, the air felt so thick! First impressions: Wow, parking is a challenge. Asking a local he directed us to a road on the edge of town which connects to Aspen’s wonderful walking trail system. The forecasted weather was arriving so we hot-footed it to our destination: Aspen brewing and tap. Great beer, amazing pizza, phenomenal WIFI and pretty steep prices. Yes, Aspen is not Leadville.

It caters to the well-to-do. However very nice for a treat. And it was great watching the storm rage outside over the mountains enjoying the best pizza I have had in ages. All that was left to do was wait out the storm, head back to the car and enjoy a spectacular drive over Independence pass watching the clouds roll off the pine-covered slopes back to the cabin. We asked and the mountains derived pure majesty today.

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!

 

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!

Snow for Chicago and Downstate 02/12/20

This is basically a dump from our Departmental Slack channel… Nice compact system shaping up for the next 24-48 hours. Normally this would not get my attention but we have been so starved for snow and real winter weather this year I’ll take anything. NAMUS_prec_prec_012Very interesting MSLP as shown in Figure 1 from the NAM (12Hr FCST). Juicy intense cold front over the Appalachians with copious moisture being fed in (SPC has a SLGHT chance for Severe.. Worried about flooding) Note the solid block high over central Canada and then a second trough squeezed on in over our region. Second figure shows the 500hPa winds.NAMUS_500_spd_012 VERY VERY broad jet dipping down. Chicago is sitting under, kind of the left entrance to the NE propagating jet streak. Take a read of this primer on the impact of jets on instability. The left entrance is a region of unstable air and will be enhancing snowfall over our region… Kind of… Screen Shot 2020-02-12 at 8.57.12 AM

Next figure is a forecast sounding taken at the time of maximum snowfall rate, as forecast by NAM, at +12hours, or at around 6pm Chicago time. Green line is the dewpoint or “water content” while red is temperature. Where the red and green lines are close the atmosphere is saturation and clouds can form. Note the temperature axis is skewed (This is called a SkewT Log P chart) so from 1500m to ~4000m the saturated atmosphere is around 10 degrees celsius… This is borderline temperature for nice snow formation (aka the Dendritic growth zone, DGZ). the DGZ is a range of temperatures at which the saturation vapor pressure for air over ice is much less than that for air over water. This allows a process called WegenerBergeronFindeisen where, basically, ice can very effectively suck all the moisture not only from the atmosphere but surrounding drops.. Suffice to say, when you look at a plot like the above and you are looking to forecast snow, look for deep saturated layers at ~-10 to -15c. Also note the steep lapse rate (decrease in temperature with height) from the surface to ~1km… This layer is what we call “Conditionally unstable” which could allow convective clouds to form… This time is right at the change over from mixed precipitation to snow.. So our total accumulation in Chicago will depend on the exact timing.. Expect a NASTY WET SNOW at the peak commute home 🙂

12Z-20200212_NAMNSTMW_prec_snow-1-30-10-100

Finally, let’s look at the actual NAM (the 4km “Nest”) forecast above… Hopefully you have gathered from my discussion that model estimates for snow  are very uncertain. But if the model (simulation initialized with atmospheric observations) is to be believed we could be shoveling 4 wet inches of snow.. But, wait… There is a kicker here.

13Z-20200212_HRRRCHI_prec_radar-0-18-10-100

The above animation is from NOAA’s High Resolution Rapid Refresh simulation which is a type of simulation (Model) that we call “Convection permitting”. This means it is high enough resolution to resolve smaller storm systems. But, as it is costly to run it only simulates 18 hours in the future. Note the interesting small features at the end of the predicted radar image. This is a small mesoscale (~100km in size) snow squall.. Behind the squall the winds are turning north east, or off the lake and on to the western shore of lake Michigan. This means we may see some lake enhancement at the end of the event. My take is that we could see 4-7 inches from this event depending on 1) How long we get rain before the snow and 2) If we get some lake enhancement at the end…

m54

The final image is from Michigan State University and NOAA and shows lake temperatures near Chicago. Just above freezing… So there may be a sweet spot for snow accumulations  ~5km inland from the lake edge… it will be touch and go in the city to begin with.

Weather plots courtesy of the amazing COD NEXLAB site!