Wetness and darkness, the melancholy holidays ... once in a while, for sanity's sake, it's nice to spend some time with some people doing work that is clearly and unambiguously good. For me, that means hanging out with scientists.
There's little that warms my heart so much as people who have given themselves over completely to the deep study of some natural phenomenon or another, with the solitary purpose of furthering humankind's knowledge of the world. What is more charming than the geeky, incomprehensible language they invariably develop -- proof positive that their field of study has percolated down deep into their souls? There's an innocence and purity to the whole endeavor. When traitors and fraudsters besmirch it, as in the case of the British climate scientists caught massaging data for political ends, my parental instincts kick in, and I dream of tar and feathers and the public stocks.
So I was happy to accept an invitation to the local National Weather Service's "Media Day" earlier this week. It was an open house event introducing reporters and radio folk to the services provided by the local weather office, and to solicit our ideas for improving communication. When the program began, out there at the NWS's office on Woodley Island, meteorologists outnumbered media folk about four to one. More gracious hosts you cannot imagine.
You might not be aware -- I certainly wasn't -- of the vast scope of the operation the feds are funding for us. The Eureka office is responsible for watching everything from the Oregon border down to the Sonoma/Mendocino line, and quite a ways inland. They have meteorologists constantly watching maritime conditions, wildfire conditions, dangerous storm systems. With the State Department of Water Resources, they host an engineer whose job is to watch and prepare for floods. Everyone from the California Highway Patrol to the U.S. Forest Service to the Coast Guard absolutely relies upon them. (To say nothing of everyday citizens -- bookmark, now, the office's data-laden Web page: www.wrh.noaa.gov/eka/.)
After a presentation, the NWS people led us into the office's operations room -- workstations with multiple flat screens, all flashing satellite data or other real-time maps documenting precipitation, or temperature, or the movement of the air. Here and there, people typed out alerts to be disseminated over shortwave radio or the Web.
It's strange to consider how much originates there in that war room, out there on the island in Humboldt Bay. These people produced the weather report that should have convinced pilot Vladek Milushev -- see this week's cover story -- to spend the night in Bakersfield, rather than fly up to the storm that put his plane into the ocean. They're the ones who will track the effects of what happens or doesn't happen in Copenhagen this week. They watch for the ice, the snow, the winds, the waves, the fire conditions ... all Earth's violent little irruptions. For all our cleverness, we will never be able to legislate those irruptions away. And so, rarity of rarities -- we pay people to understand.
Watch, now. Moving from this exalted level back to the usual muck and mire: Eureka Mayor Virginia Bass is set to announce her entry into next year's race for that city's seat on the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, joining a field that includes incumbent Bonnie Neely and Eureka City Councilmember Jeff Leonard. On Tuesday, that board voted to strip the county's Code Enforcement Unit officers -- building inspectors, essentially -- of the arms and arsenal that made them a menace of rural Humboldt County last year. (See "Fear in the Hills," April 24, 2008).
Backers of a citizens' initiative to fully decriminalize marijuana in the state of California announced that they had enough signatures to put the measure before voters in November 2010. Substantive health care reform died.
As predicted in this space last week, the California Coastal Commission voted unanimously to reconsider a Eureka City Council permit that would have allowed Security National to begin work on the Home Depot-anchored Marina Center development, proposed for the Eureka waterfront. The state body's assumption of authority over the controversial project prompted gloating and/or exclamations of rage around the local blogosphere, whose astroturf mainstays launched advance oppo campaigns around the issue for next year's elections.
See the difference?
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