Eentsy Weentsy Spider

Nature makes some amazing things both big and small. I don’t usually play with spiders. But this tiny one got my attention. Barely bigger than a comma on my keyboard, I spotted in near the floor as I was down looking for something. At first I thought it was a piece of dust caught on a cobweb. Then it moved when I blew on it. For scale there is a dime in the corner of the image.

I set the macro lens of the camera and waited for the monster to move around. The tweezers are barely 1/8″ (3 mm).

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Farming Concerns in Iowa

Farmers are facing a very difficult spring in 2019. We recently drove 2 hrs through southeast Iowa and western Illinois. It appeared less than half the fields were planted. Late for this time of year. Nearly all plantings were corn less than 4 inches tall. Of those, there were large areas drowned out by recent heavy rains. The soybean crop has not been planted. Iowa normally supplies 13% of the nation’s soybeans. Much of the rich agricultural land of mid-America has received more than twice the normal precipitation for the year which has slowed work tremendously.

Several challenging issues for farmers are converging. Here are a few. Do they have crop insurance to cover losses? Is the federal government Market Facilitation Program recently announced going to help soybean farmers? What funds are available to help mitigate the growing problem of nitrates and nutrients in the watershed?

Chris Jones of the Iowa Institute of Hydraulic Research (IIHR) blogged on these issues. He explores these questions in his blog post This is why we can’t have nice things. I invite you to read his observations. Quoting:

Yes, I know we are having an unusual weather condition right now, and it is a factor in those numbers. But the fact of the matter is, we made weather a factor by wiping out the ecosystems that provided weather resilience. The landscape has no resilience to extreme weather. We see this year after year after year. Heck, when it comes to nitrogen loss, it has no resilience to even average weather… I think we deserve better.

Tornado Warnings

A favorite author and artist of Melanie was to give a talk at 7 pm at the local bookstore Prairie Lights. Austin Kleon was to talk about his latest book Keep Going. We started driving and tornado sirens started blaring as soon as we got rolling. I stopped to check radar and notices on my phone from the weather service. As a trained spotter, I needed to be aware of the storm conditions. We continued into town pausing at a high spot in the road to assess the sky. Radar showed a very small storm that didn’t seem bad from our vantage-point. But, that can be very misleading. You need to pay attention to them.

NOAA NWS | 6:40 pm

We got to the bookstore and sat down. The sirens started up again. My phone and those around me went crazy. The NWS alerts were more ominous this time. Our friend, also a spotter, lives 10 miles southwest of town under the red blob of the radar image. Storms track from that direction. He had reported to the NWS a rotating wall cloud from this little storm only a mile south of him. His picture was a classic of a severe storm that could produce a tornado. It briefly dropped a funnel that broke up.

©J. Wielert

He continued to watch and got a second picture a minute or two later and about 2 miles farther east. This time a narrow tornado was on the ground heading for our town. Rain made it hard for him to see.

©J. Wielert

I spoke to the organizer of the bookstore event and showed him the weather alerts. He reluctantly agreed to delay the program for 10 minutes and told people they could go to the lower level for safety. Melanie and I went down. I stepped outside to do my spotter thing and looked south. There was the funnel a mile or two away breaking up as it disappeared. I called the NWS and reported what I saw. We were safe now that the storm had passed.

Several people captured video of the approaching tornado before it broke up.

The speaker started his program a few minutes late. We all enjoyed it very much. It was an exciting end to an interesting day. Later reports showed some minor damages in the area. Here is the link to the NWS investigation of the event. Look for #3 in the list.

Red-Headed Woodpecker

From the other room, I heard Melanie call out that she saw a Red-headed Woodpecker in the backyard. I hurried to take a look. It faces a challenging future according to All About Birds. We seldom see them since local habitat for this handsome bird was removed with the addition of streets and housing near us a decade ago. This one visited behind our house several times that day giving opportunities for a few photos. We hope to see it more this year.

Tree Trimming

This is not a story about trimming trees for the holidays. We have trees 50-60 ft tall behind the house. Their branches were extending out over the roof dropping debris and small twigs during the year. It was time to cut them back. There was no way I could reach them. The tree service had the equipment and personnel to do it safely. A few years ago they removed two large dead Elms. The video below of this recent work takes about 2 minutes.

Lights Out On The Radio Tower

A short distance from the back of our house is a tall radio tower. We normally see this 100 meter tall structure with some red lights along its length and a blinking red light on top. It is visible through our living room windows. This is a view one day a couple of years ago when I walked close to it.

Zoomed in on the top one can see the light that normally blinks to warn aircraft. We have a lot of low flying helicopter traffic carrying patients to the University of Iowa for medical care. It is very important for them to see it, especially at night.

In early February I noticed none of the lights on the tower were glowing. The top light was not blinking. Curiosity got the best of me. I decided to email the facilities office at the university to tell them. I assumed they already knew. But, just in case, it wouldn’t hurt. I got a quick response and was included in subsequent emails to different offices as they tried to establish who was responsible for fixing the problem.

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