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Interesting weather on Breakneck Ridge May 16, 2014

Posted by Jenny in bushwhacking, hiking, Meteorology, Smoky Mountains.
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22 comments
Beautiful sky.

A lively sky.

I woke up this morning to cool, clear, radiant skies. By 12:30 today, I was walking through sleet.

I didn’t know the weather would get so fantastically complicated.  The forecast called for clouds to develop later in the day and for possible showers overnight into tomorrow. To me, it looked like a great day for a hike.

I decided to take the Breakneck Ridge manway from Hyatt Ridge down to Three Forks, the place where the Left, Middle, and Right Forks of Raven Fork join and form the famous Big Pool. When I got down to the pool, I’d decide whether to retrace my steps or follow Right Fork around to a tributary that leads up to McGee Springs.

As it turned out, I made it about a third of the way on the manway before I decided to turn around because of the weather.

The temperature was 43 degrees at the Beech Gap trailhead on Straight Fork Road. Chilly! But the sun shone brightly and everything looked fresh and green.

Only a half hour passed before clouds dotted the sky. I’ve been trying to do a better job of understanding weather, and I said to myself, “Looks like those puffy convection clouds that form on clear spring days. It’s not a front coming in.”

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It was neither (a) convection nor (b) a front coming in but (c) an upper-level disturbance associated with a short-wave trough (according to the “Scientific Forecaster Discussion” on my weather website).

I still had periods of sunshine on the upper Beech Gap trail.

I still had periods of sunshine on the upper Beech Gap trail.

Cold, gusty winds hit me when I reached Hyatt Ridge. I’d guess it was in the upper 30s.  I turned north on the trail and before long came to the eastern terminus of the manway. There are three ways you can find it: pay attention to the shape of the ridge, look for a landmark sugar maple, or find the piece of pink surveyor’s tape.

This maple with a see-through trunk is at the junction of the manway and the Hyatt Ridge trail.

This maple with a see-through trunk is at the junction of the manway and the Hyatt Ridge trail.

I didn’t need the tape to find the start of the manway, but it became helpful as I went along, especially since I’d never been on Breakneck Ridge before. I’m not crazy about surveyor’s tape, and I’ve been known to take it down in certain places, but this manway seems like the kind of place where tape is useful and appropriate. It helped that the pieces of tape were short and unobtrusive, unlike the long streamers you see sometimes.

I found three vintages of tape: a faded pink, a newer pink, and a blue. In places the manway was close to invisible.

Manway runs straight ahead. See it?

Manway runs straight ahead. See it?

In other places it was obvious.

In other places it was obvious.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of hog damage at the eastern end of the manway. I spotted a pair of the critters. They gave me a loud snort and trotted away.

Hogs have been rooting up the ground through this area.

Hogs have been rooting up the ground through this area.

The sky was getting quite dark.

Dim sky on the ridge.

Dim sky on the ridge.

A shower came through. It lasted about five minutes. But at that point I decided to turn around. The weather had changed so quickly that I figured anything could happen—including a hypothermia-inducing downpour. Reluctantly I retraced my steps.

Even with the fluctuating skies, I enjoyed being up in the enchanted forest above 5000′ in a very wild part of the Smokies, full of moss and gnarly old spruce and all kinds of thriving green plants.

 

Mini-garden at base of mossy old tree.

Mini-garden at base of mossy old tree.

Big swath of false Solomon's seal.

Big swath of false Solomon’s seal.

New beech leaves.

New beech leaves.

This yellow birch seemed more like a golden birch.

This yellow birch seemed more like a golden birch.

Light showers came and went, as if individual clouds were spattering moisture and moving on. I got back to the Hyatt Ridge trail, walked down to the Beech Gap trail, and heard a strange seething noise unlike rain. It was sleet pattering down on the leafed-out trees.

Violets and sleet pellets.

Violets and sleet pellets.

At lower elevations, it turned back to intermittent rain. When I got back home, I learned that LeConte received a dusting of snow.

It was a beautiful day, even though it didn’t turn out the way I expected. I’ll be back to continue my exploration of Breakneck Ridge.

The circular world of a fern.

The circular world of a fern.

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Aurora Australis from space February 28, 2014

Posted by Jenny in Meteorology, nature.
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7 comments
Aurora Australis seen from the International Space Station.

Aurora Australis seen from the International Space Station.

I came across these photos on Wikimedia Commons. They are copyright-free images.  The one above was taken during a geomagnetic storm caused by a “coronal mass ejection from the sun,” May 24, 2010. The description reads:

Auroras happen when ions in the solar wind collide with atoms of oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere. The atoms are excited by these collisions, and they typically emit light as they return to their original energy level…. Auroras are a spectacular sign that our planet is electrically and magnetically connected to the Sun…. The pressure and magnetic energy of the solar plasma stretches and twists the magnetic field of Earth like rubber bands, particularly in the tail on the night side. This energizes the particles trapped in our magnetic field; that energy is released suddenly as the field lines snap the particles down the field lines toward the north and south magnetic poles. —Captions to photos written by the ISS Expedition 23 crew and Michael Carlowicz.

Southern Lights

Southern Lights

Poets have tried to capture the magic and mystery of the Northern and Southern Lights. It’s one of those topics that’s too dazzling to write about. The helpless poet is reduced to shopworn adjectives of grandiosity that fall far short of the subject. Herman Melville, for instance, wrote a clunker of a poem on the topic even though he was a great writer.

The description quoted from above included few lines from a poem by Robert Service titled “Ballad of the Northern Lights”: And the skies of the night were alive with light, with a throbbing, thrilling flame; Amber and rose and violet, opal and gold it came. It swept the sky like a giant scythe, it quivered back to a wedge; Argently bright, it cleft the night with a wavy golden edge.

That’s pretty good. The trick to the poem is that it’s about an exhausted, ruined man come back from the Alaska goldfields. He has no gold in his pockets, only the memory of the wavering gold of the Northern Lights. He and his two pals were “the discards of the pack,” and “the gold lust crazed us all.” He tells his story to a stranger as he waits outside a saloon, begging for a handout.

His bitter story gives a bite to his description of the wonders of the sky, and leaves me to think about how gazing at the sky can offer the deepest answers by way of the dazzling realities that dwell just over our heads.

Aurora from space.

Aurora from space.