Cool out with Molly & the Ringwalds at Mixers!

It’s summer in Houston and that means that the humidity is knocking at the door.

dancing-under-dinosaurs-2Most ladies dread that frizzed out hair look, but not you! You’re going to make the best of that crazy do by putting on that off the shoulder shirt from Express, those white hot leggings from American Apparel, and you’re going to Vogue like Madonna always wanted!

Go ahead, pair that crazy outfit with checkered keds - why? Because Molly & the Ringwalds will be playing at Mixers & Elixirs this Friday night! That means the craziest, coolest, most tubular band is going to ROCK OUT at HMNS under the dinos. See you at 6 p.m.! Be there or be square!  

This week: Molly & The Ringwalds

July 3: Holiday Weekend – Mixers Resume July 10

July 10: Experience a British Invasion with The Fab 5

July 17: Join the high-energy dance floor with the bilingual band Mango Punch

Many more fabulous Mixers to come – check out mixershouston.hmns.org for more info!

Storm Chaser: Tornadoes

Tornado and Lightning
Creative Commons License photo credit: tlindenbaum

Last night, severe storm researcher Tim Samaras gave a thrilling lecture on what it’s like to head towards a tornado – when everyone else is running the other way. He also discussed why he does it – and what can be learned from the data he gathers. He was kind enough to share with us here, as well:

I’m excited to visit the Houston area to talk about something I’m most passionate about: storm chasing! Actually, I’m more than just a storm chaser; I measure these destructive tornadoes by placing special probes in their path. While dangerous to do, the data gathered from my tornado probes is extremely valuable to help us understand how powerful tornadoes really are.

For those who are wondering if real storm chasing and instrument deployments inside tornadoes are similar to the movie Twister, I have disappointing news for you. They are very different. There are no sisters, sidewinders, fingers of God, and above all, no breaks for steak and eggs at aunt Edna’s house. We don’t drive through corn fields, not worrying about where to fold the maps, and most of all, the tornadoes look…well…real.

The probes I deploy in the paths of tornadoes measure the pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction of tornado cores as they pass over the probes. We also have special probes containing video cameras that provide visualization of tornado cores as tornadoes pass overhead. Our research fielding begins on May 1, and runs through the end of July, and we’re teamed up with Iowa State University and the National Geographic Society.

Our field research program is called TWISTEX (Tactical Weather Instrumented Sampling in Tornadoes EXperiment). You can read more about this groundbreaking program, and follow along with our past and future missions here. I also have a personal website, and it contains information on how to get a copy of some of the most dramatic tornado footage ever captured.

Looking at the local forecast, it looks like we have a chance of some strong thunderstorms right here in the Houston area this afternoon and evening. Certainly quite a treat for us, as we left snow flurries back in Denver yesterday!

Ike-ster…what a mess of things you made!

bye bye ike.
Creative Commons License photo credit: tiny white lights

Thus far, my previous blogs have been exploiting some of my old camp journals that are just collecting dust at home.  I’m going to be a bit radical this week and write about a recent topic rather than an event that occurred a decade or two ago.  Today’s blog involves some brief anecdotes I jotted down regarding the recent Hurricane that struck our beloved Houston early in the morning (dark) on 13 September 2008. 

When friends and relatives asked me how it went post-hurricane, without power and many of the creature comforts our society has grown so used to, I replied, “it feels balmy and tranquil, much like my old study site in Amazonia” (which, incidentally, will be the focus of next month’s entry).  A long-time friend of mine named John described the events at his house as ‘Hurrication,’ where the teens were forced to interact with the rest of the family through playing board games, consuming massive quantities of perishable food during marathon cookouts, and everyone generally having a great time despite circumstances.  With no power, roads blocked by downed trees and electrical lines, and lines to purchase gasoline not worth the struggle, it was a great time to deflate and smell what remained of the flowers.  My family and I went on many walks to cool off since the outside was overall cooler than the inside the house.  During this time we made various observations of how the storm affected the local urban wildlife, which I will attempt to recount below.

- Vegetation was mangled, or completely removed in many cases.  Huge pine trees with a diameter exceeding a yard were snapped clean off at the base like a toothpick.  The animals which depended on such plant communities to thrive had their lives thrown into complete chaos, through their habitat being mangled, or completely removed. 

Blue Jay 13
Creative Commons License photo credit:
BobMacInnes

- It had been a couple of years since we had seen any Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) in our yard, yet several individuals passed through after the storm, trying to stake out a new territory.  One pair even chased a large Buteo hawk into a tree in our front yard, where it rested briefly before being found and further harassed by the jays.

- We figured mosquitoes would be abundant from the rain that followed the storm, but not a one.  Most wildlife was noticeably lacking.  I was extremely disturbed at absolutely no sign of any of the four species of doves commonly found in the neighborhood, and you can guess my relief when they began to return six days after the storm.  It is very likely that many of the birds left the region well in advance of the storm.  Wildlife seems to have an internal barometric gauge.  For example, prior to the massive typhoon in south-east Asia, much of the wildlife left the coastal forest for the higher interior forest.

Click
Creative Commons License photo credit: mandj98

- Whereas some wildlife left prior to the storm, other species stayed and were noticeably more active.  An unusually high number of Carpenter Bees (Xylocopa sp.) were all over our house gardens, perhaps trying to find new resources since their former founts were now gone.  Similarly, displaced Fox Squirrels (Sciurus niger) were actively scurrying about in search of a new dwelling in light of the huge piles of fallen trees and limbs.

- A Red-eared Slider (Trachemys scripta) was found dead on the road on the corner of Haddon and Morse.  These aquatic turtles are not native to this region, but introduced through the pet trade.  The fact that it was at least a mile or two from Buffalo Bayou was amazing.  All the rain and mild flooding that followed the tail end of the storm may have transported this turtle from the bayou to the suburbs, where it sadly met its death.  We knew it was a young turtle, as the carapace (upper shell) was only 12.5 cm (5 inches) in diameter.

- Another casualty from the storm involved a flock of approximately 20 House Sparrows (Passer domesticus).  These were all over the sidewalk of a small alley by a Marble Slab ice cream shop in a strip shopping center near our house.  Perhaps they had taken cover in the only thing they were able to find once the storm got really rough, where they sadly met their death.  Like the turtle mentioned above, these non-migratory (i.e., annual resident) birds were also introduced to the U.S.

Without a doubt, for me personally, the most unfortunate aspect of Ike’s wrath was the devastation it did to various reserves that are crucial to migrating Neotropical songbirds.  High Island, Bolivar Peninsula, Sabine Woods and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge are only a few of these sites that were hit really hard.  However, with time and effort by loyal volunteers, these refuges will again be hotspots for Neotropical avian migrants passing through our beloved state of Texas.

-D.B., 13 October 2008
(1 month after Ike hit)