#Hothchester strikes back: the “terrorist” windshield threat on Rochester’s highways

We’ve been getting bombarded by reports over the last few months, at an ever-increasing rate: another reported incident of suddenly cracking windshields on 390, then 490 then even as far out as 104 in Ontario. Is there some lunatic waiting in the bushes, some wondered, waiting for their moment to do malevolence upon an unsuspecting car? Maybe someone with a near-silent air gun that might elude detection?

To test this particular hypothesis – that a pellet or BB gun might be able to shatter tempered glass – I started looking into the ultimate test case. That turns out to be a British-made pellet gun called the Daystate Air Ranger, a .22 calibre pellet rifle capable of firing at 1020 feet per second. Using the heaviest and therefore most destructive pellet I could find in that calibre, 32 grain, and an online impact force calculator, I came up with the following:

(2mv)/t or (2*0.00208kg*310mps)/1sec = ~1.29N

The tensile strength required by Federal Specification DD-G-1403B, which governs the definition of tempered glass, is 120 to 200N per square millimeter. In other words, while crazier things have happened, it is extremely unlikely that even the most powerful pellet gun will crack a windshield. And weighing in at $2000 for a single gun, it’s safe to say Daysiders are probably not that common in Rochester. Your kid’s Daisy plinker is woefully inadequate to the task, and not likely to be a suspect in this case, at all.

So, when all else fails, the best thing to do is look for the most obvious answer. And that answer is: weather.

Our winter was epic, as we all well know. Those of you who are on Twitter (and why aren’t the rest of you?) will be familiar with the great fun we all had with the #Hothchester hashtag:

Temperatures never seemed to go above zero for a month. Then, after an extraordinarily long, cold early spring, we suddenly shot up into the 80’s and 90’s, with barely a moment’s transition. This kind of weather plays havoc with all kinds of materials, but your car has probably borne the brunt of the abuse, spending all of it’s time out doors in the deep freeze.

And the thing is: tempered glass is very strong, but only because it is inherently unstable. The tempering process involves laying thin layer after thin layer of glass in an ever-thickening mat, in such a way that the tension lines in each layer oppose one another at odd angles. The result is that, since one layer wants to split in a direction directly opposite of another, the faults cancel each other out. In the event that something large enough hits the glass and shatters it, those tension lines will cause the glass to shatter into small, smooth-edged pellets that will only cause minor skin lacerations at best.

However, those tension lines get stressed by the shrinking that happens in extreme cold. Follow that up with the beating sun of an unexpectedly intense summer, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lot of shattered windshields. Any small stone or nut from an overhanging tree could be enough to cause a crack. In fact, the window may spontaneously crack all on its own, as has been frequently reported in the past. Rest assured that when the crack happens, however it happens, it will be loud

Considering the fact that no one has observed a man by the side of the road; a bullet-shaped hole in a windshield; anything more major than a small crack in the windshield. Considering the fact that we can safely rule out pellet guns as a non-lethal, whisper-quiet means to shatter glass. Considering the fact that cracked windshields rarely make headlines in any other circumstance; that a whole industry is built around repairing minor cracks (Safelite, anyone?). Considering all these facts, it really begins to look like a jumpy police force and an overeager media community are making a very obvious problem into a self-propelled mystery.

Weather Science

50% chance of BS? Where do weathermen come up with those predictions?

For all the boaters out there, ever wake up on a beautiful, warm August morning and say to yourself, “today’s a great day to go out on the boat”. You jump out of your bed to check the forecast and to your astonishment see there is an 80% chance of rain for the day. You look back out your window in bewilderment, pondering how forecasters could predict a “likely” chance of rain on such a gorgeous day. Although many may think forecasters are making these percentages up, there is actual science behind the probability of precipitation.

The chance of rain is actually referred to by meteorologists as Probability of Precipitation (POP). POP is defined as the probability of any particular point location within a forecast area receiving measurable precipitation in a given time period. Essentially, this means that POP is the percentage chance of a specific location receiving measurable precipitation for a specific time. Measurable precipitation is defined by the National Weather Service as 1/100 of an inch.

So how do forecasters come to a certain percentage of predicted precipitation? There is a fairly easy equation that forecasters abide by to find this. This equation is POP = C x A. “C” is the confidence that precipitation will occur somewhere in the forecast area and “A” is the percent of the area that will receive measurable precipitation. So, if there is full (100% or 1) confidence that there will be rain over 60% (.6) of the forecasted area, there is a 60% chance of rain. Strangely enough, forecasters are not magicians and are not always certain if there will be precipitation. Therefore, sometimes forecasters will only be 60% confident if there will be precipitation over 50% of the forecasted area. In this case forecasters will predict a 30% (.5 x .6 = .3 or 30%) chance of precipitation. Another way to look at POP is looking at days where weather conditions are similar to that specific day and deciphering how often precipitation will occur. For example, if an area has a 30% chance of precipitation that means that 3 out of 10 days where the weather is similar, there will be a measurable amount of precipitation somewhere in the area.

As one might expect, this method is hit or miss depending on location. Often times, people will take precautionary matters when precipitation prediction is fairly high, even though it may not be for their exact spot. For example, if forecasters are 100% certain measurable precipitation is coming but only for 50% of the forecasted area, a 50% forecast for precipitation will be issued. This can cause problems for people when planning activities outdoors, especially in the summer.

Understanding how forecasters predict precipitation is important for figuring out outdoor activities. After all, who likes to be left in the rain?

Weather Science

Rochester’s mild drought didn’t affect the fall foliage! How temperature and rainfall affect leaf colors.

Before you venture out apple picking this fall, be sure to have your camera on standby as the vibrant upstate New York foliage is predicted to be as spectacular as ever this year. Many Rochesterians were able to experience the beginning of the foliage season this weekend, especially apple pickers who flocked to festivals all over the area such as the 32nd annual Hilton Apple Fest held at Hilton Apple Fest Farm Market.
It has been a disappointing season for apple pickers this autumn due to the significant decrease in production. Although many apple farms have been at a loss of words with the notable decline in apples this year, people all over the region will be able to enjoy the brilliant colors of autumn as peak hits this next week.

Some speculated that the dry conditions we have seen in Upstate New York will have a negative impact on the foliage this fall, however as you may have already noticed, that is far from the truth.

Map of the height of this summer’s drought, via the University of Nebraska’s Drought Watch

Over the past four months or so, upstate New York has been entrenched in a moderate drought, which has led to an increase in food prices and distraught flowers. Along with these impacts, many New Yorkers expressed their concern over the lack of vibrant colors they would see due to the drought. However, Donald Leopold, chairman of environmental and forest biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, explains that drought is not always bad for foliage: “Mild droughts are generally good for fall leaf color. It can enhance production of certain pigments in leaves that produce color”.

An example of the “scorching” that occurs in leaves when the environment is too hot and dry. Via

It’s common sense that trees need the necessary water and sunlight to survive: this beautiful concept is known as photosynthesis. But too much rain or sunlight throughout the spring and summer could have a negative impact on the health of the tree and more importantly, the leaves.
According to meteorologist David Epstein, an abundance of precipitation can encourage disease on the leaves, creating dull or bland colors. While not enough precipitation causes the leaves to dry up and fall early, not allowing for colorful leaves. Luckily, our moderate drought was not severe enough to have a negative affect on the foliage.

As for temperatures, colder temperatures, especially at night, breaks down chlorophyll in the leaves, exposing the red and orange pigments we are so accustomed to during autumn. On the other hand, warmer temperatures don’t allow for this breakdown in chlorophyll, creating delay in pigments and accordingly delay in foliage change.

Regions such as the Midwest have not been as lucky as we have this fall. A persistent severe drought has not only killed the economy of the Midwest but foliage is almost nonexistent this autumn, thanks to the drought. Rochesterians should cherish this falls’ colors, as you never know what next fall brings.


The tone of coverage in the London Olympics may go any way the wind blows

The Oxford English Dictionary identifies 171 thousand words in the current-usage English language. Which to pick from when reporting a story?

The choice is not a small one. For example, was there a “controversy” or a “dust-up” surrounding that call in the volleyball match? Maybe a “fire storm?” Those three choices – all describing the same event – can have profound impact on how the audience views the games. And research out of Penn State suggests, based on analysis of the Beijing Games, that the weather has a big effect on what choices American journalists make.

The study matched the positive and negative tone of coverage to weather conditions and air quality. And the results were consistent:

By using computer-aided content analysis, this study examined how Beijing’s weather, which was measured by the Air Pollution Index (API), temperature, and cloudiness (sunny or cloudy), might influence the coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics by 4 U.S. newspapers. The results demonstrated that the API and temperature were significantly related to the negativity of the news reports that were filed from Beijing. Specifically, as Beijing’s temperature rose or air pollution level increased, U.S. journalists used more negative words in reporting on the Olympics. The temperature was also correlated with the negativity of China-related reports. The findings provided evidence that journalists’ news decision making might be influenced by a greater variety of factors than we previously thought.

Basically, when US reporters’ hair got frizzy, they started talking shit about China. Which, let’s face it, is understandable in a country where they had to shut down all manufacturing in an entire city just so Olympic athletes didn’t die.


Why do frosts and freezes cause damage to cherry crops?

Most Rochesterians know that Mother Nature has a fickle relationship with the city. This past Monday many people woke up to an extra Monday morning burden – a scattering of snow. In the big picture this was upsetting to the Rochesterians who were soaking up the sun in 70 degree weather just weeks ago. But the most important issue is the future of local crops.

One crop in question is cherries. The blooming cherry blossoms gave hope that Spring was here to stay. Now the question is whether or not the growing cherries can stay around til summer. The edible cherries are usually ready to be picked in July, August, and September. It cannot yet be determined if the recent low temperatures will prevent them from surviving til then.

As Dawn Carter, a lecturer in the School of Life Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology explained, the blossoms are delicate and the life of the developing cherry is at stake. The fruit of the tree is basically the ovary that holds the seed of the cherry.

As Michael Savka, a professor in the School of Life Sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology explained, the cherry cells are mostly water, so freezing temperatures cause the water inside to freeze, expand, and burst delicate cell walls. Repeated freezing or the weight of snow and ice can break or crack large branches that will need to be pruned off, said Savka.

An additional problem, Carter points out, is that when trees bloom abnormally early there are less insects to pollinate the flowers that do survive the freeze.

This news may be more tart than sweet. But there is still hope for cherry-lovers.

“Within a blossom sometimes not all the flowers are killed so some will continue to grow and produce fruit,” said Savka.

Now Rochesterians wait on Father Time to reap the benefits of the buds.


It Snowed Today, But So Far, No Glaciers.

I was stunned and panic-stricken this morning. I looked outside my window and there was an unmistakable one to two inches of accumulated snow on top of my car. I couldn’t believe my eyes, seeing as how scientists have been telling me for years that the globe is actually warming, yet here it was obviously colder than it was yesterday. These two things stood in clear and obvious contradiction to one another, as any good Conservative talking head could tell you. Or, even if you can’t find a good one, anybody on Fox News could have explained it.

But so far, I haven’t seen any glaciers forming. I’ve been watching all morning and nothing. Even more confusing, I think there’s a chance that it may have warmed up a degree or two since six thirty this morning. So, who is right? Fox News or the global warming scientists? With the weather changing so much, it’s really hard really pin it down. Fortunately, Rachel Maddow had Bill Nye the Science Guy on her show to explain it to me. Looking back, I almost feel as though all those Conservative yakkers were perhaps being a trifle disingenuous. Could that be right?

Me, Confused by Snow
Thinking for yourself is hard. Here I am, outside in the snow, but there's no glaciers. What's up with that?

It all makes me wonder. Should I not just believe what people tell me? Is it really necessary to educate myself before I speak about a subject? That certainly doesn’t sound right, but I guess I should. It makes me wonder about the tee shirt I just bought from a place called Ban Tee Shirts. I bought it because it has a monkey on it. I like monkeys. And this one seems very happy with his little beret on. Plus the girl on the home page is kinda hot. I support hot chicks.

And I naturally assumed the words underneath said “I like monkeys” or something I could get into, but it now I don’t think so. Now I think it might say “Long Live the Evolution.” I don’t often take such religious stances, but I can’t deny this is a comfy tee shirt: its 100% organic cotton and its red. Apparently, it’s also comfortable to make as well, since unlike all those great tee shirts I get at Walmart, these ones are sweatshop-free. Gosh! And here I was told that the reason stuff was cheap at Walmart was because of the slave labor. But Ban Tees are pretty cheap, too!

So, I think I’m gonna try thinking from now on. I think. What a thought….

NOTE: I did not actually buy this tee shirt. It was generously provided to me by Duncan from Ban in exchange for this poorly-written blog post. Check them out on FaceBook as well as their website..


Douchebag Snow Plow

It was about 4:15 to 4:20 this afternoon and I was bound for home on the slow route, down University Ave into East Rochester. Very, very slow going, but otherwise fine. But then I got to the overpass from 490, where the entrance ramp off 96 is.

I saw a mini van stop dead next to me. I saw the wall of white. Nothing processed until WHAAAAAAAM!!!!! My car was pummeled by snow and ice, hitting me from above at a high rate of speed. What the hell was that?

I’ll tell you what that was. It was a douchebag snow plow driver driving over that overpass with the side plow down, sending snow, ice and god knows what plummeting down four stories or more onto my car.

So far, there doesn’t appear to be any damage to my car. Fucker better hope so.


Something Cool at the D&C

I don’t often give much praise to the D&C – and of course, Channel 13 and this blog have both used the technology they are in the past – but it’s worth noting that the discussion at the Democrat and Chronicle’s live blog of the storm has been fun and interesting. Not to mention up-to-the-minute informative.

Kudos to them for being the first local news source to have employed this technology when they did.