Thursday, January 30, 2014

January 2014: Brutalmente Frio!

I began to write a bloggy bit about the intense cold snap we had January 6th through the 8th.  I never edited and finished the piece in time to post it when it was still frigid.  Thanks to Mother Nature I have another chance.  An equally cold spell occurred for January 27th and 28th.  Even though I had already posted something about Snow Days, I was compelled to make this piece on this very cold month in the era of global warming my monthly letter. 
January 6:  It was early December 1989.  I was in Louisville, Mississippi.  I was working for TRW Seat Belt Systems at the time and we had a plant in Louisville.  Louisville was a rural town and not an industrial or business center.  We used to stay at a vacation motel, not part of any chain, on small lake.  The rooms were modest but the restaurant was distinctively southern.  This motel and restaurant, whose name escapes me, most definitely had one leg one leg firmly rooted in the 1950s. 
It was unbelievably cold for that part of the country.  There was no talk of global warming back in those days.  If there was, I was oblivious to it.  Without internet we relied on the television and newspapers for the weather.  The local television news informed me that the temperature outside was 10 degrees.   After breakfast, at the checkout, the nice lady with a wonderfully pleasant Mississippi accent commented  "it is really cold weather for us down here, but I bet you are used to it up north where you live?"  I responded, "Ma'am, we may get a few more cold days in Detroit than you do down here but 10 degrees is cold for us too."
Today was the coldest day in Chicago for the past twenty years.  From sunrise to sunset the temperature did not get above -10 degrees.  The headlines of a local Spanish language newspaper simply stated:  Brutalmente Frio!  Yes, indeed.  It is brutally cold by any standard.  The weather is supposed to stay below zero until sometime on Wednesday. 
It snowed all weekend, but there was no snow today.  Yet, all schools were closed.  There was no mail delivery nor was there any refuse pickup. The roads were very lightly travelled because the television and internet urged everyone to stay home unless absolutely necessary.  People apparently listened.
I am not one to say we were of heartier stock back in my youth.  I only mention walking to school six miles both uphill in both directions through four feet of snow as an obvious joke to my students.  Yet, I do not recall missing school solely because of cold weather.  We would, of course, note the cold and then simply bundle and layer up more before going out. 
What freaked people out most was the wind chill which was reported to be between -25 to -60 degrees today.  There were reports that at these kinds of temperatures and wind chills, frostbite could begin in about 10-15 minutes.  While I did not test the frostbite theory, I did park in front of  a coffee shop and left the car without coat or gloves to go the twenty yards or so into the shop.  Yep... my hands were really cold when I got into the store.  Later, I heard a report that it was so cold that if you threw a glass of water into the air, it would turn into snow.  I had never heard of it being that cold ever before.  So, I tried it.  No snow.  The water did quickly freeze be only after being on the ground for a few seconds.  Supposedly I should have used boiling water.    I hope I do not have to wait twenty years to give this another shot. 
January 7:  What is the history of this wind chill factor?  There are many formulas for calculating what we call the wind chill factor or what is also called the wind chill equivalent.  The first formula was developed by a couple of scientists, Charles Passel and Paul Siple, working in Antarctica.  The conducted experiments on how long it took water to freeze based on initial temperature of the water, the ambient temperature, and the average wind speed.   I can only assume they used regression to develop an equation.  Their initial work was heat loss expressed in watts per surface area.  Other scientists built off their model to calculate an equivalent temperature with no wind.  The formula has been tweaked a few times over years.
Weather services began reporting wind chills in the mid-1960s.   That is exactly when I recall hearing it and everyone being terrified by the hyperbole.  Since then, on really cold days weathercasters have been reporting both the temperature and the wind chill equivalent.  Lately, I have noticed a newer habit of weathercasters only reporting the wind chill temperature.  I am not sure I like this change and I am also certain I will have little say in changing how cold weather temperatures are reported.  Source for the history of the wind chill factor:  Wind Chill: Love It or Hate It, The Term is Here to Stay.
It has been twenty years since we had temperatures this cold.  Will it be even longer until we see it again due to global warming?  Maybe, and there is no scientific basis for this, we should be calling it is climate disruption wherein we see the temperatures gradually increase but also see more and more extremes in terms of temperatures and storms.  It seems just seeing the bigger hurricanes, longer tornado seasons with more vicious storms, torrential rains and floods, tsunamis, early springs, mild winters, following by record setting brutal winters.  It seems more complicated than what most of us believe global warming. 
Yesterday in New York City, it was 50ish degrees.  It will hit a low of 7 this evening and be over 50 by the weekend.  It was -15 yesterday in Chicago.  Today it was -4, it will be in the 30s over the weekend and the forecast is calling for sleety rain.  If you ask me, those are wild swings in temperatures.
It will be interesting to see how the rest of the year develops.
January 24:  Shortly after this throw back cold spell, people around here do what people do.  They started complaining about the cold and wishing for summer. 
I am not complaining.  I am really enjoying this frigid month.  It reminds me of winters I experienced growing up.  It feels right. I am less happy when we have the winters that aren't really winters.  Those winters are extended falls that then morph directly into spring. 
This is not to say that I have not gotten weary of winter in years past.  I recall a couple winters growing up where it seemed like it was gray and overcast for like a month.  It was dank, damp, and dark.  I definitely wanted those winters to end. 
For me, there is no need to fed up with winter.  It has snowed.  It has been really cold.  But, the really cold days were sunny and the skies were clear.  It was very nice.  Furthermore, it is the 24th of January.  March is only 34 days off.  Spring is 55 days away.  It is almost time to think about getting my bicycles tuned up. 
Oddly and not very well publicized, this past Tuesday, January 21st, was Chicago's Annual Winter Bike to Work day.  Really?  It had snowed that evening.  There were a couple of inches of snow on the ground.  The car commute took over an hour when it is normally 30 minutes.  Even worse, it was five degrees.  I could imagine taking any kind of bike ride in those conditions.  I did not see any bike riders until I walked to the Starbucks across from North Park University.  A young man came out of the store with a cup of coffee to his bike leaning against the wall.  I asked how he would ride in these conditions while carrying a cup of coffee.  The young fellow said he was planning to walk.  He was a student at the Northside College Preparatory High School about a half-mile from where we were.  When I asked if he was participating in the Bike to Work Day said this was the first he had heard about it.  He commented that he rides his bike to school every day; I guessed out of necessity.
At the campuses I frequent, I do not see students in sandals or shorts this winter.  Not this year.  Everyone is bundled up.  I love it.  Heavy coats, layers, hats that cover the ears, and insulated gloves are the uniform of the day.  Folks from warmer climes are wrapped in scarfs with only a slit open for their eyes.  We have had several snow storms varying from a few inches to outright blizzards. 
January 23:  In a white out this week in the lake effect region at the south end of Lake Michigan by Michigan City, there was a horrible accident involving 40 cars and eighteen wheelers.  Three people were killed.  It took the authorities more than 24 hours to clear the road for traffic.  I had read about such accidents in Alps.  I have never heard of such an accident in the US. 
It was a horrible accident.  While we are closing schools because of the cold, drivers do not heed the advice when told to get stay off of the roads. 

January 27-28:  Schools were all closed including the two colleges I teach at.  There was no appreciable snow, but still the schools were closed.  I imagine that school kids were enjoying their unanticipated time off.  Again the schools were closed because of the brutal cold.  The temperatures did not get above 5o F and were as low as -115o F. 
I have to admit.  I enjoyed the unanticipated time off and was certain I was going to get a lot done with the windfall of free time.  Sheepishly, I have to admit that I did not get that much done.
I did redo the science experiment that didn’t quite work out.  I put boiling water in a mug, went outside and threw the water up into the cold air.  Voila, a large part of the water turned to a very fine snow.  Cool.
January 29:  The Chicago Tribune had an online poll:  Is this Chicago’s worst winter?  They asked folks to rate select the worst winter from this year, 2011, 1985, 1983, 1982, and 1979.  Because people are feeling the here and now more than remembering the then and when, 2014 was the clear winner in this ad hoc poll.  

This poll made me curious.  I looked at the average January temperatures in Chicago from 1950 to 2014.  The average temperature was 15o F this month.  This is the coldest January since 1985 when the average monthly temperature was also 15o F.  In the 64 year span, there were four Januaries when the average temperature was colder than we experienced this year: 1982, 1979, 1977, and 1963 when the average temperatures were 12o F, 13o F, 11o F, and 12o F respectively. 

    So this is the coldest January in 29 years.  It is clear why the Chicago Tribune Poll turned out like it did. Approximately half of the people alive today weren’t born then.  The half that were, probably do not remember those cold Januarys in the 70s and 80s as the this year’s which is front and center in our consciousness.
Since I collected this data, I wanted to see if global warming was at play, so I ran a regression.  The slope of the regression line was .044 o F which means the model says that the temperature is rising .044 o each year.  That is not a lot but it is an increase.  Further analysis shows that this liner model is only accounting, however, for a paltry 2.4% of the variation in average temperatures.  I am, therefore, not very excited about this model.  

Let's see what February has in store for us...

Saturday, January 11, 2014

No Handgun Signs

I was at the College of Lake County for a little prep work for the upcoming semester.  As I was about to enter, I noticed new decals on all of the doors:  a black silhouette  of a handgun with a red circle with a diameter going from 1 o'clock to 7 o'clock.  OK... no handguns or guns of any kind.  Gee, did we need a decal to re-enforce the obvious?  Does this mean knives and machetes are OK?  Why only guns?  The door could have been littered with stickers.  No battle axes.  No chainsaws.  No spears, lances, swords, hatchets, shovels, picks, or anything else that could be used as weapon.  Why are there no stickers on the doors for these things.  I suppose because they did not specify, I would be within my rights to to drive an M1 Abrams Tank into the building… there is no sign telling me not to.

Who is this sign supposed to deter?  Sensible, law abiding people, the 99.99% (totally my guesstimate) of us would never consider carrying any weapon into a public building like a school.  How about the .01% of criminals, evildoers, or deranged men that we keep reading about not only carrying weapons into schools but then shooting people indiscriminately.   Would such a sign deter them?  Would someone at the end of their rope, intent on doing harm, and armed to the teeth stop in his tracks by this sign and mutter: "heck I was unaware.  I guess I will just turn around and go home."  Of course they wouldn't.

Thus, the sign deters no one.  Then why put them up?  It seems like a small waste of money and time.

Well, there is something in Illinois called the Firearm Concealed Carry Act.  It was passed in July and allows for anyone with Firearm Owner Identification Card ( FOID Card) to get a concealed carry license for $150.  It seems that Illinois is the last state in the union to pass such a law.  The results of a federal court case gave the state until July 9th to enact such a law.

Again, mostly law abiding citizens whom I would trust carrying a concealed weapon will bother to apply and pay for such license.  Nefarious characters with malintent will simply carry a concealed weapon.  No law or sign will deter them much from this.

Here is a blurb from the College of Lake County’s website that kind of explains the stickers.

The College of Lake County board of trustees passed a new gun policy prohibiting anyone but sworn police officers from carrying a firearm on college-owned or controlled property. The action was taken during the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Dec. 17.

Under the new policy, enacted to comply with Illinois’ Firearm Concealed Carry Act, anyone with a concealed carry license coming to the Grayslake or Southlake campus in Vernon Hills must store their weapon, unloaded, in a secure case or locked container out of plain view in their parked vehicle. At the Lakeshore campus in Waukegan, where CLC does not own a parking facility, those with a concealed carry license must comply with the laws and regulations of the city, but as at the Grayslake and Southlake campuses, they cannot carry a weapon on campus.The College of Lake County board of trustees passed a new gun policy prohibiting anyone but sworn police officers from carrying a firearm on college-owned or controlled property. The action was taken during the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting on Dec. 17.

Under the new policy, enacted to comply with Illinois’ Firearm Concealed Carry Act, anyone with a concealed carry license coming to the Grayslake or Southlake campus in Vernon Hills must store their weapon, unloaded, in a secure case or locked container out of plain view in their parked vehicle. At the Lakeshore campus in Waukegan, where CLC does not own a parking facility, those with a concealed carry license must comply with the laws and regulations of the city, but as at the Grayslake and Southlake campuses, they cannot carry a weapon on campus.

CLC did the right thing per the Illinois law.  The whole thing seems absurd to me:  the law, the reaction to them, and the stickers on the door.  I generally support the right to bear arms.  I also would like to eliminate mass shootings in schools.  Not sure what this law, FOID Cards, and stickers will accomplish.

OK then... This is why these useless stickers adorn all the doors of the CLC campus.  I suppose we will see them so often at all kinds of buildings and businesses.  In a matter of no time, we they will be so numerous we won’t even notice them.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Snow Days

1-1-14 3 pm
It is a snow day in Chicago.  From the little bit of news I caught on TV today, it is a snow day in large parts of the Midwest and the Northeast.  The snow fell lightly but steadily from dusk on New Year’s Eve through noon on January 2.  The official accumulation in the town next to ours is 13.9 inches.  The temperature has been in the teens so the snow is very powdery.  The clean white landscape is beautiful and even more so when the skies cleared and the sun shined making everything whiter.

There were lots of cancellations today.   Some businesses closed.  Many schools and colleges were already closed for the holidays.  I imagine all school kids were excited by the snow storm.  They were probably a bit disappointed as well.  They probably felt cheated out of a snow day.   Even as an adult, I used to love the occasional snow day, but with computers and internet, there are no real snow days for adults anymore unless the electricity is out… and then it is not a very pleasant snow day at all.  Today was scheduled as a work in the home office day and that is exactly what I did.

Snow days were few and far between when I was a youngster, but they were wonderful and welcome surprises.  We seemed to get somewhere between zero and two days a year.  Even cooler, our more irresponsible, back then was the fact that they did not tack on days at the end of the year to make up for lost classroom time.  I do believe the Detroit Board of Education budgeted a few snow days into their schedule.  

To have snow days back then, we had to have what we used to simply call a “Big Snow.”  These were memorable storms that to this day are referred as The Blizzard of Fill in the blank with a year.  Being from Detroit, I recall one from the late 1960s and certainly the Blizzards of 1974, 1977, and 1978.  Back then there was no internet, no video games, and the TV had only four channels.  In those days, we didn’t have snow removal service nor did we have snow blowers.  We had heavy steel snow shovels and the family to clear the snow from the driveway and the sidewalks.  So, on snow days we played inside and when it stopped went outside to shovel and enjoy the snow and weather.  

The most recent old fashioned snow day I recall was in the 1990s in CT.  It was a massive snow storm that turned into a work and school snow day.  I began to clear off our massive driveway with the hope that the Kevork, our lawn and snow guy, would show.  Even when he did come there was a lot of shoveling to do but we got the job
1-2-14 3 pm
done.  Snows in CT tended to be wet and heavy so I was glad when that job was done.  

Ever since I have had four wheel SUVs, I loved to take them out on the snowy roads and see the winter wonderland that CT could be.  My daughter, Armene, also wanted to go sledding so we put the sled in the back of the 4Runner and drove around for awhile ending up at the Weston Historical Society where there was a wonderful hill.  Armene and Aram had a blast.  It was a great day.  That is the kind of snow day I kind of longed for today.

I noticed that recently, like this year, they have started naming winter storms.  This current storm is called Winter Storm Hercules; a most appropriate name.  
I didn't get the memo.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy 2014

It is a quiet New Year's Eve.  The days of going out and performing at New Year's Eve Dances are either behind me or in a lull that feels like they are long behind me.  

It is funny that even in the heyday of playing every New Year's Eve, we used to call it amateurs' night.  It is more laughable now than it was years ago.  In our twenties and thirties, we thought we were such world class partiers.  We weren't.  At least I wasn't.  We did have fun and the fun was, for me, primarily because we were playing music. 

There is a trend that I have noticed to have lower key New Year's Eves.  When I was growing up it seemed like almost everyone went out.  Hotels and restaurants advertised New Year's Eve galas throughout all of December.  I believe every Armenian church had New Year's party.  it was an important night on the social calendar.  People got dressed up and went out.

A quick Google of this hypothesized New Year's Eve trend and voila... confirmation that I am again stating the obvious.  There were several postings of the same article:  Staying in is the new going out this New Year's Eve.
According to a survey by American toy company Hasbro, for the second year running, the majority of Americans will find themselves at home when the clock strikes midnight, with 79 percent of women and 76 percent of men shunning a night out.
I guess Hasbro conducted the survey to sell more games to stay at home revelers.  Don't they make Twister? 

The article made it seem like a tend that is just taking place this year.  I have sensed it for years.    Since 2001, we have mostly been part of this trend.  75-80% of the people staying at home this year did not happen overnight.  It has to be the result of a thirty year trend.

How did we spend our New Years?  We got some take out ribs and went to Judy's Mom's house and had dinner.  It was very good.  We Face Timed with the Gavoors of Washington DC and the Kapamajian's of Pasadena.  We also talked to the Gavoors of  Livonia, MI.  We came home and fired up our new Apple TV and Netflix.  When we stay home for New Year's Eve, Judy likes to watch Fred Astaire movies.  She was kind of hoping for Top Hat but Netflix seems to cater more to newer films and stars than older ones.  There was only Fred Astaire movie and it was the 1955 Daddy Long Legs with Leslie Caron.  After that she felt like a Cary Grant.  There were five movies starring Cary Grant which is more than the Fred Astaire offering but further evidence that Netflix does not favor old movies.  We chose Charade with Audrey Hepburn

Tomorrow, or rather later today, there is football.  I am only interested in the Rose Bowl which pits Michigan State against Stanford.  My daughter and son in-law will be at the game.

It is a cold Chicago night.  It is a frigid 8 degrees Fahrenheit and snowing.  It is a perfect night for staying home and ushering in the New Year by watching old movies and blogging.   

Wishing that  2014 is a healthy, happy, and prosperous year to you and yours.