Posts Tagged ‘environment’

This winter’s silver lining? Great skiing!

Herridge Cabin, one of many rustic shelters scattered among ski and snowshoe trails in Gatineau Park. Photo: Lucy Martin

Herridge Cabin, one of many rustic shelters scattered among ski and snowshoe trails in Gatineau Park. Photo: Lucy Martin

With sympathy for the majority of folks who are seriously tired of winter, it has been a fabulous season for skiing. I’m strictly cross country so I can’t speak to downhill conditions. But I imagine those have been good too.

Quebec’s Gatineau Park is a much-loved recreational mecca for Canada’s capital region, only a short hop from Parliament Hill. It’s had good snow since late November – and trail grooming is still going strong.

The National Capital Commission runs Gatineau Park. The NCC sent out this press release on Thursday in regards to what it called “an exceptional season” that’s not over yet:

Canada’s Capital Region — With recent snowfalls, the 2013–2014 cross-country ski season in Gatineau Park will continue until April. The NCC notes this season as being exceptional compared with the previous eight seasons for which records have been kept. This year, the NCC also saw an increase in the number of season passes purchased.

End of season extended: The NCC will continue grooming operations and the ski patrol service until at least Sunday, April 6. After that date, services will be adapted

Renauld Cabin. Photo: Lucy Martin

Renauld Cabin. Photo: Lucy Martin

according to the weather conditions until April 15 — which is well past the March 31 expected end of season used for planning over the past eight years. Grooming operations will not continue past April 15.

The 2013–2014 ski season so far: The season began on November 29, three weeks earlier than the 2012–2013 season. So far, skiers have had 119 days of skiing, while the previous eight seasons had an average of 113 days. More than 6,400 skiers bought a season pass this year, representing an increase of more than 9.5 percent over last year. Sales of daily passes are also up this year.

As summarized and updated by John Warren, in his weekend outdoor reports for the Adirondack region, it’s been a great year for skiing.

Lake Placid’s Jackrabbit Trail is known to listeners through NCPR postcards from Brian Mann. Here’s a summary/report from that location as of 3/27:

Continued cold since Monday mean we still have powder surfaces as of Thursday.  This will change as Friday will be in the 40s with rain, followed by clearing on Saturday and daytime temperatures again in the 40s.  Cooler and sunny on Sunday, then more clouds and chances of snow at night or shower during the day through next Wednesday.  Temperatures will still be below freezing at night, so no significant melting of the snow we have is expected – we just won’t have the nice powder surfaces.  Likely the last weekend for Cascade and Whiteface Club, but Van Hoevenberg and the Paul Smiths VIC will continue to groom.

Summary: The season that seemingly wouldn’t start, now seemingly won’t end.

Of course, the snow will melt. And the gardener in me is quite ready to see some green and start digging again. But my, my, my! What a winter it’s been for skiing!

If you ski or snowshoe, what’s the winter been like for you and where have you found the best conditions?

Skiiers take to a bench to soak up late-March sun near Herridge Cabin. Photo: Lucy Martin

Skiiers take to a bench to soak up late-March sun near Herridge Cabin. Photo: Lucy Martin

Winter robins and songbirds

Robins toughing out the winter in Wisconsin. Photo: Jonathan Bloy, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Robins toughing out the winter. Photo: Jonathan Bloy, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

The arrival of red-breasted robins is generally taken as a sign of spring, something many will be eager to welcome this year. But here’s more for the “I-did-not-know-that” file: some robins stick around,  all year. Even in a winter like this one.

I got onto this topic after reading a 2/28 article by the Ottawa Citizen’s science writer, Tom Spears.

The Ottawa Field Naturalists have spotted a winter flock of about 30 robins near the Britannia Woods, and 25 robins — possibly the same group — a couple of kilometres south, on Iris Street.

The trick for the robins is to find food once the frozen ground cuts them off from worms.

Necessity has taught them to fish. In one corner of Mud Lake, in Britannia, there’s a pool of open water most of the winter, fed by underground seepage that keeps it ice-free.

Naturalist Dan Brunton says this supplies the water with oxygen and draws a huge crowd of small lake creatures — minnows, tadpoles, even aquatic insects that stay active all winter.

And robins have learned to stand at the edge of the ice and pick live minnows right out of the water.

Spears has a cute photo of a minnow-catching robin on his twitter account.

Here’s more about the American robin from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Once I started looking, I found lots of similar discussion online about robins that surprised people by staying through the winter. Here’s something written in January from bird columnist Arlene Koch who writes for Lehigh Valley Live in Pennsylvannia, “Not all American robins head south for the winter“:

This week’s column is about American robins because recently I’ve been asked several times why people are seeing robins in their yards. The answer to that question is simple. There are always robins in the Northeast every winter in spite of the fact that seeing one is supposed to be a symbol of spring.

People have been talking about seeing winter robins in Northern Ontario (CTV video report), which mentions that while annual Christmas bird counts prove this happens year in and year out, the numbers of over-wintering robins seen in, say Sudbury, remain small – averaging only one or two counted in any given year.

In the US here’s coverage on winter robins out of New Hampshire, Michigan, Wisconsin (where the birds were observed eating insects near a river), and in the upper mid-west.

The reporting sounds similar because people are struck by the presence of robins in a very cold winter. They get noticed and discussed, as illustrated by this article out of Indiana:

Robins in January in northern Indiana, anywhere in Indiana, or in February are birds to talk about. Two days after I saw the robins in my yard, a friend told me she had recently seen a small flock of robins near her home. Two days later, I stopped at the garage where I have my car serviced, and one of the mechanics asked, “Hey, Neil, what’s with the robins?”

He, too, had recently seen robins. Later that same day when I went in the bank, two men told me they had seen a flock of robins days before.

Todd Moe chatted with naturalist Conner Stedman about bird language and songbirds that stay all winter on Friday morning. This discussion did not involve robins, but included details about other birds we can expect this time of year.

I’d be interested in hearing about what you saw this winter in terms of robins, birds and wildlife in general.

Unique bee event opens Monday at Ottawa School of Art

Photo: Peter Dyck, courtesy of Ottawa School of Art

From Honeybee Alterations, art by Aganetha Dyck. Photo: Peter Dyck, courtesy of Ottawa School of Art

People keep sending me stuff about bees, including this from a friend in Connecticut, about an unusual art project.

Go ahead and see for yourself: Artist Aganetha Dyck Collaborates with Bees to Create Sculptures Wrapped in Honeycomb. The article, in something called Collossal: Art and Visual Culture, has amazing photos and an informative video about the artist and this particular endeavor. (Really, go take a look.)

But this turns out to be regional story too. Aganetha Dyck / Honeybee Alterations is coming to the main campus of the Ottawa School of Art, in the Byward Market.

Honeybee Alterations will be on display from March 3 to April 13, 2014. From the OSA website:

Aganetha Dyck is a Canadian artist whose artistic career spans four decades. Dyck has a keen interest in environmental issues; her current research delves into the world of the honeybees and specifically the interspecies communication that exists between humans and bees. Her current exhibition allows viewers an intimate look at the delicate and fragile nature that exists between us. Dyck’s collaboration with the bees produces sculptural alterations of man-made objects such as shoes, helmets and porcelain statues that could never have been created without this collaboration.

The opening vernissage will take place at the OSA Main Gallery in the ByWard Market on Thursday March 6, 2014 from 5 pm – 8 pm. Admission is free.

Truthfully, for me at least, there’s something slightly off-putting about the end result. I like the objects they coated in beeswax. And honeycombs are always a marvel of engineering and beauty. I’m not sure I like them combined. The result seems a tad creepy. But that’s just one opinion. And there are other aspects of the effort that expand thoughts on bees (and art?) too.

Something different and kinda cool – right here – starting Monday.

Snow and rain here – dry as a bone there

Where it was dryer and wetter than average in 2013. Browner=dryer, greener=wetter. White is average. Map:

Where it was dryer and wetter than average in 2013. Browner=dryer, greener=wetter. White is average. Map:

Bias alert: I like winter. Maybe that’s because I’m not from these parts and haven’t had time to get sick of it yet. But I love the beauty, the way it changes all the time, all the winter sports, cosy sitting beside a crackling wood fire – and the happy fact there are no bugs a biting! But I understand that’s not how winter feels for many, and this winter has been especially …wintery!

Or has it? According to the New York Times, yes, our region has been through the wringer. But that’s not the whole picture:

For people throughout the Eastern United States who spent January slipping, sliding and shivering, here is a counterintuitive fact: For the earth as a whole, it was the fourth-warmest January on record.

It was, in fact, the 347th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th-century average, the government reported Thursday.

That may feel plausible to Californians, whose state experienced temperatures 10 or 15 degrees above normal in some places last month, and especially to Alaskans, where the average temperature was almost 15 degrees above normal.

I have relatives in California and some of them have been worrying about the drought there for months now. They’ve had virtually no rain, in the rainy season. Hardly any snow, in a region that depends on snow melt for much of the regular supply. It’s bad. Not even once-in-a-century bad. No, they’re talking once every 500 years bad.

Which leads me to comment that home gardeners and market growers in other parts of the country should maybe start thinking about planting things that usually come out of California’s massively productive San Joaquin Valley. Roughly 250 different crops are grown there in good times, many of which would normally show up in your grocery store’s produce aisle. The problem extends far beyond the one (huge) valley, according to SFGate:

For most, there is little to no financial relief or government aid to bail them out. Only 35 of California’s 400 crops are eligible for farm insurance, said Karen Ross, secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. Almonds, corn, cotton, citrus and avocados are a few of those crops. Livestock operations are not.

Even farmers who planned ahead fear that may unravel as the grab for limited water reserves heats up. President Obama toured hard-hit areas in person on Valentine’s Day to highlight $183 million in federal aid for California drought relief. But, funny thing about money, it’s not water. And water is what’s needed.

True, a lack of water certainly isn’t what we’re looking at hereabouts. Indeed, I’m writing this at the start of a rain & thaw cycle that could mean real trouble with flooding. And forecasters say that should be followed by more cold – more winter, basically. (I can hear the groans now.)

Still, it’s been a great winter for skiers. And, looking ahead to gardening season, I am so very glad that this part of the world will likely have enough water to carry on cultivating. Too bad we can’t send the excess where it’s needed.

Water. Frozen or liquid, it’s the essence of life.

Feeding wild birds – do you? Should you?

To feed or not to feed? Archive Photo of the Day 12/27/09: Gene Banker, Ellenburg NY.

To feed or not to feed? Archive Photo of the Day 12/27/09: Gene Banker, Ellenburg NY.

Has anyone ever settled the age-old debate over feeding wild birds? You know the divide I’m talking about, you may have a firm opinion yourself.

One faction says feeding wild birds is harmless, even good. The other holds that it’s a bad practice. Obviously, it’s fun for the humans. But nay-sayers maintain it’s unhelpful or dangerous for the wildlife attracted – creatures may become dependent, throwing natural cause and effect cycles off-kilter. Neglected bird feeders are implicated in the spread of disease too.

As reported by Tom Spears for the Ottawa Citizen, that argument has come to Quebec’s scenic Gatineau Park, which has stopped keeping bird feeders that were very popular with winter skiers and snowshoers.

It’s an old issue in wilderness-style parks: Where to draw the line between preserving nature and giving visitors a good experience.

Tony Bull, a retired Parks Canada manager, has been skiing in the park for years and was upset when the feeders came down.

“I think they just added a lot of life to the experience of skiing. You would stop and look at the birds and then you’d go on,” he said.

“The forest is alive with birds and of course squirrels feeding underneath from the dropped seeds.

“I’ve skied a couple of times (since the feeders were removed) and it’s just dead. No squirrels, no birds, it’s just a dead landscape and I think it’s a shame.”

Beyond the Gatineau Park debate, there’s a real mix of opinions and technical advice out there. Here’s something from the UK listing several benefits of feeding wild birds, which cautions such feeding should be consistant – don’t feed for half a winter and then suddenly stop.

What’s your take on the topic?

If you’d like to read more about it, the ever-useful Cornell Lab of Ornithology has this handy informational site.

A bird feeder at Huron Cabin in Gatineau Park. Photo: Craig Miller

Bird feeders in Gatineau Park were popular with wildlife and skiers. Photo: Craig Miller

Owl and bird feeder at Huron Cabin. Photo: Craig Miller

An owl watches the action at Huron Cabin. Photo: Craig Miller

Leaves and more leaves

Fall colors - a pleasure of the season. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Fall colors – a pleasure of the season. (photo: Lucy Martin)

November is coming, my least favorite month in this part of the world. Dark, damp, cold and gloomy – shudder!

Once snow arrives I’m happy. Until then though, November and early December are sometimes hard to take.

In contrast to all that, October can be delightful. This month has been quite mild and nice this far -  no hard frost as of yet in North Gower, Ontario. Flowers continue to bloom and we are still eating out of the garden.

How did you find the fall foliage show this year? I felt like some colors went missing, in my neighborhood at least.

Every fall I look for special tree-orbs of yellow or orange with stop-in-your-tracks stunning beauty. This time around, most of my favorites just sort of sputtered faintly before going right to brown.

Oh well. I’m sure they’ll put the grand show on again, sooner or later. At least the reds seemed pretty good this fall.

As leaves of any color go to ground, my back yard turns into mulch central. I set up a wire corral holding center. The neighbors and I pile tarps full and drag the haul there. Then I kick out a spread of that free bounty and mow it into submission. It is amazing how sizable mounds of whole leaves can be reduced to not very much at all. The chop disappears into the garden or serves as weed suppression in the flower beds.

A little time with a lawn mower turns the big pile into a flat pile. (photo: Lucy Martin)

A little time with a lawn mower turns the big pile into a flat pile. (photo: Lucy Martin)

The neighbors are a kind, retired couple. I pretend it’s because they are retired, but they keep a perfect yard, bless their hard-working hearts. They seem to rake every day. This puts more pressure on me, least my leaves blow into their yard.

I prefer to rake once a week, plus whatever tidying the lawn mower contributes, which is equal to twice-weekly clean up. They never complain and they bring me all their leaves. I hope there’s not too much resentment of my less-vigilant habits.

What you do to manage leaves? No doubt many of you have techniques and strategies ranging from benign neglect to ingenious re-purposing. Do tell!

My aunt – the permaculture advocate in New Mexico – favors bagging her leaves and using those bags as insulating cover over her root crops, which she says can then be harvested through most of the winter. The bagged leaves continue to decompose and are turned into mulch or potato bin bedding after they’ve served as crop blankets.

Is all that mulching or re-purposing worth the effort, compared to sending bagged leaves out for collection? (For those of you who have curbside collection, as we do in Ottawa. Including a green-waste stream.)

I find it rewarding. Every shovel of soil turns over worms and signs of teeming life. A fair number of interesting mushrooms and such pop up in different seasons. Bugs, birds and even small frogs abound. It feels like a healthy microcosm. That’s the goal, anyway. I think adding leaves to that mix helps. Bring ‘em on!

Getting dirty: the worm edition

Aren't they adorable? Red worms for worm composting. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Aren’t they adorable? Red worms for worm composting. (photo: Lucy Martin)

This follows an earlier post by Ellen Rocco on NCPR-types getting down and dirty. (Yeah, we like to mix things up and dig deep!)

Worm composting is nothing new. I was sort of slow to try it out, but about two years ago a friend shared some extra worms and I’ve been keeping a bin ever since.

The good news is keeping a worm bin isn’t much trouble at all. Surprisingly, there’s no smell to speak of and the care required is minimal. Mind you, if worms, or mounds of muck, creep you out, don’t try this at home!

The bad news: I’m just not sure the end result justifies the endeavor.

While the red worms recommended for this job are said to eat about half their own weight every day, they don’t weigh that much, folks. It’s a slow process with a fairly low output. Contrast that to my July project of establishing a sourdough starter. It’s already a good culture and gives me great bread several times a week. A better return on effort.

Our household of just two generates kitchen trimmings at a far great rate than one modest worm box can handle. So we still have and use a back yard compost unit and send less readily composted material (like oily stuff) out by way of Ottawa’s Green waste collection system.

But, seriously, if you want to close the loop of converting waste to more food, consider raising chickens, rabbits or pigs. In our case, we travel too often to meet the daily care required by livestock, which is a plus for worms, I guess. They can run their own lives pretty well without constant care.

Anyway, this week it was essential that I clean out and totally renew my bin, because it had become far too wet. (Amazingly, the worms seem to chomp along just fine even in less-than-ideal conditions.) That job consisted of dumping it all out, scrubbing the main bin, separating the desired casing/humus from the worms (humus = the shredded newspapers and kitchen scraps that had been digested) ripping up new bedding and putting the worms back in with more food.

All shown here in stages:

Clean bin filled with more ripped newspaper beside mix of worms and old muck - which should not be this wet. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Clean bin filled with more ripped newspaper beside mix of worms and old muck – which should not be this wet. (photo: Lucy Martin)


Note: the ripped newspaper is supposed to be moistened until damp, but not sopping. I skipped that because the muck going back in was already plenty wet enough to do the job.

And how, pray tell, does one salvage the live worms? Well, there are different methods. I went with making cones. The worms prefer to avoid light and air, so they burrow down.

Stage one: build some cones. (photo: Lucy Martin)

Stage one: build some cones. (photo: Lucy Martin)

You can guess the rest.

Remove outer layers of each cone, and the few worms that come off too.  (photo: Lucy Martin)

Remove outer layers of each cone, and the few worms that come off too. (photo: Lucy Martin)

By the end of this process, the worms are doing a group hug that practically pushes any humus out from the compact mass. It’s kinda cool.

The poor worms are probably freaking out, but by the end of this process they are easily gathered and moved.  (photo: Lucy Martin)

The poor worms are probably freaking out, but by the end of this process they are easily gathered and moved. (photo: Lucy Martin)

This gave me half a three-gallon bucket of worm casing fertilizer. The worms went back into the fresh/clean bin.

Yes, eggs and the smallest worms are lost this way. But so it goes, they can’t all be sifted out.

I wanted to share a webpage on making a worm farm from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Maybe it’s just because humor on a government page was unexpected, but I found it laugh-out-loud funny. This excerpt also suggests easier ways to sort worms from muck:

Some folks sort the worms out of the castings and put the worms in fresh bedding. We have other things to do with our time and prefer a split harvest method. It helps if you have trained your worms ahead of time for this harvest method. To train your worms, you start feeding them at only one end of the bin. Do this for about a week. (Worms learn pretty fast.) Now take the bedding/castings out of the end of the farm where you were not feeding them and add it to your plants or garden. You will be removing about half to two thirds of the bedding/castings in this step. You will lose some worms, but those were the ones that were not very smart. Remember you trained the others. Place the remaining bedding/castings in a container while you scrub the bin and fix new bedding. Prepare this bedding the same way you did the first time, damp newspaper, crushed egg shells, and a handful of dirt. Now add the worms you trained, castings and all onto the fresh bedding. Feed and you are back in business. I have found that the worms will move out of the old bedding in a couple of days. If you want a cleaner farm, you can remove the old bedding in a few days.

So, that’s the scoop on the dirtiest chore I did this week. (Besides the cat’s litter box.)

Do you keep worms and have tips to share?

Again, I remain skeptical this is all that useful. But it’s sort of fun and makes me feel, I don’t know, semi-virtuous!

Ants matter too!

Borneo Camponotus sp. Some carpenter ants live where others wouldn’t dare— inside an insect-eating pitcher plant. (photo: Mark W. Moffett/Minden Pictures , used by permission)

Borneo Camponotus sp. Some carpenter ants live where others wouldn’t dare— inside an insect-eating pitcher plant. Photo: Mark W. Moffett/Minden Pictures , used by permission

Let’s face it. Insects don’t get a lot of love, although some get more than others.

People plant gardens to attract butterflies. Honey bees are admired as humble, hardworking marvels that help pollinate about 1/3 of what we eat. Their current plight generates considerable sympathy and attention. But ants? Please! Creepy marauding invaders! Little love for ants, I fear. Even when starring in their own show, apparently it’s necessary to hook attention with terms that cast ants in a better light!

Eciton hamatum: An army ant soldier from Panama shows its fierce jaws. (Mark W. Moffett/Minden Pictures, used by permission)

Eciton hamatum: An army ant soldier from Panama shows its fierce jaws. Photo: Mark W. Moffett/Minden Pictures, used by permission

Ottawa’s Canadian Museum of Nature has just opened a traveling exhibition entitled: Farmers, Warriors, Builders: The Hidden Life of Ants. (See what I mean? Don’t those words re-frame perception of ant activity?)

According to museum publicity information, this is the first Canadian venue for the Smithsonian-created show which features 39 large-scale photos by Mark W. Moffet, and more. Such as?

 …live colonies of harvester ants and honey pot ants, which will be added to the Museum’s permanent Animalium exhibition following the closing of Ants. Visitors will also see a three-dimensional aluminum cast of an ant nest and touchable oversized ant models. The model of a leaf-cutter worker ant has been blown up to 50 times its actual size to show how it uses its body to work and survive in the colony.

Yes, they’re bringing live ants into the museum. That’s something museums spend a lot of time and energy to avoid. Museum intern Catherine Couture has an excellent blog post (with lots of cool photos) about getting the ants – all the way from Arizona. (Why import ants from there? Read the post!)

If you can’t appreciate ants on their own terms, apparently various ant species (dare we use the word societies?) represent models humans could learn from, should we open our minds in that direction.

Moffett, a true adventurer who has travelled the world photographing ants, has been called the “Indiana Jones of Entomology” by the National Geographic Society. His superb images, shot with a macro lens, show his tiny subjects hunting, communicating, dealing with disease and managing agriculture.

“What fascinated me most in preparing this exhibit is that modern humans can be much more like ants than we are like our relatives, the chimpanzees,” said Moffett. “With our societies of millions, only ants and humans deal with issues of public health and environmental safety, roadways and traffic control, assembly lines and teamwork, market economics and voting, slavery and mass warfare.”

Malaysia & Cambodia Oecophylla smaragdina Working in concert, weaver ants pull the leaves of their tree crown nests together with their bodies. (photo: Mark W. Moffett/Minden Pictures, used by permission)

Malaysia & Cambodia: Oecophylla smaragdina. Working in concert, weaver ants pull the leaves of their tree crown nests together with their bodies. Photo: Mark W. Moffett/Minden Pictures, used by permission

Ants do market economics and vote? Who knew?

I wonder if they have campaign spending limits?

Bring the kids, bring yourself, check out a whole world that’s probably happening in some ant nest near you. (Hopefully in some live-and-and-let-live natural area that doesn’t bring them into your house.)

This exhibit runs from July 26  through January 5, 2014.

(Note: images and captions for this post courtesy of Canadian Museum of Nature.)


“Humidex” anyone?


Well, it’s been stinking hot across the entire region this week. Oppressive temperatures outdoors – which may be even worse on upper stories of un-cooled buildings. When overnight lows don’t bring much relief this can quickly feel overwhelming.

To be sure, there are different kinds of hot, including the oft-heard line: “It may be x degrees, but it’s OK because it’s a dry heat.” No such luck here, though, where humidity bogs things up even further. With high humidity the body’s air conditioning system can’t do its job: buckets of sweat produce little real relief.

Thankfully, passing thunderstorms have occasionally broken that swelter.

The effect of humidity is so noticeable that Canada invented what’s called a “humidex” (humidity index) back in 1965. In lay terms, this combines the heat of the current air temperature with the humidity of the dew point – does that help? Or would you rather just hear what it “feels like?”

Here’s a more explicit explanation/worksheet on what the humidex is and how it’s calculated.

The formula goes like this:  Humidex = T + (0.5555 * (e – 10)), where T is the temperature in Celsius and e is the vapor pressure in millibars (mb).

Of course, that needs further conversion into Fahrenheit for U.S. consumption. The U.S. prefers something called the heat index, which Wikipedia says produces a resulting ”felt air temperature” or “apparent temperature.”

Environment Canada senior climatologist David Phillips spoke with CBC news about the popularity of the humidex:

“It may be impure from a scientific point of view, but it is actually proven to work. There is more stress on the body in a humid situation. You can’t be as productive on a humid, moist day as you would be on a hot, dry day.”

Humidity is but one consideration when it comes to comfort. There’s also sun intensity, often measured with a UV index. The UV index runs from a low of 0 to a high of 15. In Ottawa at least, 9-10 seems to be about as high as that gets. I grew up in Hawaii where the UV index was 12 the day I wrote this, which is pretty typical.

So you’ll get a worse sunburn – faster – closer to the equator. But if you want to talk steamy, drippy, “please-let-it-end!” discomfort…Ottawa heat waves beat Hawaii – hands down.

Photo: Mr. T in DC, via creative commons

Photo: Mr. T in DC, via creative commons

Newscasts certainly seem to be devoting more time and importance to weather. Taking the cynical view, it’s a cheap way to repetitiously fill time with a safe, popular topic. (Weather is much faster to explain than the European debt crisis and more entertaining than elusive Senate reform.) On the other hand, people really DO care about weather and want lots of details.

Some are critical of “feels-like” measures such as the humidex and even the better-known wind chill factor. As with this site, where physicist Miguel Tremblay explores the topic at length, including doubts about applying science to quantify a “feeling,” the rise of sensationalism in meterology and the use of “debatable assumptions” in some of those formulas.

What do you think? Has weather coverage just gone overboard? Do we need things like a humidex? Or are you satisfied with the basics: highs and lows, wind speed and direction and likelihood of rain?

Lastly, what’s your idea of a perfect temperature? Mine is probably a high of 26 C / 78 F and an overnight low of 16 C/ 60 F. What Canadians contentedly call “good sleeping weather.”

Stay cool and take comfort in the old adage “this too shall pass.”

It’s raining…tractors…or husbands

Photo: Wendy in Ireland, via Creative Commons, some restrictions

Photo: Wendy in Ireland, via Creative Commons, some restrictions

Good gosh, it’s been wet. Most likely in your soggy town and in many places across Canada – this included recent severe flooding in Alberta.

This past Monday it was residents of Toronto who were left asking “What the heck?!?!” as the skies poured out a record-setting deluge. Everyone knew there might be a thunderstorm that afternoon, but the severity of that storm was quite unexpected.

Global News Toronto reports these sobering numbers:

At the peak of Monday’s unprecedented rainfall, 110 mm of rain fell per hour. Approximately 126 mm of rain fell at Toronto’s Pearson Airport in total, breaking the previous record of 121 mm that was set during Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

110mm of rain is equal to 4.3 inches. Per hour. Pearson Airport’s grand total of rain for that afternoon storm was 126 mm,  just under 5 inches (4.96 inches), an amount that reportedly exceeds Toronto’s average amount of rain for the entire month of July.

Here’s video from CBC of Toronto manhole covers blasting up as streets flood . Go Transit trains were stranded. The aforementioned article  from Global News includes a grey-scape of time-lapse still shot of the front engulfing the city with rain.

New England Cable news reports parts of Vermont just saw something similar: 4.5 inches of rain in just 90 minutes. Much of Northern Vermont and the Adirondacks are under flash flood warnings for Wednesday.

Language bonus: here’s how to say “it’s raining cats and dogs” in other languages.

Apparently some Slovaks say “Padajú traktory” (“it’s raining tractors”).

Swedes might say ‘It’s raining ladies” but Spanish have a saying “it’s raining husbands.” Go figure.

Afrikaaners might say:

Ou vrouens met knopkieries reen
it’s raining old women with knobkerries (clubs)

What’s coming down at your house?