Thoughts on [In]stability, Extrema; Sports; Precipitation Prospects

I’m just going to clump everything in one post, my first in over a month.

Consider a harmonic oscillator, for instance a mass-spring system. If you took a snapshot of it at any random time, you’d most likely find the mass furthest away from its equilibrium point. Why? The oscillator has the most kinetic energy at its equilibrium point – meaning it will also move the fastest at that point. As a result, it doesn’t spend much time there, but rather, it will spend a great deal of time at its turning points when all its energy is in the potential form.

OK, so for the oscillator its easy. We can see why the mass likes its extrema. But for other phenomena it’s a little harder to explain. We start by reflecting on one of the greatest nights in baseball history last Wednesday. Down by one, and with only one strike left, the Baltimore Orioles – last place in the AL East – manages to score twice off Boston Red Sox closer Jon Papelbon to snatch a victory out of the jaws of defeat. And then four minutes later, Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays, also down to one strike in the bottom of the 12th, snatches a victory for his own team as he hits a walk off home run against the first-place Yankees. Just four innings before, the Rays had been looking down the barrel of a 7-point deficit; now they were looking at a trip to the ALDS. And so it was that in one night, the Red Sox, who were ahead by 9 1/2 games in the AL Wild Card race on September 1st, watched as their 2011 postseason hopes went up in flames. [And this comes a week after Tom Brady throws 4 picks in a game where the New England Patriots give up a 21-0 lead in the first half. Brutal.]

You see, Boston sports, like the harmonic oscillator, is amazingly bipolar. 10 years ago they were blessed when Tom Brady comes out of nowhere and leads the Patriots to a postseason birth. Then the Tuck Rule happened, and they miraculously win the divisional game against the Oakland Raiders with two consecutive field goals in a raging snowstorm. Afterwards they go on the win the Super Bowl against the heavily-favored Rams on a last-minute… you guessed it… field goal. And that would begin a dynasty, as the Patriots would win two Super Bowls in the next three years. And again one of them was won on a last-minute field goal.

Meanwhile, in baseball, the 2004 ALCS was marked by a massive Red Sox comeback as the Yankees, up 3-0 in a 7-game series, blew a 9th inning lead in Game 4. The Red Sox walked off that game, and the next. Then in Game 6, a game-tying run by the Yankees was nullified due to interference, which allowed the Red Sox to hold onto the lead and win, and the Red Sox won Game 7 handily. This was the first time any team had come back from a 3-0 series lead in the postseason, and Boston subsequently swept the Cardinals in the World Series.

Crazy-assed luck, if you tell me. So you can guess my reaction to the 2007 18-0 Patriots season after the Red Sox swept the World Series earlier that year. PLUS the Patriots defeated my Chargers 21-12 in the Championship game. I was all out for a big F-U to the Patriots in the Super Bowl, and my wish came true as the Giants pulled a major upset victory with a miracle catch and a last minute touchdown. Incredible.

Well, since then, the Patriots have not won a single postseason game and the Red Sox have been trippin. In 2007 I vowed never to root for a Boston team again. I might be getting to that turning point where I will put in exceptions… such as when the Patriots are up against loser teams like the Jets. But yeah, bipolar extrema galore! Don’t know why, but Boston pulls out the greatest championships and the greatest chokes.


The other extreme I wanted to discuss relates to rain. Empirically, I’ve observed that major heat waves often precede rain chances. I’ve somewhat come to expect that if there’s a heat wave, some type of rain will follow in 1-2 weeks. In places like India and Arizona where there is a distinctive monsoon season, this is not just an empirical observation but a well-known: the summer “heat dome” must be present for the year’s first monsoonal moisture surge to commence. (This is why Phoenix always gets to 110 degrees in June.)

In San Diego, such a warm period would be followed by either an anomalous monsoon surge from the east (if it was in Jul/Aug), or a thunderous upper-level low (if it was in Sept/Oct — and I mean thunderous quite literally). For the monsoon surge, this would entail sprinkles from decaying storms coming off the mountains, fun nonetheless as decaying anvils made for wondrous sunsets at dusk. As for the cutoff upper-level lows, they brought some pretty fun shower and thunderstorm activity. Climatologically they are most common in SoCal from September-early November, which correlates well to peak season for Santa Ana Winds. One such low brought relief to firefighters about 1.5 weeks after the devastating wildfires in 2003 killed 16 overnight, which will serve well as a prime example of the phenomenon I’m referring to here.

Well, now, we just had a major heat wave in the Bay Area, and guess what’s looming on the horizon?

This might be one of the bigger October rainstorms since that epic one in my freshman year at Berkeley. At the very least, looks like heat waves will be good predictors of the start of the rainy season.


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