Raleigh Nature

March 25, 2014

Raleigh Weather

Filed under: Gems & Surprises, Nature Lore, Raleigh History — Tags: , — raleighnaturalist @ 6:44 pm
Black cherry blossoms announce spring

Backyard blossoms announce spring

Raleigh enjoys a temperate climate that can surprise with ease. Hailstorms, blizzards, damaging thunderstorms, and sustained droughts have all played havoc with Raleigh. The Great Blizzard of 1899 brought 17.7 inches, which record was not broken until 1927. In this century, late January 2000 brought 18 inches of snow that closed school for about 3 weeks.  Perhaps the most infamous weather event in Raleigh history was an ice storm in 2005 that lay a mere half inch of slick ice on every surface but created an Armageddon of gridlock across the town, stranding hundreds and keeping dozens of schoolchildren camped at school overnight . Historically we average about 6 inches of snow a year; in the last decade that dropped to under 5 inches. Our diverse seasons provide the outdoor naturalist with challenges and pleasures alike – within two months in fall, one can get short of breath in a stagnant sauna of hot air, then have a sinking cold air mass flow as a discernible fluid over your hat brim and down your cheeks. Each season provides unique natural experiences.

Hurricanes pound North Carolina on a regular basis, and many of these have affected Raleigh.  Hurricane Hazel, which came ashore in October 1954 and was nicknamed “the Bulldozer,” was at full strength when it hit Raleigh and flattened everything in its path. Hurricane Fran in 1996 changed the face of Raleigh dramatically by shearing hundreds of trees across the city. North Carolina, for the first time in history, declared all 100 counties a disaster zone, and 24 deaths were reported statewide.  The most destructive hurricane to ever hit Raleigh made water, not wind, its weapon.  Hurricane Floyd in 1999 was preceded by a tropical storm that saturated the ground and filled the waterways. When Floyd hit Wilmington and slowly moved across the state, some areas in eastern North Carolina had rain for 60 straight hours. The result was a deluge that claimed 52 lives, mostly from flooding, and totaled over 6 billion dollars in damages. The Neuse River reached 500 year flood levels and flooding continued for weeks after the storm.  These storms perform a natural role in opening the canopy of tree cover and letting sunlight promote young trees and diverse ground cover, even when the losses are painful.  Edna Metz Wells Park by Cameron Village presents a good microcosm of Fran damage and the slow fitful succession that occurs in an urban natural setting after such a tree loss. Out at Umstead Park, the same storm’s ravages are being used in a long term study of such recovery processes in a pine forest.

Normal rain in Raleigh follows seasonal patterns, with spring and fall slightly drier, but our generous rainfall of 42 inches or so is relatively evenly spread across the year. Our specific climate classification is humid sub-tropical, with the mountains shielding the Piedmont from Midwestern air masses. Raleigh’s average temperature in January is 40 degrees, in August it is 77 degrees. Summer popcorn storms punctuate the hot dry summer days with occasional quick deluges. Droughts are typical for the area but affect man-made landscapes far more than natural ones, which are adapted to survive them.

downed tree at Shaw University after tornado

downed tree at Shaw University after tornado

Raleigh could experience an earthquake, but that chances of a direct hit in the next 50 years are less than 1%. We do sometimes feel earthquakes, such as the 5.8 tremor that struck Virginia in August of 2011 and rattled homes and businesses across the Triangle. Tornadoes threaten on a regular basis: the April 2011 tornado that created much damage and destroyed almost 1500 trees in Raleigh was part of a massive outbreak of tornadoes across the South. The tree loss in downtown cemeteries was particularly distressing: in Raleigh City Cemetery and Mount Hope Cemetery in south Raleigh, beautiful old cedar trees were torn down or truncated by the winds.

The 2014 year has been unusual, to say the least, with snow flurries late in March and general delays/risks with spring blossoms. But  being in the borderline area between northern cold and southern warm has always been Raleigh’s fate. We can thank that factor for our amazing diversity of trees – and resign ourselves to enjoying the elements of surprise.

October 4, 2012

Milburnie Dam Removal Moves Forward – Raleigh Nature Approves

The Milburnie Dam on the Neuse River, just upstream of Business 64, is historic, interesting, even fun – but also unhelpful environmentally and surprisingly dangerous.  Having followed the long-planned and much discussed project as an environmental ed. teacher, explored the fascinating history of the structure and its predecessors, and recalled the family trips to the place, I am now ready to see it removed.

The dam was originally built of timbers in 1855 and served a papermaking mill.  in 1900 the current rock structure was built and was used for a gristmill and later for electricity generation.  Dam removal will serve several good environmental purposes: restore natural (shallow, high-oxygen) water flow above dam, promote shallow water species, including threatened and endangered ones, to utilize that stretch, and restore 15 miles of riverine habitat to migrating fish such as striped bass and American shad.  These are excellent outcomes and in and of themselves probably outweigh the loss of black water boating and the probable draining of about 11 acres of wetland currently associated with the dammed water levels, which acres will be offset by Restoration Systems.

Neuse River above Milburnie Dam – a bucolic but unnatural linear lake

But the real clincher is the removal of an inviting, but dangerous and deadly “swimming” area below the dam.  The leading picture (click to enlarge) shows this pool.  It looks quiet, it is shallow at the shore – but if you approach the side of the pool nearest the main outflow of the dam, a powerful undercurrent puts you at real risk of drowning – at least 11 reported in media through the years and probably more.  The YouTube video posted by Restoration Systems explains it all.

I look forward to canoeing this area without needing to portage the dam and I also look forward to watching the restoration efforts above the dam, both by the company and by Nature itself.  The mitigation credits might seem to make the project purely commercial, but another way to look at it is using the laws to finance this expensive project.  Careful work will be needed to avoid dumping pent-up sediment downstream, and above-dam residents will doubtless miss their linear lake but overall the project is  well worthwhile.  If you agree, you can sign their petition here.

Links

Google map of the area

Neuse Riverkeeper analysis of pros/cons

1997 pro-dam article

Facebook pro-dam page

2010 N&O article on dam removal proposal

N&O article about shad migration and the dam

2011 N&O article on revised proposal

2012 North Raleigh News pro-removal article

Charlotte Observer article on dam drownings

YouTube – dog retrieving right out to danger spot

artistic photo of dam with historical caption

Duke University article about removal benefits

Restoration Systems Milburnie Dam page

new video from RS explaining project

April 18, 2011

Nature Knocks Downtown Raleigh

Filed under: Central Raleigh, Gems & Surprises, Nature Lore, Raleigh History, South Raleigh — Tags: , , — raleighnaturalist @ 7:00 pm

piece of Memorial Auditorium roof with damage visible right background

A tornado or series of tornadoes accompanied a quick moving spring storm on Saturday afternoon, April 16th and left a trail of death and destruction across Raleigh, mostly south and east of downtown. Farther north, pine trees crashed into a mobile home at Stonybrook off Brentwood Road and instantly killed three young boys. There were 21 fatalities across the state, and Shaw University closed down for the semester with widespread damage. Raleigh Public Record has a big portfolio of images, as does NandO, and WRAL has a gallery as well – but what I want to see is a track record of these powerful winds, which sheared off trees 50 yards from my house and caused widespread lasting damage. I hope to update this post with more meteorology info later. Below are my images – mainly of the venerable oaks toppled and pruned in City Cemetery and elsewhere downtown.

closer look at Memorial Auditorium damage

City Cemetery at New Bern and East Street

cropped cedar in City Cemetery

 

The entrance to City Cemetery on New Bern Avenue.  A comment on Goodnight Raleigh’s photos mentiones the extensive damage from here to Tarboro Road.  Clearly the damage was overwhelming and Sunday morning it was amazing to see unattended damage, unpoliced intersections with no stoplights, and downed lines with no crews in sight.  I fully realize they had their hands full elsewhere.

New Bern Avenue closed by tornado damage

New Bern avenue family surveys damage

Martin and East Street downtown

South East Street after tornado

damage at corner of Moore Square

touring the tornado damage Sunday April 17

Blount and South Street after 4-16-11 tornado

damage at Shaw and Memorial Auditorium

cropped trees in Shaw's practice field

uplifted turf in southeast downtown Raleigh

I have another whole set of pictures from the Maywood Street area between S. Saunders and Lake Wheeler Road.  I’ll post them soon with updates on the scientific measure of this storm, which may have generated as many as 8 tornadoes, some at least F3 in scale.  Hope you all are well!

June 24, 2010

Life, Art and Nature: Summer Solipsis

Filed under: About & reflection, green initiatives, Pecans & Mistletoe, Raleigh History, waterways — Tags: — raleighnaturalist @ 8:43 pm

Marty Baird's show at The Mahler documents experiences of NC waters.

     A personal post as I approach a new era of the blog: moving it toward my book, The Natural History of Raleigh, and recovering from the sabbatical of sorts imposed by other interests, my school year and most of all Meniere’s Disease, which is a non-lethal but incurable inner ear condition which has hampered all my work for the past year. As I have learned to manage my disease and its triggers, I have also become fully engrossed in work related to Raleigh Nature but not what I want on the blog: urban agriculture and the movement toward local sustainable farming in the area.  I’m posting about that work at Pecans and Mistletoe, a project blog which has taken on a life of his own.  Severely limited in screen time many days, I can always find relief from my tinnitus and relaxing pleasure in tending our garden, which we have converted to mixed herb, flower, and food crops.  And our new chickens have lifted the gardening into a whole new level.  It was a challenging school year, and now that summer is here I will try again to make more time for this blog.

     But speaking of Raleigh nature!  We have three wonderful art shows that feature a spectacular range of takes on the relationship between people and nature, and I thought I would kick off my Raleigh Nature comeback with an art column.  Marty Baird’s show at The Mahler is described on the website as

Paintings and drawings that document artist Marty Baird’s experience of the waters in several North Carolina Rivers and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  A percentage of sales during the exhibition will be donated to Triangle Land Conservancy, a non-profit that protects important stream corridors, wildlife habitat and natural areas in North Carolina.

Marty’s work in the show varies widely, but all the pieces display the action of gravity on liquids as they encounter the paper.  The piece at the top of the post is one of the most successful of her painted word lists, which evoke names for water and wetland features.  Much of the other work is literally water and gravity – deftly defined ink lines of water volumes, delicate featherings of outblown tributaries, patterns of action taken from flowing water.  The benefit to Triangle Land Conservancy will help protect stream corridors and riparian wildlife.  Be sure to check it out.

The current show at Block Gallery features imagined and photographed naturescapes.

Hannah Costner has done a great job taking over Sarah Blackmon’s gig curating The Block Gallery in the municipal building downtown.  The current show combines two completely different artists, whose work nevertheless makes a complete show that works well.  Anna Podris has shown her whimsical encaustics all over town, and I love them every time I see them.  Fantastic creatures and pure nature animate every one of her paintings.  As she says, each piece creates its own world.  Gene Furr’s nature photographs reflect his journalist background – superb documentation of natural scenes and animals with over-the-top spectacular settings, lighting and details.  This show continues Block Gallery’s stellar offerings of recent years, as well as its fine tradition of providing a venue for cutting edge video, dance, and music at its openings.

Luke Buchanan offers intriguing and nostalgic cityscapes at Rebus Works.

Nature is what you make of it and Luke Buchanan explores what people have made of Raleigh.  His show at Rebus Works by the Boylan Ave. Bridge are large, even powerful painterly treatments of classic Raleigh street scenes.  Everything from Cup-o-Joe’s to Hayes Barton comes to life in highly recognizable images which still yield to well used artistic license.  The postcard image above is actually from the related group of drawings at Stitch on Hargett Street, which has been the venue for several “sideshows” out of Rebus, but here gets a lion’s share of the show with a dozen really nice drawings (many already sold) with the same themes as above.  Luke’s work does what I want this blog to do : wake up and pay attention to the wonderful Raleigh around you.

I will never  have the time I’d like for this blog and it’s eventual book project, anyway not until I retire from teaching in 5 years.  I hope the book is out by then.  I’m still caught up in Black Mountain College and Ray Johnson work over at Raleigh Rambles, and I now have a new daily item: my page on Facebook. But I’m looking forward to posting a lot soon here – if it will cool off enough to get outside!!  Peace to all. Get outside – and if it’s too hot, then go see some art!

October 4, 2009

Walnut Creek Wetland Center opening

Walnut Creek Wetland Center_1_1

Numerous city and parks officials joined a large crowd of citizens for the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of  The Walnut Creek Wetland Center.

Mr West and Dr. Camp listen to Mayor Meeker

Mr West and Dr. Camp listen to Mayor Meeker

Dr. Norman Camp listened to Mayor Charles Meeker, city councilman James West and park officials speak about the new center.  Then the founder of Partners for Environmental Justice , and the man who sheperded this project into being, got up and spoke of the center as a shining new gem in Raleigh’s crown,” as quoted on Raleigh Eco News.

Walnut Creek crowd_1_1

The crowd listened attentively as the benefits for Southeast Raleigh as well as the ecosystem were described and the many supporters and participants were thanked.  Then they were rewarded with a magnificent poem written for the occasion, by Christopher Rowland, a Southeast Raleigh native who wows the crowds at Artspace’s Stammer under the name Langston Fuze.

Chris Rollins reads_1_1

Click here for a 1 minute video clip of the poem 

for the full text of the poem, see the post at

Raleigh Eco News

wetland musicians_1_1

Musicians entertained on the “longest back porch in the Southeast,” and Erin Sterling, architect of record for the project from Frank Harmon Architecture, explained the details of the green design.  The building is 230 feet long and narrow so that all rooms get light from two sides and often three.  It is sloped up to the north and shelters its southern exposure with the long low porch roof.  Raleigh’s final budget did not allow for the planned rainwater cisterns, but they can come later and the gutters now direct into bioretention areas – long rain gardens that surround the space.  The building is on stilts and allows natural water flow under it – important in this floodplain.  Recycled lumber and building materials were used when possible, and native plantings surround the site.

Walnut Creek Wetland center flower bed

Walnut Creek Wetland center flower bed

On the other hand, several of us gazed from the wonderful porch at a huge stand of Microstegia (bamboo or stilt grass) just at the edge of the construction clearing and bemoaned a bit the vast future work entailed in continued future protection of this site and may others in Raleigh.  The educational center will raise awareness of those issues, and provide a much needed amenity and attraction in this part of Raleigh.

Thanks for all your work, Dr. Camp!

Thanks for all your work, Dr. Camp!

The longest porch in the Southeast

The longest porch in the Southeast

Walnut Creek  sign_1_1

September 7, 2009

Brookhaven Offers “Old Raleigh” Nature

heron profile_1_1

I finally got around to finding Brookhaven Nature Park, which is truly hidden away in one of Raleigh’s oldest suburban subdivisions.  Come to find out Scott Reston’s excellent new blog,  Get to Know a Park, covered the spot in July with a nice pictorial post.  With a respectful nod to Scott, here is my own quick take on the park.

Brookhaven Trail_1_1

It’s hard to find! The entrance is located is off Rembert Road, off Glenwood.  Brookhaven was begun in 1958 and contains many fairly regal residences with large yards and woodlots surrounding the numerous small waterways.  Scott mentions that the park is maintained by the Junior Woman’s Club of Raleigh, and the few reviews I find online describe it as decidedly low-key as a nature adventure.  But the small pond with a nifty zig-zag deck and the additional decks over wetland area make it a perfectly lovely site, in my humble opinion.  I had fun snapping shots of the heron.

pond at Brookhaven Park

pond at Brookhaven Park

heron at pond's edge

heron at pond's edge

Great Blue Heron at Brookhaven Nature Park

Great Blue Heron at Brookhaven Nature Park

wetland deck at Brookhaven

wetland deck at Brookhaven

The post at Get To Know a Park has some nice photos (and an excellent map!).  It’s good to have some friendly, high quality competition in providing online coverage of Raleigh’s natural amenities.  Those features are more valuable and unique than most people realize.  Brookhaven Nature Park established that tradition well before the greenway system was begun.

***********

Bonus Shot

harassed hawk_1_1

This hawk was being harassed by crows.

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