Cb

When I was a kid (yes, it’s one of those posts – please don’t interrupt.)

When I was a kid, living on RAF bases, I used to listen to the British Forces Broadcasting Service, (BFBS) in the mornings. One thing I remember from those days was the daily early morning weather report. BFBS did the equivalent of the shipping forecast for airmen. There would be a detailed weather forecast along with cloud types and heights to give the flight crews an idea of what to expect that day. I remember the strange sounding names, Cumulus, Stratus and Cirrus and their variations, and the figures that gave cloud cover and cloud base height.

Just over two years ago, Rufus and I got caught in a thunder storm while I was training for a trek. Ever since, I’ve taken an interest in weather prediction and in particular the early warning signs of thunder storms. We had a heavy storm here yesterday, with a lot of lightning and very heavy rain preceded by hailstones. It was well predicted and before the weather changed, I decided to read up on the cloud types. I wanted to try to identify them as they built up and so see first hand the early stages of a thunder storm.

Classic thunder clouds are generally Cumulonimbus clouds, (abbreviated to Cb). They are instantly recognisable as massive and billowing. They can form quite quickly, within 20 minutes sometimes, by warm air rising within the cloud and drawing cooler air in from below. The billowing part is sharply defined while it is formed of water droplets, although this sharpness may fade as the water freezes at higher altitudes. There will almost certainly be rain beneath this cloud, and more often than not hailstones and lightning.

I watched these kinds of clouds forming to the north of the house yesterday. They were so massive and high that it was hard to judge how far away they were. A quick check on the weather radar ‘app’ I have showed they were about 10 miles north, and they were indeed producing lightning. Later that night, the clouds formed over the house and we had our own storm.

This morning was bright and clear of cloud and I decided an early start was in order. There was still some humidity in the air and although the forecast said no clouds or rain for us, there was a lot of lightning activity in Europe and we often get their weather. So I read a little more from the cloud book and found out that there are a couple of early warning cloud species to keep an eye out for.

Altocumulus Floccus (small tufts of clouds) indicate humidity and unstable conditions at high altitude. These conditions can feed and energise cumulonimbus clouds, an already energetic cloud system. They can indicate a coming storm. Altostratus Castellatus clouds also reveal instability at higher altitudes but the clouds are more dense and usually result from more energetic conditions. Again, these clouds herald a coming storm (or at least the conditions necessary for one to form).

Armed with that information, Rufus and I headed north to Mynydd y Gwair. Yesterday, this seemed to be lightning central according to the website I’d been watching, with several dozen strikes recording in the area. I almost expected to see smoking craters but there were none – I guess that only happens in movies. The sky was clear and the morning was warm as we set off over the moorland north of the Upper Lliw reservoir. Sheep parted before us as we squelched through the surface water. Here at least was evidence of last night’s storm.

At the little river that feeds the reservoir, Rufus jumped in and paddled upstream while I walked the bank looking for little waterfalls to photograph. I’d forgotten about checking the weather until I noticed the sun had disappeared. I looked up and saw a few puffy clouds dense enough to obscure the sun. Nothing to worry about according to my new found knowledge, so I went back to setting the tripod up. I was using a very dense filter so exposure times were in the order of a minute or so. The next time I looked up into the sky I saw some familiar clouds; Altocumula Floccus.

I decided to move out of the river valley as it was hiding the horizon and most of the sky. I wanted to see how widespread the clouds were and what was coming up. I moved downstream and saw that it was a very isolated patch of cloud which was clearing to the west. So I went back to photographing waterfalls again. Rufus, uncaring of the cloud types, splashed and paddled and bobbed his way downstream. We played in the water and I threw stones for him to catch and dredge. In a deep part of the river, I threw dead bracken stems for him to swim after.

I looked up again and saw more Floccus. But now, to the south, a larger bank of cloud was forming beyond the reservoir. It had the appearance of an early thunder cloud and I decided, given the conditions, that we start heading back to the car. Out of the valley, there was a breeze blowing towards the reservoir. One of the signs of Cumulonimbus is that as the warm air rises within it, it drags the surrounding air towards it, causing a breeze. It often leads to people thinking the cloud is moving against the prevailing wind. A wind in the direction of the cloud is a warning sign.

The breeze also made the walk back pleasant and Rufus ranged far and wide, unconcerned about any coming storm. And after a few minutes, although the cloud was growing, I wasn’t so concerned either. By the time we’d reached the car, the cloud had grown but hadn’t moved and rather than jumping in and driving off, I left most of the kit in the boot and we walked off onto a man made bank on the opposite side of the moor. We spent another 10 minutes or so exploring the surroundings before finally making our way home. Ahead, over Morriston, the clouds were thick and dark but as we neared home, they broke up and as I write this, the sky is full of larger Cumulus clouds (‘fair-weather clouds’), normal for the time of day and year.

Which means I have no excuses for not finishing off the lawn, tidying up the boarders and cutting down a couple of dead bushes.

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Happy New Year

Happy new year everyone, I hope 2015 year brings you all the things you wish for and for some of you, the things you deserve!

2015 is a science fiction year. When I was a kid, I read any science fiction story I could lay my hands on and a lot of them talked about the 21st Century (Gerry Anderson’s company, the one that brought us the original and best Thunderbirds, was called 21st Century TV). We have now passed George Orwell’s 1984, we are about half way through Wells’ “Shape of Things to Come” and we’ve passed two of the Arthur C Clarke Space Odyssey novels. We have devices that fit in the hand and connect us with all the knowledge of the world (although you still have to know how to access it). The only thing we haven’t got right yet is the interface to that device.

Of course, we also have people who claim to be experts in making the most of this device and its ability to communicate with the world. The world has filled up with experts, gurus, leaders in their field, and there are so many fields. There are so many of them that 2015 is likely to become the year of the expert expert and the guru guru. Who knows where we’ll be by 2016, but a speaker at a recent conference I attended said that the people who claim to be experts are undermining the professions to which they associate themselves because no one can know everything in enough detail to make that claim.

This time last year I was talking about exercise and I was in the last few days of training for my climb of Kilimanjaro. On 26 January, I made it to the top of Kibo – 5895m – and what a fantastic experience that was. But since then I’ve let the training go a little and although I now have a Rufus to keep me active, it’s not quite the same. And since, for he second year running, I have not given up chocolate, I suspect there is more of me than this time last year, particularly around my middle.

My photography stats

I ‘only’ took 12720 photographs in 2014. That’s almost 4000 down on the year before. I suspect (I hope) it’s because I’ve been a little more discerning and taken my time over each picture rather than machine gunning the views. That said, I took 1775 images on the Kilimanjaro trip alone. But almost a third of those were RAW copies so they don’t count!

Apparently, the photos in my catalogue for this year have been taken on 22 different kinds of camera, although some of those will be other people’s and some are HDR or panoramic images processed on the PC and designated as some unknown camera. Once again, 30% of the images have been taken with one camera – a Nikon D7100 – and 67% of those were taken with the excellent Tamron 18-270mm lens.

Understandably, given the trek, January was my most productive month with 2236 photos taken. I must have taken it easy while recovering in February when I took only 321 images. Looking at them, it was a month of bad weather so I guess I have an excuse. Most of the photos  from February were of huge waves crashing in at Bracelet Bay.

I took 399 macro shots, mostly with a Tamron 90mm macro lens. I think most of those pictures were of spiders in the garden!

All the best for the next 365 days!

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Blown Away

It didn’t look too bad out when I jumped in the car and set off for the hills. There was a bit of a breeze, and the radio was telling me about gale and storm warnings for Scotland and the East coast. But the sea looked calm and I wasn’t concerned.

I was heading for Pen y Fan and Corn Du. On my first trek, these were my training hills of choice. I watched my fitness improve by seeing the time it took to get to the top drop by over half an hour in the space of 6 months. But having climbed them more than 40 times, they became too familiar and, usually, very crowded. I preferred other hills and after the treks, I stayed away. But today I needed the steady climb these two offered.

I started off from the Storey Arms car park. This route takes longer and has an ‘up-down-up’ profile that is great for mental preparation as well as physical. Just as you’ve climbed the first bit, you lose all that height gain as you drop back down to a little stream. Visible ahead for the whole of this descent is the re-ascent.

Once I’d set the pace, I found the going quite easy. I wasn’t rushing – there was no need. But I found I didn’t have to take a break  and I kept the plodding pace going. Before long I was on the re-ascent and feeling great. The wind picked up a little but nothing of any note. Before long I could see the shoulder of the hill, where the path to Tommy Jones’ memorial joins the route up to Corn Du. Just before reaching there, the wind picked up a lot more and began to gust strongly. Although it was blowing from behind, it didn’t help me as it was catching my backpack, which acted like a sail and blew me off course. The further I went, the harder the wind gusted.

At the shoulder, the constant wind was strong and the gusts stronger. The path changed direction and the wind was blowing from my right side. I made sure I was away from the edge on my left as the wind was now pushing me off course most of the time. As I climbed, it got worse and I found myself having to lean to my right just to keep going straight. Every time I lifted a foot to step forward, the wind would pivot me on my other foot. I couldn’t get a rhythm going and it made for tiring work.

The last part of this route is steep, slippery and hard going underfoot. And just before the summit, the wind became almost impossible to battle. I sat just below the edge of Corn Du, using the lip of rock as a brace, which I had to hold on to with both hands. Had I stood up at this point, I would have been carried across the flat summit to the northern edge, which is the express route down. I stayed like this for a minute or so until the wind died slightly. When I stood up, I was immediately pushed with some force onto the summit and only a combination of leaning back into the wind, digging my heels in to gaps between rocks and using my walking pole as a brace stopped me from going over. Even so, I was taking reluctant steps in the wrong direction.

I spent 10 seconds on Corn Du before I realised I had to get off and in to shelter before the wind picked up again. But the problem was, which way to go. I couldn’t have gone back the way I came as I’d been blown away before I could get any firm footing. There was only one way to go – east towards Pen y Fan. Crossing the summit was an ordeal and several times I was carried forward by gusts. Then I reached the little path off the top. This is made up of naturally formed steps and as soon as I started down these, the wind began to push me off balance again. I was struggling now and a little worried about getting off in one piece.

Further down the path I spotted three people sheltering by the side of the path, I decided to join them and took a few more steps. The next thing I knew, a gust knocked my legs from under me and I went skidding down the path. Fortunately, I was off the worst of the rocks steps and although painful, I wasn’t hurt (although as I type, my left wrist is painful where I landed on it). I sat in front of the walkers and I couldn’t help laughing. It turned out that all three had gone over in the same place.

They made to move off and the wind caught them. One went flying backwards, only just staying on his feet. The other two bent low and too small steps as the forced their way uphill. I got up, got blown forward but managed to keep my balance and slowly made my way to the gap between Corn Du and Pen y Fan. I was beginning to doubt whether I should go further. The path ran close to the edge on the left and I left it to move further to the right. Even so, the strong wind was pushing me to the left, and the gusts on top were almost like someone shoving me. In the end, I decided to let common sense prevail. I’ve been on Pen y Fan in the wind and it’s worse than Corn Du. And there are more edges to fall off.

Almost as soon as I’d made the decision, I found myself flat on my back again as the wind had beaten me once more. I turned to head around Corn Du as I knew the path was a little more sheltered but it was almost impossible to make headway against the constant force and the gusts. I could barely breathe as the wind was now in my face. Each gust snapped abruptly, making it hard to compensate in time and for a third time I found myself  blown over, this time close to a steep slope which might have seen my tumbling down to the valley below.

Time for a quick exit! As I made my stop start way along the path, the wind began to die down in intensity until suddenly I found myself in a strangely calm and quiet part of the path. Corn Du was deflecting the wind to either side and I could see the mist ahead swirling back and forth. I had five minutes of this calm, which was most welcome, before the wind began to pick up again. I expected the worst to be on the bwlch where the Corn Du path meets the one coming up from Pont ar Daf. Most times I’ve come up that way, the wind has been bad at the top. Today it was no worse that at other times. I guess the mass of Corn Du was affecting the wind patterns.

Grateful for some respite, I headed down the path. It was easy going despite a constant wind, still from the right. I stopped to chat with a chap making his way up and I warned him about the wind, He dismissed it because, as he said, ‘I come up this way every week and I’m off to Brecon for a cup of coffee’. Good for him!

Getting down to Pont ar Daf was quick and I arrive back at the car only two hours after I’d left it. I was amused to see my phone GPS had logged my route as over 160km in two hours – giving me an average speed of around 80km per hour. I have been training a lot recently, but I was fairly sure there was some kind of error and sure enough, when I checked at home, it seems it had been logging me at three points some 20km apart in a triangle over and over.

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