A Glimpse of Winter

Rain forest winter arrives with November gales. Powerless to squelch winter monotones, autumn hues surrender to prevailing winds. Daylight wanes, skies darken, rain makes camp. Dreary days turn to weeks, sunlight plays a fickle game of hide and seek. Occasionally a fleeting punctuation of jet stream leniency heralds arctic outflow conditions – a brief respite marked by brilliant sun and unseasonably cool temperatures. The rain forest holds its breath, snowfalls’ only chance occurs on the cusp of Pacific moisture colliding with arctic chill. Several years can pass without a flake of snow, every decade or so measurable accumulations ignite a tizzy of seasonal hysteria.

Despite the passing of forty years in Vancouver, Canadian winter flickers in nostalgic vignettes.Pressing pennies against frost on my bedroom window, standing back to admire patterns of perfect impressions. Enormous icicles defiantly begging one of us to knock them down. Beyond childhood fancy, nostalgia cries for the ceremony of winter. Away from the rain forest, winter is a surety. Winter boots and jackets lined up by the end of October, snow tires installed by first frost, garden tools replaced with snow shovels – But for the rain forest, a nation of realists embrace winter with pragmatic diligence.

As I write, relentless rain assaults my window. A 60% chance of rain is forecast for the next 14 days. What I wouldn’t give to hear the inexplicable hush of snowflakes, to gaze at night skies wrapped in distinctive layers of snowy reflection or revel in crunches of fresh snow under my boots. For now, I live vicariously through images taken by my husband last week in Alberta.


Hurricane Oho

Truth be told, early morning radio babble of Hurricane Oho tracking towards the British Columbia coast and Alaska exhilarated an otherwise dreary day. Weather is one of my “things”, an obsession with whims of circumstance beyond our control. Not wanting to obliterate tendrils of tickling anticipation, I chose to shrug and proceed – no weather reports, discussion or online searches until work ended.

The fortitude mustered to relish anticipation, amidst bouts of epic curiosity bordered on ridiculous. Screw it! Knowing we wouldn’t be storm spanked could wait until after work, meanwhile I’d make the most of it. I reminded myself if Oho meant business mine wouldn’t be the only tongue wagging. Public displays of weather exuberance might be considered a tad crazy – be cool.

Coming home to news of ex-Oho, now a post tropical cyclone barely warranted sighs. We might experience “remnants”, fair enough Oho but I’m over your rush. So what if your late season path and freakish behavior made meteorological history, who cares if you’re feeding on the Pacific blob or riding El Nino’s coat-tails. I live in a rainforest, it’s going to rain from now until March – the least you could have done is whip up a little excitement.


Forecast Winds


Calgary Summer Snow

By no means do Canadians corner the weather market – we do spend a considerable amount of time talking about it. Who could blame us – the photo below was taken yesterday in Calgary, Alberta. Barely 24 hours earlier, the mercury hovered around 25 Celsius ( 77 degrees Fahrenheit, Americans). Calgary’s temperature plunged courtesy a healthy Arctic outflow wind and voila – 10 centimeters (4 inches) of snow. A snowfall warning for today predicts a possible 10-20 centimeters additional white stuff.

 Late summer snow on the Prairies isn’t unusual or particularly remarkable, Canadians understand summer can end without warning. Environment Canada issued the following weather alert….
 I like late summer snow – it reminds me why Canadians make the most of what little summer we’re given.

Why Pole Ice Matters

Melting ice caps mean a whole lot more than rising ocean levels. Arctic Tundra, thawing permafrost, diminished ice packs – seemingly insignificant, yet crucial on a global scale. I found and linked to this wordpress site, one able to explain the balance far better than I could.


As critical as the Arctic might be, it’s Antarctica that has me pondering. Would you believe me if I told you Antarctica is responsible for global weather? How about being the source of ocean currents responsible for maintaining ocean temperatures within a degree of average at all times?

Hovering at a consistent minus 110 degrees Fahrenheit during the total darkness of six month winters (43 degrees Fahrenheit colder on average than the Arctic) Unprotected by land masses, pummeled by constant 100 mph winds courtesy the “polar jet” ( a product of warm tropical air colliding with cooler south pole air masses – a conflict producing massive storms up to 4000 miles across). Polar winds, fed by earth’s rotation produce upper atmosphere winds of 200 mph. At the same time, churning water around Antarctica all the way to the ocean floor.

This is where it gets interesting. At 29 degrees Fahrenheit water begins to freeze, accounting for Antarctica more than doubling in size during “winter”.  As sea water freezes, salt separates becoming dense, heavy “brine”. Billions of briny gallons slowly fall to the sea bed – an unseen ocean waterfall, flowing away from Antarctica and over the continental shelf, coming to rest several miles below.  Thanks to raging “Polar jet” circulation, brine barely has time to catch its breath before the “screaming 60s” (below 60 degrees latitude, the roughest seas in the world), send it packing for warmer waters.

Urged by relentless circular motion, dense brine begins to move. Finding warmer water towards the Equator,  it starts to rise, taking along rich nutrients and minerals from the ocean floor. Flows of deep sea brine follow prevailing winds – in a nutshell, regulating ocean temperature, providing nutrients for plankton blooms and acting as the global barometer keeping weather in check. Joining other ocean currents, rising, falling, becoming diluted on the way up – the coldest, densest water known to man regulates average ocean temperature within a degree.

Ponder this irrefutable fact – without Antarctica and the polar jet, we have absolutely no way of regulating weather. Everything we take for granted – seasons, tropical monsoons, snow pack maintaining glaciers – without exception, the result of ocean circulation patterns. Antarctica protects the world from wild swings in temperature, end of story.


My simplified  explanation of the process can’t begin to convey the importance of polar ice. Antarctica in particular plays a role vital enough to be called crucial to our way of life. We need to stop dickering over who or what is to blame and start grasping it won’t matter once the ice is gone.

A link to the state of Arctic ice….



Weather Satellite

Many people hear the term “weather satellite”, immediately dismissing the concept as nothing more than a glorified “eye in the sky”weather report. To grasp an inkling of what these satellites do, start by thinking of them as Earth Observing technology. Of the 3000 or so satellites orbiting our planet, 120 are dedicated to specific observance and measurement of planetary changes.

Take Suomi, launched by NASA in 2011 Suomi circles the globe 14 times a day at a distance of 500 miles. Equipped with cutting edge ultraviolet and infrared sensors, Suomi measures ocean temperature and water vapor from evaporation at impossibly minute levels. Unhindered by cloud cover or darkness, Suomi boasts CERES (cloud and earth radiant energy system) collecting data for long term analysis of climate change, and short term storm/hurricane tracking. Appreciating Suomi is dependent on understanding the precise science of weather – hurricanes can’t form before ocean temperatures reach 79 degrees Fahrenheit, a irrefutable tipping point at which evaporation accelerates, forcing millions of tons water vapor up to 10 miles where winds driven by Earth’s rotation whip them into circular behemoths. The slightest variance in ocean temperature, all that stands between harmless blusters and a state of emergency.

Aqua has orbited the poles since launched by NASA in 2002, it collects data on a “global scale”. Oceans, atmosphere, land, ice, snow cover and vegetation – precisely measured and studied to understand the impact they have on each other. Miniscule changes in ocean levels, particulates like ozone, carbon monoxide and dioxide, and methane in the atmosphere, impact of vegetation, forest fires and volcanoes on climate, tracking plankton blooms – all in a days work for Aqua.


Earth observing satellites monitor our planet with relentless accuracy. Each assigned specific tasks, missions that dictate stationary or orbital movement, height and duration – all with the goal of averting calamity through earlier warnings, while building base line data for tracking climate change.

Upwards of a billion dollars a year goes into debunking climate change. Money straight from  deep pockets of those standing to lose the most if ever we demand accountability. Check out the link below…


One needn’t break a sweat pondering this one – what possible rational exists beyond indifference or apathy to swallow propaganda from “big money” over meticulous scientific data calling bullshit on corporate greed? Wake up people, the numbers don’t lie. Earth observing satellites don’t have shareholders to pacify or untold wealth to squirrel away in tax havens. The link below doesn’t pretend climate change is alarmist poppycock.



Global Wind Map

Every so often I stumble upon an app or site capable of reducing me to a child cut loose in a toy store. OK, so I’m a weather nut, no shame in that. Nor surprising my toy store is an interactive map of global winds and ocean currents.

Weather is humbling – despite technology, scientific advances and satellite tracking – we’re powerless to stand between our lives and a bad storm. Rarely given the respect it deserves, blissfully unaware nature doesn’t care who you are or where you live, blinded by a bloated sense of entitlement – weather resides in the land of local forecasts and grade school felt board representations. Smiley suns, puffed blowing cheeks of grumpy looking clouds – weather reduced to robotic statistics following sport reports.

Weather can’t be dismissed as “local” or “national” – weather is global, an intricate symphony of cause and affect. The top ten feet of oceans hold as much heat as the entire atmosphere. Ocean currents move and redistribute heat. Hurricanes form only when surface water reaches 79 degrees Fahrenheit – the tipping point where evaporation meets rotation of the earth – unstoppable, inevitable and indiscriminate.

Wind carries upwards of 200 million tons of “mineral dust” from the Sahara into the atmosphere every year.  Transported thousands of kilometers in the upper atmosphere, mineral dust deposits fuel plankton blooms (resulting in increased fish) reduction of ocean temperatures (fewer hurricanes), rejuvenated Amazon rainforests, and stunted growth of coral reefs in the Caribbean. Unpredictable, impossible to anticipate – at the mercy of natural forces we can only stand back and witness.

When I stumble upon a tool to observe nature in all her glory I go slightly bonkers. The first link below is to a page highlighting the virtues of an interactive global wind map. You can watch global wind or ocean currents, adjust settings for specific countries, atmospheric height or chuck wind and focus on ocean currents. The second link takes you directly to the interactive site – one I hope you find time to play with after wetting your appetite on the overview.




Stormy Notes

People who know me well – friends, family, a smattering of long time wordpress followers – all know my eyes light up at the slightest hint of inclement weather. I blame it on a lightning bolt  striking a tree next to our house. Not more than 7 or 8 years old – to this day I can effortlessly recall details as if watching a movie. Something happened the instant lightning bolt throttled our house. Waves of sonic energy, impossibly white light – both mediocre opening acts for the headlining electrical charge passing through my body. Every hair stood tall, proudly saluting  lightning bolt as my siblings shrieked in horror.

I didn’t want to stay in the house, need comforting, or understand why going outside was a bad idea. It wasn’t enough to hear the wind, I needed to feel it. Hail the size of marbles called my name, my Mother thought I was hysterical – she had that right. Attempting reason in the midst of extraordinary circumstances tends to make children a little high strung.

It didn’t really matter, I kept my mouth shut and nurtured the gift of weather. Before lightning bolt, weather consisted of simple one word descriptions – cloudy, sunny, hot, cold, windy – unimaginative, monochromatic characterizations lacking the vivid nuances lightning bolt kindly brought to my attention.

I found myself waking in the middle of the night, acutely aware of wind patterns, holding my breath, waiting for nature’s hush – that moment of utter stillness before a thunder storm. Before long,  my new found sky palette introduced colours intricately woven with purpose – no longer blue or gray; lightning bolt let me see hundreds of pigment variations, each with a mission I was beginning to understand.

I never talked about it, didn’t ponder the possibility it was all part of growing up, People would say “what a beautiful sunset” – I wanted to ask if they knew what it was saying. Birds warned me of approaching storms; rarely able to thank them before catching a nostril full of “storm air”. Above all, I lived for the thrill of electrical charges – those subtle moments imagining static electricity is responsible for goosebumps and my goofy grin.

In Havana a few years ago, tropical storm Emily passed over the city. I stood on the hotel roof deck, utterly mesmerized by funnel clouds lazily deciding where to touch down against a violent background of lightning. Aware on some level my hands gripped the railing in defiance of wind gusts, blinding rain and deafening thunder. I remember shouting, not registering it was directed at me until hotel staff literally pulled me from the roof. I sulked all the way to my room, arriving just in time to reach the window as lightning hit the building next door. Metal framed glasses in one hand – electricity traveled up my arm – it tingled for over an hour. Without question, one of my happiest days.

When I retire, nothing would suit me better than to be a storm chaser. Thank you lightning bolt.

teakdoor.com – Time lapse of a tree hit by lightning.