Ice Balloon Orbs: I Botch Them So You Don’t Have To.

Every now and then I get this irresistible urge to create something other than a blog post. I know. Hard to believe.

At the time of this particular urge, we were facing about five days where the temperature was not going to go above freezing, even at high noon. And there would be snow to start it off, so it was going to stick to the ground for days on end. It made me wish that adults got snow days like children do. (Be careful what you wish for.)

To make things even more interesting, this was unprecedented weather for the Seattle area, and a lot of places were closing up in a panic because of that. And my birthday fell right smack in the middle of this cold snap. I would basically be snowed in with nothing to do. It was time to come up with an interesting distraction.

Recently, I came across this photo of Ice Balloon Orbs on the internet. Aren’t they pretty? I thought, “Cool! Let’s try that!”

So, when Dear Husband asked me what I’d like to do on my birthday, I told him I wanted food coloring and balloons, so that I could make my very own colorful orbs that would look lovely against the snow. It seemed like a simple concept, so I didn’t bother trying to find instructions.

Ah, hubris.

Attempt One

First of all, you can’t just pour water into a balloon. You can’t just use a funnel. It has to be pushed in. So our fancy sink faucet had to be slightly disassembled. Next, I dripped some food coloring into the balloon, put the mouth of the balloon on the faucet, and filled it with water.

I quickly learned that this project makes one helluva mess. If you don’t support the balloon while it’s filling, it falls off the faucet and splashes everywhere. If you get overly ambitious and try to make a really big orb, the balloon bursts. If you fumble while tying the knot, disaster.

I’m telling you, have towels on hand. That some people are willing to try this with small children astounds me. It’s proof that those people are just gluttons for punishment, or at the very least, they don’t have nice wood floors.

I kept filling the sink with colored water balloons, and then I’d bundle up and bring the balloons outside to be placed in a snowbank in the back yard. I figured there was no place on earth colder than a snowbank, right?

With temperatures dropping into the teens overnight, I figured by morning I’d have my orbs. There was nothing to do but wait. So I built a fire and settled in for the evening. This was the most satisfying part of the project.

The next day I went out to the snowbank, all giddy with anticipation… only to find out that snowbanks make excellent insulators. The warmth radiating from the ground, combined with the room temperature water within the balloons, was all held in by that snowbank, and many of the balloons hadn’t frozen at all. As in, not at all. Others were frozen along the outside, but liquid in the middle.

I tried moving them to a shady part of the yard, to sit on top of the snow instead of beneath it, and I let them sit there for another freezing day and night, with mixed results.

The next morning, feeling rather defeated, I took the partially frozen orbs to the front yard. Sadly, some of them had holes in the sides, and all the colored water quickly poured out, leaving clear, fragile shells. Others collapsed in my hands as I attempted to peel the balloon off. There was a gorgeous blue one that held on for a few seconds before disintegrating. I wish I had gotten a picture of it.

Finally I wound up with one purple, one blue, several yellow and an orange, all half frozen. None of the red or green survived. And for future reference, I strongly advise you to avoid making yellow or orange orbs. As they melt, they look like yellow snow, and it’s not even remotely attractive.

Attempt Two

Since I was still left with four totally unfrozen water balloons, I decided not to entirely give up. I watched a few Youtube videos and got some ideas. First of all, to freeze them, it seemed that most people were setting them outside on a table, away from the heat of the ground, where cold air could attack from all sides. So I moved those long suffering balloons yet again, this time to an open plastic container on our picnic table.

The next morning, I discovered that one of the balloons had broken and coated the bottom of the container in yellow, and it froze around the other balloons. Way to make the project look as unappetizing as possible! But there were three remaining, and they were actually pretty frozen.

Eureka! After the balloons were peeled off, I was left with one purple one, one blue one, and one orange one. The orange one had apparently frozen a few times in an uneven manner, and wound up looking like a bowl of beer. It was kind of cool, though. These three had pride of place on our fence posts for a few days.

It was interesting to see how they slowly thawed. The beer one looked like someone had sneaked into our back yard for a few sips. (If so, I bet they were disappointed.) The purple one became a dark purple orb inside a clear orb. The blue one just gently faded in color until it had rendered itself practically invisible. Fascinating.

But none of my orbs wound up looking like the cool ones on the internet. I wanted them to look like bright, colorful, hard candy. I had one more balloon, and one more idea. Here goes nothing.

Attempt Three

I decided I wanted to try for a bright orange orb, because apparently I never learn. To make it, I had to use a mix of yellow and red food coloring, and I must not have gotten enough red in there. There was no way to know until the deed was done. (Are there transparent balloons readily available to the consumer? That would be helpful.)

This time, I put the orb into my deep freeze, and then promptly forgot about it for a few days. When I remembered it again, it was frozen solid. In fact, it was so frozen that it had cracked and yet still held it shape. So this, ladies and gentleman, was my final orb.

I think it came out pretty cool, but not exactly what I was expecting. Clearly, more experimentation will be required. But that will be for a future date when I’m feeling less frustrated.

Lessons Learned

  • Never assume that you know what you’re doing. Read the instructions.
  • Patience is not my strong suit.
  • While you may have high hopes for really large orbs, you’ll probably have more success with smaller ones.
  • Perhaps a different brand of food coloring is needed, and some experimentation with color combinations would not go amiss, either.
  • It’s always a good idea to avoid yellow snow.
  • When you forget to reassemble your faucet, your spouse will get really cranky next time she or he turns it on.
  • Snowbanks are not your friends.
  • For better freezing conditions, I need to move to North Dakota, or clean out my deep freeze.
  • If you are going to use a freezer, put the water balloon in a bowl in case it bursts. (I got off lucky this time, but you never know.)
  • Food coloring washes out of pajamas as long as you don’t procrastinate.
  • As with cakes frosted at home, nothing ever comes out looking like the picture.
  • Nothing beats sitting in front of a nice warm fire on a cold winter’s day.
  • Next time I’m snowed in, I think I’ll read a book.

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Environmental Pragmatism on Snowy Drawbridges

All drains lead to the ocean, regardless of the optics.

I am a bridgetender, and there are a variety of ways that I tend to my drawbridge. Not only do I open and close it for vessels upon request, but I also help to keep the machinery in working order. I want my bridge to be in tip top shape. I take pride in that. I love this job.

Having said that, I have to admit that on the rare occasion that it snows around here, I absolutely hate my job. You can’t safely open and close a bridge with the extra weight that several inches of snow provides. That means that the snow has got to go, and that isn’t easy.

We pretreat the bridge surfaces with environmentally correct brine so that the snow theoretically won’t stick. Lugging 25 gallons or so of the stuff up and down the stairs and then spreading it is no mean feat, either. And after all that sweat, coming away smelling like a pickle, with my shoes and clothes encrusted with brine, it doesn’t seem to make much difference in terms of snow abatement. We also spread salt pellets once the snow has fallen, but that has little effect, either.

On my bridge, I am expected to shovel the equivalent of 8 driveways plus a quarter mile of sidewalks, by hand, sometimes more than once per shift, depending on the snowfall. No human being can do that. It’s impossible. My heart would explode.

Yes, we have snowblowers, but only two for the entire city. And we personally are not allowed to operate them. A crew does its best to come out and help us out, but they are spread very thinly, and can only do so much. I’m always thrilled to see them, but when they promise to come back out again later in the shift, I take it with a grain of salt, because it has been my experience that they never do. So I do what I can, and am often berated because it never seems to be enough.

You would think that under those circumstances, our city would do its best to provide us with better equipment, but since these incidents are rare, I think they don’t want to spend the money. But if they got a plow shovel that could be fitted to the front of one of our little pickup trucks, that would get rid of a lot of the snow. I’d only have to focus on the sidewalks then. But no.

So every snowfall, I trudge out there and shovel for hours on end, even as the snow continues to fall. All the while, I know that I’ll be accused of having done nothing. That isn’t exactly a recipe for good morale.

And here’s where the situation gets more idiotic. We are told that we can’t shovel the snow into the waterway, because it would be bad for the environment. The public would complain.

I care about the environment very much. I am more than willing to bend over backwards for it. But there comes a time when people have to be more realistic. Yes, we spread the environmentally friendly salt products, but as I said, they barely work, and what the complaining public seems to overlook, regardless of our efforts, is that all drains lead to the ocean.

If the bridge weren’t there and the snow fell, it would fall into the canal. If the bridge were there and we did nothing about the snow on it, the snow would eventually melt and drain into the canal. If the snow lands on the parts of the bridge with metal grating, it falls into the canal. Water drains from the bridge all the time in the form of rain, and that, too, goes into the canal nearly every day.

It’s not as if we’re neatly stacking the snow on pallets at either end of the bridge, to be carted off to a hazardous waste facility. One way or another, it winds up in the canal. But we are not allowed to be SEEN putting it into the canal ourselves. It’s all about the optics. And that means it causes 10 times the backbreaking work.

For example, the snowblower can’t blow the snow into the canal. Heaven forbid. So as the picture shows below, it blows it back into the roadway of the bridge. This doesn’t immediately do anything to reduce the snow weight, but since it’s landing on the grate in the middle of the bridge, that snow eventually falls, you guessed it, into the canal.

And when I’m shoveling the sidewalks, I’m not allowed to easily push it over the sidewalk lip and into the canal. Oh no. I have to fill the shovel, lift it over the curb on the other side of the sidewalk, and deposit it onto the grate in the bike lane, where it will, yup, fall into the canal. And I repeat this process thousands of times, until my back and shoulders feel like they’re breaking.

Oh, and by the way, before you ask, yes, I’ve tried lifting the bridge so that the snow will fall off and land in more manageable piles on either end. I’ve lifted the bridge to full open, straight up and down, and I’ve even let it sit like that for several minutes. Not even one snowflake falls off that bridge. The snow is so wet it’s like cement. But I digress.

Bureaucracies are all about appearances. And our bureaucracy would much rather trash their employees’ bodies as well as their morale, to avoid any public outcry, which could easily be dealt with with a little bit of public relations and education, all from a comfy chair in a well-heated administrative office.

You may not see the snow going into the waterway, folks, but it’s going there, one way or another. That may not be ideal, but that’s where all water drainage goes for every street and bridge and skyscraper and sidewalk built by man. It sucks for the planet, but it’s unavoidable. Being forced to make that drainage happen the “good optics” way is at the expense of my aching back, but the result is the same, environmentally. Any municipality that tries to tell you otherwise is lying.

Think of that the next time you are enjoying a winter wonderland amongst things built by man.

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Harsh Environments

I wonder about the people who live in these places.

I have always been fascinated by harsh environments. The relentless heat of the Atacama Desert. The cold, windy, thin-aired regions of Tibet. The remote isolation of Pitcairn Island. The International Space Station. Someday, the Moon or Mars. In particular, I wonder about the people who choose to live in these places.

From my comfortable perspective, I can’t imagine making the sacrifice to live in the extreme. You’d have to be very motivated, either by the desire to conduct research or the ability to make insane amounts of money, or you’ve been given no other choice. That last bit would be my definition of hell.

I can’t imagine being born on an island in the most distant reaches of the ocean, and never knowing anyplace else because you’re too poor to leave. I would hate to feel trapped and miserable in perpetual snow or heat. It really demonstrates how weak we are, when faced with the forces of nature. I feel really grateful for my circumstances.

Well, until yesterday. Nature reared up and slapped us in the face on that day. A snowstorm beyond all reckoning. So bad, in fact, that I couldn’t make the 25-mile commute to work, even if I stuck to the major arterial roads. The slightest hill had cars spinning out. The on ramps to highways were full of collisions and abandoned cars. I’m glad we were stocked up on groceries, because I wouldn’t have even wanted to go a block down the street to the grocery store in this mess.

Sometimes you choose the environment, and sometimes the environment chooses you.

My bridge yesterday.
My poor dachshund, second guessing his need to pee.
There’s a reason my rain chain isn’t called a snow chain.

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Off We Go in Search of Snow

Happy winter to you!

Dear husband asked me what I would like for my birthday a few days ago. We already have too much stuff. We both prefer experiences. So I asked for snow.

Obviously, he couldn’t conjure up snow out of thin air, and hiring a snow machine seemed a little over the top, and wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as the real thing. Instead, we elected to do another one of my favorite things: ROAD TRIP!!!! So off we went, in search of snow.

Fortunately, the area in which we live, Seattle, doesn’t get much snow. It sees maybe 3 or 4 days of it a year, if that. That suits me. As an adult, snow is less about sledding and snow angels and snowball fights, and more about horrific commutes, shoveling, and outrageous heating bills. No thank you.

But another beautiful feature of this area is that there’s snow nearby. We headed for Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade Mountain range, to the little town of Alpental. And as you’ll see from my photos, the trip there was breathtaking, with its snow covered trees, frozen waterfalls, and fog.

I was a little shocked, upon arrival, to see the logjam of cars on the road, waiting to park for the ski lifts. This area is known for both downhill skiing and cross country. We saw lots of sledding off the roadside, and snowboarding, and snowball fights, too. But not a single mask. We didn’t get out of the car. We didn’t even park. We love our lives too much.

I can’t believe how selfish people are. As long as they have fun, they don’t mind putting other people’s lives at risk. How clueless can you be? Wear a mask, folks!

But I did want to touch snow at least once, so we pulled over on a deserted back road, and I decided to have DH film me throwing a snowball at the car. I’m walking gingerly because the roadside was a sheet of ice. And this was about take number 4, because I kept missing the dang windshield. Hence, the chuckle at the end.

Anyway, happy winter to you!

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A Different Place Entirely

It’s important to experience change every now and again.

Recently, my Realtor husband needed to go to the Roslyn, Washington area to check out a property that he is selling. He asked if I cared to tag along. Heck yeah! Road trip!!!!

The crazy thing about Roslyn is that it’s only 90 minutes from Seattle, and yet it’s a different place entirely. We left home wearing short sleeves and light jackets. Fortunately, we had the presence of mind to bring our waterproof boots with us, because by the time we got to the property, which is nestled in the Cascade Mountains, we were wading in snow up to our knees.

Houses were buried in a thick blanket of white. People had to dig out their cars to function at all. I got the impression that most had hunkered down, as if under siege, for weeks.

I could not live like that. And yet…

Roslyn is a quietly quirky little town of less than a thousand people. If you were a fan of the series Northern Exposure, you’d instantly recognize its main street. While there, we even ate at the Brick. The exterior looks just as it did in the TV show. The interior is completely different, though. It’s the oldest continually operating tavern in the state of Washington (est. 1889) and the food is great.

And Roslyn passes my rural litmus test: you can still have pizza delivered. That’s the bare minimum requirement for civilization, as far as I’m concerned. In the spring, summer and fall, it has a delightful climate. Winter can be a bit harsh, but that might be a Florida girl’s bias.

I genuinely believe that in order to maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit, one has to occasionally go someplace else entirely. It’s easy to forget that others aren’t experiencing the exact same weather, scenery, and mindset that you are. Routines are different. Attitudes are different. You can feel it in the very air that you breathe, and in the very snow that soaks you to the knees.

It’s important to experience change every now and again. It’s good to be reminded that the world is so much bigger than your own back yard. And when you can experience such a profound shift in perspective by going only 90 minutes from your home place, well, then, so much the better.

Roslyn

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I Broke My Bridge

No good deed goes unpunished.

It was the day after Seattle got more snow in a 24 hour period than it usually gets in a year. There was 4 to 9 inches of the stuff covering most of the city. Most people had the good sense to stay put.

Not me. I’m a bridgetender. I have an obligation to be there. But driving 25 miles in that crap did not appeal to me, so my husband was kind enough to get up with me at 4 a.m. and drive me there in our truck. (He’s a keeper.)

The commute took 3 times longer than usual, but we made it on time, and I trudged up to the tower door of the University Bridge in calf-high snow, losing a glove in the process. If I had known how the day was going to go, I’d have stayed in bed.

For starters, I had to shovel the snow off the sidewalk and bike lanes, on both sides of the entire length of the movable span. I had been told there would be help coming, but none came. So I shoveled, and shoveled, and shoveled, for 2 solid hours, moving hundreds of pounds of snow, until I thought my heart would explode. And even after that, I had only cleared a partial trail from both sidewalks. Under that, it was so hard packed and icy that it would have taken a blow torch to remove the stuff.

Pedestrians kept stopping to thank me. One even gave me an almond croissant. They couldn’t believe I was trying to tackle this project on my own. “Doesn’t the city have a snow blower?” Yup. But we weren’t allowed to use it for some insane reason.

I never shoveled the bike lane. I called someone further up in my chain of command and told him I needed help. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. He told me to shovel no more, and that he’d send help. None arrived.

And then a sailboat asked me for an opening. What a sailboat was doing out in that weather I’ll never understand. But ours is not to question why. So I opened the bridge for him.

I gave the bridge a full opening, in hopes that some more of that snow would slide off. I even “bounced” the bridge a tiny bit in hopes of shaking the snow off. But no. It was like concrete.

The sailboat successfully transited, and I closed the bridge. Well, sort of. Once the bridge is properly seated, the next step is to drive a lock that’s kind of like a slide bolt underneath a bridge. This keeps the bridge leaves from bouncing up individually as cars cross. You don’t want that. The next car could have a nasty surprise.

The controls said the bridge was seated. I double checked as I always do. It looked seated. So I drove the locks.

It wasn’t seated.

Imagine trying to drive a slide bolt home when it isn’t properly aligned. Something is going to break. And something sure as heck did. The two shafts split like hot knives going through butter.

The mechanics said it was bound to happen sooner or later. The lock was fabricated in 1933. It’s been sliding home for millions of openings, in the heat of summer and the chill of winter, every day since then. Metal fatigue, anyone? I just happened to draw the short straw, and be present for the opening that finally did it in.

Of course, nobody was sure that the lock was broken at first. Which meant I had to crawl down beneath the bridge, on an ice-coated, metal grate catwalk suspended 42 feet above the frigid canal, to try to manually crank the lock closed. Meanwhile traffic started to back up for miles.

When I reported back about my total lack of success, it was assumed that I didn’t know what I was doing. As with every male dominated workplace, it wasn’t until they arrived on the scene and couldn’t get the locks to budge either that they finally realized there was more to the problem.

The last time a lock was broken here in town, it was on the Ballard Bridge, and it cost the city about $50,000 to replace it. (It’s not like you can run down to the nearest Home Depot and pick up a replacement part.) But this time it was two shafts, not one, so I shudder to think how much this will cost.

The locks won’t be repaired until at least April. Meanwhile, we still have to open the bridge for vessels and then lock it to make it safe for traffic, so we have to employ pinsetters to run out to center span for every opening and shove a heavy metal pin in between both leaves and lock them together. This means the openings take a lot longer, and require much more team work. But you do what you have to do.

(Oh, and I tried to set the pins when the bridge first malfunctioned, so that the traffic could cross while we were trying to figure out what was wrong. The on call supervisor assumed that I didn’t do that right either. But you can’t set a pin on an improperly aligned bridge. So I climbed that ladder and lifted the 15 pound pin over my head, all while freezing to death, for absolutely nothing, not even appreciation for the effort.)

By the end of my shift, I was exhausted. My husband picked me up. I was so glad I wouldn’t have to drive home.

As I was getting into the truck, my ice-caked boots slipped off the running board and I fell face-first into a snow bank, wrenching my already aching back. I really earned my pay that day.

So imagine my shock when I returned to work a couple days later to hear that several of my coworkers accused me of not shoveling at all, and breaking the bridge due to my own negligence. Mind you, none of them had been there, and didn’t have a clue as to what had transpired.

No good deed goes unpunished, it seems.

 

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Grass

Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Isn’t nature awesome? It never ceases to amaze me. The natural world is capable of so much more than we mere humans are.

Case in point: Grass. I recently watched my back yard get covered in 9 inches of snow, and it remained in place for a week. While it was beautiful, I couldn’t help wondering what was going on beneath it.

Imagine being covered in a thick, cold, wet, smotheringly heavy blanket. Imagine being plunged into temperatures below freezing for days on end. Imagine not being able to see the sun during that entire period.

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure I’d be dead. Stick a fork in me. I’d be done.

And yet, once the grass was exposed again in a thaw that is still making slow but steady progress even as I write this, it was as green and perky as ever. Incredible. Dare I say it? Miraculous.

Okay, yeah, I get it. There is a scientific explanation for it. I have every confidence that this phenomenon can be accounted for. But I’d much rather just gaze at my intrepidly green back yard and consider myself lucky that it is content in its beauty and comfortable in its role in the overall scheme of things. Because if it had a union, it would probably rule the world.

Grass and Snow

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Glacier National Park, Montana

Climate change waits for no blogger.

I’ve been wanting to see Glacier National Park for many years. As the glaciers are rapidly disappearing, I feel as though time is of the essence, so I planned a trip for this August. (Climate change waits for no blogger.)

Just my luck, a few weeks before our visit, the park caught fire. The western portion of the park is STILL closed, as of this writing. I can’t even begin to tell you how profoundly disappointing that was.

And yet, even greatly reduced in size, even smoky, Glacier National Park caused me to fall in love with it. When we woke up on day two, after the rain had poured down all night and the temperature had dropped to 35 degrees and all the mountain peaks were covered in snow, it was even more stunning. I’m so glad we went.

It didn’t occur to me that there would be so many gigantic, gorgeous lakes. (Duh. Glaciers do melt and carve the landscape.) And on many of them, you can take boat trips. There’s also horseback riding and rafting in the park.

None of which we did, because we had three dogs with us. While dogs are allowed in the national parks, they are not allowed on any of the trails, and technically they’re not supposed to be left unattended. They were quite comfortable in their cozy dog beds in the SUV, because heaven knows it wasn’t hot, but we didn’t think it was a good idea to leave them for more than 10 or 15 minutes. So we did a short hike to the beautiful Baring Falls, and then visited every overlook and visitor center that we came across. (I was once told by a park ranger that 99% of all visitors never get farther than the overlooks, so hey, we were still ahead of the game by taking that one, gorgeous hike.)

We also didn’t go to the portion of the park that extends into Canada, again, because of the dogs. We hadn’t gotten the right paperwork for them. But we got so close to the border that my phone assumed I was roaming. That counts for something!

It seems like I’m always in a fantastic mood whenever I cross the continental divide. I’d do it again and again if I could. I’d also love to get a closer look at the buffalo I saw on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, which borders the park. I wasn’t expecting such a huge herd. There were at least a hundred, which is even more than I saw at Yellowstone. I was so glad to discover they were there. I could imagine a time when they covered the entire prairie.

I was left with a tantalizing taste of this awe-inspiring park. I hope to go back again someday. When I do, I won’t bring the dogs, and I’ll focus on the Western side and Canada, and I’ll take that boat trip and go horseback riding. Something to look forward to.

So do I suggest a visit to Glacier National Park? Heck yes! Again and again! In the meantime, you can help preserve this valuable natural resource by donating to the Glacier National Park Conservancy at glacier.org.

Here are some pictures we took, to whet your appetite.

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Let’s Talk About the Weather, Shall We?

I’m looking forward to a rare day of sunshine here in the Pacific Northwest, and the temperature is expected to rise to a delightful 65 degrees. Spring! Happy dance!

Meanwhile, a dear friend in Kansas had to hunker down the other day in anticipation of 2 to 4 inches of snow. In April. This is not normal. The world has gone mad.

It used to be that the weather was considered to be the safest of all possible topics. We are all told to avoid politics and religion over Thanksgiving dinner, but the weather… we could all agree on that, couldn’t we?

Not anymore. The weather has become political. At a time when California is burning to the ground, islands are sinking beneath the ocean waves, there is severe flooding, drought, dust storms engulfing entire cities, super storms of all kinds, and unprecedented ice cap melting, we are expected to avoid the meteorological elephant in the room. Even governmental websites are deleting any references to global climate change.

I never thought I’d see the day when liberals would be considered the most conservative people on earth, but we are the ones that are wanting to take precautions to safeguard the planet. Even if you don’t believe in the overwhelming science of climate change, even if you refuse to look at the evidence before your very eyes, how can you justify not wanting to take steps, just in case? If this really does turn out to be our last chance to save ourselves, don’t you want to be aboard that ark?

What is wrong with reducing our dependence on fossil fuels? Why not recycle? Would it kill you to plant a tree? Is it really so hard to be a little bit smarter about your water usage? Why is expecting our corporations not to pour their toxic waste into our rivers and streams so controversial?

Seriously. Explain it to me. Because I don’t get it.

global-warming
Surely we can all agree that this isn’t the best idea we’ve ever had.

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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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