Saturday, October 31, 2009
But this year we've had one of the rainiest, coldest, snowiest Octobers on record. We seemed to pass from our lovely warm September directly into raw November/December, and it seems we've had only a small handful of sunny days all month. Yesterday, Thursday's heavy rains started to move out of the area pushed by gusty, turbulent winds that left me gasping as I arrived at work. Our office lobby opens directly to the street, and I blew through the door like Mary Poppins, accompanied by a swirl of leaves and my hair on end. (Of course, despite the winds that blew her in, prim Mary actually arrived sedately, with not a hair out of place.)
So we didn't go birdwatching this October. We didn't go for leisurely strolls in the Carleton Arboretum or hike to the hilltops in the Cannon River Wilderness Area or drive down to Red Wing or Lake City. We didn't install the net for the badminton set my son got for his early-October birthday. Most of the photos I took this month were taken through windows.
If we don't get some pleasant weather in November, this is going to end up seeming like one of the longest indoor seasons ever.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
Above is a goldfinch in winter plumage - not gold at all, as you can see:
Adult males in spring and early summer are bright yellow with black forehead, black wings with white markings, and white patches both above and beneath the tail. Adult females are duller yellow beneath, olive above. Winter birds are drab, unstreaked brown, with blackish wings and two pale wingbars.
-All About Birds - Cornell Lab of Ornithology
It took a while for the goldfinches to find our thistle-seed feeder after we put it up in late summer, but they are regular visitors now. Our other regulars include plenty of chickadees and some house finches.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Friday, October 16, 2009
Thursday, October 15, 2009
I believe in science. Not because "scientists are right" but because science is self-correcting over time. And because the whole point of science lies in approaching issues based on available evidence and with an openness to being proven wrong by additional evidence.
Scientists know that weather fluctuates, that true climate change is generally measured in geological time, not human-scale time, and that 140 years of weather records do not constitute geological evidence.
When scientists know those things but find convincing evidence to come to a strong consensus that human activity is affecting climate now, and rapidly, I think we should listen.
When they make a reasoned case that catastrophic atmospheric tipping points are fast approaching, I think we should listen.
When I was studying negligence in law school, we learned about the standard of reasonable care. In one influential approach to determining whether conduct constitutes the reasonable care required of us to avoid being considered legally negligent, factors to be considered include:
- the foreseeable likelihood that harm will result
- the foreseeable severity of the harm that may ensue
- the cost of taking precautions that eliminate or reduce the possibility of harm.
Thus, for example, it is not reasonable to dangle your baby over a balcony even though you are strong and coordinated and you think it is very unlikely you will drop the child, because in the unlikely event that you do drop the child, the harm will be catastrophic. Similarly, people are required to carry liability insurance to protect people they may injure in a car crash, even though it's not all that likely they will cause a crash, and even though they would rather not pay the insurance premiums, because if they do have a crash the injuries that may occur are likely to be serious. The cost of insurance is a reasonable one in light of the risk of uncompensated injuries. Even more important, we need to drive carefully.
Bringing this back to climate change, if the risk to current and future life, health, communities, ecosystems and whole ways of life is potentially severe, we need to act. Better we do what we can to prevent catastrophic changes to our environment and perhaps discover it was unnecessary, than not act and run the risk of discovering that it was necessary -- and that it is now too late.
In climate terms, the weight of scientific opinion is that the harm we risk by not changing our behavior is potentially severe, and that the probability of harm is high. So we need to "drive" carefully. We need to have "insurance." We need to pull that "baby" back in and not let him or her dangle. We need to take reasonable care. Because a planet is a terrible thing to waste.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Click on the photo to step into the scene - you'll feel like Lucy in the snowy forest in Narnia before she meets the faun. The evergreens in the background have fully-leafed cottonwood trees behind them.
When we got a coating of snow on Saturday morning (Oct. 10) and even more snowfall yesterday (Oct. 12), my impression was that it was very rare to have snowfall that early. Flurries once in a while, maybe, but even that would be uncommon.
It was certainly an odd sight yesterday to see snow all over trees and shrubs that were still in full leaf, like my Burning Bush (above) -- and in many cases still green.
Even by the end of the month snow is not common. Our Halloweens here in southern Minnesota are mixed: usually a coat or a warm layer under the Halloween costume is appreciated, but sometimes it's not necessary and rarely is it colder than the 40s. My younger daughter was born on October 23 and I remember we were having something of a heat wave -- the Asian beetles were living it up on my living room ceiling (I remember it well because I spent several nights in the recliner looking ceilingward, coping with early labor pains) and I wore shorts to the park the day before she was born. Of course, we did also have the notorious Halloween blizzard (see link in the quoted section below) the year before that.
I found a nice history of October snowfall in a weather blog that meteorologist Paul Douglas now writes for the St. Cloud Times:
Douglas includes a chart showing the eight dates mentioned, only one of which occurred since I've lived in Minnesota (nearly 20 years now). Oddly, that year was 1992, the very same year we were having the late-October heat wave I mentioned above. I don't remember this, but apparently .3 inches of snow fell on October 15 that year. That's Minnesota weather for ya!
How rare is measurable snow this early in the season? In recent years it has been uncommon to see measurable snow in October in the Twin Cities. The last time there was measurable snow in October in the Twin Cities was .2 (two tenths) of an inch on October 20 and .4 (four tenths) of an inch on October 21, 2002. The most snow for the month of October is (of course) the 1991 Halloween Blizzard with 8.2 inches, which all fell on October 31.
What is more unusual is having measurable snow fall in the first half of the month. This has happened only eight times in the last 60 years, with the most snow being 2.5 inches on October 10, 1977....
The earliest measurable snow on record for the Twin Cities is .4 inches on September 24, 1985 which fell during the afternoon and surprised many people.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009
A couple of days ago I noticed a great blue heron hunkered down at the west bank of the Cannon River here in Northfield, across from where I work. I've seen one on this downtown stretch of river only once before, though I know they are commonly seen just a few blocks to the north, where the town-tamed river becomes relatively wild again as it wends its way through the Carleton Arboretum and onward toward Cannon Falls and eventually the Mississippi.
Usually when I photograph the river I try to avoid any intrusion of the traffic and fast food signs on the far side, but contrasts and unexpected juxtapositions interest me, and in this case the sighting of the rather reclusive heron and its small-town-urban setting seemed to call for a different view.