Here comes the super-hot summer of 2016

This year has been off the charts hot. Lots of graphics to that point:


The February heat anomaly this year [as charted by NOAA] is scary to me.


Already we are in the fifth year of drought, which has only slightly lessened, and not at all in central SoCal.


And now models pointed are calling for an especially hot summer on the West Coast. Oh great.

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Thinking about wildness in CA: Daniel Duane

Daniel Duane first came across my media screen last summer with a spectacular essay in the NYTimes Sunday Review — My Dark California Dream — in which he thought through some of the problems that have hit California lately, from wildfire to drought to traffic to the devastation of sea life off our shores.

But it was not a litany of horrors, nor a blaming, it was a wrestling with the issue(s), including the issue of one’s own lost paradise, one’s own inevitable self loss.

Confusing one’s own youth with the youth of the world is a common human affliction, but California has been changing so fast for so long that every new generation gets to experience both a fresh version of the California dream and, typically by late middle-age, its painful death.

Tremendous. Now Duane brings another top of the Sunday Review section essay, a long thoughtful look at what is known, in a somewhat Orwellian way, as “wildlife management.”

Duane puts it more vividly, in the opening of The Unnatural Kingdom:

If you ever have the good fortune to see a Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, the experience might go like this: On a sunny morning in Yosemite National Park, you walk through alpine meadows and then up a ridge to the summit of Mount Gibbs at 12,764 feet above sea level. You unwrap a chocolate bar amid breathtaking views of mountain and desert and then you notice movement below.

Binoculars reveal three sturdy ewes perched on a wall of rock, accompanied by two lambs and a muscular ram. The sight fills you with awe and also with gratitude for the national parks, forests and, yes, environmental regulations that keep the American dream of wilderness alive.

Unless your binoculars are unusually powerful, you are unlikely to notice that many of those sheep wear collars manufactured by Lotek Wireless of Newmarket, Ontario. You will, therefore, remain unaware that GPS and satellite communications hardware affixed to those collars allows wildlife managers in distant air-conditioned rooms to track every move made by those sheep. Like similar equipment attached to California condors, pronghorn antelope, pythons, fruit bats, African wildebeest, white-tailed eagles, growling grass frogs, feral camels and countless other creatures, those collars are the only visible elements of the backlot infrastructure that now puts and keeps so many animals in the wild.

Phenomenal. Part of a book Duane is working on about the Sierra. That’ll be good…


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a rare soupcon of spicy humor

From Kelly Conaboy at The Awl:

What does a bay leaf taste like? Nothing. What does a bay leaf smell like? Nothing. What does a bay leaf look like? A leaf. How does a bay leaf behave? It behaves as a leaf would, if you took a leaf from the tree outside of your apartment building and put it into your soup. People say, “Boil a bay leaf in some water and then taste the water if you want to know what a bay leaf tastes like.”


In search of confirmation, as well as freedom to ignore the bay leaf portion of future recipes I might encounter, I reached out to a number of chefs and asked them, “Are bay leaves bullshit?”

Chef Anna Klinger, of Park Slope’s Al Di La, said: “I like them and use quite a bit.”

Anna Klinger and I are not technically friends so I do not take this lie personally, and I appreciate the way she did not explicitly state on record that bay leaves are not bullshit. Sneaky.

And yes, it goes on that way, adamantly, and it’s pretty hilarious. If a bay leaf can be funny and not bullshit.

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Bee-loving in Ojai — for good reason

To report now and again for a small town newspaper means documenting something that happened or is happening in a small town, but sometimes what at first seems purely local turns out to be much bigger — even international in scope.

From the Ojai Valley News:

A move is under way in Ojai to loosen restrictions on keeping a backyard bee hive.

Kit Stolz, Ojai Valley News correspondent

An international organization of scientists, meeting in Malaysia last week, released a two-year study estimating that up to 40 percent of pollinators around the world — such as bees — face extinction. The report attributed this, in large part, due to the perils of living in a world of rapid change and industrial agriculture.

In Ojai, the young, but active, Ojai Valley Bee Club is taking action to save bees by encouraging city officials to consider a measure loosening regulations that prohibit backyard beekeeping. The club, which meets monthly, has approximately 60 members.

Glenn Perry, an award-winning researcher into bee products such as propulis and the use of bee sting therapy to ease arthritis, moved to Ojai in recent years. He said he was surprised to learn from Ventura County’s Department of Agriculture that Ojai and Ventura County discouraged beekeeping at home.

“Unless you have a large ranch of hundreds of acres, or live out in the boonies, it’s basically illegal,” Perry said. “Ojai has a specific law that regulates beekeeping, and in urbanized areas nearby, such as Meiners Oaks, or Oak View, or Casitas Springs, the county regulations prohibit backyard beekeeping.”

(I must confess, looking at that first ‘graph, it feels kind of stuffy, Probably could have done better than its second sentence, which is simultaneously vague and foreboding. Oh well.)

Nonetheless, as I indicated in the story, Mr. Glenn Perry is literally a world-famous expert in bees. It didn’t take more than a few minutes in his presence to realize how much he knew, and how carefully he answered questions, and how focused his efforts were, and why they had such importance.

Perry, who helped start the Bee Club, argues that local bee hives support the health of important pollinators such as bees, are not dangerous, and should be supported by growers and gardeners alike.

Curtis Skene, who helps lead the larger and older Santa Barbara Beekeepers Association, agrees.

“Absolutely backyard beekeeping helps,” he said. “Bees are under pressure and in danger from all kinds of problems and predators and pesticides. Backyard bee-keeping is very important because it helps keep stocks strong,” he said.

Perry and others from the club reached out to Ojai City Councilman William Weirick, who has expressed a willingness to look at revising regulations to encourage backyard beekeeping.

“We know that that there are pressures on the bee population that are poorly understood and we know that these important pollinating species are being put at risk,” Weirick said. “We also know that bee hives have a much higher over-wintering survival rate in urban areas than in rural areas, and, we know that honey-producing activity is much higher in urban areas than rural, and so it appears that urban beekeeping is something of a refuge for the bees, and a help in their continuing survival.”

In fact bee-keeping is on the upswing across the nation, but especially amongst the trend-setters, in places like Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Los Angeles, and New York.

(Bee-keeping is perfectly legal in New York City in fact, as long as bee-keepers follow a few basic rules and register their hives with the city.)

It’s inspiring stuff — local folks making a difference, helping to keep the natural world alive. beekeepersbba

[bee-keeper photo from sbba]

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Drought hits city trees too (not just wild forests)

Another excellent story from the Washington Post, on a problem — the fate of urban trees — that seems not as well studied as that of wild forests.

Everywhere he goes, Anthony Ambrose sees the dead and dying.

They haunt this city’s streets, the browning yards of stylish homes, the scenic grounds of the local University of California campus and dry roadway medians. They’re urban trees, thirsty for water as the state enters the fifth year of the worst drought in its history, and thousands are keeling over.

“It’s definitely not a good thing,” said Ambrose, a researcher at the university who studies forest ecosystems. “They’re not as visual, they’re not as pretty. Along the highway you see a lot of dead redwoods. I feel sorry for the trees.”

The story expands beyond that of urban trees to numerous other side effects of the drought, including urban waste water systems that aren’t getting enough use, and the cost of rebates for lawn removal, but it circles back to the heart-tugging of urban trees — which aren’t numbered. Need to ask TreePeople about that.

In the meantime:


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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.


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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.)


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:







Let us pray.

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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.”


“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.

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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



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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.”


“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.”


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