A Science for Everyone, Wildlife

No Climax Species When Climate Changes

Half a century ago, I was exposed to the concept of a climax species – and I really liked the idea that there would be a single identifiable species of tree (or grass) that would indicate all I need to know about the climate, the environment.

I thought of the dominance of ponderosa pine and bluebunch wheatgrass on the Tobacco Plains, versus the dominant Douglas Fir/Western Larch around Trego – and the 4-inch difference between the annual precipitation that shows up with 400’ difference in elevation and a quarter degree of latitude. 

Somewhere over that half-century, I gradually came to realize that climate, like weather, changes.  A glance at the drumlins north of Eureka provides evidence of the retreating glaciers.  The old shorelines of glacial lake Missoula show that things have changed.  In southern Colorado, the same annual precipitation that supports Douglas Fir forest in Trego supports pinon pine and rubber rabbitbrush.  Entrepreneur.com explains that George Church, Ph.D.  is working on genetically recovering the Wooly Mammoth – 

The reason is this: One of the greatest threats to the earth is the melting of the arctic permafrost and its massive release of the greenhouse gasses that are stored safely in its freeze. When the herds of woolly mammoth and other animals vanished, that area became covered with a forest that keeps the earth warmer. Church is betting on the idea that a resurrected population of the mammoths, if let loose in the arctic, would chomp and stomp down the bush and trees, exposing the earth to subzero temperatures and allowing the tundra’s original grasslands to grow back. That ecosystem, maintained by the large creatures, would then effectively sequester carbon, rather than allowing it back into the atmosphere.”

Author: Liz Brody, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/384478

Dr. Church has partnered with Texan Ben Lamm to fund this project – Lamm says it will take six to eight years to get the baby mammoths on the ground.  I had mammoth bones and teeth at the TSJC museum, along with bison antiquus from Folsom – so I have a decent idea how big the critters are.  Church is from Harvard – Boston – close to sea level.  Lamm is from Texas – a state that doesn’t have a lot of experience with continental glaciation.

I suspect your view of climate change is related to your location.  I live at 3,000 feet elevation.  A rising sea level isn’t much of a concern.  At just shy of the 49th parallel, a bit of global warming doesn’t threaten me as much as it does Texas, or Boston harbor.

Still, I’m not certain this is all that good an idea.  I don’t particularly want the glaciers back . . . and bears in the apple trees are enough of a nuisance.  I don’t know what it would take to fence out a wooly mammoth.

Community, Meteorology

Blessed Rain

It isn’t perfect, but it is improving.  My alfalfa seedlings are recovering from the long dry spell – on the other hand the deer are discovering them and trying to graze them down.  NOAA shows this map for soil moisture:

This next map shows precipitation during August – again, it isn’t perfect, but coming out of a drought it shows us on the fringe of recovery – far ahead of southeast Washington down through most of Oregon and California.

It may be too early to say that we dodged the bullet for another month or so – but at least the recent precipitation has moved us to a place where we can dodge. At least the long-term predictions are pretty much back to normal probabilities of precipitation:

Community, Meteorology

Lightning Strikes and Power Outages

Can lightning cause power outages?

As it turns out, lightning doesn’t even have to strike a power pole or knock over a tree to cause a power outage. The build up of charge nearby can actually cause power surges -no contact necessary.

Additionally, lightning gives off electromagnetic radiation. The phenomenon itself is called “sferic“, and it means you might notice static on the AM radio frequencies around the time of a strike.

That said, outages are more likely to be due to tree branches hitting power-lines than an actual lightening strike; Power-lines are often in the position of being the most attractive thing around for a lightening strike, and that is considered in their design.

What brought all this to mind?

It was a dark and stormy night. Well, it was a bit after midnight on what had just become Saturday morning. Heavy Rain. A flash. A house-shaking kaboom. The power suddenly out. It seems to have been the start of an outage on the section of power-line that goes up along Griffin Road. Lincoln Electric had everything back up and running later on Saturday.

Speaking of outages, though- there’s a planned one this week (11 PM Wednesday ’til 5AM Thursday) for everyone served by Lincoln Electric. Another overnight maintenance outage, courtesy of Bonneville Power Administration, since they need to replace structures damaged by gunshots (They’d love to have more information about that- call the BPA Hotline if you have any).

Community, Demography

4% Growth for County 57

The 2020 Census numbers have been released, and we’re looking at data we can begin to use.  I’m hoping to get the data at a school district level later on – but for now, we have county level data, CCD level data, and Census tract level data.

First – Lincoln County’s population dropped by a tenth of a percent.  Second, the population in the Libby CCD dropped by 1.2% (now 9,772), population in the Troy CCD dropped by 3.9% now 3,435), and population in the Eureka CCD increased by 4.0% (now 6,470).   North County is now officially 89 residents less than a third of the county’s population.  3,435 of the people represented by the Troy Commissioner reside in the Troy CCD, while 3,124 reside in the Libby CCD.  This is a trend worth watching.

Housing data is available at the county level – and it may give us some insight on rentals in the area.  Housing units in Lincoln County decreased by 4.0% – occupied housing units increased by 0.5%, and unoccupied housing units decreased by 19.6%. 

In County 57 – the Eureka CCD – housing unit numbers are:

 2020 #2020 %2010 #2010 %Change
Total Housing Units3,716 3,771 -1.5%

All these statistics are in comparison with the 2010 Census. 

It’s going to be fun as future releases will show even more usable data.

Community, Meteorology

What Last Week’s Rains Did for Us

These maps, taken from NOAA’s website show what the early August rains did to change the moisture stored in our soil.  For us, the rains lifted the pond by almost an inch and a half.  They didn’t add enough soil moisture to fill the cracks in the vertisols, or create any puddles – but we have hopes that the slight increase in soil moisture will help at least some of the little alfalfa plants survive. At any rate, the NOAA website demonstrates how much more information on weather is available now compared to a half-century ago.  The difference between July 31 and August 9 is impressive – though we will probably check again next week to see how the soil is doing.

A Science for Everyone, Community

Inflation Since 1914

Looking at our nation’s deficit spending, I got thinking back to the Carter years, the high inflation and the high interest.  Then I decided to grab a table or a chart to see how things looked from a historical perspective.  This chart give inflation figures from 1914:

Found at macrotrends.net

It turns out that our highest inflation was under Woodrow Wilson.  20.44% in 1918 – 18.1% in 1917, and 12.62% in 1916.  Back then we were on the gold standard – yet the price of gold remained at $20.67 from 1910 through the twenties.  During the worst years of the great depression, inflation (deflation?) was about -10%. 

Carter’s highest year – 1979 – saw 13.29% inflation . . . and to be fair, Carter inherited a good portion of his challenges from Nixon – whose highest (and final) year was 1974 at 12.34% inflation.  Trump’s last year, 2020, had only 1.34% inflation.  Biden’s at 4.31% on this chart, and we’re not through 2021 yet.  Still, it will be a challenge to top Woodrow Wilson.

Above the chart is this statement “Interactive chart showing the annual rate of inflation in the United States as measured by the Consumer Price Index back to 1914. The current rate of U.S. CPI inflation as of August 2021 is 271.70.”  As I write this, the net tells me that I can buy gold for as low as $1827 per ounce.  Dividing that by $20.67 shows that the price of gold has only increased by a factor of 88.39. 

C.P. Snow described the second law of thermodynamics as “You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t quit the game.”  Who says physics can’t be applied to government?

Community, Meteorology

Thinking About Smoke

As I went for the allergy meds this morning, I thought of Wylie Osler.  For those who never had the opportunity to know Wylie, I can only wish that I had a record of all his stories – Wylie saw the humor in most everything he encountered. 

Wylie had asthma – and his story about smoke was that he was the only person in Montana who had a prescription, written by Dr. Schroeder, to leave his home on Dickey Lake and spend the weekend in an airconditioned motel in Spokane.  I misremember if the story grew out of a disagreement on tax preparation or what – but it was a time when air conditioning was not common in the valley.  Our normal way to keep a house cool was opening windows at night.  While the technique let us escape the heat, it didn’t allow us to escape the smoke.

My own asthma was never as severe as Wylie’s – at the worst, all I’ve had to do is sit down and concentrate on breathing calmly to keep it under control.  As a youngster, I had a benzedrine inhaler.  It was a wonderful thing – sniff through it and nasal congestion disappeared.  Up until I turned 10.  My otc inhaler that gave me normal breathing was banned by the FDA in 1959 – but I was a kid, and didn’t notice the ban until it quit working a couple years later.  It seems the FDA was protecting me because some folks were taking the inhalers apart, soaking the strip of benzedrine treated paper, and squeezing the amphetamine out.  It’s kind of the first time I learned that government intervention may be in someone’s best interest, but not mine.  From my early teen years until my early thirties my susceptibility to allergens of all sorts increased – that, and a shoulder injury brought me a 1-Y draft classification . . . I think it translates to “the nation will be really desperate before we need this guy.”  In my thirties, the new wonder was a steroid shot for asthma – it was great, but I needed too many.  My physicians stopped that, and called for desensitization shots.  Somehow, I still think of that 39 cent inhaler that brought me such easy breathing . . . and the politicians who took it away.  It was such an easy and affordable solution.

My experience with relatively mild asthma gives a little perspective into the challenges that led to Wylie’s prescription for a weekend in an airconditioned motel away from the valley – and I suspect we have neighbors today who have even less physical ability to cope with the smoke.


Our Predicted Weather

These maps show our weather predictions for November-December-January (taken from NOAA website).  It looks like above average precipitation for us, and normal temperatures.  Personally, I think that means “put the plow on the front of the tractor and the snowblower on the back.”  To some it may mean “Fill the woodshed.”  Next year’s predictions for each 3 months are available here.  

Predicted Precipitation for November 2021-January 2022
Predicted Temperature for November 2021-January 2022

A Science for Everyone, Community

Other Vaccine Effectiveness

I got the Covid vaccine as soon as I could.  I think I might have been vaccinated earlier but for the manner in which the local government picked folks to vaccinate – I wasn’t sitting by the phone when the call came in, and that healthy, outdoors behavior put me a couple weeks later than I wanted.

I’m one of the people who was in line for the polio vaccine – and it wasn’t far out of the experimental stage.  A classmate who is with you in kindergarten one day, then gone, and the dread word polio makes for a willingness to step up for vaccination.  As a kid, I didn’t know that the Salk vaccine was only 65% effective against one strain, and about 90% effective against the others.  Multiplication and division were still challenges back then – but I got the vaccine.

I don’t need a perfect vaccine – the vaccine is to improve my odds.  I get flu vaccinations, and the table from CDC https://www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/past-seasons-estimates.html shows how that works.   The important part is “Adjusted Overall VE (%)

Table. Adjusted vaccine effectiveness estimates for influenza seasons from 2004-2018

CDC calculates vaccine effectiveness estimates through the U.S. VE Network

Influenza SeasonReferenceStudy Site(s)No. of PatientsAdjusted Overall VE (%)95% CI
2018-19Flannery 2020 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA3,2542921, 35
2017-18Rolfes 2019 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA8,4363831, 43
2016-17Flannery 2019 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA74104032, 46
2015-16Jackson 2017 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA68794841, 55
2014-15Zimmerman 2016 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA93111910, 27
2013-14Gaglani 2016 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA59995244, 59
2012-13McLean 2014 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA64524943, 55
2011-12Ohmit 2014 WI, MI, PA, TX, WA47714736, 56
2010-11Treanor 2011 WI, MI, NY, TN47576053, 66
2009-10Griffin 2011 WI, MI, NY, TN67575623, 75
2008-09UnpublishedWI, MI, NY, TN67134130, 50
2007-08Belongia 2011 WI19143722, 49
2006-07Belongia 2009 WI8715222, 70
2005-06Belongia 2009 WI34621-52, 59
2004-05Belongia 2009 WI76210-36, 40

The important thing is that, in 15 years of data, the best record the vaccine had was 60% effectiveness.  The worst was down to 10% effectiveness.  If I’m playing blackjack, and I can get a 10% edge, that’s good.  If I can get a 60% edge, that’s great.  I don’t expect a vaccine -particularly one that had a rushed development-  to be 100%.

Smallpox was ended with a vaccine that was about 95% effective – “Effective smallpox vaccines have a vaccinia titer of approximately 108 pock-forming units per mL, and more than 95% of individuals develop a ‘take’ with neutralizing antibodies after primary vaccination. “ It’s worth remembering that it took several centuries to develop that vaccine.

Vaccines are more a statisticians game, or a gambler’s science.  Today’s polio vaccine is about as close to 100% effective as you can get.  The vaccines aren’t magic bullets – but they are better bullets.  It may take a while – but I’m betting the Coronavirus vaccines will become increasingly effective.  The problem is that the scientists are working on better vaccines, and politicians and administrators are working on press releases.