The Big Chill Devastates Texas
It was a perfect storm of sorts that blanketed most of the country last week, especially the Lone Star state. Texans experienced an unprecedented cold snap. About 25% of the power grid is supplied by wind turbines, and the ice and snow froze them up. Brandon Mulder of the Austin American-Statesman tells us, “nearly half of Texas’ installed wind power generation capacity has been offline because of frozen wind turbines in West Texas, according to Texas grid operators.”
Some say Texas wasn’t prepared well enough and that officials weren’t worried when hearing of the impending storm. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas CEO Bill Magness is reported to have said, “it does look like we’ll have a little bit of winter weather to contend with.”
Aside from pointing blame, President Joe Biden reacted by signing a major disaster declaration for Texas. Over half the state’s population – 14.4 million people in 192 counties – have had frozen pipes, water supply disruptions, and boil alerts. A boil alert means the public water has been compromised and could potentially harm residents who do not boil the water before use.
There is positive news for Texas and the rest of the nation affected by the storm: The country will be warming significantly in the coming days.
Horsetail Falls Transforms to Fire
On the eastern edge of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park stands the majestic Horsetail Falls. The falls only flow when conditions are perfect during the winter. That’s the only time of year that warming temperatures melt enough snow or when there’s enough rain. And when the conditions are just right, the falls appear to transform magically into fire. The phenomenon is dubbed “Firefall,” and there are only a few days left to catch a glimpse.
This year, reservations are required, partially to limit the number of people for COVID reasons and partially to protect vegetation and wildlife from excess foot traffic. Those who make the list also have to walk 1.5 miles to reach the viewing area, but that shouldn’t be a deterrent. Those who have experienced the marvel say the view is breathtaking.
Of course, it is not real fire or lava, but a trick of the eye involving the setting sun’s angle lending a short ten-minute window of viewing. After February, the opportunity vanishes until next winter. Park officials used to entertain visitors by spilling embers over Glacier Point to make it look like a lava flow, but that tradition ended in 1968. It was in 1973 that photographer Galen Rowell captured the famous images of the Firefall spectacle that created the obsession amongst nature enthusiasts.
Perseverance Pays Off
Making history in space exploration, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is anchored safely and successfully on the Mars surface. Perseverance’s primary mission is astrobiology research. The research includes seeking evidence of ancient microbial life. The rover will be the first to collect Martian rock and regolith. Regolith is a layer of loose, heterogeneous superficial deposits covering solid rock, including broken rocks.
The rover will also spend time exploring and gathering information on the red planet’s geology to discover past climate and weather information. All of Perseverance’s missions are designed to pave the way for the first humans to land on Mars.
For a planet that is at least 38 million miles from earth, the atmosphere around Mars is getting a tad crowded. Tianwen-1, a Chinese craft, entered the Mars atmosphere on Feb. 14, scouting a place to land to execute the Chinese research plans. They join the United Arab Emirates, who flew a craft into orbit around Mars on February 9.
To date, only the U.S. has successfully landed on the planet, beginning in the 1970s with two Vikings missions. Perseverance makes the eighth landing on Mars. China hopes to become the second nation to land successfully on the planet.