Category Archives: December

Ice storm of December 21-22, 2013 and the Sperry-Piltz Ice Accumulation Index

On the Sperry-Piltz Ice Accumulation Index:

The Sperry–Piltz Ice Accumulation Index, or SPIA Index, is a forward-looking, ice accumulation and ice damage prediction index that uses an algorithm of researched parameters that, when combined with National Weather Service forecast data, predicts the projected footprint, total ice accumulation, and resulting potential damage from approaching ice storms. It is a tool to be used for risk management and/or winter weather preparedness.

The index is named after its co-developers, Sidney Sperry of the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives and Steven Piltz, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service in Tulsa.


The map shows intensity of the ice storm on a scale from 0 (little impact) to 5 (catastrophic damage). The index incorporates measures of rainfall (as ice), wind, and temperatures to come up with an aggregate measure. Washtenaw County’s forecast is a 0, but to the north (Livingston) and west (Jackson) counties there are chances for more severe icing. The forecast gives the worst hit to upstate New York along Lake Ontario; alas this map does not show Canadian forecasts, but news accounts predict severe weather in Toronto as well.

A report from Brampton, Ontario:

Ice in Burlington, Vermont:

Power outage map (Sunday a.m.) from DTE Energy:


Power outage map (Sunday a.m.) from Consumers Energy:


Ice estimate from National Weather Service Detroit:



5 most popular maps of 2011 for this blog

Here’s the 5 most popular mapping pages on Vacuum over the past 12 months – these are all in the top 10 most popular pages on this blog overall in that time span.

1. Power outage maps for 50 states. I only really have about 44 states with maps, but the collection is otherwise excellent, and it gets lots of search traffic when there are big storms. Peak storm action of Hurricane Irene and of the Halloween snowstorm that hit the Northeast both saw 3000+ visits per day of people looking for outage maps for their area.

2. Australia flood maps for January, 2011. Brisbane got socked with floods in January, and the maps capture the weather at the time plus links of the day and some astounding flood footage.

3. Vermont flood maps for Hurricane Irene. When Irene hit Vermont, roads were washed out, travel was disrupted, and towns were cut off from the world. A number of organizations put together rapid response flooding maps, and some of these are saved here.

4. Tsunami maps and maps of Fukushima after the nuclear disaster in Japan. It was easy to be glued to the net for news in March about the Honshu earthquake and its impact on Japan; this post was put together the day of the quake as news slowly emerged about tsunami risks.

5. Central Texas fire maps. Put together for friends and family near Austin, Texas, this collection of maps includes the Weather Underground fire layer map, one of the best near real time fire watching tools out there, as seen for the Bastrop County, Texas fires in September.

What do I conclude about this?

If all I wanted to do was maximize the number of page views that I got, I would be consistently pulling together maps about every modern day meteorological disaster. Fire, flood, power outage, tsunami, hurricane, snowstorm, have at it – every single one of them has a map to go with the story, and every time there’s a story someone looks for the map to go with it.

Most news reporting doesn’t pull in anywhere near the richness and detail that a good set of map searches will do, and most map sites that display real time data don’t save every possible newsworthy map event. Combine these two, and you can be certain that the maps you collect will tell a story that’s otherwise hard to illustrate.

Potato pancakes (Latkes) recipe

This is the family latke recipe, perfected over time. Ten pounds of potatoes serves one neighborhood.

Warning: the following recipe may be bad for your health and completely
destructive of your kitchen!

From a newspaper clipping in my recipe book, much amended by me over the

Time: 20 minutes (More like two hours, unless you have multiple griddles)

2 large eggs
3 cups grated drained, all-purpose potatoes (see below)
1/4 cup grated onion (see below)
1 teaspoon salt, more to taste (less)
2 to 4 tablespoons matzo meal, or as needed (I used whole wheat flour;
you could also use breadcrumbs)
Canola oil, for frying
Applesauce and sour cream for serving, optional (mandatory!)

0. Peel the potatoes. If you are peeling a lot of potatoes, put the peeled ones in a bowl of water before you process them so that they don't get brown while you're waiting for step 1.

1. Put the potatoes through the food processor, using the shredding blade. Take them out, change to the regular grinding blade, and put them through again, adding the onion in big chunks (no need to grate!), eggs, salt and flour. Adjust the flour to make a thick, wet batter that is neither
watery nor dry.

2. Place a large skillet (we have better luck using an ancient, well-seasoned griddle) over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons oil (more!). When oil is hot drop in heaping 1/8 cups (more!) of batter, flattening them gently to make thick pancakes. When bottoms have browned, after 2 or 3 minutes (more!), flip and brown on other side. Add oil as needed. Drain on paper towels. If necessary (!), work in batches, keeping cooked pancakes warm. Servef hot with applesauce and sour cream.

Yield: 4 servings

Quarter and core many apples; do not peel. Cover bottom of pot with water, put in the apples, half (or a whole) orange (pref. organic, with seeds removed), one (or two) cinnamon sticks. Cook over gentle heat for at least 20 minutes, up to several hours, until apples break down. Cool. Remove cinnamon stick, scrape flesh from orange and return to pot; discard peel. Put apple mixture through food processor; grind well, so that no large pieces of peel remain.

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