Tornado ’87

1 06 2013

When I was 16, I had an Italian buddy I used to fish with. We haunted a small glacial esker 40 minuets west of Edmonton called Lake  Chickacoo where brook trout were reportedly regularly stocked. Our repeated unsuccessful attempts at catching fish in this lake were exasperated by my claim that as a kid, I came out here and ended up eating a lot of fresh caught bbq’d trout.

This is not that story. Rather, this is a recollection of that day. And a short piece on my surprising compulsion to chase violent thunderstorms.

Back to ’87.

My Buddy Steve and I are heading west on the Yellowhead Highway. I just got off work and was anxious to apply some fishing techniques recently gleaned from a somewhat crusty reliable source.

He had a fishy smell.

As we sped past the old CFRN station, I noticed dark green and pitch black rolling low-level clouds ghosting through the top halves of power poles. The sky was a leaden grey popped up in places with streaks of black. A hazy hue of foreboding lay across the landscape.

Immediately after commenting to my buddy Steve on the bizarre meteorological observations, we were hit hard by a hail storm supreme. As we pulled under the fortunately right – in – front – of – us overpass, we gingerly jockeyed for position with all the the other vehicles with the same self preservation instinct.

A number of folk were out of their cars. looking upward and Eastward. Steve and I were anxious to get fishing.

We were both 16.

That evening was the best evening either of us ever had on that miserable pot hole. Neither of us caught and landed a fish, but brother, did we ever get a lot of takers! Maybe 2 apiece!

Such was the early history of trout fishing in Edmonton’s surrounding area according to me.

When we arrived back in Edmonton, we heard the news. It came as both a shock and later a fascination. Even at 16, I still felt a deep pain in my heart for my fellow community citizens who lost so much. Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt added to the inquiry formation, which then evolved into not only a deep respect and understanding, but an enhanced curiosity into tornado evolution.

Last summer I chased a few storms. Here are some of the photos.ImageImageImage



Thanks Chris

20 05 2010

Andrew and I decided to bag a peak on Tuesday. Rather, Andrew wanted to bag a peak, and he just ended up convincing me to accompany him.

Our initial objective was Prairie Mountain, however as we neared the parking area, both of us noticed that the winter gate had been opened (they do this every year on May 16th, but each year I seem to forget). We both agreed Nihahi ridge, further to the west was in order, even if the thunderheads were building overhead and all the food we had between us was a tube of Pringles sour cream and onion chips.

We didn’t hit the trail head parking lot  until 2pm or so, and had a lengthy stroll through the Little Elbow campground before reaching the actual trail head. 2/3 of the way in, I spotted a dude with a hundred liter pack and a full beard approaching from the west.

Dumbfounded, as this gentleman had the appearance of someone who has been in the bush a while, I stopped and asked him if he had just forgotten something in the car, and simply neglected hygiene for a week or so (the winter gate some 15km east had JUST beent opened).

Chris then went on to elaborate about getting dropped off at the gate in mid February….how the whole area is vacant of humans until now, how he had been tracking cougars, and had stashes of supplies scattered throughout the wilderness. His pack held 50 lbs of library books that needed to be returned, hence the walk-out.

Since I’ve spent a lot of time back where Chris had been living, I asked a few rudimentary questions that quickly verified him as genuine, as opposed to “Crazy bush-man lunatic with an extremely accessible  axe”.

Andrew and I decided to offer sociables to this mountain-man, and found our trip extended another 40 minutes as we sat at one of the campground’s picnic tables and  had Chris blow our minds.

This guy has gotten to know all the local cats, including conservation officers. He shared stories of both unnecessary harassment and enlightened law enforcement practices.  He had been fairly mobile, moving from one place to the next and experimenting with local cuisine. Apparently, rice and certain insects (roasted) is a fine back-country dish.

As Chris described his travels and disclosed solid information on wild berry crops, I thought about my life – long aspiration to be “Bush Man”. This guy was the literal example of the kind of life I’ve dreamed about. Then I thought of my bed. And I realized that unlike Chris, I have 2 kids that I’m crazy about and no wealthy relatives to fund my chronic unemployment.

Inevitably, we exchanged numbers  and went on our way.

Andrew and I reached the summit ridge of Nihahi amid hurricane force winds, and on our way back down, I sincerely found myself appreciating everything that I have. Which at that point included a half full tube of Pringles.

Road Rage

13 05 2010

I recently gave my 14-year-old son his second driving lesson. It was so uneventful (except for a turn at an intersection that almost ended up in the ditch) that I think I’m soon going to have a chauffeur. What have I done?

The outing recalled our first driving lesson together on those same country roads.

It all started out so innocently. Little drive out to Chestemere, little treat from Tim’s. Maybe, just maybe launch some of the fireworks I just happened to have sitting in my trunk. Kids like fireworks. They like them so much in fact, they are willing to stand on a deserted country road and feed an entire extended family of mosquitoes while dear old dad struggles with a way to make the fireworks stand up straight. Not complaining I might add.

Country roads also happen to be rife with kids as young as ten powering high performance motor vehicles. We all remember the You tube video that got a Quebec dad busted as his 10-year-old son got the family SUV up to 75 KM per hour while said family sat in the backseat swilling maple syrup and listening to Celine Dion completely disregarding Quebec’s seat belt law. Not that they were doing anything wrong…ok, except maybe the Celine Dion.

I learned pretty quick during this little adventure is that my son has no aversion to speed but requires much more training regarding turning at intersections.  I also learned that my daughter will not be riding along on subsequent lessons. Even when Coleman was inching along at a paltry 20km/hr, she had to be restrained from bolting from the vehicle. Those kids are pretty close, but she doesn’t trust him one bit behind the wheel of even a go-cart.

Fortunately, we only had to almost hit the ditch once in order for the lesson to end, much to the relief of our back seat passenger who was seriously close to a total nervous breakdown.

The things we learn as parents.

I fully intend to get Coleman out again on those country roads for another lesson. First I have to call my insurance broker.

New study: “Deadbeat dad’s were unheard of among dinosaurs”

12 02 2010

Calgary, AB –  Top dinosaur researcher, Calgary Zoo Name-Tag Obscured Lady in Khakis Who Conducts Guided Interpretative Tours in Prehistoric Park spoke to an audience of Dino-centric schoolchildren and adults today on the merits of dinosaur parenting skills.

“Dinosaurs actually were very good parents, being very responsible and taking really good care of their babies.”  Dr. Czntolikwcgtipp said to the impressionable crowd who responded with a collective “Awwww”.

The Dinosaur and dino-related specialist then went on to describe how certain dinosaurs “…use their front claws to pull themselves along the ground…” and that certain species “..hunted prey in packs, just like wolves and lions…”.

The audience’s attention however was quickly taken over by the life-size animatronic Allosaurus which suddenly began moving and emitting dino-like sounds.

Yes, this actually happened.

And to be honest, a strangely familiar feeling crept up my spine and set off the BS detector with glaring clarity.

I have no issues whatsoever about suspiciously qualified park interpreters purporting  education to the mostly under 14 crowd at attractions like the zoo. I’ve followed along on several such tours, but the quality of information dissected has always been supported by observation and empirical evidence.

Does a bear shit in the woods? Yes, it has been observed and enough empirical evidence has been documented to support a positive response to this question (hate to be the field biologist whose specialized discipline is large omnivore scatology).

Does a bear use an available Leporidae, like an arctic hare or white tailed jackrabbit to wipe it’s ass? No. No amount of observation on any member of the Ursidae family has  supported the assumption of this said practice. Furthermore, no amount of empirical evidence has been documented to qualify a positive reply.

No matter how many times I heard that joke when I was 10, rabbits and hares around the world can breath a sigh of relief knowing they will not have to worry about cleaning bear shit off their fur.

Herein lies my issue. I have a problem with theories, guesses, assumptions, and beliefs being represented as facts to kids.

Kids are impressionable little sponges that readily soak up information. The weight of what they encounter often is influenced by the representation of “authority”. Parents, teachers, interpreters, television presenters, and the like.

A lot of what kids accept as fact at that early age, however they are influenced, forms the foundation of their beliefs. My sister still laughs about the methodology behind a certain elbow injury I sustained as a child immediately after watching Christopher Reeves as Superman.

My point is, you and I know that anyone can be an “expert”, in just about any discipline. All you need is 14.55 an hour, an official-looking uniform, and a name-tag. Our kids don’t know that, and maybe it is our jobs as parents to point that out.

It may just save some of us the confusion when our kids tell us they are going over to so & so’s house to play “dinosaur”.

Stealth Skiing

28 12 2009

I think I have discovered an exciting new activity – late night x – country skiing. It’s a pretty simple concept. Either get hopelessly lost while exploring a new area or overestimate one’s performance when getting a late start and by default x-country skiing in the dark is an inevitability.

I have a friend however who’s first date with his now long-term relationship girlfriend (not married but almost) was an intentional outing on skinny skis under a moon – lit night. Yes it sounded romantic but it also sounded pathological when I first heard of it.

My ski/scramble buddy Andrew and I found ourselves in the position of a return trip in West Bragg Creek recently after we had a late start. Our entire darkened  return was downhill…adding to the merriment. I bent a pole on a spectacular yard sale. The city of Calgary was a reddish/gold glow to the East, appearing warm and inviting from our heights in the foothills. At the end of the trail, I couldn’t stop smirking. We ran into someone looking for a group of skiers who, apparently, do this all the time and were just heading out. Madness begets even greater madness.

Andrew and I hit up Shaganappi golf course shortly after…and were getting our skis on just as the sun was setting. Enough ambient light illuminated the tracks for us to ski without serious injury.

We almost skied Hawkridge at night, but arrived too late (we searched for it over 90 minutes..Blackberry crash killed my mobile browser and Andrew has a heavy foot) as I had obligations not at all concerned with such foolishness.  We did return however the next morning…and had a wonderful time skiing in -25c temperatures.  As a side note – when we left Calgary, the temp was -18c. Hawkridge is only 5 minutes from Calgary’s deep south-west. Andrew’s truck thermometer AND the ski lodge thermometer registered -25c. We skied for 90 minutes, scraped the ice off our eyeballs, and saw the temperature hadn’t budged.  It warmed up just as we were getting back to town. The average temperature we noted while driving through town was – 18c. The highest temperature we observed was -15c. A ten degree temperature difference from city to just outside of town. Urban Heat Island Effect is not significant say those who also speak of “simple physics” when expounding on AGW theory ?

Anyway, tonight we went back to Shaganappi. We got there around 23:30 and skied till 1:15. This time I brought a headlamp. It was amazing…. a completely surreal experience and I have much more confidence skiing at night now that I can see the trail and any hazards. My pain allowance is now significantly increased.

However since going full-out at 1 AM means my body wont let me sleep immediately after…here I am at my computer. It’s now 4:21.

Global Warming – The Cold Hard Facts? – Tim Ball

5 10 2009

The following article was written in February of 2007 by one of Canada’s leading Climate Researchers, Dr. Tim Ball.

Global Warming, as we think we know it, doesn’t exist. And I am not the only one trying to make people open up their eyes and see the truth. But few listen, despite the fact that I was one of the first Canadian Ph.Ds. in Climatology and I have an extensive background in climatology, especially the reconstruction of past climates and the impact of climate change on human history and the human condition. Few listen, even though I have a Ph.D, (Doctor of Science) from the University of London, England and was a climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg. For some reason (actually for many), the World is not listening. Here is why.

What would happen if tomorrow we were told that, after all, the Earth is flat? It would probably be the most important piece of news in the media and would generate a lot of debate. So why is it that when scientists who have studied the Global Warming phenomenon for years say that humans are not the cause nobody listens? Why does no one acknowledge that the Emperor has no clothes on?

Believe it or not, Global Warming is not due to human contribution of Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This in fact is the greatest deception in the history of science. We are wasting time, energy and trillions of dollars while creating unnecessary fear and consternation over an issue with no scientific justification. For example, Environment Canada brags about spending $3.7 billion in the last five years dealing with climate change almost all on propaganda trying to defend an indefensible scientific position while at the same time closing weather stations and failing to meet legislated pollution targets.

No sensible person seeks conflict, especially with governments, but if we don’t pursue the truth, we are lost as individuals and as a society. That is why I insist on saying that there is no evidence that we are, or could ever cause global climate change. And, recently, Yuri A. Izrael, Vice President of the United Nations sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed this statement. So how has the world come to believe that something is wrong?

Maybe for the same reason we believed, 30 years ago, that global cooling was the biggest threat: a matter of faith. “It is a cold fact: the Global Cooling presents humankind with the most important social, political, and adaptive challenge we have had to deal with for ten thousand years. Your stake in the decisions we make concerning it is of ultimate importance; the survival of ourselves, our children, our species,” wrote Lowell Ponte in 1976.

I was as opposed to the threats of impending doom global cooling engendered as I am to the threats made about Global Warming. Let me stress I am not denying the phenomenon has occurred. The world has warmed since 1680, the nadir of a cool period called the Little Ice Age (LIA) that has generally continued to the present. These climate changes are well within natural variability and explained quite easily by changes in the sun. But there is nothing unusual going on.

Since I obtained my doctorate in climatology from the University of London, Queen Mary College, England my career has spanned two climate cycles. Temperatures declined from 1940 to 1980 and in the early 1970’s global cooling became the consensus. This proves that consensus is not a scientific fact. By the 1990’s temperatures appeared to have reversed and Global Warming became the consensus. It appears I’ll witness another cycle before retiring, as the major mechanisms and the global temperature trends now indicate a cooling.

No doubt passive acceptance yields less stress, fewer personal attacks and makes career progress easier. What I have experienced in my personal life during the last years makes me understand why most people choose not to speak out; job security and fear of reprisals. Even in University, where free speech and challenge to prevailing wisdoms are supposedly encouraged, academics remain silent.

I once received a three page letter that my lawyer defined as libellous, from an academic colleague, saying I had no right to say what I was saying, especially in public lectures. Sadly, my experience is that universities are the most dogmatic and oppressive places in our society. This becomes progressively worse as they receive more and more funding from governments that demand a particular viewpoint.

In another instance, I was accused by Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki of being paid by oil companies. That is a lie. Apparently he thinks if the fossil fuel companies pay you have an agenda. So if Greenpeace, Sierra Club or governments pay there is no agenda and only truth and enlightenment?

Personal attacks are difficult and shouldn’t occur in a debate in a civilized society. I can only consider them from what they imply. They usually indicate a person or group is losing the debate. In this case, they also indicate how political the entire Global Warming debate has become. Both underline the lack of or even contradictory nature of the evidence.

I am not alone in this journey against the prevalent myth. Several well-known names have also raised their voices. Michael Crichton, the scientist, writer and filmmaker is one of them. In his latest book, “State of Fear” he takes time to explain, often in surprising detail, the flawed science behind Global Warming and other imagined environmental crises.

Another cry in the wildenerness is Richard Lindzen’s. He is an atmospheric physicist and a professor of meteorology at MIT, renowned for his research in dynamic meteorology – especially atmospheric waves. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences and has held positions at the University of Chicago, Harvard University and MIT. Linzen frequently speaks out against the notion that significant Global Warming is caused by humans. Yet nobody seems to listen.

I think it may be because most people don’t understand the scientific method which Thomas Kuhn so skilfully and briefly set out in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” A scientist makes certain assumptions and then produces a theory which is only as valid as the assumptions. The theory of Global Warming assumes that CO2 is an atmospheric greenhouse gas and as it increases temperatures rise. It was then theorized that since humans were producing more CO2 than before, the temperature would inevitably rise. The theory was accepted before testing had started, and effectively became a law.

As Lindzen said many years ago: “the consensus was reached before the research had even begun.” Now, any scientist who dares to question the prevailing wisdom is marginalized and called a sceptic, when in fact they are simply being good scientists. This has reached frightening levels with these scientists now being called climate change denier with all the holocaust connotations of that word. The normal scientific method is effectively being thwarted.

Meanwhile, politicians are being listened to, even though most of them have no knowledge or understanding of science, especially the science of climate and climate change. Hence, they are in no position to question a policy on climate change when it threatens the entire planet. Moreover, using fear and creating hysteria makes it very difficult to make calm rational decisions about issues needing attention.

Until you have challenged the prevailing wisdom you have no idea how nasty people can be. Until you have re-examined any issue in an attempt to find out all the information, you cannot know how much misinformation exists in the supposed age of information.

I was greatly influenced several years ago by Aaron Wildavsky’s book “Yes, but is it true?” The author taught political science at a New York University and realized how science was being influenced by and apparently misused by politics. He gave his graduate students an assignment to pursue the science behind a policy generated by a highly publicised environmental concern. To his and their surprise they found there was little scientific evidence, consensus and justification for the policy. You only realize the extent to which Wildavsky’s findings occur when you ask the question he posed. Wildavsky’s students did it in the safety of academia and with the excuse that it was an assignment. I have learned it is a difficult question to ask in the real world, however I firmly believe it is the most important question to ask if we are to advance in the right direction.

Aral Sea Disaster – cause and effect

30 09 2009

15262373Soviet  hunger for cotton and rice  to supply an ever – growing population in the 1960’s has caused one of the greatest man-made ecological disasters that many of us will ever witness.  The Aral Sea, very recently the 4th largest inland body of water in the world (by surface area), has become a mere puddle of what it used to be.

Straddling the borders of Northwestern Uzbekistan and Southern Kazakhstan, the Aral Sea has been for thousands of years an inland saltwater sea with no outlet. Two main rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, kept the salty lake in balance to support a commercial fishery, tourism, and a true oasis in a very dry, remote region of Central Asia. As many as 20 species of fish flourished in the giant glacial bathtub, and life along the shore was intrinsically linked to the inland sea.

Fast forward 45 years, and the oasis has become a toxic desert. Monoculture crops that were dependent on heavy use of pesticides and massive diversions of water from the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya , have turned the once bountiful region into a place of man – made misery.  As the sea dried and the shoreline shrank (now the 10th largest inland body of water, a fifth of what it once was) , the salty soil underneath became exposed along with the runoff of all that pesticide.

The communities along the Aral Sea became disease – ridden ghost towns as the link to the sea was severed. The  result has been economic collapse and a spike in respiratory diseases and related cancers due to the toxic dust and water that residents are  subject to. Along with the collapse of the physical environment the region has suffered culturally as well. Truly the largest anthropogenic (man-made) ecological disaster of the 20th century.

The Aral Sea disaster has been a stark reminder of man tinkering with the forces of nature without consideration for the long – term after effects on an extremely vulnerable Eco-system and the people who have for centuries resided along its shores.

This is a very evident case for anthropogenic environmental disaster. Diversion of the Aral’s two main rivers cut off the water supply to this once vast sea. Without the water, natural evaporation took away more than was being poured into the basin. Add the nasty bug-killing chemicals into the mix, and you have a recipe for a death sentence. Only one of the estimated 20 species of fish has been able to survive the abrupt increase in salinity. Plants and vegetation have succumbed to the rapid desertification of the region. In fact, the loss of that much water has led to a regional climate shift, whereas the once temperature – moderating effect of all that H2O is now mostly gone, like the water itself.

Avoidable? Probably. Hubris? Absolutely. We know the causes for the tragedy, and we know the effects. Over the course of the last 45 years, we have been able to witness and record this preventable catastrophe with the aid of data from hundreds of researchers including biologists, geographers, hydrologists, and climatologists. The effects are a direct result of the causes. It’s really a no-brainer.

I became aware of the Aral Sea disaster way back in the 80’s when it was  still a substantial body of water. Over the past two and a half decades, I’ve watched this once prolific inland sea vaporize in real time. It has influenced my involvement in organizations that advocate water quality and availability. It has always been clear as to the drivers of this disaster. I can evaluate the data, compare trends and physical changes in the environment, and draw my own conclusion as to why this happened.

Not so when it comes to anthropogenic climate change. Specifically, global warming with Co2 as the driver. We know the effects, or are beginning to. In actuality, many of what some deem as evidence of Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), including Arctic ice melting, glaciers retreating, droughts, storms, and any other climate-related event is clearly not evidence that Co2 caused any of this. Why then are so many individuals absolutely positive that man-made Co2 is the cause of Climate Change?

Back in the 90’s I think we were all on the bandwagon. I know I was. As world governments began investigating ideas such as a carbon tax, I was one of the ambulance-chasers, keen on exploiting a grave disservice to make a healthy profit. I was assigned the role of Green House Gas Verification (GHGV) “expert” by my employer in 2005, a global organization based in the UK. I attended a GHGV course run by Environment Canada. The principal trainer was a dirt-munching, tree-hugging Aussie lass who had several examples of the Australian government’s carbon-influenced policy changes, and the nasty carbon-criminal perpetrators she encountered in her line of work. The curriculum was a unique blend of engineering principles, and chartered accountant practices. Gas = $. Based on Intensity.

I didn’t pass the course (not much of an engineer or an accountant) but it was instrumental in opening my mind to the science of it all. Over the  next two years, I began to examine the data driving the polemic of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming).  What I discovered has not only made me feel like a senior swindled out of their entire life-savings by a telemarketing scam, but has ignited a passion for science and the basic understanding of what science really is.

Science is objective. A scientific theory can be turned into an undeniable belief by many if it is widely accepted as a theory. The world was once believed to be flat. It only takes one person to prove a theory wrong.  The data that is available (to those with the wherewithal to research it) on the anthropogenic effects of Co2 on climate lead the scientifically- inclined to call bullshit on the popular opinion.

Thanks to the likes of the IPCC  “Hockey stick” graph (popularized by Al Gore in “An Inconvenient Truth” and REMOVED from the most recent IPCC Assessment Report on Climate Change) much of the global populace is polarized in their belief that Co2 is driving climate change. That particular graph has been proven to be faulty, as the data fed into the computer model was either corrupt, or manipulated. There is a very good reason the IPCC no longer references the graph. Let us remember that real data, such as the data regarding the Aral Sea, is a far cry from what any computer model can churn out.

Any layman’s examination of ice core data clearly demonstrates that Co2 lags behind (as much as 800 years) an increase in global temperature. While the two may be related, scientific data reveals that Co2 follows an increase in temperature, it does not precede it. Thus, Co2, and in effect the Greenhouse Gas Global Warming theory,  is not a driver for climate change…if you use science to intemperate this theory. The fact that the “Greenhouse Signature” is missing from recent data over the tropics where the effect should be obvious, the fact that temperatures have not risen globally since 2001, and that Co2 is a minor gas in the GHG equation, absorbing almost as much as it can, leads the scientifically inclined to asses that something else is causing climate change.

We, as a civilization, coupled with the human condition, are quick to latch on to the cause, because we sincerely feel bad for the “climate crimes” we have perpetrated with Co2. We feel better knowing what the cause is, and reducing our impact to hopefully reverse the effects we believe man has set in motion.

It gives us all warm fuzzies to reduce our “carbon-footprint”, while those of us who have nothing better to do, or are so fanatical in our zeal,  protest by way of enviro-terrorism (see: Greenpeace). All because we are steadfast in our belief (via government-sponsored acceptance and kowtowing media..which results in more hysteria and more people buying “media’s product”) that WE have caused the planet to warm as a result of Co2 emissions. Politicians know that popular policy wins votes. Big business (Oil and Gas companies) realizes that “carbon-capture” technologies and offsetting emissions influence popular opinion, and shareholders. I’ll bet some of them even believe they are the cause of it. Professional proponents of AGW who count on it’s acceptance (so-called scientists, lobbyists, policy makers) realize that without acceptance of the polemic, they have to find a new job.

Real scientists, many of whom have worked with the IPCC dispute the polemic, and many more have been ostracized by their peers for arguing science against the popular opinion. My opinion to add to this theory, is that the scientific community, and people in general, hate to be proven wrong.

Let us not forget that this is all theory. If you have no hard evidence, and no situation where a theory can be proven false, it is a belief. Theories must be falsifiable. That, in a nutshell, is science. Anything else is dogma.

I got on this rant because today, I read a comment that the recent earthquake off of Samoa could be a result of AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming). An earthquake is not a weather-related event. Climate has no bearing whatsoever on the shifting of tectonic plates. If this is where we have arrived as a civilization, then I guess all bets are off.

If you have any scientific inquiry burning a searchlight in your cranium, then I implore you to use the best possible resources you have in exploring the issue and the science, before that deceitful telemarketer calls. Feel free to come up with your own theory. And remember the Aral Sea next time you pour yourself a glass of water.