Annual Meeting of the Indiana Academy of Science

Well… looks like I’m only about 4 weeks behind on blogging. Winter & spring is generally the conference season. I took a trip down to Indianapolis on March 30th to present my prairie research at 134th annual meeting of the Indiana Academy of Science. What a breath of fresh air! Hoosier practitioners, academics, and students from every discipline celebrating their passion for the natural sciences.

(Here’s where I’d put a photo of lots of happy people milling about drinking coffee and talking about science… but I never took that photo!)

I was fortunate to have a great set of advisors during my graduate school experience at Taylor University. Prof. Robert Reber and his students have continued to collect data on the prairie restoration that was the subject of my thesis. That made it possible to give a brief update/presentation on year six of the project (my thesis, by design, only had one year of data).

Talks were only 12 minutes + 3 min Q&A. Rapid fire! Keep it simple, and brief.

To greatly oversimplify the project… grasses have tended to dominate prairie restorations (reconstructions) over time, pushing out the wildflowers (forbs) that make up most of the species diversity. There are no bison left to graze the grasses they prefer, and it’s logistically difficult to graze with cattle on many of the sites.

To address this, managers must use mowing, grazing, burning, and/or grass herbicide to give the wildflowers a chance. We did an experiment with applications of grass herbicide in conjunction with an overseeding of new wildflower species. We found that the herbicide aided the new species to germinate, grow, and flower, much better than if the grasses was left completely untreated. These effects persisted into year six, three years after we stopped herbicide treatment.

If you are a glutton for punishment, you can read the 2014 study here.

Anyway, IAS is a great place to share ideas, network, and spawn new projects and relationships. Here were a few talks I really enjoyed:

Burnell C. Fischer of Indiana University presented a study redlining practices in Indiana, giving a picture of the extent of environmental racism in the our state. “Analysis using a geographic information system (GIS) was conducted to detect evidence of an ecological legacy of redlining. Using this method, evidence of relatively high-intensity development, low greenspace and forest cover, and disproportionately high incidences of brownfield sites, Superfund sites, industrial waste sites, and Interstate highways were detected in historically redlined zones in Indianapolis.” His abstract can be found here.

Next were studies on various forested ecosystem, specifically at the Hardwood Ecosystem Experiment in southern Indiana. It’s a massive project with plans to last 100 years! Seriously, go read about it. This presentation was about how bats use various types of logged and unlogged forests.

(Forgive me… I’m really out of time to craft a super detailed blog with everyone’s names and research sites appropriately linked. Gotta plug ahead. More pictures!).

Also from the same forest was a study of the species of moths and butterflies. THEY DOCUMENTED OVER 1,000 SPECIES. Yes, read that again. Just moths and butterflies! …. Really!

The next guy talked native bees. We have around 400 species in the state known to science. THEY FOUND OVER 100 BEES IN THIS ONE FOREST! It really is mind blowing how much biodiversity there is, and shocking how little research and basic baseline data is available. I was in the room asking these the top entomologists in the state and… there’s just so much work left to do.

We are scientists… but we love art too! This was the great work from Blue Aster Studio. Go visit their Etsy page and buy all their stuff!

This student-researcher was taking blood samples from river otters to survey the amount of lead that is present in our lakes and streams. The sources included leaded gun shot, as well as previous industrial activities.

Can you tell these are my people? Yes, these are my people. I had such a great time being with my tribe.

I took our all-electric Nissan LEAF to the conference and stopped at the Keystone Mall on the north side of Indianapolis to give it a fast charge (here’s an explanation of the different kinds of EV charging). While I was waiting on the charge, I got some steps in at the mall and… came across a Tesla store. Tesla has become the gold standard for EV technology & charging infrastructure, with all the other manufactures playing catch-up. Their new Superchargers now charge 5 times faster than the “fast” charge I was hooked up to.

I managed to walk away without signing any paperwork, and returned in one piece. Conference time is happy time! It’s important to stay current in one’s field, network with other professionals trying new things, and of course sharing your own work for the benefit of others.

More later … about another and even more amazing conference!

small parcels for conservation

Here’s a post/photo that we published on our Facebook page, and I thought I’d replicate it here:


Scientists are warning us that we are causing the Earth’s 6th mass extinction event. A 2017 report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes a “biological annihilation,” amounting to a “frightening assault on the foundations of human civilization”.

Pope Francis likewise cautions us in Laudato si’ (2015) that “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.” (para. 33)

This is a pivotal time for us as a species. The urgent task before us as stewards is to make it through the 21st century with as much biodiversity as we can. The genetic diversity of our biosphere (biodiversity) is the source of our earthly sustenance.

This means more than just saving a few large and distant national parks. There is now increasing evidence that smaller plots of forests, remnant prairies, and small lakes and ponds are much more important to biodiversity than previously thought by Western scientists.

We need to build a culture of education and stewardship to empower small landowners throughout the rural Midwest.

Pictured is a two-acre oak woodland adjacent our alfalfa and crop fields. As a part of our management, we recently conducted a prescribed burn in this woods to encourage the growth of native oaks, hickories, and wildflowers. This also increases this ability of this small woodland community to withstand the hot, dry, and fire-prone conditions that climate change is bringing to Indiana.

What are some ways that we can encourage and support land stewardship by small landowners throughout the Midwest?

For further reading, see:

Opinion: Why we should save the last tiny scraps of nature

the drone has really helped us see our land from a new perspective

hold the date… it’s BioBlitz time!

the whole world a laboratory, a horizon, a home

Have you ever wondered how many types of butterflies the Moontree Studios prairie supports?

To find out, be sure to hold the date of June 29-30 and join us for Marshall County’s first ever BioBlitz.

A BioBlitz – short for Biodiversity Blitz – is a 24-hour biological survey. All 1,100 acres at The Center at Donaldson will become a laboratory for scientific research. Scientists and enthusiasts from across the state will converge to look for and count every species they can find – fish, butterflies, mammals, dung beetles, wildflowers… everything!

After a tour through our lake, wetlands, pastures, and hardwood forests, we were selected by the Indiana Academy of Sciences to be the BioBlitz host site for 2019, which rotates throughout the state from year to year. (You can find results from previous years here). Results of the survey will be compiled and published in the Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, Indiana’s premier scientific journal

Preparations are under way. Did you know that The Center at Donaldson has hardwood forests that could house an endangered bat species? Join my bat biologist colleague who is planning to survey for them at night. More of a morning person than a night owl? Our birding team will be up early to count the maximum number of species.

You don’t need to be an expert or a scientist. We are planning a family-friendly, fun, and accessible experience for all people. Who knows… maybe even a bonfire, some S’mores, and camping on the prairie.

Biodiversity isn’t just for large national parks. In the Midwest, the rural countryside hosts a majority of our species and needs our attention and care. Please join us!

What is this gal doing in Marshall County? Come find out!

news round-up (conservation biology edition)

Time for another news round up!

I’ve been “accumulating” links from some interesting stories (and I haven’t even read every last word of them). I thought I would curate these into a single subject matter. This time I picked Conservation Biology, “the management of nature and of Earth’s biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems from excessive rates of extinction and the erosion of biotic interactions.”

Happy reading!

Biodiversity thrives in Ethiopia’s church forests: Ecologists are working with the nation’s Tewahedo churches to preserve these pockets of lush, wild habitat. (Nature)

Dramatic flow from Mexico: Monarchs poured into Texas in substantial numbers during the past week. The migration’s leading edge is now 950 miles from Mexico’s overwintering sites. Western Population: Where are they now? (Journey North, March 21, 2019)

The secret to turtle hibernation: Butt-breathing // To breathe or not to breathe, that is the question. What would happen if you were submerged in a pond where the water temperature hovered just above freezing and the surface was capped by a lid of ice for 100 days? Well, obviously you’d die. And that’s because you’re not as cool as a turtle. And by cool I don’t just mean amazing, I mean literally cool, as in cold. Plus, you can’t breathe through your butt. But turtles can, which is just one of the many reasons that turtles are truly awesome. (The Conversation)

In Defense of Biodiversity: Why Protecting Species from Extinction Matters: A number of biologists have recently made the argument that extinction is part of evolution and that saving species need not be a conservation priority. But this revisionist thinking shows a lack of understanding of evolution and an ignorance of the natural world.  (Yale E360)

Why we should save the last tiny scraps of nature: Ecologists long thought small or secluded fragments of habitat weren’t of much value for nature. Recent research says otherwise. (Ensia)

Like Pheasants? Thanks a Coyote. Coyotes are not major predators of pheasants or their nests or chicks (Pheasants Forever)

Why Natural Areas? (reflection from a top US ecologist in Missouri Natural Areas Journal)

Plummeting insect numbers ‘threaten collapse of nature’: Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review (Guardian, linking to scientific article in Biological Conservation)

upcoming lecture on migration, climate change, and identity

We are very excited to welcome José Chiquito as our next speaker in Ancilla College’s Lampen Lecture series!

If you are in the area, you won’t want to miss hearing from this emerging Michiana leader. José is a senior at Goshen Goshen. He recently launched the Ecotiva Collective, a movement building platform on ecojustice, identity, and food that aims to transform the narrative of marginalized communities in the Midwest.

In the age of Climate Change, Chiquito will reflect on his own journey in discovering his calling to devote his life to healing the Earth. He will unpack three core concepts that he believes are critical in the formation of his calling, Climate Change, migration, and identity. Each concept will be explored within the context of his experience to illustrate how different events, paths, and challenges intersect to create a call to action.

fire season

The 2019 spring fire season has been off to a slow start. Some years, the stars just don’t align… by stars I mean the proper elements of humidity, sun, wind, and available staff and volunteers.

(To see previous posts on fire, click in the search field on the right-hand side of the page and type “fire”).

However, we did get two burn days last week, and we covered Moontree, a cattail marsh, and a fen that had been used as a pasture.

First, Moontree:

I like to say that prescribed fire is 95% boredom and preparation followed by and 5% excitement (and it’s only exciting when I know the hard prep work has paid off as planned). Some new volunteers anxious to see a spectacle are a little underwhelmed, once they realize what it actually entails. The photos I’m posting don’t quite capture it either… the planning, phone calls, checking weather, fixing gear, raking fire lanes, etc. After reading this ecologist’s musings on portraying prescribed fire to the public, I’m trying to be careful to not create misunderstanding.

We had a neighbor come help us burn. We’ve been talking about working together on habitat projects across our property boundaries. This is something we are really excited about as we look at the long-term prospects of building a stewardship culture in the area. Getting together for meals, for burns, and just to talk about the latest phenological happenings is important to coalition building. Thanks Ryan!

And, of course, Sr. Mary was out working too!

We like diversity of habitats, diversity of species, and diversity of disturbance patterns. With that in mind, we only burn a portion of each habitat each season, leaving an unburned section adjacent. Fire does have the potential to kill overwintering insect eggs, and the odd rodent or rabbit. Keeping our management activities diverse helps ensure that populations are sustained from year to year.

You can see in the photo below that we have a burned section next to an unburned one:

Not the best photo, but I heard some Sandhill Cranes flying over so I crouched low and got a photo of both fire and cranes with my phone:

Next over to the cattails. I’m hoping to get the drone up soon to get some aerial photos to see exactly what sections caught fire. Cattails are trickier to light than one might think… the clumps of course leaves can be far enough apart to prevent fire from spreading. Fortunately, the wind was just right to achieve our objectives here. We had just come off some very cold weather, so I was able to stand on solid ice (over only 12-18″ of water) to get this photo:

Here’s a shot of our great team:

The fen was a unit that I had been waiting to do. But we needed to learn how to work together and communicate as a burn team first. Then came the grant for prescribed fire equipment. A couple years of experience, then we were ready!

The picture below shows a little bit of the complex hydrology that makes this place special. It does hold some rainwater, but a lot of this is bubbling up from underground. These areas are a priority for conservation of unique plants, as well as maintaining a uncontaminated drinking water supply.

Here’s a video showing the breadth of this burn unit. This was after most of the more careful and tedious work was done around the roadsides, which we do slowly to minimize the smoke that goes over the road.

Some things are unveiled with a fire. You can see here the hummocks from the Tussock Sedge (Carex stricta). These micromounds 12-18″ in height are part of the structural diversity we like to see in the landscape. At the scale of an insect or a small mammal, it’s significant! You can read more about this sedge here.

Here’s one final image I stumbled upon one morning about a week after the Moontree fire. It’s the base of a perennial grass. I walked by in the exact moment that the sun was rising and burning off the hoarfront from this and other features on the landscape

It seemed to be an apt image of springtime in the Midwest. Here, and not here. Glorious rays of warm sun followed by another snow shower.

The word that came to mind was liminal.

Dark-Hard-Tense-Tight-Cold // \\ Warm-Loose-Fluid-Soft-Light

We are there in the middle.

Hoarfrost disintegrating off last year’s Bee Balm flower heads

the Marshall County flood, one year later

Well, it’s been one year since the Big Flood of 2018. We have seen a lot of retrospectives in the news and social media.

The talk I had prepared in February 2018 on 150 years of ecological change in Marshall County was, ironically, cancelled because of widespread flooding. The Yellow River, which is the main aquatic artery of Marshall County, crested at 17.65 on 2/22/18. This bested the record of 17.10 ft on 10/12/54. I posted some early photos and videos here. Here’s some additional video that was published later.

I followed up with a more detailed piece on hydrology and human land use, and how they combine to affect flood patterns.

I remember driving along US 30 on March 6 and being stunned and the hundreds of Sandhill Cranes lined up at the small lakes that emerged in so many farm fields. It was the slightly glimpse back at the Everglades of the North that existed for thousands of years before European agriculture.

As soon as the waters receded, I took my family exploring at River Park Square in downtown Plymouth. The flood had swept away the wooden frames holding the raised beds of the community garden, leaving the garden soil & roots. Can you see the long stripes of sand on the down-stream side of the beds? They are not from the beds themselves. I presume as the water flowed around and over the beds (away from the vantage point of the camera), the water was slowed, which made it drop sediment in neat lines. It felt like we were at a Lake Michigan beach!

The flood stimulated a massive community effort across businesses, government, non-profits, and faith communities. We know from human history that it is often times of larger community crises that we suddenly rise and form new links and alliances, to reach out towards our neighbors in ways that we just don’t normally do on a day-to-day basis.

After the immediate clean up came the hard slog of recovery. Which homes and businesses could be repaired? By whom? With what resources? Fund-raising efforts were made. Benefit concerts were planned. Work teams were organized (The Center at Donaldson hosted at least a few). FEMA was consulted.

I can’t say that I was involved in the recovery efforts, but from talking with those involved, it was a lot of work. Over 200 families were affected. The situation was compounded for those in poverty, already on a financial edge, as well as undocumented immigrants who needed relief but were hesitant to work with government agencies.

I’m grateful to the many government workers, volunteers, and first responders that had to react to this crisis. I’m not so good at that, other than filling a few sandbags until my weak back starts complaining. As an ecologist, I’ve been trying to think about the longer-term questions of inhabiting our little space in the Yellow River watershed… what works, what doesn’t, and how we can build resilient social-ecological communities.

As old and worn as this line gets, I’m never going to tire of saying it… our children will inherit the world crafted by our decisions. Our moral responsibility is to consider what inter-generational justice looks like in our common home. (Photo from Feb 19)

First, it starts with understanding. We can educate ourselves about the Headwaters Yellow River Watershed, the land that drains to Plymouth and determines flood patterns in the city. A watershed management plan was recently conducted and is a great starting point.

We know at a societal level, we are generally underestimating flood risk. “It won’t happen to me” is just human. We build homes in floodplains, along hurricane-battered coasts with rising seas, and in deserts starved for fresh water. Our brains aren’t good at calculating low-probability, high-impact events. (Please don’t do an audit of my house for working smoke detectors, kitchen-rated fire extinguishers, radon, earthquake insurance, etc!!). We need to stay vigilant and visualize the true cost of being caught unprepared.

I stumbled upon the 2014 Flood Inundation Maps for the Yellow River, written by the U.S. Geological Survey (here’s a shout out to all those PhDs, technicians, and office assistants slogging away in government cubicles doing incredibly important and often overlooked work in the interest of the common good). They modeled the impacts of a “100-year flood” on the City of Plymouth. This flood would discharge 3,800 cubic feet of water per second (cfs) and be around 15.5 ft flood stage. The actual flood in 2018 was around 17.6 ft flood stage and around 5,800 cfs of water.

That’s why I cringed when I saw editorials in the press writing about a “64-year-flood” (It had been 64 years since the flood of 1954). This misunderstanding is understandable for the general public, but leaders should really try to communicate the risks accurately.

As was explained in the South Bend Tribune, we had experienced something more like a “500 year flood,” which means – according to our best scientific understanding of current conditions – there is a 1-in-500 chance of a flood of that magnitude each year. A “64-year flood” has a 1-in-64 chance of occurring each year. But nature doesn’t space out these events evenly… the dice are rolled each season, and we need to plan accordingly.

Anyway, here’s a great explainer from the USGS, done clearer than I.

Flood intervals are partly a function of climate, and climate change is throwing a wrench in our calculations. That is, we have to prepare our societies and infrastructure for the climate of the rest of the 21st century, not the 20th.

Purdue University is slowly releasing portions of a Climate Change Impacts Assessment. In the Climate chapter, scientists write:

Extreme rainfall events, defined as having a daily rainfall total in the top 1 percent of all events, have increased over the last century and are expected to continue to do so. Heavy downpours contribute to soil erosion and nutrient runoff, which affects both water quality and crop productivity. These events can also overwhelm wastewater systems and create challenges for flood-control infrastructure… In Indiana, climate change will mostly affect extreme temperatures, precipitation extremes that affect stormwater, and annual peak flows that determine river flooding.

In other words, gird your loins for more of where that came from! We are seeing more precipitation as intense rainfall events, instead of spread out over several showers. This increases flood risk.

Second, what is our response? Knowing all this, what have we done with our year’s time as a municipality and as a county? What actually can be reasonably expected, and what is simply out of our control?

On the proactive side, River Park Square in Plymouth originated after the purchase and demolition of several homes and businesses in the flood plain. Public green space is a great use of a floodplain in an urban context. The venue is used for everything from a farm market to concerts and festivals. It’s a highlight of our town.

However, I also heard from a friend that there were several structures within the floodplain that were damaged by a flood in 2008 and were rehabbed by volunteers. They flooded again in 2018. Tens of thousands of dollars were again poured into them again last year.

Some 137 homes were damaged in Plymouth. Most of these were repaired (and let me say that I’m certainly not in a position to tell someone what to do with their home). Some were not repaired, and the city is applying for FEMA grant money to demolish the homes and prevent future construction. Building resilient communities means continually adapting to our ecological context.

To my knowledge, neither the city or the county have changed any policies or procedures in response to the flooding. Cities are often at the mercy of land use decisions made upstream, outside of municipal control. Possible infrastructure upgrades can become cost prohibitive as they try to prepare for truly rare natural disasters.

However, there are best management practices we could employ further up the watershed, in relation to ditch and drainage maintenance, farming practices, and water control structures. See this article about a rural Nebraska who coordinated all of these to prevent millions of dollars in damage during a recent flood.

And yet… I watched a property exchange hands recently, one adjacent to our first rented home in Plymouth. I remember hearing the chorus of frogs singing through our open windows. I watched big bucks creep along the fence rows. Wood frogs and turtles showing up mysteriously at my back door. The new buyers promptly bulldozed the grove of willows, drained the wetland, tore apart the fence row filled with massive cherry trees cloaked in white blooms, plowed under the access lane of remnant prairie grass that was hanging on.

All destroyed in the name of corn. And all exacerbating the effects of floods on our neighbors downstream, filling their homes with sediment, their drywall with mold.

Ultimately, it is up to the people to work together on community preparedness, to elect officials who will use the best available science to plan for the future, and to respect the Earth’s ecological communities. Are we up to the task?

Lastly, I want to link again to Steve Glass’ beautiful and clear-eyed meditation on the importance of water.

I want to also point towards a recent headline, “Lake Erie just won the same legal rights as people.” At one time, this may have sounded like some wild-haired hippy dream, at least to those of us who have been indoctrinated with extractive and mechanistic thinking, a thinking is a very peculiar and recent phenomenon for our species.

But perhaps with all the nitrates, PFAS, water rationing, irrigated lawns, contaminated fish, ocean trash, lead, mercury, and floods, we might admit that we have neglected our charge. That we’ve demystified the sacred source that composes 60% of our liquid being, and that we again need to treat water, and ourselves, with more than a little respect.

A Kingfisher watches the sunset over a skin of December ice on Lake Galbraith, Marshall County (2018).

a harvest anthem

It’s a winter wild game harvest, where neighbors gather round
To savor the earth’s bounty, from the water, woods, and ground

With crock pots, bags, and bottles, the dinner pile increases
Spices, jerky, drink, and salad… all for what? Our thesis:

To build a land-community, of science and of art
From the toddling babe, to wise gray sage, each one a vital part

With wild turkey and noodles, venison soup, and craft beverage cold
We take each new idea, and weave it with the old

What’s with all these geese? Did you hear about the bobcat?!
Each species on the move this year, I wonder where that fox at

From burrow, tip-out, and fence-row, to Mt. Baldy’s humble height
A land community dances on, as day folds into night

Whether ignorant or conscious, winter-spring-summer-fall,
We’re dancing to Earth’s anthem, may we be true Stewards, all

another news round up (energy & climate change edition)

We Have 12 Years to Limit Climate Change Catastrophe, warns U.N.

This generated a lot of press when it dropped… but maybe people feel like the messaging is off. The intent is to generate urgency, which is the first step in making change, but with a thorny problem like climate change, any and all efforts can be valuable. The point is haste, and scale. As a follow up…

Don’t Despair: The Climate Fight is Only Over If You Think It Is

Some commentary on the first link.

What’s Really Warming the World?

Phenomenal visualizations from Bloomberg on the data around the source of temperature variability associated with climate change. They cover volcanic activity, deforestation, fossil fuel emissions, change in solar irradiation, etc.

U.S. Coal Plant Retirements Near All-Time High

The trend just doesn’t seem to be letting up. (See this press release from September from our own NIPSCO).

NIPSCO plans partnership with 3 wind farms in Indiana

A Rare Find: Purdue professor extracts valuable rare earth elements from coal ash 

This from the recently-launched Indiana Environmental Reporter. Looks at the cutting edge of research… now, if they can find a way to scale and commercialize the process.

Greenhouse Gases Emissions Accelerate Like ‘A Speeding Freight Train’ in 2018

Time to redouble our efforts.

The case for “conditional optimism” on climate change: limiting the damage requires rapid, radical change – but such changes have happened before

Adds some nuance to the conversation. A topic that includes science, but as we discuss around these parts, is certainly much larger than the scientific enterprise.

Indiana NAACP leaders say coal plant timeline is unacceptable for residents

This starts to get towards the idea of Integral Ecology, when issues of justice intersect with how we use and interact with our world.

a wee cold spell

Here’s a live picture of me checking the temperature and wind chill readings:

Adam R. Egret, Marco Island, FL

Currently we are sitting at -18 deg F and 18 mph winds, which makes -45 deg F wind chill.

So, how do we all cope, ecologically?

A similar cold snap happened when I was wrapping up grad school, in January 2014. I remember a lot of snow, -40 deg F wind chill, and ice forming on the inside of our leaky windows.

My dear wife attempts to find the sidewalk and our car underneath the piles of snow. There wasn’t no going nowhere.

I also remember the birds. We put out some sunflower seeds on top of the snow, feeling pretty sorry for the buggers. The dark-eyed juncos came quickly, puffing up their feathers for extra insulation, they kept right on doing their junco thing.

A dark-eyed junco, taking -40 deg F windchills in stride (Upland, IN, January 2014)

Juncos are a sure sign of a Midwestern winter. They nest in Canada but winter throughout the continental U.S.

I remember reading that they maintain an internal body temperature of 104 deg F. I stared through the window pane in wonder… how does something that weighs as much as four quarters maintain a 140+ degree temperature difference with its environment?

Surviving severe winters, of course, biologically rewards those individual juncos who are most fit for their environment. These survival genes are passed on to the next clutch of eggs. But it’s still amazing nonetheless.

How about insects?

Some folks are hopeful that this cold snap will set back the Emerald Ash Borer, an Asian pest that has almost completely decimated Ash trees throughout the Midwest (and is still spreading).

But it’s likely that any effects on the population will be short-term, only delaying the inevitable. This cold snap will kill those individuals who are the least cold-hearty, and those most fit to an extreme winter will live to reproduce.

Remember our mosquito friends? I wrote a post last year about finding a mosquito on January 8th in our north woodland, after 21 consecutive days below freezing, including one night down to -20 deg F.

Don’t plan on getting rid of those guys (& gals) anytime soon. (Although, scientists are on the verge of finding a way to potentially wipe out malaria-carrying mosquitoes altogether, which presents some pretty thorny ethical issues).

I’m still impressed by you, girl.

What about us humans? Before weather forecasts, radios, and the like, sudden winter storms could turn into a severe threat.

There was the Schoolhouse Blizzard of January 1888, a series of very unusual events that combined to catch many people outside in the Great Plains just as temperatures plummeted rapidly. More than 200 died and more lost fingers, hands, and feet. Another blizzard that March killed more than 400 people along the eastern seaboard of the U.S.

Scientists have greatly improved weather forecasts through the years. Millions of people are now routinely evacuated safely out of the path of hurricanes. This cold snap was predicted several days ago, giving thousands of communities ample time to prepare. Even within my brief lifetime, the 3-day forecasts are now as accurate as day-ahead forecasts used to be. As a father, I’m extremely grateful to the scientists, first responders, and governmental institutions that keep it all running.

But careful with the hubris, frail human. Hurricanes have regularly killed hundreds or thousands in the U.S. Two of the deadliest six in our history came recently (Katrina in 2005, Maria in 2017), the moralities being a function of more social failure than meteorology.

A couple weeks ago, I asked if solar panels work in the winter. Yes, indeed. I looked up the spec sheet for the panels and the inverters, and their listed operating temperature goes down to -40 deg C. We are currently at -28 deg C (-18 deg F) and they are doing fine.

Wastewater array power production for 1/30/19

In fact, it looks like we hit a new all-time high for power production last Friday (Jan. 25) at 67,771 W. It was about +10 deg F that day. Cold is good!

*UPDATE/ASIDE: there have been reports of loud BOOMS! across the Midwest, and even Plymouth… frost quakes!*

Lastly, one video from this morning, just for fun. A science experiment for the extreme cold. Instead of popping, soap bubbles will first freeze and shatter, falling to the ground in pieces of thin ice.

Later today I’m going to try to hammer a nail through a board with a frozen banana!