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Hi Everyone,

There is a good chance that our resident groundhog Birmingham Bill will see his shadow this Groundhog Day. If true, and if the folklore were true, then we would have a late spring.

Whether late or timely, are you ready for the storms of spring and for the callouts that will come?

This is a good time to review your personal emergency preparedness plans and to brush up on your skills. Don’t wait until the sirens sound. For by then it may be too late.

In preparing, you should ask yourselves these questions:

Is my family shelter (and everyone should have one) ready?
Is my emergency equipment & radios working?
Are my emergency supplies still adequate?
Are the batteries still good and the rechargeable batteries charged?
Are my communications channels still functional? Including RF, Internet & telephone resources.
Can I reliably receive weather watches and warnings, in multiple ways?

Are you prepared both at home and at work?

Remember, keeping yourself and your family alive and intact during and after the storms is your number one priority.

Stay safe.

This month’s normal meeting date falls on Valentine’s Day, and as such we will be moving the date back one week to February 21 at 7PM, to help the aim of Cupid and his arrows.

I hope to see you there!

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Tales Of Bread & Milk

As I was beginning this article, a message popped up on Facebook from a friend named “Ivy” saying “I realize that the entire population of Oklahoma needs bread and milk tonight…..Please watch, when you come out of Walmart pushing your cart and racing to your car like Mario Andretti, for other cars in the lot. It’s only by the grace of God that you weren’t hit.”

Now, before I get into the gist of this article, I will go ahead and apologize. If I am “tinkering” with sensitive sacred subjects, I don’t mean to step on toes. And, though I actually do know it all, I really don’t intend to sound like one, as I probably will.

Good old Bread and Milk, you know the drill. Let the slightest whisper of the word “snow” be mentioned and the bakeries have to shift into high gear, the wheat fields have to accelerate their growth and Elsie and her sisters have to put in overtime to meet the sudden demand as crowds of humanity descend upon the stores and the milk and bread shelves rapidly empty out.

Why does this occur? Or as CNN put it “Is there something about snowstorms that makes us want to eat French toast and sit on the toilet?”

In researching this article I did an online survey on a nationwide emergency preparedness group and sought ought comments from the regular public as well. I found the results interesting.

First of all, in spite what you constantly hear from Northern and Western “transplants”, this phenomenon is not “a southern thing” at all. I already knew this; for I saw the shelves clear out in Oklahoma City, when I was snowed in by an actual blizzard in 2010. Also, I knew they did this in Boston, based on photographs and news reports during a nor’easter last year.

Oklahoma City and Boston are not alone. “People always clear the shelves of milk, eggs and bread,” said Paul Shipman, of the American Red Cross’s Connecticut chapter in Hartford. Who added “Well, the milk doesn’t do well without refrigeration, eggs are useless if you can’t cook them and the bread is not going to provide much nutrition on its own. You need non-perishable food, water and other necessities to be safe.”

“David” in New York said “They do the same thing here in NY! It’s crazy that whenever there’s a threat of snow in excess of a couple of inches, people panic and run out to the stores and empty the shelves of milk, bread, and water.”

He added “I truly believe that most people really like the controversy. I see these people’s faces and I see not panic, but a sense of excitement. I know it’s weird but I really do believe that some people like whatever rush of excitement involved with the whole process.”

“Tina” commented “My husband and I always chuckle about this….and it’s true. People in NJ have always done this…they buy milk, bread and eggs.”

Some of the most entertaining comments came from overseas. “In America when it snows people stock up on milk, bread and toilet paper. In Britain its whiskey and cat litter” on Brit said.

“Ted” from Birmingham England says “Tea. I’m British and I would stock up on Tea. I wouldn’t want to face an oncoming storm/war/zombie holocaust without plenty of cups of Tea.”

“Les” from Melbourne said “In Australia, it’s Tim-Tams (chocolate cookies), Foster’s Lager and Chiko Rolls (an Australian offshoot of Chinese spring rolls).”

“Brad” in Liverpool explained British weather, which is not that very different from our own. “In the UK, our snowfalls don’t last long enough to bother stocking up. We get a day or two of widespread travel disruption, because we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with snow properly (understandable since we get maybe one moderate snowfall every 10 years), then it all melts. After we’ve scraped a few car wrecks off the roads and taken all the pensioners who died of hypothermia to the morgue, life gets back to normal quite quickly.

The likelihood of getting snowed in for long enough that you would run out of your normal stocks of food is practically zero here in the UK.”

“Cedric” from London chimed in “I think there are two comedy bits about this… something about stocking up on the most perishable items for when the power goes out, and something about a lot of people making French toast during disasters.”

As to the cat litter, in addition to using it on driveways, “Eric” from Worchester mentioned “after the water lines freeze, it also works well to fill a 5 gallon bucket with it halfway as a makeshift urinal. Which is important, especially if you’re riding out the storm in the pub.”

“Paul” in Manchester said “Meh, most suburban supermarkets in the UK will have an army of pensioners in the daytime clearing out the stocks of bread and milk. Their Blitz spirit tends to kick in at the slightest flurry of snow, as ‘rationing will undoubtedly occur’ if the snow goes above ankle height.”

So, we are far from alone in this tradition. But, how did it start?

No one really knows when the bread and milk craze began. It is a modern phenomenon, as it takes a media rumor of the slightest possibility of a lonely snowflake to set the cascade in motion.

Some say that Pittsburgh is credited with starting the bread & milk frenzy during the onset of a blizzard on November 24, 1950. An article in a local newspaper referenced milk as “the one shortage that has hit all sections” and bread as being “doled out in some stores” because of a storm that ultimately brought almost 3 feet of snow.

Others give the credit to New Englanders. Per Accuweather: “It appears that New Englanders can take credit for the purchasing of milk and bread prior to the storm,” the site reported. “It was the monumental blizzard in 1978 that trapped many in homes for weeks that get at least some credit for the current tradition.”

But why does it occur at all?

Psychologist Judy Rosenberg of Los Angeles theorizes “Buying perishables is like saying, ‘the storm will be over soon and I won’t be stuck in this situation for long.’” Whereas buying nonperishable items is admitting that you are probably doomed.

Psychotherapist Lisa Batemen from New York believes “The thought to get milk before a storm is followed by the action or compulsion to go out and stockpile it. In one way or another, we spend a lot of time and energy trying to feel in control, and buying things you might throw out still gives the person a sense of control in an uncontrollable situation.”

Both theories may be true, or it may be giving people too much credit for being cerebral.

Among my initial theories were:

1. Lack of training or knowledge in emergency preparedness.

As to this theory, some folk look at me like I’m crazy and roll their eyes as I harp “you can go to Sam’s and get a butane stove for $22 and 12 fuel cylinders from Amazon for $25. That’s warm food for an investment around $50 that you can use time & time again, for camping, cookouts, power outages, etc.” Just add some cans of stew, chili or dumplings or really anything you may want to cook you can cook. You’re ready to rock and roll.”

Some do see it my way, as “Len” from Ohio said “I learned from my grandmother to just put on a big pot of soup, or something that normally takes three days to eat anyway, when they say somethings coming. If we lose power, I’ll just fire up the grill.”

I enjoy camping out; as a result I have several options for cooking. I can use the grill, the butane stove mentioned, which requires no ventilation, propane or Coleman stoves which would require a slightly opened window for ventilation.

“Yeah, but, who wants an open a window in a snowstorm?” “Dave” asked. “An Eskimo” I thought, since they always included a vent hole in the design of their igloos.

A “discussion” broke out with one lady, “Missy”, when some mentioned getting nutritious food, such as soup instead of the traditional B & M, and she said in a somewhat snarly exchange “but, what if I want French toast?”

“Do you usually eat French toast?” A guy named “Bill” asked.

“Uh, um, well no” she replied. When “Bill” asked when the last time was that she had had French toast period, she couldn’t answer except to say “but what if I did want some, hmmm?”

Reading this gave me my second reason, which is:

2. Fear of not having access to a resource, whether it is a resource normally used or not.

For example “Marie” stated “I normally throw out half a gallon of milk a week, and here I go buying two gallons of milk for a two day storm, just because ‘there may be none’, when I know good and well that the stores will be open and restocked in three days anyway. And, I don’t even like French toast.”

My other theories are:

3. People tend to act like sheep. When they see a few people doing something, they follow suit, whether it’s driving in the wrong direction, following some senseless fad, or in this case “They are pillaging Publix, so we better go pillaging too, while there’s something left to pillage” and so the feeding frenzy grows.

4. Habit or tradition. “Granny always got bread and milk, so I do it to”.

“It’s tradition. You need to make French toast when it snows! Don’t forget to buy eggs too!” said “Marion” in Washington DC.”

“Everyone has a “French toast party” whenever it snows. It really shouldn’t be that hard to figure out. DUH.” said “Shonda” – Bronx NY

Roughly half of those commenting were of the French Toast Army.

Other possible reasons revealed by my survey were as follow:

”Tom” said, “I was told by a friend she likes to bake on snow days and milk is important to baking/eating said baked goods”.

“Ralph” said “If the wife says ‘go get a truckload of bread’, Dear Lord go and get it, otherwise you will hear about it until the day you die.”

Several said that if they stuck bowl after bowl of cereal in front of their kids they would have blessed peace and quiet.

“Phil” said “I’ve seen children that have full on meltdowns if they don’t have milk, so for that reason I can see stocking up. If I had to spend days snowed in a house with a child screaming their head off cause they didn’t have milk, I think I’d rather the storm take me.”

“Kay” theorized “Maybe it’s just a matter of compressed time. Let’s say Monday is the last possible shopping day because it’s going to snow Tuesday. So everyone who normally would shop on Tuesday, Wednesday Thursday or Friday come in on Monday since they know they can’t go later in the week. So what looks like hoarding is actually the normal week’s grocery shopping, just bought during the Bread & Milk Riot.”

The other half of those responding was the French Toast Nonbelievers or Emergency Prepared.

“Tim” said “Never understood this myself, don’t these people have bread and milk in their homes already? Do they not have children? My kids would live off milk and P&B sandwiches if I let them.”

“Joe” commented “Seriously though, who only keeps a few days food in their house? I don’t ‘stock up’ on food and I could probably go a good month or two being well fed on what’s in my cabinets”.

“Doug” said “A lot of people really just do not plan on Monday past Thursday. My childhood taught me to think more about what ifs. We lived on a small farm, and had a good summer’s crop of mason jars filled in the root cellar, we were better off than a lot of people.

“Mark”, aka WD4NYL said “I remember Mom & Dad always had a well-stocked pantry. Homemade preserves, canned home grown tomatoes, frozen vegetables and such. I guess that has influenced my thinking. “Never let the pantry go bare” I remember Mom saying & I try to follow this.”

“Bart” added “People seem to have an unreasonable fear of starving, forgetting the times when they were so sick that even the thought of food made them want to hurl. If they, in a ‘sickly’ condition could go a few days without food and it didn’t kill them, why the thought that a couple of days without food, and them healthy, will kill them is beyond me. Now if kids or special needs persons are involved that would change the theory. I guess that’s where the ‘pre’ in ‘preparedness’ comes in.’”

Of course the rush is not limited to bread or milk. Toilet paper and booze rank high among targets.

Toilet paper I can understand. If there is even the slightest chance you will run out of the Morning Paper, you would be wise to grab some. If fact if your survival plan centers on eating milk and Captain Crunch for five days straight, it would behoove you to have gracious plenty. You wouldn’t want to get caught with your pants down.

As to booze, I may step on a few toes here. Last year after a round of winter weather the coworkers were discussing their adventures. One lady came to me asking for pain meds as she was still very hung over. “I spent the whole time drunk” she said. Then she suddenly got very defensive and huffy “well there was nothing else to do.” She snarled. As if I had said even a single word.

Once there was a discussion on an emergency preparedness group & the question arose “who packs liquor in their emergency supplies. Some said they did, most citing medicinal or “bartering” reasons, and a few for “recreational reasons, to take the edge off”. Many said they packed none.

My response was “Not to beat anyone over the head with a tambourine, but, if there was ever a time I would want to be ‘about my wits’ and sharp minded it would be during an emergency situation, where you may have to react and react very fast. For me to do something that will compromise that ability seems a foolish move.”

Many make a “booze snow haul” with the express purpose of getting completely wasted and passing out, which I have never understood. For it leaves you totally vulnerable, totally defenseless and absolutely helpless. Anything could happen to you. A fire breaks out, and you are dead. Anyone can do whatever their cold hearts wants to do to you and you are completely helpless. But, to each his own I guess.

As I close, I found that there is clear dividing line between the two camps. The subject of which
can trigger strong emotions, with one side feeling it is a ridiculous spectacle carried on by ill-informed, ill-prepared masses, who just help perpetuate stereotypes of ignorance, and the other side feeling that the naysayers are a dimwitted judgmental lot, making a big deal over nothing, and rather stupid for not understanding the “common sense of it all, that without power bread, milk , and sandwiches are the only things we can eat” “It’s not that it’s not that hard to figure out, it’s not rocket science, after all.”

So there you go, both sides drawing a line in the sand, waiting, waiting and waiting for enough snowflakes to arrive so they make a snowball to chunk at each other.

In the end the reasons for and against the Bread & Milk Rush are as varied as the population itself.

I remember the “Planters Theorem” – which states that “whether you are a walnut, a chestnut or a Brazil nut, it doesn’t matter. In the end were all just a bunch of mixed nuts anyway.”

Perhaps the most important question of all was that of “Ed” in Milwaukee – “Why is it that Walmart will have 25 checkout lines and only 5 open, with 500 people crowding trying to escape before the glaciers start moving in?” Why indeed.

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EMERGENCY FRENCH TOAST RECIPIE
“Just In Case”

Ingredients:

4 large eggs
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
dash salt
1 cup milk
8 to 10 slices white bread*
butter
maple syrup or other syrup

Preparation:

Break eggs into a wide, shallow bowl or pie plate; beat lightly with a fork or whisk. Stir in sugar, salt, and milk.

Over medium-low heat, heat griddle or skillet coated with a thin layer of butter or margarine.

Place the bread slices, one at a time, into the bowl or plate, letting slices soak up egg mixture for a few seconds, then carefully turn to coat the other side. Soak/coat only as many slices as you will be cooking at one time.

Transfer bread slices to a griddle or skillet. Heat slowly until bottom is golden brown. Turn and brown the other side. Serve French toast hot with butter and syrup.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Yield: Makes 4 Servings
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The French Toast Alert System
“The French Toast Alert System has been developed in consultation with local and federal emergency officials to help you determine when to panic and rush to the store to buy milk, eggs and bread.”
The following details the French Toast Alert System, totally fictitious of course, and biased for the Northeastern States, using Harvey Leonard, the chief meteorologist on WCVB-TV Channel 5 in Boston, Massachusetts as an example.
Low: No storm predicted. Harvey Leonard sighs and looks dour on the evening news. Go about your daily business but consider buying second refrigerator for basement, diesel generator. Good time to replenish stocks of maple syrup, cinnamon.
Guarded: Light snow predicted. Subtle grin appears on Harvey Leonard’s face. Check car fuel gauge, memorize quickest route to emergency supermarket should conditions change.
Elevated: Moderate, plowable snow predicted. Harvey Leonard openly smiles during report. Empty your trunk to make room for milk, eggs and bread. Clear space in refrigerator and head to store for an extra gallon of milk, a spare dozen eggs and a new loaf of bread.
High: Heavy snow predicted. Harvey Leonard breaks into huge grin, can’t keep his hands off the weather map. Proceed at speed limit before snow starts to nearest supermarket to pick up two gallons of milk, a couple dozen eggs and two loaves of bread – per person in household.
Severe: Nor’easter predicted. This is it, people, THE BIG ONE. Harvey Leonard makes repeated references to the Blizzard of ’78. RUSH to emergency supermarket NOW for multiple gallons of milk, cartons of eggs and loaves of bread. IGNORE cries of little old lady you’ve just trampled in mad rush to get last gallon of milk. Place pets in basement for use as emergency food supply if needed.
For your current local French Toast Alert Status go to http://frenchtoastalert.com/

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Mark’s Almanac

February, or Februarius, as the Romans called it is named after the Latin term februum, which means “purification”. Ancient Rome celebrated the Februa purification ritual on February 15, which was Full Moon on the old lunar based Latin calendar.

February was not originally included in the Roman calendar, which began in March, but was added, along with January by Numa Pompilius around 713 BC, and until 450 BC was considered the last month of the year.

February was originally 29 days long, but one day was taken and added to August, so the that Emperor Augustus’s month would be equal to Julius Caesar’s month of July. Now only Leap Year has 29 days, the next of which will occur in 2020.

In the Southern Hemisphere February is the equivalent of August. But, for us, February is a cold month with more snow falling in February than in any other month.

Statistically speaking, there is a 70% chance of snow flurries, and a 57% chance of snow up to one inch. There is a 13% chance of over one inch, and a 3% chance of 4 inches or more.

There is hope on the horizon though, as the worst of winter weather is usually over by February 15.

Ground Hog Day is on February 2 & believers will watch Punxsutawney Phil and Birmingham Bill, to see if they saw their shadows.

Looking towards the sky, Mercury, shining at magnitude -0.2, is sinking low in the glow of dawn. Look for him using binoculars 30 to 40 minutes before sunrise, just above the east-southeast horizon.

Brilliant Venus, magnitude -4.8 in Capricorn, is nearing her peak brightness, and looks like a UFO high in the southwest during and long after twilight.

In a telescope Venus is slightly less than half sunlit and is growing larger as she approaches us. For the rest of the winter, Venus will continue to enlarge as its phase wanes down to a thin crescent.

Mars, magnitude +1.1 in Aquarius, glows in the south-southwest at dusk, is the faint reddish “star” upper left of Venus.

Jupiter, magnitude -2.2 in Virgo, rises around 11 PM is in the south in the hours before dawn.

Saturn, magnitude +0.5 in southern Ophiucus, is in the southeast in the hours before and during dawn.

Uranus, shining at a borderline naked eye brightness of +5.8 in Pisces, is high in the southwest right after dark.

Neptune, shining at magnitude +8.0 in Aquarius, sets shortly after the end of twilight.

3442 planets beyond our solar system have now been confirmed as of January 26, per NASA’s Exoplanet Archive http://exoplanetarchive.ipac.caltech.edu/

Full Moon will occur Friday, February 10, 6:33 PM CST or February 11 at 00:33 UTC
Penumbral Lunar Eclipse will be in progress as the moon rises at 5:23PM. A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the Earth’s partial shadow, or penumbra. During this type of eclipse the Moon will darken slightly but not completely. The maximum eclipse will occur at 6:43 PM and the eclipse ends at 8:53 PM.

The eclipse will be visible throughout most of North America, South America, Canada, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

February’s Full Moon is “Full Snow Moon” in Native American folklore, since the heaviest snows usually fell at this time of year. Since the harsh weather made hunting difficult, some tribes called it “Full Hunger Moon”.

New Moon will occur at 8:59 AM on Sunday, February 26, as the Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky.

An Annular Solar Eclipse will occur February 26 at 8:58 AM, but, will not be visible in the Northern Hemisphere, as the moon will pass below the sun as viewed from our latitude.

An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is too far away from the Earth to completely cover the Sun. This results in a ring of light around the darkened Moon. The Sun’s corona is not visible during an annular eclipse.

The path of the eclipse will begin off the coast of Chile and pass through southern Chile and southern Argentina, across the southern Atlantic Ocean, and into Angola and Congo in Africa. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout parts of southern South America and southwestern Africa.

The February sky is alit with bright stars. Orion the Hunter is overhead, stalking Taurus The Bull, accompanied by his faithful hunting dogs, Canis Major & Canis Minor, the Large & Lesser Dogs. In Canis Major is the blue star Sirius, The Dog Star, which 8.6 light years away, is the brightest star in the night sky.

February and March are the best times of the year for seeing the Zodiacal Light. In the evening away from city lights and after twilight has faded you might see a faint, roughly triangular, whitish glow near the sunset point. This is Zodiacal Light, which is formed by the sunlight reflecting off millions of minute particles of cosmic dust aligned with the Earth’s orbital plane.

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The Birmingham Hamfest http://birminghamfest.org/ is now only five weeks away, March 3 & 4.
As mentioned in last month’s newsletter, this it will be a Friday & Saturday affair; instead of the Saturday & Sunday dates of years past.

This month’s meeting will be on February 21 at 7PM at the National Weather Service Forecast office at the Shelby County Airport.

If for some reason you cannot attend the meeting in person, you can still participate via telephone. The teleconference number is 1-877-951-0997 & and the participant code is 741083.

Hope to see you there!

Mark / WD4NYL
Editor
ALERT Newsletter

ALERT / National Weather Service Birmingham Coverage Area
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