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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Satellite Propane Tank Monitor

During last week's 24-hour power outage, our Kohler generator took care of matters but I noticed that our 1,000-gallon underground propane tank was at the 30% level.  Not too bad, but it might get dicey in a real extended outage or if the road was blocked -- as it was -- by a white birch slaughtered power line that was firing white lightning from a half-dozen cuts in the wire. 

First Fuel & Propane, had developed a delivery schedule based on our customary propane usage.  I called them and asked for more frequent deliveries in order to keep the level above 50% as a hedge against extended power outages.  Instead, they told me they would install a satellite wireless remote tank monitor in my tank at no charge.  Yesterday, in the middle of the snow storm, they did exactly that.  I'd been happy with this company for the past two years and this new capability has further impressed me with their excellent service.

Austin and David
Wesrock Satellite Transmitter atop Underground Tank

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Bird Show

I once went to a bird show at Busch Gardens in Florida.  We watched Tweety and Woody jump through hoops.  Well, as tends to happen in Florida, a downpour hit out of nowhere prompting a youngster to wail out "I KNEW we shouldn't have come to this bird show!!"  It added a new phrase to my vocabularly and it usually comes to mind around this time of the year as Linda puts up her bird ornament Christmas Tree.  That's right... all bird ornaments... all the time.  And the annual unveiling of the "Bird of the Year," which gets more air play than Time Magazine's "Person of the Year."

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Winds of 2012

As I type this, the highest wind gust so far today was 17 mph at 6:03 a.m.  That's a strong wind, given my wind anemometer is only 5 feet above ground.  I decided it was about time I researched an adjustment factor to convert the wind speed reported by my anemometer at 5 feet above ground to the approximate average 60 foot height of the hemlocks surrounding the weather station.  Best as I can determine, converting calculus formulas to a simple "rule-of-thumb," the factor I arrived at is 1.33.  So the 17 mph gust at 6:03 a.m. this morning converts to about 23 mph.  A comparison with the wind data provided by the two closest professional grade weather stations -- downtown Berlin and West Grafton -- seems to validate this factor.

Take a look at the Plateau weather charts from yesterday,  the wind gusts really ramped up through the evening.  You can access these graphs at any time, using the pull-down menus for the day of interest by clicking here.

KNYGRAFT2 Weather Graph
Further Reading
Adjusting Wind Speeds (Aerostar Wind Turbines)
Wind Gradient (Wikipedia)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fairpoint Communications to the Rescue!

Fairpoint Communications Support

Friday, Dec. 21, approximately 9 a.m.: Forty foot white birch crushes utility and phone lines in 30+mph wind gusts.  Sparks aflying, white flames aflaming.  Initial report made to National Grid.
Friday, Dec. 21, approximately 4 p.m.: Plea to National Grid.  "This is no joke -- Utility Line Massacre.  Request reinforcments."
Saturday, Dec. 22, approximately 1 p.m.: National Grid calvary arrives. Repairs line. "That other line ain't ours -- phone company's." "Do you notify them?" "No."
Saturday, Dec. 22, approximately 1:30 p.m.: Call to Fairpoint Communications Support. "How Can We Help?"  -- "By sending in the Navy Seala to rescue your line, about 200 feet of which is on the ground awaiting snow plow blades and about 1/8 mile of which is, shall we say, "hanging low" over the road."  "We're on it. Dispatch made."
Wednesday, Dec. 26, approximately 11 a.m.: Fairpoint repair truck rounds the bend and gets to work.
Wednesday, Dec. 26, noon:  Everything is going to be allllllll righhht!!!  Another chapter in the December 21, 2012 Utility Line Massacre comes to a close.  Life is good.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Thank You National Grid!

I thanked this National Grid crew just before I snapped this photo of them leaving the scene of the December 21, 2012 "Power Line Massacre."  Good guys.  And, given the number of trees down in the area, one day to restore power isn't too bad.  But I must say, or risk my official cranky old fartdom membership, that the power to those lines should still have been turned off sooner due to the risk of fire. 

Of course, nothing is simple.  There's still a thick line down... pushed off the main road, but crossing the driveways of several folks.  The crew told me it's phone company lines (not our job... ).  So I just got off the phone explaining to the Fairpoint Communications customer service representation "Yes. yes... I still have phone and DSL service, but your line is down waiting for the snow plows to come and rip through it. No, it's not the line leading to my house, like I said it's the MAIN line that is strung between poles and connected to a coupler...."  I think I got through.  We'll see.  If not, you won't be seeing a post tomorrow since this blog is powered by Fairpoint DSL Internet service.  And, yes, this blog may appear to have had its layout altered -- somehow, in this fracas, I must have done something to it, but haven't yet figured out what.

Site of the December 21, 2012 "Power Line Massacre"
(NYS Historical Marker pending)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Waiting for National Grid

National Grid Power Line "Aflare"

Power Line Slaughtered - Taconic Lake Way (west)
The tree came down around 9 a.m. this morning, bringing with it about 1/4 mile of power line.  National Grid was immediately notified that sparks were flying -- not just power out.  A safety issue.  Another call to National Grid around 4 p.m., notifying that 4 or 5 white flares were emanating from the wires on the ground.  Surrounded by brush.  Homes in vicinity. At least turn off this portion of the network so a fire doesn't start and fix ASAP.  I was told the dispatch would be made immediately.

I now know how the folks in Queens (NYC) felt during their Tropical Storm Sandy fires and dealings with the Long Island Power Authority.  It's 6pm as I type this.  The power is still out, but I hope National Grid has at least addressed the sparks/flare issue.  I can't tell because I'm inside 1/4-mile away from the "root cause."


The Wind Storm of December 21, 2012

KNYGRAFT2 Weather Graph
These charts are from my weather station.  Note in the chart above, wind gusts have hit the 20+mph range -- and the wind anemometer is about 5 feet above our raised bed septic system -- way below the tops of the surrounding trees.  I think the wind at the tree canopy levels cound approach double this.  So trees are down again.  One was down right outside my office window in RPI's Folsom Library.  Many down on Hoosick Street in Troy.  At least two of my co-workers lost their roof shingles.  One, who lives in the Town of Brunswick, lost all her evergreens. 
Here at the lake, a good size tree came down on the west side of Taconic Lake Way and took the power with it.  An upcoming post on that.  Closer to home, we lost the following smaller tree that was near our raised bed septic system.  Every lost tree is painful.
The good news (at least for us):
1.  I could drive to our house via a route which normally isn't snow plowed because we haven't had significant snow accumulation (yet).
2. The Kohler generator, installed in September, is powering this posting:
But, the propane supply clock is ticking....

Thursday, December 20, 2012

NY-Alert Wind Advisory

NY-Alert (Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES))- Andrew M. Cuomo (Governor)

I subscribe to the NY-Alert service in my blog reader.  Usually, pretty boring stuff.  This one just caught my eye...

Headline: Wind Advisory issued December 20 at 12:05PM EST until December 21 at 1:00PM EST by NWS Albany
Activation Time: 12/20/12 12:05 PM
Expiration Time: 12/20/12 8:15 PM
Issued By: NWS Albany (Eastern New York and Western New England)
Affected Jurisdictions: Albany County (All)
Columbia County (All)
Dutchess County (All)
Fulton County (All)
Hamilton County (All)
Herkimer County (All)
Rensselaer County (All)
Schenectady County (All)
Warren County (All)
Washington County (All)
Description: ...Wind Advisory In Effect From Midnight Tonight To 1 PM EST Friday... The National Weather Service In Albany Has Issued A Wind Advisory...Which Is In Effect From Midnight Tonight To 1 PM EST Friday. * Locations...Western And Southern Adirondacks...Western Mohawk Valley...Helderbergs...Lake George Region...Taconics...And Northern Litchfield Hills. * Hazards...Strong Winds. * Winds...Southeast 20 To 30 Mph With Gusts Up To 50 Mph. * Timing...Wind Speeds Will Increase This Evening...Becoming Strong Overnight Through Friday Morning. * Impacts...Strong Wind Gusts May Bring Down Some Trees Or Tree Limbs...Which Could Result In Scattered Power Outages. Also Loose Objects May Be Propelled.
Instructions: A Wind Advisory Means That Winds Of 31 To 39 Mph Are Expected Or Wind Gusts Of 46 To 57 Mph Are Expected. Winds This Strong Can Make Driving Difficult...Especially For High Profile Vehicles. Use Extra Caution.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Poor Man's Generator

Empire SR Radiant Heater

Vent-free gas-fired radiant heaters.  "Poor Man's Generator."  That's what Dale Wager of Flame-Pro, Inc. in Averill Park calls them.  At a fraction of the cost of a full-house generator, one of these installed in your basement or enclosed crawl space can "hold the fort" in the event of a black-out or boiler failure, preventing pipes (and you) from freezing.  They run on LP or natural gas with no A/C power connection.

We recently installed a full-house Kohler generator, but our boiler is, shall we say, finicky... or too high-tech for its own good.  In any event, I was looking for boiler insurance.  Dale maintains our propane fireplace and he mentioned them to me.  Just what the doctor ordered!  Now installed, it keeps our basement at a proper heat level, and can be cranked up in the event of a boiler failure -- or generator + boiler failure.  Call me paranoid, but we had a frozen pipe "incident" two years ago when the temperature went down to -26 degrees.  Not fun.  Not pretty.  The damage: $1,000!  Plus, trying to find an experienced HVAC technician to respond out our way. I've decided that a full-house generator, and now an unvented gas-fired heater, is part the cost of living in paradise on the Rensselaer Plateau.

Additional Information

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Lake Freezeth Over

I've decided I'm going to keep a weather log of key events.  It's my third year on the lake and this year is the latest the lake has begun to freeze over.  I took the banner photo at 6:50am this morning.  You can see that the lake is almost covered with ice.  That all happened last night.  Of course, note from the web shot from my weather station, that the temperature hit 20 degrees at midnight.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Elhannon Nursery

Shadblow Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)

Pictured above is a fully grown Shadblow tree we purchased from Elhannon Nurseries.  We had driven by, what looked to be a small tree nursery on Route 22 in Hoosick, just a bit before the intersection of Routes 22 and 7, and never thought much of it.  Being in the market for a tree to cover a large windowless portion of the house, led us to stop by the place.  Although wholesale and large businesses/institutions (e.g. IBM Headquarters and RPI), Elhannon accepts walk-in retail orders.

We were shocked to find that there's much more than meets the eye as you zip by on Rt 22.  It extends all the way to the Hoosic River and is the largest wholesale tree nursery in the state!  We met the owner, Jim Sutton, and he is a fountain of information on trees and a very likable guy.  He suggested we bring him a photo of the spot where we intended to plant the tree and a small soil sample.  With this in hand on our next trip to the nursery, he suggested a Shadblow and helped us pick it out (we actually went with his recommendation -- he REALLY knows his trees!).  We placed the order, Jim delivered and planted the tree and we are happy customers.

Click here to access Elhannon Wholesale Tree Nursery's Facebook page. 

Friday, November 9, 2012

Let It Snow!

Enough politics already.

Time to get the cross-country skis and snowshoes ready to go!  I took the above photo of our driveway at 6:45am this morning.  Turning onto Taconic Lake Road and heading south, after about a mile, the significant white stuff started making an appearance on the way home last night -- 1,500' above sea level seemed about the threshold.  We're at 1,650 feet.

Click here to get a preview of the Farmer's Almanac prediction for this winter.  Key line: "Snowfall be will below normal in most other locations that have snow."  Personally, I'm rooting for "above normal..."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy Data

Here are some charts from my weather station using data from Monday and Tuesday.  I now see that there were several gusts higher than I previously reported -- a few got up in the range of 27mph between 7 and 8pm on Monday and on Tuesday one got as high as 30mph at noon on Tuesday.  So at tree canopy heights, I'd add at least 5mph to these figures.

KNYGRAFT2 Weather Graph

  KNYGRAFT2 Weather Graph

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

We Dodged a Bullet

It could have been a LOT worse.  I feared hemlocks falling like matchsticks.  Instead, lots of dead trees that had been threatening to come down came down.  I only saw two live trees of significant size destroyed.  Two trees across our dirt road -- one I was just barely able to move with the help of a six foot iron bar I brought along with me on the way to work and the other will have to wait for chain saw action. 

Our power went out for several hours.  My thanks to Ben Krahforst of ACT Electric for doing a good job installing our 14 KW Kohler generator that passed its first real test. 

We only got about a 1/2-inch of rain. Wind gusts reached 23mph at the West Grafton weather station, 19mph at my Rensselaer Plateau weather station and 22 mph at the Berlin weather station. The aneometer on my weather station is not as high as it should be, so I suspect gusts reached 22-23 in the tree canopies.  Temperatures were extraordinarily high, staying in the fifties throughout the evening.

So, I am grateful that it wasn't nearly as bad as it could have been.  But something's happening with the climate.  I believe global warming is behind the weird stuff we've been experiencing.  I'm hopeful the right guy for the job gets elected and will focus a bit more on that in his second term.  One of these "100-year" storms could truly wreak havoc and destroy the character of the Plateau.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy

Track wind speed, rainfall and more real-time at the Rensselaer Plateau Weather station by clicking here (or the link under the Rensselaer Plateau Life banner photo at any time).  Let's keep our fingers crossed that the winds don't get as nasty as in the Storm of 1950 or the New England Hurricane of 1938.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Walk in the Woods

A recent walk in the woods, yielded these photos of mushrooms.  (Christmas is coming up, I need to add a mushroom identification book or two to my "Wish List").

Speaking of a walk in the woods, Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail is good for some real belly laughs.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Small Town": Dirty Politics

"What really committed us to the struggle was a conversation we had with Harvey Dakin.  We knew that he had been suggested for the post of chief of the auxiliary police, and we went to ask him if he planned to accept.  It was in the early evening, and he was taking a nap after a day in the woods and a hearty supper.  He roused himself and sat on the couch, his hair rumpled and his lumberman's shirt full of wrinkles.  he knew as well as we why he was being considered: because he was fearless and because he was universally respected in the town, though not universally liked.  The politicians realized that he could do the job, and there was almost no one else who could, and though they must have lamented the necessity, they were willing to appoint him.  He smoked and scowled and looked up at us.  Did we know what would happen, he asked.  Sooner or later the politicians would double-cross him, there would be one hell of a row, and the whole organization would break up.  We insisted that the politicians could be beaten, and he began telling us stories of dirty politics in the town, stories that seemed incredible then though we have since come to know that they were true.  Again and again we assured him that we wanted to fight, no matter what the odds.  He brought out the list of men whom the politicians had recommended as auxiliary policemen and characterized certain of them with profane eloquence.  We promised to support him if he made his acceptance conditional on his being given the right to select his own men.  And when in the end he agreed to take the job, we knew that we should never be forgiven if we let him down."

Hicks, Granville. Small Town. New York: Macmillan, 1946.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Name That Tree!

Click here for the answer(?). As always, send me an email (see my profile below) if I've got it wrong.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Serenity at the Grafton Peace Pagoda

Nothing like a stroll through the Grafton Peace Pagoda nature trail, or a meditation session at the temple to slow you down...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Autumn Colors

As I pondered this view yesterday, I decided it was time to research what exactly causes the leaves to turn colors and why some years the colors are more brilliant than others.

What causes this phenomenon?
As for the primary cause, the Science Made Simple website posting Autumn Leaves and Fall Foliage: Why Do Leaves Fall Colors Change? explains "The bright reds and purples we see in leaves are made mostly in the fall. In some trees, like maples, glucose is trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn cause the leaves turn this glucose into a red color. The brown color of trees like oaks is made from wastes left in the leaves"

Why are the colors more brilliant some years than others?
 From the USDA Forest Service's Why Leaves Change Colors, "A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays. During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. These conditions-lots of sugar and lots of light-spur production of the brilliant anthocyanin pigments, which tint reds, purples, and crimson. Because carotenoids are always present in leaves, the yellow and gold colors remain fairly constant from year to year."  The exact opposite of what I had thought -- I had it in my head that the "good" years were caused by an early hard frost. According to this explanation, this should be a really good year for brilliant colors.

Additional Reading
The Science of Color in Autumn Leaves (The United States Arboretum)

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Rayleigh Scattering Kind of Morning

I took this photo this morning.  Interesting contrast of coloring as I panned from my right (photo above) to my left (photo below).  Apparently, a lot of atmospheric particles for light to bounce off this morning.  Lord Rayleigh would have undoubtedly particularly found the above view of Rayleigh Scattering in effect thought provoking.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Part of the Truth": School Politics

"Grafton having seven one-room schools, attempts were constantly being made to bring all or at least some of the common school districts into the Berlin Central District.  Mildred Craib, who was superintendent of an area that included Grafton, Berlin, and a couple of other towns, was a woman of enormous patience and persistence, and in the spring of 1941 she began to agitate, as she had done before, for centralization.  Two of Mrs. Craib's children, Pat and Bill, were friends of Steph -- an older son, Rod, was away at college -- and we came to know the Craibs well.  A local committee was formed, of which I was a member, along with Harry Nugent, who was the Republican boss of the town.  Although he kept an eye on public sentiment, as befitted a politician, Harry worked hard, and we attended conferences at the State Education Department and brought speakers to public meetings in Grafton.  In addition to the usual arguments -- "One-room schools were good enough for me," and, "I can't afford to pay any more taxes" -- we had to combat a special prejudice against Berlin -- "Why go any further into the backwoods?  Why not send the kids to Troy?"  But for a while it appeared that we were making progress, and if in the end our campaign came to nothing, at least it broadened my knowledge of the town and gave me material for the novel."

Hicks, Granville. Part of the Truth. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Small Town: Roxborough (Grafton)


"This town of ours straddles a range of hills lying between the valley of the Hudson and the valley of the Little Hoosac.  Going west from Troy, one climbs steadily and crosses the Roxborough border at an elevation of approximately one thousand feet.  The climb steepens, and at Roxborough Center the elevation is over fifteen hundred.  Just beyond the center the highway begins its descent to the Little Hoosac, and the eastern boundary is some twelve hundred feet above sea level.  The ridge drops off sharply to the north, but on the south it continues into the adjoining town.

From our house, which has an elevation of sixteen hundred feet, we look eastward across the valley to the Taconics, a thousand feet higher than we are, and beyond them we can see Greylock.  The Massachusetts line runs close to the top of the Taconics, only twelve miles away, and a little to the north it gives way to the Vermont line.

This area became the frontier in the latter third of the eighteenth century.  I have always been amazed by the rapidity with which the colonies expanded into what Frederick Turner called the Old West.  By 1645 the frontier of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was twenty miles west of Boston, and at the close of King Philip's War in 1676 it had been pushed another thirty or forty miles.  (Only a little later my father's ancestor's began to establish themselves on another frontier -- down east in Maine.)  From the Connecticut Valley the settlers moved on to the Housatonic: Litchfield (1720), Sheffield (1725), Great Barrington (1730).  In King George's War, Fort Massachusetts -- just across the Taconics at the foot of Greylock -- held the Hoosac gateway, and after 1763 the Berkshire towns were established.  By the time the Revolution began, New Englanders had spilled over into York State.  Towns near Roxborough had come into existence, and Roxborough itself probably had a few squatters."

Hicks, Granville. Small Town. New York: Macmillan, 1946.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Red-Spotted Newt

Eastern (Red-Spotted) Newt
I spotted this guy earlier this week and decided to read up on him.  Most interesting finds: I was surprised to learn that they can live 12 to 15 years.  Also, research described in the article, Ferromagnetic material in the Eastern Red-Spotted Newt, states "Our data, when combined with the functional properties of homing, suggest a link between this behavioral response and the presence of ferromagnetic material, raising the possibility that magnetite is involved at least in the map component of homing of the eastern red-spotted newt."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Part of the Truth": Planting Trees

"Our fields were growing up to brush, and Dr. Sampson was constantly urging us to reforest them.  In the fall of 1940, when I had cut and burned a good deal of the brush, Mr Agan said to me, “That’s a good job you’re doing.  Next spring, if we both live, we’ll set out some trees.”  We did.  I ordered six thousand red pines and two thousand spruces, two-year transplants, from the State Conservation Department, and when they came, Mr. Agan, who had grown exceedingly deft in his long experience with Dr. Sampson, planted them."

Hicks, Granville. Part of the Truth. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.

New York State Tree Nursery: Saratoga Springs, NY

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Part of the Truth": The Storm of 1950

Surface Weather Chart for 0300 GMT, Nov. 26, 1950 (Addt'l. Reading #4)
"That was the autumn of the big wind, which did almost as much damage as the ice storm and robbed us of our electricity for just short of a week.  The wind, straight out of the east, grew stronger and stronger all through the day, and all night we heard the crashing of tree limbs.  In the morning we found that a butternut tree had been felled, that one of the big maples had been torn apart, and that all of our trees had suffered.  Calvin and I went exploring in the Jeep, taking axes to clear the road, and found havoc everywhere.  On the shore of Long Pond, for example, a large grove of hemlocks had gone down, with not a tree left standing.  "When something like this happens," Cal said, "don't it make you feel kind of famous?""

Hicks, Granville. Part of the Truth. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.

Additional Reading
  1. Nov 25, 1950: Storm of the century hits eastern U.S.
  2. Nature's Wrath: The Big Blowdown of 1950  
  3. Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 
  4. The Destructive Storm of November 25-27, 1950
  5. The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950