photo shows PPE-clad doctor comforting lonely, elderly covid-19 patient ~ The Washington post

Joseph Varon hugs a patient in the covid-19 intensive care unit during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)
Joseph Varon hugs a patient in the covid-19 intensive care unit during Thanksgiving at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images) 

By Paulina VillegasNovember 30, 2020 at 3:02 p.m. MSTAdd to list

An elderly man in a hospital gown buried his head in the arms of a doctor who, fully clad in protective equipment, hugged and consoled the patient. The doctor’s fixed, disturbed gaze can be seen through the plastic face shield.

“I want to be with my wife,” the frail patient, battling covid-19, had told Joseph Varon, chief of staff at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston. Varon had found the man out of his hospital bed, crying and seeking help.

The emotional moment was captured on Thanksgiving Day by photographer Go Nakamura, who was in the covid ward documenting the pandemic for Getty Images.

The image circulated widely online over the weekend after Nakamura posted it on Facebook, resonating with the pain and struggle of millions of Americans, patients and health workers alike as the country reels from soaring coronavirus infections and hospitalizations.

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It should bottle up frigid air in the Arctic, favoring mild conditions in much of the Lower 48

A simulation of air temperatures in the stratospheric polar vortex during late November. (Hannah Attard/University of Albany)
A simulation of air temperatures in the stratospheric polar vortex during late November. (Hannah Attard/University of Albany) 

By Matthew CappucciNovember 19, 2020 at 1:08 p.m. MSTAdd to list

It’s almost the time of year when the term “polar vortex” will become inescapable. It will blast across television tickers, blare from afternoon drive radio shows and crowd any headline related to snow. Though it has become a pop culture buzzword, the polar vortex is a real scientific phenomenon — and atmospheric scientists are anticipating a strong one to kick off winter.

Contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean widespread snow or cold for the Lower 48. In fact, the opposite may be true, with unseasonable warmth and mild temperatures more likely for most of the southern, central and eastern United States.

A positive Arctic oscillation, left, is associated with a strong, stable polar vortex, whereas a negative Arctic oscillation, right, is associated with a weak, unstable vortex. (NOAA)
A positive Arctic oscillation, left, is associated with a strong, stable polar vortex, whereas a negative Arctic oscillation, right, is associated with a weak, unstable vortex. (NOAA) 

The polar vortex is a staple of the atmosphere; the southern hemisphere has one, too. Each polar vortex has two parts — the tropospheric polar vortex, which occupies the lowest level of the atmosphere in which we reside, and the stratospheric polar vortex up above. The tropospheric polar vortex is usually wavier and more erratic, while its counterpart in the stratosphere tends to be smoother and more self-contained.

Both are “coupled,” meaning changes in one can influence the other. That’s why meteorologists look at the health of the stratospheric polar vortex for longer-range indicators of how the weather people actually experience evolves. A stronger stratospheric polar vortex tends to fence in the cold, while a weaker one allows Arctic outbursts to visit the mid-latitudes.

How does the polar vortex affect us?

A simulation of the strength of the polar vortex over the next several weeks indicates it could become atypically strong. (Hannah Attard/University of Albany)
A simulation of the strength of the polar vortex over the next several weeks indicates it could become atypically strong. (Hannah Attard/University of Albany) 

“The weather during a strong polar vortex is usually not as exciting as we get when we have a weak polar vortex,” explained Hannah Attard, an associate professor of atmospheric sciences at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“When you have a strong polar vortex, it’s really acting to bottle up all that cold air at the poles, so you won’t get those undulations at the mid-latitudes letting that cold air spill out,” said Attard.

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Studying avalanche trends is tricky. Detailed statistics tend to focus only on avalanches involving fatalities. No one knows how many skiers and snowmobilers head into the snowy backcountry every season, so it’s impossible to know the rates of accidents. Avalanche researchers rely on voluntarily provided information, and the data sets are small.

But that doesn’t stop avalanche scientists from their endless quest to identify trends that could help backcountry travelers more safely recognize risks as they navigate avalanche terrain. 

Colorado Avalanche Information Center forecasters Ethan Greene and Spencer Logan this week released a report looking at the levels of avalanche educationand backcountry experience of 126 people involved in 88 avalanches last year. They also studied the changes in accidents after the pandemic shut down resorts in mid-March and backcountry use exploded, which is widely expected to happen again this winter as resorts grapple with limited crowds.

The report expands on the official reports compiled by CAIC last season that involved injuries, death and damage. Last season the CAIC officially recorded 26 skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers and hikers involved in avalanches. That count includes three snowboarders caught in an inbounds slide at Steamboat ski area in December and two very experienced snowboarders who triggered an avalanche that injured no one but destroyed avalanche mitigation devices above Eisenhower Tunnel, prompting a prosecutor to file first-ever criminal charges

All together, seven people were buried in those avalanches and six were killed.

Following the shutdown of ski areas on March 14, the proportion of incidents involving very experienced backcountry travelers — which Greene and Logan defined as “advanced” — climbed compared to the number of incidents involving beginners and intermediates, said Greene, the center’s longtime director.

“These are small numbers, but this would suggest that there were more people with advanced experience and avalanche education getting involved in accidents after the shutdown and any increase in accidents was not due to more beginners getting into trouble,” he said.

The avalanche center, a program within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, has 20 researchers and investigators based around the state. Those researchers talk to everyone involved in a fatal accident and in recent years began interviewing skiers and snowmobilers who were caught, carried or buried in slides. 

An image of the ridgeline and east-facing terrain on Mount Emmons where Crested Butte ski guide Dan Escalante died in an avalanche. The wet-slab avalanche broke on the densely treed slope in the bottom of the image. The blue circle indicates the approximate location where Escalante was caught, and the star where he came to rest. (Provided by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.)

In addition to determining avalanche education through direct interviews, Greene and Logan developed a system based on several research models to rank avalanche education experience using indirect evidence, like reports from observers’ interviews and second-hand descriptions.

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November 20, 2020



In this illustration, the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich spacecraft – the world’s latest sea-level satellite – orbits Earth with its deployable solar panels extended.NASA/JPL-Caltech

A new satellite, scheduled to launch this weekend, is the latest in a parade of missions to measure sea level rise. As climate reporter Rebecca Hersher explains, it’s vital data for scientists trying to understand how global warming is affecting the Earth’s oceans. 

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Massive volcanic eruptions ignited oil and coal deposits in Siberia in the events that led to the Permian-Triassic “Great Dying” event.

In rocks that formed in Northern Italy’s Dolomites and elsewhere around the time of the Permian-Triassic extinction, researchers detected spikes of a molecule formed from fossil fuel combustion.
In rocks that formed in Northern Italy’s Dolomites and elsewhere around the time of the Permian-Triassic extinction, researchers detected spikes of a molecule formed from fossil fuel combustion.Credit…Renato Posenato, Ferrara University

By Lucas Joel

  • Nov. 18, 2020

Paleontologists call it the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, but it has another name: “the Great Dying.” It happened about 252 million years ago, and, over the course of just tens of thousands of years, 96 percent of all life in the oceans and, perhaps, roughly 70 percent of all land life vanished forever.

The smoking gun was ancient volcanism in what is today Siberia, where volcanoes disgorged enough magma and lava over about a million years to cover an amount of land equivalent to a third or even half of the surface area of the United States.

But volcanism on its own didn’t cause the extinction. The Great Dying was fueled, two separate teams of scientists report in two recent papers, by extensive oil and coal deposits that the Siberian magma blazed through, leading to combustion that released greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane.

“There was lots of oil, coal and carbonates formed before the extinction underground near the Siberian volcanism,” said Kunio Kaiho, a geochemist at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, and the lead author of one of the studies, published this month in Geology, which presented evidence for the burning of ancient fossil fuels by magma. “We discovered two volcanic combustion events coinciding with the end-Permian land extinction and marine extinction.”

The findings solidify the Great Dying as one of the best examples that we have from Earth’s history of what a changing climate can do to life on our planet.

Dr. Kaiho and his team retrieved samples from rock deposits in south China and northern Italy that formed around the time of the extinction, and they detected spikes of a molecule called coronene. That substance, Dr. Kaiho explained, is produced only when fossil fuels combust at extremely high temperatures — like those you might find in magma.

One potential issue with coronene, says Henrik Svenson, a geologist at the University of Oslo who was not involved in the work, is that it forms only at temperatures exceeding 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit, and to reach such temperatures, the fossil fuels would have had to be enveloped inside the magma, not just sitting next to it.

The coronene, which was detected in fossil shells, forms only in extremely high temperatures, like those you’d find in magma, the researchers say.
The coronene, which was detected in fossil shells, forms only in extremely high temperatures, like those you’d find in magma, the researchers say.Credit…Renato Posenato, Ferrara University

But the team’s findings are backed up by a Nature Geosciencestudy published last month that presents chemical evidence for the acidification of the oceans after the fossil fuel combustion and greenhouse gas release.

As the planet warmed, the oceans absorbed more and more carbon dioxide. This caused waters to acidify to the point that organisms like corals would have dissolved, explained Hana Jurikova, a biogeochemist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who led the study. Dr. Jurikova and her team discovered spikes of the element boron — a proxy for acidity levels — in fossil brachiopod shells found in rocks in Italy that stretch across the extinction boundary.

“For the first time, we’re able to explain what caused the extinction,” Dr. Jurikova said. “If you just increase the temperature, organisms often find a way to cope. But the problem is if you really change temperature and acidification, and maybe nutrients, that’s when your organisms will not be able to adapt.” Today, with sea-surface temperatures on the rise, the oceans are acidifying, and some shelled animals are already showing signs of their shells dissolving.

Dr. Svenson thinks the next step for geologists is field work in Siberia to get a handle on whether ancient magma interacted with the fossil fuel deposits as the new studies imply.

“A lot of this we simply do not know,” Dr. Svenson said.

While you may be tempted to draw an analogy between the Great Dying and today’s warming climate, there are significant differences. For one, the greenhouse gases emitted during the Permian-Triassic events were far greater than anything humans have produced. Also, the volcanoes released carbon dioxide 252 million years ago at a rate much slower than humans emit it today.

“The amount of carbon released to the atmosphere per year from the Siberian traps, it was still 14 times lower than the rate we have at the moment,” Dr. Jurikova said. “So, the amount of carbon we’re burning per year at the moment is much higher than during the largest extinction. I mean, that’s incredible, right?”



Scientists have used the New Horizons spacecraft, billions of miles from Earth, to measure the darkness of space.NASA / Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Look up at the night sky and, if you’re away from city lights, you’ll see stars. The space between those bright points of light is, of course, filled with inky blackness.

Some astronomers have wondered about that all that dark space–about how dark it really is.

“Is space truly black?” says Tod Lauer, an astronomer with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Arizona. He says if you could look at the night sky without stars, galaxies, and everything else known to give off visible light, “does the universe itself put out a glow?”

It’s a tough question that astronomers have tried to answer for decades. Now, Lauer and other researchers with NASA’s New Horizons space mission say they’ve finally been able to do it, using a spacecraft that’s travelling far beyond the dwarf planet Pluto. The group has posted their work online, and it will soon appear in the Astrophysical Journal.

New Horizons was originally designed to explore Pluto, but after whizzing past the dwarf planet in 2015, the intrepid spacecraft just kept going. It’s now more than four billion miles from home—nearly 50 times farther away from the Sun than the Earth is. 

That’s important because it means the spacecraft is far from major sources of light contamination that make it impossible to detect any tiny light signal from the universe itself. Around Earth and the inner solar system, for example, space is filled with dust particles that get lit up by the Sun, creating a diffuse glow over the entire sky. But that dust isn’t a problem out where New Horizons is. Plus, out there, the sunlight is much weaker. 

To try to detect the faint glow of the universe, researchers went through images taken by the spacecraft’s simple telescope and camera and looked for ones that were incredibly boring.

“The images were all of what you just simply call blank sky. There’s a sprinkling of faint stars, there’s a sprinkling of faint galaxies, but it looks random,” says Lauer. “What you want is a place that doesn’t have many bright stars in the images or bright stars even outside the field that can scatter light back into the camera.” 

Then they processed these images to remove all known sources of visible light. Once they’d subtracted out the light from stars, plus scattered light from the Milky Way and any stray light that might be a result of camera quirks, they were left with light coming in from beyond our own galaxy. 

They then went a step further still, subtracting out light that they could attribute to all the galaxies thought to be out there. And it turns out, once that was done, there was still plenty of unexplained light. 

In fact, the amount of light coming from mysterious sources was about equal to all the light coming in from the known galaxies, says Marc Postman, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. So maybe there are unrecognized galaxies out there, he says, “or some other source of light that we don’t yet know what it is.” 

The new findings are sure to get astronomers talking. 

“They’re saying that there’s as much light outside of galaxies as there is inside of galaxies, which is a pretty tough pill to swallow, frankly,” notes Michael Zemcov, an astrophysicist at Rochester Institute of Technology, who was not part of the research team. 

A few years ago, Zemcov and some colleagues analyzed New Horizons data in a similar way. Using fewer images, they made a less precise measurement, but it was still compatible with the current results. 

He says for 400 years, astronomers have been studying visible light and the sky in a serious way and yet somehow apparently “missed half the light in the universe.”

“It’s very difficult to turn around and say to the astronomical community, like, ‘Hey, guys, we’re missing half of the stuff out there,'” says Zemcov. Still, he buys the results: “I think the work is really solid.” 

So where does the light come from? Perhaps, he says, there are far more small, faint dwarf galaxies and other faint regions on the outskirts of galaxies that instruments like the Hubble Space Telescope can’t detect and so scientists just aren’t aware of them. Or, maybe there’s more dust out there interfering with the measurements than scientists expected. 

Or perhaps there’s a more exotic explanation—some unknown phenomenon out in the universe that creates visible light. It’s even possible it’s something associated with dark matter, a mysterious form of matter that exerts a gravitational pull on visible matter but has never been seen directly. 

“As a person who studies the universe, I really want to know what the universe is made of and what are all the components of the universe,” says Postman. “We would like to think that the components that give off light are something that we can really get a good sense of and understand why there is that much light.” 

But to do that, notes Postman, it’s really essential to first understand how much light there is that needs to be accounted for, and that’s where a study like this one can help.

“It is a new measurement, with the capability that we have because we’re in a unique place with a camera that can exploit that neat place,” says Lauer. 

Still, he adds, “space is dark.” Even after all this analysis, “it’s still pretty dark.”

Weekend storm and related topics ~ OpenSnow

Recent Climate

The Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University shared the following chart a few days ago. It was the first time I saw this type of visual to communicate how recent temperature and precipitation compared to average. I thought it was an effective way to display a lot of data in an easy-to-understand chart. 

The vertical axis is temperature, the horizontal axis is precipitation, and the data is for the three-months of August, September, and October. You can see that 2020 (the star in the upper-left) is solidly in the “warm+dry” quadrant confirming what we all sensed – it was a warm and dry autumn! The other dots show years back to the early 1900s.

Forecast Wednesday & Thursday

We will see dry weather on both days. The only hiccup is that the latest models show a period of gusty winds on Wednesday midday. Unfortunately, temperatures should stay warm which may mean no ability to make snow even at night.

Storm Friday & Saturday

We should see showers by late Friday or Friday night and these showers will continue through Saturday.

This storm has always been a tricky one to forecast with equal chances for just light snow if all factors do not come together or a lot of snow if all factors align perfectly.

Unfortunately, the model trend is not our friend. All of the latest forecasts do NOT show that all factors will come together.

On the upside, the continued uncertainty in the forecast means that models could flip back to previous forecasts with more snow, or maybe the models just have no clue and the atmosphere will surprise us in a good way. Admittedly this is a lower-probability scenario, but it’s still a possibility.

The most likely outcome is that we’ll see showers on Friday night, then just a few mountains will see a period of more intense snow on Saturday morning through Saturday afternoon. Right now it appears that the best chance for a streak of deeper totals (6+ inches) will be over the southern mountains with lighter amounts (just a few inches) for other mountains.

The forecast map above will change many more times before the storm arrives. This storm will be warm which would result in thicker snow. That’s good for base building but maybe not for snow quality.

Extended Forecast

Looking ahead to Thanksgiving week, there’s potential for storms around Tuesday (Nov 24) and Thursday (Nov 26).