Sunday, December 13, 2015

Nature Breathes

Weather: Warms afternoons before a storm that tracked south, giving us just a little rain yesterday and a little snow in the night.

What’s still green: Juniper, arborvitae, other evergreens; leaves on yuccas, grape hyacinth, columbine, vinca, hollyhock, winecup mallow, pink evening primrose, Saint John’s wort, snapdragon, coral beardtongue, tansy, buried yarrow, anthemis, coreopsis, purple and golden hairy asters; rose stems, June, pampas, and cheat grasses; young seedlings buried under leaves.

We had so much water this past summer that trees grew. Now, the tree trimming company is backed up - four days to get an estimate, at least two weeks to get work scheduled, when the usual is next day. With Christmas, two weeks means early next year. They usually are maintaining their equipment and hoping for calls this time of year.

What’s blue-green or gray: Leaves on Apache plume, four-winged saltbush, snow-in-summer, flax, pinks.

What’s red or purple: Stems on young peaches, sandbar willow.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums.

Animal sightings: Rabbits, chickadees.

Weekly update: Fog turns out to be a word like asthma that presumes to describe a specific thing, but in fact is a generic term for a common symptom arising from multiple causes. The National Weather Service gives the symptomatic definition: "Fog is water droplets suspended in the air at the Earth's surface." Wikipedia describes at least 13 different kinds.

I grew up in the lowlands of Michigan. The fogs I most remember were around Waterloo which lies on the watershed between lakes Michigan and Huron. There mist rose from the swamps when conditions were right. That is, when cold air came in contract with warm water.

When I saw mists here, I assumed the same thing was happening since they often followed arroyos and canyons that had streams in their bottoms. However, they had a density and color that was different than those I remember. Here they are solid and white; there they were wispy and nearly colorless.

When it was raining yesterday morning there were no clouds. In the top picture, the sky was a featureless gray that blocked most of the badlands across the Río Grande and all the Jémez from view.

It was only in the afternoon, after it had stopped raining here and Los Alamos was reporting fog that I saw a thick wall of white behind the badlands, with some mist rising at the base. In the second picture, the sky above was blue, with higher gray clouds undergirded by white.

The temperature and dew point were the same in Los Alamos, 33 degrees F. Wikipedia says fog forms when the two are within a few degrees of each other.

The lower mists were what I often see in the morning, heat from the ground rising into the still unheated air above. But that wall was something new to me, and concentrated toward the south. I assume it was influenced by the fact cold air and heavy water vapor had moved into the area somewhere between our 6 or 7,000' and the 22,300 miles where the observing geostationary satellite was perched.

Forty-five minutes later, the sun came out. Tchicoma began emerging from the dissipating bank with clouds swirling on its sides, and whiter mists coming from the canyons between it and the badlands.

That was about 4 pm yesterday. In another forty-five minutes, the featureless gray returned and in an hour darkness fell.

Sometime after midnight we got snow, but it had stopped by the time I looked out at 6 this morning. It was still snowing in Los Alamos where it had begun about 2:30 am. The Weather Service satellite image showed cold air was still sitting high above us, but the area to the immediate west was dry.

By 7:30, the cloud bank was back, but this time it was it front of the badlands. The smell of burning wood was strong as the moisture in the air trapped particles of smoke. It was 33 degrees F here, but in Los Alamos the temperature and dew point were both 29 degrees F.

The storm was gone. The last of the clouds swirling back from east of the Sangre de Cristo were moving farther away. The sun wasn’t out, but the atmosphere was brighter. The sky was blue, and the wall had retreated from the river to the canyons.

I happened to look east as I was coming back into house at 8:50 am. Vapor was rising from the Apache plumes near the fence. I could see the nearly transparent tendrils that diffused as they rose, but the camera could only record fuzziness and distortion when they reached the relative height of the juniper in back.

It was like the steam we make when we blow into cold winds. The warmth was immediately condensing.

Wikipedia mentions plant transpiration as a possible cause of fog. It also says "exhalation of moist warm air by herds of animals" can produce ice fog.

But this seemed a little different. Whenever I’ve watched snow melt here, I’ve noticed it disappears first from things that retain heat like the dark wood retaining wall and gravel in the drive. Organic matter also shrugs it off fairly quickly by melting it from underneath. Either they too have accumulated heat or their respirations, while very slow, are not completely dormant.

All the green matter along the mountains can’t have caused those walls of white. And yet, they are called the same thing: fog.

United States. National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration. National Weather Service. Glossary. Entry for "fog," geostationary GOES satellite images, and short range radar images available by location on Weather Service website.

Wikipedia. Entry for "Fog."

Yesterday, 12 December 2015, all looking toward Jémez
1. 9:55 am.
2. 3:14 pm.
3. 4:01 pm.

Today, 13 December 2015, first two looking toward Jémez
4. 7:29 am.
5. 8:51 am.
6. 8:51 am, looking east toward the prairie.

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