Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why Can't The Weather Be Worse? and Other Meteorological Musings

North Carolina has pretty much had a perfect year in terms of weather. Sure, we had a few days that didn't get above freezing back in January, but overall it's been comfortable. The summer wasn't hot, we got more than enough rain, and the sunshine was almost always out. No droughts, no severe weather. Just about perfect. Unless you're a birder.

As a Piedmont-bound avian enthusiast, I always hope for two things: hurricanes and droughts. This is backwards. This is wrong. This might make me a terrible person. But it's the truth. I have yet to experience real hurricane birding. Instead, I find myself salivating over the post-Fran and Ernesto lists from several years ago. I thought I would finally get my chance this year, as Arthur barreled toward the coast. But the bastard curved away, sparing the coast from damage but also sparing my list from a bird or two. I scoped the ocean for hours, and all I got was a shearwater sp.

I thought this storm, Hurricane Arthur, would be my chance. It wasn't.
I'll be honest - I'm an obsessive county lister. It's a fact. And nothing would improve my Wake County list (my home county, also where Raleigh is for any out-of-staters) more than a few big mudflats and a strong tropical cyclone. This list's rate of expansion has ground to a near halt, save for the occasional fall warbler. Bring on the storm-petrels, the Pterodromas, the sooty terns; the American Golden-Plovers, the Ruffs, the phalaropes. I need them.

Wilson's Storm-Petrel is a bird I'd love to add to my Wake County list some day. But I can't in this perfect weather.
This brings me to my second gripe with this weather - the rain. Every rain shower keeps some shorebirdy mudflat underwater. In my pre-birding days, back in elementary school, it seemed like every year was a drought. The mudflats, I hear, were nothing short of epic. Even last year saw a dry enough spell to produce two Baird's Sandpipers at Lake Crabtree's ephemeral mud island. But this year, it's rained too damn much. The reservoirs are more than full, making city officials happier than Pine Siskins at a thistle feeder, but leaving me shorebirdless. Is it too much to ask for a dry spell each Fall Migration for my plovers and sandpipers to show up? I don't think so.

Why has the weather been simultaneously great and terrible this year? I blame El Niño, the famed climatic event centered around the Eastern Pacific. This giant pool of hot water off the Peruvian coastline gives the Pacific jet stream a straight trajectory across the North American continent. This shears and pushes away any hurricanes trying to form in the Atlantic, and brings above-average rainfall to the southern half of the country. How annoying.  It might make West Coast birding a little more exciting, but it certainly does nothing to help out North Carolina birders like me.

Pacific Jet Stream under El Niño conditions.
Now let's just hope for a brutal winter, which the four-lobed Polar jet stream should give us. I could go for some nice waterfowl right about now.

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