Our Field Trip to the NWS

I haven’t written often lately. I haven’t been sleeping well so my days are spent in sort of a fog. Ugh.

But life has been going well. Summer is sliding into Autumn and while the days are still warm, the temps are getting cooler. It is so much more pleasant. I love it. Autumn is my favorite season.

Last night was the last full moon of Summer. It was a super moon–or so I heard. Actually, it was quite rainy last night so we didn’t see the moon at all. However, the sky was clear the night before and the moon was almost full and very bright. EJ grew up on a farm and also goes hunting and he used to try to describe nights in which the moon was so bright that it cast a shadow and a person didn’t need a flashlight to see. I’ve always lived in a town where there were streetlights and I couldn’t image what he was trying to describe. But now that we live here in Northern Michigan, I understand. Without all the city lights, the moon is so bright that it hurts my eyes and when it’s full it lights up the landscape like a spotlight. It’s breathtakingly beautiful.

A wheelbarrow full of rocks.
A wheelbarrow full of rocks.

I’ve been busy with my projects. Now and then throughout the summer, I’ve been hauling potato stones down the driveway to build little dams to prevent erosion. It’s more enjoyable now that the days are cooler. While I’m hauling and building dams, I’m always finding beautiful and interesting rocks, which I set aside to take up to the house. EJ does the same. It’s actually a bit surprising that we leave any rocks in the driveway. We declare that we are going to start polishing rocks and maybe selling them. Not all of them. Some are so interesting that we will keep them for ourselves. Like this rock, which is a fossilized sponge. I shared a picture of it at the FB page Great Lakes Rocks & Minerals and a woman said she loves sponges and wanted to trade me for it. But I think this rock is awesome so I politely declined:


EJ had made a really nice feeder for the chickens, but they tend to waste a lot of it by scattering it on the ground. Meanwhile, I had the ducks’ feed in an old dog dish and the silly ducks kept walking over the dish and spilling out their food. So we made a new feeder for the chickens out of a bucket and a low tray that I had put under a potted plant. Now the chickens waste a lot less feed. I moved their old feeder over for the ducks. They can’t walk over it  so they waste less too. I also found an unused kitty litter box in the garage and after cleaning it well, I put it in the chicken pen for a nesting box. They really seem to like it and I often find an egg in it.

We are now getting three chicken eggs every day. We also get a duck egg every morning. Sometimes Peeper lays a HUGE egg, which is always a double-yolker. Duck eggs feel different from chicken eggs although I think they taste the same. I learned that chicken and duck eggs have different types of protein. A person might be allergic to chicken eggs but be able to eat duck eggs just fine. And sometimes people who can enjoy chicken eggs don’t do well with duck eggs. So far we are able to eat both. Here are the difference between the eggs:

Peeper and Cuddles wandering.
Peeper and Cuddles wandering outside the chicken pen.

This morning I was chatting with EJ and glanced out the window and started to laugh–because I saw the ducks wandering about. We let them free-range so they can go wherever they want. It always surprises me when I glimpse them unexpectedly. They always come running when I go outside because they think I have a treat for them–which often I do. They are so funny that they always make me laugh.

National Weather Service - Gaylord
National Weather Service – Gaylord

This morning the National Weather Service station at Gaylord, Michigan was giving tours of their facility. Ever since we first heard of it weeks ago, we have been eagerly anticipating the tour. We love weather.

The tour began at the door of their facility. There was actually quite a line of people. They let about 25 people at a time go through.

The first stop of the tour.
The first stop of the tour.

Our first stop was at the front desk where we were told about the NWS and the service area that the Gaylord station covers. I knew that it covered all of Northern Michigan, but was surprised that their area also extends up into the Upper Peninsula. In addition to weather forecasts and storm warnings, they also provide marine reports for Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, and Lake Superior, as well as forecasts for local airports. And they give reports of fire danger to organizations such as the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR).

The tornado machine
The tornado machine

When we first entered the building, the man told the children that they could go up to the little “tornado machine” sitting on a counter and stick their hands in it. Some of us adults were like, “Uh….what about us?” When we walked past it to go to the next step of the tour, I stuck my hand in it. It felt misty–like touching a cloud.

Watching a video in the conference room.

Next, we were directed into a conference room where we watched a short video about Doppler radar and weather balloons. It was very interesting.

The next stop of the tour was in the “Operations Room.” Our “guide” introduced himself and the other meteorologist and explained all that goes into forecasting the weather as well as how they initiate storm watches and warnings. Very fascinating.

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Then we went outside to watch the release of a weather balloon. We learned that twice every day all the weather stations around the world release weather balloons at the same time in order to gather the weather information that enables them to forecast the weather. The meteorologist told us that today was a perfect day to release the balloons…but it’s not so pleasant in the winter when it’s very cold and windy. As the balloons go higher into the sky, they expand to as much as 23 feet–the size of a small school bus–before they pop. The attached device then falls to the earth. If a person finds one, he can mail it back in an included envelope but most of the time they are not recovered–especially in our area with all of its forests and lakes. The weather device measures the conditions as it ascends but stops measuring when the balloon pops because it’s falling too fast for measurements to be taken. For the tours, the station attacked “dummy” devices to the balloons because the real devices cost several hundred dollars each.

Coast Guard
Coast Guard

The Coast Guard brought one of their helicopters to the station for us to see as well. EJ works near the Coast Guard Station so he sees them coming and going all day long but this is the first time either of us had ever been so close to one or had a chance to interact with a member of the Coast Guard. His stories were fascinating. I didn’t realize that it was so difficult to fly a helicopter or that duties are different at different Coast Guard stations. He said that members stay at a station for four years before  being transferred. They can list stations that they’d like to be transferred to, but where they are sent depends on a lot of factors. Whether or not there is a vacancy, for example. Also, a person who works at a busy station will usually be transferred to a less busy station next. The guy said that this is his first duty and everyone tells him that he is getting spoiled because “our” station is different from many others. Our station mostly does search and rescue and there is a lot of down time. Other stations in the country are much busier. Someone in the crowd asked where he’d like to go next–and if he’d choose Florida. He said that Florida is at the bottom of his list because the skills he is learning now would not be useful in Florida and he doesn’t really want to lose his skills. The station in Florida doesn’t do search and rescue. Instead, they primarily try to prevent drugs from coming into the country. If search and rescue is needed, the station in Savannah sends a team.

It was all so very fascinating. I learned a lot. I especially like that I got to see “our” NWS station and the people responsible for forecasting the weather in our area. I also was glad to meet one of our Coast Guard members. At our old house, we lived pretty far from the coast so the Coast Guard wasn’t a major factor in our lives. Up here in the north, the Coast Guard has a real impact.

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