Archive for the ‘Weather’ Category

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Too Wet!

January 9, 2015

A surprising limiting factor in some parts of the desert is too much moisture.

Wait, you say, I thought deserts were too dry?

Because there’s usually so little rain, nobody is really prepared for much. So even what might be considered a light rain elsewhere can be enough to flood out desert burrows, nests, hollows, and lowlands. If you are a creature who can move fast, or a plant that can hold its breath, you will get through it.

But even in the desert, rain is not always light. During the summer monsoon months, and a few other times of year, there can be heavy downpours.

And adding to the effect, there’s that old caliche we talked about before. This is the impervious layer of minerals and clay that forms over time a short distance down under the desert surface, and acts as a water-trap. The water can’t sink in–so where it can, it slides off downhill.

With a light rain, you can suddenly get a flash flood. With a heavy, or extended rain, you can get massive dangerous flooding, the kind that kills animals, large as well as small, and washes away trees and cars and buildings.

In the middle of many human habitations in the desert, you will find long empty wild spaces, often called “washes.” These are where the flash floods wash through, carrying away whatever is in their path.

It’s strange, when you think about it, how moisture could be a problem, and a limiting factor, in both directions in the desert.

Or maybe not. Because a lot of living things want conditions that are not too much, or too little. Instead, they want things to be generally within an agreeable range. So when you look at a limiting factor, it can be fun to check if there is another one lurking at the opposite side. Yet another mystery.

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Adiabatic—a what?

October 28, 2014

If you listen to the explanations given by weather forecasters, you may have heard the word adiabatic.

No, it’s not a disease related to blood sugat—that has a BET in the middle, not a BAT.

Instead, it is one very cool reason that storms suddenly pop up out of a clear sky in the desert.

Adiabatic cooling or warming happens when the pressure on a blob of air increases or decreases. When desert air hits a mountainside and rushes up the mountain, the air expands, gets “thinner” and cools as it rises to a higher elevation.

This means that if there is any moisture in the air, there is less energy to keep it suspended, so the moisture is more likely to condense, and form rain.

The opposite happens when air flows downslope—it warms as the pressure increases because the molecules are closer together and bump into each other more.

Adiabatic air activity over mountains

Maybe that is one reason that places east of mountains in North America are often more warm and dry than places to the west of mountains. Not only does the moisture get wrung out of the air on the western upslope, even very wet air from the ocean, but following that, some of the moisture on the downslope gets absorbed back into the falling, compressing, warming air.

Cool!

Or rather, cool, then warmer and drier!

 

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New Desert Creatures Mysteries e-book

August 12, 2014

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Now you can get a great Desert Creatures Mysteries e-book.

It goes into detail about the strange animals of the desert, and some of the cool science about them.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/455225

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What’s the buzz?

July 2, 2014

At the end of June you may hear a new sound in the trees–a long loud buzz, much too long and loud to be coming from a hummingbird.

It most likely is a cicada, an large insect that makes this quintessential summer sound with specialized organs on the sides of its body.

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If you keep an eye out, you may find a very ornate discarded cicada shell, since they go through different versions as they grow, and no longer fit in their old shells.

Cicadas are found all over the world. The one pictured is from northern North America.

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Limiting Factors—Cold!

February 4, 2013

If you were in the Sonoran desert in January 2013, you may well have experienced a limiting factor that many people would not expect in a desert: freezing damaging cold.

In many places it dropped into the 20’s or lower at night, for several nights, enough to nip many buds in the bud.

Native plants, which have been through this before, generally survived quite well, but imports, or annual vegetables, either got crisped or completely melted down.

This suggests that planting native species has even more benefits than we usually consider.

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Haboob, the Desert Dust Storm

July 8, 2011

Another limiting factor in the desert arises from the ferocious dessicating and abrasive desert dust storm called the Haboob. Often associated with the seasonal monsoons, these storms can actually happen any time of year, blasting and scouring any plants and animals in their path.

The word haboob is Arabic, from the home of truly impressive sandstorms, but now is applied in any area susceptible to them.

These storms can move particles of dust and even sand, and may reach hurricane force for a few minutes at a time.

Deserts have few trees to stop the wind, and little moisture to hold down the soil. A haboob forms when warm air rises into thunderheads, then the air is cooled by rain, the storm collapses, and the cooled air falls and rushes out from the base of the storm, driving dust and sand before it, sometimes at truly remarkable speeds. Within minutes, winds can go from zero to 50 miles an hour.

Dust storms often arise suddenly, making them hard to avoid or escape. Most years in the Sonoran desert, there are traffic accidents associated with dust storms, when visibility suddenly plummets.

Desert plants need either shelter or thick skins to handle the dessication and scouring associated with a haboob or other winds.

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A Dry Heat

June 29, 2011

The joke is, in the Sonoran desert, even though it’s 114, it’s a dry heat.

The idea being that with very low humidity, amazingly, under 5 percent at times, the heat is easier to bear.

114, an average high for a few days each summer, is still bad enough, but given how few trees and other shelter there is in the desert, it’s almost always a sunny heat during the daytime, which adds another 7 to 10 degrees.

All plants and animals and people that live in the desert need to be built or adapt in some way to survive these extreme temperatures.

The hottest time of year is a few days before the summer Solstice on June 21, and a few weeks after that. Then the average daily temperature starts going down again, very very gradually.

A few weeks after the solstice is also the time when the summer monsoons really get going. The standard definition of monsoon season is the change in the wind, but in the desert, the important thing is that the monsoon usually brings moisture and finally rain from the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico.

And of course, when the humidity goes up and the rains start, it’s still over 100 degrees in the desert. And it’s no longer a dry heat.