Deep Freeze

_C1_5739The polar vortex, a cyclone of cold air constantly spinning around the Arctic Circle, has struck again, leaving the eastern half of the country under glacial temperatures. Fayetteville hasn’t been above freezing in four straight days, leaving fountains, ponds, creeks and lakes encased in ice.

Lucky for me, this isn’t your freezer’s ice; this is a rock-hard jewel, a crystal-clear substance that can molded into a limitless array of forms: jagged, geometric, cabochon, ropey, wavy and more. I found examples in my apartment complex, in the Botanical Gardens of the Ozarks, at the square downtown and along Lake Fayetteville, which today was almost completely frozen over. All of these varieties fascinate me, particularly because I have no idea how some of them form.

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_C1_5919Icicles work just like stalagmites and stalactites in caves, with frozen water accumulating down or up instead of solid calcium carbonate. Icicles even have the same lumpiness as cave formations and form columns in the same way when they meet.

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_C1_5954These curves mystify me, especially because they stack on top of each other like stairs, and all of them are enveloped by another, perfectly clear layer of ice. All I know is formations like these build gradually, one layer at a time.

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_C1_6094With Lake Fayetteville frozen several inches deep, we were treated to a phenomenon I’ll dub chirping ice: Throw something on the frozen surface, and a sharp, clear chirrup will ring out with each bounce. Here’s one example (start around 4:27). Here’s another. Rocks are good for the effect, but tree limbs or hunks of wood can be better, and chunks of ice are the best, skittering across the lake for a good 15 seconds with a sort of high-pitched, electronic-sounding hum. Today was my first time hearing that amazing sound in person.

A man wielding binoculars pointed out a bald eagle nearby, too as. Fish were hard to reach today, but there were a couple open patches of water the bird might’ve used. I don’t know — I didn’t see it move in several minutes’ watching.

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_C1_5959I’ve got one last consequence of the weather to show you: The waning Moon a few nights ago was ringed by an iridescent corona.

_C1_5697Circles of light and color like this ring the Moon and Sun when there’s a thin, translucent layer of clouds between us and them, especially when those clouds are made of tiny ice crystals — just one more beautiful form of ice to add to the list.

Hope you’re staying warm! Thanks for looking.

Dan

Cold Light

_C1_5524The Sun returned to us today, but with a price: highs in the 20s, wind chills in the single digits and a smattering of snow, even when the Sun was shining. The sunlight and cold aren’t opposites; the northern air is so cold that those clouds we’ve had for the last month can finally drop out of the sky. I played sub-freezing Ultimate with some other knuckleheads, including a few first-timers.

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_C1_5616The evening drew on and temperatures fell; looks like it’s about 16 degrees as I type this. Still, a cloudless sky is a valuable opportunity.

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_C1_5634A full Moon, a comet and Jupiter are above us tonight. I wish I could do them justice with the equipment I have.

_C1_5643(The Moon through trees)

_C1_5654This is Orion — my first shot of a constellation. Comet Lovejoy, C/2014 Q2, is now visible from Earth near Orion’s bottom right. The Moon is bright enough to give the glare in this image and drown out the comet, but it should be dimming enough in the next week or two to see the comet with the naked eye. I’ll have to try again; this is the best I could get tonight:

_C1_5655It’s that fuzzy green thing near the middle, trailing a faint wisp, the merest suggestion of a tail. Like an eclipse, these celestial crossings, even seen through a noisy long exposure, remind me there are inconceivably huge and grand things happening beyond our little world. Remember that, will you?

Thanks for passing by,

Dan

Sleet.

Yesterday’s warmth abruptly ended last night with the arrival of freezing rain and countless billions of these:

_C1_1156Sleet. Two inches of it. Up in Nebraska, sleet’s a kind of curiosity, hail that fell short of its potential. Here it is altogether different.

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_C1_1162And it’s not just that there was so much sleet that it fell like rain. There was thunder. Every month in Arkansas seems to bring weather I’ve never seen.

It’s difficult to capture billions of tiny, colorless spheres, but these are my attempts before I just wanted to go back inside.

The cold comes after enough warmth to make the trees look like this:

_C1_1166Spring’s less than three weeks away!

Thanks for looking,

Dan

Round 2

_C1_0356The snow’s back! That means Northwest Arkansans watching the Super Bowl are probably just staying home, since we’re getting about 5 inches, easily overwhelming the snow-clearing resources in these parts.

_C1_0262I’m from Nebraska, where 5 inches might take an hour or two to clear from the major roads. I sure miss that. But the road departments around here are a bit constrained by the amount of money they get. No one seems to expect this to keep happening.

_C1_0231I assume that’s why the fountain in my apartment complex is still going, anyway.

_C1_0240It was snowing heavily for most of the day, with a biting north wind. I just think about people without homes, people who have to work, people whose cars break down, the people sent to rescue them. I bet it’s cold in New Jersey right now, too.

_C1_0265I hope you all are staying warm!

_C1_0290Thanks for looking,

Dan