Thursday, October 29, 2015

LEGACYouth: The Importance of Being Excellent

One of my favorite 80’s movies is Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. I mean…you talk about a blast from the past in more ways than one. This movie, man…it definitely qualifies. Not to mention you get to see Keanu Reeves show some actual emotion for once in his career.  

But in all seriousness, with all the ‘Back to the Future’ talk this week, I couldn’t help but think about the movie, particularly the iconic speech scene when Abe Lincoln proudly proclaims: “Be excellent to each other… and party on dudes!

Granted...you’re probably wondering why the random movie reference.

Well, let’s start with the word “excellent”; specifically…what does it mean to be excellent?

When we talk “excellence”, we normally associate the term to satisfactory or above satisfactory performance…which isn’t too surprising considering we’re conditioned as kids to think as such. Even as adults, the tendency is to discount excellence as a quantitative assessment. Yet, when we consider excellence is more an integrity virtue than a performance appraisal, we find its true core has more to do with giving your best than anything else.

Consider the following:

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Excellence is not a level of perfection we hit. It is your very best right now with what you have.” ~ Jad Gillies

Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” ~ Pat Riley

Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude.” ~ Ralph Marston

"Excellent people exceed expectationsYou can run into mediocrity accidentally but you have to purpose to be excellent." ~ Joyce Meyer

"Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus…[working] at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." ~ Colossians 3:17, 23-24

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Note the common threads…particularly how excellence is just as much (if not more) pursuit as it is outcome.

But here’s what really rocks me having processed these passages: Excellence is one of the few things in life we’re meant to strive for.

But wait, Cam, isn’t striving a bad thing?

Well, not necessarily. Yeah, I get how the word “strive” tends to rub people the wrong way, especially in a “grace vs. works” context.

However, when we define excellence as “giving it your bestshot1, then we can understand spiritual striving as living faith determinedly and living strength enduringly.

In other words, when we strive for excellence, and make the desire known to God, He not only provides the day-to-day strength (present courage), but the steadfastness (continued courage) to see it through. Pretty cool, eh?

You see…far too often, we focus on just one end of the spectrum. For instance, whenever I used to feel lost or challenged, my default would be to ask God for endurance…to stay the course…to press on no matter what; however, once I recognized endurance as the follow-through to what I wasn’t asking for, my whole perspective changed. More specifically, once I realized my joy had latched on to a future hope as opposed to present striving, I was able to re-center my faith into the “now”, which in turn, renewed my commitment to be more excellent with the tasks God had given me (#gamechanger).

Of course, I still messed up from time to time; however, whenever obstacles came, I was able to conquer them more quickly since I had become more equipped to not give up/give in.

How, you might ask? By believing I had been given the present strength to do all things through Christ...and the steadfastness to continue doing so! By His grace, I discovered I could be what I prayed in the moment…while giving others the opportunity to trust in what I believe.

And it's this truth...this reality, dear ones, that captures the essence of excellence. To live as Christ (Philippians 1:21) is ultimately what being excellent is all about.

So next time you’re tempted to wave the white flag in the face of adversity and/or apathy, consider the relationship between effort and testimony. ‘Cause if to be excellent means to strive for the best, then that best should point people to a better place. Thus, it makes perfect sense to be excellent in what God has assigned for us considering it cannot be removed from our testimony.

Footnotes
1)      Bam! That’s what I call marrying the secular to the sacred!
Photo credits: brianknittings.com

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Tuesday, October 20, 2015

LEGACYouth: 3 Ways to Better Communicate with Your Parents

A parental relationship is one of the greatest gifts we're given in this lifetime; unfortunately, it's one of the easiest to take for granted as well. While reasons may vary, no question, the majority of youth-parent dysfunctions feature some sort of breakdown in communication. The big question is: what's really driving it? Certainly, like any stronghold, there are roots feeding the heart of the issue...but though identifying them can feel like an insurmountable challenge, the process is undoubtedly freeing when fully dialed into.

What this post will seek to do is give credible, practical solutions on how young people can better communication  with their parents for more holistic relational improvement.

1)      Be quick to listen, slow to speak…

Being at odds with your parents is never fun; however, if you think about it, what drives a disagreement has more to do with a fear of being misunderstood than a difference in perspective.

Case and point: whenever I’d disagree with my parents, especially when I was younger, the spark would often come in the form of fear, whether it was a fear of disappointing (not meeting their standards/not being in right standing), a fear of misinterpretation and/or a fear of punishment. In almost every case, my greatest concern centered on a ‘what if’ (i.e. what if my parents don’t understand, what if there’s no reconciliation, what if they stop trusting me…I could go on).

However, as I’ve mentioned before, fear doesn’t get us anywhere, considering it’s a paralyzing stronghold, a toleration of pride…not to mention it’s the exact opposite of love and the greatest “self-ed” concept known to man.

Thus, when we talk about a fear of being misunderstood, especially with respect to our parents, we find it’s human nature to speak out…to “will” our point across at all costs in hope to find a common ground. The problem is we were never created to remedy an argument in this way (i.e. forced, unprocessed speech). Contrarily, we were designed to be other-centered (see Philippians 2:3-4) and to yield to one another in word and in action. So when we fear being misunderstood and blast out as a result, we risk creating a defensive, accusatory environment…counterintuitive to our original design.  

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When we look at the book of James, we find powerful solutions (as well as metaphors/illustrations) to the question of, “How do we bridge the communication divide with those in authority?” But perhaps none speak so potently as the following trio: “quick to hear”, “slow to speak”, “slow to anger”.

How does this apply to our parents, you might ask? Well, for starters, abiding by these themes gives God a significant footstool into the interaction. Yes, it may take time for the personal wrinkles to iron out, especially if bad communicational habits have been fostered. Yet, if you are willing to go all in on James’ challenge, you’ll ultimately defuse Satan’s ability to perpetuate disunity, even if you come from an abusive background. Sprinkle in a little Colossians 4:6 (“Grace is the salt which seasons our discourse, makes it savory, and keeps it from corrupting” (Matthew Henry Commentary) and suddenly you’re in prime position to experience relational healing/improvement with your parents.

2)      …but still say what you need to say

Although this is a tangent off the prior point, I wanted to give it separate attention since it’s often underrated. When it comes to being “slow to speak”, it’s important to have some sort of game-plan established, considering a “listen first” approach is contradictory to the flesh. For example, when my wife was a teenager, whenever she had arguments with her parents, she found it helpful to hear her parents out first and then write out her feelings in a post-processing letter (with the intentional of giving the letter to her parents at the right time). This “self-editing” practice ultimately allowed their relationship to strengthen, since it detached offense from the communication. Furthermore, by using “I statements” instead of “you statements” (i.e. “I feel uncomfortable when…” versus “why did you ______”), she was able to express appreciation and encouragement in addition to her side of the story.

You see…far too often, if young people aren’t blaring hurt out to their parents/authorities, then they’re harboring it in. Granted, some will do the “write thing” (#punintended) and seek to find clarity when chaos strikes; however, if pain and/or strongholds are only dealt with by “Dear diary…”, then the root of the issue is constantly avoided…not to mention emotions are continually bottled up along with the opportunity to find agreement…peace…you get the picture.

Remember…the truth must come out at some point. You may think silence is the same as self-control. You may assume holding it in/a lack of fighting is equal to victory; however, when we consider what David says in Psalm 19:14 and 141:3, where he’s basically saying, “Lord, take control of what I say”…we discover how real control is giving God control to help us live in control. See the difference?1

In short, truth doesn’t deny dialogue; it initiates it...at the right time. Thus, if you find yourself in the heat of a tense feud, pursue quiet time with God first, then once truth has replaced twilight, find your parents and actually talk to them (bonus points if you do this without an iPhone/headphones, etc.).

After all, it’s not like you have anything to lose when you seek to cut tension with humility, while also setting yourself free from potential guilt at the same time.

Just sayin’…

3)      Believe the best

Whenever I'd struggle to see eye-to-eye with my parents, what deterred me from distrust more than anything was the belief they had my best in mind…and that my attitude with respect to them, in large part, reflected my attitude to God. Of course, my parents (like your parents) are far from infallible; however, I found giving them the benefit of the doubt was always the better move, even when I had a hard time believing their intentions.

Like me, there may be times when you question your parent’s discernment and disagree with their final calls; however, if you’re quick to render their wisdom obsolete, then you'll risk extending such cynicism to other authorities who may also have your best in mind. 
At the end of the day, you got to remember: your parents want what’s best for you...just like God does. Will they slip up every now and then? Absolutely. But even when this happens, it doesn’t mean they’re not pursuing God’s best for you. So why not pray into the situation, tap into the heart of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, and see where God takes it as opposed to harvesting resentment?

Again…just sayin’…

Footnotes

1)      i.e. how one approach is passive-aggressive and the other is active-aggressive

Photo creds: zg12.wikispaces.com, rentscouter.com

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Friday, October 2, 2015

Flash Weather: 2015-16 Winter Weather Forecast

Well, folks. We’re only one week past the autumnal equinox…and I think we all know what that means…

…break out the fall décor, have yourself a very merry pumpkin space latte, and check Cameron’s blog for yet another preliminary winter weather forecast.

Now, I’m not gonna lie...my winter weather forecast for middle Tennessee last year held up rather well. Granted, I normally don’t toot my own horn considering I’m just a humble, amateur meteorologist in it for the love of the science; however, after the multiple ice storms and ankle-biter snow events we experienced between January 23 - February 21, I’d have to say my “B+” grade, in terms of activity and magnitude, was the correct call.

So as the leaves start changing and the days grow shorter, I’m sure many of you are wondering: what can we expect this winter. Well, I’m so glad you asked.

Last year, I itemized and graded certain atmospheric criteria to obtain an overall grade for the winter. This year, I’ll follow a similar approach (with slightly less technical jargon and definitions) so you can better see how each teleconnection works together.

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ENSO – We start off by checking the sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean where things have really heated up since last winter. Note the extensive coverage of red (which represent positive SST anomalies (departure from average) in °C) on the animation below.


After some underachieving El Niño episodes in recent years (i.e. the neutral ENSO winters of 2012-13 and 2013-14, plus the borderline weak El Niño episode of last year), it’s impressive to see this one maintaining its intensity. In fact, the CPC (Climate Prediction Center) has already issued an El Niño advisory with a 95% chance of El Niño continuing through Northern Hemisphere winter before weakening next spring. Thus, with a strengthening moderate El Niño already in play, it’s no question Mother Nature has reshuffled her deck.

Of course, you’re probably wondering what this all means. Well, for starters, a moderate to strong El Niño can provide more emphatic impacts for various regions, such as more rainfall in California, more persistent drought in the northwest and Great Lakes, and stormier, unsettled weather in the southern plains and southeast. But as the case with snowflakes, no two El Niño’s are ever alike and as the 2015-16 El Niño comes into focus, it’s becoming clearer this year’s version will be far from typical. 


Perhaps the most pressing ENSO-related issue right now is if and when the warmest water in the Central Pacific will shift west over the coming weeks. While it may seem trivial, the retrogression of the warm core goes a long way in determining winter weather impacts in the lower 48. As the case with an El Niño Modoki, if waters off the coast of Peru cool in comparison to the Central Pacific and a west-based El Niño establishes itself (west-based meaning the progression of above average temperature anomalies move westward along the equator, rather than eastward), then the probability of a cooler winter for the southeast and mid-Atlantic will increase. If an east-based El Niño wins out (though based on SST progressions, it's looking more likely we won't be seeing a 1997-98 repeat), then we could be looking at a warmer winter.

 

As for now, we play the waiting game and monitor trends in each of the four El Niño regions (Niño 1+2, Niño 3, Niño 3.4 and Niño 4) in hope to unlock clues as to how ENSO will influence the 2015-16 winter weather landscape.

Grade: C+

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PDO/PNA – I’m linking these two telecoms together due to their interconnectedness in this setup. While ENSO (El Niño) and the AO/NAO hog the winter weather headlines this time of year, perhaps the most under-appreciated telecoms in recent memory have been the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation)/PNA (Pacific North American) pattern...as well as the EPO (Eastern Pacific Oscillation), which I won't harp on in this post since its a better short term indicator as opposed to a seasonal forecasting tool.

For those keeping score at home, the PDO has been quite positive the past couple winters after spending the majority of the 90’s and 00’s in negative territory. With the new regime in its third year, odds are, the positive trend will continue, considering the PDO shifts in decadal oscillations, as opposed to the PNA, which operates on a more mesoscale level. 

At any rate, the ramifications of an established +PDO/+PNA (note the +PNA signal for January/February coming off the Canadian SIPS) for our part of the world is huge as they can boost our snow chances,  even when the Atlantic telecoms (like the AMO) are unfavorable. 

Take the past two winters, for example, where a generous +PDO/+PNA combo and a  favorable Northern Pacific Mode helped offset the lack of Greenland/Arctic blocking, as well as the brisk nature of the long-wave pattern.

In both cases, western ridging (which unfortunately deepened droughts west of the Rockies) fueled by warmer-than-normal waters near the Gulf of Alaska promoted troughing in the eastern states, paving the way for polar plunges into our neck of the woods. Yet, despite the arctic intrusions, the lack of blocking ultimately kept the cold air in check by allowing it to propagate quickly into the Atlantic without any resistance. If anyone in middle Tennessee is curious why it has been hard to capitalize on snow opportunities during this stretch, no doubt, it’s been the transient nature of the cold air.

At least as long as we can hold to a +PDO/+PNA, hope lives…specifically in the form of a cold-air delivery mechanism. ‘Cause at the end of the day, you can’t have snow with cold…and you can’t have cold without a blazed trail for it to follow. With a +PDO acting as a dominant driver in the overall winter weather pattern, I’m fairly confident in the idea of this winter NOT being a blowtorch (i.e. above-normal in temperature), which isn’t a bad place to start if you’re a snow-weenie like me.

Note: The only reason I'm not giving this telecom an 'A'  or 'A+' grade is due to the possibility of the warm SST anomalies in the warm +PDO region backing off some by winter's arrival (though how much this happens remains to be seen). My prediction, however, is that the +PDO will hold serve and mitigate north Pacific SST cooling/Aleutian Low influences (which didn't in 1997-98 and one of several big reasons why the eastern two-thirds blowtorched).

Grade: A-

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AMO – The AMO (Atlantic Multi-decadal Oscillation) is basically the cousin of the PDO with positive (warm) and negative (cool) phases occurring every couple decades or so. While the main drivers of the AMO aren’t entirely known, the thought is the AMO is a major influence on the behavior of northern blocking.

With a positive AMO, the tendency for blocking lessens as areas of low heights set up south of Greenland; contrarily, in a negative regime, high heights build in, which can ignite the blocking needed for cold and snowy weather in the east.

Although the transition between phases can occur rapidly, the direction of the AMO has trended in a cool direction, which means an enhanced chance of blocking this winter. Now, as we’ve learned the past few winters, you can experience a colder-than-normal winter without blocking; however, if anyone remembers the brutal winters of 2009-10 and 2010-11, northern blocking can trap cold shots over the same area for an extended period of time. If you prefer mild winters, then you’ll want to hope the AMO reverses course soon.

Grade: B+

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QBO – Like the PDO and AMO, the QBO (Quasi-Biennial Oscillation), the mean zonal winds of equatorial stratosphere, has a positive phase and a negative phase, with a positive phase favoring the progression of westerly winds and a negative phase favoring easterly winds. Since a -QBO typically weakens the polar vortex with easterly winds promoting a -NAO setup with high latitude blocking, it’s no surprise a -QBO is often linked to cold, snowier winters in the US.

Last year at this point, the QBO was trending negative, which lined up well with the developing El Niño Modoki (an ENSO feature driven by easterlies which allows the greater positive temperature anomalies to move westward (or from the east, hence the term, easterlies), away from Region 1.2.

This year, the QBO is trending positive, an unfavorable signal for cold, snowy winter prospects since it triggers an increase in westerly winds and helps strengthen the polar vortex (i.e. keeps it locked near the poles as opposed to dislodged away from it in times when a -NAO moves into northern Canada/Hudson Bay).

As some of you may recall, back in January 2014, a -QBO helped unleash the polar vortex southeastward into the Great Lakes region, which drove multiple arctic shots into in the eastern half of the conus, resulting in many states experiencing a "Top 10 coldest January".

Will this happen again in 2015-16? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. But while my expertise with respect to this telecom is limited, I do expect the QBO to fluctuate throughout the winter as the El Niño begins its descent from near-record territory down into the moderate to weak range.

Grade: C-

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AO/NAO – I know I said I wouldn't dive heavily into definitions, but due to the importance of the AO/NAO with respect to winter weather forecasting, I'll make an exception.

Just to review, the NAO, as defined by NOAA, is defined as a “large-scale fluctuation in atmospheric pressure between the subtropical high pressure system located near the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean and the sub-polar low pressure system near Iceland...where the surface pressure drives surface winds and wintertime storms from west to east across the North Atlantic affecting climate from New England to western Europe as far eastward as central Siberia and eastern Mediterranean and southward to West Africa.”

In large part, the NAO is tethered to the AO, “a pattern in which atmospheric pressure at polar and middle latitudes fluctuates between negative and positive phases. The negative phase brings higher-than-normal pressure over the polar region and lower-than-normal pressure at about 45 degrees north latitude. The negative phase allows cold air to plunge into the Midwestern United States and Western Europe [often helped by some measure of high latitude blocking], and storms bring rain to the Mediterranean. The positive phase brings the opposite conditions, steering ocean storms farther north and bringing wetter weather to Alaska, Scotland and Scandinavia and drier conditions to areas such as California, Spain and the Middle East.”

So how does this apply to the upcoming winter? Honestly, we won’t really know until November. ‘Cause generally speaking, forecasters can only know how the AO/NAO will behave a few weeks in advance; however, knowing the trend of AO/NAO phasing can have a substantial impact on predicting temperature trends in the 8-14 day range.

Looking at the latest AO results from the CPC, we can see recorded observations going back to June 1, which tell us the AO has been slightly negative for the majority of the summer, only recently rising into positive territory. Interestingly, this is how the AO behaved last year, with an above average spike occurring just in time to issue in the fall season; however, as one can see on the graphic below, a crash back to below average territory looks likely for the first half of October. With all the hoopla going on concerning the strong Mid-Atlantic low colliding with Hurricane Joaquin, it’s no surprise the AO will drop some as an unsettled pattern sets up, in turn, setting the stage for below-normal temperatures for much of the east (though I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a couple more warm spells between now and November 1). 

Grade: Incomplete (rising towards ‘B’ territory)

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The Intangibles (Polar snow pack, solar activity, TNH, etc.)

As far as intangibles go, I’m going to wait and address these issues in greater depth in a later post. What I will say for now is I’ll be carefully monitoring the October Siberian snowpack to note any anomalies in its coverage throughout the month. While Siberian snowpack isn’t a primary driver of winter weather in the US, it can enhance the intensity of any arctic air that decides to move our way (Think of it as a cool filter when air masses interact with the landmass).

Concerning solar activity, there is evidence of a decline this winter; however, this doesn’t mean a flare is out of the question. Granted, I don't have much knowledge in the area of solar forecasting. Yet, with below normal solar activity on the docket, I'm not concerned about a brief spike affecting the trajectory of the upcoming winter weather pattern as a whole. Again, we simply note trends and see how they correlate to the present state of other telecoms, such as the westerly (positive) QBO’s mergence with a potentially negative NAO.

Real quick, let me say a few things about the TNH pattern. While the strongest +TNH pattern helped magnify the arctic outbreaks of 2013-14, I don't expect the TNH to be as prominent this winter. For those who may be wondering what the shrek a TNH pattern is, remember earlier when I mentioned how a +PNA helps promote ridging in the west, troughing in the east?  Well, with a +TNH, the axis of ridges and troughs shifts westward, which results in a ridge peak in the eastern Pacific (not the west coast), a mean trough over the plains/Midwest (not the east), and a parked southeast ridge east of Florida (which keeps the southeast rather mild).

All that to say...with a moderate to strong El Niño and a warmer presence of eastern Pacific waters, I believe the ridge/trough axises will resemble positions closer to last winter, as opposed to 2013-14. So if you don't hear much about the TNH this winter, this is why.

Grade: B+
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Factoring in the information above, overall, I believe this winter will go down as the fifth coldest and fourth snowiest since 2000, with Nashville seeing more “pure” snow opportunities than last winter (and less ice…fingers crossed); however, as we’ve seen in recent winters, hope must be tempered given each storm is unique and carries the potential to whiff at the last minute.

With that said, I'm still confident we'll see our fair share of cold (apparently, NOAA agrees; see graphic) and snow this winter, given the decent blocking potential, a weakening El Niño (by the time winter arrives), and an amplified longwave pattern driven (and a latter half split flow?) by warm eastern Pacific waters.

For a month-by-month breakdown, please check out my YouTube winter weather forecast video below...

Overall Grade: B
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References
  • National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
  • National Climatic Data Center
  • Climate Prediction Center
  • The Weather Centre
  • Weather Willy
  • AmericanWx Forum
  • DT WxRisk
  • Griteater
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