Wednesday, 18 September 2013

LIVING IN THE HURRICANE SEASON: Does the August Lull in Atlantic Hurricane Activity Mean We Won't be Having an Active Season?

August 2013 came and went without a single Atlantic hurricane. That's unusual, but by no means unprecedented. On average, August has two hurricanes, and the first major hurricane has generally formed by September 4th. 
The short version of my conversation with Dr. Gerry Bell, NOAA’s lead seasonal hurricane forecaster, on the significance of having no August hurricanes is: "We have been fortunate to date, but don’t be fooled. There will be more hurricanes this season. Remain prepared.”
As if to prove his point, later that same day, what had been Tropical Storm Humberto intensified into a hurricane.
Infrared image of clouds, including Hurricane Humberto, over the Atlantic observed by the GOES-13 satellite on September 11 at 1:45 p.m. Eastern time. The clouds are overlaid on a composite image of the Earth made from multiple NASA satellite images. Image by Dan Pisut, NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab.
Bell said that he and his office, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, have been fielding questions about the August lull in Atlantic hurricanes and whether it would cause his forecast team to soften its May and August outlooks, which concluded that the 2013 season had a 70 percent chance of being more active than normal.
In a word, no.  "What happens in the early part of the season is generally not a good predictor of the second half of the season, which is when the majority of hurricanes and major hurricanes form. NOAA’s outlooks are for the season as a whole, and not for any particular month during the season,” said Bell.
How tropical storms, hurricanes and major hurricanes accumulate from month to month in an average year in the Atlantic Basin. The majority of all named storms (yellow), hurricanes (pink), and major hurricanes (purple) occur in the second half of the June-November season. Graph adapted from original by the National Hurricane Center.
He added, “When climate patterns are conducive as they are this year, the likelihood of an active season is high and lulls in activity such as we saw in August do not last. There are still almost three months to go in the hurricane season, and there have already been an above-average number of named storms. "
According to Bell, the August lull was partly linked to a persistent jet stream pattern that extended from the western United States across the Atlantic Ocean to southern Europe. This pattern produced unusually strong westerly winds whipping around the perimeter of a trough of low pressure in the Southeast United States and adjacent ocean areas.
These unusual westerly winds helped to produce drier air and stronger vertical wind shear (winds changing speed or direction at different altitudes) across the main hurricane development regions of the Caribbean and central tropical Atlantic. Wind shear and dry air are hurricane killers, weakening and preventing towering columns of thunderstorms from organizing into a single system in order to become a hurricane.
Vertical wind shear between the 200 millibar and 850 millibar pressure levels of the atmosphere in August 2013 compared to the 1981-2010 average. Colors show wind speeds; arrows show direction. The unusually strong westerly wind shear across the Caribbean Sea and the central tropical Atlantic (deep purple) stifled hurricane development. Map by NOAA, based on data provided by Gerry Bell.
Making accurate predictions for specific weather patterns, such as the stubborn August jet stream pattern, at a specific point in time is not possible months in advance. This is why NOAA does not make hurricane forecasts for individual months of the season.
Fortunately, however, several climate patterns are known which strongly control the overall seasonal hurricane activity, and they often last for entire seasons, sometimes for decades at a time.
By monitoring, understanding, and predicting these climate patterns, forecasters can often make a confident outlook of the upcoming hurricane activity for the season as a whole.
"That's the difference between predicting weather and climate,” Bell said.  
The climate factors that led NOAA to predict an active season are still in place. Since 1995, the natural climate pattern called the Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation (AMO) has been in a phase in which temperature, wind, and rainfall patterns favor stronger hurricane seasons.  Similar patterns also produced stronger hurricane seasons during the 1950s and 1960s.  Other hurricane-friendly climate factors this year include ENSO-neutral conditions (no El Niño or La Niña) in the Pacific Ocean, warmer than average waters in the tropical Atlantic, and a stronger-than-average West African monsoon.
"Historically, this combination of climate factors produces an active hurricane season about 70% of the time. But as we saw in August, it doesn’t control the weather in the hurricane regions every week or month," Bell said.
To better understand the distinction between weather and climate, Bell notes that each time a weather system passes, the climate factors that favor an active hurricane season are still there in the background. To picture this, I envision a pot of potatoes boiling over on the stove: if you blow on it, you can momentarily keep it from splashing down on the hot burner. But if the burner is set on high, as soon as you stop blowing, it's going to boil over again. 
Each fall, Bell and his team of hurricane season forecasters spend a couple months re-hashing the season, assessing how well the outlook matched the season as a whole, and trying to isolate any new climate factors that could help them better forecast seasonal activity. Only when the season is complete can they determine if the unusual August weather had a significant impact on the overall hurricane season. The National Weather Services provides an overview of the seasonal statistics in November each year. Look for the Climate Prediction Center's in-depth assessment on its Hurricane webpage in early 2104. Until then, the main message of NOAA’s hurricane season outlook remains unchanged: be prepared.

Living in Lyrics: Salt in the Wound by Delta Spirit

I want to disappear
Far from the folks I know
I want to get an answer
To why I was even born

No one here can tell me
What's been haunting me all my life
Well, this rat race has left me limping
'Cause I balanced on the edge of the knife

Why am I here?
Oh, what should I do?
Well, is this the point I'm trying to prove?

If there's a God in my head
Then there's a devil too
How can I tell the difference
When they both claim to be true?

Maybe God is God
Maybe the Devil is me
Well, I just throw my chains on
And tell myself that I'm free

Chains, are they really there?
Is this just in my head?
Well, I'll just stay in bed

Life sure has its meaning
Over years I have postured the sun
Thieves and preachers robbed me
For many hat that I've hung

Now with my heart wide open
I listen to the wind just for a word
Sure, I know it's futile
But that's all I have in this world

To look down from the hill and howl at the moon
All the tears I cried never salted any wounds
Well, the earth is so tender and cruel
Well, if you're not there it's still so beautiful

Delta Spirit - Salt In The Wound Lyrics

Living in Hell

Luis came home last night and got all bent out of shape that I'd spent all day in bed. He was really ticked off about it. Of course, what does he understand about any of what I am going through? He understands nothing - zilch. He does try from time to time, but truly it is a wasted effort: not because of lack of imagination, but lack of knowledge. He has never missed a day of work in his life. I think he has taken a total of eight sick days with CLS, where he has worked since age 19. He rarely if ever takes vacation, even though he fought hard for CLS to give three weeks (instead of the paltry one) - and let's be honest, here. I was the one who pushed like mad for that. A company is only as good as it's employees, and unhappy employees are not good ones. But I am losing my focus.

Luis has never taken any kind of disability - not temporary or permanent (don't be fooled by the term "permanent" as pertains to working. Temporary disability is for six months, and then the employee in question moves to permanent disability, which might be three weeks or three years. In my sad case, it is indeed permanent as the word implies: without a miracle, I will never work again. And I am not being negative, merely truthful, when I say that there is no cure, no palliative, nothing. Doctors and groups are working on Duchenne's Muscular Dystrophy, but ignoring completely the adult onset variations. Great news. eh?

On 24 August, I was in a car accident, where, against all odds, I spun across the road, and hit only a telephone pole. No other vehicles, no other people, just a telephone pole, leaning majestically over North Beverwyck in front of the new 7-11 (or QuikCheck - I can never recall which is which). I'm grateful that I only beaned the telephone pole (although I'm hoping I won't get a bill for it) and nothing living. I myself ended up with a perfect imprint of the bruises from the seat belt. Those have long since disappeared. I still have phantom pains from the bruised ribs, but I will have that for a while, no doubt, in the nature of such injuries.

My car was not so fortunate. She gave her life up so I could have mine.

And I know I should feel blessed, lucky, fortunate, happy to be alive. But the truth is, I am lost, miserable,  so painfully alone. Lost in depression, lost in the trap I lived in for so long since leaving work - both as an HR Manager and as an EMT. I went from being on top of the world with a life so charmed it was all I could take to not wait for the other shoe to drop. And it did.

I have to live in this new... new... I can't call it a "world", but more like a new Hell. I was depressed a very long time after losing out on everything. I rarely left the house, rarely left the upper story of the house. I hardly spent time in my hammock. I ceased to enjoy all the things in life I loved. I became a recluse. I live online, and sometimes - rarely - on the telly. But this is not really living, and I know this.

This spring and summer I turned a corner and suddenly began to live once again - go places, spend time with my father, spend time out of the house. I was so happy again, and even got a pass for the Renaissance Faire to spend time up there with friends. It was grand to belong to something again, to drive so far, to be a distance from home. I was even beginning to think of vacations and trips.

Until I had my accident. No car. No life. No escape. Nothing. I've been spending days in bed, not eating, just enough to keep my health sort of okay, not doing anything in the house. This isn't living.

I'm not living.

And I am just wondering... is it worth it to go on living a half-life? Or a quarter-life? Or, as more in my case, no life? Is it really worth it? I'm 45 years old. I can't imagine living to a ripe old age of, say, 80 with no life, no living, no car, no freedom. Can you? Can anyone?

I await what shall surely be a deafening silence.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Living in MasterChef - Only Five Standing

And two of them are the worst-tempered, egotistical, wretched people in the show.

Such a pity. I realise that this is not Hell's Kitchen and they need not work well others and play nice in the sandbox as managers, but still - who wants a woman who is stuck in high school and thinks that beating other women up is the way to handle people and a woman who rides all others as lesser beings and can't be civil to her fellow contestants to win? The answer is no, no one does. Forget the other prizes involved, I don't feel they deserve or can handle the cash prize involved any more than they can handle people.

I digress.

This is it: we are down to the last five contestants. It is now 4 September (this aired last Thursday; the new episode will air tomorrow night). The new "regular" television season will begin very soon. It is time to wrap this "off-season" chow and move on. We are all ready to see who will (well, has) become the new MasterChef.

The remaining contestants are James, Luca, Jesse, Krissi, and Natasha. If you have read my last MasterChef post, you know the two I don't care for. Not that you wouldn't be able to guess in a moment if you watch MasterChef - the descriptions I gave are right on the money.

The interesting part of this group is that the two I least like are both extremely talented home cooks. James - well, James is likable enough, but how he managed to stay in while Jordan killed himself overdoing everything he touched up until he was voted off the island by the judges is a mystery. Actually, it isn't, but when we first saw Jordan cook to get into MasterChef, we both thought he was going to be in the very top contestants remaining. It was shocking how fast he lost control.

James is still here, however, at least of this moment. Still, I doubt he will remain in the competition past this episode.

Luca is fun and quite a great guy, as well as a good home cook. He tried out last season, they declined to bring him in but said he should try in the next season's applications, and here he is. He started out well, got stuck in his rut (he's from Italy and cooked almost nothing but Italian food) and now has pulled out ahead of the pack. I have no objections to him winning or placing second. Anything else would disappoint.

Jesse is the best of the female contestants, both of those gone and those remaining. As impressed and completely baffled as I was by how far Bri made it in this show - as a vegetarian, in a show where protein is a major component of nearly every food challenge given - I just knew as we all did on some level that she could not win. It is not at all conceivable that a vegetarian can cook every meat when she cannot overcome whatever it is that made her give up on proteins to taste what she's made! I thought she was quite good to get as far as she did, but not able to go further. Jesse, on the other hand, can cook alligator. I think she can cook anything. Luca, on the other hand, can cook all the meats but alligator. He won't have run into this yet.

Today they will be working with Paula Deen on a luncheon. This woman has the worst Southern accent, just unreal. She sounds uneducated. Some do, obviously. She may know cooking and well, but this was filmed just before all that brouhaha came out about the disgusting and horrifyingly prejusiced comments. I mean, who says stuff like that? At first it was that this happened a long, long time ago, but no, some of it has just happened. She is not painted in a very good light at the moment. But she is here on MasterChef and we shall see what happens.

So the remaining contestants are going to cook Southern food. Each one will get a protein to cook. Natasha may sink here, as she is from South Africa, her mother from Argentina (that explains the thick black hair, her only really nice feature), and her father is from Croatia - quite a mix of cultures and backgrounds - such a pity she is so close-minded. But she is unfamiliar with Southern cuisine, and maybe - just maybe - she will be out of this competition this time around. (I will grudgingly admit that I tend to doubt it, however. She has proven to be a formidable opponent, even if she is a miserable bitch.)

The meats will be Kentucky chicken, Alabama pork chops, Georgia shrimp, Mississippi catfish and a little gator tail. (I guess the gators are everywhere, so they don't get a state designation. Luca has won the last test, so he selected his meat first: the pork chops. Natasha got the catfish, Jesse got the alligator, Krissy got shrimp, and James the chicken. James, of course, is relieved, but I have noticed that anytime someone gets chicken - or something that they feel comfortable with - they sink. So I have to think that Natasha and Jesse will excel with meats outside of each person's comfort zone, but James will get cocky and Krissy of course is just going to be midline, and Luca... well, that could go either way.

Krissy apparently knows Southern foods - she is making fried green tomatoes and collard greens (because no one down south eats that...), but who knows how the shrimp will turn out.

James has a problem - the chicken cutlets are huge and there is too much chance that it will be undercooked. Somehow, too often this season, people have undercooked chicken, the one and only killer mistake. Other food will maybe make one sick, but undercooked chicken is too often a death sentence. Yuck.

It is amazing how fast these challenges go by.

Natasha is having trouble with her catfish sticking to the grill - the buttermilk is to blame for this - so she is going to do something different to ensure that this will not be raw. James, by way of contrast, has assured the judges that his chicken was cooked properly, but it was pink, as in raw. So he stuck it back in the oven for the remaining four minutes. Somehow, four minutes will not be enough.

Everyone is happy with their foods except James. They are each dropping their dish off at the appropriate table, giving the people an overview of what they made, and then heading back to wait. The top two dishes will move forward, the rest will be in a pressure test.

People are raving over the pork chops and alligator; the shrimp and catfish is okay, the chicken is raw. They are allowing James to cook it more (which is a departure from the norm, but I guess they did not want the table of revelers to be screwed out of a meal), but he is definitely going into the pressure test with raw chicken. Unsurprising.

Natasha's catfish is undercooked. She will be going to the pressure test. James has the worst issues, but Natasha is the next one there. I suspect that Luca and Jesse will move on as the top two, and Krissi will end up in yet another pressure test. She has been in every single pressure test, but this is not because of her cooking as much as her piss-poor attitude.

Paula will be telling the chefs who is moving forward to the top two positions (dishes). She thanked all the contestants, and then said that the top two going forward are Luca and Jesse! Yahoo! And Krissy, who was sure hers had the best presentation and taste, looks pissed off. I had to laugh. So did Luis.

Krissy is too typical and predictable at this point.

Luca and Jesse are safe from elimination and are heading into the pantry to make game-changing decisions regarding the elimination test and the three in it. If Luca and Jesse are smart, they can kill off one of the bigger pains - Natasha or Krissy. James is not a real threat.

There is an appetizer, an entree and a dessert, covered up in front of each chef. Chef Ramsey has the appetizer, a scallop salad with curry, fresh perigo truffles. The entree is Joe's, a fillet Rossini. The dessert is Graham's Greek yoghurt panagata. Whoa, that looks hard. If it were me, I'd give Natasha the entree, Krissy the dessert, and James the appetizer. But that is just me. Luca gave the appetizer to Natasha. Jesse gave the entree to Krissy. And James gets the dessert. He is completely sunk. James can't manage desserts at all. He knows it, too. He described it as a "death sentence". Smart man.

Forty-five minutes to make the dishes. This will be interesting. What a pity. They should have given James something much easier to keep his easy to beat butt. And then, Luca said he wanted James to stay in the competition! Huh? Then why give him a dessert, something you know - KNOW - he cannot do?! Stupid. Very tactically thoughtless.

Natasha works fast but keeps things moving along very well. She keeps her station fairly neat, she is organised and works without getting too stressed out. James is doomed and he knows it. Krissy works, but she is sloppy as hell and gets far too stressed out. She gets bent out of shape too easily. Personally, I would use that to my advantage... throw a few hundred comments about what a stupid, poor cook she is, get her all riled up and watch her implode. I would enjoy it.

Natasha's plating is not great, but the taste is great, and he gives her credit for pulling it off and making a bloody good effort. Graham wished there would be more vinaigrette. She lost points on the plating.

Krissy has a plate that looks good, and the meat is more medium than medium rare, but delicious. Rats. Joe did not think she had it in her - I didn't either, but if she'd gotten the appetizer, she might be gone.

James... his dessert looks horrendous by comparison. He said it looks close, but I don't see that. The panicotta isn't set. It is lumpy. They all liked the taste, but the panicotta got him sunk. He's done.

The three judges went off to confer and Krissy chatted with James, and Natasha was on her own. But James knows he is history. So do we.

They did not torture the remaining three long at all. They told Krissy and Natasha to say good-bye to James. Gordon told him to go back home, marry his fiancé, and continue cooking as well as get into a kitchen.

James told them in response to Gordon's question as to who will win that Luca will be the number one chef. That was nice. No one has said Krissy will win. Heh, heh, heh...

Onto the next battle!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Living in the Old Farmer's Almanac in September 2013

Happy Mabon!

Farmer's Calendar

Long before supermarkets and big-box storers, the small town general store was the lifeblood of the community, supplying the townspeople and those living in the surrounding rural area with just about everything that they didn't grow or make themselves.

The store usually had only one room with a counter, a butcher's table, and shelves from floor to ceiling that were packed with a variety of goods. Customers could buy staples such as coffee, spices, and baking supplies, as well as locally grown fruits and vegetables that were often brought in by farmers who bartered for needed items. The dry goods section kept patrons well stocked with essentials, including bolts of cloth, sewing materials, shoes, clothing, guns and ammunition, lamps and lamp oils, cooking utensils, and farming supplies. Wooden barrels filled with apples and dill pickles tempted patrons, and jars of penny candy delighted children. Often, the store housed the post office and provided a bench and a few chairs where residents gathered to catch up on the local news.

You can still find these old-time general stores, although they aren't as plentiful. Much of the merchandise has changed, but they're still great places for sharing a cup of coffee and a little gossip with friends.

SKY WATCH ☆ Venus hovers above blue Spica on the 6th and 7th. The planet stubbornly remains just 10 degrees above the horizon some 40 minutes after sunset but has the brightness to magnitude -4.1. It is close to the Moon, with Spica just below and Saturn to the upper left on the 8th. Saturn stands to the right of the Moon on the 9th and then hovers above Venus from the 15th to the 19th. Jupiter, brightening to magnitude -2.1 and rising ever earlier, clears the horizon at around 1:00 A.M. and is well up for viewing during the predawn hours. It meets the Moon on the 28th and stands high up at dawn. The autumnal equinox brings fall at 4:44 A.M. on the 22nd.


from those