Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sky Drama

I don't know why so many people continue to watch manufactured drama on TV when there's so much real drama going on right over our heads.

And NO commercials!

Today's sky drama reached its climax about 4:15 this afternoon when it started to hail.

It was pea-size hail - or maybe just a tad bigger. Which is just about the best kind of hail there is. Big enough to be interesting, but not big enough to do much damage.

And here's what the radar looked like at the time. (I'm the smiling Ohioan down there in the center of it all who's waving hi.)

It only came down for a couple minutes, but that was enough. I tend not to like shows that require an intermission to reduce the chances of a burst bladder.

Coincidentally, this is Severe Weather Awareness week here. They tested the tornado sirens at 9:50am. But, as usual, they didn't explain what the procedure would be if a tornado actually popped up at test time. Some areas of the state cancelled the test for fear that it would conflict with a real event. But there seems to have been some confusion as to whether or not that's what the National Weather Bureau was recommending. This confusion about testing procedures does not exactly boost my confidence in their ability to do the right thing during an actual emergency.

Neither does the memory of their sounding the sirens too long a few years ago during an actual tornado touchdown. They ended up burning out quite a few sirens as a result. The replacements cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Oops. Guess the designers never heard about fuses.

(I sometimes think that our Internet browsers need fuses. You know - something that will burn out before our brains do. But I digress.)

They said on the news yesterday that any time a storm produces hail it can also produce a tornado. Because of the height of the cloud and the forces inside. Or something. But obviously there's more to it than that because not every cloud that produces hail also produces a tornado. I'd even bet that hail is far more common than tornadoes, so that something must be pretty significant. Jet stream speed and alignment, maybe? There was almost no lightning here today - and there's almost always lots of lightning when we do get a tornado - so.... I dunno. I'm just throwing this out there in case you're looking for something to do your next science fair project about.

(The last science fair project I did involved making a model of a nuclear reactor. That would have been back in 1973. Before Chernobyl. Before Three Mile Island. But after the Fermi incident that inspired the book, We Almost Lost Detroit. I lived less than 50 miles away from Fermi at the time. Had things turned out a bit differently back in 1966, the Japanese could have been the ones in front of their TVs watching me popping iodine tablets while living in a rain-soaked tent. Instead, I was able to sit in my room and come to the conclusion that relying on a substance that's going to be deadly for thousands of years just to boil water to turn turbines to power TVs so people could watch "The Brady Bunch" was more than a little stupid. Nobody ever asked for my opinion, though. If they ever do, I'm ready to share it. But I digress.)

I can remember that it started to hail one day when I was walking home from school. I was walking south along the west side of Cambridge - not far from where I saw my first dead squirrel a few years earlier. It must have been late spring - school was still in session, but all the trees were full with their summer foliage. Cambridge had a lot of trees back then and those leaves protected me from the pea-size hail. Or maybe it was a little bigger than that. Anyway, it was an awesome experience - as unexpected and as magical as the anti-poppy snowfall in The Wizard of Oz. Let's say it was 1966 - the same year the Fermi incident almost released a very different kind of magic.

In the years that followed I often found myself walking home from school longing for a repeat performance. It never came....

I think it was my friend Freddy L. who told our teacher the next day that he'd been caught in a hail storm on his walk home and had scooped up some of the hail and put it in his freezer. This caused waves of envy to wash over me. Not only did this prove that Freddy was a genius - it also meant that he'd taken what had been an extremely ephemeral event for me and turned it into something he could savor forever at his leisure.

Well, haha, Freddy. Today *I* was the one who thought to capture the hail with a digital camera. And just in case you haven't heard, digital photos are the things that don't melt when the power goes out after all the reactors have melted down. Sure, I might not be able to actually see those photos again until the power comes back up or I loot some batteries from a store as our society collapses, but I know they'll still be there for me.

And I'll even let you look at them after I get those batteries if you'll finally apologize for punching me in the face.

Oh, what the hell.... You shared your watermelon with me once. And let me into your basement to see your Dad's elaborate train sets. Feel free to go back up to the earlier part of this entry right now and stare at my photos for as long as you like.

1 comment:

  1. Speaking of computer fuses, I was downloading the latest drivers for a Lenovo computer and tracking down all the related software. Along with PC-illin was something called PC Health Care. I have seen similar names for software packages that monitor the CPU temperature and the speeds of the fans, among other things. If the CPU temperature exceeds prescribed thresholds the PC Health package alerts you and shuts it down if you don't respond. A chronically slow fan can be a harbinger of events like this.
    Blahblahblah. So I kept searching for what this application did and all I could find was "content farm" references to it that all seemed copied from the same useless site saying the name of the software but telling nothing about it.
    FINALLY I downloaded it and unzipped it and read the read me. Every half hour it locks your computer for five minutes. You can't get the computer to do anything for five minutes so you'll presumably get up, move around, and focus your eyes at a different distance and flex your neck, &cetra.
    For God's Sake, exclaimed the atheist, what if it does this in the middle of an eBay bidding war or some other time-sensitive operation? This seems like the wurst idea since letting the public know what goes into sausage.
    I'll stop now and read about Fermi, Freddy and your batteries.
    Oh, I meant to say that pea-sized hail usually makes great snowballs. Well, at least it packs well. Whether they are great or not depends on whether the ice ends up hurting somebody like Old Weird Harold, the Gunky.