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Fire and Ice 25/02/2013

Posted by zoidion in Climate.
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Twin Cities ephemera: The thaw/freeze period is underway. Even when the air temperature is below freezing, any degree of sun visibility is enough to instigate some melting of the snow cover: seven to ten inches, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

Last week, as Missouri got dumped on, my back yard, and roof, received about five inches of light stuff. That was about in line with what I considered possible, considering the relevant moisture chart. It was a major hassle for commuters, though. For the most part, I enjoyed the additional call to be outside, but it was also a bit of a nuisance: the part where I got out on the sunroom roof (for only the third time this winter) to rake the south quadrant. I wasn’t much good for fiddling that evening or the next.

Several years ago, I arranged for additional insulation topside (and wished that I could have had more added to the walls). And when I make a point of looking at the roof from up or down the street, I’m well satisfied that at least I’m not using fossil fuel to heat the roof—unlike quite a few of my neighbors. Anyway, I figure the house energy system works better if I make sure at least one roof vent is clear of snow and can breathe, and the south side is the only one I can reach.

Last week also saw the first seed-packing get-together of the Northeast/Southeast Food Resource Hub, whose mission is to support community and backyard gardeners with seeds, tools, classes and the knowledge and experience of its members. We met at Eastside Food Co-op, whose membership overlaps quite a bit with the year-old Northeast Investment Co-op. About fifteen of us sat and counted—or, more often, eyeballed—equal numbers of seeds to go into little glassine envelopes, to be distributed to members in April. This time it was cantaloupe and collard seeds. After an hour of that, most stayed, and a few more arrived, to watch “Farmageddon,” a very disturbing film about recent abuses by federal and state agricultural police.

The day before, I saw “Chasing Ice,” the closing song from which was nominated for an Academy Award—I didn’t know Scarlett Johansson couldn’t sing. That film documents photographer James Balog’s recent efforts to record the loss of glacial ice at twenty-some locations in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana. It’s astounding—the time-lapse photos, the meltwater rivers cutting canyons through the ice, the capture on camera of a lower-Manhattan-size chunk breaking off. Frankly, I walked out so stunned at the visual evidence of climate change that I didn’t retain a fair amount of the information. It does look like we’ll be cooking—mostly, until a major volcanic eruption or meteorite or something . . .

Speaking of volcanic eruptions, my recent reading (Brian Fagan’s The Little Ice Age and H.H. Lamb’s Climatic History and the Future) has brought my attention to their past impacts, and my pondering to the why of their timing.

Why were there four cold episodes in the seventeenth century, and at least six climatically significant eruptions (Fagan)?

The first episode followed the Huanyaputina eruption in what is now Peru in 1600, which took place as a series of Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions in water signs was shifting into the fire element, which held sway through the eighteenth century; Huanyaputina also occurred during an Uranus-Pluto conjunction in fire sign Aries, with both those planets in a trine angle (one-third of the zodiacal circle) with Neptune—a rare combination.

The cosmic situation on the date of the primary eruption—16 February 1600—is still more indicative of special potency: Saturn in close opposition to Uranus (less so to Pluto), and the Sun—serving as the day marker—in close opposition to Neptune. The spacing of bodies around the circle was: Sun – 60 degrees – Uranus-Pluto – 120 degrees – Neptune – 60 degrees – Saturn – 120 degrees – Sun. A kind of hourglass configuration. (Hot Mars and expansive Jupiter also joined Neptune in fire sign Leo.)

The configuration is even more interesting in relation to the chart for the zodiacal year, beginning the previous 20 March. Though no one knew beforehand what place would produce the defining event, the year chart cast for the area of Huanyaputina suggests that a sudden flip was imminent: The lower meridian, key to weather and seismic events, was at the very end of the last degree of Aquarius, the sign of maximum cold; and on eruption day the Sun, in exile in Aquarius, was close upon that meridian. (The Moon, at perigee—the monthly pass closest to Earth—was also midway between Sun and Uranus-Pluto, Venus nearly at maximum elongation—angular distance from the Sun.)

(Huanyaputina volcano chart calculated for local noon)

(Huanyaputina volcano chart calculated for local noon)

“Huanyaputina ash played havoc with global climate. The summer of 1601 was the coldest since 1400 throughout the northern hemisphere, and among the coldest of the past 1,600 years in Scandinavia, where the sun was dimmed by constant haze.” – Fagan


Looking Toward Spring 13/02/2013

Posted by zoidion in Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: It lacked the sensational news value of the Big Dump out east, but around here and to the north and west, a decent amount of precipitatin’ happened, primarily on the day of the New Moon (Sunday, 10 February). It was enough of a mess for the Twin Cities to declare snow emergencies. The city plow drivers loved it, I expect: lots of weekend overtime pay.

The next day, I went to Austin—about 100 miles south—for a friend’s dad’s funeral, and it was dicey traveling. Along the way on the Interstate—or should I say, off it—there were two semis in the ditch, as the snow snaked across the lanes from the farm fields. The clumps of trees I saw were glazed with ice and a bit of snow, but I noted there was much stubble from last season’s crops visible—the area is still very much contending with the prospect of continuing drought.

Not so in the northern two-thirds of the state. There’s a fair amount of precipitation—almost four inches of water content—sitting on the ground, but whether it actually gets into the ground is another thing.

As a story in the Star Tribune cautions: “’We could have a flood on top of a drought,’ said assistant Minnesota state climatologist Pete Boulay. Soils are extremely dry over most of the state, and a cap of frost could well prevent most of the moisture in the snow and ice now lying on the landscape from soaking into the ground when spring warmth arrives. In that case, it would run off into lakes, streams and rivers.”

The best prospects for the start of the growing season would be a combination of plenty more snow and a gradual warmup: above-freezing days and below-freezing nights. Which is exactly what didn’t happen in 2012, when a dearth of snow was followed by record warmth with many above-freezing nights in March.


What do the moisture charts have to say for the coming month? The short answer is: dry with a couple of short cold spells until the week of 4 March (the start of the fourth quarter of the lunar cycle), when we’ll see an extended stormy period.

The local New Moon chart featured water sign Pisces—and Mercury (wind, variability), Mars (rising temperature) and Neptune (peculiar “borderline” conditions) clustered closely around the meridian. Water sign Scorpio, with Saturn therein, on the Ascendant closed the deal on a lingering messy storm.

The first quarter (17 February) and Full Moon (25 February) charts both have dry air sign Libra on the lower meridian, so dry—and cool—weeks can be expected. Both those charts also feature Uranus close to the upper meridian, foretelling rapidly and dramatically shifting temperatures: particularly dips on the cold side.

That pattern changes in the fourth quarter to a lingering cold and stormy spell, thanks to Saturn very close to the lower meridian. The sign involved is water sign Scorpio, which cues the watchword “extreme.” An unpleasant period, but one which also offers the best chance for the moisture needed along with conditions for that moisture to soak into the ground.

Sometimes unpleasantness turns out to be both beneficial and welcome.


Reading recommendation: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard (2011).  See the author’s web site for selections of his writings.

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