Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 23, 2013

Champion B-Ball Beavers, our ever-changing spring weather, and the (maybe) high-flying F-35

By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Somewhere between the solstice and the equinox is the fact that weather fascinates many of us. Spring burst forth in a cold flurry this past week as the seasons jolted forward in this turbulent 2013. It seemed that winter would never take hold until we learned that once the icy grip fastened upon Four Seasons Country that Old Man Winter might never let go. School children became so accustomed to late schedules and school closures that the morning school closure announcements easily moved to the pinnacle of TV favorites. That ticker could have proclaimed itself the “Biggest Winner” among the younger generation.

It is a fact that winter, with snow on the ground, can be the driest time of the year. Moisture is almost absent from the air. Sinuses suffer, noses bleed easier and at no other period on the calendar is skin more itchy and in need of a good lotion. We may not know exactly how that happens but our bodies are keenly aware of the arid conditions.

“Arid” is hardly the word, since water does make up 70 percent of the earth’s surface and nearly as much in our own selves. Whether or not there is such a phenomenon as global warming, it has been proven that we are losing a great deal of the polar ice — and quickly. Some 24 cubic miles are disappearing annually from the continent of Antarctica. Seas around the globe are slowly but surely rising and as they do, that water level helps even more to speed up the melting process. The estimates are that about 168 billion metric tons are pouring into the world’s oceans every 365 days. Scientists still cannot quite agree on just how the melting ice will affect the oceans or our climate but they do know definite change is on the near horizon.

Temperatures are not necessarily fluctuating — just going up — in those parts of the globe most associated with coldness. The Arctic Climate Impact notes that, for some reason, in Alaska and western Canada the mercury is actually spiraling upward more in the winter time than in summer. An average of five to seven degrees Fahrenheit annually is the rate of increase between October and April. Even so, the normally warmer summer climate is when much of the melting takes place — as much as 20 percent in the hot months. The combination has resulted in an overall 8 percent reduction in the Arctic Ocean ice pack since 1983. That much ice is equal to the combined area of Arizona and Texas.

All of that fresh ice could mean as little as few inches of sea level rise to as much as four feet, according to the professional weather watchers. While polar bears, seals, and various species of migratory birds might well suffer drastic losses or perhaps even extinction, there might be positive aspects to higher water levels. Merchants could enjoy better shipping lanes between Alaska and Canada. That would decrease rates and probably make oil exploration much easier. One possible downside might be larger and more frequent icebergs in the region which would pose a threat to vessels in the waterways.

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For the first time in more than a decade, the Bluefield High School Beavers have won a boys’ state basketball championship. Bluefield, led by Coach Buster Large, has made the community proud yet again with another No. 1 trophy. Coach Large, who is a native Bluefielder from the Virginia side who also was a fine athlete over at Bluefield State, is joined by Don Jones, another alum who was a great prep performer at Beaver before joining the Big Blues. Both are very competitive and very happy to watch their players be successful. That seems to happen very often at the local high school.

I remember stopping by BHS many years ago and taking note of the enormous amount of hardware in the display cases. Some schools have a limited number of awards posted on the walls but it seemed to me that Beaver had showcase after showcase filled with honors — both academic and athletic.

It is quite a tribute to the community, the parents, teachers, and coaches who have been so consistent over the years. Certainly, from Grundy to Giles, Princeton to Graham, Tazewell to Pikeview, Mount View to Richlands, there are great achievements to be heralded. Just this past year the Richlands girls nearly won a state basketball title and the Princeton ladies got back to Charleston.

We do have a lot to be proud of. Right now, the “We Believe” guys out on Cumberland Road have earned the right to celebrate after dedicating the past year to avenging a near-miss in 2012 and then making it happen. Congratulations to a 2013 title and good luck to BHS school officials who will have to find some way to fit another top trophy into the vast collection already decorating the historic halls of Bluefield High School.

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With all due respect to the sequestration and suspension of White House tours, the most recent budget cutbacks might well impact what was promoted recently as the most expensive weapon ever built. An amazing airplane known as the F-35 is in some jeopardy right now. The F-35, which is currently the only fighter now being developed for the Marines, Air Force, and Navy is part of a $400 billion package. That chunk of change will buy approximately 2,400 of the stealthy aircraft, which reportedly can also land somewhat like a helicopter using the titanium thrust-vectoring nozzle. Journalist Mark Thompson describes the F-35 as “something like a Swiss Army knife” capable of an amazing variety of feats. Others, including significant politicians, note that the U.S. is spending about 45 percent of the world’s budget on the military. U.S. Rep. Justin Amash , R-Mich., believes such current programs might instead bankrupt the country and put Americans in more danger, not less.

Keep your eyes on the skies and the budget as military planners head toward a collision.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.