Adventures in ACE XV: Oh, Hail, They’re Full of Sleet

I doubt anything will top the hilarity that ensued when the ACE writers got snowed by a perpetual motion machine peddler, but it’s still ACE, so we know they’ll get something drastically wrong. They’ve already rather lost the thread. We’re in a section called Structure of the Hydrosphere. We are supposedly talking about the hydrologic cycle. But the ACE folks have gotten so caught up int he various aspects of precipitation that they’ve rather forgotten about that whole cycle thing. It’s kind of like talking about forest succession by getting hung up on the details of a few specific trees.

Perhaps it’s because they got muddled by the magnetic snowflakes.

Anyway, after God’s washed everybody white as (presumably magnetic) snow, Ace’s dad tells us that sometimes all that condensed moisture is warm enough to make rain, but if it falls through a cold layer of air, it might become sleet. Like a good red-blooded American, he defines sleet as “tiny pellets of ice.” None of this British partially-melted snow nonsense.

Ace wants to know what the difference between sleet and hail is, so Mr. Virtueson (gawd, these names kill me) tells him some basic facts, like “Hail is often formed during violent updrafts of warm, moist air.” Then he makes it sound like hailstorms are part of a similar but different process than thunderstorms, which is a little sort of misleading: you can have hail without thunder, but it’s all coming from basically the same type of storm clouds. Then he says hail starts as a sleet pellet, which… no. It doesn’t. Sleet’s more of a winter storm thing, and is rather bigger than the teeny-tiny ice crystal that forms the condensation nuclei of a hailstone. And the hailstones aren’t necessarily traveling up and down within the cloud: we now know they may get their layers by traveling through different zones within the cloud. I’ll give the fictional Mr. Virtueson a break on the up-and-down thing, though, because PACE 1087 hasn’t been revised since 1986. Yep. Sure is some great modern edimication thar.

In keeping with ACE’s awful diagram tradition, their illustration of a thundercloud makes it look like hail only ever bounces from the top of the storm.

Image is a drawing of a thunder cloud, showing the areas of updrafts, downdrafts, and the freezing level. Light rain and heavy rain are shown coming from the bottom. Hail is shown by arrows flying from the top.

Diagram of a thunderhead from ACE PACE 1087.

The reality is most often quite a bit more mundane, although apparently the LP supercells may heave their hail out the top and end up launching it a few miles, even. Neato. But, usually, it just drops out the bottom.

Image is a computer-generated model of a supercell thunder cloud, showing its basic anatomy. Hail is shown coming from the bottom, along with the heavy rain.

Supercell diagram courtesy Kelvinsong (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Next, we’re treated to some hailstorm trivia, where Ace gets to show off his homeschool hots by remembering a storm in India in 1888 that killed over 240 people. Yes, children, it is vicious stuff. I’m surprised Mr. Virtueson doesn’t remind everyone that God hurls the biggest hailstones of all.

Mr. Virtueson then goes on to show off his knowledge of frost. It actually appears he hasn’t got any. He describes it thusly: “If the temperature is above freezing, the condensed moisture is called ‘dew.’ If the temperature is below freezing, the condensed moisture freezes and is called ‘frost.'” Nope. He’s just described atmospheric icing, pretty much. Frost goes straight from vapor to ice without passing the liquid phase.

The ACE writers suddenly remember that they’re supposed to be talking about the hydrologic cycle, so they have Mr. Virtueson abruptly announce, without pausing for breath, that all this evaporated water condensing into clouds and precipitating upon the ground means “the hydrologic cycle is complete.” He then informs us that temperature is important because “heat from the sun speeds up evaporation.” I had the impression that the sun’s loving rays were the very engine of this whole cycle, but apparently, in Christianist world, it just sort of helps things along.

Mr. Virtueson’s happy to inform us that warm air means clouds can hold more water, then their water falls as rain when the cloud cools. It’s a little more complicated than that, but like most Real True Christians™, he’s anxious to skip ahead to the death and destruction. He’s morbidly happy to tell us that lotsa rain can make rivers or lakes overflow and flood stuff. He jumps right into the mayhem of the Johnstown Flood (including a handy pronunciation guide for those who may not realize how to moosh together the words Johns and town). He lovingly lingers on the more than 2,000 drowned folk and the 1000+ missing people who were never found, plus all that luscious property damage. And he then lustily describes the even worse property damage from flooding in New York and Pennsylvania in 1972. Three billion dollars’ worth of property damaged or destroyed! “More than 15,000 people lost their homes”! You can practically hear him salivating, even though his delivery is desert-dry.

A handy “Facts from Science” box informs us of further water woe, sharing the records for rainfall. They get heaviest in a year right (Cherrapunji, India), but screw the pooch with an old, mistaken amount for heaviest 24 hour rainfall cited in the Monthly Weather Review for 1965. The actual value is 71.8″ that fell on the Foc-Foc Plateau on Réunion Island on January 7 and 8, 1966. Hey, at least they got the island right, and they were only off by a decade and a few inches of rain. And yes, we can definitely see how accurate and up-to-date they are. Marvel, people. Simply marvel.

Of course, you already know why they’re lavishing so much time on flooding:

“Even though local flooding does occur in some areas, I’m certainly glad God promised never again to destroy the entire Earth with water,” said Ace.

“I am too, Ace. Though flooding reminds us of God’s judgement, the Lord promises a flood of blessing to those who give to His service. Malachi 3:10 declares, ‘Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.'”

That, my friends, is Christianist science right there. But, just in case folks don’t realize all that Bible talk is really-real science that completely belongs in a science textbook, Mr. Virtueson endeth with this lesson:

“In ancient times, men recognized the hydrologic cycle as one of the natural processes God had placed upon Earth for man’s survival. ‘He bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them’ (Job 26:8). ‘For he maketh small the drops of water: they pour down rain according to the vapour thereof: Which the clouds do drop and distil upon man abundantly’ (Job 36:27, 28).”

They must’ve been so excited to find the King James Version babbling about “vapour,” as it sounds so properly scientific. Alas for them, the NRSV, which is rather more faithful to the original language, renders it as “mist.”

It’s rather fitting to close this section with the words of a blowhard asshole extolling God’s glories to a poor sod who’s just been sorely abused by same. If there is a god, I know he’s a sadistic shit I’ll be very annoyed with. Never mind all that flooding he caused or allowed: he let this ACE PACE come into existence. I think that’s proof enough of his psychopathic tendencies. And no, I won’t be at all surprised if it turns out that the entire ACE curriculum was the result of a bet between him and Satan.

Image is an engraved image from Gustave Doré's English Bible showing Job, dressed in a few rags and looking very scrawny, arguing with his friends.

“Job speaks with his friends.” Engraving by Gustave Doré.

Next time, we shall be learning somewhat about the oceans. Oh, goody. Apologies to the fans of horrid under-the-sea-exploration machines, but I’m afraid Mr. Virtueson’s creators haven’t got enough imagination to create something like that. I suggest you stock up on your happy drugs of choice. All the better if they’re stimulants, as Mr. Virtueson’s virtue is not in his storytelling abilities.

 

*Holy shinoozles, Batman! I about lost my shit when I saw that Cilaos, the city touted in this PACE as being the record-holder for 24-hour rainfall, is in a caldera on an active volcanic island. I was all, “Oh, no, you didn’t!” Happily, they selected the extinct caldera to situate it in. This is excellent good news, as it would truly suck for the town to wake up one morning in a lava lake. Of course, that would’ve given whole hot buckets of new significance to the meaning of the town’s name, which is “the place one never leaves.”

Please, Please, Read These Stories Before You Choose a Midwife-Assisted Birth

I’ve spent part of the night reading about babies who didn’t have to die. And I don’t want their stories to be yours. If you’re pregnant or planning, and considering giving birth outside of a hospital, please stop right now and read Grant’s story. His mother Rachel had to tell it. He didn’t live. He didn’t have to die.

Let me remind you that when I first arrived at the birth center for the second time that evening I was offered a transfer for not being able to handle my labor. Why, now with my baby dying were they not offering us a transfer? Why were they trying to make me push when I wasn’t dilated?

I was moved from the birthing stool to the bed… still not 100% dilated. I was told that I needed to get this baby out now. I’m still trying to push. I’ve never pushed so hard in my life. The pain is so bad that my vision is becoming blurry. I was given oxygen. When I look back at this scene I still wonder why no one has called for help. The baby has been in trouble and I’m having a hard time… why?

My husband and I were so focused on pushing this baby out as fast as possible and so focused on what we were doing that we couldn’t stop and tell her to call 911. We weren’t sane. We were relying on all of those midwives to do that for us if need be. We were counting on them to make the decisions that would need to be made when necessary. We were still all on our own as our baby was losing his struggle to breathe.

Read her whole story. Read about her having to leave the body of her perfect baby boy in the arms of crying nurses. If your heart didn’t shatter into atoms, you had no heart to begin with.

People, I have read far too many stories about dead babies. [Read more…]

Interlude with Soaring Eagles, Colorful Blackbirds, and a Non-Ninja Turtle

After the week we’ve had, it’s time to relax with some neato wild critters. B and I took a healthy walk at Juanita Bay and saw about ten trillion birdies. There were so many ducklings, you guys, and I will have to find more time to sort through them. At the moment, however, we shall focus mostly on eagles, with also some beautiful blackbirds and one awkward turtle.

There were so many eagles, you guys. I didn’t even realize they were eagles at first, because there were bunches of them, and I’m not used to eagles flying in flocks. Then we got a better look, and a gentleman out there with a hyoooge camera lens pointed out the two juvenile balds, and then later we got a good look at the adults, and yep, eagles. Eagles everywhere. [Read more…]

A Saturday Singsong About Butterflies, Starring the Summer Falls Butterflies

We’ll get back to Mount St. Helens soon, I absolutely promise, but after all the news this week, I figured we could use a nice sing-song about butterflies, plus some pretty butterflies, and maybe a waterfall or two. Right? I’m pretty sure I’m right. So: refill your drink, situate yourself in splendid comfort, and press play.

Then enjoy these lovely butterflies, which live at Summer Falls near Coulee City, WA. [Read more…]

Reveal That Metazoan! Frenchman Coulee Fuzzy Critter Edition

Let me tear you away from the slopes and Silver Lakes of Mount St. Helens for just a moment here, and take you back in time to the previous trip, when B and I headed to the dry side. We saw some pretty super-awesome things on that journey. One of them was barely visible. I’d never have noticed it, but B’s brain is really good with the something’s-not-like-the-others game. Let’s see if you can spot it.

Image shows a rocky slope, a few sage bushes, and a barely-visible animal that is probably in the Sciuridae family.

Mystery Metazoan I

C wut evolution did thar? No? Okay, I’ll give you some hints: [Read more…]

Bad News for Hollywood

So, you know those disaster movies where volcanoes explode like St. Helens but also spew fountains of really runny lava like Kilauea on laxatives?

I have really bad news for them, courtesy of Edward Wolfe and Thomas Pierson in Volcanic-Hazard Zonation for Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1995.

Lava flows are destructive but generally not life-threatening because they normally advance so slowly that people can walk or run away from them.

Drat.

Of course, it’s never about realism anyway, which is why I avoid any disaster movie with a volcano in it – I know I’d end up ruining everyone’s movie experience by howling, “That doesn’t happen!” every ten seconds or so. (And no, I sure as shit am not going to see San Andreas – that looks even worse than the volcano flicks, and I’m not interested in dying from apoplexy at my tender age. I will probably eventually watch Pompeii because some of you asked me to years ago, and I can now watch it here at home, where I can scream into a pillow so as not to disturb the neighbors.) I’m not a fan, is what I’m trying to say. Some people enjoy disaster films despite (or because of) the absurdity. I have a lot more fun with reality. I mean, this is the greatest shit ever!

Did you hear that crackling?! Did you see the little pieces of volcanic glass popping up like popcorn kernels in a hot pan? Did you seem them cook burritos and marshmallows on a bloody pahoehoe flow? And hear the squeals of pure science-geek joy? Oh, yes. That’s my kinda flick! You can see the whole video here.

So yeah, those of you who like your volcano disaster flicks can enjoy the ridiculously-funny lava and the volcanic bombs that set off huge gasoline explosions wherever they land and stuff. I’m just gonna enjoy watching geologists amble around the edges of active lava fields.

Image shows a steaming black lava flow oozing onto a grassy field. It appears to have eaten a fence.. A geologist in a red shirt and a backpack skirts close to the edge.

A USGS geologist maps the margin of the active lava flow in an open field west of the town of Pāhoa on Oct. 26, 2014. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

I mean, that is so ridiculously epically awesome – except for the people of Pāhoa: I’m so sorry Kilauea ate your town.

And now Ima go watch my favorite lava lake video of all time.

It’s Also Geek Pride Day. I’m Geeking Out On…

…This amazing Mount St. Helens Lidar image.

Image is a LIDAR view of Mount St. Helens. With all the trees stripped away, the various volcanic deposits and stream incisions are wonderfully clear.

Mount St. Helens lidar
by Vivian R. Queija/USGS.

Oh, people! Those flows! If you look closely (which is far easier if you download the pdf file), you’ll notice the drastic difference in texture between the young, pyroclastics-rich north and the older south side with its stubby flows. Oh so delicious!

I never would’ve appreciated Lidar before moving to the Pacific Northwest. Up here, having a technology that can look past trees is priceless. This is so neato! And yes, I literally drooled when I saw the full file available for download.

What are you geeking out on?

How I Wish I’d Known It Was Erupting At the Time…

Of course, if I’d know Mount St. Helens was actually erupting at the time, I’d probably have never gone. Volcano phobia, doncha know. I did haz one. But I thought all the eruptions were over, so I went up the mountain with my old friend Victoria, and didn’t realize until long afterward that we’d been there during an eruption. Sometimes, they’re that quiet!

I bring it up now because I just fetched my Mount St. Helens photos off the external hard drive in preparation for sorting out what I’ll need for the book I’m working on. I couldn’t resist flipping through the photos from that May 13, 2007 trip, and ran across the one Victoria took of me with my favorite volcano in the background. Alas, we only had my horrible old digital camera, so the pictures aren’t spectacular, but this one turned out well enough for me to crop to a nicety. [Read more…]

Silver Lake’s Adorable Baby Duckies

Y’know, if it wasn’t for the occasional devastating eruption and house-eating lahar, I think I’d actually love living down by Silver Lake. B and I took a walk there near sunset on our last trip, and in the slanting reddish-gold rays of the lowering sun, it was about the most peaceful and beautiful place on Earth. I could spend hours just sitting on a boardwalk and watching the wildlife, from the insects to the birds and beyond.

I think the lake hosts the fastest ducklings on the planet, too. A mother and her group of babies passed us by at one point, swimming under the bridge, and they moved quicker than I’ve ever seen ducks go. One of them rocketed past its siblings so fast that B dubbed it Zipper. Here’s all I could catch of it on camera. [Read more…]

Mystery Flora/Cryptopod Doubleheader: Beetles’ Favorite Fuzzy Flower

I love Silver Lake. It is full of marshy wetland goodness. I wish I knew it in all seasons, but even though I don’t, I can already tell you that one of my favorite months is May. That’s when the yellow iris burst out all over the place, and the yellow water lilies are also blooming, and then there are other, tiny, fuzzy white flowers that look like stars.

Image shows a sprig of white flowers growing up from the water, together with sedges and broadleaf marsh plants.

Mystery Flora I

They’re really good at reflecting sunlight, too, which makes them difficult for my camera to deal with. But we did our best. [Read more…]