Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kansas: Windy (with a whiff of sulphur) and Seedy (DD; MON; SYT)

Drought resistant corn and naked chickens.
Partially due to El Nino, the droughts in Texas and California moderated dramatically and the 2009 tornado season was considerably quieter:
U.S. Annual Tornado Trends
Plot of the annual running total of U.S. tornadoes.
(Click on image for a full resolution version.)
This year the U.S. probably won't be as lucky, another reason I'm "Hurricane Watch: Thinking of Shorting the Property/Casualty Insurance Companies (AIG; ALL; BRK.B; CB; HIG; TRV)"

From Improbable Research:
The Smell of Tornadoes

The Smell of Tornadoes,” Howard G. Altschule and Bernard Vonnegut, Weatherwise, vol. 50, no. 2, 1997, pp. 24–5. Vonnegut, older brother of and inspiration to the novelist Kurt Vonnegut, was awarded the 1997 Ig Nobel Prize in meteorology for his 1975 report, “Chicken Plucking as Measure of Tornado Wind Speed.” This 1997 paper says [AIR 16:1]:

“The accounts we have found identify a smell of sulfur, similar to that of a newly lit match, as a feature of some tornadoes. We present some of them… in the hope they will stimulate new interest in this puzzling phenomenon.”

[see * below -ed]

From Bloomberg:

Lance Russell’s neighbors aren’t used to seeing corn growing in the fields around Hays, Kansas, where the plants tend to wither and keel over in the dry heat. They may be in for a surprise this summer.

Russell is planting DuPont Co.’s drought-tolerant corn, one of the seeds heading to market next year that’s designed to thrive where water is scarce. An experimental plot in 2009 improved on the economics of the sorghum crop “by a landslide,” Russell said.

Monsanto Co., DuPont and Syngenta AG are vying for a similar windfall. After battling for a decade to corner the $11 billion market for insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant technologies, the world’s biggest seed companies are vying to develop crops that can survive drought. At stake is a new global market that may top $2.7 billion for the corn version alone.

“It’s a race at the moment,” said Juergen Reck, a Frankfurt-based analyst at Macquarie Group Ltd. “They must see market potential.”

The technology will have wide-ranging effects, from helping farmers draw less irrigation water to lowering insurance premiums and boosting land values in drought-prone regions, agricultural economists say. The seeds also may increase corn plantings in the U.S. Great Plains at the expense of wheat and sorghum while altering the market for biofuels.

Higher Yields

Perhaps most importantly for farmers, corn yields may climb. DuPont says seed being tested on 5,000 acres (2,023 hectares) this year is expected to boost yields in dry environments by at least 6 percent. Syngenta is targeting yield increases of at least 10 percent for its corn. Both companies used conventional breeding to develop the seeds for sale next year, with biotech versions due later in the decade.

The seeds will be a “big market” for Basel, Switzerland- based Syngenta, Chief Executive Officer Michael Mack said in a telephone interview. “Farmers around the world are going to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to technology providers in order to have this feature.”>>>MORE

*From The Guardian:

An experiment into the air speed required to blow all the feathers off a chicken

In a 1975 monograph called Chicken Plucking as Measure of Tornado Wind Speed, Bernard Vonnegut considers what might happen to a dead chicken if it were fired from a cannon. He explains: "One way of estimating the wind in a tornado vortex is to determine by experiment what air speed is required to blow all the feathers off a chicken, a phenomenon known to occur in severe storms."

The conventional wisdom about this technique can be found in HA Hazen's book The Tornado, published in 1890, which describes an 1842 experiment by Professor Elias Loomis at Western Reserve College in Ohio: "The stripping of fowls attracted much attention in this and other tornadoes. In order to determine the velocity needed to strip these feathers, the above six-pounder was loaded with five ounces of powder, and for a [canon]ball a chicken just killed [was used]. Loomis says: "The gun was pointed vertically upwards and fired. The feathers rose 20 or 30 feet, and were scattered by the wind. On examination, they were found to be pulled out clean, the skin seldom adhering to them. The body was torn to small fragments ... The velocity was 341mph. A fowl, then, forced through the air with this velocity is torn entirely to pieces; with a less velocity, ... most of the feathers might be pulled out without mutilating the body."

More than a century later, Vonnegut, a physicist at the State University of New York at Albany, analysed the process. Vonnegut, identified two subtleties of the firing-chicken-carcasses-from-cannons process.

First, "it is difficult to separate the effects produced by the explosion in the gun from those that are the result of the movement of the bird relative to the air," he writes. Second, a bird's feathers are sometimes easy to pluck, especially during a physiological response known as "flight-molt". Vonnegut explains that "during conditions of stress the bird's follicles relax so that feathers can be pulled out with far less force than is normally required. Possibly this may be a mechanism for survival, leaving a predator with only a mouthful of feathers and permitting the bird to escape"....