New Jobs

I gave three weeks’ notice to my company last Friday. The people here are nice but I’ve known from the start that this was not the job for me, and I didn’t want to let myself get sucked in by complacency and routine.

I’ve been receiving some passive income from various ventures I’ve been playing with on the side, and I’d like to give myself some time to help those opportunities grow.

Additionally, I want to spend more time on my writing, which includes the new personal development website I announced last week. I’ve been working on getting that going, and I hope to go live in late July now.

Thankfully I am not leaving all guaranteed income behind: I have begun training as a tutor for PrepMatters in Bethesda, MD, which I will also be working for part-time.

That’s right, I’m trading one full-time job for three(ish?) part-time jobs of varying income potential. And I’m excited about it.

Conspiracy Theory: Job Hatred Minimizes Social Unrest

Matt likes to complain about the D.C. Metro. Most publicly on Twitter, but also via text message, GChat, and Facebook.

As of today, I mostly complain about my job. I’d like to complain about social/community issues like public transit, but for eight hours of my day, I’m in my cubicle.

Matt loves his job.

This got me thinking: are most jobs intentionally mundane and annoying to keep the bulk of the population’s anger turned towards their companies rather than serious social issues?

Stay-At-Home Moms (and Dads!)

I’m not trying to open a can of worms here. Just providing an observation developed from my past year of employment.

Last fall, I walked dogs and nannied two teenage girls from an affluent D.C. neighborhood while I finished my M.S.

It was frustrating as hell on a regular basis, because I was dealing with multiple living creatures with various needs and emotions of their own. I came home from one job or the other crying from time to time, frustrated that “they” (dogs or girls) wouldn’t listen to me/had a bad day/etc. I was emotionally invested in all of their lives, whether I liked it or not.

Once I finished my M.S. I started my cubicle job. I’m not emotionally invested in it at all, and the living creatures I interact with are generally people that won’t send me materials I need on time. At the beginning of my time here, I would occasionally go home and cry. Not because I was upset that someone had a bad day or was being difficult, but because I did not feel like I was directly contributing to society.

You think I’m off-topic already, but I’m definitely not.

Without any children of my own, I already understand why stay-at-home parents (SAHPs) say their job is difficult but fulfilling. The difference between my current job and my odd jobs from last fall are night and day. I was constantly problem-solving while with the dogs and girls, looking for dangers and coming up with fun places for us to go or things to do. I had to help with homework or clean up after sick dogs. I took one of the girls to the doctor (with her parents’ permission) when I became concerned about a sports injury healing too slowly. I left notes about the dogs’ demeanors and bowel movements if something seemed off, and told their “parents” about fun times we had chasing leaves and squirrels.

I regularly came home exhausted, mind reeling…but feeling like I had directly impacted people’s lives that day.

For some people, my current job would be difficult. Honestly, I expected it to be difficult, especially coming off “no-skill” jobs like dog walking and nannying. But most of what I do is repetition, and it is neither challenging nor fulfilling. I’m at the end of a long corporate chain of work, essentially copyediting products and looking for nitpicky details no one actually cares about (except me, I love being nitpicky on grammar and punctuation).

The consequences of doing my job poorly in the corporate world are misplaced commas or improperly indented headers. The consequences of doing my job poorly as a dog walker and nanny were lost dogs and upset children. The consequences of doing my job poorly as a grad student were serious research setbacks that, if somehow not caught by peer review, would proliferate out into the community.

I think my job as a dog walker and nanny was both more difficult and more fulfilling than my corporate job. I know that being a SAHP is probably not the most difficult job in the world (I’d imagine being a Navy Seal is pretty rough), but I do think it deserves more respect than most people in the “working world” give the position.

Announcement: New Website

Hi all,

I’m excited to announce the upcoming release of a website I’ve been brainstorming for awhile. This August, I’ll be introducing a blog on Personal Development with Mental Health Obstacles*. I love reading various personal development blogs, whether they focus on escaping cubicle nation, traveling the world, or on day-to-day improvements to your life.

One thing I’ve noticed as I browse these blogs is a necessary level of optimism and go-get-em attitude, which is terrific. It’s difficult for anyone to work on self-improvement, since we all have our own mental blocks and obstacles. For those of us struggling with various mental illnesses, however, there is an extra step to get through.

I’ll be using this website to offer personal and expert-level advice on self-improvement with mental health issues. Our life is not all about our diseases, be they physical or mental. Everyone wants to improve themselves. I want to focus on the crossroad between the medical/counseling approach to managing your mind and living the life you want.

The new website will *not* be replacing this blog! I doubt there is much crossover between those interested in things I have to say here and those wanting to review their life goals (but maybe I’m wrong!).

Get excited. I am. 🙂

 

*Website/domain name is still to be determined

Tornado Size and Intensity Estimates

The 05/31/2013 El Reno, OK tornado was given an Enhanced Fujita (EF)-5 rating and declared the widest tornado ever recorded at 2.6 miles wide.

How do we get this information?

I spent a lot of time in my M.S. program at Purdue being quizzed by my committee and other scientists about tornado size. It’s a tricky subject. Thankfully my research, at least as I last left it, was not dependent on any distance parameters, so my defense didn’t involve much beating around the tornado bush on size questions. But I was working with DOW data, and Josh, Karen, and company have to deal with this question a lot.

First of all, the EF scale was developed to expand on the original Fujita scale, which connected the Beaufort and Mach scales.

Fujita Scale

The Fujita scale lacked the detailed damage indicators that surveyors use to estimate Enhanced Fujita scale ratings today. If you compare the numbers, significant differences don’t appear until the higher (E)F numbers, for the “significant tornadoes.” The Fujita scale relates wind speeds to damage, while the Enhanced Fujita scale relates damage to wind speeds.

There are problems with the (E)F scale, but it is often the best information that we have to use when estimating tornado intensity. This method really falls apart when there are not enough damage indicators to use to rate the tornado–not because the storm was incapable of producing damage, but because it occurred in one of the oh-so-common wide open areas in middle America.

For years now we have been attempting to relate Doppler radar intensity estimates to the damage estimates we obtain after-the-fact. Since the development of mobile radars, there has been an increasing number of events whose EF-Scale ratings have been increased due to mobile radar data. These include:

The Calumet-El Reno-Piedmont-Guthrie Tornado of May 24, 2011

PRELIMINARY DATA...
EVENT DATE: MAY 24, 2011
EVENT TYPE: TORNADO
EF RATING: EF-5
ESTIMATED PEAK WINDS (MPH): GREATER THAN 210 MPH
INJURIES/FATALITIES: UNKNOWN/9
EVENT START LOCATION AND TIME: 4 ESE HINTON 3:50 PM CDT
EVENT END LOCATION AND TIME: 4 NE GUTHRIE 5:35 PM CDT
DAMAGE PATH LENGTH (IN MILES): 65 MILES
DAMAGE WIDTH: TO BE DETERMINED
NOTE: RATING BASED ON UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA MOBILE DOPPLER RADAR
MEASUREMENTS.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

June 5 – Goshen County Tornado Given Official Rating of EF2

The Goshen County, Wyoming tornado of June 5th, 2009 has been given an official rating of EF2 on the Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale, according to Meteorologist-in-Charge, John Eise of the National Weather Service Office in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Preliminary wind measurements provided by the Verification of the Origins of Rotation in Tornadoes Experiment 2 (VORTEX2) were added to the damage reports from the storm assessments on June 6th, 2009.  These two factors were considered in the new rating.

———————————————————————————————————————————–

And of course, I am biased towards using all data available to make a tornado estimate. I think it is silly to limit ourselves to the same methods used in the 1970s and ignore new technology when trying to advance the science. I do agree with others that suggest that mobile radar-based intensity estimates should begin to form their own database separate from the current damage database.

Now what about size?

WITH THIS INVESTIGATION... THE TORNADO HAS BEEN UPGRADED TO AN EF5
TORNADO BASED ON VELOCITY DATA FROM THE RESEARCH MOBILE RADAR DATA
FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA RAXPOL RADAR AND THE DOPPLER ON
WHEELS RADARS FROM THE CENTER FOR SEVERE WEATHER RESEARCH. IN
ADDITION... THE WIDTH OF TORNADO WAS MEASURED BY THE MOBILE RADAR
DATA TO BE 2.6 MILES AFTER THE TORNADO PASSED EAST OF US HIGHWAY 81
SOUTH OF EL RENO. THIS WIDTH IS THE WIDTH OF THE TORNADO ITSELF AND
DOES NOT INCLUDE THE DAMAGING STRAIGHT-LINE WINDS NEAR THE TORNADO AS
DETERMINED BY THE HIGH-RESOLUTION MOBILE RADAR DATA. THE 2.6 MILE
TORNADO PATH WIDTH IS BELIEVED TO BE THE WIDEST TORNADO ON RECORD
IN THE UNITED STATES.

Shouldn’t size be pretty straightforward? I mean, you can see the tornado.

Wakimoto et al.
Contoured Doppler velocity values overlaid on visual of the tornado at that time.

Whoa. Ok stay with me.

You can see the tornado here, right? It’s the tornado-looking thing in the middle, covered in squiggly lines. The squiggly lines are the mobile Doppler radar velocity estimates. That’s right, the same ones used to make the tornado intensity estimates. Anywhere you see those lines there is wind.

So what counts as the tornado winds? Well, so far it seems that the NWS has not been very consistent with its criteria for measuring size through mobile radar data. The El Reno statement from 2013 states that the “width is the width of the tornado itself,” which, I’ve heard from other sources, they used the EF-1 tornado minimum wind speed as the cut-off. Put in another way, how far out do the winds that are at least strong enough to count as an EF-1 go?

Should the NWS use only the EF-5 wind field for the El Reno tornado to estimate size? Probably not. People who lose property at a greater radius from the tornado center don’t care that they were “only” in the EF-4 or EF-3 winds. Should the cutoff be EF-3 winds? Does a tornado smaller than an EF-3 even get counted then? Even though we have better radar data than ever, there are still smoothing and averaging issues–how much variation are we missing at various levels of the tornado?

The El Reno size and intensity ratings sparked a lot of debate in the community, which has predictably died down over the past week. I know my colleagues still active in the research on this event will be presenting interesting data over the next few years on this storm, and I expect that this may cause the CSWR crew to pull out some size comparisons from their previous events.

And once someone figures out the “correct” answer to the tornado size question, let me know. I’ve been grasping at straws for a few years now.

Science Haikus (Scikus)

Too many ideas
Floating around in my head
I’ll haiku them all

Flooding closes schools
Way too much rain for the roads
Culpeper County

Weather is severe
Maryland had damage surveys
Five tornadoes here?

Such fearmongering
The media: “Derecho”
We shall wait and see

A moderate risk
Centered on Indiana
Prepare for the wind

My friends are out west
Collecting data on storms
I am stuck inside

I owe you a blog
On the El Reno twister
I’m sorry it’s late

Honeymoon Recap: Cabo, Mexico

Matt and I got back from our honeymoon in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico late Saturday/early Sunday. For those that haven’t heard, I lost my voice on our wedding day and only got it back the following Tuesday/Wednesday. Despite being sick for the entire trip (I might still be sick?) we had a great time!

We stayed at Barcelo Los Cabos Palace Deluxe in the hotel corridor of San Jose del Cabo. The typical spring break/tourist trap area is further towards the bottom of the Baja Peninsula in Cabo San Lucas. Barcelo was excellent, with cheesy nighttime entertainment of half-naked male and female dancers, terrific buffets, and a la carte restaurants included in our package. Since we were there in the off-season, there was plenty of room by the pool to chill.

The waters off the coast in the Sea of Cortes are too rough for swimming–there were black flag conditions every day. We were able to get in the water snorkeling through Cabo Adventures, which picked us up and brought us to Cabo San Lucas. It was an excellent and safe company, and I enjoyed our snorkeling experience there better than the one my family and I had in Aruba a couple of years ago. It was surprising given the choppy waters of the Pacific/Sea of Cortes versus the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean.

The room itself was excellent and the unlimited alcoholic drinks were all very tasty. It was clear they had watered down the liquor though, as Matt got more buzzed from a single Corona than he did from an afternoon of daiquiris and pina coladas. It didn’t matter too much to us though, as we enjoyed the flavors of the drinks anyway.

One thing that bothered me from the start was the whitewashed experience we got of the culture given our all-inclusive resort time. I spoke much more Spanish during the week I spent in Mallorca, Spain than I did the entire time we spent in Mexico. Outside the beautiful resorts were shacks in which the locals lived, and we found out that the resort workers are paid, on average, 20 USD each month, well below the poverty line. We tipped well during our visit, knowing that even a dollar would be significant, but my conscience was still torn.

Our snorkeling guide thanked us at the end of our trip for choosing his country for our vacation. “I know when you told your friends and family that you were going to Mexico, they said ‘are you crazy? You’re going to get shot! Everyone is drunk on tequila all the time’ But hopefully you see that we are a crazy but fun country.”

According to the all-knowing internet, tourism is the third largest contributor to the Mexican GDP. But as I learned in an undergrad Geography of Latin America and the Caribbean, the all-inclusive resorts do not contribute as much to the economy as staying in a hotel and visiting local shops and restaurants throughout the stay. On the other hand, the development of previously not visited regions (like Cabo, 20 or 30 years ago) for tourism brings improvements to infrastructure in the region.

So I’m still torn, but we did have a good time! Now, enjoy some pictures!

984014_10104512498788144_2145701141_n 426669_10104512498334054_1486769478_n 922710_10104512497944834_174306446_n 960093_10104512497211304_466659301_n 983949_10104512496657414_1689319881_n 946522_10104512496103524_1109595377_n 984055_10104512495394944_414897911_n 971672_10104512494706324_1273595787_n 936067_10104512494386964_623574217_n

The Future of Tornado *Field* Research

I would be remiss to not touch on the tragedy that befell the severe weather research community this past Friday, May 31st. We lost three good men and researchers–Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young–to a powerful and destructive tornado. Of the deaths that day, most occurred in vehicles, and these three were no exception.

Until late Saturday, it appeared that the main lessons taken away from the day would be the impact of media on mass panic and evacuation in a major metro area, the beautiful structure of the multiple vortex tornado, and chasers getting too close. The last point was highlighted by video from Brandon Sullivan and his crew being pounded by hay bales and debris, Reed Timmer’s Dominator vehicle losing its top, and the Weather Channel’s Tornado Hunt vehicle being tossed and rolled with Mike Bettes and company inside.

There has been enough media coverage of the passing of Tim Samaras and crew that I do not want to add empty words lauding their work and demeanor when closer friends and more familiar colleagues have written such meaningful personal messages about them.

Another Purdue colleague touched on the topic that has been discussed quietly so far, out of respect for the deaths in the community before getting into bureaucratic issues. I’d like to follow up on his points on the future of tornado research. Derrick suggests (and I, along with others, agree) that the National Science Foundation may begin limiting funding of tornado field research in favor of modeling-based studies after this event. The incident alone may not push things this direction, but combined with furloughs, budget cuts, and insurance issues, the timing may be right. While I am no longer as well-connected as I was a year ago, I fear for the future of the DOW and other mobile radar programs, as well as the countless other severe weather field research projects.

My Master’s thesis utilized data collected in the field, primarily. My planned PhD work was to complement my observationally-based findings with numerical modeling work; this is a common research path to take. The TL;DR of my thesis is that there is a relationship between WSR-88D mid/upper-level velocities and DOW ground-level velocities that could potentially be used to provide real-time tornado intensity estimates.

Terrific, right?

In theory, yes. But despite the years of data collection from the DOW, I only was able to use a handful of events for my research. There are so many hiccups in field work that to maintain a consistent method I had to discard many of the cases the DOW collected data on. The major problem in publishing my work was the limited number of data points I had, and while I agreed with the reviewers that it was an issue, it was the best we could do with the available data.

I spent a lot of the time leading up to my qualifying exams (which, for the record, I passed) studying the symbiotic relationship between field work and modeling. Why can’t we just use one or the other? Because they feed off one another. This is so important to realize: observations help to verify and improve our modeling abilities. There is only so much we can learn (albeit, a lot) from our idealized models. On the other hand, modeling helps improve our observational research. How would we know what data we need to collect without seeing the whole system at work?

We have gone through many years of this process: collect data, create model, test model, discover data holes, collect more data, repeat. The discoveries made from the original VORTEX project as well as the recent VORTEX2 project have been invaluable in improving our models.

I could write on this topic all day, as I truly believe both components of research are irreplaceable. While I hope this tragedy leads to more calculated chasing (my own crew has certainly been too close), I shudder to think of the implications of limiting field research entirely.