Weather Weirdness

Moving to the Seattle area has been quite the education in more ways than one. For instance, I lived in Florida for so many (too many) decades that I assumed that weather worked the same way everywhere. Not that everyone had the pleasure of the unbearable heat and oppressive humidity that we experienced there 11 months a year. No. What I mean is, in Florida, I could look out the window, see what the weather was like, and pretty much bank on the fact that everyone within a hundred-mile radius was experiencing that same exact weather. I thought that was normal, you know?

Another thing I grew to assume in Florida was that the weather was predictable. (Granted, I left there before global warming kicked in with a vengeance. Maybe that has changed.) For the bulk of the year, I used to be able to count on what was referred to as PC-CHAT (Partly Cloudy, CHance of Afternoon Thunderstorms). In fact, in Central Florida you could practically set your watch by it. You would get a torrential downpour every day at 3 p.m.

Then I moved to the Seattle area. And boy, did I ever get schooled. I had to add the word “microclimate” to my vocabulary list. I had never even heard that word before moving here. It’s definitely a thing. You can literally drive 2 miles down the road and experience completely different weather. Two neighborhoods, just 5 miles apart, can have an average difference of seven inches of rain per year. The little valley that I live in, I’m told, almost never sees snow. But if you climb up the slope on either side of us, you can be hit with a snowstorm that requires the roads to be plowed.

I can sometimes experience a 10 degree temperature difference between work and home. (It’s very weird to think that when I go to work, my dog and I are experiencing different weather. He refuses to talk about it.)

And predictability? Forget it. Just this year, city government officials were expecting a storm with such high winds that they actually activated the Emergency Operations Center, and many city employees worked through the night, expecting disaster. There was the usual panic as residents rushed out to buy last minute supplies and batten down the hatches. But the storm took a sharp turn and missed us entirely. And just the other day it snowed. That wasn’t even in the forecast. It took everyone by surprise.

The meteorologists around here certainly have their work cut out for them. Why is that? Well, there are a number of factors that come into play around here that cause us to be in a climactic washing machine of sorts. The first is that we are nestled between two north/south mountain ranges—the Olympics and the Cascades. These ranges are the cause of another new vocabulary term for me: “rain shadow”. As the weather travels eastward, the mountains rob the atmosphere of a lot of the moisture, so people living just to the east of the mountains experience a lot less rain. And those to the west have the pleasure of seeing the clouds stall right above them as they hit the mountains.

And north of Seattle you tend to get a light, ever-present drizzle, whereas south of Seattle you may not see rain as often, but when you do, it comes down a lot harder. And the closer you are to the water, the less rain you tend to see. Go figure. It’s like crossing the border into another country or something.

Another factor, of course, is elevation. There are a lot of hills and valleys in this area. The higher up you are, the more apt you will be to be snowed upon. That makes sense. But since the elevation shifts so abruptly here, the weather is notably different from one neighborhood to the next. And then being right on Puget Sound adds another level of complexity that I have yet to fathom.

So, yeah, there’s a learning curve to living out here. And now that I’ve bought a house in a completely different microclimate, I’m back to square one. But I think I’m up for the challenge.

Seattle microclimates

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Allow Me to Simplify

Here lately, humanity seems to be struggling with concepts that should be pretty straightforward. It doesn’t make any sense at all. It is causing conflict and anxiety that seems completely unnecessary. Given that so many people these days don’t seem to want to think, let me lay down some basic concepts for you:

  • Nazis? Bad.

  • Texting while driving? Deadly.

  • Waiting your turn? You freakin’ better!

  • Violence? Bad.

  • Compassion? Karma, baby.

  • Net neutrality? Crucial.

  • Racism and/or sexism? Idiotic.

  • Flossing? Necessary.

  • A fur coat for your schnauzer when people are starving? Unconscionable.

  • A right to health care? Obviously.

  • Voting? The most important thing you can do.

  • Helping yourself to my french fries? Get your own.

  • Not pulling right up to the car in front of you in a traffic jam, thus preventing the people behind you from getting through intersections sometime this century? MORONIC.

  • Abuse of power? May your chickens come home to roost, and soon.

  • Courtesy and Respect? The bedrock of civilization.

  • Education? Critically important.

  • Science? Real.

  • Smoking? Bad for you. Even worse for those who love you.

  • Human rights and basic freedom for everyone? Duh.

  • Paying your fair share? Of course.

  • Vaccinations? Not important, as long as you’re okay with having the life expectancy we had in the freakin’ 1600’s.

  • Global warming? HERE. NOW.

  • Abuse of children or animals? Sick. Demented. One of the few things worthy of torture.

  • Taking care of the planet? A good idea if you want to live.

  • Blocking the grocery aisle because you’ve run into a friend? STUPID.

None of these concepts seem particularly controversial to me. And yet here we are, a world divided on these issues. I don’t get it. I really don’t. Please make me understand.

common sense

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Cooperation

Once, I was crossing a very long bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida. Actually, I should say that I was trying to cross it. Traffic was backed up for miles. Ah well. At least I had a wonderful view.

And then I heard the sirens. An ambulance was attempting to get by. My heart went into my throat. I didn’t think this would end well for its occupant.

But an amazing thing happened. Every single car, and there were hundreds, all pulled over to both sides of the road as if they were acting as one. You would have sworn we had been working with a choreographer for months. It looked like the parting of the Red Sea or something. It was beautiful.

The ambulance blasted past on the center line without even having to hit the brakes. I was kind of proud of all of us that day. It’s probably why the memory has stayed with me.

In a society that is more and more polarized, it’s a rare thing when everyone comes together and cooperates without hesitation. We can’t even seem to agree on what constitutes a crisis these days. (In case you hadn’t noticed, global warming is an actual thing.)

It is interesting, though, to see how we come together in cases of emergency. Even neighbors who don’t particularly like each other will be there when the flood waters start to rise or the wind starts to blow. An earthquake is a great equalizer, destroying mansions and shanties alike. And during candlelight vigils we are united in our grief.

We need to figure out a way to show this same spirit of cooperation during times of feast as well as famine. Actually, we need to find a way to do it even during moments of routine. We don’t always have to agree, and I’m sure we never will, but when all is said and done, we’re all in this together.

Trust Hand Teamwork Keep Cooperation Unity

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The Sky is Falling

I’ve been feeling a bit claustrophobic of late. Due to all the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, I went about a week without seeing the sky. The sun and the moon both looked blood red from the pollution, and the smoke seemed to be pressing down upon us. I lost my mountain views at work, and in the little valley where I live, it seemed like a grey pot lid was sitting on the hills, closing us off from the rest of the universe.

Every day I’d come out to find my car coated in a blanket of ash. And at work, when I’d do my sweaty maintenance and then walk through these cinder showers, I’d wind up looking like a coal miner. Nothing quite like being coated with gunk to make your work day feel like it’s going that much slower.

I hate it when my horizons shrink. It’s bad enough that winter is approaching, which here in the Seattle area means cloudy skies for months on end. (Time to break out my SAD light in order to avoid a deep, dark depression.) I’m starting to look at it as the price I have to pay for amazing springs and summers.

But as global warming advances, I suspect I can look forward to a lot more smoky skies in the summer, and either killing droughts or torrential downpours. I’m not sure if I can adapt to this new world. I worry for my grandnephews, who will have no memory of how things used to be. I worry for my friends in Florida, who will be chewed up and spit out by one hurricane after another until the whole state disappears.

This does not feel like the planet I was born on. And we’ve brought it on ourselves. Something has got to give.

Moon
The moon feels like it’s getting closer every day.

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My Cabinet Dream Team

It really amazes me that Donald Trump has somehow chosen the most destructive and incompetent person for every single position in his cabinet. I mean, that takes talent. Finding the worst possible human being for any job takes effort. You have to sift through a lot of scum to get to the most slimy of dregs.

The other day, while stuck in a traffic jam the likes of which can only happen in Seattle, I entertained myself by coming up with a cabinet dream team. Hey, if sports enthusiasts can do it, why can’t I? I admit this is official proof that I’m a geek. I’m okay with that.

So here’s my fantasy team. I know many of them are no longer living, but since this is a fantasy, why not?

  • Secretary of State— the Dalai Lama. He’s wise. He’s fair. He remains calm. He speaks quietly and people will listen. People respect him. If they don’t respect him, they look horrible.
  • Secretary of the Treasury—Colin Kaepernick. This is a man who recently donated 50K to Meals on Wheels. He also has raised millions to bring food and water to the people of Somalia. If anyone knows what’s truly financially important and how to make it happen, he does. So what if the NFL won’t draft him? They prefer wife-beaters. I wouldn’t hire the NFL.
  • Secretary of Defense—Mahatma Gandhi. It’s about time that we had someone who wasn’t a warmonger in this position, don’t you think?
  • Attorney General—Michelle Obama. She’s a lawyer who is intelligent and capable. She cares about people. She knows how to get her point across. She’s strong, and an excellent role model.
  • Secretary of the Interior—Theodore Roosevelt. Yeah, he liked to hunt, but he created the first national parks on the planet. On. The. Planet. That tells you all you need to know.
  • Secretary of Agriculture—Dan West, founder of Heifer International. This is my favorite charity because it is all about helping others to be able to maintain an agricultural life in a healthy, sustainable way. We need more of this if we’re going to survive.
  • Secretary of Commerce—Jessica Jackley, one of the founders of Kiva.org. This organization teaches us that through microfinance we can lift people up and allow them to help themselves by making it possible for them to have their own small businesses. This is a model we need to emulate.
  • Secretary of Labor—Bernie Sanders. Who else? This is one of the few politicians who actually has dedicated his entire career to giving a shit about people. With Bernie, the unions would be safe, we’d all have a reasonable minimum wage, and he’d work closely with the president to get a single payer health system. What a concept.
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services—Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. A controversial choice, no doubt, but we need to protect Planned Parenthood. And if she were willing to speak out for women at a time when that just wasn’t done, I’m willing to bet she’d also support a single payer health system now.
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development—Martin Luther King Jr. Now, this is a man who would have been horrified at our increasing homelessness and the blight of the inner cities. He’d know how to reach people and speak the truth to them.
  • Secretary of Transportation—Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’d rather create a Secretary of Universal Exploration position for this amazing man, but barring that, this would be a good place for him. He’d look at Transportation in a scientific way. He’d encourage green options. He’d think outside the box. He’d support NASA and promote it as the transportation of our future. And we’d all probably have hovercraft in no time.
  • Secretary of Energy—Al Gore. Jeer if you want, republicans, but this man has been warning us about Global Warming since long before most of us knew what it was. And now that the vast majority of us are coming to our senses and seeing its devastation firsthand, it’s about time we let him get to work on it. We need green technology. We don’t need coal and pipelines.
  • Secretary of Education—Malala Yousafzai. Now, here’s a young woman who risked her life to go to school. She knows the value of education. And she’s another one who is so respected that anyone who opposed her would look like a jerk.
  • Secretary of Veterans Affairs—Al Franken would cut to the chase. He would come up with common sense solutions to support our veterans. He wouldn’t go for doublespeak or foolishness and he’s not easily intimidated.
  • Secretary of Homeland Security—Jon Stewart. Here’s a man that does not bullshit anyone. He has boundless common sense. He wouldn’t be swayed by fear mongers. He wouldn’t be focusing on a freakin’ wall and certainly wouldn’t be trying to tear already heavily vetted immigrant families apart.

So there you have it. My dream team. I would love to see what would happen in this country with these diverse, intelligent people at the helm! What a refreshing change it would be. Discuss below!

Cabinet

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It Hurts When I Do This

Everyone has probably heard a version of this joke:

“Doc, it hurts when I do this.”

“Then don’t do that.”

Simple, yet effective. And it’s also a source of profound frustration for me, because I’d be that doctor if I could. It’s often the most obvious solutions that are never employed. I want to shake people, sometimes.

For example, here in America we export 1.1 million tons of potatoes, while we also import 1.4 million tons of potatoes. When I think of the fuel costs alone, I want to screech. We do so much harm to the planet by not eating locally and in season. And there’s absolutely no reason for it.

And there are so many creative ways one can ruin one’s life. What fascinates me is that turning point moment — The first time someone takes heroin, for example. What could possibly go wrong? Sheesh.

Is it really so hard for all of us to contemplate consequences? Can we possibly be this short-sighted? Are we incapable of thinking in terms of cause and effect?

Apparently so, or there wouldn’t be so much resistance to the mounting evidence of global climate change.

Apparently so, or no one would have voted for Donald Trump.

It’s as if society at large is at the maturity level of a boy who thinks it’s fun to light his farts on fire.

We should be able to do better than this.

consequences

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Not My Problem

I spent the first hour of my shift today with a battery operated leaf blower, cleaning off the sidewalks and the bike lanes of my bridge. A clean bridge is a happy bridge. At least that’s my motto. I take pride in showing this drawbridge in its very best light, and in my quarterly reviews it’s usually noted that this is the cleanest bridge in the system.

Leaf blowers are fun. They give you this sense of power that is normally beyond your reach. Out, damned spot! Out I say! You just have to be careful not to get so caught up in your own head trip that you get mowed down by a bicycle. Talk about a reality check.

The only down side to blowing leaves is that you’re not really getting rid of your problem, you’re just relocating it. Which is fine, if you follow through and bag them afterward. But I’ve seen many a landscaper just blow them down the street. “Not my problem anymore.”

Yeah it is. Because a certain percentage of them are going to blow back into your yard eventually. Count on it. And if everyone has your attitude, a whole lot more debris is going to be blown into your yard by the equally lazy people up the street.

This is also why most medical funding is not focused on prevention. Even though prevention has proven time and time again to give you a much better return on your investment, society in general is much more willing to deal with the problems that have already occurred, when there is no longer a choice.

It’s the same with the environment. Does it really surprise anyone that so many people are willing to ignore global climate change? We’re doing all right for the time being. We still can fill our bathtubs and eat our avocados out of season. Why make sacrifices? And I’m not just shaming the climate change deniers, here. I live in one of the most environmentally conscious cities in the entire country, and yet even as I write this I’m looking out on a highway that is so choked with vehicles that they can hardly move. And yes, I drove home to write this.

One of the few problems with short terms for politicians is that they, too, can blow their problematical leaves down the street. “Let someone else deal with the tricky stuff a decade from now, once I’ve retired.” We now find ourselves hip deep in a political leaf storm, people. Having fun?

Humanity has a lot of growing up to do. We have to start behaving like adults. We need to take responsibility. We need to act with integrity. We need to take society’s ills seriously even if we aren’t feeling particularly feverish as individuals.

It’s time to start bagging up our leaves.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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You Don’t Have to Believe in Global Warming

It must be awfully stressful to be a climate change denier. If you fall into that category, I have to admire your tenacity, your grit, your firmness of conviction. Especially in light of the fact that fewer and fewer people agree with you.

According to a Gallup Poll in March, 2016, 64 percent of Americans are extremely concerned about it, up from the all-time recorded low of 51 percent back in 2011. And 65 percent of us believe global warming is caused by human activities.

And scientists (the ones who study these things, after all), are even more definitive. According to Wikipedia, “A survey found 97% agreed that global temperatures have increased during the past 100 years; 84% say they personally believe human-induced warming is occurring, and 74% agree that ‘currently available scientific evidence’ substantiates its occurrence.”

No one likes to be a member of an ever-shrinking group, but hey, you are entitled to your opinion. And opinions don’t have to have anything at all to do with facts. For example, I am of the opinion that cranberries are torture devices that get trotted out every Thanksgiving. You don’t have to agree with me.

Even so, I’m sure we can find some common ground. For example, most of us should be able to agree that we need to take care of the planet on which we live, for ourselves and for future generations. It’s the only planet we’ve got, right? We can all agree that our actions have consequences, even if we don’t agree about what those consequences will be.

So it’s official. I will no longer judge you harshly for being of an opinion that flies in the face of science. I will no longer ridicule you for having a belief that is so foreign to my own. Don’t you feel better already? I do. What a load off our minds. Group hug!

But in exchange, I’m going to double down on you if you neglect or abuse the planet. Just as I would be wrong to go out and destroy all the cranberry bogs, so you would be wrong to negatively impact the earth. Fair’s fair.

If you aren’t willing to stand on that common ground, then I can only conclude that your agenda is far more nefarious, and you might want to take a hard look at your level of selfishness, laziness, and greed. In that case, you’d feel a whole lot better if you simply come clean and admit that it isn’t that you don’t believe in global warming. It’s actually that you don’t give a shit.

But I’d like to have more faith in you than that. I think you can believe what you will and still do what you must. Your actions mean much more to me than your thoughts. Especially if you’re choosing to be thoughtless.

the_planet_earth_by_technoking

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Own Your Fifty

Ever since I entered my 50’s I’ve had many people say to me, “Don’t worry, fifty is the new thirty.” As if I needed comforting or something. As if it is preferable to live in a state of denial.

Here’s the thing (yes, yes, there’s always a thing): I don’t want to be thirty. I like myself a lot more now than I did then. As a matter of fact, if I were to meet the me of 20 years ago, I’d probably give her a stern lecture about some of the bonehead decisions she is about to make.

I also genuinely believe that my generation is probably going to be the last to squeak through life while the environment on this planet is relatively habitable. That makes me sad for future generations, because it’s not their fault that we have done so much to destroy their world, and so little to fix our mistakes.

I’m glad I won’t be around for the riots over water, and won’t have to watch the ever-increasing population fight over the ever-shrinking coastlines. I’d really rather not experience the mega-storms. I’d prefer to skip the time when most bugs are resistant to antibiotics.

I also don’t feel that 50 is so freakin’ bad. My body might be a little slower getting started in the morning, but it still functions. I’m still perfectly capable of having new experiences and seeing new sights. I know that there is still much for me to create and write about and do. My future is still unpredictable enough to be exciting.

My advice to you is to own your age. Embrace it. Don’t look at aging as a source of shame, but rather as an accumulation of knowledge and life experience. That’s something to be proud of.

The fact is, we all have an expiration date. When I was 30, that thought scared me. Now, it’s kind of comforting, and I’m okay with it. I don’t mind playing my part in a much bigger picture. In fact, that’s exactly what I want to do.

50
I bet there is some interesting stuff in those drawers!

Moving Ten Meters South

Recently I listened to a speech by Noam Chomsky on my local NPR station, and one of the many things he said that struck me was that given the unprecedented rise in temperatures on this planet, it’s as if we all are moving 10 meters south every single day. Okay, that kind of freaked me out.

First of all, I hate moving. The thought of having to do it every day leaves me cold (or in this case, hot, I suppose). Second, it took me 40 years to get out of the South, and now I’m being dragged slowly back to it? No! Not fair!

Just out of curiosity, I decided to do the math. First, I had to find the latitude of Seattle,  Washington, which is 47.6097N. Then I had to find the latitude of Jacksonville, Florida, my old stomping grounds. That turns out to be 30.3369 N.

Now, we’re going to pretend that Jacksonville is directly south of Seattle instead of being on the opposite side of the continent or this is going to get waaaaaaay beyond my math skills and patience.

Next, I had to figure out what that converts to in (due south) miles. This gets complicated, because the earth is all curvy and stuff. (And all you flat earth folks, don’t flame me. I’m not interested.) So I went to the NOAA Latitude/Longitude Distance calculator, and pretending that both cities were at a longitude of 122.3331 W, I discovered that that’s a distance of 1,193 miles.

But good old Noam, being the science-oriented guy that he is, gave us our southward drift in meters. So I also had to convert to metric. Sigh. That means it will stop being mentally imaginable to me, but here you go: 1,193 miles is 1,919 kilometers, or 1,919,000 meters.

So, if I’m drifting 10 meters south every day, that means it will take me 191,900 days to get back to Jacksonville’s latitude. That’s more than 525 years. (And if you mention that I forgot to allow for the extra day every leap year, I’ll slap you silly. This is a thought experiment, people!)

Whew! I can actually live with that. Mainly because I won’t be alive. And besides, I’d in fact land in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Baja California. And that may as well be Jacksonville at that point, because Jacksonville will be completely submerged, as will most of the rest of Florida. Lucky for me, the vast majority of Seattle will remain high and dry. That is, if the next major earthquake hasn’t dumped it into the sea.

But even though I wouldn’t be literally drifting southward into the ocean, and supposing Seattle hasn’t been earthquaked into oblivion, it will be hot, and the climate will be so drastically altered that the city will look nothing like its current lush, green, beflowered, beautiful self. But still, my toes won’t be getting all pruny.

Of course, there’d be the refugees from other flooded states and nations desperately trying to find places to live and totally invading my space along with a population that had already exploded beyond comprehension, and they’d be using up all the drinking water and fighting over what few fresh vegetables were left… Shades of Soylent Green or Waterworld.

I don’t know about you, but this thought experiment has stopped being fun. But if you’re a glutton for punishment and really want an eye opening experience, go to the Surging Seas website and type in various coastal cities. It will tell you what’s going to happen if we don’t get our act together and drastically cut carbon emissions.

We need to stop bringing snowballs to Capitol Hill and start taking action. Otherwise future generations will curse our names, and laugh bitterly at our stupidity. All this while figuratively drifting ever southward.

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Bye bye Florida. Image credit: National Geographic