Tuesday, February 25, 2014


We had our biggest snowfall of the season last week, and while it wasn't all that much (maybe 12 inches) it brought our snow depth up to a level we haven't seen since 1982. This winter has been unlike others in that the temperature has stayed low enough to prevent the usual gradual melts that keep the snow cover in check. Each snowfall has added to the last and now we're up around two feet of the stuff.

I know for other parts of the country that's not so much, but winter is somewhat subjective. Thirty two years between mounds of snow like this are almost enough to erase it from the collective memory. Almost.

Anyway, with the forecast for continued cold (and I mean sub-zero lows cold) cabin fever is pounding at the door. To do something--anything--constructive is to hold the madness off for a while. So I decided to go dig out my observing platform.


The Pristine Winter Wonderland/Wasteland
80 cubic feet of snow and ice later
The yard stick does not lie.

The depth was 26" on one side and 24 on another, with the average as you see it above.

This was completely futile, of course. March, only days away, is our snowiest month on average. But it was nice to see the wood planking again, and maybe--just maybe--the Sun will do some work and melt it clear before the next snowfall.

I did manage to do some astronomy evangelizing the week before last. I volunteered to make an astrophotography presentation to three photography classes at Richfield High School. It was fun, and doing some show-and-tell gave me an excuse to get out my neglected cameras, now three months into their winter exile.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Nebraska Star Party Weather

(Continued cold and clouds have curtailed all my imaging activity, so thoughts continue to turn to the summer)

I'm still toying with the idea of attending the Nebraska Star Party, which in 2014 is from July 27 through August 1. I have some concerns.

A minor concern is electrical power. I run off two deep-cycle batteries, and it's unlikely that I can get more than a few nights off my gear. I'll be coming from the Prairie Grass Star Gaze. It's likely my batteries will need to be topped off before getting to NSP or I might have less than two night's capacity.

The bigger concern is the weather, both the heat and the potential for damaging storms. This has led me to investigate the weather that's typical for late July. Here's what I've found for nearby Valentine:

TEMPERATURES (all in degrees F) (source 1)
July 27- Average, 89/61, records 106/43
July 28- Average, 89/61, records 108/44
July 29- Average, 89/61, records 110/42
July 30- Average, 89/61, records 105/38
July 31- Average, 89/61, records 110/44
August 1- Average, 89/61, records 106/44

Entire period, daily chance of thunderstorm is about 39%; daily chance of rain is about 50%.
An average five day interval will see two days with thunderstorms and two or three days with rain.

In late July and early August the skies are clear or mostly clear about 66% of the time. This probably understates the likelihood of favorable conditions at night, when clouds are less common.

(1) http://www.weather.com/weather/wxclimatology/daily/USNE0494?climoMonth=7
(2) http://weatherspark.com/averages/31908/Valentine-Nebraska-United-States

Numerous attendees have reported that the thunderstorms can be strong. I usually take down my scopes at night but leave the mount up so that my polar alignment is retained. I might consider looking into how to stake down the mount so that really strong gusts don't topple it.

As for the heat, it could easily top what I experienced at the Iowa star party last year. The Solution is a lot of water, and either bring or borrow shade.