Heat, Humidity, Storms and Flooding…An Aerial View Above Waite Park.

Another summer in Central Minnesota to remember. This flight on July 21st reveals the Sauk River (in Waite Park) at flood stage. Even after a string of rescues, and  a sunken rescue boat recovery in the news last week, I encountered 3 teens swimming dangerously in these waters…again, without life jackets. They finally exited the water just before the rapids became dangerously strong. This view reveals the river beside Parkwood 18 with the quarries in the background.
Here’s a video from the archives above the same location: flooding on the Sauk from just last spring…

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Sauk River 8

A recent file photo (7.8.11) of the Sauk River near to where the rescue call was made.

On Tuesday afternoon, as the Sauk River approached flood stage in St.Cloud, a report that a woman was spotted clinging to a tree in the swift flowing waters of the Sauk sent rescue teams into action. Upon her retrieval, it was learned that up to 7 more members of a group who had gone tubing that day were unaccounted for. The rescue effort immediately intensified.

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The news service provided this video report for www.WJON.com

Exclusive extra – THE RISK TO RESCUERS: On a sidebar to the rescue of 8 teeneagers from the flooded Sauk River, 2 kayakers also risked their lives to assist them (A civilian and an off-duty firefighter). The kayakers eventually drifted downstream into the rescue staging area where the Sauk enters the Mississippi. Having slipped past a rope dropped down to catch them, the Zodiac watercraft eventually retrieved them as they were pulled into the swollen Mississippi.

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Final Space Shuttle Launch, Continuing Legacy

          Some near to me know that for over a year, I have badly wanted to attend the final space shuttle launch. I couldn’t be there in person today…but experienced it by CNN and NASA Tv in HD over the internet. It was a great experience…and Atlantis passed overhead near to Mn during it’s initial orbit.

          I’m very thankful to have been present as a television viewer. I thought the launch would be scrubbed due to weather but the Shuttle beat the odds this morning…even after a countdown hold at 31 seconds likely confused many spectators. What happened was that computers wrongly sensed that the fueling gantry hadn’t fully retracted seconds before launch. It was only a matter of verifying that it had actually retracted by taking a look through launch pad video cameras before continuing with the countdown.

          A few minutes later, the countdown re-commenced…and everything was go. The main engine’s fired, and then the solid rocket boosters…there was no turning back at this moment. Atlantis lifted away, and cleared the tower.

The N.A.S.A. Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) The largest building in the world by volume. Rockets from the Saturn V to the Space Shuttle have been assembled in this structure prior to transportation to the launch pad.

          I have been transfixed with the space program from an early age. I experienced the first Shuttle launch with NBC commentator Tom Brokaw in 6th grade from elementary school. Visited Kennedy Space Center several times on family road trips…seeing Challenger ready on the launch pad for one of it’s flights…and knowing the indelible feeling of one of those dreaded historical moments…I was walking down the hallway of Tech Highschool after lunch when I first heard a mention that the space shuttle had exploded. I couldn’t believe it…and didn’t until I saw it with my own eyes on cable TV in the library some hours later. I’ll never forget that day.

          The loss of the Columbia and her crew is immeasurable as well. With the help of an early smart phone, I knew of them passing directly overhead one evening not long before their fateful re-entry, but could not see them through a cloudy sky.

          Today is a time to reflect on how our successes in leaving our Earth, almost like achieving flight for the first time, is an endeavor that has inspired our age, and has propelled us forward where reality touches our dreams.

           I was very fortunate to have viewed a shuttle launch. At Cape Canaveral in 1998, my brother Jeremy and I (who a few short years later found himself sharing lunch with none other than Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13, at the South Pole…) ventured down to witness the launch of  John Glenn’s return to orbit aboard the shuttle.

          For those who are a part of our younger generation, John Glenn has a very important place in history. He isn’t the first American astronaut in space, but he is the first American in space to orbit the planet…believe me, there is a big difference. It is the difference between launching straight up into the air (suborbital), and falling back down…compared to achieveing a startling speed in a rocket (about 5 miles per second!), that allows an astronaut to be propelled completely around the world…with no chance of falling back down to Earth unless that speed is reduced and re-entry can occur.

          Well, John Glenn hadn’t returned to space since his only spaceflight in 1962…and I definitely sensed an appreciation to experience this historic launch. My first,last, only…ever space shuttle launch experience.

          The good news is, for the only shuttle launch I attended in person, I did bring my Super 8mm film camera. Yes, filmed in B&W, but that was my tone in that day. Film was on the verge of ending. The chemistry and mechanical reality of cellulose as cinema was begining to fade, and, if you know my story…I pretty much had to represent.

          Beyond that, I’ll share some of the science and my observations.

          Shortley, you’ll see the film I photographed that day. Note: The 747 jet you see in the video is AIR FORCE ONE with President Bill Clinton arriving to view the launch.

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          I rehearsed the movements of the camera a dozen times prior to the launch….I wasn’t gonna mess this up! The opening shot is in slow motion. After the initial lift-off, I switch to normal speed. An initial suprise – the solid rocket boosters are incredibly bright…not easy to look at. It’s not something you can notice on TV. You need to be there and witness it with your own eyes.

          Then the sound…where is it? It depends on how close you are to the launch pad. Anderson Cooper attended the final launch from the press area which is quite close to the pad…about 5 miles away. I like how he shared the same reaction…wow, those boosters are bright! He felt the powerful rumble of liftoff. At the John Glenn launch in 1998, I was more than 8 miles away…and the rumble was only a very delayed noise where I was. Truly, my impression on that day was…where is the sound? After a great delay, it was a very quiet thunder.

          What is amazing, however, was speed and distance. In the film clip…notice when the camera is stationary…and then realize the relative speed the shuttle is moving through the frame. Then, consider that this is a view from below.  The shuttle is accellerating spaceward with incredible momentum. The scale of speed is truly amazing to recognize.

          My final observation as I could still see the Space Shuttle during John Glenn’s second historic launch – the shuttle was at an incredible speed and distance from Cape Canaveral…70 miles downrange, moving more than 3000 mph…but I could see it with my own eyes, glowing like a star. It was incredible…nothing less that I expected, but more than I ever dreamed a moment like this might be. It’s hard to see, but in the last seconds of the film, the Solid Rocket Boosters have seperated and are tumbling away.

          The Shuttle program has been a star to our country all of these years…it has represented what we’ve been, have become, and what we’ve dreamed, and accomplished…the inspiration it brought our generation is that will be missed as we realize we have to let it go.

Join the mission live by clicking this link >>>http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/ustream.html 

NOTE: Take the opportunity to view this shuttle in orbit with your own eyes. You can look up into the night sky and see it pass by. In orbit it is only a few hundred miles overhead and will appear as a quickly moving star. Use this link to find it! Experience history right where you are.


Storm Slams The Neighborhood, Trees Down.

          I have to admit, I didn’t like the feeling of driving up my street this morning to do this flight. Thankfully, no homes were badly damaged, but the number of trees down and volume of visible debris was unsettling. As this damage began to occur, I was in front of my largest window that became white with the blinding wind, rain, and hail…unsafe…I raced downstairs to warn my house residents that we needed to get to the basement…but as it turns out I was home alone.

As this event began to unfurl, I was studying the radar, trying to pull up satellite images, and wondering what this storm would bring. When a report over emergency radio came that an experienced storm spotter had seen a funnel cloud in the area of 94W and 23. I didn’t doubt it for a moment. It was go time. Scanning the sky to the South, the clouds looked dark and ominous, but typical of a large thunderstorm. When I stepped outside clutching my hand-held scanner in the light wind-driven rain, the air told a different story. There was certainly unconcentrated cloud rotation at low level just to the NW, almost overhead…definitely a cause for concern. I went back inside to get the rest of my gear.

Moments later, the downburst hit. The intense rain poured through my open windows as I worked to close them…and then hail appeared, it was pea or nickel-sized. That was the cue I was trying to discover by satellite. We were under a super-cell high enough to freeze rain on a day when the heat index was unbearably hot. That was even more cause for concern.

I now became worried for my other house occupants who I feared were asleep on the second floor. Reaching that level, I heard an alarming sound. The balcony door facing the storm was holding back a strong wind…and when it does this it lets an erie vibration roar as some air slips through. It was screaming with a loud intensity that I’ve never heard to be this powerful before. During these moments trees were toppling in our neighborhood.

          Scrambling my gear to cover this storm, I headed out into the wind and rain, but only a block away from my house I hit a deep puddle that caused my car to stall. I spent the next 20 minutes there scanning the sky, and listening to reports on radio that we were in a tornado warning, and that there were trees down on 9th Ave and 6th Ave N…restricting access to the hospital.

          When my car started again, I moved into the damaged area, and was taken aback at what I discovered. Along with magnificent trees that withstood the years of history in our town, and were now toppled into the street, I found  vehicles that had been crushed…emergency services that had gone into action…and a good samaritan with a chain saw went directly to work to free our busy 9th Ave from a tree that was obstructing traffic.

          When I returned home, I found there was neither electricity nor internet. Hours later…I feel we were very lucky to be spared from the ultimate dangers a storm like this can bring.

          In the above photo, there are two trees down. One is easy to see, the other not as much. (Frame left and frame right)  Hester Park has several trees down and is perhaps the epicenter of damage. Only 24 hours before, I was there doing a helicopter training flight. Change can come so fast. This image was captured in a dawn flight approximately 12 hours after the event.

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Sidebar…third weather story in a row I was completely drenched in rain…I had to laugh a little as a metro bus rolled past and sprayed me with water in one of the closing shots…would have loved it more if the camera was fully enclosed, and I could have filmed the “splash”…

for additional coverage: visit www.WJON.com