Category Archives: Disasters

When The Day Starts With An Earthquake

The good news is that it was a little one. M3.4 with the epicenter about ten miles from us. At 08:05 I was at that point in waking up where I was trying to get just enough brain cells functional to figure out if I could go back to sleep for ten minutes or not. Then the room moved.

Sort of like a small fender bender. Two tiny shakes, enough to make the bed wiggle and the house creak, enough to know what it was. And then it was done.

It’s been a few years since I’ve felt one. This was just a reminder, something to reinvigorate the brain cells that remember that night over twenty-nine years ago when I was trying to scramble in the dark as everything flew and moved and swayed and tipped, trying to get back to the house to my kids’ bedrooms. Would there be another shake, then another? Was this a foreshock of something big?

Nope. Just a reminder.

Duly noted.

I’m reminded.

Back to dealing with Monday. The internet’s out at the office.  My office computer’s down. I’ve got reports that were due Friday-ish and they really, REALLY need to be done today.




No horrible death and destruction. No multi-billion dollar disaster. No world-class metropolitan area reduced to rubble.

Not today.

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And The Flip Side Of That Is…

Yesterday I talked about “once in a lifetime experiences” and how I thought that some things that are fun and exciting (my example was hot air ballooning) shouldn’t necessarily be done just once. I thought that perhaps we should re-examine things we’ve done in the past as a “life list” thing (or “bucket list” to some) and maybe go do some of the really good ones again.

First thing this morning, serendipity reared its ugly head and I saw the flip side of that argument.

Twenty-nine years ago today, at 4:31 AM on the morning of of January 17, 1994, the Northridge earthquake ripped through the San Fernando Valley and beyond at a magnitude 6.7. There were 57 fatalities (72 if you count the heart attacks) and over $25B in damages. Our house was 5.88 miles from the epicenter. We got rocked pretty good, had shelves & things knocked over, were without power and water for a few days, but otherwise came through it okay.

(Image: Google Earth)

It was, I most sincerely hope, a “once in a lifetime” experience. I know, living in SoCal, that there could be one as bad or worse at any second, and there have been dozens and dozens of noticable but much smaller earthquakes that I’ve felt here, but the odds say that’s probably as bad as it gets.


So “once in a lifetime” experience has a flip side. Ask anyone who’s had their life scrambled for a couple of days to a couple of years (or more) by a hurricane, tornado, brush fire, flood, earthquake, landslide, or any of a dozen other life-changing forces of nature that can just jump up and slap you at any time.

Hot air ballooning, trip to Asia, solar eclipses (thanks to Jemima Pett for that suggestion!), flying in a B-25 – all GREAT things that I’ve gotten to do once and can’t wait to try again!

Major earthquakes or other natural disasters? Thanks, once is enough.

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Filed under Disasters, Paul

High-Altitude Smoke

California’s been burning, a LOT. Most of the fires have been up in the Sierras and in Northern and Central California, and I’m sure many if not most of you have heard about Lake Tahoe coming within a hair’s breadth of burning to the ground. A lot of that smoke has ended up Colorado, Utah, and points east, as far as Chicago and Pittsburgh.

But very little has hit the Los Angeles area.

Today that changed, rather suddenly.

Most of the smoke is up at high altitude, so we’re not doing any choking. You can’t smell anything on the ground.

But it sure is orange.

It’s supposed to blow out of here again over the weekend. Say hello to Sheboygan!

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Filed under Disasters, Los Angeles, Photography

Again, Something’s Up

Even with the noise-cancelling headphones and music on, the helicopter going overhead rattled the building. A minor disadvantage of living on top of a hill.

Then the second one went over.

Okay, pull up the Flightradar24 app. Where are they going?

Okey dokey! Not only these six, but at least one more, the big Sikorski Skycrane, was also flitting in and out of the area, probably going to refill its tanks at a local reservoir. All of these were registered to LA City Fire, LA County Fire, and Ventura County Fire. So the two that came over our head must have been the Ventura County pair, coming from Camarillo where they’re right next to the CAF hangars.

And there you go! Good thing that it’s a cool, cloudy, drizzly day (where did THAT come from?) with no wind to speak of. And six or seven helicopters dropping water might be considered overkill – until you remember that something much like this (albeit on a hotter, windier, drier day) led to THIS less than three years ago. And a couple years before that. And before that. And…

You get the picture.

Meanwhile, back on the 118 Freeway…

At least it’s open!


Filed under Disasters, Los Angeles

Somewhere Far Away Something Is Burning

When you’ve been living in earthquake country for long enough you learn something important about them.

Some sway – some shake.

The ones that shake, jolt, and dance? They’re nearby. The energy that is bending and shaking the entire surface of the earth like it was tissue paper hasn’t had the time or distance to dampen out. If you’re bouncing like you’re on a trampoline set on a flatbed truck going down a dirt road at high speed, that epicenter is close.

The ones that sway and wave and make you feel like you’re in heavy seas? They’re a long way away – but they’re huge. By definition they have to be to be making you shake hundreds of miles away from the epicenter. But the energy that is destroying a city over the horizon has had the distance and time that the shakers and jolters haven’t, so you’re going to spend five minutes getting seasick while nowhere near a boat, instead of thirty seconds on the above-referenced trampoline with the building collapsing around you.

Now we’re learning the same about brush fires.

There are those where the whole sky is black and brown and you’re choking on the soot. That’s a fire that’s nearby and you might lose your house, your neighborhood, or your city.

But there are also those that just make the sky orange when it shouldn’t be. That fire’s a long way away – but it’s huge. By definition it has to be to be filling your sky hundreds or even thousands of miles from the live flame.

We’ve been pretty lucky here in SoCal with few fires in our part of the state (but remember, it’s a BIG state!) while others in Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and all the way to the Midwest are choking on smoke from NorCal, Oregon, Washington, and Canada. That started to change today.

My first thought was that we actually DID have a local fire starting up. The conditions are all too ripe for it.

But there’s almost no smell of smoke, and a quick double check shows no new large fires near us, at least, not today.

Good thing we all have masks now. Right?

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Filed under Disasters, Los Angeles, Photography

That Moment, November 10th Version

That moment when it’s been another frantic looooooooong day and there’s no end in sight and you’re absolutely on your last nerve and all of a sudden your phone just starts screeching with one of those “EMERGENCY ALERT!!!” notices…

…so your gut starts going “PANIC! PANIC!” while your brain says “Bye Bye!” to reality and all you can think of as you teeter on the verge of hysteria is:

And now, back to our regularly scheduled FY21-22 budget marathon.


Filed under Deep Thoughts, Disasters, Paul

The Great Crisis Before Us

Not the election.

Not COVID, although it’s probably related.

Not an incoming asteroid to destroy all life.

Nope, the great crisis before us is…

There are no Diet Cokes in our store for three weeks in a row.

There was some rumor that this might be coming, and there have been shortages of other soda brands. But I’m selfish and self-centered (isn’t that repetitious?) and I don’t care about them.

Now it affects ***ME***!

Because there had been rumors I had stocked up, so I’m not in actual desperation mode for another four weeks or so. And this week they at least had some in the big, two-liter bottles (I prefer it in cans) so it seems to be an issue with the availability of aluminum cans, not the soda itself.

But I’m a little fragile and worn thin at this point with *waves hands vaguely at everything* and if this situation craters it most certainly has the potential to be the straw that breaks my back.

The camel’s on his own.

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My Circus, My Monkeys

There’s an old Polish proverb that goes, “Not my circus, not my monkeys!”

I wanted to think that today, between the deadlines and work piling up and then tonight’s “Presidential” “debate.” (Yeah, read the Twitter feed on the right if you’re still in the dark about where I stand on that Charlie Foxtrot situation. This is the sorta clean, I’m-trying-by-best-to-keep-it-mostly-family-friendly site – I place no such limitations on my Twitter feed and I’m pretty much on my last nerve there about 24/7/365.)

But in verifying the origin and exact wording of that circus/monkeys thing I got a half-dozen ads for coffee mugs that say, “That awful moment when you realize that this is your circus and those are your monkeys!”

First of all, I probably need one of those mugs.

Secondly, it’s true. Being one of the grown-ups in the room, with a sense of responsibility along with certain PTSD issues about quitting and giving up, this really *IS* my circus and those really *ARE* my monkeys.


Well, that probably explains the trouble sleeping and the stomach pains…

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Filed under Disasters, Politics

Bobcat Still Burning

After last night, when some defensive backfires were set on the east side of the Mount Wilson Observatory, which looked scary but were actually controlled and to prevent worse, we were hoping that Mount Wilson was out of danger from the Bobcat Fire.

Not so fast.

This afternoon another flare up occurred on the north side of the mountain. You can see it start just after 12:30 (time stamps in the upper left) in the 12:00 to 15:00 time-lapse video, then blow up in the 15:00 to 18:00 video, and continue to spread to the north in the 18:00 to 21:00 video. (All videos and images from the HPWREN webcam system unless otherwise noted.)

Here’s where we are now:

The good news is that all of this new fire growth is pushing away from the Observatory grounds. This is all about a mile to the north on the next ridge over, pushing up toward Highway 2.

(Image from Google Maps – incredibly professional graphics from yours truly.)

There have been a LOT of water and Phos-Chek drops today. At one point someone monitoring the radios tweeted that all air tankers had been diverted to Mount Wilson to make a stand there. It obviously worked.

These are the TV and radio transmission towers on the ridge just west of the ridge where the observatory is. You can clearly see them in the HPWREN pictures I shared on Thursday. But as I said, the flare up isn’t super close to the observatory – just close, not super close.

Also, while I’m obviously invested in the Mount Wilson Observatory site being protected, this fire continues to grow almost out of control for the fifth day with thousands of homes being threatened on the south side of the mountains where the San Gabriel Valley is and on the north side where the Antelope Valley lies.

Up in the Antelope Valley, they were using our pair of Canadian Super Scoopers, refilling them on the fly from Lake Palmdale. Since that lake is a recreational site and at least the shore facilities aren’t closed off, it’s drawing crowds to watch.

(Video credit to Matt Winheim, Executive Director/Superintendent of the Palmdale Aerospace Academy)

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Panic Not

I tell you this in advance – this is not necessarily a terrible thing. It’s under control, even if it doesn’t seem that way. We’ll get through this and come out stronger and better on the other side.

You and I aren’t the experts. Don’t try this at home.

All images from the HPWREN cameras on Mount Wilson, run by UC San Diego. (I would also note that they put out time-lapse videos for each of the four cameras for every three-hour period, 24 hours a day, and the archive goes back a couple of years. There’s an interesting one on my birthday of it snowing like crazy up there. For those who don’t know how it can snow in Los Angeles County, remember this is at about 5,700 feet. Lots of things are different there. That’s why we have ski resorts just a 90 minute drive from the beach.)

Again, this national treasure is *NOT* burning to the ground tonight – but it sure looked like it if you didn’t get the memo. Just a few minutes after 19:00 local time, looking east, just beyond the line of big domes, there was a puff of smoke:

A half-hour later it was a huge blaze. What we had missed was this:

The “good window of opportunity with favorable conditions” equals cool(er) temperatures, higher humidity, light winds, and most importantly, winds that will push the flames away from the domes and back down the ridge to where it had already burned.

That “existing retardant line?” I think this picture from yesterday explains that:

So the pros saw their chance and took it!

It’s up on top of the ridge where the observatories are and looks like it’s only a few meters from some of the facilities. That’s because it was.

Then it started to die down a bit over there…

…before flaring up over here.

And now it’s all died down and is being put out.

Mount Wilson appears to have been saved from this horror. The fire is less than 20% contained and on the north side, leading into the Antelope Valley, there are more new evacuations tonight. Some of the evacuation areas on the south side around Glendale (where all of those lights are in the right center) have been lifted, but many are still in place for the eighth day. But for now, looking at the weather and the containment lines and defensive burns like tonight’s, it seems that Mount Wilson is safe.

So many thanks to the firefighters who have made this happen. In this hell of a year, we need to grab our victories where we can.

And for those who might think that I’ve slipped into a fugue state and obsessing over Mount Wilson because I can’t face what’s going on in the real world these days – go back and read the first sentence.

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Filed under Astronomy, Disasters, Los Angeles