Ice, Your Only Rivers Run Cold

At the end of an Austin ice storm. Couped up at home all day, working through VPN, bored to tears. Streets were slick and icy earlier, but the stiff dry wind has made all the ice disappear. Now it’s just bitter cold.

Couped up inside. I need some wind to evaporate the ice keeping me stuck. I’d like a full thaw, some warmth, some heat, those would be nice. Anything to loosen my stasis is welcome.

Walk on by, walk on through, walk to your own and don’t look back, for here I am.

Crystalline Amorphous

Had a snap cold front that made our day-long rainfall turn to sleet, then snow. Big, fluffy, slow flakes. Didn’t get any shots during the falling, but there were some accumulations of 1/4″. A respectable feat for Austin.

A thin blanket covers the Austin State Hospital cemetery.
Snow leans cool against my 2-meter antenna.

Invisible Rabbit

Thanks, everyone, for your concern for my physical well-being during this Hurricane Harvey event. I’m fine. Most of Austin is fine. Matter of fact, we’re just inconvenienced by the slow, constant rain and gusty wind. The worst my 2nd-story apartment got was a 3-minute power outage Saturday afternoon, and my UPS systems kept my computers running through the duration. Meanwhile, I was at work checking for leaks in the datacenter and putting out buckets.

Austin is fine. Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached us, so its fearsome force basically vanished.

If you would like to redirect your concern and assistance to those in real need, contact the American Red Cross and any other legitimate charitable organization of your choosing to see about lending a hand or a donation. The entire crescent of the Texas Gulf coast, around 200 miles deep, was and continues to be heavily impacted.

Coming in on RADAR

GRK in full bloom

I have a passing fascination with the machinery of this country’s infrastructure. Being the son of an Air Force mother, I had the fortune of seeing the technology that powers the defense and commerce of this country first-hand, and it gave me an understanding that this network of beacons, RADAR installations, weather stations, radio towers, VOR stations, GPS anchors, etc., is a lot bigger than any one of us, and its presence, on the Federal dime, was (and remains to be) for the benefit of everyone. It filled my young mind with a sense of civic duty, that I’m a part of this large body politic, and that in some way I had a part to play in my little area of this large landscape.

For as long as a few years, I’ve wanted to go check out the nearby NOAA/NWS RADAR station GRK located 500 yards from the shore of Granger Lake near Granger, TX. Today, having a completely open afternoon and a strong need to get out of town for at least a few hours, I plotted my route, hopped in my car, and headed up Highway 95 from Elgin, through Taylor, then Granger. The skies were mostly cloudy, air warm and humid, wind strong from the South blowing in the moist Gulf air for what may be an interesting evening of storms Monday. Seemed like a perfect time for a drive to see this station.

The installation’s tower stands approximately 5 stories tall from the ground to the lightning rod mounted on top of the dome, and is fronted by three portable box buildings holding the RADAR telemetry equipment, radios, servers, batteries, generators, and anything the NWS would need to operate and debug this instrument from remote. The entire installation is caged by three-strand barbed wire, chain-link fencing, and some of the prettiest “No Trespassing – Private Property” land on the map.

The surrounding landscape is rather flat and this installation is on the top of a very long hill, so it commands a perfectly unobstructed view of the sky in all directions. From that location, I’m sure I could’ve seen the tops of the clouds as far south as San Antonio and as far north as Waco, if not farther. I can only imagine the view from the top of the tower, and can imagine the dish inside the dome making its slow sweep across the landscape, just above the horizon, stacking invisible cones of varying slopes as it shoots out its microwave beam of slow light, observing the brightness and distance of the reflections and how much the movement of water and wind shift the color of those reflections (which is generally how Doppler RADAR works). I look out across the Granger Lake basin, and it’s a big, busy sky.

Passing miles of soybean crops, I'm coming up eastbound to GRK on FM 971.
Passing miles of soybean crops, I’m coming up eastbound to GRK on FM 971.
Coming up closer to GRK on FM 971. This installation is
Coming up closer to GRK on FM 971. This installation is actually taller than it looks.
GRK from the Southwest.
GRK from the Southwest.
GRK from the graveled parking area directly across the highway from the gate.
GRK from the graveled parking area directly south across the highway from the gate. Note the signage actually reads “GRL02”, which I’m sure is short for “GRanger Lake”.
GRK from the Southeast.
GRK from the Southeast. I believe the building on the right to be the generator and battery facility.
Close up of the GRK RADAR dome. I wonder what sort of radio-transparent material it's made of.
Close up of the GRK RADAR dome. I wonder what sort of radio-transparent material it’s made of.
The view from the hill down into the Granger Lake basin. This is all downhill from here.
The view from the hill down into the Granger Lake basin. This is all downhill from here.
From the dam at Granger Lake, you can see the GRK dome towering above the landscape in the distance.
From the dam at Granger Lake, you can see the GRK dome towering above the landscape in the distance near the center of the frame.

It’s just a little installation, nothing major, but it is a symbol and a functional part of something much larger than all of us. We benefit from the data this instrument and the federal agency that operates it provides. When you are looking for your local TV meteorologists to give you the news about how wet your shoes are about to be, this instrument is where they are getting their data. Regardless of how they trump up their weather technology advantage over their televised competition, they don’t actually have their own Doppler RADAR equipment – the National Weather Service does. Without this stream of data, your good-haired meteorologist has no job and you have no warning about the F4 tornado heading your way. For this service alone, I am willing to pay my taxes. For this alone, I am proud to be a citizen of this land.

Lightly Seasoned

I think I need to move North.

This isn’t a funny-ha-ha because I’m currently living in the hottest, driest part of a summer scorcher in central Texas, but because I miss having weather to talk about. I miss having a change of seasons. I miss being thrilled when winter thaws to bring on the swell of spring, or when summer cools to bring the awe of autumn. There are cycles in weather. There are overcast days. There are clear blue skies. There’s frozen precipitation. A cold front is a guarantee of rain. And rain can go on for days. In central Texas, not so much.

I’ve been looking at pictures of Europe, Canada, and Alaska during the summertime, and I’m floored by how lush and vibrant everything is. Flowers on the hillsides. Mountains typically covered in snow are rolling in tall green grass. Even the areas less picturesque are still in bloom. Since the winters are harsh, sometimes unforgiving, everything that grows takes the fullest advantage when it can. So the greens are greener. The woods are thicker. Nature has a narrow window to thrive, and it does it at full power. Our green season is in April, but we’re south of the latitude that stays green. Everything below that turns brown and red and becomes arid, so our green season ends in June.

It’s been 11 years since I moved to Austin, and I will confess that I love this place. It’s usually dry, so the driving is decently safe, roadwise. It’s usually sunny, so the sightseeing is abundant. It’s usually warm, so people wear less more often. It’s a great town and a good area. But that’s just it: these are constants. We have our “cold” months between December and mid-march; maybe a bit of snow once or twice every three years. Otherwise, it’s the same-old. Excepting the four-month scorching drought of summer, this area is flatlined as far as seasons go.

Austin is the Paxil of seasonal weather.

I like that I can drive on dry roads and stroll around during 40°F nights during the winter, but I want some variety. There’s a reason most of the best electronic bands come from the north; for 5 months of the year, they’re locked in and snowed under with little to do outside. There’s a rich life indoors. And when the winter thaws, oh damn do they throw some parties. The ones locked up the most have the wildest throwdowns because that’s their limited window of opportunity. They have to bring out their colors. They have to bring on their rut. They have to live it up because that’s their time to shine in the sun. Winter is constantly around the corner, so motivation is strong.

It’s always nice weather here; even when it’s shitty, it’s still relatively nice. So what’s the rush here? There’s always a nice weekend to have a barbecue or sit on the porch. Central Texans live on a different clock. But when most northern cultures are living it up, we’re either stuck inside due to overheating (and hating the boredom) or biking/kayaking/climbing because that’s what hard-core “extreme” people do (the rest of us sweat miserably and do nothing because we’re stifled).

I know I don’t do well in cold weather, but that’s a matter of training and acclimation. I don’t think I would mind learning how to handle it. If the yankees will teach me how to survive the winter, I think I could find it in my heart to teach them how to survive the summer. Deal?