03.26.11

Looking Into The Crystal Ball For The Next Chase Opportunity

Posted in Severe Weather Forecast, Storm Chasing at 8:00 am by Rebekah

I feel like I’m the only storm chaser who has only chased one day so far this year. I know that’s not true, but a number of chasers have already bagged multiple tornadoes and storms.

To be fair, there really haven’t been any good setups yet in my early season chase region. Before April (or really even May) I don’t like to spend too much gas money on risky setups outside of southern Kansas to northern Texas (including the Panhandle), and I don’t usually chase east of I-35 (at least in Oklahoma).

So the question remains: when will the next good chase setup present itself for the Southern Plains?

The following 500mb map from 00Z last night (from the Storm Prediction Center) shows rather weak shortwave troughs in the Northwest into the southern Rockies and in eastern Canada, while there’s perhaps a bit of ridging going on in the south central U.S. Not too exciting.

The GFS and NAM models (model observations are based on 00Z runs) do show that the trough in the West will begin to strengthen and dig further south tomorrow. By Monday evening, the models show the trough over Utah with an elongated surface low over northeastern New Mexico and the western Texas Panhandle.

The GFS is a bit more bullish on moisture, as south of the warm front (along the Red River), dewpoints are in the mid- to upper 60s in central into eastern Texas, while the NAM only has these dewpoint values along the Texas Gulf Coast.

The GFS solution for Monday is a bit interesting, but still not enough to tempt me, unless it starts to look better and perhaps sets up a tad further north and west. Also, it looks like the moisture depth will be pretty shallow.

00Z GFS 72-hr forecast for surface pressure and dewpoints, valid 00Z Tuesday (Monday evening), from TwisterData

By Tuesday evening, the GFS shows the trough will have moved on to Missouri. Tuesday may wind up a bigger severe weather day for the lower Mississippi River Valley.

On Wednesday, the GFS indicates another trough may be digging into the southern Rockies, but the model indicates that moisture will be even worse than on Monday, so the chance of storms appears slim at this point.

It also looks like after the Wednesday system, northerly winds will prevent us from getting much moisture return any time soon.

There may be another slim chance or two for severe weather the following week, as some meager moisture may be present in Texas, but it still doesn’t look any good and is too far out to say anyway.

One thing I would bet on, though: I would bet that there will be a good Southern Plains chase day or two (maybe the first outbreak) while I’m in Florida the third week of April. However, I know it won’t bother me as there will always be more tornadoes…but there will only be two more shuttle launches!

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03.25.11

How To Build A Tripod Plate For Multiple Cameras For Less Than $12

Posted in Astronomy, Photography, Space Shuttle at 8:00 am by Rebekah

When I go down to Florida next month to view the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134), I would like to watch as much of the launch as possible through my own eyes, rather than through a camera lens.

I want to take photos and videos of the launch, though, but I don’t want to mess with too much stuff (i.e., adjusting multiple tripods as the shuttle goes up).

Enter the idea of a tripod plate that will mount to one tripod but allow multiple cameras/camcorders to be attached.

I know you can buy these, but they can be pretty pricey, and I figured it might be better and cheaper if I just made one to suit my own purposes.

I’m sure there are better ways of doing this, but here’s how I built my tripod plate for less than $12 and in about 30 – 45 minutes.

  1. Supplies (prices listed are from Lowe’s):
    • hardboard pegboard (3/16 inches by 2 feet by 4 feet) – $4.92
    • four 3-prong T-nuts (1/4 inch – 20 thread; 7/16 inch barrel height) – $2.30
    • four bolts (1/4 inch – 20 thread; 40 mm long) – $3.53 (I only used 3, but they came in a package of 4…also, I’ll probably be getting shorter bolts soon as these are a little long for the width of the board)

  2. Measure pegboard and use a pencil to draw the size (I started with 16 x 24 inches, to leave a margin of error, but may cut a bit off later)
  3. Cut it out
  4. Insert a T-nut into the center of the board; the bolt in the tripod’s quick-release plate will screw into this nut. I used a knife to make the desired hole a bit wider, then used a hammer to pound in the T-nut
  5. Place T-nuts in other desired holes in the board, for cameras and camcorders
  6. Screw bolts in the other side of the holes (using an Allen wrench, if necessary), through the T-nuts and into the screw holes on the camera devices, and that’s it!

A few thoughts:

  • Make sure the weight is distributed right; my tripod plate leans very slightly to one side, but is better as I pan the tripod head up. I have thought about attaching some sort of weight to the plate to balance it out, but it’s not too bad so I may wind up leaving it.
  • My bolts are a little long; as you can see, they stick out the bottom a fair ways. I will probably look for shorter bolts before going to Florida. While these bolts may be alright, the camera/camcorder may wind up rotating a tad when you move the plate up and down. However, this could also be an advantage, as I might want to move the camera/camcorder from side to side a bit.
  • I thought I might to need to build a back for the plate, to give some support to the cameras/camcorders as the plate tilts up. However, the T-nuts and bolts are more than sufficient to keep the camera devices from sliding around, so this may not be necessary.
  • I still might want to cut more off the back end of the board, but I like that it’s big enough to have the camcorder LCD screens open and long enough to support a longer camera lens (I will be putting a longer, telephoto lens on for the launch).

I’ll still have to do more testing, and practice using it, but so far I’m pretty pleased with my new tripod plate. Now I should be able to take photos (I can use my remote control for my DSLR), HD video, and possibly stream video with another camcorder, all while only adjusting one tripod!

I’ll let you know how it goes after the launch!

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03.24.11

LEGO Space Shuttle!

Posted in Astronomy, Space Shuttle at 8:00 am by Rebekah

Yesterday I posted about the incredible opportunity I have to attend a NASA Tweetup for the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Now here’s a few photos of a space shuttle LEGO set I received on my 11th birthday, and figured I’d dig it out again to commemorate the event. I really wanted a set with a horse farm, which my parents ordered, but LEGO sent us the wrong one. My parents wrapped up the space shuttle set anyway and then I received the horse farm a few days later (we were allowed to keep the first one).

In the end I think I wound up a little happier with the space shuttle anyway, as I had just seen Comet Hale-Bopp and was getting more interested in astronomy!

Click on the following images to enlarge.

Hmm, do you think I should bring the LEGO space shuttle to the launch? 🙂

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03.23.11

The Golden Ticket (i.e., I’m Going To See A Space Shuttle Launch From The VIP Site)

Posted in Astronomy, Space Shuttle at 8:00 am by Rebekah

Some dreams really do come true.

Ever since I was born, I have had a deep desire to witness a space shuttle launch. I have always been fascinated with the stars, and spent several years intensely studying astronomy.

I published and sold my own astronomy newsletter, called “The Stellar Report”, for over 4 years (with a couple of special issues a few years later). I sent in a question to a 2-minute program on NPR that I listened to when I was younger, called “Earth and Sky”, and they used my question and mentioned my name on a broadcast on January 2, 1999 (PDF transcript here). I was an officer and member of the Central Washington University Astronomy Club for my undergraduate years (we stargazed, put on planetarium shows, etc.).

I used to really want to be an astronomer before I got more into geography and meteorology, and I have often dreamed of going to space. I still love watching the stars and taking photos of stars, comets, the Moon, and other space objects with my camera and telescope. I took perhaps my best astrophotos of Comet Hale-Bopp in April 1997, using my Dad’s SLR mounted to a binocular tripod set on an upside-down barrel, standing where our barn collapsed due to snow on New Year’s Day. Sometime I’ll get around to scanning those photos and posting them online.

However, as the space shuttle program is winding down, I was beginning to think that my lifelong dream of seeing a space shuttle launch would never be fulfilled.

In August 2005, while in Oklahoma at the end of an undergraduate research program, I got to see the Space Shuttle Discovery fly overhead about 24 hours before landing at Edwards Air Force Base in California. This shuttle mission, STS-114, was the first return to flight following Columbia’s disaster in February 2003.

In June 2007, I visited Washington, DC, and the highlights of my trip were touring NASA Goddard and seeing the Space Shuttle Enterprise on display at the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum.

While these events thrilled me to the core, I still wanted to experience a launch.

Last week, I found out that NASA recently began hosting “Tweetups” (meetings of people on Twitter). Last Monday, for 24 hours, NASA Twitter followers could throw their names in a hat for a chance to view the penultimate space shuttle launch in April, from the media site at the countdown clock.

On a whim, I threw my name in. I knew they would have several thousand people entering, and would only choose 150.

By Monday, I had forgotten about my entry. I then happened to check the junk mail folder of my email in the late afternoon, and saw I had an email from NASA.

I had to read the email a few times before I realized that I wasn’t seeing things. It began thus:

“Dear Rebekah LaBar,

Congratulations, your registration has been selected to attend the NASA Tweetup at space shuttle Endeavour’s targeted launch April 18-19 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida! The event will provide you the opportunity to speak with shuttle technicians, engineers, astronauts, and managers, and to experience the launch of space shuttle Endeavour to the International Space Station.”

WOW!!!!!!!!!

I’d won a golden ticket, even better than one for Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory!

I began to shake.

I also teared up.

What this means is that out of over 4,100 entries, I was randomly invited along with 149 others to attend a 2-day event on which we would tour the Kennedy Space Center facilities, hear speeches from and talk with NASA astronauts, shuttle engineers, etc., and view the April 19th launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134)…from a mere 3 miles away!!!!!!! This location will be at the media site, by the countdown clock and Vehicle Assembly Building. This is the closest you can get to view the launch, and you can’t even buy tickets for anywhere nearer than 6 miles away (and even those tickets are scarce…the free viewing area is 12 miles away).

Here’s a satellite image pointing out where we’ll be in relation to the launch pad (click to enlarge). The image came from a former NASA Tweetup attendee.

I’m still in disbelief, and I know it won’t start to sink in until I begin my trip, in just 3.5 weeks!

I plan on driving, for various reasons: 1) I hate flying anymore, it is too much of a hassle; 2) driving would be cheaper than flying and renting a car (we still pay for our own expenses, as the ticket is just for the event); 3) if the flight gets delayed, I can easily change my plans, rather than worry about switching a flight date and paying fees; and 4) less important, but the only part of the Southeast I have seen is Atlanta, and I would like to see some of the Southeast from the ground.

My car seems to be fine, but today I’m taking it in for a check-up to make sure everything’s good to go.

I will be sure to write more about this once-in-a-lifetime, dream-come-true, unforgettable experience as the time approaches, and of course throughout the trip. As it’s a Tweetup, I think that means I’m expected to tweet through the event on Twitter, but of course I will be doing that in addition to taking countless photos and videos. 🙂

One more thing: May 1st will mark my 25th birthday, which will now be extra special this year between my sister coming down for a few days that weekend and the Florida trip and space shuttle launch just before that!

Thank you NASA, and praise be to God!

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03.22.11

World Wide Weather #35: Palma, Mallorca, Balearic Islands, Spain

Posted in Non-US Weather, Weather News at 8:00 am by Rebekah

This week’s post in the global weather and climate series features Palma, Mallorca, in the Balearic Islands of Spain (click for a Yahoo! maps link).

Harbor of Palma, with Bellver Castle in the background, from Wikipedia

The city of Palma was founded by the Romans back in 123 BC, so as you can imagine, the town (and the island) has gone through a long history, between the Romans, the Muslims, the Moors, the Vikings, the Spanish, etc.

Palma is situated on the southwest coast of the island of Mallorca (sometimes spelled Majorca). Mallorca is one of several islands belonging to the Balearic Islands, off the east coast of Spain in the Mediterranean. The Balearic Islands are part of Spain. Palma (also known as Palma de Mallorca), the capital of the Balearic Islands, is now home to about 401,270 people.

Tourism plays a large part in the economy of the islands; in 2010, over 6 million people came to visit tourist resorts on the island of Mallorca (according to Wikipedia). Mallorca is about 1,400 square miles in size (about 3,600 square km).

Serra de Tramuntana, a southwest-northeast mountain range on the northern coast of Mallorca; the highest point, Puig Major, is 4,741 ft tall (1,445 m). From Wikipedia

A few more facts about Palma (from Wikipedia):

  • Time zone: Central European Time (UTC+1) or Central European Summer Time (UTC+2)
  • Average elevation: 43 ft (13 m)
  • Climate zone: Mediterranean (warm, dry summers; mild, wetter winters)
  • Average high temperature: 71 °F (22 °C)
  • Average low temperature: 58 °F (14 °C)
  • Average annual high/low temperature range: 59 to 85 °F (15 to 30 °C) / 47 to 72 °F (8 to 22 °C)
  • Average annual precipitation: 17 inches (427 mm)

Weather: June through August are the driest months of the year in Palma; every other month receives between 1 and 2.7 inches of precipitation. We are starting to go into the drier period, and temperatures are currently pretty seasonable.

Temperatures this week are expected to start out a little lower, with highs near 60 °F, but will rise up to 70 °F by Saturday. Lows this week will be in the mid-40s to near 50 °F.

There is a chance of rain today and tomorrow, but then it should dry up for the rest of the week. They have been getting a mostly east wind lately, as there is a rather large high pressure system sitting over Europe at present.

GFS model from 00Z run; valid for 12Z (1 pm local time). Map shows surface pressure and 3-hour precipitation. From Weather Online UK

For weather maps and information on current and forecast Palma, Mallorca, and Balearic Island weather, see the Agencia Estatal de Meteorología (Spain’s national weather service; good if you understand Spanish, though there is a semi-English version), Weather Underground and Weather Online UK (global maps and models).

For a bit more information on Palma, here’s a link to Wikipedia. Here is the city’s website (in Spanish).

Next Tuesday I plan to take a look at the climate and weather in another part of the globe.  As always, if you have any suggestions for future cities, please leave a comment!

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