Category Archives: Los Angeles

Hail, Yeah!

It rained in Los Angeles today. Yes, for those of you who have never lived here, that *IS* a big deal, especially in a drought year like this.

Even more importantly, especially for storytelling and narrative interest purposes, we got hail and I happened to be out in it instead of being locked away in COVID quarantine for the 356th day in a row.

Just after spending almost three hours (AGAIN!!) in the dentist’s chair, having horrible, torturous things done to my body and face and jaw and teeth, I was driving home and had to stop in a local Target store of a couple of quick things that the grocery store didn’t carry.

And, yes, there were other folks out there with their cell phones taking picture of this icy hazard, our very own snowdrift! (Or “icedrift.” Or “temporary accumulation.” Or whatever.)

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Filed under Los Angeles, Photography, Weather


Maybe I’ve been to too many airshows (like there could ever be such a thing!) or maybe I’m just attuned to the noises that planes make, but I’ve recently noticed something and tested out my theory yesterday.

Sometimes when I’m working in my home office I will hear a deep rumbling that will last for several minutes. It’s plenty loud enough to get my attention, almost like a large semi idling while parked outside – but we’re on a narrow side street at the top of a freakin’ huge hill, so we get very, very few big trucks up here. They can come up here – the trash trucks are weekly visitors, and every now and then we’ll get a big moving truck or something, but they’re rare. So when I start noticing these sounds several times a week, I got curious.

Yesterday it was cloudy and cool, and that might have helped with the acoustics. But when I heard the sound and it had been going on for a minute or two, long enough to register, I went outside to look. The sound was quite distinct, but fading off to the north. A quick check of my FlightRadar24 app confirmed my suspicion:

We may be on a very narrow, steep hill which discourages trucks, but we’re also directly under the flight path for jumbo jets heading from LAX to Asia. While a great many of the newer big jets have much quieter engines, the older jets are noisy, and many of them have been converted for cargo. That rumbling I had just heard was a KAL cargo 747 headed to Seoul.

Is it repeatable?

Two hours early I heard it again and didn’t wait, immediately went outside. Too cloudy to see anything, but the app showed that it was another cargo 747 headed to Seoul, this time from Atlas Air.

I love the sound of jet engines in the morning! Or, in this case, the late afternoon and evening. Or whenever.


Filed under Flying, Los Angeles

Random Old Photos – January 26th

Almost eight years ago. Coincidentally the same trip when I took the picture that became the header photo for this site a month later (and still is).

Angels spring training in Arizona, this game at Tempe Diablo Stadium. In back of the field there’s a big hillside. Personally, I would rather pay the $10 (or whatever) to sit in a seat and have access to food, drinks, bathrooms, and a decent view rather be up with the rattlesnakes and scorpions (a decidedly non-zero probability in those parts), but that’s just me.

It’s also weird looking at these pictures (and I’ve been noticing it a lot in videos of all sorts of sporting events from previous years) and seeing no one even dreaming of wearing a mask or practicing social distancing.

I doubt we’ll see that opportunity for spring training in March of this year.

Well, belay that. It is Arizona, and they haven’t been real strict about COVID restrictions. There’s a reason that the San Francisco 49er’s played their last few games out of Phoenix, and the San Jose Sharks are right now playing their “home” games there. It’s possible that for spring training in seven or eight weeks they’ll have some fans in the stands.

We won’t be among them, even if it is “legal.” If the last four years have taught us anything, there’s often a world of difference between “legal” and “smart.” And in those cases, “legal” can also lead to “dead.”

Even if the rattlesnake doesn’t bite you on the leg while you’re traipsing through the desert mountainside in shorts and flip-flops.


Filed under Los Angeles, Photography

Same, Cedars! Same

The cedar trees were bent over pretty well in some stiff winds before the rain and snow moved in.

I know the feeling.

Same, cedars! Same. Bend, but don’t break.

But that’s a lot of bending. It’s been a long couple of weeks.

A day off, or five, would be nice. But not yet. “…miles to go before I sleep,” and all of that jazz.

Wait – did I say “snow?” Don’t I live in Los Angeles? Like, in the city, not up in the mountains?

Yes, and we didn’t get any snow here. (Yet.) We’re at 1,078 feet elevation and it’s only predicted to get “below 2,000 feet.” Which means that the Grapevine on I-5 (4,160′) going up to NorCal will be a mess, as will the I-15 (3,776′) headed out to Las Vegas. In addition, we all know that the San Gabriel mountains here in LA County go up to well over 10,000′, so there’s snow there all the time in the winter. (People are often amazed that there are ski resorts within a 60-90 minute drive of downtown LA.)

Remember Mount Wilson and the cameras we watched last summer with the brush fires there?

(Image from the HPWREN cameras on Mount Wilson, run by UC San Diego.)

It’s a freakin’ winter wonderland up there.

But closer to home? Places where you don’t normally get snow that often, maybe once a decade or less? Like, Malibu? You know, going through the Santa Monica Mountains between the San Fernando Valley (where I am) and the beach (where Malibu and Pepperdine University are)?

The tallest peak in Calabasas is 2,163′ and the tallest in the Santa Monicas is out in Ventura County at 3,114′. There are the canyon roads that run through there – twisty, turny, two lanes, can be fun, can be a nightmare if there’s an accident or landslide or rocks in the road or a brush fire? Topanga Canyon? Malibu Canyon? A bunch of those roads at their peaks go over 2,000’…

I would love to stay up all night to see if we get a dusting here so that I could go out in the yard and make a two-inch tall snowman – but I’m going to collapse and get some sleep instead.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Photography, Weather

Red Leaf Saturday With Berries

Fall has started to arrive in SoCal.

It might not be the Black River Valley or Franconia Notch, but we do get some color.

Not sure what these are, but there are a bunch of them in the parking lot at my office.

Even better, with COVID the lot and the building were almost empty, so I didn’t have to deal with anyone wondering why some lunatic was wandering around the parking lot taking pictures of leaves.

Yeah, like that’s EVER stopped me!

It was odd being in the office for a couple hours (computer problems, had to get it back online) but at least I had something spectacular to look at when I came out!

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Filed under Los Angeles, Photography

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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Filed under Astronomy, Disasters, Los Angeles

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

Mount Wilson Tonight

They thought they were out of the woods on the Bobcat fire after a flare-up that got within 500 yards of Mt. Wilson Observatory a couple nights ago.

Not so.

The Bobcat fire started just before noon on Sunday, the 13th. Four days later, it’s only 9% contained and it’s now threatening thousands of homes in both the San Gabriel Valley on the Los Angeles side of the mountains as well as communities on the northern, Antelope Valley side of the mountains.

And now it’s dangerously close to the Mount Wilson Observatory again.

These might be backfires, set deliberately by the firefighters under controlled conditions to increase the amount of defensible space around the facility. It’s hard for fire to burn through an area that’s already burned – no fuel.

But from the webcams on the observatory domes, it looks very close and very dangerous. (Photos below from the UC San Diego HPWREN network.)

The only good news is that it seems that it was worse a couple hours ago in terms of flames leaping fifty feet into the air. These photos were taken at 23:00, 23:16, and 23:25 respectively.

The lights of Los Angeles are beautiful – they also seriously limit the ability of this world-class astronomical observatory to do world-class observations.

You can also see, through the clouds, in the upper right of the left-hand frame, Jupiter and Saturn drifting through the smoke.

Let’s hope that Mount Wilson is still there in the morning. And next week. And onward.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Photography, Space


We hear helicopters pass by all the time – LA’s a busy place. Between police, fire, television, traffic, military, and just business aircraft, helicopters are not uncommon.

But most are just passing by. When you hear that heavy beat from a big one and you hear it for five, ten, fifteen minutes, then something’s going on. If it’s circling, that’s always a police helicopter. If it’s hovering, and REALLY making a racket and rattling the windows, then it’s probably a fire department chopper. Which in turn means one of two things: a brush fire (not uncommon right now) or a rescue.

Today it was another rescue, the second in about three weeks.

You’ve seen plenty of pictures of Castle Peak that’s directly off to our west, with the baseball and soccer fields at their base. You’ve seen it on fire, you’ve seen it under a comet, and one of these days you may see the view looking back this way. It’s in a wilderness park and folks climb it all the time. Folks also underestimate the difficulty level of the climb all the time. And if they fall and break a leg, or collapse due to heat exhaustion, they need to get rescued, often by helicopter.

When I finally paid attention to the fact that I had been “feeling” the beat of that heavy, hovering helicopter (I had on my noise cancelling headphones) and went out, it was just descending below the neighbor’s house, down onto the baseball fields. I could hear the engine wind down but not stop, holding there for about ten minutes as the patient was offloaded into an ambulance.

I was hoping he would come right overhead – if it were an LA County helicopter he would have, heading back to Van Nuys Airport to the east. The one a couple of weeks ago did, and he ended up making a couple of trips from the mountain to the baseball field, so there might have been several folks hurt.

Today we got one of the Ventura County helicopters. (They’re blue and yellow, LA County’s helicopters are orange and white.) Not sure what the distinction is that would cause them to call one or the other, although the county line does run right along the base of the mountain on this side. Maybe it depends on where exactly you get hurt?

When he was done he went straight back out to the west, toward Camarillo Airport. Their base is right next to our CAF hangars out there, so I’m familiar.

What if you get hurt on the Ventura County side, but roll down the mountain to the LA County side? Do they each take half?


Filed under Flying, Los Angeles, Photography

Plus ça Change – April 18th

Most of the restaurants in our area have made the shift to delivery and pickup only and we’re trying to do the best we can to patronize them and keep them going. Tonight I had an interesting and enlightening experience picking up dinner.

One of the local pizza places that was a standard, go-to place for kid’s birthday parties, team parties for soccer and baseball and basketball, Monday Night Football viewing, and so on (a mom and pop place, not a national chain) has reopened with limited hours and strict ordering and pickup routines. Not onerous, but they’re not fooling around.

You order online only, pay for it online in advance, then go down and park. They have a fairly extensive area in front of the restaurant cordoned off and you don’t go inside of the barrier. They’ll come to the door and holler at you to see who you are, give you an update on your order’s timing, then go back inside. Once your order is ready they’ll put it on a table outside, they’ll go back inside, THEN you can go inside the cordoned off area to pick up your food and leave. Simple.

I got there and parked. There were two or three people sitting around in their cars, waiting for their orders. Everyone’s wearing masks and observing social distancing and then some. I told the folks in the restaurant who I was and was told it would be another ten minutes. I moved away from the door area to wait.

In comes a huge SUV, which parks right next to the doors in a handicapped space. No sign of any handicapped tags or plates. Out pops a woman who would fit a Central Casting call for “middle-aged white trash.” She does not have a mask of any kind, but she’s smoking a cigarette. She goes up to the ropes, is told it will be another ten minutes or so, and chooses to start giving a ration of shit to the waitress.

She finally goes back to stand next to her car, crushes the cigarette on the ground (yet another of my favorite antisocial behaviors), and lights up another. Someone new has parked over yonder and is walking up, sees her, and makes a comment about her not having a mask.

“I can’t smoke if I’m wearing a mask!”

Well, that’s probably true. This new guy decides to point out the option to not be smoking.

“FUCK YOU! Mind your own business!” At which point she got into her illegally parked SUV and shut the doors to wait for her food.

My order came up about then so I took it, walked the long way around Patient Zero, and left.

It’s America in a nutshell right now as I see it. 80% or more of people doing the best they can, a bit confused perhaps, almost certainly trying to function way outside of their comfort zone, but getting by and working for the common good. All accompanied by a very small minority that are either not intelligent enough or not mature enough (or both) to be able to do what’s right.

I don’t have a dog in the hunt re: Ms. Chain Smoker. I didn’t get involved, just moved further away.

But I will say this – I’m rooting for the lung cancer.

Let’s bring back consequences for stupidity.

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Filed under CoronaVirus, Los Angeles