Do We Really Want To Be China?

Here in SoCal pollution was so bad it was a national joke. Nearby mountains disappeared in a brownish haze. No more.


A favorite target of the political right is the EPA. Just yesterday in a hearing with the EPA administrator, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) said:

Sessions: When we go to our states, the group we have the most complaints about from our constituents — whether it’s highway people, whether it’s farmers, whether it’s energy people — is the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s an [agency of] extraordinary overreach. And you apparently are unaware of the pushback that’s occurring in the real world.

Of course many businesses dislike the EPA. It’s an agency made to primarily say, “No!” In this case, no is a good thing.

Wikipedia summarizes some of the changes to what we breath from 1970 to 2006:

  • carbon monoxide emissions fell from 197 million tons to 89 million tons
  • nitrogen oxide emissions fell from 27 million tons to 19 million tons
  • sulfur dioxide emissions fell from 31 million tons to 15 million tons
  • particulate emissions fell by 80%
  • lead emissions fell by more than 98%

As a kid growing up in Queens I watched soot from dozens of chimneys as the apartment buildings in my neighborhood burned their trash every afternoon. Today we’d be shocked. Then, it was standard operating procedures.

Here in SoCal pollution was so bad it was a national joke. The photo at the top of this entry is Downtown Los Angeles in the 70s. Nearby mountains disappeared in a brownish haze.

No more.

Our air still needs help, but the trend is in the right direction. Today, much of SoCal’s 21st Century pollution actually floats over the Pacific from China and the rest of industrialized Asia.

It costs more money to keep emissions down. In business that cost comes directly from profits. No wonder business hates the EPA.

But, do we really want to be China?

beijing smog-w1920-h1400

Like Paul Blart, Mall Cop


At 11:15 PM PST/2:15 AM EST

Observe and report. Like Paul Blart, Mall Cop, I’m observing and reporting.

First stop, radar. It’s active. Snow, identifiable by radar only recently, is the only precipitation being seen at the moment. It’s moving west-to-east.

Meteorologists call the radar’s targets, hydrometeors. Cool name.

We can detect rain, snow, hail, sleet, whatever. If a radar beam can bounce off it, it’s tracked.

Most times the radar is amazing. Not always. I’ve seen storms develop in an unusually bright patch of ground clutter. Surprise! Where did that come from? A once every few year event.

All my observing tonight is on the College of DuPage weather website. They carry nearly every product with well chosen color tables. Highly recommended.

The surface map shows the low pulling east, leaving New England. There’s more moisture following and colder temperatures. The snow isn’t quite finished.

Before ending this morning that additional snow will cover the slushy wet mess already on-the-ground. Up to a half foot more will fall in scattered sections of the Litchfield Hills all the way to the UCONN campus. Most areas a few inches less. Even less on the shoreline and near 395.

But still, look what it’s covering!

Oh–and windy and much colder.

The amount of forecast and observational data available is immense. New tools arrive all the time. For nerds like me, this is heaven. Forecasting in pajamas!

A Bar Bet You Can Win… And A Little Atmospheric Science

Stuck in an airplane for five hours a few days ago, I pondered the world just outside the window. Earthlings are fragile flowers. You think space travel is harsh? We can’t even survive at 38,000 feet!

I took a look at some early morning readings from LAX. At 38,000 feet (my flight’s cruising altitude) the temperature was around -45° Celsius, or -49° Fahrenheit.

Please, don’t ask for the wind chill reading. Least it to say, survival is short at those temperatures.

Just as important, maybe more, at that altitude the atmosphere is approximately 20% as dense as it is on the ground. Each breath of outside air would only provide a fifth as much oxygen as we usually get. That short supply would quickly lead to hypoxia, then death, which is why flight attendants show oxygen masks before every takeoff!

Obviously something must be done to make the airplane livable.

My plane’s engines were providing thrust and powering compressors to pack more outside air into a smaller space. What was piped into the cabin was more to our body’s liking. Most planes don’t pressurize the air to sea level pressure, but they get reasonably close and they mix outside air with recycled and filtered cabin air.


OK, you’ve gotten this far. I might as well give you a gift… a bar bet you can win!

If it’s -49° outside the plane you would think the air has to be heated before it gets into the cabin. Nope! The air in an airplane is actually run through an air conditioner to cool it!

Through a couple of laws of thermodynamics (which I had to learn, but you don’t) pressurizing air heats it. The airplane’s compressed air is hot enough it actually needs to be chilled before it’s blasted through the vents.

So, the answer to: If it’s -49° outside your airplane, do they need a heater or air conditioner, is air conditioner!

It is customary to rip the meteorologist 10% for any bets won, but this one’s on the house.

I’m Just Watching The Weather

There’s just something rhythmic and soothing and satisfying about our atmosphere, but the only way to see it is through the charts and maps and columns of numbers. The real atmosphere is much too large for us to see more than a tiny piece.

It was snowing on my way home from work. My driveway was coated a half hour ago. Now we’ve gone to a rain/sleet mix and it’ssnow-covered-bush.jpg just wet. The atmosphere’s fickle that way.

I was just spending some quality time with the RUC or Rapid Update Cycle weather model. This would have been unheard of years ago. This bad boy is re-run every hour. Faster computers are totally responsible for making that possible.

It’s a short range model. You look at it to get a feel for the next half of the day.

The RUC is a hybrid sigma-isentropic analysis and forecast system. It has a horizontal resolution of 13 km and 50 vertical layers.

Yeah. Uh huh. My words exactly.

The guts of these models are very heavily dependent on advanced concepts in math and physics. I use the outputs without totally being conversant in the minutiae and magic that makes them tic.

Anyway, I was looking and absorbing when I asked myself, “Why?” Why do I look?

It’s 3:00 AM. Work’s done. There’s nothing I can change for the viewers. Then it hit me. I really enjoy this stuff.

I wish I could explain it properly, because I know most people are intimidated by math. There’s just something rhythmic and soothing and satisfying about our atmosphere, but the only way to see it is through the charts and maps and columns of numbers. The real atmosphere is much too large for us to see more than a tiny piece.

On paper or a computer screen the undulations of the atmosphere begin to make sense. The first time you connect with that is a Eureka moment–like a light switch has been thrown. In the history of man that’s only possible now.