The sun not only supplies the light and warmth we need to survive on this planet, but it is also the engine that creates our weather.
I am studying to get a remote pilot certification to allow me to commercially fly my drone. The subjects have been very similar to what an aircraft pilot needs to know including loading (things like G-forces) and aircraft performance, understanding aeronautical charts and communications. The level of detail needed to certify as a remote pilot is impressive, especially given the fact that not a single second is dedicated to learning how to safely FLY one of the things. I can achieve certification and not even know how to get the drone off the ground.
I missed the class on weather though and my friend, who happens to be the instructor, made me a video copy of the lecture. I watched the video last Saturday while a snowstorm raged outside. I was, once again, surprised by the detail that pilots are required to know about the weather. For instance, did you know that fog just isn’t fog? Aviators recognize at least six kinds: Radiation, ground, advection, upslope, steam and ice fog. These different fogs form under unique circumstances. Radiation fog forms on cold, clear and still nights when the ground cools quickly through heat radiation to the atmosphere and the air reaches its dewpoint. Steam fog, also called sea smoke, forms when cold dry air moves across warm water. The water evaporates into the air, looking like smoke from a fire.
Over the course of an hour, I learned about cold fronts, thunderstorms, high and low-pressure systems, dewpoint, inversions, turbulence, windshear and microbursts, clouds, atmospheric stability and more. Each one of these is a topic worthy of a later column.
However, what I found most interesting was a statement in the accompanying manual at the beginning of the section on weather: “The major source of all weather is the sun.” I had never thought of weather in that way. As I read on though, I could see that this statement was perfectly accurate.
Weather is largely a result of the heating and cooling of the earth. If everything heated and cooled uniformly, our weather would be much different than what we actually experience. Things don’t evenly heat and cool though. The black basalt at Craters of the Moon National Monument absorbs the sun’s energy quickly and radiates heat back out as the sun fades. A snow-covered surface reflects the energy, absorbing very little and a vegetated surface absorbs and retains it.
The sun’s rays don’t fall upon the earth evenly either. Near the equator, the rays come nearly straight down: a square foot of earth receives a full complement of sunbeams. Progress toward the poles however, and the angle of the sun increases, and each square foot of sun rays covers more and more surface area with a consequent reduction in power.
All this differential heating causes evaporation, freezing, updrafts and downdrafts and ultimately the uneven heating of the earth’s atmosphere. Warmer air rises and colder air falls, dragging atmospheric pressure up or down on its currents and the Earth gets the rain, snow and wind that sustain us.
Despite having experienced what the earth would be like without the sun during the eclipse last year, I know I take that yellow ball in the sky for granted all too often. This lesson has renewed my respect for the supreme role the sun plays in maintaining life on this planet.
Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!
On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.
Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf.
If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.
Help Idaho Wildlife
Sadly, when we traveled across the state in October, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates.
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.
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. Go figure.
"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.
"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:
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Perfect Light Photo Supply
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