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September 21, 2005

Posted by Patrick at 05:54 PM *

Atrios remarks:

There are certainly a large number of people who currently have a genuine interest in finding out where and when Rita will hit, but nonetheless there’s something a bit creepy about the number of people in this country who are truly obsessed with the tracking the weather…

Guilty as charged. But wait, no, I don’t think it’s entirely “creepy.” Of course most humans have a streak of fascination with watching things come apart, and arguably there’s something prurient about that. But disasters are also interesting if you’re fascinated with how things work, and most people of reasonable intelligence have a streak of that as well. You learn a lot about the machinery of a society by watching how it copes with catastrophic stressors. As we’ve been seeing, in both bad ways and good.

Comments on Busted:
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 06:08 PM:

Hey, some of us were weather junkies long before Katrina was a name on a list of potential hurricanes.

#2 ::: Anna Feruglio Dal Dan ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 06:18 PM:

Yeah, I was tracking Ivan last year when I was living in NYC, and not because I thought it might eventually rain buckets on me (as it duly did). There's also the fact that hurricanes, like tigers, are awesome and beautiful in their symmetry and power.

I really, really refuse to feel guilty because I like watching big bad weather systems.

Anbd hey, I'm a science fiction reader. I was a kid when I started reading Edmund Hamilton. I started early on in the business of going ooooh in front of exploding galaxies.

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 06:21 PM:

I keep watching the Weather Channel in hopes that Doctor Katastrophe will break in with a live feed from his invisible airship, threatening to send another Category 5 at the U.S. coast unless Bush apologizes for hitting him during that rugby game back at Yale.

Because the alternative is that the weather is screwed up really good and we'll be dealing with this sort of thing every year for decades.

#5 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 06:45 PM:

What can I say? I like meteorology and geology (and a lot of other ologies too.) One of my quick links on my browser is the US Geological Survey webpage with their earthquake monitoring pages and seismogram displays. (Everytime I feel an earthquake, I log my quake.)

I blame it on my parents and their sky/earth watching habits. When your dad charts solar flares for you, and the entire family stops dinner cold and rushes outside at 11 minutes after seven to get that eight second flare, then you know yer in geek territory.

#6 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 06:50 PM:

We didn't do flares. But we did have an aircraft altimeter in use as a barometer (read twice a day, along with the max/min thermometer).

I remember spending part of an evening with my father watching the August meteor shower, sitting against the dark end of the house (the one away from the yard light). We stayed out for a long time, until the bugs got too nosy.

I also remember reading the 'company' newsletter, which told me possibly more than I needed to know about their work - remember Plowshare?

#7 ::: Beth Meacham ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 07:04 PM:

Well, you know I've always been a fan of actuarial television. And I've been a hurricane tracker for a long, long time. (Recall my obsessing over Andrew all those years ago...)

I refuse to feel guilty about watching the unfolding disaster.

#8 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 07:10 PM:

I've been a weather junkie for years, but I must admit I only started tracking hurricanes last year when I was scheduled to take a Hawaii cruise.

This year, I'm also scheduled for a cruise (Mexican Riviera) and the Pacific is quite, um, fascinating just now as well.

#9 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 07:16 PM:

PJ: I heart the Perseids. It's a family tradition to camp out in the desert the weekend of the Perseids.

#10 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 07:26 PM:

What Teresa said.

I'm not as bad as other fans I could mention, but, when you grew up in New England where the weather changed constantly, you got used to tracking the weather.

But weirder online habits have come out of the whole Katrina mess.

I run a bunch of Web sites. My statistics program collects what search terms people enter in search engines to find my site.

Over the last few weeks, people are finding my site by typing in "Katrina dead people photos". That's pretty dammned depressing (and of course there are no photos of people killed by Katrina at my site, but I certainly wrote about Katrina's aftermath). I wish there was a way to E-mail back the people making those kind of searches...*ggrh*

#11 ::: Atrios ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 08:02 PM:

To be clear - 1) I was referring to weather junkies generally, not just the hurricane obsessed. Big weather events just bring them to the surface. And, 2) I don't think being a weather junky is creepy, it's just the sheer number of them that I find a bit odd.

#12 ::: FranW ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 08:04 PM:

And then there are those of us who always assume the absolute worst is coming, and we feel panicked or depressed or terrified because of this. So we obsessively follow the unfolding event: anything less than the worst relieves the looming, oppressive panic/terror/depression, and the sooner we're aware of the outcome the shorter the period that we have to suffer the panic.

#13 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 08:43 PM:

Atrios--no offense taken, it's actually a question worth bringing up.

#14 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 09:13 PM:

A certain number of hardcore weather board posters act as if they believe that if they predict a massive weather event, and it happens, it's as much power as if they'd caused it. Part of our trouble is that Atrios didn't get too specific about what he'd been reading, but some of these people really, really love weather, and love themselves predicting it just as much. (And during the winter, some people really want to see three feet of snow, just because. No, they don't want to ski or anything. They just want a blizzard to fall on them.)

A prime example right now is The Eastern US Weather Forum, at least for my coast and recent hurricane activity.

#15 ::: jonquil ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 09:20 PM:

> (And during the winter, some people really want to see three feet of snow, just because. No, they don't want to ski or anything. They just want a blizzard to fall on them.)

When I used to live in New England, the first day of a blizzard, the first one of the season, made me very happy. Snow day! Whee! Snow ice cream! Family bonding!

The second day was oh, God, I am going to kill either myself or the kids.

The third day... let's not go there.

#16 ::: DonBoy ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 09:26 PM:

Ack! The weather board link I just posted has gone registered-members only. If I'd realized that I wouldn't have bothered.

#17 ::: Charles Kuffner ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 09:29 PM:

Please do keep watching Hurricane Rita. We're bugging out tomorrow morning, and the more people who care about what happens here, the better as far as I'm concerned. Thanks.

#18 ::: Leigh Butler ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 09:30 PM:

I shrug that it's the same thing that gathers crowds at murder scenes and puts butts in seats for disaster movies. Why the first 300 pages of the The Stand were impossible to put down and why there are six zillion homicide police procedural shows on the air right now.

Humans are cursed with the knowledge of our own mortality. A morbid fascination with the agents of our inevitable demise comes with the territory. The more large-scale the agent, the more mesmerizing it becomes.

Fire pretty, and all that.

#19 ::: History_geek ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 09:43 PM:

I swear to fucking god if on more weather person or person that watched the weather tells me Huston is going to be washed away I'm going to kill something or someone.

You know, it's great to be aware and pay attenion but really chill the hell out.

#20 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 09:43 PM:

It's my understanding that the weather obsession in Americans is either deep or non-existant. Whereas the weather obsession in Japanese is deep. A lack taken an indication of foreign influence.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating, but the Japanese really do seem to love talking about the weather. Not just as a ha-ha ice-breaker... they really seem to enjoy it. (ymmv, I'm an American and am not even conversant in Japanese, translators add bias, and actors sometimes mistake things, etc).

#21 ::: Caro ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 10:41 PM:

And some of us have too many friends and relations in the area and can't help watching because we're scared what's going to happen and we're too far away to do anything.

#22 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 11:01 PM:

I love reading the Weather Service commentary. They seem to become fond of these storms, saying things like "the eyewall is developing nicely."

The night before last, Southern California was treated to a twelve-hour-long electrical storm. (Lightning is a rarity along the coast.) Lots of palm trees were struck, and we had a brief power outage.

One of the reasons people are fascinated by the weather is that sometimes it's truly dramatic.

#23 ::: Chris Borthwick ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 11:11 PM:

You Americans aren't nearly jumpy enough. Has anybody actually sat down and done the calculations as to how many category five hurricanes a year, every year, will make the entire gulf coast uninhabitable, for good? As in 'Everybody pack up and move 25 miles inland?" You're still acting as if these aren't normal weather. If we've reached the tipping point, we're in J.G. Ballard country.

#24 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 11:26 PM:


Yes, this bunch here has definitely been contemplating what changes if this is the new "normal". However, we (the US) need to survive this year first.

I'm rethinking my life too. Hawaii is well off the normal Pacific hurricane track, but if it turns out that the Pacific is also going to be getting 5 times the number of hurricanes at twice the average force each year, then we're going to get pounded pretty hard and more often than the 10 years we've been going between hits. New Orleans was at least near other places; I don't know what a good direct hit on Honolulu airport and harbor might do to the feasibility of bringing aid to a million people, two thousand miles from anywhere. I love Hawaii; I felt blissfully at home here from the month I first arrived - but I'm wondering at what point it might be time to move, and to where.

#25 ::: Lizzy Lynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 11:49 PM:

Ballard country. Yes. It is beginning to feel that way. Rita on top of Katrina is just spooky.

#26 ::: Pat Greene ::: (view all by) ::: September 21, 2005, 11:53 PM:

When I was a girl *cue creaking voice* growing up in Florida we had hurricane weather charts printed on the back of the (paper) bags the groceries came in and we would watch the news every night to see of there was a storm some where.

Old habits die hard.

#27 ::: hrc ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 12:36 AM:

An attorney I know in Orlando follows hurricanes as a matter of self protection. He seems to know quite a bit about them and Rita has him very worried. Here's what he wrote earlier this evening:

The TPC has pushed its 11pm EDT track closer to Galveston. It is still at least 40 hours from landfall so the track could change. It would hardly matter much. This is a humongous storm.

Central pressure is down to 897 mb. Unbelieveable. 175 mph sustained winds, gusting to 185. Thank God it cannot maintain this kind of intensity as it makes landfall, but 150 to 160 would be catastrophic.

Right now it is the 3rd most powerful hurricane on record and it is not done intensifying. Yesterday it was a Cat 2.

#28 ::: Jayme Lynn Blaschke ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 12:37 AM:

Heck, when you're in the crosshairs of a monster like Rita, you can't help but pay attention. Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio is bumper-to-bumper gridlock. It's not pretty, and is only going to get worse in the coming days.

#29 ::: Suzanne Moses ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 01:23 AM:

H.D. left her girlfriend and child safe in Egypt and went back to London as the bombs fell during WWII. After each attack she would walk the streets that were hit and talk to people. She wrote a beautiful poem trilogy called "The Walls do Not Fall" about it--partly comparing the bombings to the opening of the Egyptian pyramids. She saw both as tragedies that revealed hidden treasure-- one in gold and knowledge and the other in strength and solidarity. (as I remember it, I should go back and re-read.)

I'd like to think that is part of the reason people watch disasters. All of us are instinctually drawn to those moments of breaking and re-forging-- and we desperately need to see what comes out of the pyramids.

#30 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 02:39 AM:

I lived on the southern part of the Great Plains until I was in my 30s. Weird Weather R Us. I'm so attuned to the weather I insisted those were tornado clouds over the Bay Area in the face of much evidence that the BA doesn't have tornados. I was right -- there was a tornado in the North Bay that day. And I guess fairly early on I caught the habit from my parents and grandparents of listening to the news, weather, and then turning the tv off. (Except during football season.) I've lived through hurricanes, tornados, record setting heat waves, record setting blizzards, record setting rain, and ghu knows what else. And that's just while traveling. Don't travel with us -- bad idea. Keeping track of the weather is a survival mechanism.


#31 ::: Arachnae ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 02:42 AM:

I've never been a weather junkie per se, but lookit: Katrina has displaced upwards of a million Americans, and effected the lives of untold millions more, taking into account volunteers, relatives of displaced, the people in towns taking in the displaced, etc. Its effects on the economy are yet to be guestimated, and true costs probably won't be known for years.

Now we have another cat-5 hurricane bearing down on the part of the gulfcoast that Katrina missed. A double-whammy? how many more lives are going to be thrown into turmoil? What's going to happen to the gulf's oil-bearing capacity? Are we looking at the kickoff to a global depression?

This isn't a two-day story. If Rita does a Katrina on Texas... well, the possibilities are scary as shit. If the media wasn't obsessing over this, they'd be guilty of dereliction of duty. Just because they've been guilty for the past almost four years doesn't mean we ought to want them to ignore the important stories.

#32 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 03:16 AM:

Clifton, were you here for Iwa and Iniki? I was, and believe me, we've thought about it. Especially when the Advertiser (morning paper) runs a series this week which tells us that we're woefully short of adequate shelters.

#33 ::: Lois Aleta Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 03:27 AM:

I've always been fascinated by weather maps.

Besides, I have, or have had, tons* of relatives around the Gulf, from my grandparents in Florida (since deceased) to my sister in Biloxi** (now back home in Pittsburgh where she belongs) to my aunts, uncles, cousins, brother, sister-in-law (originally from Corpus Christi), nieces, nephews, etc. in the Houston area...

A few years ago my aunt and uncle, the only aunt and uncle I have left, got flooded out of their house after a storm, and moved inland far enough that they should be fine. My brother and his family have recently moved to Arizona, so I know they're OK, and some of the cousins are also inland. But several of my cousins and their families are still in the Houston-Galveston area.

*Literally. It's a big family, and there are some big people in it.

** Her husband was stationed there, in the Air Force. My nephew was born there. This was in 1973, four years after Camille, and my sister was amazed at the devastation still visible then. At the time, my brother and his family were living in Louisiana. The two couples got together for a weekend in New Orleans, where my brother and sister-in-law had spent their honeymoon.

#34 ::: amysue ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 07:22 AM:

In the winter I tend to check incessantly to see if snow is coming and the possibility of a snow day. Partly because working for a school it's relevent (snow day=paid day off!) and partly because the kids and I have made it into a ritual (I do agree that any snow days beyond 2 lose their charm fast). The rest of the year though I pay no attention to local weather and am often caught unawares by thunder storms, rain, heat waves and the like. It's kind of refreshing.

As for tracking weather like Katrina and now Rita. It's weird because it's sort of like watching a slow train wreck-you really don't want the crash to happen, but you watch in any case. The kids and I also track weather and other phenemenom in there birth countries (Cambodia and China), my son worries about the other children still on the streets or in orphanages when there is extensive flooding as often happens in Cambodia.

It's all strange though because while I don't think it's a bad thing per se, I feel like we 've taken some of the spontaneity out of the weather process. Then again, we can also save lives and property with advanced warning and proper preparation (in theory).

#35 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 07:39 AM:

I'm with everyone else on the vicarious fascination of watching disasters in far-off lands. (It is, of course, a hell of a lot less fun when it's on your doorstep.) The hurricanes afflicting the USA this fall are also massively over-documented compared to most other natural disasters, world-wide: there are more newspapers, more cameras, more talking heads on TV per capita, than just about any other country. So the tendency to morbidly chew over the news, channel-hopping and bouncing on the browser reload button, is hard to resist. News is, after all, contrived to be as addictive as possible.

(My covert reason for watching the storms is because if you're writing a disaster novel in which cities are nuked, the aftermath is a surprisingly close match: you could probably contrive a fictional plot with end-results similar to the wreckage caused by Katrina if you set off a smallish A-bomb in a boat on Lake Pontchartrain, a quarter of a kilometer out from the levee, for example: the levee protects the city from most of the prompt radiation but the air blast and mach wave cause extensive wind damage and take out the levee ... I'm not planning a disaster novel with that particular scenario, but it's close enough to where I'm going next month that I'm paying attention.)

Sorry. I shouldn't be going into novelist-geek mode at this point: it's tasteless and unsympathetic. But there's this observer in my head that won't switch off ... and if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say a lot of the folks out there, glued to the TV sets, are similarly superimposing the real horrors over the disaster movie scenarios of their imagination.

If it turns out that this is the weather pattern of the near future, is the disaster genre going to take a nose-dive in popularity?

#36 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 09:37 AM:

No need to apologize, Charlie. It's minds like yours that prepare us, psychologically, for this kind of hardship.

The latest track predictions show this monster headed pretty much right at Galveston Bay, now. This is looking more and more like the worst case scenario.

My sister and her family (whose house in Houston has already flooded twice in the past decade) grabbed my Mom (whose house Northeast of Houston has never flooded, but isn't taking any chances) and headed up 59 to go to my Brother-in-Law's grandmother's house in East Texas. I haven't heard about 59 being as bad off as 10 and 45; it's not got a significant city along its path until you get to Texarkana, whereas the reports I heard this morning gave an estimated travel time from Houston to Dallas (on 45) of about 24 hours. For those of you playing along, that's about 200 miles at less than 10 average MPH. I know cyclists who could make that trip in much less time...

#37 ::: Cherie Priest ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 10:31 AM:

When I was a kid in Florida, my teachers used to go down to grocery stores every time there was a hurricane in the Gulf. There, they would stock up on brown paper bags and pass them out in the classroom.

Some stores would print up "weather maps" on the back of the bags; and every night on the news, the weatherperson would give you the coordinates of the hurricane's position. I could get extra credit in "Earth Science" if I charted the hurricane to landfall.

I could never decide if this was terrifically morbid, or an excellent way to make us feel like we had some sort of grasp/control/better understanding of the situation.

#38 ::: Libby ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 11:37 AM:

I'd rather that the rest of the country/world were watching what's going on down here in Houston and Galveston than be oblivious.

I work remotely from Houston for a company in Boston and with folks all over the country -- the people who are keeping a close eye on this storm are not the majority.

Of course, moderation in all things, and obsession is less useful, but having people in the rest of the country prepared for, aware of, and ready to help with what the folks in the south of Texas are going to need is better than not.

#39 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 11:47 AM:

Charlie: The observer is a necessary part of writing. But lest you feel too guilty, i am the one working on a novel where a hurricane touching down is about to be a major plot point.

(If anyone bothers following the link, you may have to skim past Firefly mumblings. My posts are not likely to ever be known for staying on topic).

#40 ::: Diana Rowland ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 11:50 AM:

Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio is bumper-to-bumper gridlock.

The monday-morning quarterbackers sneer and point fingers at southeast Louisiana while they screech about how unfair it was that people without cars were unable to evacuate and rail that there should have been a better plan in place. No argument there. Yes, there should have been an option for those without cars, but what a lot of people don't realize is that for the million or so with cars, the evacuation was smooth and relatively free of gridlock thanks to the contraflow system. That's one thing that Louisiana got right. Without the contraflow system (which utilizes built-in crossovers and switches traffic flow on both sides of the interstate to outgoing) then only a fraction of those evacauting by vehicle would have made it, and a large number of those stuck in traffic would have given up and turned around and gone back home to ride out the storm. That's what happened during Ivan--the last storm that could have wiped out New Orleans-- but it turned at the last minute and hit Florida instead. It took people 12 hours to go 30 miles and many gave up and went back home, not wanting to ride out a hurricane in their car on the interstate. Without contraflow, had there been buses, they still would have been stuck in traffic.

#41 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 11:55 AM:

We used to do the same thing in Houston, Cherie. I'd totally forgotten about the grocery bags thing until you mentioned it.

I just saw one estimate putting 15-30 inches of rain in the DFW area from this. Mind you, we've had only one decent rainshower in the past several weeks, and this week has been a freak with 100 degree (F) days...that's a recipe for flash floods on a massive scale, folks. I hate to say it, but the material devestation from this has the potential to dwarf Katrina...

#42 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 12:00 PM:

Not specifically about weather, but related:

I work for a newspaper. Sometimes it's the late-breaking news that keeps us working overtime.

The Brookline clinic shooting had some people doing an all-nighter at work, because the paper was just about to ship out and then we got the news and had to re-plan the whole thing.

There was a time that a mayor of a town looked like he might be about to die, and we prepared two alternate editions of the paper, one for if he died before press time, and one for if he didn't.

So one kind of fascination with bad news is because it keeps people working.

#43 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 12:38 PM:

Linkmeister: As it happened, I was out of the country (down in Tonga) when Iwa hit. I was here for Iniki, though. I well remember battening things down in the last 8 hours as the sky grew weird, before she suddenly did that right angle turn and hit Kauai. (Wondering how much good putting tape across our lanai windows was going to do...) I'm now trying to figure out now whether our wood-frame house would hold up to a hurricane hit, what reinforcement may have been done on it (if any) and what could be done to improve it in the coming year without ripping the whole thing apart and rebuilding.

I've been reading the papers on Hawaii emergency prep and lack thereof, yeah. Did you notice the Lee Cataluna column where she pointed out that the new luxury condos, rec center, etc. that the city just approved for construction in Kewalo are entirely within the tsunami inundation zone? That's a classic case for the "Why would anybody live there?!" thread.

#44 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 01:14 PM:

What were the Biblical disasters to Egypt against Pharoah's hard heart? And have there been any people invoking that metaphor?


I was at Hemlock Gorge in Newton last week. There is a small locked building with a mutilated USGS sign on it (most of the mutilation looks the the effect of weathering) and a rusting out water height meter, for measuring water depth there. the phone number of the USGS might be one that's years out of date, it's a 508 number.

#45 ::: m ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 01:22 PM:

acch its a condition of being British that you have to be obsessed with the weather. Advanced cases lie in bed at 1/4 to 1 at night listening to the shipping forecast... mallin... rockall,

#46 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 01:52 PM:

Clifton, I didn't see Cataluna's column, but I didn't need to. When A&B Properties announced the contract my first thought was "er, have you folks looked at the televison pix of N.O., and really thought about that location?"

#47 ::: veejane ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 01:53 PM:

So, here seems to be the right place to ask a question that has niggled at the back of my head for years:

If clocks (i.e. with faces, counting 12 hours) were invented in the northern hemisphere, where storms tend to spin from right-to-left (i.e., counter-clockwise), why do clocks go from left-to-right (i.e. clockwise)? Whose silly plan was that??

Also, why righty-tighty lefty-loosey, that is, counter-clock as the loosening action?

And what would a clockface invented in the southern hemisphere have looked like?

#48 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 02:05 PM:

I always assumed that clockwise was also sundial-wise. I mentally modelled this [northern hemisphere] and it worked; however, I make a lot of mistakes.

#49 ::: diddy ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 02:43 PM:

amysue: In the winter I tend to check incessantly to see if snow is coming and the possibility of a snow day.

Yes, the mark of a true weather junkie is the frequency with which one updates one's own knowledge of the snow depth forecast. I will be sorely disappointed if the same people who claim surprise at the prevalence of "weather weenies" this summer also claim surprise at the prevalence of same this winter.

This post of course comes to you from the only place I've ever been where tornado tracking knocks Must See TV right off the screen and which guarantees a 9-inch snowstorm on the weekend of the state boys basketball tournament (3rd weekend of March).

#50 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 02:45 PM:

My grandmother and aunt decline to evacuate. (They are, however, outside the range of a storm surge, for what that's worth.)

#51 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 06:15 PM:

I always assumed that clockwise was also sundial-wise. I mentally modelled this [northern hemisphere] and it worked; however, I make a lot of mistakes.

Well, yes, and not by coincidence. The shadow moves in the same rotational direction as the Sun, which north of the Tropic of Cancer is always from southish east, across the southern half of the sky, to southish west, a direction we Wiccans call deosil.

South of the Tropic of Capricorn, the Sun rises in the northish east, goes across the northern half of the sky, and sets in the northish west. This is a direction that we northern Wiccans would call widdershins, but since 'deosil' literally means sunwise, presumably that's deosil in Australia...but I think Australian Wiccans actually keep the Northern Hemisphere rotations, just as Water is West even to Wiccans on the East Coast of the United States, like me.

Anyway, because the shadow moves in the same rotation as the sun, this gave rise to 'clockwise' being the direction it is...a sundial south of Capricorn would presumably have the numbers in counterclockwise order.

I've never heard of sundials being used between the tropics, but if I were building one I'd make sure there were numbers on both sides: in order clockwise from west to east along the northern edge of the circle, and another set in order counterclockwise from west to east along the southern edge.

Make your brain hurt? Yeah, me too.

#52 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 06:53 PM:

Sundials in the tropics are hard to use. As a kid, I tried building one but here in Honolulu the sun goes directly overhead sometimes, and the shadow completely disappears. Doesn't matter how long you make that gnomon, you can't mark the numbers properly.

#53 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 06:57 PM:

Sundials in the tropics are hard to use. As a kid I tried building one, but here in Honolulu the sun goes directly overhead sometimes and the shadow completely disappears. It doesn't matter how long you make that gnomon, you can't mark the numbers properly.

#54 ::: Aquila ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 07:25 PM:

Does that explain the tropical siesta - it's time that's not on the clock?

#55 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2005, 09:30 PM:

Xopher, I thought "widdershins" meant "anti-sunwise" in the sense of "turning west to east." Why would having the sun northish instead of southish make such a difference? (Please answer in very simple words, as I am what you might call non compos mentis, aka freaking right the hell out at the moment.)

#56 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2005, 12:22 AM:

Darn! I will now have to re-organise a few walks & shopping trips to take me past some local Sydney sundials to check this out.

Aquila: Remember the 'time out' in Marstime that Kim Stanley Robinson (I couldn't call him Stan) put into the Mars trilogy? I always found that the least believable bit, because I don't think the bizziness types would allow it to stand, but suspended judgment for the sake of the story, which I admire greatly. [Tho' one suspects there are more immediately physical & climatic reasons for siesta, which is even found in animals.]

#57 ::: Mina W ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2005, 01:30 AM:

the Japanese really do seem to love talking about the weather

Japan gets its summer weather from Southeast Asia, hot with 100% humidity. It gets its winter weather from Siberia. The best weather is in the fall, but of course that's typhoon season. Then there are the earthquakes, and tsunamis, and the volcanos that grow up in peoples' back yards......I'd say that keeping an eye on the weather as a cultural norm makes a whole lot of sense.

The year we were there there was a noticeable earthquake not too far away. Us kids just thought it was interesting, and our folks were both from California, no big deal. But we learned from a Japanese friend that her family had slept in their clothes, with backpacks packed, in case there was another. Looking back, I think maybe she was too polite to express how shocked she was that we hadn't.

#58 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2005, 03:06 AM:

Eric is talking about the phenomenon known out here as Lahaina Noon.

"In the tropics, there are two days each year when the sun is exactly overhead at local noon. This event only happens in the tropics; the sun is never overhead in the temperate or arctic zones of the world.

"Since there was not a convenient single term for "that day when the sun is exactly overhead at local noon," the Bishop Museum planetarium sponsored a contest ten years ago to select a name for this event. "Lahaina Noon" was the winner. "Lahaina" means "cruel sun"in Hawaiian. One does not need to be in the town of Lahaina, Maui, to see this event. anywhere in the tropics will do.

"Lahaina noon occurs only once on the tropic of Cancer, 23.5 degrees north of the equator, on the first day of summer. It occurs only once on the tropic of Capricorn, 23.5 degrees south of the equator, on the first day of winter. For all other locations in the tropics, this event occurs twice a year.

"The closer a given latitude is to the tropic of Cancer, the closer the Lahaina noon dates will be to June 21."

You have to be paying attention to notice it.

#59 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2005, 10:50 AM:

"Heartless" fascination with other people's weather might be called a kind of schadenfreude -- don't know where the umlauts, if any, would go here. (That's the only German word this non-German-speaker really keeps in mind as useful, while I cringe from all those clunky compounds.)

In this case, I don't think the phenomenon is really heartless, though. Globalization gives us connections everywhere.

#60 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2005, 02:05 PM:

Sorry for that double-post yesterday. Thanks for the Lahaina Noon link, Link.

Not only does Lahaina Noon make shadows in Honolulu disappear on 5/27 and 7/16 (or so), but during the days in between, the shadow of an upright gnomon actually points south because the sun is traveling north of the zenith. So where on the sundial do you draw your numbers? You need two sets, one on each side of the sundial, depending on the season. And close to those Lahaina Noon dates, the noontime shadow is so short that it's very difficult to tell time by it in any case.

#61 ::: John Lansford ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2005, 10:05 PM:

I was always interested in the weather. When thunderstorms came over when I was a boy, I'd go out and stand on the covered front porch and watch the lightning stalk across the fields.

Now, living in a state (NC) and have experienced first hand three hurricanes (Fran, Floyd and Hugo), a 24" snowfall, a 7" sleet storm, a tornado (heard that one in the middle of the night, thought it was a train, then realized I'd never heard a train from my bedroom), ice storms, and near misses from hurricanes nearly every year, it pays to know what's going on weather-wise. Throw in my dad spends a lot of time in the panhandle of Florida fishing out of Panacea (yes that is the town's name), a brother in Dallas and friends living in Southern Florida, and hurricane paths are of great interest to me.

#62 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2005, 12:41 AM:

Texanne -- anywhere outside the tropics (see above), the sun \always/ moves from one hand to the other, not just over the top and down the other side. This is less apparent in Texas in the summer because the tropics are close, but it should be easy to see in the winter; if you find a fixed position for your head and mark where on the window the sun appears to be at intervals, you'll see it moving mostly at a slant -- up and right in the morning, level and right at noon, down and right in the afternoon. (Or track the motion of a shadow, which will swivel as it shrinks and lengthens.)

This motion is an artifact of being in the northern hemisphere; you can see an extreme version if you go to Alaska. (Xopher can discuss whether the paganism that defines deosil/widdershins comes from far enough north that the sun always seems to move more sideways than vertically.) In fact, if you go far enough north in the high summer that you have 24 hours without sunset, you'll see the sun go move rightward all the way around you.

If you go south past the Tropic of Capricorn, you can see the same motion -- but since the sun is now north of you, it will move leftward as it goes from east to west. To visualize, hold a compass with north facing away from you; notice that your finger moves to your left if you run it along the rim from east through north to west.

It would be interesting to find out how much attention there is to sun direction in aboriginal cultures in the southern hemisphere, given that most of it is inside or close to the Tropic of Capricorn. (There's a reason sailors spoke of the Roaring Forties; the rocky end of South America is the only thing that stops wind from going straight around the world at sea level at those latitudes.) It should be possible to look at art or artifacts for handedness or directionality; it would be really interesting to know whether native Australians or southern Africans tended to be right-handed as much as people in our cultures, but current samples are probably too affected by northern domination to be reliable.

#63 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2005, 07:14 AM:

Paula Lieberman was asking about the Ten Plagues in Egypt. Let's see if I can remember them all:

Slaying of the First-Born

That's probably not quite the right order, but is probably close. (For a long time whenever I tried to remember this list, I'd always come up one short. Turned out I was forgetting locusts, which is weird, since "plague of locusts" is practically a proverbial phrase.)

#64 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2005, 08:52 AM:

We had the murrain. Well, in Britain, in 2001. Foot and mouth is a murrain.

#65 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2005, 09:54 AM:

Would Halliburton count as locusts?

#66 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2005, 03:33 AM:

Unfortunately it occurred neither to me nor to anyone else to set up a sundial at Thule.

I have seen the midnight sun
In my face from the opened bar door,
At one AM it's in the sky,
And as it shone in my eyes so sore.

The booze and the snacking from afternon
Past midnight to when the bar closed,
The imminent headache from alcohol,
That feeling of being half-hosed,

The sun in blue sky in the north shining bright,
The horrible feeling it brought,
The knowledge I had to be up and about,
In a few hours, perish the thought,

The sight of the sun hanging north in the sky
In summer when it did not set,
Long years since I was there remembering still,
The midnight sun shines up there yet.

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