Friday, November 14, 2014

Winter Preparedness Tips

Here are a few tips and information to get you and yours prepared to deal with winter’s travails.   Some of this is knowledge and some of this is physical preparation; either way, commit to some action now so you don’t have to deal with precarious, not to mention cold, situations later.  Bookmark this post in case you ever need quick access!

          The Federal Emergency Management Agency took its lumps after its Hurricane Katrina response, but for the most part they know what they’re doing.  Here’s a great video and supplemental info on how to prepare before, during, and after winter storms.

How to Drive Safely in the Winter
                Perhaps one of the most difficult/frustrating parts of a winter storm is driving sharing the road with other people that don’t know how to drive in the winter.  Check out this good AAA tips video below and go out and practice in an open parking lot next time it snows.

                Here in the immediate DC Metro area, we may not average enough annual snowfall to merit such a purchase (debatable), but I’d highly consider purchasing a set of winter tires/wheels if you’re at all concerned or not confident in yours or loved ones’ driving skills.  Winter tires can often make all the difference, especially when tractions technologies (including 4WD and AWD) fail.  Check out this more technical BMWblog discussion on the technologies behind winter tires.

Winter Weather Travel Kit
At the very least, I’d strongly consider purchasing some sort of winter automotive emergency kit.  Surely consider spouses and children in this decision as well.  It may be a great idea to put one of these in his or her trunk just in case.

Weather Road Trip Planning Tool
                With the threat of adverse winter weather in the region, people will often ask me for advice regarding travelling; specifically driving.  There are spartan mapping tools that take into account weather conditions, but the National Weather Service has recently come out with a nifty experimental application that allows users to create custom weather maps and track future weather along the path of one’s road trip.

                So if you’re wondering what the weather will be like all along your route to Kalamazoo to visit your in-laws for Christmas, and more importantly if you’ll need to postpone or detour because of bad weather, now you’ll know!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sister sites

Please visit my sister sites!
Faith...on a level we can understand.
The endurance of volitional virginity

Life, love, and why
"Because justice is universal"

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Case Against Publically-Funded Snow Plow, Treatment, and Removal Services

                So I live near Dulles Airport (IAD) which has received 33.2” so far this 2013-14 season[1] (above its average of 22”[2]) and I thought I’d take a moment to make a case for shutting down publically funded snow treatment, plowing, and removal.  A case against what?!  Isn’t snow plowing, treatment, and removal like a necessary civic service on par with stoplights and fixing potholes?  Do you also believe the moon landing was done on a Hollywood set, deny global warming is happening, and suppose the government is hiding a certain something in the Nevada desert? You would think so but you may be surprised to find the means may not necessarily justify the ends as much as you’d think.

Let’s take a deeper look at the issues…

Environment Concerns
                It’s no secret NaCl, or plain old road salt, has detrimental effects on the environment.  But did you know how detrimental it is?  And did you know about 17 million pounds of it is used in the United States just last year alone[3]?!  The transport of road salt into the environment has been proven to positively affect car wash businesses’ bottom line and negatively affect:

Physical Safety
                Intuitively you’d think snow plows and physical safety would go hand in hand right?  But have you considered some of the negative factors of safety that snow plowing fosters? 

Plow Trucks
                Have you ever driven behind a slow moving plow?  Can you see anything in front of you?  Can the driver coming from the other direction on the already narrow plow lanes see you behind the massive plow?  Yes I know they caution to stay very far behind, but scenarios invariably come together that force you in close proximity with a massive truck pushing tons of snow around.  Not a good combo a lot of the time.  Less snow-moving behemoths out there, especially during rush-hour times, the better I say.

Other Drivers
              Perhaps in the northern states and Canada the general public knows how to drive, but once the streets get plowed around here, people that have no business driving on still snowy or slick roads seem to start driving about.  I saw a Toyota Prius driving in the middle of the last snow storm!  If the roads weren’t plowed, or as much, people in front-wheeled cars with 17” tires wouldn’t be able to get out of their driveway…and that would be a good thing.

Other Cars
               In northern states and Canada, government mandates compel all citizens to drive around with winter tires during the winter months.  Makes sense because winter tires do a boatload more for your vehicle in hazardous conditions.  Well we don’t have those mandates down south in DC, so once again, once the roads get plowed, folks in their front-wheel drive CRV think, “The plow came by our street, let’s go to Starbucks!”.  Accidents ensue.

               The last snowstorm I came close to accidentally clipping a pedestrian.  It was dark and this person was walking right down the plow lane (because the sidewalks had snow on them).   If people want to walk that’s fine, but don’t do it almost in the middle of the road and get mad at me!  A plowed street somehow give pedestrians an entitlement mentality that all the sudden drivers should be totally ok with folks walking in the middle of the street – something only a crazy person would do on a normal day.  If the plows weren’t around people would walk, or trudge, on the sidewalks still…and they’d be safer for it. 
Yeah see that's not safe

                  Not much needs to be said here.  Snow plow trucks contribute in large part to the creation and degradation of potholes on the road – what with their massive shovel and tonnage.  Potholes can potentially ruin your car’s suspension or worse yet contribute to accidents.  Less 10,000lbs trucks pushing around 2,000lb metal/asphalt grinders, less potholes.

Community Appearance
                There are not too many things more unattractive then massive piles of brown snow lined up or streets caked in salt up and down your lovely neighborhood roads is there?  Am I right?  As they melt is gets worse too!  It takes 3 or 4 legit rainstorms to wash all that sand and grime away.  It’s not pretty when April flowers are blooming next to old snow piles in the parking lot that have been sitting there since January.
Right three lanes concrete?  Nope, just caked in salt and treatment residue.
                Well because economics, and more specifically financials, often have heavy influence on peoples’ perception of civil problems and solutions, I defer to the financial argument.  Northern Virginia’s snow removal budget alone is $63 million for Winter 2013-14, up $8 million cool bucks from last year[5].  And sometimes governments go over budget on these things during boom snowfall years, like this one (and sometimes they go under as they did in 2012-13).  I’m not advocating complete disintegration of publically funded snow removal (see below Solutions), but just imagine where that budget money could be re-apportioned to…higher pay for teachers, more skateboard parks, and my and your favorite, lower taxes!

Further, state and local governments have invested millions in inventory, storage, and equipment.  The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has “has more than 4,000 pieces of equipment (state and contractor) available to clear a typical six‐inch storm” for northern Virginia alone[6].  Let’s say we divest just half of those assets…can you imagine the influx of cash?  Where should it go?  Well back to the citizens of course.  I’ll take a few extra bucks in my pocket in lieu of unplowed neighborhood streets (that will inevitably melt and clear naturally and in most cases a 4x4 vehicle driven properly has no problem traversing) any day.

                I don’t like making a case against something without offering an alternative solution if possible.  This case is no different.  As I mentioned above, I’m not advocating to complete abolishment of snow removal services, just smarter services. 

                Tell me again, why does every neighborhood, cul-de-sac, and sleepy backroad need to be plowed by state and local monies?  Of course emergency routes should be cleared, but non-emergency?  Let’s privatize this operation a little more folks.  Just as strip malls, churches, and other private entities contract out their snow removal services, let the public decide (apart from emergency routes) what they want to pay for.   VDOT is responsible for 17,737 lane miles in northern Virginia alone…I highly doubt the vast majority of those “lane miles” are critical routes.  If my neighborhood association was stuck with the $20,000+ bill for snow removal, I’m pretty sure most residents would say no thanks.

Emergency Vehicle Argument
                But how can emergency vehicles get around if the roads aren’t plowed?  Pssshhaaa.  Any municipality and local government worth its salt, no pun intended, will outfit its emergency vehicles already with the appropriate winter driving accessories.  They’ll be fine.
Snow chains baby
School Closure Argument
                The rock-solid retort to my case you say?  How can schools ever open if most of the roads aren’t plowed you say?  Well think about it…any time there is debate about whether schools close it’s always about student safety, not the buses.  They’re 10,000lbs and are surprisingly capable in wintry conditions (save ice…but no vehicle is).  The issue has always been primarily sidewalks…not roads when schools closures are of concern.  The main solution I have to this is to spend the money on getting the sidewalks cleared for kids, and pedestrians mind you, to walk to and from the bus stops.  Either force residents to shovel their sidewalks (already a mandate, but unenforced) or use the budget money to contract it out.
                The second response I have to this argument is more beyond the scope of this article, but basically the fear is if the roads, and/or sidewalks, aren’t cleared then schools will have to close a lot longer and kids will be in school till the middle of July if we did that.  Well wake-up call…many developed nations in the world already have year-round school schedules, and especially the countries that are ahead of us academically.  Year-round school would not only give us more than enough cushion for snow days, but it would most likely help out America’s intellectual capital[7].  Just sayin’.

Stay Home and Enjoy It
                I recently wrote an article about “Why I Like Weather…and Crippling Snowstorms”, and it emphasizes in part the point of why it’s ok to be stranded at home.
“Yes I know there are some negatives to snow days (i.e. kids miss school, hourly employees miss wages, etc.), but when you were a kid what days did you remember most growing up (I rest my case) and who here would argue making money is better in the long run than spending a snow day with family?”

Force Winter Tires
                Canada does it and people don’t seem to complain.  Why not force drivers in America to?  Shoot, all the money we’d save from diminished snow removal budgets could help folks pay for them.
“Between December 15 to March 15, the owner of a taxi or passenger vehicle registered in Qu├ębec may not put the vehicle into operation unless it is equipped with tires specifically designed for winter driving, in compliance with the standards prescribed by government regulation. The prohibition also applies to any person renting out passenger vehicles not equipped with that type of tires.”
It is important to remember that in terms of road safety, winter tires have proven their worth. They ensure that the vehicle has better stability when braking, make it possible to stop in a shorter distance and help the driver to stay on course around bends.[8]

Beet Juice
Yep, that same vegetable you pull out of the ground and sort of looks like a turnip…that one.  Did you know that beet juice (the juice behind as a result of the fermentation process that extracts the sugar crystals to produce table sugar), when mixed with salt brine,  not only creates a much more environmentally-friendly road treatment solution, it helps the salt bring work at lower temperatures to treat icy and snow packed surfaces.  Some more persuading facts about using beet juice[9]:

·         Beet juice has been proven to lessen the corrosive properties of the salt that we use to apply to the roads.
·         Beet juice cost are relative the same as calcium per gallon.
·         Beet juice and salt brine will work at temps approaching zero but with the addition of calcium we can theoretically achieve a little lower temperature before freezing occurs.
·         At 30 degrees, one pound of salt will melt 46.3 pounds of ice, but at 0 degrees, the same pound of salt will melt just 3.7 pounds of ice. 
·         Regular water-based salt brine works well until 25 degrees. 
·         Beet juice is added to the mix between 25 degrees and 5 degrees. 
·         Calcium chloride added to the mix between 5 degrees and -10 degrees.

*There are other alternatives to road salt as well like Calcium Magnesium Acetate (CMA) and Potassium Acetate (KA), but these are often more expensive solutions…for now.  

**Many entities are starting to use beet juice and other supplements to their road treatments in lieu of pure road salt.  Good for them!

Businesses will lose a ton of productivity if employees can’t drive to work though!  Really?  In this day and age, any business that doesn’t have a telework policy/infrastructure is probably already heading the way of the dodo bird.  What about retail, manufacturing, and other on-site industries…you can’t telework at those.  You’re right, and you discovered one of the holes in my case :)

Consider 4x4 & AWD
            If you’re not willing to spend that ~$500 or so to put winter tires on your Prius, maybe you’ll consider a winter-capable vehicle if you live in a region that commonly receives winter weather.  Four-wheel and all-wheel drive to guarantee safety, but they sure help, especially if used appropriately in adverse conditions.  A dearth of plowed roads would be less jarring for many if they had a capable vehicle in their garage I’m sure.
This Prius is doing just fine on an unplowed road with its winter tires!
Final Thoughts
                Let me say that I’m not necessarily passionate about this argument.  I’m not going to picket the Fairfax County government center or write my congressman.  I do think I make some legitimate points that civilians and legislatures may have overlooked.  At the very least, I’m sure there are tweaks that can be done to current snow removal policies.  I admit I am completely ignorant of many complex civil and political circumstances surrounding such a wide operation portion of government budgets such as snow plowing, treatment, and removal.  There are holes in my argument.  But I think there’s enough reason to warrant thinking about “Snow Removal Reform”.


[4] Ok this may be a more superficial reason, but I’ve lost two awesome cars to the vehicular cancer that is rust.  Sure rust is caused by general moisture as well…but road salt only expedites the oxidation and corrosion process.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Why I Like Weather…and Crippling Snowstorms

       Obviously weather affects every individual on the planet except for the hybrid beings that live deep beneath the Earth’s crust in cavernous subterranean cities, but for some of us it’s a little more than a corollary part of our everyday existence.  For some it goes a little deeper than today’s forecast as we delve into the science and subtleties of weather, its impacts on our lives, and its oft beauty, majesty, and power.  Here are a few areas that resonate with me personally.          

                I don’t really care what people say, when certain weather comes to town it just brings out a childlike sense of adventure in me.  Whether it be driving through two feet of snow in a 40 year old truck, building jumps off a garage roof or snowboarding down the road in tow, ice skating on neighborhood ponds with friends, hitting an Atlantic swell to surf, or stupidly fording deluged roads, I can’t help but be persuaded by the adventurous spirit in me to engage in all sort of crazy and fun shenanigans.  Yeah I understand there are real-world consequences and realities to weather like this (see “Realities” below), but when weather conditions are non-life-threatening (ones which I am referring to) there’s a lot of fun and life to be had.  I personally see no mutual-exclusivity between having silly and adventurous fun in the snow and being a responsible, trustworthy adult.

Tow courtesy of Tommy's Jeep

                I think one of the unsung positive qualities of a snowstorm (especially the crippling sort) is forces us to slow the heck down.  Tell me again, what’s so bad about being forced to stay home and spend time with your family and go sledding and build a snowman or two and make hot chocolate and sit by the fire – without having checked you smartphone email the whole day?  Yes I know there are some negatives to snow days (i.e. kids miss school, hourly employees miss wages, etc.), but when you were a kid what days did you remember most growing up (I rest my case) and who here would argue making money is better in the long run than spending a snow day with family?  The point I’m trying to make is that we should be welcoming circumstances that force us to slow down a bit from our fast-paced lives, not expressing opposition towards them.  We should be cheering the coming of crippling snowfalls (disclaimer being that you’ve prepared prudently for one), not worrying about how they’ll interrupt our schedules or hinder us getting work done.  There’s not too many events that force us to spend quality friend and family time together…let’s not take those for granted.

Beauty and Majesty
                No one can deny the natural beauty that certain weather events manifest, especially fresh snowfalls.  I mean is there anything more beautiful in your backyard then the newly fallen pure white coat of snow covering everything back there?  Is there not an inkling of awe to be felt as that babbling brook behind your home all the sudden becomes a raging torrent?  Do you not feel humbled to the bone when the thunder and lightning strike as if directed from Mount Olympus itself?  Weather can be destructive yes, but it can also be very beautiful. 

                One man’s trash is another man’s treasure right?  I know it sounds weird, but I really like shoveling snow (and chopping wood!).  Perhaps it’s the engineer in me that likes to plan the optimal shoveling plan.  Perhaps it’s the kid in me that likes to pile it up as much as possible in one area in hopes of building a huge sledding jump (see above) or carving out an igloo from it, or building the perfect firepit area.

Mr. Otten enjoying "The Perfect Firepit" circa 2009/10
Technical Discussion
                Up until a few years ago I wasn’t too knowledgeable of the scientific meteorological aspects of weather and specifically wintry weather.  People often comment to me how I seem to know so much about weather (I'm flattered) and the such but you’d be surprised how accessible a lot of the same information the meteorologist, or “met” for short, on your local television station uses is to you freely on the Internet.  Of course there are pay and other private services only for specific clientele, but weather data is more superfluous then you may think.  As far as understanding science behind weather and climatology, enthusiast forums are probably the best places to gather knowledge.  Below is a list of site you may find helpful if you’re intending to become an amateur meteorologist as well.

Forecast models, radar, etc.
Weather forums
The beauty...
Philosophy & Cosmology
                Finally in my opinion weather is one of the great manifestations of a creator God.  I am a Christian and the logical extension of that paradigm is to attribute all of Creation to that God.  When the poet exclaims,

“The heavens declare the glory of God; 
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”  -p19

And the writer…
“God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;   
he does great things beyond our understanding.
He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’    
and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’
So that everyone he has made may know his work,    
he stops all people from their labor."  -j35

…I believe it in the utmost.  What a marvelous truth to behold and experience!

                An ancillary point I find comforting as well is the omniscience of the God of the Bible.  Man with all his technology and the such (as great as it is) pales in comparison to the all-knowingness of the Almighty.  I mean I can look at a forecast model, generated by millions and billions of computing cycles from an array of supercomputers, and it will not be accurate even within a few hours.  As fun and interesting as delving into the science of meteorology is, at the end of the day, we really have no idea what the weather will be like tomorrow when a storm is coming.  In my paradigm I find solace though in the fact that God knows…and has known where each drop of rain will land since before the beginning of time…

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God?    
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?" -j11

The Negative Realities
                No I’m not completely heartless or shortsighted.  I understand weather events can have major negative effects on peoples’ lives.  I’m not here celebrating the real tragedies that tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes, or fatal winter storms bring.  Further I understand they can have more minor negative effects, but nonetheless important to those enduring them such as folks missing out on hourly wages or those having to manage children staying home from school for example.  Those are real effects of these snow storms that I promote in particular.  That said, I think we live in life phases.  I just happen to be in a phase where the “interruption” of a paralyzing snowstorm is a welcome interruption.  Perhaps when I have children or my job situation changes I won’t feel the same…


Friday, February 14, 2014

Recap of 2/12-13 Snowstorm

Praise the Lord!  The DC Metro area is not divinely snow-cursed after all! : )  What a nice treat it was to wake up early Thursday morning and see 14 beautifully, fluffy, and wonderful inches of snow on my deck.  After ~4 years of dismal, laughable, and downright pitiful “snowfalls” (if you can even call them that) – not to mention countless snow teasers that passed by nary a trace or as cold rain – the DC Metro area (Northern Virginia, western Fairfax in my personal case) finally got a legit, true-blue dump of snow Wednesday night into Thursday.  And though I was getting greedy and hoping for a bit more from Thursday afternoon’s “second round”, a few inches over a foot is totally ok with me any day of the year!

Stick with me and you’ll be alright
                So early Wednesday morning I made this forecast…

                What you see above is the National Weather Service’s (NWS) actual snowfall totals throughout the regions.  Officially Dulles Airport (IAD) received 13.3” and Regan National (DCA) came in at an even 7”.  Boom on my forecast…but very close.  As for my desire to see some more…well God heard my cries and blessed my home with ~14.75”.

Winter Wonderland
                I loved the intense snowfall rates that came into our area late Wednesday evening via “deathbands” (energetic “bands” of precipitation that produce up to 1-3” or more of snow accumulation per hour!).  It was beautiful and mesmerizing to watch. 

Radar showing intense bands of snowfall!

 I even persuaded my awesome wife to go through a drive in it at 2:30am!

                Early Thursday morning revealed some beautiful white, fluffy snow.  This deteriorated a little as the mixed precipitation and rain, as well as rising temperatures, came through in the late morning and early afternoon, but early in the morning it was still all cold and perfect.  Here’s a taste of what it looked like in the morning.

What I Didn’t Like
                I was not a fan of the change-over in precipitation in the late morning and continuing through the afternoon.  Not only did it cut down on potential accumulation totals, but just made things a bit ugly and slushy – not to mention miserable for the kids to be out in.  No kid, or parent for the matter, wants to be out in wet, cold snow.  The sad part is that though a changeover was forecast during this time, it was forecast for mostly parts east of the city.  It was never thought it’d make it as far west as Fairfax County and even Loudoun.

                I was also pretty disappointed in the storm’s “Round 2” which was supposed to produce a few more inches for the area in the late afternoon and evening.

                 The pieces were in place (you can see the “second” part forming in the western Carolinas in the satellite picture above), but it never really packed the knockout punch we were all expecting.  I got about 0.75” out of it…maybe an inch.

Mostly Satisfied
                Overall I had a blast with this storm…or at least until the changeover occurred.  A few days leading up to it the forecast models were in disagreement and though we knew we’d get snow, there still was great uncertainty whether it’d be major, moderate, or just another garden variety like we’ve got the past few years.  Thankfully factors shaped up nicely the last 36 hours and we ended getting a “boom” (low probability “upper end" forecast) scenario for the first part of the storm overnight.

                Whether it takes another 4 years for a big storm to hit us again remains to be seen.  As for now I’m content though.  That said, when’s the next storm?!  As they say in Philly about their sports teams…”What have you done for us lately?”  -Ebb

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Gotta Love Snow in Jerusalem

In conjunction with one of my earlier's a great view of snow falling from the Temple Mount.  It's nice to know Jesus most likely enjoyed a snow day or two in his time :)   According the Jerusalem Post, the city only averages snow every 5 to 7 three in the past three winters is pretty rare.  Maybe eschatologists should be looking towards the weather in Jerusalem ;)

And it snowed in Egypt for the first time in 122 years (lower, more populated elevations that is)