Holy smokes!

Ferguson Fire, Sierra National forest, California, 2018 Courtesy USDA Forest Service: Kari Greer, Photographer
Ferguson Fire, Sierra National forest, California, 2018
Courtesy USDA Forest Service: Kari Greer, Photographer
Holy smokes! Once again, our summer has become a smoke filled world we’re warned against breathing. I often wonder how our feathered friends are weathering the pall.

About a year ago, a mass die-off of song birds was witnessed over parts of the southwest tentatively attributed to the historic wildfires across California, Oregon and Washington, which
may have forced birds to rush their migration. But scientists do not know for sure – in part because nobody knows precisely how wildfire smoke affects birds. With increasing changes to
climate and rising temperatures, we do not have enough time to collect the data – things are changing faster than we can keep up with.

Enter eBird, a popular app for logging bird sightings. This platform, and the citizen birdwatchers who populate them, have become a critical tool for scientists trying to unravel the mysteries at the intersection of birds, wildfires and climate change. Researchers are increasingly relying on data collected by citizen scientists and birdwatchers to better understand the effects of climate change, including intensifying wildfire. The eBird app was created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology alongside the National Audubon society, to crowdsource data on the locations and numbers of bird populations globally.

A leading theory behind the south-west die-off is that widespread smoke pollution may have forced birds to start migration sooner than expected. Most of the birds seen dying were migratory. Migration had just started and they were trying to flee the smoke-filled areas and may have starved to death without an opportunity to add extra nutrients for their epic flights. Beyond the effects of smoke on migration patterns, the rise of megafires is also drawing unprecedented attention to the effects smoke may have on a bird’s delicate breathing. Birds and their lungs are certainly affected by smoke. Most of us have heard the phrase “canary in a coalmine”, which comes from the fact that birds are particularly sensitive to toxins in the air. The sensitivity could have something to do with birds’ unique respiratory system. While humans and other mammals use their diaphragm to inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, birds possess a far more
efficient system, essentially inhaling and exhaling at the same time. This allows them to get enough oxygen to fuel near-constant activity and to breathe at much higher altitudes than

To do this, birds have tube-like structures called parabronchi, similar to human alveoli in the lungs, which are covered with sacs and capillaries for gas exchange. And as in humans, smoke damage can burst those bubbles, creating less surface area for gas exchange making it more difficult to breathe.

We can all help by joining eBird and reducing our heat trapping emissions. Go to our Bridgerland Audubon website for more information.

Jack Greene for BAS and I’m wild about Utah, but not its smoke!


Nest Picture: Courtesy US FWS, Steve Maslowski, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Additional Reading: Lyle W Bingham, Webmaster, and Jack Greene, Author, Bridgerland Audubon, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Jack Greene’s Postings on Wild About Utah, https://wildaboututah.org/author/jack/

eBird, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://ebird.org/home

Hellstern, Ron, Wildfires, Wild About Utah, Oct 8, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wildfires/

Boling, Josh, Fire, Wild About Utah, Aug 13, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/fire/

Strand, Holly, Investigating the Causes of Wildfires, Wild About Utah, Aug 15, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/investigating-the-causes-of-wildfires/

Mack, Eric, California Wildfire Smoke Could Explain Thousands Of Dead Birds In The Southwest, Forbes, https://wildaboututah.org/investigating-the-causes-of-wildfires/

I Love Snow

Snow at Bryce Canyon National Park Courtesy NOAA, Mark Stacey, Photographer
Snow at Bryce Canyon National Park
Courtesy NOAA, Mark Stacey, Photographer
I love snow! It began when I was old enough to know the difference, and has continued since. We kids always celebrated the first snow of the year at our home in northern Wisconsin. We waded through it, ate it, made snow angels, looked for the most beautiful snowflake, dug snow caves, and waited for a warm up so we could make snowballs, snow people, and snow forts. Once it got deep enough, we broke out the 6-person toboggan and trudged up the biggest hill we could find. And we couldn’t imagine a Christmas without snow!

When we moved to Cache Valley Utah 34 years ago, I was delighted to learn of its superb snow, reminiscent of N. Wisconsin. Further, I learned of its life and death importance for wildlife. Too much, or too little could spell doom for many of our critters. In a heavy snow year, our deer fawn crop may take a major hit- up to 80% mortality, while small mammals can thrive. Snow is an excellent insulator when deep enough- 8 inches or so will maintain a subnivean (beneath the snow) temperature of 32 degrees when the ambient temperatures plunge well below zero above. Further, they are better protected from predators. Too little snow tells a reverse story- great for predators, but disastrous for their prey.

Snow isn’t just snow. According to those who live in the high latitudes- Eskimos, Siberians, and Scandinavians, they have between 180 and 300 words for different types of snow. As a skier, I have a few myself- powder, crusty, gropple, corn snow, and slush. I’m sure you can guess which of these I prefer.

Utah is world renowned for its extraordinary, low moisture powder- less than 8% water. You’re basically skiing on air. I’m aware of only one other location that beats us- Japan’s Hokkaido mountains with only 4% water content.
Another element of snowfall for the Wasatch front results from the very large lake to our west. Thanks to the Great Salt Lake, our snowfall gets a considerable boost from latent heat and added moisture from this great lake. Additionally, airborne salt particles enhance the formation of snow producing clouds.

I must share an extremely strange and rare phenomenon referred to as “thundersnow”. While skiing the North Ogden bench many years ago, an approaching ominous cloud delivered lightning and thunder, shaking the ground enough to bring up swarms of worms to the snow surface. It took a double take to realize what I was witnessing!
Another strange snow phenomenon is an avalanche. This once soft, pliable medium instantly transformed to cement as the avalanche settles. The friction of sliding snow removes the snowflake crystalline structure, changing it from fluff to a high-density medium. The friction generated heat melts it enough to form the deadly tomb that has encased many.

As the Great Salt Lake shrinks from stream diversions and a warming climate, combined with a dwindling winter season, I cannot help but wonder what will become of our indispensable mountain snowpack, essential for Utah’s water supply and our winter recreation.

Jack Greene for the Bridgerland Audubon Sociey, and I’m wild about Utah’s Snow!


Images: Courtesy NOAA, Mark Stacey, Photographer (2011)
Audio: Contains Audio Courtesy and Copyright Friend Weller
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability and Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Boling, Josh, Snowshoes and Adaptations, Wild About Utah, February 17, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/snowshoes-and-adaptations/

Cane, Jim, Kervin, Linda, Graupel Snow, Wild About Utah, March 3, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/graupel-snow/

Cane, Jim, Kervin, Linda, SNOTEL Snowpack Recording Stations, Wild About Utah, February 7, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/snotel-snowpack-recording-stations/

Liberatore, Andrea, Snowflakes, Wild About Utah, March 10, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/snowflakes/

Mahoney, Ru, Best Snow, Wild About Utah, November 24, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/best-snow/

Strand, Holly, Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Wild About Utah, January 17, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/baby-its-cold-outside/

Strand, Holly, Colorado vs. Utah Snow, Wild About Utah, December 16, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/colorado-vs-utah-snow/

Thundersnow, Weird Weather – NOAA Satellites Keep Watch When Weather Gets Weird, March 26, 2018, National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Department of Commerce, https://www.nesdis.noaa.gov/content/weird-weather-noaa-satellites-keep-watch-when-weather-gets-weird

Equinox, or Equilux?

Equinox, or Equilux: Seasons Courtesy NASA https://www.weather.gov/dvn/Climate_Astronomical_Seasons
Courtesy NASA
We raced west toward home from the high plains, trying to beat the heavy snow that had been forecasted for Labor Day evening. Finally in the canyon—the revelation that seasons had passed while we were away. Temperatures plummeted, and the forests reacted. Favorite stands of aspens were already aglow above that familiar bend in the river. Meteorological fall had promptly arrived.

Its astronomical counterpart—the autumnal equinox—is a bit of a misnomer. The word equinox is our late Middle English iteration of the Latin term for “equal night,” but, astronomically speaking, this isn’t exactly true. The equinox is the single moment when the Earth’s axis is pointing neither toward nor away from the sun, providing entire hemispheres equal portions of light. This year’s autumnal equinox occurs at precisely 7:30 AM on Tuesday, September 22nd, and though daylight and night will share almost equal portions of the clock that day, they don’t split it evenly until two or three days later on what is called the ‘equilux’, meaning “equal light.”

Earth Orbit - With Date Spans, Courtesy National Weather Service (NWS)
Earth Orbit – With Date Spans
Courtesy National Weather Service (NWS)
It works like this. We count daytime from the moment the sun peeks above the horizon to the moment it sinks below. But, of course, the sun isn’t a light switch. We have several minutes of twilight before the sun rises and after it sets thanks to the lens-like refraction provided by our atmosphere. So, on the day of the equinox, those several minutes of twilight before sunrise and after sunset offset the equal exposure of the sun’s rays to our hemisphere by a small margin, giving us a tad more daylight than night. The equilux has to wait for Earth’s tilt to allow darkness to catch up.

But wait. It gets a little more complicated. Because the Earth’s axis begins tilting away from the sun immediately following the autumnal equinox (or toward it following the vernal equinox), different latitudes will experience the equilux at different intervals. As a rule, the closer one is to the equator, the longer they will wait for the equilux to occur in the fall and the sooner it will arrive in the spring. That is, unless you live within 5 latitudinal degrees of the equator. Then, sadly, you don’t get an equilux at all, ever, because you always have more than twelve hours of daylight.

Depending on where you live here in Utah, you will experience the equilux sometime on September 25th or 26th. So, this week, take out your stopwatch, and turn your eyes skyward.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!

Photos: Courtesy Weather.gov, US National Weather Service(NWS), https://www.weather.gov/dvn/Climate_Astronomical_Seasons
Photos: Courtesy
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Josh Boling, 2020

Sources & Additional Reading

The Equinox Isn’t What You Think It Is, PBS Digital Studios, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVDCsXUygEw

Kher, Aparna, Equinox: Equal Day and Night, Almost, https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/equinox-not-equal.html

City of North Logan, Utah, USA — Sunrise, Sunset, and Daylength, September 2020, Time and Date AS, https://www.timeanddate.com/sun/@7173983

Seasons, SciJinks, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, https://scijinks.gov/review/solstice/seasons/

Which Pole is Colder?, Climate Kids, The Earth Science Communications Team, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, https://climatekids.nasa.gov/polar-temperatures/

Earth’s Seasons – Equinoxes and Solstices – 2018-2025, The U.S. Naval Observatory, Astronomical Applications Department, https://www.weather.gov/media/ind/seasons.pdf

Changing seasons, Climate Resource Collections, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/climate/changing-seasons

Boling, Josh, A Solstice Vignette, Wild About Utah, December 16, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/a-solstice-vignette/

Equinoxes, National Geographic, https://youtu.be/kaG6PTVrFP4

What is an Equinox? National Geographic, https://youtu.be/enlih8M5DN0

The Autumnal Equinox is Near, Watch the Skies Blog, NASA, https://blogs.nasa.gov/Watch_the_Skies/tag/equinox/

Weather Wonders

Lightning Storm Courtesy US NPS, J Schmidt, Photographer Yellowstone Weather Collection
Lightning Storm
Courtesy US NPS, J Schmidt, Photographer
Yellowstone Weather Collection
I’m caught in an epic electrical storm in a deep gorge in Montana’s Bear Tooth range. Lightning flashes instantly deliver ground-shaking thunderclaps crashing and booming off thousand foot granite walls. A battleground of the wildest kind! Plunging waterfalls absorb sound energy mimicking an avalanche of boulders. I’m immersed in electrical aura!!
Two days later, I discover a friend was caught in a storm of similar magnitude while exploring high country in the Bear River Range of Northern Utah. He too felt nature’s omnipotence, describing it as heavy battlefield artillery.

Anvil Cloud from the Air Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Jane Hartman, Photographer
Anvil Cloud from the Air
Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Jane Hartman, Photographer
I find our earth’s atmosphere to be mystical- from rainbows to mystery clouds- from tornados to hurricanes and tennis ball sized hail.

The earth’s onionskin-thin atmosphere is a rich soup from microscopic life and dust particles to avifauna and airplanes. Uniform to the eye, its mixture is anything but. Examine a column of air most anywhere and you’ll find it different from any other air column. The components found in this heterogeneous mixture are of endless variety as any atmospheric chemist will tell you.
Many aerosol substances of natural origin are present in locally and seasonally variable amounts, including dust of mineral and organic composition, pollen and spores, sea spray, and volcanic ash to name a few. Various industrial pollutants also may be present as gases or aerosols, such as chlorine and fluorine compounds and elemental mercury vapor. Sulfur compounds such as hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, and oxides of nitrogen may be derived from natural sources or from industrial air pollutants.

Rainbow and Rainshaft Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Jared Rackley, Photographer
Rainbow and Rainshaft
Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Jared Rackley, Photographer
Clouds are utterly fascinating for their beauty and how they are formed. Why do they suddenly appear from thin air? Clouds have three essential ingredients- small particles, water vapor, and a critical temperature called dew point. Considering the air is anything but uniform- including temperature, humidity, and particle types, when these three ingredients converge, Newalla- a cloud is birthed!

Weather Wonders: Cumulonimbus with anvil top (Cumulonimbus Capillatus) Courtesy NOAA NOAA Photo Library
Cumulonimbus with anvil top
(Cumulonimbus Capillatus)
Courtesy NOAA
NOAA Photo Library
My favorites are cumulonimbus- also called thunderheads. They can reach heights of 6 miles and may spawn violent storms, including tornados. They are saturated with both electrical and mechanical energy. Due to updrafts causing friction among icy particles, the cloud becomes electrically charged with positives on top and negatives on the bottom. The strong negative charge at the clouds base creates a temporary positive charge on the ground. Considering opposite charges attract, an exchange of electrical energy may occur- lightening! The extreme heat, averaging 36,300 degrees F, causes molecular collision manifested as sound energy. It can be deafening, resulting in temporary or permanent hearing loss.

Cloud from Orographic Lifting Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Commander John Bortniak, Photographer
Cloud from Orographic Lifting
Courtesy NOAA Photo Library, Commander John Bortniak, Photographer
Our mountains are great cloud makers, referred to as orographic lifting. As the air rises to travel over the summit, it expands and cools, reaching the critical dew point mentioned. Thus, as one increases a thousand feet in elevation the temperature drops about 4 degrees F and gains about 4” of annual precipitation.
More reason to marvel at our miracle planet, more reason to celebrate its beauty, mystery, and fragility.

Jack Greene representing Bridgerland Audubon, and I’m wild about Utah!


Images: Courtesy NPS, Yellowstone Weather Collection, J Schmidt, Photographer
      Courtesy NOAA, NOAA Photo Library, Jane Hartman, Photographer
      Courtesy NOAA, NOAA Photo Library, Jared Rackley, Photographer
      Courtesy NOAA, NOAA Photo Library
      Courtesy NOAA, NOAA Photo Library, Commander John Bortniak, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & Copyright Ewing Nunn
Text:     Jack Greene, USU Sustainability Program Volunteer, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Basic Weather Education, Corpus Christi, National Weather Service, https://www.weather.gov/crp/weather_education

Educational resources, National Headquarters, National Weather Service, https://www.weather.gov/learning

Weather & Atmosphere Education, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://www.noaa.gov/weather-atmosphere-education

Air Quality, Chemical Sciences Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/csl/research/airquality.html

Utah Winter Fine Particulate Study (UWFPS), Chemical Sciences Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/csl/groups/csl7/measurements/2017uwfps/

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Utah’s Changing Climate and Weather, Wild About Utah, December 21, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/utahs-changing-climate-and-weather/

Strand, Holly, Wind, Hold on to Your Hat!, Wild About Utah, June 16, 2011, https://wildaboututah.org/hold-on-to-your-hat/

Strand, Holly, Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Wild About Utah, January 17, 2013, https://wildaboututah.org/baby-its-cold-outside/

Cane, James, Kervin, Linda, Virga: Teasing Rain, Wild About Utah, August 12, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/virga/