Saturday, January 31, 2009

New year

We rang in the Year of the Ox today on Argyle Street. The Hip Sing Association put on its annual Lunar New Year parade. The route ran east on Argyle to Sheridan, where it then went south to Ainslie, then west to Broadway and back to Argyle. There are more pictures here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Old condor

I don't think I knew until yesterday that birds can live to be more than 40 years old. A prolific California condor, though, will turn 43 this year.

Further, California condors may be the most amazing birds in North America--9-foot wingspan, bizarre appearance, awesome canyon-riddled habitat. Thankfully, condors were saved when only nine were left in the wild in the late 1980s. Now there are 322 total, wild and captive. It's nice to picture them soaring over the chaparral somewhere way out West.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Ski trip

Moraine Hills State Park, near McHenry, Ill., is one of my favorite places in the Chicago area. A mosaic of prairie, marsh and oak savanna, the park is reminiscent of places a bit farther north in Wisconsin. There's no camping there, but the park has a nice multipurpose trail that makes a perfect figure-eight for biking, walking or cross country skiing. The terrain is just right for cross country skiing. It's a little bit of a ride (it can be an hour without traffic) for a winter-time day trip, but it's well worth it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fickle mercury

I have a feature on my Gold account that shows temperatures and weather at 10 favorite cities on one screen. This has been an interesting week on the "My Cities" page. For example, I keep tabs on Dubuque, Iowa, in the heart of the Driftless Area. I also keep up with the weather in Governor's Harbour on the island of Eleuthera in The Bahamas. Yesterday morning, it was 28 degrees below zero in Dubuque. It was 100 degrees warmer, 72, on the idyllic Out Island of Eleuthera at the same time.

There were some jaw-dropping lows recorded in the Chicago area yesterday morning. It's hard to fathom 30 degrees below zero, but that's what the temperature in Joliet was during the a.m. commute. About 90 miles west of Chicago, in Rochelle, a temperature of 36 below was recorded, though from an unofficial location. So the all-time low of minus-36 at Congerville, near Peoria, stands from many years ago.

As my friend who went to college in Grand Forks, N.D., points out, at some point it's just cold. The difference between 10 degrees below and 30 degrees below is pointless. It's just cold. You scamper from building to car and hope your battery isn't dead. (My car battery, by the way, is actually dead as I write this.)

Regular driftless area readers are well-represented on "My Cities." Here is the list: Chicago, Richmond, Va., Sudbury, Ont., Dubuque, Iowa, Baldwin, Mich., Governor's Harbour, Mountain, Wis., Livonia, Mich., Willoughby Hills, Ohio, Saint Paul, Minn., and Amesbury, Mass.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Dear Chicago

Dear Chicago Weather,

I'm sorry. I'm sorry for all the posts about how Your winters are cold, gray-brown affairs without any charm. I'm sorry for suggesting that our position on Lake Michigan inhibits snow (two significant lake effect events this week). I'm sorry for saying that it's always bitterly cold here with exposed grass in the park. I'm sorry for thinking about how the frequent thaws simply expose the litter and fast-food offal beside the street.

You have proved me wrong this winter. We've already reached our average seasonal snowfall total at O'Hare. I've cross country skied twice--including at Camp Sagawau near Lemont--and likely will ski again this weekend. Temperatures have been really cold. Our heating bills have skyrocketed. Our pipes have frozen.

Please, Chicago Weather, continue to send low pressure systems into the area. Cold air masses that skirt Gulf moisture and dump snow on us. And Panhandle Hooks that rear up from the Southern Plains and feed snowstorms that span from here to Wichita. Please keep the rain-snow line somewhere near Watseka, and send those northeast winds down along the 300-mile fetch of Lake Michigan.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Squirrel roundup

It's been a long fallow period for squirrel news. Then last week came and squirrel updates were all over the place. First, the New York Times covered the ongoing conflict between red squirrels and non-native gray squirrels in Britain and that the Brits are now dining on the indomitable grays. The European red squirrel, by the way, has ear tufts like the Abert's squirrel of the American Southwest.

Then a report came across of an acorn shortage in Illinois and Indiana that is affecting the squirrel population. Local squirrels are behaving even more brazenly than before, this from a genus that produced a creature that once slurped from a disposed cheese cup in my front yard.

Finally, in other wildlife news, a black bear has been seen in northwestern Illinois, the heart of the driftless area, at least a couple hundred miles from where it should be in Wisconsin.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Snowy day

It's snowed a lot here this week! It's been snowing most of the past 24 hours, and I'm guessing we have about 10 inches or so.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hailing comet

The Chicago Tribune is citing a report that it was a massive collision with a comet that killed off the megafauna of the end of the last glacial period, 13,000 years ago. The event took place not far from Chicago.

The theory has its skeptics, including me. (I've missed 10 years of scholarly study, but why not jump into the conversation?) If I recall my Pleistocene college courses correctly, the glaciers had been surging forward and back for eons when they all receded about the same time as the supposed comet. Because of the current interglacial, the megafauna were wiped out. What exactly caused the interglacial, I'm not sure--maybe that's where the comet comes in.

My favorite Pleistocene mammal: the auroch, which persisted in Europe until the 17th century.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Carp diem

It isn't often that national media report on the news from Pymatuning Lake, which straddles the border of northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania, but recently National Public Radio broadcast a story from there. Officials want to change the rules at a reservoir spillway that is a place where "ducks walk on fish" to feed. The spillway is a churning cauldron of carp where people feed the fish and ducks everything from bread to birthday cakes. This inexplicably is a prime tourist attraction in Crawford County, Pa. The hope was that people would stop throwing bread in the water and would instead use meal pellets. Lawmakers are still working on solutions to the problem.