La Crosse Tornado – photo gallery

A series of photos from our neighborhood in the aftermath of the tornado we got yesterday (Sunday, May 22, 2011).

You can read our tornado story here.

One Hail of a Storm

Goldilocks wouldn’t care for the kind of Spring we’ve been having. Our normal days should be in the low 50s (low teens C), but it’s stubbornly been ten degrees colder than that. So for a change, today it got warm… a July kind of warm.

They told us there would be storms. There are always storms when the temperature changes this radically. But the early afternoon was calm, warm and mostly sunny.

We were on the phone with a friend when, at about 4:35, we noticed it was dark and we could hear thunder. RoZ pulled up the weather page and saw the words “Tornado Warning.” That got our attention and we got off the phone.

At 4:45, it was pouring rain but it wasn’t windy at all. The weather people were saying the tornado would be here in five minutes. However, we weren’t panicking too badly, as no one had physically seen the tornado (it was “detected by doppler radar”), and we had a good view in the direction it was supposed to be coming from.

At 4:50, the hail started. We’ve each lived thru hail a handful of times, but never anything bigger than peas or marbles. This sounded like rocks hitting the house, and we saw ice balls nearly the size of golf balls bouncing in the yard.

We scrambled around to close windows and “monitor” the progress of this event as best we could. Suddenly, the rain and hail let up. At 4:55, the sun came out, and Obbie went into the yard to collect some hail stones for closer inspection. Here they are….

RoZ holds a sampling of hail stones from the La Crosse hailstorm of April 10, 2011

RoZ holds a sampling of hail stones from the La Crosse hailstorm of April 10, 2011

Not quite “golf ball” size, but definitely at least the size of quarters. At any rate, this is the largest hail either of us has experienced in our ample lifetimes.

Miraculously, all of our windows are intact, and we don’t have a car to worry about being dinged up right now. We are also thankful this didn’t happen a few weeks later, when delicate young plants will be trying to establish themselves in our garden.

This coming week, the economy will improve for insurance adjusters, body shops, and window people.

Why Are Dead Birds Falling Like Rain?

There has been a disturbing wave of mass killings of birds lately. First in Arkansas, then in Louisiana, and again in Sweden. Every time reporters consult scientists or local authorities, the pundits write it off to birds “getting stressed” (i.e. freaking out) during the New Year’s fireworks, and either running into things or each other… or dropping dead from exhaustion.

Frankly, I don’t buy it. If thousands of birds (oh, and don’t forget the fish) died from fireworks on New Years Eve, why is this the first time it happened? After all, this isn’t the first time there were fireworks on New Years Eve. If the birds died from fireworks this year, why didn’t they die from fireworks last year? Or any of the previous… oh, maybe fifty years?

Something Else is going on. Most of us can do little more than speculate on what it is. But something new and very unusual happened to these birds that didn’t happen before. Fireworks – however bad for the birds they might be – are not new or unusual

The Dog Days of Winter

The video that follows is NOT one of ours, but it’s one that we deemed worthy of putting in one of our youtube playlists.

After the snowstorm we had last week, this is kind of what getting around felt like…


… except that our snow was much more dense than that. When sidewalks become canyons, that’s a lot of snow.

The Shoddy Stadium Rant

For the second time in its brief history, the roof of the Metrodome collapsed last weekend. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

When designing an indoor football stadium for Minneapolis, one would think the roof should be designed to withstand the weight of a whole bunch of snow. After all, this part of the world is no stranger to big snowstorms, so it’s not hard to anticipate a really huge snowstorm sometime during the life of such an expensive building.

Yes, 16-20 inches (40-50 cm) is a lot of snow, but this is Minneapolis for crying out loud. Whose the engineer that thought it was OK to build a roof in Minneapolis that can’t handle 20 inches of snow? Did they really think it would never happen in the next 50 years? In MINNEAPOLIS?

That’s like assuming it’ll never get to 120 degrees in Phoenix, or that there’ll never be a big hurricane in Miami, or that there’ll never be a tornado in Topeka, or that you can skip the earthquake-proofing in San Francisco. Somebody wasn’t thinking ahead. Or somebody wasn’t thinking, period.

I heard somebody on the radio today call the stadium “old.” I’m sorry, Wrigley Field and Fenway Park are “old”. A stadium that was built 30 years ago is relatively new. There’s something wrong with having kids grow up watching games in a new stadium and not be able to bring their kids to watch games in the same stadium. There is no history or heritage in a crappy stadium built to last only 30 years.

If there is a God, I think It’s telling the Minnesota Vikings that they should play their games outside… y’know, like Real Men. In Wisconsin, we play football outdoors in January, and there’s not a single empty seat at Lambeau Field even though it might be cold enough to freeze hard liquor. Are Minnesota people really a bunch of softies that can’t watch a football game outside if it gets a little cold?

A couple of years ago, we were hanging out with some friends in Minneapolis, having drinks at a bar looking out at the Metrodome. I asked them if  Viking fans hold the same kind of reverence for the Metrodome that we Packer fans hold for Lambeau Field. The emphatic “no” came with no hesitation whatsoever.

Ironically, it’s now called “Mall of America” stadium. It’s named after the monstrosity that now stands on the site of the stadium this one replaced. The “old” stadium, built in the late 50’s.

Am I the only one who thinks it’s insane to build a new stadium every thirty years?

The "Oil" Viral Email

We received it today from a friend who doesn’t normally send out messages with headings like this:

Fw: [Fwd: Fwd: Fw: Oil [Not a Joke)]]

Right-wing viral emails seem to have a lot of things in common. The four levels of “FW” is one clue, and the HUGE type in the main body is another. And why do they always carry a rude enticement like “not a joke” or “true!”?

Unlike most emails like this, it includes a linked reference: a news release from the US Geological Survey about a newly discovered oil field in the northern plains. The email screams “503 billion barrels”, while the linked reference says, “an estimated 3.0 to 4.3 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil.” Big difference.

The email rant then claims there are 2 trillion barrels under the Rocky Mountains (but no proof of this is offered), and goes on to complain that (paraphrasing), “those damned environmentalists are keeping us from tapping all that oil, and if you don’t raise hell about it to your congressman, then you have no right to complain about the high price of gas.”

Of course, this is all bullshit in so many ways. At current consumption rates, what we’re talking about in the plains is eight and one-half months worth of oil. And the claim of 2 trillion barrels under the Rockies is too ridiculous to even consider, otherwise every oil industry shill would be screaming to high heaven about it, but this is too over the top even for them.

But let’s consider, just for the sake of argument, what if this were true? What if there really were trillions of barrels of oil under the American West?

Just because it’s there is no reason to burn it. You [the author(s) of the “oil” email] propose that we lay waste to some of the most scenic, picturesque and beloved lands on this continent, and for what? To keep burning oil like there’s no tomorrow, and in the process guaranteeing that there’s no tomorrow.

No matter how much or how little oil we have left, we have to phase it out… we have to quit burning it. Burning oil (and coal, etc.) is sending our planet dangerously close to a climate catastrophe. We must reduce the amount of energy we need; and we must develop sustainable sources.

If you want to thrive in the energy business, let me suggest a way to tweak your business model. The REAL “Saudi Arabia” of energy in the USA is indeed in the plains and deserts, but it comes in the form of wind and sunshine. The effort you propose to exploit oil would be better spent on harnessing the wind and the sun.

Yes, there are challenges and hurdles (transportation and storage, mainly), but aren’t we Americans supposed to be the ones who proudly conquer challenges and hurdles? What ever happened to our reputation as the resourceful innovators? Surely we can figure this out. Are we going to let China or Spain show us how to run our country on sustainable energy? Whatever happened to American leadership?

We’re Americans, dammit! Let’s show the world how it’s done.

Oh, and like they say in all the viral emails, forward this to everyone in your address book, or your grandchildren may end up with a very hot and stormy world.

Transportation Liberation

Save the Planet, Save Money, and Save Your Sanity by Not Driving

Hybrid vehicles and bio-fuels may help, but they are not the solution. Solving the global warming problem will take dramatic action, and becoming car-free is an action with a lot of impact.

Read on

20 inches, with more to come

Looking at the picture in the previous post, taken early Saturday afternoon, I’m amazed at how little snow there is in the picture, relative to what it looks like now. By Sunday morning, the white canyon you see was filled back up with snow, and the guy with the snowblower only had enough endurance to make one pass down the block, clearing less than half the width of the sidewalk.

By the time I finished clearing the walk, there was nearly an inch of new snow on the spot where I’d started.

And they’re predicting that we get to go thru the same drill Wednesday and Thursday. Sigh.

A Saint Lives in Our Neighborhood

sidewalk shoveled on our streetNone of this snow was there Friday afternoon. This is what our block looked like early Saturday afternoon.

The saint is the guy on the block with a well-running snowblower. We heard him go by at about 7 am. Most of the time, I get kinda cranky when someone is running noisy machinery that early on a Saturday morning. But I knew what he was up to, and went back to sleep with a feeling of intense gratitude.

This illustrates one of my favorite things about life in small-town Wisconsin: Neighbors look out for each other. Our lots are fairly narrow, so unless one lives on a corner, we are only responsible for about fifty feet of sidewalk. After a small storm, the first one out with the shovel usually clears the neighbor’s sidewalk as well as his/her own.

When the snow is a foot or deeper, clearing that fifty feet of sidewalk by hand is daunting. Mind you, it’s doable, but it’s not the trivial chore presented by lesser storms. But there always seems to be one person on every block with a well-run snowblower who finishes his fifty feet of sidewalk in about five minutes, and decides that it’s not that big of a deal for the well-oiled machine to do the entire block.

As it was, I spent about an hour re-establishing access to our back door, and carving a minimal path to the garage and the alley. So the saint down the street made sure nobody on the block would get fined by the city, but I was left with a lot of work to make our yard functional.

By the way, we woke up to about 12 inches. It let up long enough for the city to pile snowbanks four feet high between our houses and the street. As I write, the weather service has cancelled the Winter Storm Warning. Now we have a Blizzard Warning. By morning, that nice clean sidewalk should have another 10 inches, or the wind will replace everything we moved out of the way with snow drifts, or both.

So the most depressing thing is that tomorrow we get to repeat the shoveling we did today.

What it means so far

Lightning. Thunder. And eight inches of snow in about five hours.

Never seen summer thunderstorm-type lightning in a snowstorm. Little rumbles, maybe, but not boom-booms like this.

The High Impact Winter Weather Event is far from over.

UPDATE: I was wrong about the eight inches in five hours. I went out with a ruler and measured it, and it was more like ten inches.