Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Peregrine Falcon Webcam Returns for 2014



Anyone who pays even slight attention to the bird life in Amherst is sure to have seen our resident pair of peregrine falcons at some time in the last twelve years, as they nest every spring atop the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst. I've been spotting them over the past few weeks swooping over the traffic on Route 116 between Amherst and Hadley. But now, even if you never travel through our town, you too can watch this nesting pair courtesy of the live "falcon webcam" made possible by the UMass Amherst Facilities Planning Division, the Office of Information Technology, the Libraries' Systems and Web Management Department, MassWildlife, and the Friends of the Libraries. I have to admit it's thrilling to see them "up close and personal," although there's nothing quite like seeing them in flight, diving (they can dive from great heights at up to 200 miles per hour) and swooping for prey over the nearby farmland.

UPDATE (As of April 16): Four eggs in the nest, parents sharing incubation duties. Blustery, snowy morning.

Daffodils Buried in Snow

Daffodils buried in snow - Wednesday, 4/16/2014 (N. Amherst, MA)
(Photo by S. Vardatira)
Ah, springtime in New England - sun pouring down, 28 degrees (at 7 am), and daffodils buried in snow. And black ice. All in all a delightful morning.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool's Flamingos


"Ichabod Crane," one of our April Fool's visitors, guarding our walk
during the period of the flock's five year sojourn in our garage, c. 2006
Earlier today, I met over coffee with a friend who I vowed I would never, ever again cross paths with on April Fool’s Day. I knew from years of experience that she would have devised some evil scheme to torture me, but because she now lives in New York City and is rarely in the area, I decided, against my better judgment, to chance it. And just so you understand the depths she will go to, this is the woman who, one year, when our Passover Seder happened to fall on April 1, sneaked fake ice cubes filled with plastic flies into the ritual, symbolic “Miriam’s Well” (a pitcher of water meant to represent the rejuvenating spring that followed and sustained the newly liberated Jewish people on their journey through the desert). Not. Cool. Another year, her terrified co-workers at her law firm ended up calling the police when they found the lower torso of a bloodied person (think Wicked Witch of the East meets Blacklist) under a parked car. My friend’s defense was that anyone should have been able to plainly see the torso was a fake. She has since claimed that the latter experience chastened her (the firm was none too pleased), and that, as a result, she is no longer a practicing prankster. Yeah, right. Clever way to lull me into a false sense of safety.


I myself love to instigate a good joke, but I also believe that the best April Fool’s jokes have to walk that tricky line between scaring the living daylights out of someone (or scaring them at all), and being anemically pointless. You also can’t do something that would be devastatingly disappointing. For example, telling your partner you have won the lottery when you haven’t will only end up disappointing both of you. And any joy you might have experienced as a result of the “gotcha” moment will soon vanish with the fight that follows. Sometimes, even with the best planning, the fun in a joke will elude you. One year, helped by my then 10-year old son, we decided to surprise my wife by pretending we had found and taken in a stray kitten. We were positive this would not be a welcome addition to our two-cat household, and thus she would be relieved and pleased to eventually learn that no kitten was anywhere on the premises. But to our surprise, she was excited to hear about the kitten, wanted to see it immediately, and was inconsolably sad to learn we were fabricating the whole story.

Some of our best pranks have involved whole groups of people, like the year my wife convinced her amateur improvisational theater group that a representative from the TV show, Whose Line Is It Anyway, was going to be featuring amateur improv groups from around the country, and their group had been chosen to perform on TV. Everyone was over the moon! The gag went on way past April Fool’s, with e-mails flying about dates and travel plans, what games they would be playing, etc. Best of all, since this was an improv group, when the curtain fell on the whole tall tale, everyone was suitably impressed. Win-win all around. [By the way, aside to any TV producers out there: How great a show would that make? Reality collides with art? Think about it.] 

But far and away my favorite April Fool’s joke ever was played on our whole family. One April Fool’s morning, we awoke to find 17 pink flamingos perched on the hill in front of our house. Just to be clear, these pink flamingos were the plastic variety that one typically imagines – if you imagine them at all – gracing lawns in warmer climates, like Florida. But these were no ordinary plastic lawn ornaments. These flamingos, some small and some large, were dressed in a charming assortment of clothes - scarves and hats, jackets and capes. And affixed to their clothes were an odd assortment of items, including little plastic books, tennis racket, basketball, sunglasses, a snorkel, and, best of all, a poetic introduction in anapestic meter (think extended limerick) to our flock of April Fool’s flamingos. And what a bunch they were, with clever nom de plumes (yes, pun intended) like Larry Bird, Ichabod Crane, Mallard Fillmore, Ladybird Johnson, Blue Jay Leno, Oscar Wild Turkey, and Mynah Shore. Figuring out who gifted us took days, but eventually we figured it out. Delighted with our delight, our friends instructed us to pay it forward the next year.  

I’m ashamed to confess that the original flock lived in our garage for about five years before we got it together to send them back home, new poem in hand, one April Fool’s eve.  As much fun as we had looking out that April Fool’s morning and seeing the flock advancing up our hill, that was nothing compared to the excitement of our two-minute run in the middle of the night to bring them home. April Fool’s surprises don’t get any sweeter than that. 

That is, until today, when my friend presented me with a huge bag of bagels and cream cheese, straight from Zabar’s in New York City. No flies, no bloodied bodies. And nothing could have surprised (and delighted) me more.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

No, it's not spring yet (what were you thinking?)


So for all you folks who are merrily going along imagining that spring is on the horizon and winter a thing of the past, think again! This may be one winter advisory you really need to heed, precisely because it’s possibly the last thing you’re anticipating. Yes, you heard that right. A Winter Weather Advisory is in effect for our area overnight tonight, from 2AM-10Am on Friday. Expect snow accumulations of up to 1 inch, followed by sleet and freezing rain. Timing of this mixed bag of messiness will definitely impact the morning commute. And after the snow, we are forecast to get 2-4 inches of rain Saturday night into Monday morning (maybe even some snow on Sunday night). So, sure, 50 degree days are around the corner, but winter isn’t giving up yet.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

But does it feel like spring?


Hard though it is to believe, this is, in fact, the first day of Spring! It arrives officially in less than 2 hours (12:57 EST). And regardless of what this graphic depicts (however true it may feel), the forecast over the next few weeks is showing quite a few days with temps in the 50s. And before you know it, we'll all be complaining about the heat. I think. Well, pretty sure . . . um . . . keep your fingers crossed, anyway.

It didn't exactly help to wake up this morning to a dusting of snow, capped by a thin layer of ice over everything. It's 38 degrees out now, though, so at least the ice has melted. And is that a ray of sun I see trying to break through the clouds?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Do not kill the messenger - and you thought we had snow?!!

Do not kill the messenger, please! Although the shift in weather from yesterday (blissed out, sunny spring day) to tomorrow (we are now under a Winter Weather Advisory) may have you cursing at your computer right about now, just remind yourself that we live in New England - if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes. In the meantime, while you are rocking in place and chanting “change is gonna come,” here are the details:

The current Winter Weather Advisory is in effect from 10 pm this evening to noon on Thursday for most of Massachusetts and Rhode Island except for the immediate south coast. Also northern Connecticut. Conditions will begin to deteriorate this afternoon as rain overspreads the region from west to east, but the main concern is for a flash freeze between 10 pm and 4 am, as colder air rushes into the region, temperatures plummet into the teens and lower 20s, and roads quickly freeze over. A brief period of sleet and freezing rain is possible during the transition, followed by snow accumulations of 1-2” in most locations, and 2-4” north of Route 2. Light snow accumulations may hide some of the ice, and the Thursday morning commute may be icy. It will also be bitterly cold on Thursday, with strong winds (10-20 mph) with gusts up to 45 mph. Snow showers will continue Thursday morning before tapering off during the afternoon. Milder weather, with temps in the high 40s, returns on Friday and Saturday before another bout of colder air arrives on Sunday. It will be near perfect maple sugaring temperatures (above freezing during the day and below freezing at night) for all of next week. Look for another possible storm around this time next week.

And, finally, just to put things in perspective, below is a scene from yesterday in Nederland, Colorado (and you thought we had snow?!). Daniel Vardamis, long-distance, occasional contributor to Head in the Clouds Amherst, shared this pic of Elaine and Stella (the dog) navigating the snow near their home. (And trust me, Stella is in no way suffering - she loves it!) To read more about their daily adventures, visit Dan and Elaine's blog, MountainNomads.
 
Elaina and Stella (the dog) traverse the snow, 3/11/2014
Photo by Dan Vardamis (Nederland, CO) - see Mountain Nomads for more
 
 
 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Deer on a frosty morning

Deer Passage, 3/7/2014 - North Amherst, MA
Photo by S. Vardatira (I had no camera on me, and time for a cell phone pic only)
Stepped out onto my back porch this morning into what has become the new normal around here - a frigid, frozen landscape (it was 6:15 am and 1°F outside). I followed our cat's intense gaze to my right, and there, about 20 feet away, were two deer, motionless statues almost hidden in the trees. The closest deer turned her head and stared right at me. After a minute, they resumed their slow course, stepping ever so gingerly over the crusty, crunching surface.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Watch Near-Earth Asteroid Make Close Pass Tonight

(Photo by NASA/SSPL/Getty Images)
An asteroid the size of three football fields (885 feet across) is set to make a close brush past Earth today, and you can watch the flyby via the Slooh Space Camera in a live webcast here at the Space.com websitestarting at 9 p.m. EST. Although it’s being called a “hazardous near-earth asteroid,” Asteroid 2000 EM26 poses no threat of actually hitting the planet. According to Slooh’s technical and research director, Paul Cox, EM26 is whizzing through the solar system at a break-neck 27,000 mph; at its closest approach, the asteroid will fly about 8.8 lunar distances from Earth.

"We continue to discover these potentially hazardous asteroids - sometimes only days before they make their close approaches to Earth," Slooh's technical and research director, Paul Cox said in a statement.

Asteroid 2000 EM26's flyby comes almost exactly a year after two major near-Earth object events on February 15, 2013. That day (as recapped in this Head in the Clouds Amherst blog post), as scientists were tracking the extremely close pass of the 98-foot Asteroid 2012 DA14, another, unrelated space rock unexpectedly exploded above Chelyabinsk, Russia, causing substantial damage to buildings that injured more than 1,000 people with falling glass. The approximately 65-foot-meteor (20 m) exploded 18 miles (29 km) above the ground, and it released the energy equivalent of about 20 atomic bombs.

"On a practical level, a previously-unknown, undiscovered asteroid seems to hit our planet and cause damage or injury once a century or so, as we witnessed on June 20, 1908 and February 15, 2013," Slooh astronomer Bob Berman said in a statement. "Every few centuries, an even more massive asteroid strikes us - fortunately usually impacting in an ocean or wasteland such an Antarctica. But the ongoing threat, and the fact that biosphere-altering events remain a real if small annual possibility, suggests that discovering and tracking all near-Earth objects, as well as setting up contingency plans for deflecting them on short notice should the need arise, would be a wise use of resources."

Pieces of the Russian meteorite that fell in 2013 will be awarded to seven gold medal winners on Saturday at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Tonight's Slooh webcast will include commentary from Mark Boslough, an expert on planetary impacts. You can participate in the broadcast by using the hashtag #asteroid to ask questions during the 2000 EM26 show.

(Source for information: Space.com)

Ready in The Sugar House


Photo by Garden of Tomorrow
It may be hard to believe on this cold morning (it is a mere 9 degrees out right now), but if you are observant while you are out and about today, you may catch sight of some tapped maple trees, buckets at the ready. At our own backyard, all-volunteer maple sugaring operation, a small crowd of tappers hung 105 buckets this weekend, with more buckets to be hung over the coming week. They report that a few drops of sap were already plinking into the buckets yesterday, but that will all change this coming week, as temps climb well above freezing during the days and the sap starts to flow in earnest. As weather-dependent activities go, maple sugaring is one of the most sensitive - a long run of above freezing temps during the day and below freezing temps at night is ideal. Last year's conditions were about as perfect as one could expect, resulting in a bumper year for maple sugar production. Whatever this year brings, our neighborhood maple sugar house is getting ready. In addition to hanging buckets, they are setting up tables and shelving, splitting firewood, and washing everything - buckets and lids, surfaces, and equipment. Fortunately, there are plenty of volunteers to take on the work and usher in one of the most definitive signs of spring in New England.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Pete Seeger Singalong Tonight!

Those of you in the Pioneer Valley should know about today's Pete Seeger celebration singalong in Amherst (at the First Congregational Church) at 7pm. What better way to warm up a cold night?



Saturday, February 15, 2014

Studying snow, with more on the way

One of nine Snow Analysis maps provided by the
National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center,
an office of the National Weather Service (NWS)

The National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center (now say that ten times, really fast), an office of the National Weather Service (NWS), offers up a detailed Regional Snow Analysis - everything you could possibly want to know about snow across the country, from “Snow Water Equivalent” to “Average Snowpack Temperature” to “Snow Depth" and more. And you might as well settle in and ponder snow. Although we’re not getting anything like the blizzard conditions that will be bringing as much as 10-15” of new snow today to parts of eastern and coastal Massachusetts, RI and NH, we are under a Winter Weather Advisory here in Hampshire County. Yesterday, it looked as though the whole system – with its “explosive cyclogenesis” and “strong omega” (rapidly forming low pressure system and strong upward vertical motion) – would barely brush us. We still won’t experience anything like the coastal version of this storm, but the storm is tracking a little more westerly than previously predicted, and that means we are expected to get between 2-4” of snow (maybe even as much as 6"?) starting later this morning through the evening.

Sorry to have to say it, but yes, yes, you are going to have to dig out again for a third time this week (or more, depending on how many times you shoveled during our last storm).  Just be glad we’re not looking at 15”! Now stop whining and start studying. Winter is not over yet.

[Update at 10:35am - it's snowing already, and at a pretty good rate!]

Friday, February 14, 2014

Snow Valentine!

You've heard the expression about making lemonade from lemons. Today we offer you a variation on that theme - "When you have snow, make a snow valentine." 

Happy Valentine's Day to all our snow-bound readers!

Snow Valentine by House, 2/14/2014 - Leverett MA
Photo and valentine by
Head in the Clouds contributor, Peggy Speas
 
Snow Valentine, 2/14/2014 - Leverett MA
Photo and valentine by
Head in the Clouds contributor, Peggy Speas

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Head in the Clouds Amherst passes 25,000!

Bridge Over Cushman Brook, Amherst MA
Photo by S. Vardatira
Delighted to report that as of this moment, Head in the Clouds Amherst - our small-town local blog - has been visited 25,000 times since January 2013! What's even more interesting is that, while 72% of our readers are from the U.S., a whopping 28% are from abroad. Our most frequent "abroad" visitors hail from Germany, France, Russia, U.K., China, and Malaysia. And after our main page, our other most popular blog pages are "About Us," "Weather Cooks," "Emily's House," and "Night Sky." If you haven't checked us out yet, there's no time like now. Besides, what else do you have to do on a snowy day like today?!

Whither the weather? (Through Saturday, anyway)

Quick forecast update for Amherst MA, right now through Saturday:

This Afternoon: Snow before 4pm, then snow and sleet. High near 30. Northeast wind 14 to 16 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100% (just look outside!). Total daytime snow and sleet accumulation of 5 to 9 inches possible.

Tonight: Rain, snow, freezing rain, and sleet, becoming all snow after 3am. Low around 29. Northeast wind 11 to 18 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New snow and sleet accumulation of 4 to 8 inches possible.

Friday: A chance of snow showers, mainly before 7am. Cloudy, then gradually becoming mostly sunny, with a high near 35. West wind 15 to 17 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%. New snow accumulation of less than one inch possible.

Friday Night: A slight chance of snow after 2am. Increasing clouds, with a low around 18. West wind 6 to 11 mph becoming light and variable after midnight. Chance of precipitation is 20%.

Saturday: A chance of snow, mainly before 2pm. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 33. Light north wind becoming northwest 6 to 11 mph in the morning. Chance of precipitation is 30%.

Saturday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 10.

And as for next week, this is New England, the weather turns on a dime, and maple sugaring is very likely to start up with a steady spate of above-freezing temps during the day and below freezing at night. Now that's something to hang onto as you dig out from this one!