Weather Beats Logistics Every Time

Chicago    It’s always a challenge to fly after a holiday, particularly Thanksgiving Sunday, often the busiest travel day of the year.  Families, business people, you name it are all trying to get back from the holidays, fat and happy, and then they have to fly through Chicago’s O’Hare airport, long one of the most trafficked in the USA and the world.  God laughs at the plans of people!

In some ways, I’m in awe of modern communications.  When a plane is delayed, I get a text on my phone.  Sometimes, it’s not timely, but still it’s a minor tech miracle as a flight schedule makes it to the website and then triggers emails or texts to countless passengers, tens of thousands of times per day.  Make that hundreds of thousands on a holiday end flight trip.

Of course, it’s not always accurate, but that might be too much to ask.  At 9pm the night before I was on the phone and website, and was assured that the flight was magically and amazingly on time to leave at 655am.  We boarded – the first time – about what and what to 8am.  Right ahead of me in line were several flight attendants on a “seven day” off, as one described it.  He asked his comrades, if they had gotten a text from the company, telling them they were now at work.  No, they said.  And, by the expressions on their faces, it was not just no, but no way.  Eat that text.  You were already on the ramp, that’s almost to home base and in your seat on the plane.  But, no, an airline gate agent was also walking down the ramp calling out his name saying headquarters wanted him to go to work.  I was just a bumper sticker on this truck.

When he got to the door of the plane it turned out he had to switch with an attendant on the plane who they were sending over to work another flight.  He was asked whether he had his uniform and to start changing.  An hour later when we boarded the flight, there he was, running the whole shebang.  They’ve got a union, and a strong one, but weather trumps and even though we were three hours late, they could find him to go to work.

Meanwhile, I’m calling home for help from my companera to see if I can get a car, if I can get to Chicago and then drive to Madison.  She pulls a rabbit out of the hat, so despite all of the airline’s messages saying I had to book for tomorrow and get to Madison at 6pm a day later, I was in the air.

I hit the ground in Chicago, and I find a text from the airline saying my 220 pm flight to Madison was now delayed and it would get out at 3pm.  What?

Maybe I’ll catch up with my bags?  Maybe I’ll make the meeting tonight?

Mother Nature kicked this airport in the butt one more time, but the computers are still trying to catch up and run the world.

You figure?

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The Chaos Theory Controls Weather

50_no_mere_coincidence

Missoula   After almost a dozen days of clear skies, hot days, and cool nights, we were reminded what weather is really like in the mountains. At first it was a piddling kind of rain common in the West. A rain no one would hardly notice as more than a momentary annoyance or cause you to break your stride. Rain might be in your face even as you could see sunshine on the side of the mountain coming your way. Gear was moved under cover, but it was mainly the heavens spitting at the dust. Then the next day dark clouds crept over the mountains and announced that they were upon us with thunder claps, steady rain, and occasional downpours so that we felt lucky that there was now a roof over the eating area at the camp. Fog encrusted the mountains as I drove the dirt road along the creek to take the first two of our team to town and travel. We had asked someone at a fishing shop about the weather, and they had called it all the way, but who knew if we would be packing tents and awnings wet or dry?

All of which made sense to me because I had been reading a book about wind and weather, And Soon I Had Heard a Roaring Wind: A Natural History of Air, by Bill Streever. The book was as much about weather, meteorology, and the science or lack of it in predicting the weather as it was about the wind per se, but fascinating all the same. And, truth to tell for all of the amazing progress especially over the last 100 years or so, partly spurred on by military demands on the science and its practitioners that were much more effective than simple farmers or travelers, we’re still a bit clueless.

If you’ve every cursed the weather forecasters thinking they should be able to give you so much better information, maybe it’s worth knowing that there’s still huge guesswork in the whole enterprise governed more by chaos theory than rigid, predictable applied science. Streever offered a simple explanation that chaos theory holds that small incidents or events can lead to major implications and outcomes. One mathematician wrote a paper on whether the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Texas could cause a tornado in Brazil, and argued following the theory that you couldn’t discount that possibility, even if you couldn’t prove it.

When applied to wind and weather, the whole world becomes the weather pattern of the mountains, where a change here or there might not be as visible as rain pouring down on your tent or trailer while you are watching blue sky and sunshine on a mountain several miles away, but it’s close, since the physics of wind movement can change and disrupt any forecast. That’s not to say they are clueless, but that they have to embrace chaos and change.

Coming back on-the-grid for another year, that’s probably a lesson worth remembering for me and perhaps for all of us.

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