You just can’t Replace a Coal-Fired Power Plant with a Solar Farm

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 23rd, 2014

Week in Review

What’s unique about Windsor, Ontario?  The city across the river from Detroit?  It’s the only place you can drive south from the United States to get to Canada.  So it’s about as far south you can get in Canada.  But it’s no Florida.  No.  They have cold winters in Windsor.  They also have snow.  And clouds.  So it’s probably not the best place to build a solar farm.  Any rational person would see this.  So guess what the government in southern Ontario is doing?  Building a solar farm (see Airport land leased for Samsung solar farm by Chris Vander Doelen posted 3/19/2014 on The Windsor Star).

A “major” developer of solar power will lease hundreds of acres at Windsor Airport for a green energy farm, city council has agreed after years of negotiations with the company…

He said the company picked Windsor as the site for its investment because “we have more sun days than any other jurisdiction in Ontario.” That clearly suggests a solar farm, but Francis wouldn’t confirm that…

The agreement approved Wednesday – the meeting was closed to the public for legal reasons, Francis said – is believed to be the final, long-delayed piece of a massive deal the Province of Ontario and Samsung announced in January 2010.

That’s when former premier Dalton McGuinty announced that the province had signed a $7-billion agreement to produce renewable power with the Korean industrial giant – a contract that became so controversial parts of it were later renegotiated…

But the deal also became controversial as the costs starting driving up residential and industrial power bills, all of which will be affected by the renewable energy plan.

The controversy eventually led to reductions in some of the feed-in tariffs paid to producers of solar and wind power, which likely added to the delays of the solar farm not announced until this week. It also led to the renegotiation of additional incentives for Samsung, which were reduced to $110 million over 20 years…

Installation of the panels would generate many years of employment for an undetermined number of labourers and IBEW electricians. But once built there wouldn’t be much employment generated by the static field of passive solar collectors.

The solar farms were to be part of something called the Ontario Alternative Energy Cluster, claimed by Samsung to be “the largest of its kind in the world” at 1,369 megawatts of output.

They may have more sun days in Windsor than any place else in Canada.  But Canada is a northern country.  Even Windsor is in a northern clime.  And they just don’t get as much sun as they do in more southern climes (see The Climate and Weather of Windsor, Ontario).  In the sunniest month they have 9.5 average hours of sun per day.  Which means they have 14.5 (24-9.5) average hours of no sun per day.  And during these hours of ‘no sun’ a solar farm will not produce electric power.  Which means on average this solar farm will produce no electric power for half of the day.

And it gets worse.  The average hours of sun per day declines going into winter.  October (5.5 hours of sun and 18.5 hours of no sun).  November (4.1 hours of sun and 19.9 hours of no sun).  December (2.6 hours of sun and 21.4 hours of no sun).  January (3.4 hours of sun and 20.6 hours of no sun).  February (4.4 hours of sun and 19.6 hours of no sun).  March (5.4 hours of sun and 18.6 hours of no sun).  So, on average, there are 5 hours of no sun for every hour of sun for half of the year.  So you can install solar panels that could produce 1,369 megawatts of output.  But they seldom will.  So you will need another power source to provide electric power when the solar panels don’t.  Which means a solar farm can’t replace something like a coal-fired power plant.  For that coal-fired power plant will have to on average provide power 82% of the time.  Which is why building a solar farm is a real bad idea.

And it gets even worse.  December has 10 days of snowfall on average.  January has 12.  And February has 9.  Just under half the days in the winter months will have snow which will have to melt off when the sun comes out from behind the clouds.  If it comes out.  Or someone will have to clear the snow from the solar panels by hand.

Windsor also has some other climate statistics (see National Climate Data and Information Archive).  They have the most thunderstorm days.  So they have more high winds, hail and tornados to damage delicate solar panels pointed skyward than any other part of Canada.  And more black overcast days to block out the sun.  They have the most smoke and haze days to filter out some of the sun from hitting the solar panels.  They have the most humid summer which will coat the solar panels with early morning dew that will run down and drain off in blackened streaks.  Reducing the efficiency of the solar panels.

This is why no one is building solar farms without taxpayer subsidies.  Which raises the cost of electric utility bills to pay for the subsidies.  Eating into household budgets forcing families to get by on less.  And for what?  You can’t shut down a coal-fired power plant during the day and turn it back on at night.  It takes time to make high pressure steam.  That’s why they use these plants for baseload power.  They’re on all the time.  And when demand picks up they add a natural gas-fired turbine ‘peaker plant’ to provide that peak demand.  Or some other source that they can bring on line quickly.  Like another turbine at a hydroelectric dam.  So the good people of Ontario will pay more for their electric power without getting anything in return.  Not even a cleaner environment.  Because you just can’t replace a coal-fired power plant with a solar farm.


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Melting Ice may return the Life back to Greenland that the Glaciers Killed

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 16th, 2014

Week in Review

The earth’s climate is not a constant.  It changes.  And has been changing over the 4.54 billion years the planet’s been here.  Going from one extreme to another over hundreds of thousands of years.  Periods of time so great nothing living has ever experienced these changes.  For example, no one ever lived to see the polar regions free of ice and glaciers extending down from the polar ice caps to near the equator.  The time between these two climate extremes was far too great for any living thing to observe.  But that’s how climate changes.  Over vast amounts of time.  We may experience hot days and cold days.  Hot summers and cold winters.  But we just won’t experience climate change.  We are likely to die in the climate we were born in.  As it has been throughout time.

The last great climatic change of the planet was the Little Ice Age from approximately 1350 to 1850.  That’s a period of 500 years.  Or 250 years of cooling and 250 years of warming.  Approximately.  And unless you remained alive for some 3 or 4 generations of your family tree you didn’t experience any climate change.  You just accepted the climate you were living in as being normal.  And got on with life.  Which makes all these climate doomsayers seem silly and needlessly frightened.  For they will be long dead and buried before there is any real climate change.  Yet they wring their hands with worry whenever something happens in a very short period of time.  As if that small change in that minute period of time means anything.  Like melting glaciers in Greenland (see Study: Ice Sheet Destabilizing, Threatening Greater Sea-Level Rise by Alan Neuhauser posted 3/16/2014 on US News and World Report).

A new region of a massive ice sheet in Greenland has become unstable, threatening to raise global sea levels beyond previous estimates, an international team of scientists has found.

The ice sheet, known simply as the Greenland Ice Sheet, is a roughly 660,000-square mile swath of ice that covers 80 percent of the country. The second-largest ice sheet in the world behind the Antarctic Ice Sheet, it’s especially vulnerable to global warming, yet its northeast portion had remained largely unaffected by rising temperatures…

From April 2003 to April 2012, the northeast portion lost about 10 billion tons of ice per year, according to GPS data. It’s a finding that researcher Shfaqat Abbas Khan called “very surprising…”

Researchers believe that melting of the ice sheet has been one of the largest factors in sea-level rise, contributing 0.5 millimeters to the total of 3.2 millimeters of sea rise per year.

Once upon a time ice didn’t cover 80% of Greenland and the land in Greenland was actually green.  There was life.  Warm weather.  And warm soil.  Where things grew.  Allowing other things to live.  Then the cold weather came.  A period of global cooling.  An ice age.  And killed it all.  But now it may be spring in Greenland once again.  Allowing life to propagate in new soil revealed beneath receding glaciers.  Perhaps even providing farmland.  And more opportunity for Greenlanders.  Of course the current generation of Greenlanders will never see this.  But their great-great-great-great-grandchildren might.  And they’ll probably like it.  Because we really know how everyone feels about ice and snow.  Based on the destination of everyone going on winter or spring break at least.  They go where it’s warm.  Because warm is better.


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A Cooling Planet means Death while a Warming Planet means Life

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 1st, 2014

Week in Review

Those on the left are wringing their hands as they look into the abyss of global warming.  For to them there is nothing worse than a warming planet.  But as it turns out there are things worse than a warming planet.  Cold (see 6-year-old Minnesota girl found dead in subzero cold by Crystal Dey, Forum News Service, posted 2/28/2014 on Duluth News Tribune).

A 6-year-old Bemidji girl was found dead of exposure to the winter elements Thursday morning at her apartment complex, police said…

Temperatures in Bemidji early Thursday were in the 25-below-zero range with wind chills of 40 below.

According to the wind chill index from the National Weather Service office in Grand Forks, N.D., with wind chills of 40 below frostbite can set in in less than 30 minutes.

Since Dec. 1., there have been 21 recorded deaths due to cold weather in Minnesota, according to the state Department of Health. From Dec. 1, 2012 to March 30, 2013, a total of 46 deaths attributed to extreme cold and cold temperature were reported.

How tragic.  Sadly, she’s not the only victim the cold has claimed in Minnesota.  46 deaths since December, 1, 2012.  This is what is worse than a warming planet.  Cold.  Such extreme cold that frostbite takes less than 30 minutes to set in.  With hypothermia not that far behind.  As well as death.  Things that don’t happen where it’s warm.

Yes, people have died from exposure to extreme heat.  But we should note what else happens in extreme heat.  Life.  For the first great civilizations didn’t happen near the Polar Regions.  They happened near the tropics.  The Nile river valley, the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys and the Indus river valley are all in the subtropics.  Close to the tropics.  Where it is hot.  Allowing the Egyptians, the Sumerians and the Harappan to grow food.  In the rich soil of these river valleys.  Soil that was NOT covered by ice and snow.  But warm.  Warm enough to allow seeds to germinate.  So there could be food.  A lot of food.  So much food that there were food surpluses.  Allowing these great civilizations to live through the cooler and wetter winters.  Which were nowhere near as cold and snow/ice covered as they are in Minnesota.

A cooling planet means more farmland under snow and ice for greater periods of time.  And less food.  Whereas a warming planet brings more land into cultivation.  Allowing more food production.  So a warming planet gives us life.  While a cooling planet gives us less food.  And if it continues to cool, famine.  Which leads to death.  So if there is anything to fear it’s a cooling planet.  Not a warming planet.  For not only is there no frostbite or hypothermia in a warm climate there is useable farmland.  And life.


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Snow Ski

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 26th, 2014

Technology 101

Gravity and Speed keeps a Skier’s Skies in contact with the Mountain and Provides Control

The Winter Olympics have come and gone.  And if you are a big fan of the Winter Olympics you probably were somewhat disappointed.  Especially if you’re a fan of alpine skiing.  Because it was just too warm.  They have the Olympics in February for a reason.  Because February is a very cold month.  And the mountains have a couple of months of snow on them by February.  Allowing the snow groomers to do their magic.  And turn those mountains into hard sheets of ice.

Yes, ski racers ski on ice.  Not snow.  If you ever skied on a mountain where there was once an Olympic downhill racecourse you will see very steep slopes of ice.  If you ski slowly across the fall line of the slope at the top of the mountain you will slide further down hill than you ski across the slope.  With your ski edges sliding across the ice.  And about the only thing that will stop your ‘free-fall’ slide down that steep ice-covered slope is the loose snow on the sides of the slope.  But if you travel down this same slope at speeds around 70 mph your skies will carve into that ice.  Giving you great control.  If you have the skills of an Olympic downhill skier, that is.  If you’re not as skilled as a downhill racer then you shouldn’t try this.  Because if you fall at speed up there you can do some real damage to yourself.

Downhill skiers love that speed, though.  And will give themselves up completely to gravity.  And let it pull them down these steep, sheets of ice at breakneck speeds.  With nothing to keep them from flying off the mountain and breaking their necks but their skies.  As gravity and speed keeps their skies in contact with the mountain.  Giving them control to stay on their skies.  And carve their way down the mountain.  Literally.

When a Skier leans over on a Ski the Curved Edge of the Ski carves into the Snow or Ice and Turns the Skier

In alpine skiing there are 5 different races.  The downhill.  The super giant slalom (known as super G).  Giant slalom.  Slalom.  And combined.  Which is a combination of two ski races.  One downhill race and one slalom race.  The downhill is the straightest and fastest down the mountain.  The super G is a little more ‘turny’ and a little slower than downhill.   The giant slalom is more ‘turny’ and slower than Super G.  And the slalom is more ‘turny’ and slower than giant slalom.  The downhill is all about speed.  The turns aren’t that sharp.  While the slalom is all about the turns.  With speeds that aren’t that fast.

Each of these races requires different types of skies.  The downhill race needs long skies that will absorb the bumps of rough terrain without bouncing off.  And speed is more important than turning.  While slalom skies need shorter skies to make sharper turns.  And because they are shorter they may come off the snow as they bounce over rough terrain.  So they match the ski to the race.  And because of the requirements of downhill racing these skies are available only to professional skiers.  You will not find them in any sporting goods store.  As amateur and recreational skiers could not control them safely on steep sheets of ice at downhill speeds.

If you look at a ski lying on the ground you will see that it is narrower at the center where it attaches to the ski boot and wider at the tip and the tail.  And it goes from wide to narrow to wide in a continuous curve.  This curve is the side-cut radius.  This is what turns the ski.  When a skier leans over on the ski the curved edge of the ski carves into the snow or ice.  Turning the skier.  The more curved the side-cut radius the tighter turns it will allow.  So slalom skies are more curved in the side-cut radius than downhill skills.

The Winter Olympics are in February so Ski Racers can ski on Mountains that are Hard Sheets of Ice

Looking at a ski resting on a hard surface you will notice something else.  The center of the ski will be off that hard surface.  While the tip and the tail will be in contact with that surface.  This arch—or camber—of the ski helps to force the ski into contact with the snow when you place weight onto them.  Especially the steel edges when turning.  When a skier carves a turn he or she will literally carve that turn into the ice of the mountain.  In a clean turn the tail of the ski will follow the same groove carved by the tip.  With a minimum loss of speed.  If the tail slides out of this groove and carve its own groove it will slow the skier down.  And in downhill skiing where first and second place can be separated by one one-hundredth of a second one slight skid in a turn can be the difference between winning and coming in second.

As downhill skiers leave the starting gate they will take a couple of pushes with their ski poles to help gravity pull them down faster and then assume a tuck position.  To decrease their air drag.  As they approach a gate they will turn by leaning on their edges.  The sharper the turn the more they will lean onto to their edges to carve a tighter turn.  And the more speed they will lose.  Which is why racers will look for the best ‘line’ down the mountain.  One that minimizes sharp turns.  Once out of the turn they will release their edges and ski on the bottom of their skies.  Gaining speed.  They will absorb the rough terrain in their legs.  And fight the compression of the g-forces with their legs.  They lean into turns, release their edges, ride on the bottoms of their skis in the flats, lean on their edges, etc.  At speeds around 70 mph.  As they carve their way down a mountain of ice to cross the finish line in the shortest amount of time.

As spring approaches the ski resorts warm up.  Some people love this.  Spring skiing conditions.  Loose snow on the slopes but warming weather.  So warm that a lot of ski areas will have events like bikini races or lingerie races where girls will ski down the mountain half naked in the warming weather.  It can be a real party on the slopes.  But the skiing will be horrible.  The snow will be melting.  It will be wet.  Granular.  Pushed up into piles.  Making it easy to catch an edge and fall.  And difficult to build up any speed.  Which is why the Winter Olympics are in February.  In the coldest part of winter.  With a lot of snow frozen on the mountain.  And they typically don’t hold them in subtropical climates.  Where the average temperature in February is 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Like in Sochi, Russia.  Where skiers had to deal with spring skiing conditions.  And varying conditions.  As the snow at the top of a run was different from the snow at the bottom of the run.  Despite the amount of chemicals they put on the snow to try and raise the melting temperature of the snow.  Making these Winter Games not as good as past Winter Games.  If you’re a fan of alpine skiing, that is.  Or prefer seeing cold winter vistas at the Winter Olympics.  And not people lying on the bare grass catching a suntan.


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Melting Snow and Ice

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 5th, 2014

Technology 101

When Temperatures fall below Freezing Liquid Water turns into Solid Water

You know what the best thing about water is?  You don’t have to shovel it.  Well, that, and its life-giving properties.  Let’s face it.  We couldn’t survive without the stuff.  We couldn’t grow food.  We even couldn’t live without drinking water.  So perhaps its life-giving properties is the best thing about water.  But a close second would be that thing about not having to shovel it.

When it rains water soaks into our green areas.  It runs off driveways and sidewalks into green areas.  And into streets.  Where it runs off into a storm drainage system.  Which takes it to a river or lake.  The rain lets our gardens grow.  And any excess water conveniently just goes away.  We may have a puddle or two to slosh through.  But even those go away without us having to do anything.  Water is nice that way.  As long as the temperature is above its freezing point.

When the temperature falls below the freezing point of water bad things start to happen.  Liquid water turns into solid water.  And hangs around for awhile.  Accumulating.  On our driveways, sidewalks, porches and roads.  It’s pretty much everywhere we don’t want it to be.  Making it difficult to walk.  And drive.  We slip and fall a lot in it.  The sun may melt it a little during the day.  Creating puddles of water where the snow once was. But when the sun sets those puddles freeze.  And become even more slippery.  Making solid water more dangerous than liquid water.  So a big part of making it through winters in northern climes, then, is transforming solid water back into the liquid form.

Even though Bourbon melts Ice Cubes Bourbon would be a Poor Choice to melt Snow and Ice

All material can be in three different stages.  It can be a solid.  A liquid.  Or a gas.  What determines the phase of this material depends on a couple of things.  Mostly temperature and pressure.  And the chemical properties of the material.  At ambient temperature and pressure material typically exists stably in one phase.  Water, for example, is stable in the liquid phase on an 80-degree summer day.  Allowing us to swim in it.  While on a freezing February day it is stable in the solid phase.  Which is why we hold the Winter Olympics in February.  The cold temperatures give us the best solid water conditions.

If we raise the temperature of water we can turn it from a liquid to a gas.  We could also do this by lowering the ambient air pressure.  Such as putting it into a vacuum.  For a liquid remains a liquid as long as the vapor pressure (the tendency for particles to escape from the liquid they’re in) of the liquid is less than the ambient air pressure.  If we lower the ambient air pressure below the vapor pressure of the liquid we can lower the boiling point of that liquid.  This is why different liquids have different boiling points.  They have different vapor pressures.  Oxygen has a very high vapor pressure and requires a high pressure and cold temperature to keep oxygen in a liquid phase.

When we take ice cubes out of the freezer and add them to a glass of bourbon they melt.  Because the ambient temperature outside of the freezer is above the freezing point of water.  So the solid water changes its phase from solid to liquid.  It would follow, then, that pouring bourbon on snow and ice would help melt it.  Of course we don’t do that.  For wasting bourbon like that would be criminal.  Not to mention costly.  Even if you used the cheap stuff.  Making bourbon a poor choice for melting snow and ice.

Salt dissolves into a Brine Solution that lowers the Melting Point of Snow and Ice

We see that a material will change its phase at different temperatures and pressures.  Which is good to know.  But it doesn’t help us to melt snow and ice during winter.  For we can’t lower the atmospheric air pressure to lower the boiling and melting points of water.  And we can’t raise the ambient temperature above the melting point of water.  If we could our winters would probably be a lot more comfortable than they are now.  So because when we can’t change the air pressure or temperature of the ambient environment the snow and ice is in we do something else.  We use chemistry to lower the melting point of snow and ice.  And the most common chemical we use is salt.

To melt snow and ice salt needs heat and moisture.  The moisture comes from the snow and ice.  Or from the humidity in the air.  The heat comes from the warmth of the earth or air.  Heated by the sun.  It also comes from the friction between tires and the road.  When salt comes into contract with water and heat it dissolves into a brine solution.  And this brine solution has a much lower melting point than water.  Which in turn lowers the melting point of the snow and ice it comes into contact with.  Allowing it to be in the liquid phase at temperatures below freezing temperatures.  Melting that snow and ice so it can run off like rain water.

The warmer it is when it snows the quicker salt will melt that snow.  While the colder it is the longer it takes to melt.  If it gets too cold (around 15 degrees Fahrenheit) salt proves to be ineffective.  In temperatures below 15 degrees Fahrenheit other chemicals work better.  Such as calcium chloride.  But calcium chloride is more costly than sodium chloride (salt).  Ambient temperatures, time of day, sunny or cloudy, wind, etc., all determine the chemical to use.  And the amount of chemical to use.  They consider all of these factors (and more) before sending those ‘salt’ trucks out on the roads.  Allowing us to drive in the worst of winters just as we drive in the best of summers.  It may take more time.  And there may be a little more cussing.  But we still go to work, take our kids to school, go shopping, etc., when it snows.  Thanks to chemicals.  Chemistry.  And the people that put those chemicals and that chemistry to work.


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Snow Blowers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 29th, 2014

Technology 101

If you try to Push or Lift too much Snow you can Wrench your Back, Give yourself a Hernia or Have a Heart Attack

It’s funny, isn’t it?  How much we love to see a white Christmas.  Nothing brings a bigger smile on our face than to see a white blanket out of our windows during the Christmas holiday.  It’s so pretty.  Pristine.  And pure.  Just like the true meaning of Christmas.  But once Christmas comes and goes and that white stuff is still out there our feelings change.  It’s no longer pretty, pristine and pure.  It’s just more of that white [deleted expletive] that we have to shovel.

If you have a detached garage you’re probably no fan of the snow.  Because with every snow fall you have hours of work ahead of you.  To shovel the front sidewalk so the city doesn’t fine you.  The sidewalk up to your mailbox for the mail carrier.  So he or she doesn’t slip and die on your property.  And then that long driveway.  From the approach in the street (so you don’t get stuck in the loose snow there) all of the way into your backyard and to that detached garage.  Over an hour by hand if the snow isn’t too deep.  Or you can let the snow stay there.  Melt a little during the day.  Freeze a little at night.  So you can slip on it and fall.  Breaking your hip.

Of course that snow shoveling would be quicker if you had a shovel as wide as the driveway.  But if we did we would never be able to lift the snow in it.  Because snow is heavy.  And if you try to push or lift too much of it you can wrench your back, give yourself a hernia or have a heart attack.  Which is why we use snow shovels much smaller than the width of the driveway.  It’ll take a lot more time to shovel the snow off it.  But our odds are greatly reduced for getting a wrenched back, hernia or heart attack.

The Two-Stage Snow Blower is not very Maneuverable but it can move through Deep Snow and throw it a Long Way

Snow is heavy.  And the wetter it is the heavier it is.  And the greater risks there are shoveling it.  Which is why God gave us the snow blower.  Or, rather, gave us Robert Carr Harris who gave us the snow blower in 1870.  Which has evolved into two basic machines today.  The single-stage snow blower.  And the 2-stage snow blower.  One of which is ideal for around the house.  The single-stage snow blower.  While the other is ideal for bigger jobs.  Where we have to move a lot more snow than what just falls around our house.  Though there are homeowners who use a 2-stage snow blower.  Even though a single-stage would be more appropriate.

A 2-stage snow blower can be a beast.  Taking up the footprint of a riding lawnmower.  It’s big.  And heavy.  Too heavy for most people to push through the snow.  Which is why these are typically self-propelled.  Requiring a bigger engine.  And a complicated gear box.  To divide the power between the ‘throwing’ function and the ‘propelling’ function.  The throwing function has two stages.  An auger in the front that turns slowly (requiring more gearing) to eat into the snow and pull it towards the center.  At the center is an impeller that turns much faster than the auger .  As the snow is slowly pushed into the fast-spinning impeller it throws the snow into and out of a directional discharge chute at a fast speed.  Throwing it a great distance.

It takes a fairly large engine to spin the auger, the impeller and the drive wheels.  And it takes a pretty complicated (and large and heavy) gear box to provide various rotational speeds for the various components.  As well as a large frame to hold these components, the drive wheels, controls, safety interlocks, oil and fuel.  Making the two-stage snow blower not that nimble or maneuverable.  Which isn’t a problem if you’re walking back and forth over a long driveway.  But it can be a big problem on a sidewalk with a turn or a curve in it.  For turning these beasts can take some muscle.  Muscle that we apply with our feet on a slippery surface.  Even after we’ve already cleared the deep snow off with the snow blower.  For the auger does not come into contract with the pavement.  Meaning it doesn’t clear away the snow down to the pavement.  But it can move through deep snow and throw it a long way.  Making it ideal for big jobs.

The Advantage of a 2-Cycle Engine is a High Power-to-Weight Ratio making it Ideal for a Single-Stage Snow Thrower

The single-stage snow blower is much lighter.  For it has only a fast-spinning auger.  It eats into the snow, pulls it towards the center and throws it out the discharge chute.   Without an impeller.  Throwing it a pretty fair distance.  And the auger actually comes into contract with the ground.  Which helps pull it forward.  And cleans down to the pavement.  With the only one spinning component there are no heavy gear boxes providing multiple speeds to different components.  Making the single-stage snow blower much lighter.  And easier to maneuver.  And it typically has a 2-cycle (or 2-stroke) engine.  Making it lighter still.

The typical engine on a 2-stage snow blower is a 4-cycle (or 4-stroke) engine.  Where the piston moves up or down 4 times to create power.  It moves down and draws in an air-fuel mixture through an intake valve.  It moves up and compresses the air-fuel mixture.  A spark plug ignites this and the hot expanding gases push the piston down on its power stroke.  And then the piston comes up and pushes the exhaust gases out of the cylinder through an exhaust valve.  Then repeats.  A 2-cycle engine has fewer moving parts.  And half the strokes.  As the air-fuel-oil mixture ignites the hot gases push the piston down.  As the top of the piston moves past exhaust ports the exhaust gases can exit the cylinder.  At the same time an air-fuel-oil mixture enters the cylinder through intake ports on the other side of the cylinder.  The piston moves up and compresses this, ignites and pushes the piston down.  Then repeats.

The advantage of a 2-cycle engine is a high power-to-weight ratio.  Allowing a smaller 2-cycle engine to do the work of a comparable 4-cycle engine.  Making them ideal for a single-stage snow blower.  The disadvantage of a 2-cycle engine is that the crank case is used to draw in the air-fuel mixture on the up-stroke of the piston.  And then the piston pushed the air-fuel mixture out of the crankcase and into the cylinder on the down-stroke of the piston.  Because the crankcase is used as part of the pathway for the air-fuel mixture it cannot hold oil.  Which is why we mix oil in the fuel.  Giving us an air-fuel-oil mixture that combusts in the cylinder.  The moving components get lubricated as this mixture travels through the engine.  Which is perhaps the biggest drawback of the single-stage snow blower.  Having to mix oil with gas.  It’s not difficult.  You just have to make sure you add the right amount of oil.  And not to use this gas-oil mixture in your 4-cycle lawnmower.  And even though we were never big fans of cutting the grass even that begins to look pretty sweet as the snow blows back in our face as we walk behind our snow blowers.  Thinking of but one thing.  Spring.  And thanks to these wonderful machines we may actually make it to spring healthy.  Without having suffered a wrenched back, hernia or a heart attack.


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Worst Winters than the Current U.S. Winter

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 28th, 2014

History 101

The 1993 Storm of the Century killed some 318 People

If you live in the Northern Plains, the Midwest or the Northeast you’re probably thinking about one thing.  Spring.  Having had enough of snow and cold.  Alberta clippers.  Polar vortexes.  Nor’easters.  Enough.  Some people have already shoveled more snow in January than they did all of last winter.  Feeling that this winter was the worst winter ever.  But is it?  No.

The 1993 Storm of the Century is the only storm that I literally ran away from.  Or, rather, drove away from.  I was in New York State at the beginning of the snowfall heading to some New England ski resorts in March.  The forecast was not good for the drive ahead.  So we raced north.  To get above this monster that dumped some 4 feet of snow where we were and were about to drive through.  And skied at Mont-Tremblant north of Montréal for a day.  Then headed east.  On the drive from Montréal to Québec City for a day of skiing at Mont-Sainte-Anne there was drifting snow and whiteout conditions on the Quebec Autoroute 40 freeway.  It took about 8 hours to travel what normally took 4.  High winds buffeted the car.  And snow drifts crept in from the shoulder.  Covering icy roads.  The drive was stressful to say the least.  And we had skirted north of the worst of this storm.  Which reached as far south as Central America.  With hurricane storm surges, tornadoes and arctic temperatures killing some 318 people.

Before the 1993 Storm of the Century people in the Northeast called the Northeastern blizzard of 1978 the storm of the century.  Some still do.  This was an extra-tropical cyclone that blew up the east coast and crashed into an arctic cold front in February.  Hurricane-force winds, heavy snow and rain and a storm surge pounded the Northeast.  Snow fell for 33 hours straight.  Then turned to an icy-snow mix.  Putting a layer of ice over some 2 feet of snow.  And weighing down tree branches and power lines.  Which fell under the weight of this ice.  Adding power outages on top of everything else.  By the time it was over approximately 100 people were dead.  With close to $2 billion (in current dollars) in damages left in its wake.  Making the Northeastern blizzard of 1978 a close second to that other storm of the century.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 produced Snowfalls between 2 and 5 Feet

The Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940 was a 1,000 mile wide winter storm from Kansas to Michigan in November.  Temperatures plummeted and winds grew.  Then came rain then sleet then snow.  As a low pressure system from the south crashed into a cold arctic air mass creating blizzard conditions.  Over 2 feet of snow fell and the howling winds blew that snow into 20 foot snow drifts.  By the time this storm was over it killed approximately 154 people.  Including 66 sailors lost when three Great Lake freighters sank in the storm.  And duck hunters who got trapped unaware in the approaching storm.  Who were swamped by 5-foot waves washing over islands in the Mississippi River.  Then froze to death in single-digit temperatures and 50 mph winds.

A November witch in 1975 claimed the bulk ore carrier S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald and all of her crew.  But the November witch of 1913 was even worse.  The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 was a blizzard with hurricane-force winds.  Dry cold air moved down from Alberta, Canada, while warm moist warm air from the Gulf of Mexico moved up.  These two systems met over the Great Lakes and started to spin around each other.  Growing to hurricane-force winds.  Which created waves over 30 feet high.  Hammering coastal areas.  While dumping up to 2 feet of snow in its path.  The worst of the storm was on the lakes.  Claiming 12 ships.  And 258 souls.

The Great Blizzard of 1888 was another nor’easter hitting New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut in March.  This blizzard produced snowfalls between 2 and 5 feet.  And its 45 mph winds produced snowdrifts in excess of 50 feet.  The storm paralyzed cities.  And trapped people in their houses for up to a week.  Even the firemen.  Causing fires to burn out of control.  Until they burned themselves out.  The snow soon began to melt.  Causing severe flooding.  By the time it was over the storm claimed more than 400 lives.

We warmed up from the Little Ice Age without Centuries of Carbon Emissions

Everyone knows of that terrible winter at Valley Forge (1777–1778).  Where the Continental Army persevered and left Valley Forge a stronger and more disciplined army.  Thanks to Baron Von Steuben.  But the Winter in Morristown in 1780 is largely forgotten to history.  Why?  Because that winter was worse.  And the men were shamefully neglected more.  The Revolutionary War was fought during the Little Ice Age.  A period of global cooling from about 1350 to about 1850.  Making for some fierce winters.  Like in 1780.  When it was so cold that coastal seawater froze.  Including New York Harbor.  People rode in horse drawn sleighs across the ice between Manhattan and New Jersey.  In Morristown, New Jersey, a winter storm hit the army so hard that it blew tents away and buried men in snow.  Heavy snowfalls made it impossible to supply the army.  Even if the impoverished Continental Congress could.  The starvation and exposure to the elements and their abandonment by the people they were fighting for caused something to happen in Morristown that didn’t happen at Valley Forge.  Mutiny.  Lucky for the nation a delivery of food diffused the mutiny.

The Great Snow of 1717 was a nor’easter that blew in on March 1.  Then another one on March 4th.  And yet another one on March 7th.  In all some 3-5 feet of snow fell.  With drifts as deep as 20 feet.  Burying one-story homes past their chimneys.  While people with 2-story homes entered and left their homes via the second floor.  Livestock died from starvation.  Froze to death.  Or were buried alive in the snow.  Even the deer in the area were nearly wiped out.

So, no, the current winter is not the worst winter ever.  And, no, the current brutal winter is not the result of global warming.  Just as mild winters are not the result of global warming.  For we’ve had both going back through time all the way back to the onset of the Industrial Revolution.  And before.  Even before smoke from burning coal filled the air.  And internal combustion engines filled our roads.  We warmed up from the Little Ice Age without centuries of carbon emissions.  Yet even with that warming we’ve still had storms of the century.  Alberta clippers.  Polar vortexes.  And nor’easters.


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Chicago sets near Record for Snow and Cold 13 Years after Climate Scientists said we’d soon have no more Snow

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 11th, 2014

Week in Review

Back in 2000 noted climate scientists were lamenting the loss of snow thanks to global warming (see Snowfalls are now just a thing of the past by Charles Onians posted 3/20/2000 on The Independent).

Global warming, the heating of the atmosphere by increased amounts of industrial gases, is now accepted as a reality by the international community. Average temperatures in Britain were nearly 0.6°C higher in the Nineties than in 1960-90, and it is estimated that they will increase by 0.2C every decade over the coming century. Eight of the 10 hottest years on record occurred in the Nineties.

However, the warming is so far manifesting itself more in winters which are less cold than in much hotter summers. According to Dr David Viner, a senior research scientist at the climatic research unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia,within a few years winter snowfall will become “a very rare and exciting event”.

“Children just aren’t going to know what snow is,” he said.

The effects of snow-free winter in Britain are already becoming apparent. This year, for the first time ever, Hamleys, Britain’s biggest toyshop, had no sledges on display in its Regent Street store. “It was a bit of a first,” a spokesperson said.

Fen skating, once a popular sport on the fields of East Anglia, now takes place on indoor artificial rinks. Malcolm Robinson, of the Fenland Indoor Speed Skating Club in Peterborough, says they have not skated outside since 1997. “As a boy, I can remember being on ice most winters. Now it’s few and far between,” he said…

Professor Jarich Oosten, an anthropologist at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, says that even if we no longer see snow, it will remain culturally important…

David Parker, at the Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research in Berkshire, says ultimately, British children could have only virtual experience of snow. Via the internet, they might wonder at polar scenes – or eventually “feel” virtual cold.

According to the climate scientists in 2000 snow was soon going to be a thing of the past.  Our winters would warm so much that it wouldn’t be cold enough to have snow.  Or to freeze ponds and lakes to skate upon.  No.  The poor children would have to rely on virtual winters to feel what cold and snow was.

They weren’t making idle predictions.  Their models made it fact.  That’s right, back in 2000 the climate scientists said that there would be no snow in our immediate future.  So that, say, by 2014 we could say goodbye to our snow shovels.  Wonder what we were to do with our food surplus thanks to an extended growing season.  And never slip and fall on ice again (see Chicago already plowed through half its snow removal budget by John Byrne posted 1/10/2014 on the Chicago Tribune).

The City of Chicago already has used about half its 2014 plowing budget trying to deal with the deep snow and intense cold that took hold this month…

Chicago already is just 1.8 inches shy of the normal full-season snow tally of 36.7 inches, according to WGN-TV meteorologist Tom Skilling. The current total is 34.9 inches, more than twice normal and the most snow that has accumulated up to Jan. 10 since the infamous 1978-79 snow season. That’s when nearly 90 inches of snow fell, making it Chicago’s snowiest season on record.

Imagine that.  The climate scientists were wrong.  We still have to shovel that [deleted expletive].  Freeze in those freezing temperatures.  And slip and fall on that ice.  Because there is no global warming to make it warmer and safer for us.  Can it be that the climate scientists were wrong.  Yes.  It can be.  And is.

Yes, we can’t use one weather pattern to prove climate change.  Or the lack of climate change.  But if we’re setting near records for snow and cold 13 years after they said there would soon be no more snow we can at least say that global warming is more politics than science.  Either that or the climate scientists are some of the worst scientists ever to walk the earth.


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Wheel Slippage, Coupler Failure, Slack Management and Bad Winter Drivers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 8th, 2014

Technology 101

Starting a Train to Move is like Starting a Car to Move on Snow and Ice

Starting and stopping a train takes great skill.  Because one of the greatest advantages of rail transport is also one of its greatest weakness.  Steel wheels and steel rails.  With very little friction between the two.  Allowing trains to travel very efficiently.  Rolling effortless over great distances.  Once they get moving, that is.  Which is where that skill comes in.

Starting a train to move is like starting a car to move on snow and ice.  If you stomp the accelerator the wheels will just spin on the snow and ice.  Just as steel wheels on steel rails will.  Because of the low amount of friction between the two.  The throttle on a North American locomotive has 8 ‘run’ positions.  And one ‘idle’ position.   The engineer starts the train moving by moving the throttle to position one.  As the train begins picking up speed the engineer advances the throttle through all the positions until reaching run eight.

As the engineer moves the throttle he (we will use the pronoun ‘he’ for simplicity in lieu of ‘he or she’) watches the amp meter and wheel slip indicator.  Which is why he advances the throttle through each position.  To slowly start the train moving.  If he ‘stomped the accelerator’ the wheels would slip and spin freely on the steel rail.  Damaging both wheels and rail.  Without moving the train.  In addition to preventing wheel slippage he is also trying to prevent one other thing.  Coupler failure.

Getting a Train Moving is Difficult but Keeping it Safely on the Track can be Harder

Driving a train is a study in slack management.  Each coupler on a train has slack in it.  They are not permanently affixed to the railcar or engine.  They can move forward and backward a little bit.  With a shock absorbing device that deals with the compression and tension forces between cars.  This slack exists at each coupler.  The longer the train the more couplers and the more slack.  When a train starts moving it takes very little effort to pick up the slack in a coupler.  But it takes a lot more effort to get the car moving once you do pick up the slack.  And if you apply that force too quickly you can snap the coupler right off of the car.

An engineer picks up this slack by moving slowly while in run one.  And he moves slowly by having the brakes partially set.  That is, he moves the throttle to run one and slowly releases some air in the train line.  As he does the brakes release.  A little bit.  Just enough to allow the train to move at a crawl.  Slowly picking up the slack without breaking a coupler.  Once he picks up all the slack he releases the brakes completely.   And slowly picks up speed.  Able to pull great weights of freight trailing behind as there is so little friction between steel wheels and steel rail.

Of course, that is also a problem.  For curves.  Where the engineer has to slow the train down so the centrifugal force doesn’t pull the train off the tracks.  Or on gradients.  Where the engineer has to slow the train on downhill portions to prevent a runaway.  Or add sand to the track on uphill runs (through automatic sand feeders in front of the drive wheels).  To prevent wheel slippage by adding friction between the wheel and track.  Getting a train moving is difficult.  But keeping it safely on the track can be harder.  Which requires the ability to slow a train in time for curves and downhill gradients.  Which takes time.  And a mile or so of track.

When it comes to Driving a Car in the Winter you have to approach it like Driving a Train

Driving a train is like driving a car on snow and ice.  There’s a lot of wheel slippage.  It’s difficult to slow down.  And you really have to slow down for curves.  For if you turn the steering wheel at speed your front wheels will just slide across the snow and ice and the car will keep going straight.  If you stomp on the brake pedal and lock the wheels your wheels will just slide across the snow and ice in the general direction you were traveling in.  Today, modern cars have systems to help people drive on snow and ice.  Like anti-lock brake systems.  And traction control systems.

An anti-lock brake system prevents the wheels from locking up during braking.  The system monitors wheel rotation.  If it senses a wheel that is no longer rotating it will begin pulsating the brakes.  Applying and releasing the brakes some 15 times a second.  So the wheel keeps rotating, giving the driver control.  A traction control system also monitors wheel rotation.  If it senses a wheel rotating faster than another (because it’s spinning in ice and snow) it will slow that wheel and/or apply more power to the non-slipping wheel.  Giving today’s drivers more control of their cars in the ice and snow.

Of course none of these systems will help if the driver is irresponsible behind the wheel.  And lazy.  If you don’t shovel your driveway after it snows.  Or if you do but push that snow into the street in your driveway approach.  For a car needs to have the rubber in contact with the pavement for traction.  If not you get wheel slippage.  And we all probably have a neighbor who thinks the best thing to do when this happens is to step down on the accelerator.  To spin those wheels faster.  And does.  Digging a hole in the snow.  And then begins swearing because the stupid car got stuck in the snow.

When it comes to driving a car in the winter you have to approach it like driving a train.  You need to start slowly and monitor your wheel slippage.  Sometimes it’s best to just let the engine idle in gear to slowly get the car moving.  Then once the car is moving on top of the snow and ice you can slowly increase the speed.  But never so much to cause wheel slippage which will just dig a hole in the snow and ice that you may not be able to drive out of.  And you have to start slowing down long before you have to stop.  Always being careful not to lock your wheels.  Simple stuff.  Something every driver can do.  For these are things every engineer does.  And driving a locomotive is a lot more difficult than driving a car.


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So much for Global Warming: The Polar Climate moving South to Toronto

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 5th, 2014

Week in Review

The global warming alarmists say we are destroying the planet with our manmade global warming.  They say we’re raising global temperatures so much that we’re melting the polar ice caps.  Destroying the polar bear habitat.  Which is running out of ice for them to rest on.  They say this.  Despite a couple of years with some real cold winters.  Especially this year (see Canada is so cold residents are experiencing loud booms caused by ‘frost quakes’ by James Nye posted 1/5/2014 on the Daily Mail).

While America collectively freaks out over their impending ‘polar vortex’, Canada is changing the game when it comes to cold weather phenomenon as reports of ‘frost quakes’ emerge from around Toronto and across Ontario.

Indeed, as temperatures drop overnight to around -4f around the city hundreds of people are being startled by hearing large booms – causing them to think their homes are being broken into or gunshots are being fired.

In fact, they are merely hearing the after-effects of the frost quakes – or cryoseism – which are more commonly found on a glacier in the polar regions.

The phenomenon is caused when rain and ice seep down into the soil and then freeze when the temperature drops.

‘Water expands when it freezes and when it expands in frozen soil it literally puts a lot of stress on that dirt and will release that energy all of a sudden, very much like an earthquake releases that energy and shifts the ground,’ said meteorologist Natasha Ramsahai to City News.

People in southern Ontario, a long way from a polar region, are experiencing a phenomenon more commonly found on a glacier in a polar region.  That means the climate in southern Ontario is becoming more like that at a polar region than the climate at a polar region is becoming more like the climate in southern Ontario.  Which is about as opposite from what the global warming alarmists are saying as you can get.

Global warming isn’t high on anyone’s list of concerns these days.  Much to the chagrin of global warming alarmists like Al Gore.  In fact, most people in Canada and a large swathe of the United States would probably prefer a little global warming right about now instead of the snow and Arctic cold they find themselves in.  For when it comes down to it people would rather be warm than cold.


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