Thursday, February 19, 2015

Winter Weather: 2015 Edition

You didn't really think we would make it the entire winter without a major snow or ice event, did you?

Prior to this week, RDU Airport's official snow/ice total for the entire 2014-15 Winter was "trace". Now, it's 1.4":

Pretty much every forecast in the 48 hours prior to Monday had more freezing rain potential than the previous forecast, to the point where by Monday afternoon, the forecast discussions mentioned potentially crippling amounts of ice. I was pretty worried about the prospect of a long term power outage, given that this event would be followed by record-breaking cold later in the week (during which it would be nice to have functioning heat), and also because we have two young children. So, one inch of sleet? Great! Just enough to take Marla sledding on Tuesday.

(In defense of the "crippling amounts of ice" forecasts: Winter weather forecasting is extremely difficult, especially when you're in the vicinity of that 0°C line, either at the surface or aloft. And, they did get 0.25"-0.50" of ice accrual farther south towards Fayetteville, which did result in scattered power outages down that way.)

Looks like fun, except that at least one of us has been sick at any given time for the last week, so...maybe this wasn't the best time to be stuck at home for a few days. (Really it was 4½ days, including the 3-day weekend that preceded the sleet.) Working from home is extremely difficult when you have young kids around, especially when one of them, plus your wife, are sick. Honestly, it's been a pretty tough week, and in hindsight, I could have done without this storm. Also...I'm assuming this meant that there was zero construction progress at the Triangle Curling Center this week.

Next up: Friday morning is expected to be the coldest morning in Raleigh since I moved here. I think the coldest temperature recorded at RDU since I moved here (2006) is 7°F, recorded 1/30/2014. Friday's low could approach 0°F. If you ask me, if it's going to be that cold, then let's go negative! But, we probably won't be going negative tomorrow morning. Then, we've got another cold week ahead next week (although probably not this cold), which means if we get any more precipitation next week, it may not be plain old rain.

School closing analysis

The last blog post I wrote about school delays/closings due to the weather got very few clicks, too few for me to justify keeping that up here. So, I'm taking that effort off my personal blog/Twitter and will instead think about directing that info to a more specific audience, for example, a pre-existing Facebook group for local parents.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Silly Solo Trip to Louisiana: Recap

There are a lot of things I could have done with my three days of vacation time. Why did I decide to spend it driving nearly 2,400 miles?

Well, this road trip thing is sort of a fun game. Let's start with the primary goal: how can I visit as many new counties as possible in as little time as possible? I think this is a pretty fun math / map problem to figure out. My chosen route through Alabama-Mississippi-Louisiana gave me 48 new counties (colored dark red on the linked map) - not necessarily the absolute most I could have gotten in three days' time starting/ending from home, but good enough. Since I had three days, I also wanted to take advantage of the time and get farther away from home, even though I could have probably gotten more counties staying a bit closer to home and driving back and forth across Kentucky and Tennessee, perhaps. And, of course, "How likely is Amber going to want to take a vacation here someday" was also a consideration. (We've actually already done road trips to both Alabama and Mississippi. Unlikely to do another one.)

By the way, if you're wondering how much this trip cost me...I spent $155.45 on gas and $131.85 on hotels, for a total of $287.30. That seems like a lot of money to spend for three days of driving, and you're right. Roadgeeking is not the cheapest of hobbies. On the other hand...
- It's not like we've been spending much on travel lately.
- If I had taken this same exact trip one year ago when the average price of gas was $1.15/gal higher, then the trip would have cost me an additional $80.
- If I had taken my Subaru Forester instead of Amber's Mazda 3, then I would have gotten slightly worse gas mileage, and had to spend an additional $40 on gas.
- Really, the most efficient way for me to get the maximum number of new counties would have been to fly to Dallas and rent a car for three days. If I did that, the total trip expense might have even breached $1,000. I have to draw the line somewhere.

Here's another thing that makes this a fun game: timing. How accurate are the Google Maps projected trip times? How much driving can I do by myself in a given day, anyway?

The Google Maps projected trip times are as accurate as they've ever been. Google said the entire trip would take me 35:54 (that's the "no traffic" time, excluding stops). If you subtract out the 12 minutes I spent sitting in Atlanta traffic, the entire trip took me: 36:18. (The Garmin time pictured above is unofficial because it also includes taking exits to gas stations, things like that.) Gone are the days in which map software assumed you would drive 60 mph on the interstate or something silly like that. Google is much more reasonable now. (As for other map websites...who cares? THERE IS ONLY GOOGLE MAPS.)

The drive time distribution over the three days was 12:48, 13:01, and (including the Atlanta traffic jam) 10:41. Was that too much driving? Nope! At least, not in terms of personal stamina. It would have been nice to see some of these places during daylight hours.

So...what did I see on this road trip, anyway? In southern Louisiana, I saw lots of bridges.

And, I saw a lot of French-sounding names.

Seriously, "Acadiana" (as it's known) might be the only part of the country where having a French-sounding name is actually good for business. If your last name is something like "Thibodeaux" and you want to get into politics or law, there's no better place to be than here. Somebody named "Thibodeaux" is far, far more likely to win an election in Louisiana than anywhere else in the country.

The Northern Alabama mountains were scenic - at least, the parts that I saw during daylight hours - but that's about it for scenery. But for some reason, I still enjoy driving through the rural South. It's interesting.

Here's the (approximate) entirety of the route: (Google Maps embedding doesn't work with more complicated routes, apparently. Sorry.)

The reason I took I-75 and I-20 through Georgia on the way back - not part of the original plan - was because I realized that would give me every mile of interstate in Georgia. Hooray! Also, I'm now only 360 miles short of having driven exactly half of the entire interstate highway system. Which has me thinking...if I wanted to, what's the most efficient way for me to get those 360 miles?

On second thought, that's enough of this craziness for a while. By the third day, I was pretty lonely and questioning whether I should have gone on this trip in the first place. In hindsight, two days would have made for a more enjoyable trip than three days. But I couldn't have made it to Louisiana and back in two days, either, so...well, I don't know. Either way, at least now I've been to Avoyelles Parish.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Silly Solo Trip to Louisiana: Preview

Alright, here's the deal. I have five days of vacation time I need to use between now and the end of March, or else I lose it. Amber has pretty much no vacation balance at the moment, and even if she did, now isn't really the optimal time for big family road trips. Other than visiting family, and maybe a quick overnight trip or two to some place close (e.g. Charlotte, the beach), we're holding off on any longer road trips until after Bruce's first birthday. (Just in time for fall!)

I'm saving two of my five vacation days for potential snow days, but for the other three, I'm going on a solo trip to Louisiana next week.

That's a picture I dug up from 2004, when my friends and I drove from Tallahassee to Louisiana for the day. This was one month before I graduated from FSU, because I figured Tallahassee was as close to Louisiana as I was going to get for a while. (I've actually been back to Louisiana a couple times since then, though.)

Why Louisiana? Because I've gathered that of all the places in the US, the "Deep South" is Amber's least favorite place to go. Louisiana may not be 50th out of 50 on her list of "favorite vacation states", but it's gotta be close. I don't want her to miss anything on this trip she would particularly enjoy. But also, I'm going here because there are a lot of counties parishes in Louisiana that I haven't been to yet. And that's really going to be my primary goal on this trip: county collecting.

Actually, there is one drive in Louisiana I think Amber would enjoy: the road from New Orleans down to the Mississippi Delta.

But, I'm not going to do that drive on this trip, not only to save it for another time, but also because that drive would be very inefficient in terms of county collecting. I only have three days*, you know, and most of that time will be spent just getting to and from. Out of these three days, I only expect to spend a total of 7-8 hours actually in Louisiana.

(* - Pre-children, we would make a five-night trip out of three days' vacation, leaving after work on "Day 0", and then being away for three weekdays plus a weekend after that. I'm not leaving for Louisiana until Monday morning, though, so that I don't miss any weekend time with the family. Normally I might use extra vacation time to go to an out-of-town curling bonspiel, but to do that I would have to miss weekend time at home, instead of limiting my time away to work days.)

So instead of going down to the "end of the road", here is the route I'm taking through Louisiana:

(I really hate the new Google Maps embedding, by the way. The old Google Maps was so much better for this.)

Nothing all that exciting, really, but I am going to get lots of newly visited counties parishes out of it! (And, US-90 from New Orleans to Lafayette has always intrigued me for some reason.) The routes I'm taking through Mississippi and Alabama were also specifically designed to maximize my county intake. The goal for the trip is 47 new counties/parishes, which will put me at nearly 55% for the country.

Am I going to be doing any sightseeing during these three days? Nope. Just driving. Louisiana is far enough away from home, three days isn't enough time to go down there and sightsee. Besides, anything worth stopping for, I would want to have the family with me anyway.

Gas prices are low, curling season hasn't started yet, and the weather forecast looks good, both at home and in Louisiana. (By "good" I really just mean "not icy/snowy".) Now is the perfect time for something dumb and silly like this. Weeee!