Hail Storm

Golf Ball-Sized Hailstones Fall in Australia

Over the past several weeks, Australia has experienced extreme wildfires which threaten wildlife all over the continent and continue to this day. Now, another extreme weather event has befallen Australia, as golf ball-sized hailstones have fallen from the sky in Canberra, destroying vehicles and threatening human safety and property. The hail arrived alongside severe thunderstorms, which left two tourists in the hospital after they were struck by lightning. The hail has already caused serious damage in Australia; glasshouses in which studies on crop sustainability were being conducted were destroyed by the hail, ruining the scientific endeavors conducted in the building and leading the Insurance Council of Australia to declare the storms a “catastrophe.” 

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Given the apocalyptic nature of the wildfires that have destroyed large swaths of the country, the rain provided by the storms is welcome, but the destructive hail it brought only contributes to more misery in a country besieged by recent rare and extreme weather events. Unfortunately, such weather events are likely to continue throughout the coming years and decades, as scientists believe that the weather was made much more powerful by the effects of climate change, which will only worsen over the next century irrespective of whether humans eliminate their greenhouse gas emissions, which itself seems unlikely. The country’s Bureau of Meteorology warned of “giant” hailstones in advance of the storm, but it was impossible for people to prepare for the destruction that the hail wrought upon the city of Canberra and the surrounding areas. The hail injured a large number of birds, many of which were brought to vets by concerned passersby.

While the hailstorm lasted just thirty minutes, it badly damaged hundreds of cars and buildings, according to The Guardian. Fortunately, no deaths were reported, although two people were treated for minor injuries from the hail. As a result of the storm, 20,000 houses and buildings lost power in the south-east part of the country. The winds from the storm were so powerful that they ripped branches from trees and knocked over trees, in some cases causing people to be trapped in their cars on the road as felled trees blocked their path. Additionally, the National Museum of Australia experienced serious damage as the storm tore off part of the building’s roof, caused leaks in hallways, and damaged shade cloths, leading the building to close its doors. According to the Insurance Council of Australia, more than 11,000 claims have been filed in connection with the storm. 

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And as if these extreme weather events weren’t enough, the weather has also brought huge dust storms to the country, which were so powerful that they blocked out the sunlight. New South Wales was particularly affected, and citizens shared videos of the tremendous storms on social media, drawing significant attention online. People around the world have chipped in to help Australia in the aftermath of these wildfires; for instance, runners are participating in a virtual race for charity in order to raise money to benefit the country. With hope, calm weather will return to Australia soon, and the country will have a chance to recover. 

Forest of Trees

Genetically-Modified Trees May Be The Key to Reducing Climate Change

In what represents a potential breakthrough in scientific approaches to reducing the impact of climate change, scientists have created genetically-modified trees that do not emit a gas that contributes to poor air quality and global warming, without harming the health of the trees. Poplar trees give off isoprene, particularly when they are under stress like they would be during rapid changes in temperature or during a drought. Isoprene interacts with other substances to form ozone and types of aerosol, which have negative consequences on weather patterns. As poplar trees are widely used to create products like paper and plywood, and are also used as biofuel, the widespread adoption of genetically-modified poplar trees may enable a more environmentally-friendly method of producing these vital resources.

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According to the study, which was published in the journal PNAS, researchers observed the genetically-modified trees, which were planted in Oregon and Arizona, for a period of three to four years and concluded that they were capable of producing just as much biofuel as normal poplar trees, but without releasing harmful isoprene. Instead, the trees generated “alternative signaling pathways that appear to compensate for the loss of stress tolerance due to isoprene,” according to the lead author Russell Monson, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. The researchers believe that neither the health of the trees nor the quantity of biomass produced were negatively affected by the genetic modification, giving hope that in the future, trees could be optimized to better suit the needs of a global climate that has been modified by human activity. As biofuel derived from poplar trees can replace traditional fossil fuels in a sustainable way, these new findings could pave the way for transitioning to a more carbon-neutral future.

The trees’ genetic code was modified by a process called “RNA interference.” In this process, specific genes are targeted and suppressed; in this case, the genes that are responsible for the production of isoprene are disabled. Multiple technologies exist in order to modify the genetic code of living organisms, including CRISPR, a newer technology that allows for even more drastic and precise genetic modification. In fact, traditional breeding of species, which humans have done for thousands of years, is itself a form of genetic modification, though it is a much slower and less precise way of altering the genetic makeup of an organism.

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When it comes to technologies that help to reduce the impact of climate change, the widespread planting of trees is often proposed as a method of mitigating carbon emissions, as trees use natural processes to store carbon and produce oxygen. However, planting a tremendous number of trees poses its own problems to ecosystems and the global climate, as not all of the gases released by trees benefit the environment. This is of particular concern given the advancement of technologies designed to autonomously plant large quantities of trees at a rate much greater than is possible with human labor, which is currently being deployed as a strategy for geo-engineering. As such, the future of harm reduction in connection with climate change may depend upon a combination of natural resources and cutting-edge technologies, as scientists of the future may be able to genetically optimize trees to maximize their beneficial impact on the environment. That being said, other strategies in addition to planting genetically-modified trees will surely be necessary in the fight against climate change, as carbon emissions continue to rise to increasingly-dangerous levels with no signs of stopping any time soon.


Is Autumn the Best Time for a Camping Trip?

Fall has officially begun, marking the end of what is widely considered to be the season for vacations and the beginning of back-to-school activities, earlier evenings, and more time spent indoors. As the leaves change colors and the temperature drops, many people, and students in particular, see this time of year as symbolizing a return to productivity and new professional endeavors. But despite the longer nights and colder temperatures, the beginning of fall may be the perfect time of year to book a campsite and set up a tent in the woods, enjoying the restorative beauty that nature has to offer.

Camping is widely regarded as an activity best enjoyed in June, July, and August, as the hot temperatures, long days, and extended break from school inspire outdoor activity. However, in many cases the experience of sitting around a campfire, hiking in the woods, and gazing up at the stars outside of a tent is best enjoyed in late September or early October. Doing so at this time of year allows for a relatively unique experience, and while the change in weather can make the experience a little more uncomfortable, the benefits of spending time outdoors later in the year more than make up for it.

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People who are interested in going camping are often looking for a chance to get away from the crowds and heavily-populated areas of their everyday lives, and one of the advantages of doing so in the fall is the fact that campgrounds are likely to be much less busy. As families shift their focus from summer vacations to schoolwork, campgrounds are more likely to be patronized by smaller groups of people, such as couples and even individual campers, making this time of year particularly attractive for adult campers looking to spend time away from children. Being in nature alongside a small number of close friends or loved ones makes for a better opportunity to bond with them and with the outdoors, which is what the best camping trips are all about.

While the thought of sleeping outdoors in the fall without the benefit of indoor heating can seem unthinkable, the right gear can mitigate the discomfort of doing so. A plethora of sleeping bags that are rated as providing sufficient warmth in the cold, even at temperatures approaching zero degrees Fahrenheit, are widely available. If you have no interest in investing in a cold-weather sleeping bag, camping gear is available to rent from a variety of outlets. Dressing appropriately by wearing multiple layers of clothing and making sure to pack sweaters, jackets, and hats is essential. Of particular concern in the fall is the possibility of rain, as wet clothing can lower body temperatures and potentially cause hypothermia, so make sure to take this possibility into account. One way of thinking about cooler weather is by considering it to be brisk and refreshing, as drinking a hot cup of coffee in the morning and enjoying the warmth of a campfire become even more invigorating.

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Autumn also offers an opportunity to experience the beauty of nature when the leaves change color and fall to the ground. The period of time when trees become more colorful and varied is relatively brief, so camping in this environment is a special experience which only occurs once per year. Additionally, when the temperature starts to drop, pests like ticks and mosquitoes are less abundant. As such, taking a walk in the woods during this time of year, given adequate preparation, can be more fun than doing so in the summer, spring, or winter. If you’re interested in photography, the colorful fall landscapes are perfect environments for Instagram. And while camping in the fall may cause you to miss out on some activities that are only possible in the summer, like swimming in lakes, other activities become available during this time of year, such as apple and pumpkin picking, harvest festivals, and Halloween-related events.

One of the benefits of camping as a vacation activity is that it requires relatively little investment of time and money, as campsites are cheap, equipment can be rented, and campgrounds can often be located within a few hours’ drive from home. A successful camping trip can be planned for a weekend, meaning you don’t have to take time off work to enjoy the experience. One thing to watch out for, though, is ensuring that the campground you plan on staying at will be open for the time you wish to stay, as most campgrounds close for the year around mid-October, with some smaller locations closing even earlier than that. Nevertheless, camping in the fall can make for an unforgettable and restorative experience, perfect for preparing oneself for the cold and long fall and winter nights to come.

Outdoor Property

How to Make Your Outdoor Property More Appealing

Those of us who are lucky enough to have an outdoor space to call our own, whether it be a deck, patio, or backyard, ought to take into careful consideration how best to maximize the enjoyability of the space. After all, nobody wants to be greeted with an eyesore right after leaving the house or apartment or know that they’re wasting a space that has potential for bringing relaxation, comfort, and social opportunities. But the task of transforming an out of doors space into one you can be proud of can seem overwhelming or difficult. As such, this article should serve as a reference for guiding you in your pursuit to take advantage of your property in fun and exciting ways.

As with any home renovation project, the first steps involve planning. This means taking a good look at the space in question and visualizing the impact of various changes. Also think about how you intend to use your piece of real estate. Good designs are ones that are functional and invite people to participate in specific activities. Ask yourself: is this an outdoor balcony where I’d like to host dinner parties? If you have a large backyard, should the space be meant to accommodate a small number of guests or many? Or would you prefer an area where you can spend some quality time alone, reading a book or soaking in the sun? Having an idea of one or multiple activities for your space will inform all aspects of the design process.

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Also, before you start modifying the environment, make sure you have a theme in mind that matches your sense of style, and consider how the theme you’ve chosen relates to the design of your interior spaces. It can be jarring to move from an indoor space that embodies one sense of style to an outdoor space with a radically different one. If your interior design takes cues from Japanese traditions, for instance, you can install a bamboo fence outdoors with foliage to match, or if you want your space to be reminiscent of the English countryside, opt for moss-covered rocks and weathered wood seating. You’ll want to strike the right balance between making sure that your interior and exterior designs are different enough to ensure that being in these spaces feels different from each other, while not being so different that the transition between places feels random and thoughtlessly constructed.

When you’re creating designs for an outdoor space, you often have less flexibility than you would in an indoor space, as you have to contend with naturally-occurring terrain and views of surrounding properties. However, you can use this variable to your advantage by centering your designs around the most attractive elements of your property so as to highlight them. If a particular corner of the space has a great view, for example, it would be wise to install seating arrangements appropriately. If not, an area of lower elevation could make for a natural spot to gather. Installing outdoor rugs can add to the charm and character of a space with a concrete floor. 

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While plants and flowers can make for wonderful additions and accents to a space, they should be considered after the more practical elements of your design are finalized. If you start with choosing places to plant foliage, you may find that while the result is visually appealing at a glance, you may have sacrificed a space that could have been better used as somewhere to put chairs, a firepit, a grill, or another attraction. And before investing in plants, take into consideration how they will look from inside the house or apartment as well as outside. The same goes for other furnishings as well. Be sure to place seats somewhere that gets plenty of shade, and before installing or repositioning a grill or firepit, check with your city’s rules to ensure you are in compliance with requirements, including the distance of the feature from buildings and the size of the feature. 

In addition to considering how different choices of materials influence the visual design of a space, don’t forget to also incorporate the cost of installing and maintaining these materials into your plan. As they are exposed to the elements, outdoor furnishings often require a level of care and maintenance that go beyond your first impressions, so think about how much time and money you’re willing to spend on upkeep. Make sure to do your research when it comes to different material choices. Wood furniture, for instance, lasts years but needs to be treated every season to maintain its appearance, and weather-treated fabric cushions need to be cleaned and stored at the end of the season. If you live in an area that’s prone to extreme weather events like hurricanes or tornadoes, make sure you have a plan in mind for securing your furniture to protect your safety and property as well as those of your neighbors.

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If you’re ambitious enough to put in the required amount of work, creating a garden in your outdoor space can not only make for a visually appealing environment but provide you with recreation and even ingredients for your meals. Due to the amount of effort involved in maintaining a garden, you should start small and give yourself space to gradually expand the garden over time. Other outdoor features to consider include heat lamps for enjoying the space into the fall, a hammock installed either between two trees or on a porch, or a walking path to connect different elements of your outdoor area.

This article references “How to Improve Your Outdoor Space,” published by the New York Times. For more detailed advice, follow the link.