Archive for the ‘weather’ Category

May I please have some Global Warming?

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

I know, I know, it’s cold everywhere this week, and Houston is no exception. In fact, this is the coldest weather I’ve experienced in the last 11 years in Houston. I’m cold. And it’s not just the weather.

I’ve previously faced 22 degrees in Illinois, Ohio, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. But in all those of places, I not only had heat but also buildings designed to retain their heat… unlike our drafty Houston bungalow. It’s so cold in our house that Bill is wearing a Hoodie… indoors.

We either need to make a serious investment in weatherstripping and insulation, or I need those greenhouse gases I keep hearing about to get to work!

Welcome back bluebonnets!

Friday, March 26th, 2010

It’s spring again this week in Houston. (By “again” I mean since two weeks ago.) As I returned from a meeting midday, Bill asserted, “We’re going to lunch and you’re bringing your camera. We’re going somewhere we can eat al fresco. Then I’m taking you to Jackson Hill Park. And you won’t step into traffic.”

I’m coming to recognize that the rare occasions when Bill asserts A Plan generally lead to good outcomes, and I agreed. Today’s agenda turned out to be stalking bluebonnets. I had fun this afternoon, and I hope you enjoy our photos (click for larger):

bluebonnets by downtown

lotsa bluebonnets

bluebonnet closeup

Bill

tree with bluebonnets

Bob

Dear Arctic Blast: please don’t break our pipes!

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

This is a winter weather forecast unlike any I’ve seen since moving back to Houston in 1999. Note the forecasted lows:

arctic Houston weather

Brrr! Houston gets at least one cold snap every winter that prompts newscasters to say fervently, “It could freeze!” and urge viewers to protect their pipes, pets, and plants (“the three Ps”). But living in the central city, urban heat island effects have kept our neighborhood from freezing. Until now.

When I woke up Friday it was 32 degrees at our house, for the first time since we’ve lived there. When I headed to the airport, the water in the ditch at my bus stop was frozen in pretty swirls. (We won’t dwell on which contaminants made it pretty.)

frozen ditch
Icy ditch at my bus stop held frozen swirls

The forecast calls for “hard freezes” over night for several days, which is great for killing off mosquitoes and fleas, but scary for homeowners. Our bungalow was built in 1930 and the water pipes are in the attic, well ventilated and uninsulated. If we were home, we would try to address that. But as I was heading to Vegas, I had to leave several faucets dripping and hope for the best.

Our neighbors phoned early this morning to say that a hot water pipe on the north side of their house is frozen. That didn’t bode well for our pipes given similar construction. So Sharon went by our house to check (thank you!) and, sure enough, the hot water faucets on the north wall of our house won’t run. No, those aren’t the ones I left dripping. (It made sense at the time to focus on the cold water faucets, but in retrospect, I wish I’d left the hot ones dripping, too.)

If we’re lucky, the weather will warm up enough during the day today for the pipes to thaw without breaking. If not, we may be in the market for a bathroom remodel sooner than expected.

Car Shopping, Near and Pharr, pt. 1

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

As Bob mentions, below, about two weeks ago, we actually took the Jimmy over to Mark at Downtown Auto to see what was making a “gurgling” noise in the engine compartment. The answer turned out to be a small crack in the radiator that was leaking coolant as the temperatures got hotter.

cracked radiator

The cost of the fix, like so many before it? $500. New alternator? $500. New water pump? $500. Brakes? $500. New tires? $500. Engine? $2,000. Whoops. That last one was my bust.

$650 vs. $4500? Seems like a no-brainer.

About this time, we actually started paying attention to the newly-launched “Car Allowance Rebate System”, aka “CARS”, aka “Cash for Clunkers”. The idea behind this program was straightforward: car dealerships are sitting on five months of unsold inventory, many of the cars that people own get pretty poor gas mileage, so give people a fairly stiff incentive to trade in old cars for new, higher-mileage ones. You reduce emissions and energy consumption while helping to resolve the glut of inventory on dealers’ lots and provide a minor fillip to the auto industry that has received so much cash from the federal government. It’s actually a fairly good idea in concept. In practice, a lot was left to be desired, but that had more to do with the levels at which the incentives were set ($3500 and $4500) and its ensuing popularity, more than anything else.

Here are the qualifications for a “clunker”:

  • Had to have a combined EPA mileage rating of 18 mpg or less when new,
  • The vehicle must have clear title and have been insured in the buyer’s name for a year, and
  • You must drive the vehicle onto the dealer’s lot.

Seems pretty simple, so far, right? The entertainment comes when you try to find a qualifying new vehicle:

  • For a “category 1 truck” (like the Jimmy), the new car had to have a minimum EPA combined mileage rating of 2 miles per gallon more than the retiring vehicle,
  • In order to receive the full $4500, the trade-in vehicle has to beat the retiring vehicle by 5 mpg or more, and
  • You can’t move up a size class.

So, in other words, if we wanted to maximize the value of the Jimmy as a trade-in, we basically needed to find a fuel efficient small SUV, typically a 4 cylinder, or go with a car. One of the odd disincentives of the program, though, was that a car had to beat the trade-in by 10 mpg to qualify for the full amount. So, one was actually penalized a touch going with a more fuel efficient choice, but in a different category. Definitely not a perfect plan, but the spirit of the endeavor definitely influenced our thinking. The contenders:

  • Toyota RAV4 – I wanted the V6, which got only 1 mpg worse than the 4 cylinder. Consumer Reports #2 compact SUV.
  • Subaru Forester – Subaru spent enough money sponsoring the Tour de France on TV that I felt like we owed Subaru a look. It didn’t hurt that this was Consumer Reports’ #1 rated small SUV, Motortrend’s “SUV of the Year” for 2009 and a recommended small SUV from Car and Driver.
  • Subaru Outback – New for 2010 (read: no incentives), and the next size up from the Forester.
  • Honda CR-V – A perpetual contender against the RAV4. Honda’s reputation for quality seems to be slipping on some models, though this one generally gets high marks.
  • Nissan Rogue – A model I hadn’t known much about, but highly rated by both Consumer Reports and Car and Driver.
  • Volkswagen Tiguan – New for 2009, this is VW’s late-to-the-game small SUV built on the Golf/Jetta platform, all with 2.0 liter turbocharged 4 cylinder engines. Due to corporate relationships, we get VW cars at dealer invoice (or better). Uknown reliability, though.
  • Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen – A wagon version of the Jetta, much as it sounds. Cheaper than the Tiguan, above. Our nearest VW dealer is less than 4 miles away.

Because of the time of year that it is, August, many dealers would have been trying to clear out their 2009 inventory using discounted pricing and significant incentives from the manufacturers. Volkswagen, in fact, had not only a $1500 customer incentive on the Tiguan that was publicized, but also a $1500 dealer incentive that wasn’t. Subaru just put a straight $3,000 bounty on its top-of-the line 2009 Outback (there was one left in the State — in Georgetown!). So, combine model year-end silliness with an inventory glut with an overly aggressive subsidy scheme, and what do you get? Utter chaos, or Bill and Bob go car shopping, 2009 edition!

Lightning strike torches Midtown substation

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

An intense thunderstorm rolled in while I was at the gym this morning. (Bill was riding in another part of town and mostly avoided getting wet.) The rain pouring down outside contributed a pleasant hum to the ambiance and I enjoyed it. One particularly loud thunderboomer was followed abrubtly by the power going out. But the emergency lights came on immediately, and I stayed to finish my workout.

By the time I went outside, the rain had mostly passed but a thick black plume of smoke was emanating from Midtown. In a rare moment of rubber-necking, I decided to go see what was burning.

smoke plume
Something is definitely burning in Midtown

Apparently, lightning struck Reliant’s electrical substation on Tuam at La Branch. Transformers use oil and other VOCs as coolants, so the fire had lots of fuel to burn. (Yes, all this stuff is toxic, and I made a point to stay upwind.) The firemen taped off a perimeter to keep the gathering crowd at a safe distance. But even at ~150 feet, the air was decidedly hot. And the sounds of the blaze were punctuated by clanking as the metal structures wilted in the intense heat.

power substation burning
Reliant’s Midtown power substation burning

firemen must wait
HFD must wait for Reliant to cut power before fighting fire

What was interesting was the delay: HFD had secured the scene but was not yet fighting the fire. It’s not safe to fight an electrical fire until the power is shut down. But since substations like this one are managed remotely, that seemed to be taking Reliant a long time. In the meantime, HFD could only watch and wait with the rest of us.

Swimming laps or making soup?

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

hot swimUnrelenting heat and minimal rain have combined to turn Houston’s swimming pools into bathtubs.

When Bill asked me whether I had a good swim this afternoon, I said it depends. If you like carrots and celery, and you think they would complement your flavor, then adding yourself to the hot salty swimming pool could make a nice soup. But if you’re looking for something more cool and refreshing, look elsewhere.

For the rest of the summer, I think a new marketing campaign is in order, touting the therapeutic benefits for joints and muscles of non-impact exercise in a 95-degree pool. If the term weren’t copyrighted, they could name it after that hot yoga style.

2009 BP MS150 MS80 MS48.5 Re-cap

Monday, April 27th, 2009

Well, yesterday marked the end of my Spring 2009 cycling season and the preparation for the BP MS150. First of all, a big “Thank You!” to all of the people who donated, on my account or anyone else’s. I have facetiously posted that MS is a disease that causes people to ride bicycles long distances, but in reality it is a debilitating breakdown in the central nervous system. I saw a few folks with MS along the way, and most of them appeared to have a variation on a motor disorder (e.g., Huntington’s, Parkinson’s). Lots of shaking when they were supposed to be still, and these were the ones who were functional enough to bicycle 150 miles. Something like 80% of the funds collected by the MS Society goes to programs, so they aren’t your typical non-profit that spends most of its money raising more money.

That being said, I am currently sitting at $1,020 in donations, well above my $400 minimum. What a success! Since I raised more than $1,000, then I get to “register early” for next year to start the Cycle of Abuse all over again. If you haven’t donated yet, and are considering doing so, please take a moment to donate before July 31st. However, I will also have my 2010 campaign website up in late October, which will still count for Tax Year 2009, unless you make some whacked-out pledge scheme like Shot-a-Stair.

Wed/Thur
I spent Wednesday and Thursday mostly watching the weather. There was a low pressure front moving from the Pacific Northwest down the jet stream, and when one of those hits the moisture coming off the Gulf of Mexico, we end up getting rain. Lots and lots of rain. Oh, yeah, any moving air mass of that size also tends to bring with it wind. Lots of wind. One of the news channels had a cute graphic showing bicycles moving from Houston to Austin, with wind direction and speed. Saturday was looking wet, but with a strong tailwind (off of the Gulf). I am hoping against hope that the rain will come early and hard.

Friday
I spent the morning at REI getting rain gear and rain-friendly camping gear: an 8″ air mattress, a sleeping bag, waterproof compression sacks, chamois towel, etc. Around 10am, the sprinkles started. The first major line of rain storms came through around noon (inch-an-hour type rain). The rain came in waves, with a couple of hours of rain, followed by a couple of hours of light sprinkles. This continued through the afternoon. Around 5pm, the Day 1 ride was canceled due to a few of the day 1 breakpoints suffering damage (i.e., being blown away), and the overnight campgrounds being flooded (i.e., nowhere for 12,000 people to sleep).

Saturday
Lots and lots of more rain in the morning. Around noon, it started letting up, and finally cleared around 5pm. The forecast for Sunday was for lots of sun. Time for revised packing and bed! It’s a good drive out to La Grange for the Day 2 Start.

RIDE DAY (Sunday)
Up at 4am for the 2 hour drive to make it to the Day 2 starting point in La Grange, TX (pop. 4,600) for the 7am team picture and the 8am start. According to the MS150 organizers, more than 11,000 riders (out of 13,000 registrants) started Day 2.

In all of the chaos, we couldn’t make the team picture happen, but that’s not too surprising. This was reasonably impressive for something thrown together at the last minute, as it was. Did I mention that wind comes with the low pressure front that moved through? Looks like we are in for headwinds most of the day.

One of the fun things about the ride is that the locals come out to cheer us on.


While we started out in a big group, by the time we got to the first official break point, the riders were already starting to spread out.

Oh, yeah, it’s still windy.

After about 20 miles, we headed into Buescher and Bastrop State Parks. This is really the signature section of the two-day ride. There are some quad-busting climbs, at least for this flat-lander, and some great scenery that occasionally “peaks” out through the tree cover.



If you think you might want a shot at views like this from a bicycle seat, but don’t want the fundraising or camping experiences that go with the MS150, there is a training ride, Pedal Through the Pines, that is now on my training calendar for next year.

Along the way, I did see a few other Deloitte folks. Despite having over 100 people registered, we never really got any groups together of any significant size. These people were coming into the break point in the park as I was headed out. I like the team jersey — I need to remember to order one next year!

One of the cool toys I picked up for the ride was a GPS-enabled cycling computer (Garmin Edge 705; more on this later). Aside from making sure that I don’t stray too far from the course route, it also has the ability to upload my ride data to a computer. It gives me some pretty cool charts showing things like the elevation profile of the ride (spoiler alert!).

Here’s what Garmin’s application told me for the total ride:

  • Total elevation gain: 2,829 ft.
  • Total elevation loss: 2,629 ft.
  • Calories Burned: 5,716 C
  • Total Ride Time: 3:50:19 — more foreshadowing here

And my speed, as well:

Since I spent a lot of time riding my brakes on the downhills (why there are so few places where I am over 30 mph), I didn’t exactly think to take a lot of pictures in the park, either. However, here are some cool videos that someone took last year from a helmet cam. This will give you something of a sense for what it’s like under the canopy. Pay a bit of attention to when people aren’t pedaling. That’s when it is the most fun!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WekL4X1gOfk
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YsY1nptl9RU
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxBX3eCBPjA

What you will notice is that there is a lot of coasting during the downhills and a lot of places where the riders are up out of the saddle on the uphills. Shifting during this time can be problematic due too much tension on the chain, and my bike was no exception. I ended up “dropping my chain” when I found myself in the odd position of being in too small of a gear during the first big climb (about mile 25). Unfortunately, I didn’t just drop my chain, I wedged it in between the smallest and middle cog rings on my front set of gears (the “chainring”). With the chain completely caught tight, the rear derailleur arm snapped hard against my drive-side chainstay (the arms of the bike that go from the pedals to the rear wheel), gouging my frame. This would prove to be my undoing after lunch. On one of the places where I let myself get a bit aggressive, I felt a bit of a twinge in my rear wheel, so I backed down and made sure to ride a bit more within the limits of the bike and the course than I might otherwise have ridden.

Anyway, here’s a gratuitous picture of a group of us Deloitte folks at lunch. On the menu: 6″ turkey sandwich from Subway. This is a welcome change from what had been a steady diet of PowerBars and Oatmeal Protein Bars.

After lunch, I was really dragging. Lethargic just doesn’t begin to describe it. It wasn’t the wind, though I hadn’t appreciated at the time how sheltered we were in the park. It turns out that I was rubbing a brake, and at mile 48.5 I finally had enough frustration with going slowly to check my bike out. I found adjusted the brake, and caught site of a prickly pear cactus that was just coming into bloom, so I crossed the road in my bike shoes to snap a photo.

Getting back on my bike, I didn’t think about what gear I had been in before stopping, and I clipped my left foot into the pedal and pushed off with my right. With a light heart and a determination to finish off the ride in style and grace, I clipped my right foot into its pedal, gathered myself and prepared to unleash a pedal stroke so mighty that it would strike fear into all of the residents of Tokyo that the wrath of Quadzilla was about to fall on them once again!

POP!

Lurch!

WTF?

Instead of taking off like a rocket, I was rapidly slowing down. Time to unclip in a bit of a panic (Quadzilla is apparently built to “go”, not to “stop”), so that I don’t fall over onto rocks, barbed wire or cactus. I get unclipped, and what do I find? My chainstay, that was previously gouged, had snapped! In trying to put too much power into too big of a gear, I ended up folding over the gearing mechanism and could no longer put power into the bike. Day’s over, thanks for playing.

Let me zoom in on that crack, to give you a better view of what my dilemma was:

What followed was approximately four hours of sheer torture as I waited by the side of the road for a support van that had spare room to haul me up to the next rest stop. Then it was a wait in a LONG line of cyclists trying to make it into Austin. I’ll spare the gory details, but this was where I became most irritated by the unprepared cyclists around me and the organization trying to pander to their dreams of glory for an event that sold out in seven hours. Let’s leave it that by the time we made it into Austin, all of the food was gone and there was nothing left to do but to grab a shower (an appreciated luxury by me, a necessity for the people with whom I shared a bus) and a bus back to La Grange.

We got to La Grange at 8:45pm, but the truck with our bikes wasn’t due in until 9:15pm, since it was the last one of the day. Great! Yet another reminder of my ignoble end. A smart man would have eaten dinner at the Dairy Queen in La Grange, but I, I am not such a smart man. I hung out with a beverage, and daydreamed of a nice meal to lighten my spirits on the trip home. Since my bike was one of the first ones on the truck, I didn’t get it back until close to 9:30pm, at which point, my dreams of a nice dinner turned into a Filet-o-Fish from a McDonald’s in Columbus. If you are ever thinking of pushing dinner just a few more hours or even minutes on a Sunday night in rural Texas, just don’t. When life hands you a Sonic, make a Lemon-Lime Slushie.

I pulled into the house around 11:30pm, utterly exhausted and still fuming about the SAG experience. I was also feeling a complete lack of closure from my first MS150 experience. No feel-good story here about man-vs-nature (and/or man vs. farm-to-market road), merely a broken down bicycle and an itch I’ll have to wait a year to scratch. I hope you will join me then, too!

Rain, rain, go away

Friday, April 17th, 2009

So, the first day of the MS150 has been canceled due to inclement weather. Looks like I’ll only be doing the MS80 on Sunday. Fortunately, the ride times has been bumped from a 6:45am start to an 8am start. The downside is that I’ll need to caravan with 10,000+ other riders into the town of La Grange (pop. 4,645) gawdawful early on Sunday in order to be ready to ride by about 8am. Of course, this means that I have no excuse for skipping Buescher and Bastrop State Parks, if the modified route lets us go through these traditional stretches of the MS150.

Well, it’s 10:30pm, and WAY past when I was expecting to be in bed, so I’ll sign off for the moment with a promise to update the blog with how things shape up for Sunday.

Magnolia Miles: Mad Dog 40/40

Monday, March 16th, 2009

This past weekend, I had planned to do two rides. The first was the Magnolia Miles ride in the northwest exurbs. This was to be my “hill” ride for the week. The other was the Great Escape ride down in Manvel, put on by the Pearland Cycling Club. Given that Manvel is down in Brazoria County, whose highest point is about 30 feet above sea level, one would be charitable calling any elevation change there a “hill”. This was to be mostly for endurance building. OH, but how the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry!

Having been home sick this week, it was no surprise to me when the cold front moved in late in the week. Invariably when the temperature drops, rain follows, so the question was not whether the weekend was going to be wet, but which parts. Fortunately, while Friday saw some scattered showers, Saturday morning was fairly dry. However, it was cool. Brisk, even. And that’s coming from me. So, three layers of clothing later, I pack off my bike in the dark and head north.

I get to the race, check-in and grab my t-shirt and marketing collateral (aka my “packet”), haul it back to my car and then head for the starting line. At this point, I’ve already put a half mile on my odometer. Nice, huh? It feels a bit cold, but I think, “I’ll warm up once I have some mileage under my belt.” Oh, yeah, it is 40 degrees and I am on the 41 mile course (hence the post title). And the wind is between 10 – 15 mph, with gusts up to 20 mph.

I ended up not taking a lot of pictures on the trip because a) photography while cycling is dangerous, and b) photography while wearing cold weather gloves is awkward. Yes, I was wearing my good lined leather gloves. It was that cold. Here is what the rest of the riders were wearing at the first rest stop, about 15 miles into the ride:
What does the fashionably smart set wear?
Notice what they have on:

  • Full-length leggings
  • Jackets and/or coats
  • Ear warmers
  • Foot warmers – cute little oversocks that went over the cycling shoes
  • Hard cycling shoes
  • Multiple under layers
  • Rain ponchos

What did I have on? A cotton short-sleeved t-shirt, a thin fleece and a long-sleeved cotton t-shirt, cycling shorts and work-out shorts. On my feet were my usual running shoes, and on my hands, my winter gloves. I think the only area where I was really ahead in meeting the elements was on the glove choice. For most of the ride, my hands were fairly comfortable. I can’t say the same for my torso.

You see, despite the air temperature, one does sweat when one engages in vigorous exercise. One might even see all three layers of his clothing get soaked. Then, when one stops, this exposed moisture might then act as a wick to the cold, facilitating rapid cooling of the overheated body. I have rarely had such a disincentive to stop exercising in my life as how cold how quickly the rest stops got.

Sad though it is to say, I am glad the weather “held”, since it only spat rain a bit on us for about a seven mile leg of the course. Granted, that leg was almost all up-hill (gentle, but upwards) and directly into the prevailing wind, but it could have been much worse since the skies basically opened up as I was heading back into town, with 43 miles under my belt. Needless to say, the rain did not really let-up until Sunday afternoon, at which point I had decided to skip the second ride, and just do a brief “mud fest” around the bayous here by our place.

Time to accelerate my search for a replacement anorak for the one I lost about nine years ago. Next week: the Tour de Houston, and my first attempt at 70 miles. On a mountain bike.

A great day for just about anything!

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

sunny and 74Today’s Houston forecast called for “abundant sunshine” and 0% chance of precipitation. In Bob’s world view, that’s practically perfect! I took the opportunity to don my sneakers and iPod and walked around North Montrose for a good 50-minute workout. Whee!

If any of you northerners decide you need a short break from the cold and wet, Casa de Bob y Bill has a spare futon and abundant internet! Y’all come!