Archive for 2016 February

The Revenant: from the bear’s POV

The Revenant, the most spectacularly cinematic contender for Best Picture in years, did not take home that particular Oscar at the Academy Awards presentation this past Sunday,  but it remains a massive world-wide hit, far bigger than “Spotlight,” won three other major awards — best director, best actor, and best cinematographer — and will almost certainly be the best remembered picture of 2015.

And what stands out first in the movie? Of all the early scenes, which one makes the greatest impression?

The bear attack, surely, in which our hero, scouting through the woods for a way across the mountains, hears hoarse breathing, sees a couple of bear cubs, and then out of nowhere is brutally attacked, bitten, and torn open by a bear. He ultimately shoots the bear, as it attacks again, and then stabs it, and finally kills it.

How did they film this? Well, first they did their homework, according to a story in Backpacker:

Glenn Ennis of Vancouver, one of the performers who played the bear, told Backpacker the team prepared by studying videos of wild and captive bears, including several attacks.

Ennis recalls one clip of a man being attacked after entering a zoo enclosure. The footage went on for quite some time, with the bear wandering away mid-attack but then coming back and getting vicious again, he says. The bear in The Revenant behaves similarly.

The bear itself was created with computer effects, but it was superimposed over Ennis and his actual movement. He had to call on his acting background to practice ursine walking and “getting into the headspace of a bear,” he says. When they’re not attacking something, “they have a nonchalance to them.”

Earlier on in the film’s production, a group including director Alejandro González Iñárritu, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki and visual effects supervisor Richard McBride met for an informal consultation for the film with Scott McMillion, a Montana-based writer and author of Mark of the Grizzly, a 1998 nonfiction book about bear attacks.

It’s impressive as hell, and from that moment onward the movie takes on a legendary cast, This is the story of a man who survived a bear attack. He is no longer a white man, a fur-trapper, a father — he is the man who survived the bear attack. He has become a myth, though he still has a life to live through.

The bear, quoted in The New Yorker, has a different POV:

There has been a lot in the press about how nightmarishly gruelling the shooting was on “The Revenant.” In fact, it was as difficult as I’ve ever experienced. I’m no diva—I mean, I’m literally a bear, I defecate in the woods—but even I must go on the record to say that there were times during filming when I longed for death.

Read the whole thing.

bearattack

Full Story »

Wishing and Hoping (for El Niño in SoCal)

El Niño has been a no-show in Southern California this year, despite endless fall warnings of a Godzilla event (including those transmitted by yours truly).

So what happened?

Short version, according to a post put up on the Weather West blog by the wise young Daniel Swain of Stanford, is we don’t know — but we have suspicions.

…I’ll reiterate that it’s impossible to discern in real time–and especially within the confines of a blog post–exactly why California has been considerably drier than expectations during the present very strong El Niño event, and why West Coast ridging [high pressure build-up] has been so prominent during recent winters. One thing that is clear is that warming temperatures have already increased the likelihood and severity of drought in California–irrespective of changes in precipitation patterns.

Swain argues that the “subtropical ridging” is not a return of the dreaded Ridiculously Resilient Ridge that created the California drought of the past five years — at least not yet — and reminds us that the winter is not yet over, and suggests the pattern could shift soon:

…there are still tantalizing signs of a potential shift to much wetter conditions by the very end of the month. The GFS and ECMWF ensembles have both been suggesting that the anomalously deep Gulf of Alaska low which has been present so far this winter will shift subtly eastward over the coming 2 weeks, eventually displacing the West Coast ridge far enough to the east to allow the “storm parade” which has been present across the North Pacific for the entire winter to reach California.

That suggestion is shown in this model animation in the early days of March. (Watch the low move into California as the days in the marker at the top pass by.)

96cff75c-c72b-4bfd-b05f-fba85b9ffde6

To the Ventura County Star, local hero Bill Patzert, of JPL/NASA fame, argues that the El Niño this year might have been so big it pulled the subtropical jet stream into NorCal, but likewise suggests that could change:

Forecasts that El Niño would bring a conveyor belt of wet storms have yet to materialize in Southern California.

But experts say it’s not too late. There are still two months to go.

Climatologist Bill Patzert, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, said he’s still counseling patience and optimism.

The El Niño didn’t start to peak until January and February. It might have been too big, pushing the subtropical jet stream farther north. As its intensity decreases, that could change.

There is precedent for that, Patzert said. In 1983, “the big show didn’t really happen until March and April.”

Meanwhile, El Niño storms have boosted the Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about one-third of California’s water, including in east Ventura County.

True. But the rainfall numbers this year for Ventura County are little short of dismal:

rainfalltotals

 

 

 

 

 

Let us pray.

Full Story »

Scalia passing: Quail react (via Samantha Bee)

Samantha Bee has a new show on the television, called Full Frontal, about which I know nothing, but this post from her on the passing of Antonin Scalia from the perspective of quail in Texas is pretty hilarious.

One example, from a bird labeled simply “Quail.”

Quail

“As a quail, I’m a firm believer in not getting shot out of the sky while transporting leaves to line my nest with. But I’m also a conservative, and I can’t help but think Scalia’s brilliant and ferocious opposition to judicial overreach will not easily be replaced in my lifetime. Especially since that’s like 5 years, tops.”

Whole thing is pretty great.  Especially if you’re a sucker for media reax from non-human species.

Full Story »

A prayer for the earth: Pope Francis

On Valentine’s Day, one can’t overlook (well, one can, but shouldn’t) love for the earth from which we came.

From “Praise Be” from Pope Francis, a prayer for the earth [passage 178]:

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.

Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction. Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

h/p: Eric Holthaus

Kennedy Meadows

Kennedy Meadows

 

 

Full Story »

Storm denial: what forecasters couldn’t mention

Coincidentally two stories this week focused on how in the past scientists were not allowed to name certain types of storms. Dr. Jeff Masters, of Weather Underground fame, writes about the Great Dust Bowl, and reveals that many attempts — and many successful attempts — were made to control the reporting of the news.

Writing about Timothy Egan’s excellent book about the Dust Bowl, The Worst Hard Time, Masters notes that attempts were made to dismiss the ruinous nature of the dust storms.

In Dalhart, Texas, the town paper, the Texan, started a campaign with a tribute to the sand storms as majestic events that should draw people in to see the wonder. There was outrage that the East Coast and national press was trying to slander the town and the region – trying to discredit the people of the region by blaming them for the degradation of the land and dust in air. There were those in the East saying that those in the Dust Bowl were exaggerating their situation trying to extort money from Washington.

There was in this campaign a quest to make the dust storms majestic and divinely positive events, a rejection of both the obvious collapse of people and towns and of the increasing scientific evidence that at the very core of the collapse was the behavior of people. From the Texan, John McCarty, wrote that people should

“view the majestic splendor and beauty of one of the great spectacles of nature, a panhandle dust storm, and smile even though we may be choking and our throats and nostrils so laden with dust that we cannot give voice to our feelings.” ( The Worst Hard Time, page 185)

Amazing. But the same thing happened with tornadoes, according to a wonderful story in Atlas Obscura:

From 1887 up until 1950, American weather forecasters were forbidden from attempting to predict tornados. Mentioning them was, in the words of one historian, “career suicide.”

During that time, Roger Edwards of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center writes, “tornadoes were, for most, dark and mysterious menaces of unfathomable power, fast-striking monsters from the sky capable of sudden and unpredictable acts of death and devastation.”

Less than confident in their own predictive powers, and fearful of the responses of a panicky public, “the use of the word “tornado” in forecasts was at times strongly discouraged and at other times forbidden” by the Weather Bureau, Edwards writes, replaced by euphemisms like “severe local storms.”

[edit]

“Forecasts of tornadoes are prohibited,” announced the Weather Bureau Stations Regulations of 1905, 1915, and 1934.

Meanwhile, Mathis, writes, throughout the ‘20s and ‘30s, “the death toll from tornadoes mounted.” People facing a rash of storms–the Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak; the Great Tri-State Tornado–were left on their own: “There were no warnings, no time for people to seek shelter.”

alfalfa

Full Story »

“Ominous” news: CA faces megadrought

In a major study released today by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, scientists identify a climactic mechanism that increasingly appears to be blocking the kinds of storms that carry the most rain and snow from reaching California and the Southwest.

From NCAR’s press release:

“For the study, the researchers analyzed 35 years of data to identify common weather patterns—arrangements of high and low pressure systems that determine where it’s likely to be sunny and clear or cloudy and wet, among other things. They identified a dozen patterns that are typical for the weather activity in the contiguous United States and then looked to see whether those patterns were becoming more or less frequent.

“The weather types that are becoming more rare are the ones that bring a lot of rain to the southwestern United States,” [researcher Andreas] Prein said. “Because only a few weather patterns bring precipitation to the Southwest, those changes have a dramatic impact.'”

Prein said that the nature of drought itself has changed in our region.

From Climate Central’s story by Brian Kahn:

“Nowadays, the droughts are not the same as 30 years ago. They can be more intense and last longer than we would expect 30 years ago,” Prein said.

While Prein did not look directly at whether the current drying was driven by climate change or natural forces, the main climatic driver is an increase in high pressure in the northeast Pacific Ocean that essentially steers stormy weather away from the region. (You might recall a feature called the ridiculously resilient ridge doing something similar and driving the California drought. That’s kinda what’s happening in the Southwest.)”

Maybe a high pressure ridging pattern that looks something like this?

 

 

That reddish high pressure area is sure to block all of California from the kind of low pressure systems that bring us water in the winter for at least the next week. The meteorological map was posted by Stanford researcher Daniel Swain, the man who first identified and named the “ridiculously resilient ridge.”

But most “ominous” of all, another study from 2015 found an 80% chance that we will soon find ourselves in a megadrought. Alarmingly, yesterday Prein suggested that we’re already in one.

“We see a very intense trend in the Southwest,” Andreas Prein, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said. “The Southwest might already have drifted into a drier climate state.”

Southwestmegadroughtchances

Full Story » Comment (1)