BLESSED NERD


I didn’t know there was a “nerd” icon, but I sure recognized it on my post.  I wasn’t surprised.  I’m blessed, really.  Blessed that I can see not only the beauty in nature that others see, but additionally another way, too, that most others don’t. I see it in understanding what is happening and why it is happening.

The post was a picture I had taken from the top of Spencer Butte showing the clouds rising from the valley floor.  A week prior, we had an inversion, where a cold air mass filled the valley floor, and as one ascended, it became warmer, not colder.  The normal pattern is cooling with height, as anybody knows who has traveled into the mountains on a hot summer day.  I took a picture of the scene below, then I googled the Salem weather sounding, which was the closest sounding to me.  It’s easy to find these things online for those who are curious.  I just typed in uwyo sounding, and two taps later, a map of the US appeared, with a bunch of three letters all over the US, airport call signs for various cities.  People know many if they fly regularly.  Salem (SLE) is one of two in Oregon; the other is MFD (Medford).

Salem’s temperature was about 7 C (45 F) at the valley floor, and it became progressively colder up to the freezing level of about 1900 m (6000 feet), a normal pattern, although I didn’t bother to look at the “Lifted Index,” which is a description of how strong the tendency is for warm air to rise.  We can determine that, too.  A week earlier, Salem was 0 C, and at 800 m or 2600 feet, it was 13 C or 55 F.  That’s a classic inversion.  I posted the picture and the weather sounding.

Inversion

Fog layer in Springfield, Oregon with smoke rising and then reaching warm layer where the temperature of the smoke is less than the temperature of the layer, and it can no longer rise any further. Mt. Jefferson in the distance.

It earned me “nerd of the day,” to which I simply say, “I’m blessed to find things fascinating that are lost on nearly everybody else.”  The individual who placed the icon knows I am a weather junkie but has never expressed any interest in much more detailed forecasts than he gets from his Weather Channel app, which he broadcasts to everybody near him.  It’s taken me a while, but I now just stay silent.  He’s not interested in weather models or much else I say.  Seeing a Rex Block (a high pressure system north of a low pressure system, which blocks normal flow of west to east air) or an Omega Block, and knowing the weather is going to be very unchangeable days before it is announced, is interesting.  It’s also good practice to learn to curb my tongue.

Omega block over SW US. Low pressure systems force upper level winds northward, producing a stable high pressure system in the SW US.  Numbers represent the dekameters above sea level where half the atmosphere is above and half below.  Higher numbers mean higher pressure and more stable, dry, warm air.

Rex Block over the eastern Pacific.  High pressure (notice the barbs moving clockwise) is over Vancouver Island with low pressure (counterclockwise flow) is off the southern California coast.  The upper level winds from the Pacific are directed northward to SE Alaska and then turn southward and enter the US in Montana.  These last for several days and produce often stagnant weather.

I’ve had a lot of these moments.  I understand why solar eclipses occur, and indeed, I think the mathematics of an eclipse is every bit as beautiful as the eclipse itself.  Most would disagree, and I feel a little sorry for them, because I get to appreciate both the natural beauty and the mathematical music of the spheres.  The two interact; they are not mutually exclusive.  Before the Libyan eclipse in 2006, a senior editor at one of the astronomy magazines gave a talk about eclipses, not mentioning a word about the Saros Cycle. I asked him later, alone, why he didn’t bring it up.

“Nobody is going to be interested in that.”  Maybe he needed to make it interesting.  He was the editor, after all, not me.  Maybe nobody knew that such beauty existed.

In 2007, at Big Bend National Park in Texas, I was hiking on the South Rim Trail, when out near the edge of a steep cliff, 2500 feet above the valley floor, I looked ahead to see something that looked like smoke.  I got closer and realized it was water vapor, condensing, right in front of me, as south winds from the North American Monsoon brought moisture-rich air up against the walls, where the air was forced to rise and in doing so cooled and condensed into clouds (for the Lifted Index was negative and hot air was going to rise, not layer out) right in front of me.  This is called orographic lift.  I have seen orographic lift from a distance, watching cloud tops develop on mountains, eventually leading to thunderstorms, but I had never before seen it right in front of me.

I sent a picture to the Weather Channel, but this wasn’t a powerful storm, a great sunset, or any one of a number of non-nerdy things.  I never heard back.

DSC02053.JPG

Orographic Lift, Big Bend National Park, June 2007. The moist air is condensing right in front of me.

When I was a first year medical student, I was allowed to see a C-Section in a Denver hospital.  When asked afterwards what my impression was, I said it was interesting, and all I could think of were the enzymatic reactions that were closing the ductus arteriosus, the shunt between the pulmonary artery and the aorta, that needs to close so that de-oxygenated blood can go directly to the lungs for the baby’s initial breaths.  Knowing this stuff to me makes life more interesting.  I am able to appreciate both the sheer beauty of what I am seeing with the knowledge of knowing why it is.  Or, in the case of orographic lift, I find beauty where most would not.  That’s being blessed.

I don’t think too many amateur astronomers saw the Saturn-24 Sgr occultation in 1989. That’s nerdy stuff.  Saturn passed in front of a star (Saturn’s being closer to us, so it is possible), and as it did so, the star appeared to pass through Saturn’s rings.  That was remarkable.  From the Earth, with a moderate size telescope, I was treated to an hour long show of exactly how thick Saturn’s rings were, and believe me, they are very different for each layer.  Finally, the star was visible between the globe of Saturn and the rings, very odd appearing, before it gradually blinked out behind the globe, the gradual loss being proof of Saturn’s atmosphere. (When the Moon occults a star, it happens suddenly, because there is no lunar atmosphere).  This was a top 5 astronomical event for me, and I’ve spent a lot of time observing.

I get made fun off a lot, and when I taught, whether it was my being enthusiastic about the Rule of 72 for doubling time of money or population*, proving why the quadratic formula is what it is*^, understanding the age of a tree by its diameter**, the distance of an object if I know its height, or why the Sun sets earliest in early December rather than on the solstice, where the full Moon is going to rise*** and why or how to tell clock time using the Big Dipper.****

It’s a remarkable world around us, worth exploring, worth understanding, worth finding answers to the many questions we have about it. Nerds are blessed.  So there.

*Rule of 72: The doubling time of money in years is 72/interest rate in per cent.  9% rate doubles in 72/9 or 8 years.  It has to do with P=Poe^rt. P is twice Po so 2=e^rt.  ln both sides is ln 2=rt, so t=ln2/r, and if we use per cent, this is 69.3/r, close enough to 72, which is evenly divisible by 2,3,4,6,8,9,12,18,24, and 36.

*^ax^2+bx+c=0; x^2+(b/a)x=-(c/a); complete the square, x^2+(b/2a)x+b^2/4a^2=-(c/a)+(b^2/4a^2); [x+(b/2a)]^2=(1/2a)(b^2-4ac), and x=(1/2a)(-b+/- sqrt(b^2-4ac)

**For a Douglas fir, about 5 years per inch of diameter at breast height (DBH).

***Directly behind where the Sun set, basically.

****Let the pointer stars be the hour hand and Polaris the center.  Every two hours, the clock moves counterclockwise 1 hour.  Over a month, this changes, but for typical outdoor camping experiences, it works well.  A quarter turn is 6 hours, and American cowboys knew this and when it was time to relieve or be relieved. If one is Down Under, sorry!

 

 

 

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