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Oklahoma Weather

Posted by Ronald Abraham   09/10/2009 09:05PM

Oklahoma Weather
I've had two really good astronomy outings this year. One was about 15 miles east of Tulsa, and the other was about thirty miles southeast near the little town of Boynton under nice dark skies.

The other attempts I have made have ranged from so - so to blowouts due to high wind, soggy dew, thunderstorms, haze, etc.

I am a product line distributor, so as long as I keep up to date on buying, managing, and selling, I can pick and choose my spare time while my observing buddies who are employees don't have nearly as much flexibility planning spare time.

Considering the time and effort involved in dealing with a 12" - 25" scope and a decently long period for observing, it is a wonder that any of us get lucky very often. Most people I know end up using a small refractors in their back yard or in a remote flat spot like a forgoten patch of old highway, or a slab left over from a housefire out in the middle of nowhere. I have taken whole days scouting locations, knocking on doors at farmhouses, and just talking to townspeople and asking for suggestions.

Sure, you can drive out to the astronomy club's observatory, but that is a significant time commitment.

Summers are impossible for week night observing for my friends who have to be at work early (thank s to daylight savings time and our proximity to mountain time).

Winters mean driving through Friday rush hour traffic leaving Tulsa when club opens the observatory to visitors once a month. The site atop a hill combined with Tulsa's infamous wind discourages bring out the big guns, so despite less haze in winter, a tree shielded site nearer one's home is often the better choice.

I am not complaining, but rather sharing with you the challenges we face here. I am certain that astronomers in Chicago, Houston, NYC, LA, and Atlanta all recognize the variables they are dealing with.

When it comes right down to it, the most challenging aspect of amateur astronomy is finding a way to deal with weather, traffic, work and family schedules, ratio of time observing to the entire period from when you leave your house till you return.

I have some decent strategies that have helped me:

1) buy filters - at least a deep sky and narrow band.

2) Make observing lists that take weather into account - for example - hazy nights with stable air favor lunar and planetary; windy nights favor low power wide field observing in which telescope movement is not as disruptive; clear nights with high altitude turbulence but only light breezes at ground level favor planetary nebulae and smaller faint fuzzies. The list goes on, but it also helps you decide what scope to bring.

3)Plan outings with bigger telescopes so that you are already at your site before rush hour begins. A leisurely pace at setup sets a relaxed mood, even if the weather is not cooperative. That may mean making arrangements for an afternoon off with the boss.

4) Keep tabs on temperature, dew point, humidity, etc., and buy the necessary equipment to deal with dewing. Nothing will frustrate you more than being under a perfect sky with cloudy wet optics.

5) Consider a neat "Rule of Thumb": when half your time of an outing is in driving and handling setup and break down, it is easy to be frustrated because you can watch the minutes tick away till you start having to break the whole mess down - this time in the dark!

When you spend twice as much time observing, you get a chance to "get in the "zone" for at least a little while. You might think- " Uhh - maybe it was worth it".

When you spend three times as much time (or more) observing as you do everything else that goes into the outing, you can really relax and enjoy.

It is bits and pieces of experience and pratice that help you optimize your plan. For example: Haze stretches light islands and even creates them. For that reason light pollution becomes a weather variable. Again I must emphasize dew points. If you visit a dark spot in a lowland area with a warm body of water on a cool night you may get an unpleasant surprise ranging from dew to fog. The cool air will sink toward the water which will in turn saturate the air and begin dispersing. Someone a mile away may have the best observing night of the year while you are stumbling around in a cloud at twenty feet lower elevation!

I am not telling you anything you don't know. In fact astronomy is a very enjoyable experience until people begin to figure out that a lot goes into planning around everything that conspires against us. If you don't have a strategy to cope and overcome, you can end up giving up - a very common and sad concession to reality.

If you are lucky enough to live far enough away from light islands, and all you have to do is roll out your 25" Obsession and grab the ladder, that is great. Weather - even a lot of it - becomes a non-issue.

But if you live in the suburb and have to drive 15 to 40 miles to a "spot" that has little or none of the conveniences of home, planning makes the difference between a hurried frustrating experience, and an experience that works out well by virtue of weighing pros, cons, and alternatives.

The bottom line is this: Observing is not the biggest par of amateur astronomy. Enjoyable and rewarding bserving requires a lot of thought, preparation, planning, time management, compromising without creating problems at work or with family. The challenge seems to be just finding a way to do it.

I can't close without mentioning a subject i wrote about a couple of weeks ago - Astronomy Clubs. I opened up one of my astronomy magazines a feww weeks back annd read an article about "virual clubs" becoming the new thing; I don't buy that. Real life astronomy clubs offer comraderie at the eyepiece and allow us to share and learn together.

I believe that today's astronomy clubs have an obligation to members (especially with rampant light pollution and the compounding effect it has on weather) to work together on strategies - like alternate sites and dates - to generate more participation and more time at the eyepiece. Having twice before been a member of different clubs, I can tell you that - properly managed - a group can literally devlope a mutlit-tired strategy that virtually assures 2 really good observing sessions every month - anywhere. It is so final and sad when the observing chairman sees Friday and Saturday clouded out after a Thursday night to die for. Maybe there would have just been half of the attendance, but that's better than none.

I hope I've done some good writing this. We all dream of stark contrast between faint fuzzies against black velvet. We relish stable images in crisp focus and rare superlatives like seeing spiral arms in M51, or seeing the pillars in M16. Getting there is an art unto itself. In fact, I liken it to chasing tornadoes; you gather your information and go from there. And - as always - luck is means being at the right place at the right time.

Now I'm going to focus on another challenges: Managing my stock potfolio and ordering parts to fix the Honda.