Saturday, February 13, 2010

Snow, Or the Lack Thereof

A piece came through USGS FAQ's earlier, with the question "Which of the Cascade Volcanoes is most heavily glaciated? Rainier is not only the tallest of the Cascades, it is massive. So for me at least, the question of first place was a gimme. Trying to guess what second place might be, I decided on Baker, which is sort of a "standard-sized" Cascade peak. It's shear mental laziness on my part, but a surprising number of the major peaks are between 10 and 11 thousand feet in elevation. Baker is further north, and therefore might be expected to be colder, than the rest of the US peaks. And finally, I recollected this, which was mind-boggling when I read about it 11 years ago and still is:
Mt. Baker, Wash., has set a new record for the most snowfall ever measured in the United States in a single season, the U.S. Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday.

The Mt. Baker Ski Area in northwestern Washington State reported 1,140 inches of snowfall for the 1998-99 snowfall season.
Yes, you read that right... 95 freaking feet of snowfall in one winter season. I just checked, and yes, that's also a world record. Snow packs down, and in our mild climate, melt-back can happen any time during the winter even at fairly high elevations. So I doubt that at any given time the actual snow pack reached even half of that depth... though I don't know. But look around where you are, and try to find a building or tree that you estimate as roughly 45 to 50 feet high. Then imagine snow up to that level.

Oh, by the way, Baker is second for Cascade Glaciers.

Which brings me to the second half of the post I forgot to finish below: "Olympic Mess." I'm not sure if the news is being widely disseminated (though I know I've mentioned it at least a few times), but we are having an extraordinarily warm winter, and the season has also been somewhat drier than usual. Last fall it was recognized than an El Nino was developing, and that made it fairly predictable that the winter would be warmer and drier than usual for the PNW, while California would get walloped with wet storms. The implications for the Olympics, being held in the same climate (in broad strokes) as the one I inhabit, were clear. Snow would be thin, wet, and icy.

As it has turned out, it's not even that good. They're bringing snow in by helicopter and by truck from as much as 3 hours away. So consider this yet another example of the distinction between weather and climate.

Another news item that came across the innertubz was this bit on the luge course from The CSM:
More than 30,000 runs have been made on the track by the three sports that use it: bobsled, luge, and skeleton. Out of that total number of runs, some 340 sleds had turned over, a crash ratio of 1.12 percent. (No statistics were available on the number of crashes in luge specifically.)

But the crash ratio for the 2009-10 season was higher (1.93 percent), with more than three times as many turnovers compared with last season despite having fewer runs this year. Svein Romstand, secretary-general of FIL, the International Luge Federation, said that the crash ratio was comparable with other tracks.
It troubled me, watching the Olympic coverage last night, how much time was spent trying to assign and deflect blame. It was a tragic accident in a dangerous sport. I could say a lot more about this, but I'll limit myself to saying that padding the post(s) is an asinine idea that only news and sports anchors might come up with. The guy was traveling nearly ninety miles an hour with a mm or two of spandex to protect him. There is no way he cold slow down in less than tens of feet without being at risk for injury or death. The only solution I could see was raising the wall to keep human projectiles confined to the run. (There are a couple of others which have apparently been implemented: starting lower to reduce top speed, and slightly reshaping one of the turns to make it easier to navigate.)

BTW, NBC, I saw the vidclip yesterday with the note that it was stunning and sickening, and the followup that the luger had died. I was able to make the decision not to watch it. I do not find it entertaining to watch fatal injuries (injuries generally, in fact). I disapprove in the strongest terms of your decision to air it repeatedly with very little warning.

And just one more bit of trivia to wind this post up and bring it full circle: Whistler-Blackcomb are two of the northernmost volcanoes in the Cascades. Only Garibaldi is further north in the chain.

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