It was hotter than _____ (fill in the blank)

Hazy sunset by Bruce Stambaugh
Hazy sunsets culminated the hot, humid days.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I have never written an interactive column or blog until now.

With the onslaught of the recent blast of extreme hot and humid weather that affected the country from The Great Plains states to the Outer Banks to Maine’s rocky coast, I heard and saw a lot of comments about the heat.

Some can’t and shouldn’t be repeated, much less printed. I took the prudent approach and attributed the more lewd orneriness to heat stroke.

Here are a few of the ones that can be shared. It was hotter than a firecracker on the Fourth of July. It was hotter than a pistol. It was hotter than two goats in a pepper patch. It was hotter than a cat on a tin roof. Not the most imaginative offerings I know.

Others focused on an end result retort about the oppressive heat. It’s so hot the chickens are laying hard-boiled eggs. It’s so hot I can fry eggs on the sidewalk. It’s so hot that the trees are creeping around looking for shade. These platitudes seem a little more comprehensible.

The interactive part of the post comes in here. Perhaps you have your own heat related ditty. If so, I invite you to complete the headline with your own personalized version or post it in the comments section.

With the lengthy duration of this very hot weather, there can be no doubt that summer has arrived in all its glory in Ohio and across the nation. The National Weather Service was proactive in advising the public about heat related conditions, and offered suggestions on how to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Both are serious illnesses with their own specific symptoms.

Hard work by Bruce Stambaugh
Outdoor work required laborers young and old to stay hydrated.

I felt for people who had to work outside. I was pleased to learn that many such workers were asked to begin work earlier in the coolness of the morning so they could finish up before the really extreme heat of the late afternoon. Some shops simply shut down for a day to save their workers from the oppressive conditions.

Those who had to labor out in the elements soldiered on, improvising ways to stay cool. Construction and landscape workers removed their T-shirts and wore colorful bandanas around their heads for protection from the sun and to soak up the sweat.

Popsicle days by Bruce Stambaugh
Taking frequent, cooling breaks is especially important on extremely warm and humid days.

Even though the National Weather Service warned the public with Heat Advisories and Excessive Heat Warnings, people still got sick. Unfortunately, several people nationwide died from difficulties brought on by the incredible heat. Most were elderly, who are the most susceptible to heat related health problems.

Taking the proper precautions can help avoid complications from being overheated. Keeping hydrated, taking needed breaks, and staying out of the direct sun as much as possible are the safest measures.

Horses in snow by Bruce Stambaugh
Last winter was an especially long and cold one for people and animals alike.

Besides the silly sayings, I didn’t really hear a lot of complaining about the heat. Perhaps the memories of the long, cold, wet winter and spring came to mind, and people just bit their lips and endured as best they could.

Much as I preferred not to be, I was out and about on the hottest days of the year. When I stepped from the refreshing and safe air conditioning into the outside elements, the heat overwhelmed me. It felt like I was walking into an oven. Getting back into the car after an hour’s meeting was no fun either.

I’m not complaining mind you. I’m just reporting. It was hotter than…?

A window with an ever-changing view

Ohio sunrise by Bruce Stambaugh
One of the many spectacular sunrises I've seen through my office window.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I’m glad I have a window with a view in my home office. That view is forever changing, sometimes subtly, sometimes dramatically.

When our daughter flew the coop 13 years ago to marry the love of her life, her mother and I converted her bedroom into our home office. The room was just the right size to meet our workplace needs. The cheery double window to the outside world was an added bonus.

My work area occupies the space right beside the window on the east side of our east-facing home. My wife’s computer desk is to my right. The window affords me some periodic and necessary breaks from the long-term sitting I do at the computer.

I’ve seen a lot over all the years peeking out that office window. Keep in mind our house is built on an Amish farm on a very busy county road that cuts through the heart of the world’s largest Amish population.

Horse and buggy on CR 201 by Bruce Stambaugh
Horse and buggy traffic is common along Holmes County Road 201.

The surface of County Road 201 routinely carries an amazing array of cargo. If I were to create a catalog of the movements north and south along the road, I would have a pretty thick document.

The booklet’s index would include several categories. A random representation of the locomotion I’ve witnessed would include canoes atop buggies, bicyclists, strings of antique cars, wagon trains, tractor-trailer parades, tractors pulling wagon loads of people sitting on lawn chairs, speeding motorcycles and dedicated joggers.

Of course, not everything I have seen has buzzed by on the highway. We rejoice when we see our neighbors readying their equipment to head out for their work away from home jobs. Given the economy, that surely is a happy sight.

Hoar frost by Bruce Stambaugh
Hoar frost stuck to twigs on a dogwood bush.

Some of the prettier things we’ve observed through the window include incredible sunrises, spiny hoar frost stuck to everything it touched, and triple rainbows. I have watched as golf ball sized hail covered the ground. Blinding snow squalls prevented me from seeing the roadside mailbox.

I have seen some rather ugly images out that window, too. Auto accidents and insensitive people pitching litter from passing vehicles make that unpleasant list.

My favorite observations, however, are the animals I see. And just like the highway bill of lading, I have watched a variety of wildlife engaged in assorted activities in every season. Eastern Bluebirds have perched atop the lamppost positioned along the front sidewalk. Deer scurried for cover by taking a shortcut through the front yard.

Cooper's Hawk by Bruce Stambaugh
A Cooper's Hawk pinned its catch, a Mourning Dove, to the snowy ground.

After one of last winter’s heavy snows, I spied a Cooper’s Hawk pinning its Mourning Dove breakfast to the ground, feathers scattered in a broad oval around the crime scene. I shot lots of pictures through the window for evidence just in case the assault ever got called into court.

Recently, a curious flash drew my attention away from the computer, through the window to the greening yard. A Red-tailed Hawk had swooped down to claim a fox squirrel that had been run over on the road earlier that day.

Hawk and squirrel by Bruce Stambaugh
The dead fox squirrel was simply too heavy for the Red-tailed Hawk to lift for any distance.

As the hawk tried to roost in one of our Norway maple trees, it dropped the flattened rodent. Try as it might, the hawk could not fly away with its fortunate find.

Finally, the frustrated hawk left still hungry. I took pity on the poor dead squirrel, went outside and placed the mutilated carcass at the base of the tree trunk.

The next morning I discovered the squirrel was gone. Though curious as to what had happened to it, I was really thankful that was one incident I didn’t have to view out my window.

Bluebird on ice by Bruce Stambaugh
A male Eastern Bluebird perched on an ice-covered limb outside my office window.

Anticipating spring from on high

buggyandsnowbybrucestambaugh
Horse and buggies braved the weather no matter what it was.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I don’t know about you, but I am more than ready for spring. It’s been a long, long winter.

True, this year residents of Ohio’s Amish Country avoided the huge snowstorms of last winter, and overall we didn’t compile as much snowfall as last year. Instead, ice, as in freezing rain ice, predominated the snows. The nasty combination made the lesser snow amounts just as slippery and difficult to maneuver in as the previous year’s foot-deep accumulations.

Ice sparkles by Bruce Stambaugh
Ice sparkled in the morning sun.

Last fall, my wife and I made a major decision that we thought prudent. We had our home’s original windows and spouting replaced. Since the house was built in the mid-70s, both were overdue to be changed.

After all, building materials had greatly improved in the last three decades. Windows were manufactured to be tighter and more energy efficient. Spouting became seamless long ago. It was time we caught up.

With our rural property full of trees, and a dense deciduous thicket not far to the south and west, leaves and pine needles tended to clog our gutters and downspouts year-round. It’s amazing how much debris gets blown around long after the trees have dropped their foliage.

If a storm was forecast during any season, I would trudge to the garden shed, take down the eight-foot wooden ladder, grab the stepladder, and head to the roof to clean the gutters and downspouts. I used the bigger ladder to access the garage roof, and leaned the stepladder next to the stubby brick chimney to climb onto the house roof.

I really didn’t mind this labor-intensive exercise. Heights never bothered me either. I enjoyed my periodic roof excursions. The views were great. I could see the neighbor’s faded white barn a mile to the east. Belgian workhorses and chestnut buggy horses intermingled in the pasture with the Holsteins.

The north afforded the best scenery, a panoramic landscape of hills and valleys miles away. I peered over roof’s edge at the back of the house to spy on the school of goldfish swimming carefree in the little garden pond.

As I aged over the 31 years in this home however, I realized my balance wasn’t what it used to be. With safety in mind, I decided to quit the climbing and go for the new gutters with leaf guards.

The guards installed were u-shaped channels with tiny perforations that would allow the water to enter but nothing else, not even the thin, burnt orange pine needles. I was more than contented with this overdue addition until winter’s initial ice storm.

Icecycles by Bruce Stambaugh
Ice cycles hanging from the spouting were the first signs of potential problems.

The first glaze of ice sealed the pinholes of the gutter guards. With the freeze and thaw, freeze and thaw cycles of the storms, thick layers of ice easily accumulated on the new gutters. Ice cycles dangled the full length of the gutters on the front and back of the house.

When I realized what was happening, out came the ladders again, and back up on the treacherous roof I went. Given the series of storms with their mixed bag of precipitation that we experienced, I kept handy the rubber mallet and metal scraper needed to break loose the stubborn ice.

Icy gutters by Bruce Stambaugh
Ice clogged the gutters more than once this winter.

If for no other reason than saving my own neck, I for one will be glad when the vernal equinox says goodbye to winter and hello to spring. Just to be safe, I probably won’t put the deicing tools away until June. It is Ohio after all.

Finding the good in the bad weather

Snow scene by Bruce Stambaugh
Snowy scene in Holmes County, Ohio.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Weather is one of my favorite hobbies. Living in Ohio’s Amish Country affords me plenty of climatological variety to enjoy.

That is especially true in the winter. We never know what winter will bring here when it comes to weather. It could be mild. It could be cold. It could be dry. We could be buried in snow. And all of those scenarios could happen in the same winter season.

I especially like an occasional heavy snow. I love the beauty, the peacefulness, the serenity an abundant snowfall brings. The landscape comes alive, green pine boughs heavy laden with a snowy burden, fire engine red Cardinals searching for seeds, chestnut horses romping in the white, fluffy playground, children bundled up to build snowmen.

Cardinal and corn by Bruce Stambaugh
A male cardinal at an ear corn feeder.

Of course, such a snow causes headaches for travel and unwanted expenses for municipalities expected to clean every last flake from the roadways. Tow truck drivers, on the other hand, revel in the bounty of pulling vehicle after vehicle out of ditches.

For my part, the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to snow. I can’t say the same thing about an ice storm, however.

Our most recent experience with a widespread ice event is example enough. Ice-coated trees crashed onto power lines and highways. I both pitied and admired the road and utility workers who braved the dangerous elements trying to restore order out of the icy chaos.

Stores lost valuable business. Schools altered schedules, academic and extracurricular alike. People who lost power and didn’t have access to a generator had to wait it out, sometimes for days.

Ice clogged by Bruce Stambaugh
The ice storm clogged roads and gutters alike.

Eventually, though, some good managed to find its way through the gloom and dismay of the ubiquitous ice. Ice-coated branches sparkled, even from nighttime’s artificial light.

Moon crescent by Bruce Stambaugh
Even the light from a thin creasent moon reflected off of the icy landscape.

But often it takes us awhile to see the glimmering light of an ice storm. The most obvious benefits came in the first light of day. Once the clouds diminished, the low angled rays of sunrise and later sunsets ricocheted across the icy landscape. Even the light of a thin crescent moon slid its tiny light across the shiny, slippery iced-over acres of fallow fields.

The light came in other natural forms, too. A kind neighbor sauntered over to sprinkle calcium on the inch thick, hard blanket of ice that covered the walk and parking pad. After a few minutes, he began chipping the icy glaze just because it needed to be done. I joined him, and a congenial conversation brightened the otherwise dull day.

A township resident called to say that he and his neighbors had cleaned up the downed tree limbs save the one they couldn’t reach that still dangled above the roadway. The lone highway worker would not have to clear that section of the road of debris thanks to their thoughtfulness and commitment to doing the obvious for safety sake. Why wait on paid personnel when a volunteer effort gets the job done just as well?

As we saw again last week, an ice storm can be devastating. Urban and rural commerce and individual residents alike suffer the cold consequences.

Conversely, an ice storm can also be a bright ray of sunshine in an otherwise dismal winter. I enjoyed the enhanced scenery and the visit of the friendly neighbor.

However, having experienced this most recent icy incident and the one in late 2004, the next one can wait awhile as far as I’m concerned. That weather is a bit too extreme, even for me.

Oceans and the weather

Gulf storm clouds by Bruce Stambaugh
Storm clouds gather at sunrise near Port Aransas, TX.

By Bruce Stambaugh

If it weren’t for the oceans of the world, the earth probably wouldn’t have weather as we know it. The landmasses then bear the brunt of nature’s bad weather and embrace her best. Considering that more than half of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of an ocean, their importance in weather making cannot be overstated.

Earth’s oceans occupy 71 percent of the world’s surface, and contain more than 97 percent of all the water contained on the globe. That huge volume of water helps create the weather that arrives on the planet’s landmasses.

Surprisingly, it is not so much the amount of water in the oceans that affects the weather as it is the temperature of the water. Just a degree or two warmer or cooler, and the oceans can have a dramatic effect on the weather experienced from season to season.

Oceans have an incredible ability to absorb, store and release heat into the atmosphere. It is this characteristic alone that affects the weather received around the world, even far inland.

Shelf cloud by Bruce Stambaugh
A shelf cloud of a severe thunderstorm moved over Ohio's Amish country.

This quality of ocean water also has the most dramatic affect on both climate and weather. Consider that the first 10 feet of ocean surface contains more heat than the earth’s entire atmosphere.

Major climate events, such as El Nino, result from ocean temperature changes. These temperature changes then impact weather events like hurricanes, typhoons, floods and droughts. Of course, those disasters directly relate to the success or failure of crops, and greatly affect the price of fruits, vegetables and grains, for example.

Just as the atmosphere is divided into layers, so are the oceans. The surface layer, the Epipelagic Zone, is also called the sunlight zone and extends from the surface to 660 feet deep. It is here that most of the visible light exists.

Naturally, with the light comes heating from the sun. This heating is responsible for the wide change in temperature that occurs in this zone seasonally and in latitudes. For example, surface water in the Persian Gulf can be 97 degrees Fahrenheit, while the water at the North Pole is 28 degrees.

Ocean circulations, waves, tides and sea breezes are other aspects of the ocean. Individually and collectively, they all influence the weather to some degree.

This article first appeared in the winter issue Farming Magazine.

A practical way to give thanks

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was only appropriate that for a full week after the first snow of the year that we experienced a perfect Indian summer here in Ohio.

The extended summer-like days, which seemed to actually improve chronologically until the rains came, served as a picturesque bridge between a superb fall and an inexplicit winter yet to come.

We can only wonder what winter will be like. Will it be as harsh and record breaking as the last? We hope not. Clearly we have no say in the matter.

Snowfall in Ohio's Amish country by Bruce Stambaugh
Snowfall in Ohio's Amish country totaled three feet in February 2010.

Every fall the National Weather Service issues a long-term guesstimation of what winter will bring. But even the scientists hedge their prognostications on percentages, casino like.

In the end, we have no choice but to take what we get. Hushed by the holiday clamor, a certain question lingers unspoken. Will we appreciate what we receive? In truth, that question can and should be applied far beyond the realm of weather.

I remember well the winter of 2004-2005 when the infamous ice storm nailed our area. The accumulating ice snapped giant trees, brought down power lines, halted commerce, interrupted communications, and thinned traffic to emergency purposes only for days.

Those of us who were on the electrical grid were hit hard. Fortunately, an Amish friend saved my family and me with the use of a generator to at least keep the gas hot water heat on. Without the generator’s assistance, the pipes in our home would have frozen and burst, causing extensive damage. Thankfully that did not happen, due to the unconditional generosity of my friend.

All the while, with our communication to the outside world cut, thousands upon thousands of people were caught in the wake of a horrific earthquake and subsequent tidal waves that killed scores of people.

In sorting through an overflowing basket of mishmash the other day, I came upon some handwritten notes I had made about the catastrophe. Apparently, I did so while listening to a battery-operated radio. In reviewing my scribbling, I was reminded that the inconvenience of living without electricity for five days paled in comparison to the plight of millions of fellow human beings halfway around the world.

A sampling of my jottings, dated Dec. 26, 2004, relived the calamity: Banda Ache, 60-foot wave, two miles inland, 30 mph, eight-12 feet deep flood; deaths, 200,000 in Indonesia alone, 400,000 injured; no system to alert people in Indian Ocean rim; 9.3 magnitude earthquake, the world’s deadliest tsunami. Unfortunately, those initial notations proved accurate.

Once power was restored the horrible scenes unfolded on television. I was appalled for the victims, thankful for my family that we had only lost power and a few trees in the yard. Compared to the widespread wreckage and unbelievable totals of death and injuries of so many innocents, we had been fortunate.

Tracks in the snow by Bruce Stambaugh
Horses made serpentine tracks in the heavy snow last Feb. in Holmes County.

Since then, infinite natural and man-made disasters, including the sluggish global economy, have occurred. Others will likely continue to develop as time progresses. Nevertheless, as we begin this holiday season in North America, we still have so much for which we can be thankful no matter our personal situation.

This Thanksgiving perhaps we can express our gratitude by simply helping the less fortunate. We may not have to look clear to the Indian Ocean rim for those opportunities either.

Maybe, just maybe, a proactive generosity can be an Indian summer bridge to brighten someone else’s rainy day life. That would be a practical, productive and prudent Thanksgiving.

Enjoying the beauty of the first snow

Snowy lane by Bruce Stambaugh
The first snow of the season decorated the long, steep lane to the cottage.

By Bruce Stambaugh

We awoke on the first Saturday of November to a skiff of snow on the roofs, grassy areas and glued to the trees. The driveway and the road in front of our house were just wet.

Since the temperature hovered right at 32 degrees Fahrenheit, I figured we probably had had more than the dusting that remained. Not one to quibble with the weather, I simply inhaled the beauty as a drab dawn broke.

My wife and I were ready to head for our cottage for a post-election weekend retreat with some friends. After the tiresome multimedia blasts of campaign negativity, we needed a quiet place, and the cottage was it.

Just a few minutes down the road, we caught up to the menacingly low clouds that were still spitting snow. During the 75-minute trip, we were amazed at just how spotty the snow was. We drove in and out of the white stuff several times.

In some places, the snow was two or three inches deep. In most, the ground was bare. The snow had fallen in various depths in a long, narrow band stretching northwest to southeast from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.

When we pulled onto the long steep lane that leads to our cottage, an inch of fresh, fluffy snow welcomed us. Initially the lane goes uphill. At the summit, the road dives into the woods, and quickly curves right, down a steep, straight slope.

Just as I began the decline, the car stopped out of respect. It couldn’t crush the beauty before us, not at least until I had taken some pictures of the virgin snow.

The limestone on the lane must have been warm enough to melt the snow on impact. Everyplace else, the snow stuck undisturbed, beautiful, mesmerizing.

Snowy woods by Bruce Stambaugh
The snow cover made everything appear black and white.

With the concealed sun unable to lessen the early winter grip on the landscape, the panoramic scene seemed basic black and white. The only variation came in the clay colored clouds.

I snapped a few photos and returned to the vehicle. I guided it ever so slowly down the straight slope, around the hard left-hand curve, under slow laden white pine bows, toward the lake that reflected the steely sky.

We made the final zigzag up the lane and into the drive to the cottage. This last leg of the trip adds a faux remoteness to the location. I had brought along a leaf blower to dispense with any remaining natural litter on the cottage deck. I should have tossed in the snow shovel instead.

The combination of the snow and the cabin’s chill called for a fire in the impressive sandstone fireplace. I obediently responded.

Snowy scene by Bruce Stambaugh
The snow created picturesque scenes all around our cottage.

With the fire underway, I cranked up the chain saw and headed out into the morning sharpness. Each time I exhaled my glasses steamed up.

There is something about snow, especially the season’s first, that exhilarates me. I have to plunge headlong into it.

The chain saw, which had not run in months, must have liked the snow, too. It purred right along, and the two of us accomplished our woodcutting goal in less than an hour.

The snow was still in place when our friends arrived late morning. They wore the same smiles as my wife and I. I don’t know if it was the snow, the blazing fire, the setting or the combination there of.

No matter how long you live where it snows, there is just something extra special about that first snowfall. This one was breathtaking.

Roaring fire by Bruce Stambaugh
A warming fire is always welcome on a cold, snowy day.