El Niño or La Niña?

If you get confused by these Spanish words for little boy and little girl, as they are applied to the weather, you are not alone! El Niño or La Niña apply to changing climatic conditions, but this is not necessarily to be confused with long-term climate change.

The Climate Prediction Center announced earlier this month that El Niño has begun and will last for the next eighteen months. It is a naturally occurring phenomenon caused by the changing temperature of the oceans near the equator. The temperatures vary with the strength of the trade winds. These changes, at least so far, are cyclical, though the length of each cycle varies from months to years.

The National Ocean Service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, explains that in normal years, the trade winds blow west across the Pacific Ocean near the equator, moving warm water from South America to Asia. Cold water then upwells from the depths, full of phytoplankton, feeding schools of fish and up the food chain. But when the trade winds weaken, warm water is pushed east toward the west coast of the Americas. This is called an El Niño season. The Pacific jet stream moves south,

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Sweet Sixteen

A young lady in my family turned sixteen this week. She had a Sweet Sixteen party, which was, I understand, small and sweet – she treated her best friends at a restaurant.

The Sweet Sixteen party seems to be a new tradition. I’d never heard of it when I was that age. I was also far from sweet at that age, as my mother would affirm.

But I am all for traditions that celebrate a young person’s growth into adulthood. The bar and bat mitzvah, the quinceañera, and the confirmation, all go to assuring adolescents, anxious and acned as they might be, that they are valuable members of the community. Valuable in a way that has nothing to do with their schoolwork or accomplishments.

This is the age when kids can learn to drive and obtain a license, donate blood, receive an adult passport, leave school and earn a living in a full-time job, and in some places, get married.

Is there any reason we can’t give them the right to vote?


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I sit here writing this as the sun has just begun to slant toward the west. It is quite late in the evening. It is the summer solstice, the longest day in the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The further north, the longer the day.

For those of us who grew up in the temperate latitudes, this day was not a day of crazy joy, enhanced by drinking songs as it apparently is in Sweden. On this day, near the North Pole, the sun never sets. But for those in Arizona, where I live now, it is a day to stay out of the sun.

The earth is a slow seesaw. At the summer solstice in this hemisphere, the North Pole tilts 23.4 degrees, allowing the sun’s rays to shine vertically over the Tropic of Cancer at noon on June 21. South of the equator, December 21 is when the South Pole tilts 23.4 degrees, its maximum tilt. The sun beams directly over the Tropic of Capricorn, giving those in southern climes their longest day in the sun.

I grew up in Australia. There, today the winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year.

Ancient peoples everywhere marked the

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