Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Emergency Response Team: Flood Control in Grand Forks, ND; 2009 contingency plan to the dikes

The level of the river is reading 49.22 feet at this point, and we've been getting plenty of snow here in Grand Forks today. Time to have the emergency crew standing by:

Super Bonnie in her ShamWow! Cape, at the Ready

See? I'm on theme today: "Ways to Save."

esterday's attempt to break up the ice jam near Oslo, MN, with a wrecking ball, didn't work. Apparently, Winnepeg has a machine which is like a backhoe that gets driven on the ice, and chomps it up. Kind of like a giant Pac-man, only different. I bet there's some guys who would fight over who'd get to operate that machine!

Monday, March 30, 2009

"Eat your heart out, Dylan," says Sheila (mother of the ShamWow! Detractor)

This is my good buddy, Sheila, who is a very nice person, although she is the mother of the ShamWow! Detractor. Sheila agreed to pose for me outside our office, demonstrating a recent snow mountain. These mountains seem to appear suddenly, overnight, and we never have a Good Explanation for them: Here's one possibility-- earth-moving equipment comes during the night and builds these structures to toy with us because someone's GPS system SHOWS Grand Forks to be filled with mountains, and then tries to make reality conform to digital pixels. Grand Forks is, in fact, so flat that the horizon extends beyond the contours of the earth an extra 20 miles in all directions from the city.

It's probably a government program of some sort. Unfortunately, these bureaucrats may order more raw material, because we are being told that a potential blizzard is brewing to the west of us. Ever notice how things are often blamed on Mother Nature?

Now, innocent looking though Sheila may appear, she exacted a heavy price from me for her cooperation. Look what she made me let her do!!!!

These are NOT technically great photos, but I blame it on Sheila. She was in such rapture as she got to hold Shammy (I mean, ShamWow!), that it was hard to be in her presence and hold the camera still. (She even put Shammy through his paces and made him perform for her, soaking up water in the sink!)

FYI: The current Red River level is now at 48.91. Whether the blizzard hits here in Grand Forks, or just in Fargo, to the south, we're likely to see that moisture in our part of the river, as it makes its way north. Apparently, the Army Corps of Engineers has assembled a team of experts on ice jams. Experts on Ice Jams! Who Knew?

In Oslo, MN, there've been efforts to break up the ice jams with helicopter suspended wrecking balls smashing into the ice. I kid you not! Ok, I have a flood suggestion: with all the antsy Grand Forks people who don't get to sandbag (because of the "permanent dike solution") how about if we shovel all these mountains of snows onto railroad cars and ship it to drought stricken areas of the country? Who cares if it melts en route, as long as it hits some place drought stricken?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

River Watching: Who Says Grand Forks ND is Boring?

What's there to do on a Sunday afternoon when the temperature is warm (30 degrees)? Head to the parking garage, and take photos of the river!

That brown little phallic thing sticking out of the water is a marker showing the level of the river during the '97 500-year flood, 54'. We're at 48.7 feet and will likely go to 51 feet, plus new precipitation, if any.

Check out the left (North Dakota) side of this bridge!!!! See why the police won't let us drive over it? And in the foreground, you can see the unmelted snow piled up on one side of the dike, and the river on the other.

These bad folk are evading law enforcement and climbing the dike. Uh uh, not me! I'll take my photos from the parking garage and avoid the $800 fines! But I do have snow shoes that would probably work just fine. . . . Everyone's a little antsy. . . with permanent dikes, there's not a lot of sandbagging to do. . . so there's a restlessness. It cracks me up how many people (hundreds!) at once can be watching the web cam link on the river. . . and seeing nothing! Probably does beat a lot of tv plots, though.

Some reflections in the water, and the partially submerged (to the left) Burlington Northern train bridge.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Flooding in Grand Forks; Kennedy Bridge

This is the last/only remaining bridge crossing the Red River, going east, from Grand Forks. The two cities (Grand Forks in ND and East Grand Forks in MN) are trying to keep it open (for one thing, the hospital is in Grand Forks). These are NOT great photos, but they show you, as you cross the bridge, the height of the water. . . and it's likely to rise another 4 to 5 feet. The cities are building a clay barrier directly on the bridge, to try to keep it open to 52 feet.

You see the beginnings of the clay barrier here. I don't really understand it; will it be like driving through a tunnel through water? Not surprisingly, the city is now recommending that we just stay off the bridge unless we really need to be on it.

Normally, these trees don't have their trunks in water. Actually, normally, the river starts far beyond (behind) that house on the left.

Flood fighting has a few interesting tools: sandbag "bombs." The Grand Forks Air Force Base is patrolling the river with their predator planes. If their really is a significant breach in the dikes, a sandbag bomb, a container holding 2000 lbs of sand, can be dropped into place! Someone with really, really good aim better be operating this little gadget!

There's also liquid cement. Apparently, if there's a crack in the dike, a cement sealer can be squirted into the holes, and will cure even in water. That would be handy!

If it gets grim, we're suppose to plug all drains with drain plugs. I'm opting NOT to pull off our toilet and do this unless we really are at risk in Grand Forks.

In Winnepeg (about 120 miles north of Grand Forks, the unfortunate next stop in this liquid hot potato), they're using inflatable dikes. These are large rubber structures that can be inflated within a few hours, even filled with cement for more permanent structures, and used to block the advances of the water.

And then, of course, there's good, old dynamite, every guy's dream tool! Cities around here have been using dynamite to blow up ice jams in the river to keep the ice from blocking the river, damning it, and causing it to overflow its banks/dikes.

Even though we're in a bit of a pause right now, as things freeze up again. However, just north of us, about 12 miles, little Manvel, ND is today losing homes to the flood fight. Friends, really, really consider flood insurance, no matter where you live! Just check out the policy options; these are the kinds of policies that make so much more sense than the crazy "warranty" that Office Max tried to sell me a while back on an $11 paper punch!

All prayers for the people threatened by flood situations are very much appreciated!

ETA: 10:54 pm- - River is at 48.27 feet, forecast to rise to 51 feet April 2, top of permanent dikes 60 feet.

Dikes in Grand Forks; Fargo Holding Steady

We're breathing a sigh of relief this morning for Fargo, ND. We're still holding our breathe for them, but it's looking so much better. Still, houses have been lost. . . . but it's pretty horrific if you lose a whole city. Fargo's dikes provide protection to 42 feet; the river is at 40.82. . . but does not seem to be rising! The challenge is that with our current temperatures (about 5 degrees), this may just represent a pause; snow still has to melt, flow over the fields to the river, and we watch both the river and the sky.

This is the bridge at the end of the block, where I work, in Grand Forks, ND. Grand Forks is protected to 60 feet (3 feet if we add clay to the tops), and the predicted crest is 52 feet. After the water leaves Fargo, it winds its way 70 miles up the Red River to Grand Forks. . . so we're next. But after the '97 flood, we built an extensive, permanent, dike system. This gate blocking the bridge, is usually open. Here's a link to a web cam on a building looking at this river, with an accompanying chat room. River Cam Oddly, many have been. . . well. . . . just watching the cam! I drove across this bridge quite a few times last week.

I drove around the back of some stores to get closer to the gate to take a photograph. I believe it was technically still legal.

But what these kids are doing is not. The police car first drove up to where I was, perhaps to remind me that I would risk arrest and an $800 fine if I tried to go up the dike to photograph the river, but then he spotted these kids, flash lights, used his speaker to warn them to get off the dike.

This is a very reassuring sight of the dike/levee along 3rd street.

I'll post later today some photos along the only bridge still crossing the river.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Doug & Robert with Me; Flooding in Fargo, ND

Do you notice anything "untoward" about this photo? Like, does the cactus make you have strange thoughts?

I used Scott Kelby's 7 point system in editing this photo combined with a little skin tone correction. So many options. . . so little time. The photo was, of course, not taken in ND, but in Texas earlier this month.

I am so, so worried about Fargo, ND. Mandatory evacuation has started for portions of the area. We live in a challenging area: the river flows north, and sandbagging sometimes has to occur during snowstorms, with issues of ice jams. It would help so, so much if it would stop snowing! Grand Forks is still seeming safe, but all day, I've heard the anxiety level creep up in everyone; half of it is PTSD. We're hearing the sounds, and announcements, and seeing images that bring back devastating, life-altering memories. Most of us are still paying off loans from the 1997 repairs to our homes, but it's the sounds of the sirens and earth-moving equipment that are seared in our memories.

I have to say that I am so totally impressed with the under-30 year olds. (Of course there are older volunteers as well.) But the outpouring of heroic effort among the college-aged and high school-aged is very moving. Many of these people were too young to sandbag during the '97 flood, but grew up with memories of that year, and stories about it. And they are volunteering, with their youthful muscles, with a vengeance! And they are being heroic! We have buses running around the clock from Grand Forks, ND to Fargo, ND (70 miles south) to help with the flood fight efforts. Today, the University of ND, in Grand Forks, canceled all classes until Tuesday, to help with sandbagging, whether in Fargo, or in the necessary areas of Grand Forks. In Grand Forks, we're trying really hard to keep the one remaining east-west bridge open.

The Red River flows north, so the water that leaves Fargo will eventually come here, and we keep hoping that the National Weather Service will stop raising their predicted crest level. Part of the problem for us in Grand Forks is that in '97, the prediction kept rising, with very little warning (hours) that we needed to evacuate, after being reassured "if your house floods, the whole city will flood." And the whole city flooded. So it's a little difficult to feel completely settled with the reassurances now that we'll be ok. As long as our new, improved, super-duper dike system holds, we really should be ok, though. It's just agonizing to see another community go through this problem. Technology has certainly changed,though in 12 years! Everything from flood-cams on the river to cell phones, all of which help with the efforts.

I thought about getting photos of the river both yesterday and today, and both days, after driving around, I just couldn't do it. But isn't the smiling faces of my brother, Robert, and Doug much better anyway?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Flooding & Kayaks

I'm hoping we won't be needing these!

We have 2 of our 3 bridges going east out of Grand Forks closed now, because of the rising Red River; because of the blizzard and ice, the airport was closed today, and Amtrak is routing around the city. The interstate to the south is closed (I29) because of snow. . . and flooding in Fargo. West of us are more snow storms. . . . I'm just feeling a little claustrophobic here!

And we really ARE being reassured that we should be protected to 60 feet (the river is projected to rise to 52 feet.)

So. What do you think my next purchase (possibly for mother's day) should be? A fisheye, monitor calibration, or a lens that zooms to at least 200 mm?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Grand Forks Flood Patrol and a Texas Lake and ShamWow!

What's wrong with this picture? Here's this beautiful lake boat house. . . . at my brother's house in Texas . . . Wasn't I suppose to live at a warm place like this? In my next lifetime, I'm really going to pay attention to geography in school, and understand that ND is a cold place before I move there. . . .

But here's where I live . . . as the city tops off the dikes along the river, adding protection against the spring flooding.

We seem to be doing fine, holding our own against the potential flooding, although our neighbors 90 miles to the south in Fargo, ND, are being much more challenged. After the 1997 flood that devastated our city, we built a pretty extensive dike system; Fargo doesn't have this, and are desperately filling sand bags.

If the river tops the dike system, not even ShamWow! will be up to this! But speaking of ShamWow!, I'm sure it's been on all your minds lately. And I have a progress report giving it an A+ (unlike the grade the Shameless ShamWow! detractor might give it!) My husband opened his van door in our garage this past weekend, and out rolled, and broke, a bottle of red wine. (He doesn't normally drive around with a van filled with bottles of rolling around wine, but sometimes things just happen . . .) Anyway, ShamWow! sprung into action and sopped that whole gloppy mess up! We celebrated--not with a bottle of wine--but by giving the sweet little darling a bath and laying it out to dry. I should have taken a photo of it in action, but ShamWow was just to anxious too please and strut its stuff for us, that the mess was vanquished before I had a chance to grab my camera.

Als, someone asked about yesterday's photo and ISO. I used my 50 1.4 lens at f/1.4 and ISO 800. The fact that there were so many neon lights really helped to illuminate the shot, although it was still a little tricky not getting the light blown out, and losing all the detail in the shadows. A little tweaking in Camera Raw really helped!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Texas and the Whistle Stop Cafe

After dinner at Sweetie Pie's, we drove along, and look what we stumbled upon! I'm pretty sure you really can't buy gas here, but just think how cool it would be to do a photo shoot at dusk here!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sweetie Pies

Robert and Barb took us to Sweetie Pie's, a little steak house in a little town in the Fort Worth Area. . . . delicious and colorful!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Fort Worth and Ducks

On our way to Robert and Barb's house, we stopped to chase ducks. Just because. And some of these critters were really, really ugly (but not my brother!)

But as it turned out, my brother and the duck color-coordinated their outfits.

Such a simple thing, but so much fun: stalking ducks, chasing them with my camera. And it's a very different pleasure when you don't have to pluck your kids out of the water or rescue them from mud. But even better. . . the water was not frozen! quack.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Texas Stockyards

Why Fort Worth? Because of these wonderful people, my little brother, Robert (who sometimes thinks his name is "Bob"), and Barb. We got to spend Friday evening and Saturday with them. What a treat!

They took us off to the Fort Worth Stockyards, where we had lunch, and watched cattle being driven down the main street.

I'm pretty darn sure that if cattle were being driven down the main street of Grand Forks, I'd be wanting curb-side beer service, just like in Fort Worth!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Amtrak: San Antonio to Fort Worth

So that was San Antonio, and a delightful 1 and a 1/2 days there. Early Friday am, we headed off to one of my new-found (not) secret pleasures: Amtrak! It cost $60 for the two of us together, and was much less expensive than renting a car. This was my second adult trip on Amtrak, and was from San Antonio to Fort Worth; seriously, you've got to consider it! Also, consider that if you travel with Doug (and then I'd ask you WHY?), he's going to search for the perfect seat. He's a little like Goldi-Locks, "too small, too big, wrong side, too far back, too far up, what about the sun, what direction are we going in?" and if you sit down with all your Stuff, you're just going to have to pick it up again and keep moving. Yeah. Easy for him to say. He's not carrying a purse, carry-on, headphones, plane-pillow, muffins and water and snacks. I've finally learned that it's best to just sit down once and say, "OK, figure out where you want to sit, and I'll follow you," and then watch all the amused other people watch him check out the seats. This works well in movie theaters as well. And ordering in restaurants? Like I said, he's got "radar" (or maybe more patience with forethought)for great food; just tell the server to come back Later. (Much Later.) And then order what he orders, but add chocolate. His radar works well in grocery check-out lines as well. I impulsively pick the nearest one, and think it's good enough. Then the person in front of me runs back for bat soup. And the clerk accidentally rings up 500 avocadoes and the manager has to come void out the sale. All this before the clerk lapses into a sneezing fit, and gets distracted by trying to remember the change he/she counted out.

But I got off track here. Back to Amtrak.

This first is a photo in the early morning hours of the Tower of the Americas, near the Amtrak station.

The Find-the-best-seats-the-best-lines-the-best-food Guy:

I just liked how dreamy and cute these kids looked, waving "goodbye" to someone on the train. . .

One thing about taking a train is that you see very different things than if you fly or drive. The train sometimes routes through areas of cities that are sadly dismal. Just outside of Austin, in the early morning light, I could see lots of sleeping bags and tents and piles of belongings set up along the train tracks. It really is a strong reminder to feel gratitude for the kinds of life most of us get to lead. I found myself wondering how many more hidden-away "tent cities", or similar tough living situations, there are throughout our country, just beyond plain sight. Apparently, even in large airports, a number of homeless people are finding shelter by skillfully blending into the backgrounds, choosing the times and spots among passengers, in the non-secured areas, these days. Sad.