Tag Archives: weather

invasion of the crabs

Happening now on our local coastline: Tuna crabs roiling in the surf and washing up in huge numbers on the local beaches.

Tuna crabs_Ocean Beach_washed up with eelgrass

Pleuroncodes planipes lives in the warmer waters in shallow water off the coastlines of Mexico to Chile. But given special ocean conditions its range can extend up into California. It’s been an unusual year weather-wise, and the mass arrival of these crabs is being seen as a harbinger of the next coming of the El Niño weather pattern to California. I’ll take an invasion of crabs as a part of meteorological prophecy instead of a plague of locusts any day!

Wikipedia gives “tuna crab,” “pelagic red crab,” and “langostilla” as alternate names, and tells you it’s a “squat red lobster.” A common question among those with a certain relationship to nature has been, “Can you eat it?” (Yes, and no. It’s “used interchangeably with lobster meat in empanadas and enchiladas,” according to Karen Hursh Graber. But the little critter also might eat toxic algae and pass on the toxins, according to a local report in the U-T.)

Here’s a small gallery of photos from the local beaches yesterday, from either the area around Ocean Beach Pier or Sunset Cliffs a half mile to the south, both in the city of San Diego:

People checking out the crab invasion
People checking out the crab invasion
Tuna crabs in the water
Tuna crabs in the water
Tuna crabs in the surf
Tuna crabs in the surf
Tuna crabs on the beach near Ocean Beach Pier
Tuna crabs on the beach near Ocean Beach Pier
The little bluffs at Sunset Cliffs, with some red-orange in the water from the swarm of crabs
The little bluffs at Sunset Cliffs, with some red-orange in the water from the swarm of crabs
Tuna crabs washed up on the Ocean Beach shore
Tuna crabs washed up on the Ocean Beach shore
"Help me. Save me. Put me back into the water," said this still-alive crab. Or was I confusing the scene with the final frames of _The Fly_?
“Help me. Save me. Put me back into the water,” said this still-alive crab. Or was I confusing the scene with the final frames of _The Fly_?

out of the beer cooler, into the fire

Landing in Denver during the last week of February
Landing in Denver during the last week of February

It all seems a little surreal. Less than three weeks ago I was on a plane landing in a very snowy Denver. Waiting for transit to downtown required a 50-minute wait in 8 degree weather. Before that the coldest temperature I’d ever experienced was 11 degrees one September morning shivering on the slopes of Mount Whitney. So this trip broke a personal record.

The lovely view out the windows of one of the hotels I stayed in.
The lovely view out the windows of one of the hotels I stayed in.

That week also was a city record for Denver, the most snow ever to fall in a single February. This view out the hotel window was on the day the record fell (along with the snow). Among sightseeing opportunities, the Coors brewery would have been walking distance if it sounded like an interesting thing to do. On this cold, snowy afternoon the walk did not sound tempting.

Zigzag shadow on snow with dried plantsDenver often warms enough to melt some of the snow between storms, so what was on the ground was a nice light snow blanket, not the smothering white wooly layers much of the rest of the country has had to deal with.

Plant under snow To this subtropical California it was all pretty exotic. So, plants that get frozen like this come back to tell about it? Sounds like an episode of The Walking Dead to me.

More snow! More bare branches!
More snow! More bare branches!
But don’t let all this snowy whiteness fool you. Denver and the rest of the state have undergone a big transformation since they legalized pot, and things are quite green in the indoor grow facilities. Someone in town was commenting that large industrial buildings are suddenly hard to find with all the competition from the growers. It’ll be interesting to figure out the carbon footprint of this new industry. A 2012 piece on energy use in California found that the power used for the indoor cannabis crop in California was equivalent to 9% of all household use. Colorado’s carbon footprint is bound to grow…

Stinging lupine, Lupinus hirsutissimus, already more seed than bloom early in the season.
Stinging lupine, Lupinus hirsutissimus, already more seed than bloom early in the season.
The local perennial "coreopsis," Leptosyne maritima, with a few flowers, but mostly spent blooms
The local perennial “coreopsis,” Leptosyne maritima, with a few flowers, but mostly spent blooms, ready for deadheading

Now, a couple weeks later, back to San Diego, it’s totally “spring” in the gardens around here. Friday was a day spent outside with a bucket and a hose, hydrating new plants and annual wildflowers. And yesterday was the third freakish day with temperatures almost matching those of Palm Springs out in the desert. It is hot. The established plants will be fine if the heat breaks, but the new plants haven’t had a chance to put down mature root systems. The annuals set seed and disappear once the going gets tough, so a little deadheading and extra water will keep them going a few extra weeks. And a few of the perennials respond the same way, including the local sea dahlia, Leptosyne maritima. A few buckets of supplemental irrigation is pretty little investment, especially when you look across the street to the neighborhood lawns.

But the humans have had enough. Can we have our normal weather back for a while, please?

talk about it

Some people think that conversation has run dry when you start talking about the weather. They’re obviously not gardeners–or even golfers or joggers or construction workers. Weather matters. And I can’t think of many things nearly as fascinating.

Here in the far southwestern corner of the country it’s been dry. Scary dry, almost. I have buckets below the eaves to catch and save runoff from the roof, and even last week’s “big rain” day didn’t fill them more than half way. At least the storm had the decency to drop some rain by the time I was leaving work so that I didn’t feel like a fool for bringing an umbrella and taking the car instead of riding my scooter.

Today we’re in Day Two of a several days of predicted light rain. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sunny days. Last month we picked a bright weekend–we had many choices–to head east, into the desert. Destination: Salvation Mountain.

I’m about as religious as Howard Stern is subtle, but you couldn’t not to feel the earnestness of this big pile of folk art.

The whole installation is built into a hillside, using not much more than haybales, mud and paint. As we walked over it you could hear things crunching underfoot. Without constant maintenance the whole thing would start to degrade into the desert around it.

This is a polaroid that someone had left showing Leonard Knight, the man who built this. He gave me a detailed personal tour the last time I visited, maybe five years ago. But the news reports last fall mentioned that Mr. Knight’s dementia was taking over, and he had been institutionalized in a facility in El Centro. For an artwork as fragile as this is, it seemed like this winter might be the last time to see the place in the state that he left it, before the desert claimed it.

The side of the Mountain that faces west is crossed by a painted yellow path up the mountain that you can see in this image, the Yellowbrick Road.

I’m not sure what the main highway from the Wizard of Oz has to do with the Christian messages being communicated, but there it is. Please stay on it.

People bring stuff here. This bible, blowing in the wind, fits right in.

Something else people bring here is paint, thousands of gallons of it. Used to be, you came to Salvation Mountain, you’d bring a bucket of paint. It was a great way to share paint leftover from projects. The word now, though, is that people should leave their paint at home, now that Mr. Knight isn’t able to do anything with it.

Built into one size are a series of grottoes that appear to have been built as little shrines. On a scorching midsummer day these spaces are a cool escape. People have brought contributions here too, but I’m not sure if the angel and bowling trophies were original to Leonard Knight’s original vision.

Parked in front are several art cars that have been customized by Mr. Knight. At this point I’m sure they’re fixed sculptures and no longer mobile.

[ Details of the art cars… ]

Another feature of the Mountain is the side maze-feature, made of telephone poles, salvaged trees and more haybales, mud and paint. It’s hard to photograph but would work great as a video shown from inside as you walk through it.

Here’s a view from inside the maze, looking up.

As long as we were way out in the desert, we stopped by the shores of the Salton Sea, just a couple miles away.

Part of the south shore is set aside as the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. (Yes, that Sonny Bono, Cher’s late ex.) You don’t see any in this picture, but birds were everywhere. You hear about the Pacific Flyway but it’s always a stunning experience to visit one of the main avian truckstops along the route.

And with this image we return to the theme of rain and water. This viewpoint is a fairly famous one. I’ve seen a few photos shot from here, with trees covered in birds and still water below, reflect birds and trees. (I have a few old shots myself.) But that was probably ten years ago.

Southern California has been drawing increasing amounts of water that was formerly used by farmers around the Sea. With less agricultural runoff to feed it, the water level has been dropping, so that the Sea itself is now a quarter mile away.

My little buckets of water, plaintively waiting for the rain, probably will do next to nothing to restore the Salton Sea. But a drop in the bucket is more than nothing at all.

bomb-sniffing petunias?

Thanks to She Who Would Not Want To Be Named for sending me a link to a really interesting story in yesterday’s New York Times: Plants have been engineered through the dark arts of gene splicing to detect TNT at a level of sensitivity one hundred times greater than bomb-sniffing dogs.

In the presence of TNT vapors the leaves of the engineered Arabidopsis and tobacco plants blushed from green to white as chlorophyll drained out of the leaves. The process took several hours, so just imagine how slowly an airport check-in would move. Still, I think I’d rather be scanned by a plant than a radiation-emitting strip-search machine.

The research was published Wednesday in PLoS ONE under the catchy title “Programmable Ligand Detection System in Plants through a Synthetic Signal Transduction Pathway.” (Somebody please help scientists come up with titles that make sense to the rest of us.) The title in the Times is maybe even worse, in an insulting way, “Plants that Earn Their Keep.” Do plants have to justify their existence? Why does a plant have to “do something useful” in order to earn a place on this earth? Grrrrrr. Arrogant humans!

Anyway, airline travel has been at the front of my mind recently as I brace for a trip in a few days to Philadelphia. Monday I was brave enough to add the weather report to my desktop. Yikes! I’m not sure that I even recognize the weather icon for last Wednesday. It’s definitely one that’s never appeared on any San Diego forecast I’ve been around for!

In the general Philly area both Longwood Gardens and the Morris Arboretum have conservatories. Unfortunately I’m not likely to have much time to do sightseeing, but it’ll be interesting enough to see what some people call winter. But if there’s anything on the “must see” list, let me know.

Let me finish my ramble by returning briefly to the unpleasant topic of airline terrorism to say a couple words about these photos that were in the news a year ago that many of you recognize.

[ source ]

These are shots of the alleged “underwear-bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, probably taken during while he was attending school in London. I looked quickly at the main subject–really, what can a photograph tell you about a person? Maybe that a seemingly normal-looking person can attempt to do some awful things? Maybe that this person was not so isolated as not feel the peer-pressure to buy a hat with a Nike swoosh?

What I focused on next–and some of you gardeners out there have already guessed it–is the amazing backdrop of colorful foliage. What are those plants?, I asked myself. Then my brain wandered off into other areas: Did the suspect enjoy plants enough to think that this would be a scenic location for a portrait (on at least two occasions, looking at his change in clothing)? Or maybe the photographer dragged the resentful and unwilling subject out into the cold, into these spots with the colorful backgrounds?

[ source ]

I don’t know. The only possible answer I can pull out of all this is that the backdrop is the kind of foliage that people in areas of the world colder than mine get to experience.

Other than that I’m left with questions, only questions…

owning the weather

I had the chance to fast-forward through a documentary that I hope to sit down and view all the way through within the next few days. Owning the Weather, a 2009 film by Robert Greene, looks at the queasy science of geoengineering, in which scientists and charlatans attempt to modify the earth’s weather.

As one cautionary tale the films presents the story of rain-maker Charles Hatfield who was hired by my city of San Diego in 1916 to bring it rain after four years of drought. Hatfield set up his apparatus on the eastern edge of town and got to business seeding clouds. Within a month it had rained 35 inches and 14 people were dead in the ensuing flooding. [ Edit, April 28: This story might well be a case of a charlatan taking advantage of a natural weather occurrence. Whether this sort of weather modification actually makes a difference in practice is in dispute. ]

Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature, is interviewed and gets some of the better lines in the film:

“One of the great sadnesses and proofs of the extent to which which we’ve let global warming get completely out of control is [these geoengineering proposals] don’t sound quite as crazy anymore…

“The 20th century taught us a lot of things. And one of them is that scientific hubris can get us in a hell of a lot of trouble. Any sort of solution that we could introduce that was actually going to lower the temperature of the world several degrees—you know, whatever geoengineering solution—is inherently a big scale scary as hell.”

Interestingly much of the film is shot indoors, where there’s human-made weather, or looking out at the world from the climate controlled space of a car interior. All that reinforces one of the film’s points that we’re a culture that has cut ourselves off from what the environment brings us naturally.

I spend four days a week in a large, climate-controlled, open office. Some people are always cold, some always warm. No one can agree on the perfect temperature. Just extrapolate that out onto the entire earth and you can see that coming up with a scheme to modify weather so that everyone is happy is bound to be an impossible task.

What if Siberia decides it wants to grow tropical mangoes and geoengineers a frost-free climate? Or what if Dubai decides they want snow to ski on? What happens to the rest of the world?

no rain, no rainbows

I looked west this morning while I was having breakfast and saw the first rainbow I’ve seen in months, maybe years. Although it was cool outside I had to go up to the deck to check it out. The rainbow was just a short piece of an arc rising from the ocean, but in this land of little rain you take what you get.

The rainbow was just about the last official act of a set of four consecutive storms that delivered over six days almost as much moisture as we received all of last year. And by “storms” I do mean real storms with rain, hail, thunder, lightning and tree-toppling winds. But for most of us in town things went as well as could be expected.

At work eucalyptus trees cracked and fell, buildings leaked, flows of water and mud threatened to invade several buildings. Walking outside entailed wading through puddles or jumping from one high spot to another.

At home power flickered on and off a few times. The back yard laked up briefly, but nothing that looked like it was going to come in the house.

Hail came down a couple times, but nothing was hurt. These pellets were about the size of peas.

Rain was heavy. These little buckets to catch roof runoff were full within the first 24 hours.

A potted Kalanchoe prolifera on the roof deck–seen here on the right–blew over. While the base must weigh 75 pounds when soaking wet, the plant is tall and proved no match for the blasts of wind that came through. This photo was shot after the plant was righted, so you can see it wasn’t bothered by spending some time sideways.

A survey this morning showed the trays of bog plants full of water, flooding the pots. These swamp dwellers are adapted to a little flooding, and in some areas people overwinter the rhizomes underwater so they don’t rot.

In fact, the parrot pitcher plant from the Florida-Georgia area, Sarracenia psittacina, can be found completely submerged over the winter. Its traps are unique in that they’re adapted to catching swimming as well as crawling creatures, so it’ll find something to eat, whether underwater or above.

The culvert in city easement behind the house filled with water. It makes me want to establish a little vernal pool in the muck at the bottom. I wonder if it would work in this location. Some of the most endangered plants in my area can be found around vernal pools and nowhere else.

The cooling weather and moister weather greens up the plants that have been dormant through the dry season. In the back Coreopsis gigantea leaves begin to sprout on what had been little brown trunks. But in the foreground you see all the weeds that accompany the season. These are mostly seedlings of a few mizuna plants, a Japanese mustard green, that I let go to seed a decade ago.

…and when life gives you young, weedy, tender mizuna sprouts, why not pick mizuna greens? These will be in tonight’s salad.

So you can see we came through pretty well. The main casualty was Scooter, the cat, who’s used to occasional times outside to sun herself. I think the “Can I go outside, please?” expression is pretty clear on her face here.

She did get to go out this morning, at last, and so did I. While I appreciate the rain, a little respite between storms doesn’t hurt, both for cats and humans alike. It also gives the waterlogged ground to dry out a bit or to let the water seep down farther.

If the weather forecasts are right, we’ll be getting another storm on Tuesday, but it won’t be anything like the almost continuous rain we just had. After 3 years of bad drought, we’ll take whatever rain falls, even if we don’t get any more rainbows with it.

still no rain

Weather map

I find weather and climate to be amazingly fascinating things. The media must not believe that the rest of the public thinks the same way, judging by how they always seem to need to sex up the topic.

“Flooding! Mudslides!” was how Weatherbug packaged the recent early winter storm heading for California.

Water buckets

Thinking that dry little San Diego stood a chance of getting some real rain out of the storm, I put out a couple trays of potted carnivorous plants in hopes of giving them a taste of real water from the sky. And along the eaves of the house I placed some buckets to catch rainwater that I could use later.

Empty bucket

Unfortunately I was duped by all the buildup. Imagine my disappointment when I came home last night and found the buckets as empty as a bin of free hundred-dollar bills and as dry as the Baptist potlucks of my early teen years. We are talking dry.

Often by the end of September we have the first of the autumn rains. But not this year.

Still, the days are cooling. The skies are home to more and more clouds that look like they could deliver some precipitation. The rains didn’t come this week, but they’ll come.