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Observations for 03 November 2013

It was probably a mistake to go out for one last Grand eruption, but it was still fun in its way.

The precipitation started shortly after we came in from the previous eruption. By the time to leave for the next eruption, there were several inches of snow on the ground. The snow kept coming down the whole time we were out in the basin. Grand took its time before erupting, so most of our tracks were gone for the walk back. Settled in and bundled up, though, it was quite warm despite the the buildup of snow on blankets and coats and hats.

So I got the full wintertime experience, in the dark. It was actually pretty light out, with the glow from the few lights from a few buildings around Old Faithful brightening up the area. How much became apparent when the power went off and the area became truly dark. Even then, there was enough light to make out shapes. The lights came back on, and again it was brighter.

The Grand eruption was another variation. It surprised us because the Turban interval preceding it was only 15m30s. The wind was strong enough that the steam was blown north up and onto the slope behind Grand, making the bursts visible in Suzanne's powerful light. At the same time, the wind knocked down a lot of the bursting so that it did look like a large Sawmill.

The first burst was so short that we knew we had to get a second burst. And the surges from the burst overcame any wind knockdown and was impressively high in the snow. But unlike last night, the burst also kept on going, so that the total eruption lasted almost twelve minutes.

After that, it was go in, dry out, get a bit more sleep, then hope the snow would stop so I could pack and get out.

Which it didn't, and it was from 10 to 12 inches deep, but I left anyhow. The road to Madison had seen a single plow whose blade had reduced the height of the snow by about 6 inches, along with leaving a pair of tracks. By following those tracks, I was able to make fairly good time. The road from there to the west entrance was in a bit better shape, and in all it took only an hour to get out of the park. Which is usually how long it takes to get out during the summer, when what makes for slow going is other driver's stupidity. I think I prefer snow.

So it was a crazy, stupid weekend, but it was lots of fun, and I look forward to similar opportunities in the future.

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Observations for 02 November 2013

Since I went out for one nighttime Grand, might as well go out for another. It was still partly overcast, with an occasional breeze, and much like a typical summer nighttime wait. This time ended up waiting a few Turban intervals for another one burst eruption, but this time it was initiated by Grand.

The day started out overcast and breezy, and slowly changed to sunny and breezy.

Of course, the next interval had to make up for the previous short intervals. First, at the six hour mark there was a Turban interval of around 35 minutes. During that time, West Triplet started, and a half hour later Rift joined in. That West Triplet eruption lasted for an hour, as did Rift, Then Grand took its time. After several long intervals and unimpressive fills and Turban eruptions, we finally got a short Turban interval of about 3m30s. With that, I expected Grand in another couple of Turban intervals.

As it turned out, it was four Turban intervals, and each Turban eruption was just as short. This is something I've not seen much. Each fill of Grand's pool started early, around 11 minutes, and by 14 it would look really good. Then drop. Finally the pool held, and through the steamy breeze we could see the waves on the pool.

The eruption, at least, compensated for the wait. We not only got two bursts, but the wind died down as the second burst started, so we did get to see the full height. This was unlike the Beehive eruption that took place about an hour earlier, where the wind picked up and carried the truncated water column north toward Lion.

I also wasted some time down at Fan & Mortar after Grand.

The long Grand interval wasn't totally disappointing, as it did have the side effect of pushing the Fountain and Grand windows apart. So I went out to Fountain on the off chance that Morning could erupt. As it turned out, we got Fountain, and a short eruption lasting 34 minutes. While there, the weather started to deteriorate. The Fountain Group always seems windy, but this was more than usual. But the sky was still pretty clear, and the sunset was a bit colorful.

An hour or so later, when it was finally time for Grand, the weather had gotten worse. It was still windy, and there were occasional chunks of frozen precipitation. But at the same time, the half the sky could be clear, with even the Milky Way visible. It was also warm enough that the boardwalk downwind of Sawmill was not icy on the walk back. The night was the opposite of the previous night in just about every way.

The Grand eruption itself was a disappointment,too. The first burst only lasted 7m20. That short meant we should get a second burst, and we did. And that's all we got, even though the total eruption duration was 9m35s. Can't tell at night, but it sure seemed that Grand didn't even try for a third. In years past, having a first burst that should would bring out the hope of four or more bursts. Now it just means that you should get a second.

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Observations for 01 November 2013

The last time I was in the Park late in the season was 1995. That year I spent a week here around 20 October or so. It was also a year that the road between Madison and Fountain Paint Pots was getting a major reconstruction, so I had to go around via Lake and Craig Pass. The last time I've been here in November was in 1983, which was a week after the Borah Peak Earthquake. Was here hoping to see earthquake effects in the thermal features, but it seems either we missed them, or that all occurred later during the winter.

As I approached Pocatello shortly after sunrise, I could see the fog bank to the north. From there until north of Rexburg it wasn't so much fog as a very low cloud cover. Visibility along the highway was fine, but I couldn't see the tops of tall cell phone and antenna towers. North of Rexburg, as the altitude increased, the fog thickened too, just enough so that by St.Anthony, all I could see was just the roadway.

That was when I first noticed the snow. By the time I reached the bottom of the Ashton Grade, all the trees were white. By the top of the grade, it was winter. A low gray sky with occasional fog all the way to Targhee Pass.But the road was dry and I never had to slow down except for the seven 45mph zones through Island Park. Then I crossed the Divide at the pass, and suddenly it was puffy clouds in blue sky. I've noticed that having the weather suddenly change when crossing the Divide there happens a lot.

The road from West Yellowstone to Madison was mostly dry pavement, except in those sections where it was shaded by unburnt trees. The road south from Madison, though, was mostly white, especially in the northbound lane. Fortunately I was in the southbound, where it was wet, sloppy pavement except where shaded. But I still decided that I should get some use out of my 4-wheel drive, and slowed down quite a bit for a number of what could have been icy curves.

The afternoon in the Upper Basin started out mostly overcast and a bit windy. But as the day progressed, it got sunnier, and the wind did seem to not be as much of a factor. By the end of the day my face felt warm from the windburn.

Being in the Basin and in the developed Old Faithful area this time of year is a bit strange. Especially this year. Because the NPS shutdown for the first half of October, all the concessions and accommodations were closed. With the recent storm, and no services, this meant almost no one was in the Park. I would have to guess that I knew over half the people I saw out in the basin, and most of them were either West Yellowstone residents, or people like me who were here for the closing weekend. It was a lot like being out at night, except you could see and it was a lot windier than it usually is at night.

Grand cooperated, and I arrived at the start of the predicted window. It waited long enough for a crowd of almost a dozen geyser gazers to be there for the one-burst eruption. Shortly before Grand, Castle and Oblong had eruptions, too.

Afterward, waited around for an eruption of Penta, as the Sawmill Group looked promising, but nothing came of that cycle. Farther down basin spent some time at Giant and at Fan & Mortar, then finally caught an eruption of Riverside.

With a Fountain time from the morning, a few of us went out there to catch the next eruption, and to hope that we'd get lucky and see Morning instead. (A multiple eruption with Fountain would have been a steamy mess.) Fountain started erupting just as we got to the steps, almost perfect timing. The eruption itself was less than 35 minutes long, so it seemed like there would be no reason to go out for the next one.

When I decided to visit this weekend, I decided that I would forego nighttime Grand eruptions unless the conditions were good. Tonight was good enough, with overcast helping to keep the temperatures from going too low. Also, Suzanne wanted to try out her new spotlight, and with the new moon conditions and no one around to see us playing the light around, I was out there.

As it turned out, the spotlight is amazing,and something I hope doesn't catch on. Fortunately, for now, at least, it costs several hundred dollars, so definitely not an impulse purchase. But Suzanne was able to illuminate a Daisy eruption from Grand. But even then, so much of the foreground is illuminated that you can be blinded by things nearby (like railings and benches.) What this light is good for is illuminating unusual activity, like they did with one for Morning. Or in the future, activity, Giant. It would also be useful to see exactly what is going on with Fan & Mortar or a Giant hot period, if used judiciously.

As for the Grand eruption, we only ended up waiting for a Turban interval. Grand had a definite false pause at the 8m20s mark, and then the eruption only lasted for 9-1/2 minutes. I'd really like to understand why some one burst eruptions are so short, and others last for almost half again as long.