String Clouds, the Milky Way, Big D and a Crocodile

Sometimes I complain too much on this BLOG, so I’ll post about some blessings.

From the end of November through part of the first week of December, I again had the honor of traveling to South Florida for a few days on business, and the gratification of staying there an extra day for pleasure. On the way down, my flight threaded a gap between supercells in a convective band, along the Arkansas/Louisiana border (preliminary reports map). That track offered some wild, string-like cloud formations–somewhat reminiscent of pileus, but many clearly not associated with convective processes immediately beneath as with pileus caps.

It wasn’t easy shooting those either, given my seating over the wing, the odd back-angle with respect to the sun, and some rough turbulence. It was rock-and-roll times two: I had headphones into a laptop, listening to a suitably selected soundtrack of the sky while being jostled hither and yon by that very atmosphere. For a meteorologist, a window seat is a must, and some musical accompaniment is a bonus!

The annual multi-day hurricane meeting, at which I usually give a tornado-related presentation and/or agenda items, had outgrown its previous venue at the National Hurricane Center itself, so we ended up in a meeting room on the main part of the beautiful campus of Florida International University. Tornadoes are part of many tropical cyclones, and a primary research and forecasting interest of mine. Having formerly worked at NHC, the connection is natural and strong for me. It’s also a fine way to keep up with happenings in tropical meteorology and with my scientific colleagues in the hurricane community, and for them to stay plugged into the severe storms world. As always, I enjoyed seeing lots of old friends and co-workers down there, and meeting some folks newer to the field.

It’s amazing how much that campus has grown, and how striking it has become aesthetically, since I left Miami as a full-time resident 17 years ago. Strolling the walkways of FIU at lunchtime was a worthwhile and new experience, as was the Jewish reggae concert downstairs from our meeting room one evening, in the student union. Only in Miami…

One night and the extra day (on my own time and dime!) were devoted to the Everglades–South Florida’s marshy counterpart to the Great Plains–and of course good seafood and storm chatter with old friend “Hailstone” Jim Leonard down in the Keys. Here was the scene on one starry night on a remote gravel road, far out in the western Everglades…

Yes, that’s a meteor streak in upper middle, above the road. I photographed several of those in front of and near the Milky Way, while occasional frog splashes and the distant call of a barred owl punctuated the night. No other vehicles came near during my entire 1-1/2 hours out there. It’s amazing how well the eye gets adjusted to starlight in a dark area; with the car parked and lights off, I could wander up and down the road on foot with good sight of everything around. One couldn’t try this in the summer without being attacked by thousands of mosquitoes in a matter of minutes!

My day off meant more Everglades action. There’s nothing like grabbing a mango-coconut shake at Robert is Here and heading into Everglades National Park for a splendid day of driving, hiking and photography.

The great blue heron seems to be bowing demurely, but instead was grooming. A different, rather regal and statuesque pose by the same bird is this week’s offering on the Image of the Week photo-BLOG.

This ibis was taking a vigorous bath, with no shortage of bath water for hundreds of square miles all around. After many years of heading into the glades for fishing (as a resident) and/or photography (mainly since moving away…I didn’t appreciate wildlife and landscape photography as much then), it was a magnificent experience to get my first good, clean view (and photos) of an American crocodile, at a muddy and brackish pond near Flamingo.

I inadvertently spooked this toothy critter into the water from a safe distance (although it clearly didn’t perceive our separation as such), while trying to inch closer to some wading birds. Of course, the birds evacuated the area with due haste.

That left the croc and me. It turned around, approached slowly, stopped, surfaced and alternated between facing me and floating there at a diagonal, as if posing. Being two roughly similarly sized beasts, it being longer, I being taller, we had a very obvious, amicable, unspoken truce: you stay out there ’til I’m done, I approach no closer while using this zoom lens, and we’ll get along just fine.

I’ve been fishing near and/or photographing alligators in those parts for years, and understand how (not) to approach them. This crocodile’s more hesitant behavior confirmed what I had read about the Everglades crocs being relatively shy and avoiding of people compared to their gator cousins. Still, it’s not a good idea to screw around with any crocodilian and get too close. While nobody is known to have been injured or killed by a crocodile in Florida, the very same species in southern Mexico and central America has attacked people fairly often.

After a few decent shots of the croc, I backed out and watched him slowly cruise back up to the bank to finish sunning. Of course, if the croc had wanted to reclaim the bank sooner, I would have been glad to permit that, for my own well-being. 🙂

I’ve added these and other select photos from my 2010 sojourn through the land of the Seminole Wind in our Everglades photo gallery online. Check it out, including past images that you may not have seen.

A sunset flight past the spectacular skyline of Dallas, my hometown, capped off a fine trip; but I was glad to get back home to my kids and my beautiful bride.

My old ‘hood is in the trees in the upper right part of the photo, between downtown and the lake (White Rock Lake). Who says you never can go home again?


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