Friday, April 9, 2010

Thiele Should Look In Mirror, Not Blame Others About Stony Brook Southampton Closing

Sad news this week as Stony Brook University announced that they would be reducing service to their Southampton Campus, effectively ending student residences on campus and destroying the fragile community that faculty, students and administrators have worked so hard to build over the past three years. I know of what I speak firsthand as Southampton hired me for my first real teaching gig, teaching a class called “Environmental Problems and Solutions” in the Spring of 2008. There has been a lot of coverage of the issue via the New York Times, and the Sag Harbor Times.

Unfortunately this is a story that is repeating itself over and over again over the entire country as the economy suffers. State and local officials grappling with tough decisions about which worthwhile and valuable services to cut, to avoid crippling budget deficits and states and municipalities going bankrupt. The only problem is, in this case that this campus closure is not forced by a crumbling economy, but by extremely poor government policy in Albany.

The State University of New York (SUNY) is one of a very few institutions of higher learning in the United States to have their tuition set not by the University Trustees or Administrators but rather by a legislative body. Traditionally every 5 or so years when the state legislature bothers to think about it, lawmakers review tuition and vote to increase it as a function of inflation or other economic pressures. This occurred last year during the academic year, the legislature voted to increase tuition midway through the year. This caused students who had budgeted for tuition some duress – but this was not the real crime of the bill. Instead the real crime of the bill was that the increase in tuition did NOT go to the SUNY system, but instead went to the state’s general fund. Students were not paying for education, they were paying to cover other expenses the state had incurred.

Let me say this again. The legislature increased tuition to pay for other programs. The legislature taxed students to pay for their pork. Why? Because lawmakers are terrified to increase taxes to pay for the programs they fund. Instead they increase fees at state agencies (e.g. vehicle registration, recreational fishing permits) and pocket the money to pay for other projects. Brilliant!

So SUNY came up with a plan that they hope to convince lawmakers and the governor of. Allow SUNY trustees to set tuition and keep the tuition inside of SUNY for distribution. Some campuses could have a higher tuition, and some campuses could have a lower tuition based on what services they provide and the level of education granted. What do lawmakers like State Assemblyman Fred Thiele think of this plan?

The second problem is that the campus is caught in what Thiele called “Albany politics.”

The state university system, he said, wants to offer different tuition rates at different schools, and it wants to set those rates without any oversight.

“The legislature is leery of that,” said Thiele.

Of course the legislature is leery of that! How else will they continue to pass along their increased spending to taxpayers without actually doing the politically unpopular, but responsible action of raising taxes. Responsibility, that is something the legislature is truly leery of. Instead they just pass the expense onto college students.

The closure of Southampton Campus is expected to save Stony Brook $6 million annually. If SUNY had been able to use the funds generated by increasing tuition, would this closure be necessary? Enrollment at Southampton is up – way up – perhaps with the funds from the tuition increase the State could have kept Southampton open long enough to build up a program that could break even. Instead $55 million that has been spent improving the campus is going to waste.

So Fred Thiele, instead of blaming others, take action. Vote to keep all tuition money paid by students in the SUNY system. Then vote to make sure in the future lawmakers can’t steal from the SUNY cookie jar again, allow trustees to set tuition levels. Lastly, take responsibility to the fact that it is policy enacted under your watch that caused Southampton to be closed. Don’t pass the buck.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why So Hot, So Soon?

It happens every spring. Early in the season, before the trees have grown leaves and the flowers in bloom, there is always a hot dry day. Temperatures push 90 in the New York Metro region, perhaps a week or two after a cool, damp day where the temperatures don’t get out of the 40’s. For us this year, it was yesterday Wednesday April 7. The map below shows temperatures at 4pm yesterday:

Newark and Hartford have exceeded 90 and unofficial reports from Orange County suggested temperatures of 94! But why and how? Well it has to do with trees, or in this case a lack there of.

Trees do two things that tend to reduce surface temperatures, first they reflect radiation and shade the surface and secondly they are a driver in evapo-transpiration. Let me explain.

Trees, when they have leaves and are photosynthesizing, draw moisture out of the soil and release it to the atmosphere when their stomata are open and they are pulling in CO2 (go-go introduction to biology!). In effect they act to moisten atmosphere when the sun is up. In much of the solar radiation (sunlight) that would go into heating the surface instead heats the water in the atmosphere. This is the same reason that the deserts in northern Africa are hotter than the rainforests at the equator, even though the rainforests receive more sunlight. Overall trees keep temperatures down, and increase the humidity.

So if we had had Tuesday’s weather, sometime in May when the trees were fully deployed – temperatures would have been much milder, perhaps with highs in the lower 80’s - even the sun being higher and stronger in the sky!

Another interesting effect to note on the above temperature map is the influence of the cold ocean on air temperatures. With water temperatures still below 50 in many places, when the wind blows off the ocean it acts to cool costal locations. That is why Long Island showed temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s while Newark burned up in the 90’s.

Interesting weather day in the New York Metro Region.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Fuel Cell Power?

This could be the next big step for clean energy. The piece talks about the technological and economical hurdles for this fuel cell to clear. But to me, the biggest hurdle is the gas that powers the cell. If it really uses methane, then we as a society would need a way to generate methane cleanly.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Five Burning Questions facing the Yankees

I thought that this was a great idea, so I thought I'd try it out.

Five Burning Questions facing the Yankees
by Owen Doherty

1. Can Alex Rodriquez stay healthy?
Whether they'll admit it or not, the Yankees clearly missed Alex Rodriquez last season. When healthy, he's the child that walks the parrot. Unfortunately, he's not healthy often, and his prolonged absences make Titanic seem short by comparison. Fortunately, he's making an effort to correct the problem.

"I spent the offseason working with a gym teacher to strengthen my hip," he said. "But after a few days of that, my elbow started to bother me, so now I'm just taking it easy and seeing what happens."

2. Can Derek Jeter remain productive?
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Derek Jeter isn't getting any younger, and is hoping to squeeze one more productive season out of his shoulder before calling it a career. At 27 years old, he knows his inevitable eventual decline is the dolphin in the toilet, but he cautions doubters who think he's too old to contribute:
"After spending the offseason golfing with Strom Thurman, I'm in the best shape of my life," he said. "Now, where'd I leave my snow shovel?"

3. Can Brett Gardiner rebound from a tough 2009?
When Brett Gardiner is on, he shows flashes of brilliance the team has been hoping for since he burst onto the scene in 2008. Unfortunately, he's never been able to put it all together, and Tony Pena Sr. will spend the spring working with him to improve his fielding.

"I think this could be the year he really comes together as a player," coach said. "But then again, I also thought I had a shot with that truck driver from interstate highway."

4) Is Curtis Granderson the answer?
Last season's events and the offseason that followed left the team with an empty spot in the roster, and they filled it by acquiring Curtis Granderson. Team officials are excited about the charisma he'll bring to the team.

"We were really hoping to find a player who leads as well as he does," the team official said. "We think he can be the coconut that pushes us over the top."

5. Will the team be forced to deal Mariano Rivera?
The team remains hopeful in their negotiations with Mariano Rivera, but no deal is in place, creating uncertainty about the future of one of the team's brightest stars. He said he's not going to allow his situation to distract him from the task at hand.

"I'm just trying to play my game and let the cash money resolve itself," he said. "But I hope it happens soon, because I've got my eye on a nice mail order bride."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

49 States Isn't Bad

Just a quick update to yesterday's snow related post. Evidently the snow cover on the volcanic mountains of Hawaii melted -- so only 49 of the 50 states in the Union have snow cover at the present. See below for the map:

Evidently the news media has picked up on this story.

Patrick Marsh who, like myself, is aiming for a doctorate in meteorology is trying to find photographic evidence of all of this snow fall. Check out his blog for more information.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Snowfall in all 50 States

Well it's official (almost) there is snow on the ground in all 50 states. Snow has been reported this hour at two sites in the panhandle of Florida (near Crestview, FL). This snowfall is associated with the system that dumped nearly a foot of snow in Dallas, TX before racing across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Heavy snow is being reported intermittently across Georgia and southern Alabama, amid a larger region of moderate snow. Snow in the south coupled with the coastal storms that have pummeled the mid-Atlantic region means that there is likely snow on the ground in all 50 states at the same time. This is, needless to say, quite rare.

The image below shows a satellite derived computer estimate of snow cover as of last night (Thursday into Friday) around 2am. Snow has since overspread Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina -- meaning that assuming there is some documentation of snow on the ground in Florida, all 50 states (including Hawaii) will have snow on the ground.

Still waiting for some good graphics, before I write up a little something on the "blizzard that wasn't" that affected the Mid-Atlantic and Southern New England earlier this week. Enjoy your weekend everyone.

Below: a radar image showing the snow currently affecting the southeast. The rain snow line runs nearly through the triple point between Florida, Alabama and Georgia, then runs NE just south of Albany, GA then continuing NE to about 50 miles south of Columbia, SC.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snowfall Shifted to Coast This Season

It's been a weird year in terms of snow in the New York Metropolitan Region. Coastal regions, including Long Island, southern Connecticut, New York City and coastal New Jersey have been hammered with snow. Inland regions, like the Hudson Valley have generally seen less snowfall accumulation. The majority of snow has fallen in two large snow storms, the blizzard that came through late in December and the large storm that passed through just yesterday (more on this storm tomorrow). Both of these storms passed out at sea, and precipitation was heaviest near the coast. This snowfall pattern is atypical. The map below shows the annual mean snowfall over the New York Metro Region.

In general snowfall follows topography -- with higher amounts falling in higher elevations inland, away from the (generally) warmer ocean. New York City averages near 25" a year. Long Island averages between 20" near the south shore and 30" near the north shore. There is a steep gradient in the lower Hudson Valley with locations nearest to Long Island Sound and New York City receiving 30" a snow per year, while locations just inland like Northern Westchester receive upwards of 45" per year on average.

The reason for the gradient as seen above is temperature. Locations nearest to the ocean are usually the warmest, and when the wind blows off the ocean temperatures tend to creep above the freezing mark of 32 F. This season, that has not been the case. Storms have passed further to the south and east allowing nearly all of the region to stay below freezing. Instead this season areas closest to the storm have received the most snowfall -- yielding high snow totals near the ocean. The map below shows the snowfall for the December 18 - 21 Blizzard. As you can see snowfall is maximized near the shoreline, nearest to the storm. Temperature was not an issue in this storm, allowing for high snowfall near the coast.

With more snow in the forecast for early next week, will the interior sections begin to make up their deficiency in snow? Will the heating power of the ocean change the snow to rain along the coast? Or, will this storm follow the track of other systems and dump heavy amounts of snow along coastal locations leaving those snow fans inland wondering where there snow has gone?