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Stars and Bucks 11/09/2015

Posted by zoidion in agriculture, History, Photography, Weather.
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Glacial Lakes ephemera: After a run of not-quite-hot but very muggy days, the weather regime shifted just in time for a planned several days out of town. We headed west and a bit north to the Minnewaska area, about one hundred and twenty miles from home, as the crow flies.

There’s a good-size lake by that name there: the name made, by early settlers, from two Dakota words, minne (“water”) and washta or waska (“good”). For a while it was called by an Indian name meaning “Dish Lake,” because it lies in a basin. At other times it was called White Bear Lake, apparently because a Chief White Bear was buried in a high hill on the north shore; and Lake Whipple, after Bishop Henry Whipple, by many accounts a fair-minded man who courageously advocated for peace with the Dakotas when the bulk of the white population wanted to exterminate or at least deport all of them following the horrors of the Dakota Uprising of 1862. (The town of Mankato on the Minnesota River still holds the dubious distinction of having been the site of the largest mass execution ever in the United States of America, when thirty-eight Dakotas were simultaneously hanged on the day after Christmas that year. Many more sentences were commuted by President Abraham Lincoln.)

The view of and approach to the lake from the south is a dramatic prospect, since it is a long and finally steep slope after traversing part of the 120-mile-long and ten-to-nineteen-mile-wide band of territory known as the glacial lakes. While nearly all of Minnesota (not the southeast corner) was subject to glaciation, this area got special treatment that left behind a landscape characterized by hills, ridges and lakes that seem to belong . . .  somewhere else. 

Here’s one view within Glacial Lakes State Park:


And another:


The experience afforded by a bit of time atop this kame — hah! the computer’s dictionary doesn’t list the word, but the hefty paper one does: “a short ridge or mound of sand and gravel deposited during the melting of glacial ice” — was a rare and welcome one. The only sounds came from the unusually gentle breeze, grasshoppers, frogs (maybe) in the woods below, a few birds passing through the valley: nothing mechanical. And the quality of light shifted from moment to moment.

The day had begun, in the nearby no-stoplight town of Starbuck, with a full rainbow and a partial double spectrum of colors, which heralded half a day of overcast and showery conditions. By noon, the sky was clearing, and by early evening a local pileup of clouds was flashing lightning nearly every second and hurling hail at the ground. I wondered if I could have stood the times of tedium to witness, and photograph, such a remarkable variety of clouds and light on the land.

The following morning was quite clear, presenting an excellent view of the fading Moon along with Venus and Mars. (Mars is a tiny dot to the left, or north, of the Moon’s crescent.) Pretty good for a camera perched on a stack of magazines, looking out a dirty second-story-porch window. (It would be a long story.)


Below is the chart for the same moment: the time as recorded by my camera. Jupiter was about to rise over the horizon, though still too close to the Sun to be seen. But the chart shows graphically that excellent planetary viewing will be possible, clear weather permitting, over the next couple of weeks. The Sun lengthens the distance from Jupiter, and Venus and Mars close the distance from the latter.


How easy and glorious it would be to see the planets and stars if so many millions of lives weren’t based in urban centers like the overbuilt Twin Cities, with its excess of shade and decorative trees and its plethora of light pollution sources. Viewing across a prairie landscape like the Sedan Brook Prairie would be both simple and hypnotic.


But except for a few mostly small remnants, the prairies are gone. What is left, in small towns dependent on spillover money from Big Agriculture — where every stop sign or bend in the road represents an opportunity for a disastrous spill from a tank truck loaded with anhydrous ammonia — are rueful reminders of what once, and for eons, was.




Mercury Tricks 11/02/2015

Posted by zoidion in Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: Fortunately, it was a short walk — with only one skid and no fall — in the dark tonight, coming back from the bus stop. The temperature wasn’t terrible, but the wind was nasty — nearly blowing away the sweet memory of a walk in the sun only two days before, and the generally easy weather of the previous week.

Yesterday featured a rosy dawn, a classic indication of an imminent storm. And lo and behold, within a couple of hours a barrage of sleet was sounding on windows and settling into an icy sheet on every exposed surface. Just enough snow followed to obscure the slipperiest parts of any walking path.

Typically for this winter, it didn’t amount to much precipitation: two-tenths of an inch, with only three-tenths for all of January.

It seems a mean joke, and one that will stick around a while: The techno-weather forecast accords with my own cold one for the coming week, issued back in December. But as rude and unpleasant as the outdoor reality is here, the reports about some other areas are much worse, or just strange: recipients of Mercury’s tricks during the just-ended retrograde phase.

“Mercury retrograde,” commonly-dreaded three-week periods three times a year, relates to astro-weather study as a primary indicator of shifts in wind patterns. And in the past few weeks, in apparent retrograde motion, Mercury has transited for a second time over the place of Mars in the season chart of 21 December 2014. On 27 January, to be exact.

The start of the retrograde period (22 January) coincided with the weather shift that has brought one storm after another (one of them with hurricane-force winds) with vast amounts of snow, to Boston and the rest of eastern New England.

In the western tropical Pacific Ocean during the same period, water and air were of course much warmer. That area was marked in the season chart by Mars on the ascendant: a focus of the season’s warmth. (Note the angling red line toward the right side of the astromap below.)


That was exactly where short-lived Typhoon Higos developed to peak intensity, becoming the strongest cyclone on record for so early in the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Why? “Sea-surface temperatures were close to 1°C warmer than average across the region where Higos developed, part of a pattern of unusual warmth covering much of the western tropical Pacific.”

During the week following February’s Full Moon, when Higos arose, the astromap showed the storm’s region again marked by Mars, as well as Uranus: the two (their rising zones represented by the two red lines in the right half of the astromap below) comprising the most turbulent combination.


Fortunately, there were few islands, few humans in Higos’ way.

Mercury’s tricks were of a similar sort, but with devastating results, in the Balkans region. They served to illustrate human folly: deforestation and soil erosion contributing to the worst flooding in forty years in Albania. “Over the last two decades, many Albanian trees close to powerful rivers such as the Vjosa, Osum and Shkumbin have been chopped down by poor villagers desperate for wood, and by entrepreneurs clearing the way for buildings and dams in a construction boom that has largely benefitted foreign firms. The trees had held soil in place for centuries – acting as a sponge during rainfalls – but without them, soil erosion has accelerated flood damage.”

The Mercury-on-the-lower-meridian line for the season runs north-south through the center of the Balkans, and Greece, where, early in the Mercury-retrograde period, the populace elected a new government pledged to reverse the devastating policies of the previous four years.


But during February Full Moon, the Moon and Jupiter were at the upper meridian through the region, the Jupiter line running right through Albania.


Jupiter alone would indicate a period dominated by dry, pleasant weather, but the lunar influence brings a high tide of atmospheric moisture. Good luck turned to bad, worsened by unsustainable harvesting.

Alas, this is a type of story likely to be much repeated, worldwide, as Earth’s atmosphere seeks to rebalance human-caused anomalies, as Gaia shrugs off excess human population.


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