A close-up satellite image of Hurricane Isabel taken on Sept. 15, 2003. Courtesy NOAA.

While on our annual backpacking trip to the Uinta Mountains of Utah, my son and his kids and I were blessedly without news of the world for several days. When I was driving home last Saturday, my brother called to chat and mentioned the category four hurricane building off the Baja Peninsula and the far-reaching effects of this storm, which was news to me. I was a little surprised that the storm was being called a hurricane as it was my understanding that hurricanes were a function of the Atlantic, and that in the Pacific they were called cyclones.

As it turns out, I was kind of correct, at least in principle. Hurricanes and typhoons are both tropical cyclones and a storm is called a hurricane, a typhoon or a cyclone depending on where it occurs in the world. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “In the North Atlantic, central North Pacific, and eastern North Pacific, the term hurricane is used. The same type of disturbance in the Northwest Pacific is called a typhoon. Meanwhile, in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, the generic term tropical cyclone is used, regardless of the strength of the wind associated with the weather system.”

All three of these events, hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones, are rotating systems of clouds and thunderstorms that originate over tropical or subtropical waters. These are low pressure areas with a definite center or eye and an undefined edge (no “front” where there is a definite difference in climatic conditions). There actually is one difference. Storms spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere.

As the weekend progressed, this class four hurricane called Hilary, slammed into Mexico’s Baja, then slowed down and was degraded first to a category one hurricane and then to a tropical storm. I did know that a tropical storm is weaker than a hurricane, but I didn’t know why. The only difference between a tropical depression, a tropical storm and various degrees of a hurricane (categories one to five) is wind speed. When sustained wind speeds reach 39 mph, a tropical depression transitions to a tropical storm. When the wind speed increases by 35 mph, reaching sustained winds of 74 mph or more, it becomes a category one hurricane (or typhoon or cyclone, depending on where it occurs). When sustained wind speed reaches 96 mph it becomes a category two, at 111 mph it becomes a category three, at 130 mph sustained winds, it becomes a category four hurricane where substantial damage, even to well-built structures, can be expected. At 157 mph the hurricane enters category five where catastrophic damage is almost certain.

So, Hilary dropped windspeed from a minimum of 130 mph to a maximum of 74 mph, fading from a category four hurricane to a tropical storm. In comparison of the two, it might seem that California’s worries were over. However, 74 mph is the sustained wind, gusts can run much higher so the potential for damage is still there. In addition, three inches of rain were expected and flooding was still a big concern. This was the first tropical storm to hit California in 84 years and they were wise to prepare for flooding and to encourage people to stay home.

All of this made me reconsider just how prepared I am for a natural disaster. A review of my physical situation is definitely in order as a disaster that tests my physical preparedness is not out of the question, even in Idaho.

Tropical storms and even category four or five hurricanes are not unknown in my personal life either. How well I deal with the battering, high water and gale-force winds depends upon preparedness of a different kind. Whether I emerge wounded and disfigured, but triumphant, or face-down in the waves, will depend upon my inner readiness and preparation.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho