Saturday, March 29, 2014

Deception Pass Regatta

Deception Pass Model Yacht Club

This past weekend, the rain stopped long enough to get an easy hike in at Deception Pass State Park (.pdf),  I started with the Sand Dune Loop trail at West Beach (#12 on the map).  Then I headed over to East Cranberry Lake.  The trail (#13 on the map) begins skirting the campground which is already in full swing.  Then it crosses the road and follows the lake shore to the fishing dock at East Cran.  On the return to West Beach I spotted....the America's Cup?

Deception Pass Model Yacht Club

Not quite the America's Cup, but this was just as amazing in its own way.  These are members of the Deception Pass Model Yacht Club.  Their website describes these as one meter radio controlled model yachts.  They are sailed from the shore by wireless devices that looked similar to game controllers.

Deception Pass Model Yacht Club

Number 31 caught my eye.  Right-click the photos to see them full-size.  The yellow boat nimbly rounds the buoy.  These are real sailing boats powered only by the wind.  I had never seen this before, but I was mesmerized watching all this going on.  It was every bit an authentic sailing spectacle.  I would forget that these were model boats and not full-size vessels.

Deception Pass Model Yacht Club

I had seen their lakeside station near the beginning of the Sand Dune Loop trail, but never encountered anything going on before.  They meet here every Wednesday and Sunday at noon for regattas year around.  With good reason, if the winds are from the west, they meet instead at Bowman Bay on the Fidalgo side of the park.  You never know what amazing and wonderful things you will discover in Deception Pass State Park.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Oso Landslide

Oso, Washington Landslide
Photo:  Washington State Patrol via Wikipedia
I am reminded once again that I live in a geologically active corner of the planet.  The Oso, Washington landslide has become an international news event.  In loss of life terms, authorities are telling us it will exceed the Mount St. Helens eruption.  As of this morning, there are 26 confirmed deaths with 90 still listed as missing.  The New York Times has one of the best stories of the event I have found.

The slide crossed State Road 530 and the Stillaguamish River.  Mud and debris is at least 40-50 feet/12-15 meters deep in some places.  The lake in the foreground of the photo began forming when the river was dammed by the slide.  The river is now cutting a new channel through the debris field.  This is lessening fears of a catastrophic release and flash flood downstream.

The view in the photo is looking down the Stillaguamish Valley towards Arlington.  Turn 180° towards Darrington and the jagged, snow-capped peaks of the North Cascades come into view.  It is little wonder people want to live in such a beautiful place.  Governor Inslee commented that ice age glaciers "carved a very beautiful state," but left behind earth that can be very dangerous.

I work in Arlington downstream from the event.  Driving past the river into work this past week, I noticed it had an odd light gray color.  A coworker and his family who live in Oso were evacuated due to concern about flash flooding.  Those who live in Darrington faced a 2.5 hour commute.  They must first drive north to Concrete, then to Burlington where they can pick up I-5 to Arlington.  The Mountain Loop Highway between Darrington and Granite Falls, closed during winters, has been reopened early.  This is a big help, but some of it is unpaved, one-lane Forest Service road.  People are asked to stay clear of this roadway leaving it available for responders and residents.

Mudslide Diagram,
I have also been reminded of my own landslide experience here on South Fidalgo Island.  The Gibralter Road Landslide of 1990 was a slow, rotational slide that took place over several weeks.  There was no loss of life in that event and relatively minor property damage.  The Oso slide was a sudden, cataclysmic mud slide.  The diagram to the left from Be Safe Net illustrates what happened.

There are similarities between the two events.  Both occurred in deep, unstable glacial soils consisting of sand, rocks and clay.  Both were precipitated by heavy rainfall and excessive water saturation of this unstable soil.  The Oso slide occurred on a higher, much steeper embankment possibly undercut by the river.  Along with a greater water content, that might account for the difference.  A curved vs. planar failure surface also distinguishes the two events.

There is no doubt the Oso landslide will become a subject of intense scientific study.  Geology textbooks will include chapters on the event.  My blog friend Dan who is a professional geologist has already posted several articles.  Some county building departments have focused on the interests of developers and tax bases when issuing construction permits.  It is likely they will now be paying more attention to science and geologists' reports before issuing those permits.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A Pacific Northwest Forest Garden

A Pacific Northwest Forest Garden

I have had this large, empty, triangular space in the back corner of the yard.  It has remained untouched since I moved here twenty-six years ago.  It didn't matter since it was hidden behind a grove of large rhododendrons and it couldn't be seen from the road.

Turning it into a garden presented several problems.  A closed canopy of large Douglas and Grand Firs puts it in deep shade all day.  The soil is classic Pacific Northwest glacial till.  It is nutrient-poor, composed of sand, rocks and clay, and devoid of organic material.  It does not hold moisture at all.  Regardless of rainfall or watering, scrape away the bark mulch and you will find a desert underneath.

Besides creating full shade, the big trees are also efficient resource hogs.  They will quickly consume any nutrients or water that does manage to get into the soil.  They use a network of rootlets just under the surface that reaches out far from the tree.

Experiments with ground covers on the back bank to the driveway all ended with failure.  A lot of research didn't help either.  Drought-tolerant plants usually require some sunlight.  Most shade plants need moisture.  What I needed were drought-tolerant plants that would thrive in deep shade and these are not easy to find.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Rhododendrons, Goose Rock Summit Trail
Deception Pass State Park

Pass Lake Loop Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Pass Lake Loop Trail, Deception Pass State Park

What to do with this garden hit me during a hike in Deception Pass State Park.  I realized that in the deep shade of the old growth canopy, the forest floor was a lush botanical paradise.  The solution to my garden problem was all around me.  The rainfall, light and soil conditions were identical to my yard.  The plants I see on every hike are also indigenous to my property.  Native plant gardening is a passion.  Why hadn't I thought of this before?  Much of the property actually looked like these photos before it was cleared for building.

A Pacific Northwest Forest Garden

I now have this space completely planted.  This is the new garden viewed from the small back lawn.  The grass tufts in the foreground are Japanese Sedge (Carex oshimensis 'Everest').  I planted them three years ago and I've been amazed how well they have done in the conditions here.  They have this silvery-green look all year, adding some brightness to the shade.  Also important, the deer won't touch them.

The rhododendrons have also done well in this part of the yard.  If they are babied for a couple of years, they will come to thrive in these austere conditions.  Like the native rhodies, they naturalize beautifully in the understory of the firs.  A fungal symbiont in their roots helps provide moisture and nutrients.

I chose three evergreen forest floor natives for the new plantings.  I see these all around me on every hike in the park, and all three are indigenous to the property.  The flatter area behind the grasses is planted entirely with Western Sword Ferns (Polystichum munitum).  These will eventually grow up to waste tall covering the ground completely with dramatic sprays.  Under the big trees, they take on the look of a shag carpet.

For the bank in the background, I selected  Salal and Longleaf Mahonia.  Salal (Gaultheria shallon) is a cousin to rhododendrons.  It is very common to find drifts of salal around the bases of Douglas Firs.  Longleaf Mahonia (Mahonia nervosa) is the low growing little brother to Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium).  It loves to grow along the edges of trails in Pacific Northwest forests.  The leaves turn a reddish bronze color during the winter.  I have native M. nervosa coming up on its own among the rhododendrons.

Finally, I wanted to provide this garden with a centerpiece.  I chose a Pacific Dogwood hybrid called 'Venus' (Cornus kousa x C. nutallii).  It has the giant blooms of the native Pacific with the disease resistance of the Korean Dogwood.  The light gray bark will sunburn out in the open, but it shines in the shade of the canopy.  I had one in the same spot before, but the logging crew that worked on the big trees damaged it.  It has already proven to thrive in the poor light and dry conditions here.

A Pacific Northwest Forest Garden

Looking down from the driveway, the new garden doesn't look like much right now.  It is just a large space with a lot of little plants stuck around.  I admit, it's not very inspiring or attractive at the moment.  But give it some time to naturalize.  The ferns will get large and the Salal and Mahonias will begin to spread through underground rhizomes.  The plants will take on different heights.  There will be a variety of green shades with spots of reds and yellows.  The firs will drop some branches among them.  Maybe I can get some moss started.  In time it will begin to look like the photos from the state park above.  Or at least, that's the plan.  I know it will be better than the bare, empty ground I had before.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Moving WeatherLink to Windows 8

Davis WeatherLink Vantage Bulletin Screen Shot

In a previous post, I described my experiences with a new Windows 8 desktop computer.  Recall that I thought all the sturm und drang over the W8 user interface was overblown and whiny.  I discovered it was really Windows 7 with this other screen thing that you will rarely use on a desktop computer.  I quickly got used to its little quirks and I have mostly enjoyed working with it.

I more or less quit using the old Windows XP desktop PC quite a while ago.  It is now almost ten years old.  Its only function lately has been as a server for my Davis Instruments Vantage Pro2 weather station.  In this capacity it has been a reliable and steadfast friend, uploading data for display on this website.  In the post "It's About the Weather," I described how all this works.

Davis Vantage Pro2 Weather Station Console
Weather Station Console (Photo: Davis Instruments)
I bought the Windows 8 machine with using it for the weather station uploads in mind.  Back in 2006, getting this all up and running the first time was difficult.  A lot of trial and error, mistakes and stress was involved.  At the time, I didn't understand a lot of the terminology.  Typical of software, what they showed in the "help" files was not what I saw on the screen.  Back then, all I had available was dial-up internet service, so there was that whole issue to resolve as well.  I faced moving the station to a new computer with some apprehension.  I have been putting it off for more than a year.

WeatherLink Data Logger with USB Connector
Console with Data Logger and USB Connector (Photo: Davis Instruments)
Last weekend it was either snowing or raining steadily.  With the euthanasia of Windows XP looming, I decided it would be a good time to get this chore out of the way.  It turned out to be much easier than I expected.  There were some pleasant surprises as well.  I thought others might find my experiences helpful and decided to write this post.  The steps should be followed in the same order they are listed.

Installing the Software

The first step was to install the latest version of WeatherLink software on the new computer.  According to instructions on the Davis website, first install WeatherLink from the original CD that came with the Data Logger.  In my case this was version 5.7.  Then, download the upgrade to version 6.0.3 (or whatever is current) available on the Davis website.

This step all went without a hitch.  Even the move from a 32 bit XP to a 64 bit W8 environment was not a problem.

Moving the Station Data

The default location of the WeatherLink folder is C:\WeatherLink.  Inside this root folder another folder contains the station data.  In my case, this is C:\WeatherLink\FidalgoS.  The name of the folder is created when the station is first set up.  Daily weather data has been accumulating in this folder since 2006.  I post summary reports of this data on the Climate page.  It is important to not lose all of this historical information.

I was prepared for the dreaded occasion when the XP machine crashed irreparably.  I have been using software called PureSync to back up the weather station files.  Twice a day, PureSync was scheduled to copy the entire C:\WeatherLink folder to a USB flash drive.  This has been running in the background with no need for my attention.

To move the station data, all I had to do was copy the FidalgoS folder from the flash drive to the WeatherLink root folder on the new machine.

Attaching the Station Console

Now it was time to plug the station console into a USB port of the new computer.  In my thoughts, I realized this operation was much like an organ transplant.  The XP donor body would cease to function.  Will the organ function in the recipient W8 computer?  This was all a bit scary.  I also had to unplug the console and move it to a different power outlet.  With its battery backup it just kept receiving sensor data without a pause.

Setting Up the Station in WeatherLink

Pleasant surprise number 1:  I expected to have to go through the entire station setup in the WeatherLink software.  Because I had moved the FidalgoS station sub-folder to the new machine, that chore was unnecessary.  When I opened WeatherLink for the first time, everything was already there.  The station name, data units, latitude and longitude and even all of the internet settings were intact.  The only thing I had to do was set up the communications port (Setup >> Communications port...) and tell it to look for a USB connection.  The procedure is automated and immediately found the station port.  Without any fuss, internet uploads began to occur immediately.

Pleasant surprise number 2:  I belong to CWOP, the Citizen Weather Observer Program and upload my data to them along with my website data.  My station ID is CW8017.  In WL 5.7, it was necessary to find and specify an APRS server for the uploads.  It was sometimes risky to find a server that was reliable over a period of time.  It was necessary to check frequently to make sure it was still working.  WL 6.0.3 takes care of this problem.  At upload time, the software automatically searches available servers until it finds one that is functioning.

One way this data is used is in the WindAlert widget that appears on my Current Weather page.  As it happens, the WindAlert station designated "Deception Pass" is my own data pulled from the CWOP uploads.  WindAlert also has iOS and Android apps for mobile devices.  If you find the Deception Pass location, that's me!

Setting Up Weather Underground

I also belong to Weather Underground with station ID KWAANACO8.  This is another site for uploading station data.  To accomplish this, a .dll module must be added to WeatherLink.  The download is added to the C:\WeatherLink\Expansion Modules folder.  To get this set up, first navigate to File >> Manage Modules... and add the Weather Underground module to WeatherLink.  Then go to File >> Wunderground Settings... to design the uploads.

This is the only step that gave me problems.  For some reason, the module would not install and "Wunderground Settings..." would not appear in the File menu.  After several tries and walking away from it for a while, it finally worked.  I don't know why.

Anemometer and Solar Powered Transmitter

The new weather station setup has now been running for almost a week.  There has not been so much as a hiccup.  I made one setting change in the Windows Control Panel.  Windows 8 likes you to stay out of its way and take care of everything for you.  This includes downloading and installing updates and restarting the computer.  Of course, this would shut down the weather station.  I have now changed the Windows Update setting to "Download updates but let me choose whether to install them."  I am researching the procedure for automatically running WeatherLink at start up as another way to get around this.

WeatherLink running with the Intel i7 Quad Core processor is amazing.  On the XP machine, uploads could take 20-30 seconds.  A dialog would open with a progress bar showing each step of the process.  Now there is just a momentary flash.  The first time I saw this, I thought the upload had failed.  Checking the website revealed that indeed the upload had occurred.

Moving the Davis Vantage Pro2 weather station to the new Windows 8 computer turned out to be almost effortless.  Like so many things, the anticipation was worse than the reality.  If you are facing this task, my experiences might help provide for a smooth transition.