2021 Crafting Project: Precipitation Scarf

Several years ago, I can’t remember where, I read about people who were knitting or crocheting “temperature blankets” to illustrate the local effects of climate change by coding the yarn color of each row of the blanket to each day’s high temperature. I loved this colorful idea! Smithsonian Magazine and the New York Times covered the phenomenon early in 2020. A scientist used crochet to illustrate temperature data in a conference poster in 2017. (I love this so much!)

Here’s a screen grab of what comes up in an image search for “temperature blanket”. So colorful!

I’ve crocheted a little in years past (my mom taught me the simple single stitch), but I’m not much of a fiber artist, so I never considered doing one.

Well, social media happened again.

A friend posted about the new yearlong challenge she was taking on: a temperature blanket! And some others of her friends were also planning to give it a go. I commented that I didn’t think I’d have the patience for a blanket, but thought a scarf might be doable. “Join us!” she said, and tagged me in a post about her “data visualization crocheting quest.”

That color palette is so choice!

OK, challenge accepted!

But, instead of doing temperature, I decided I wanted to log each day’s precipitation.

Here in the semi-arid High Plains, we don’t get a lot of moisture – just 15 inches a year, on average. Agriculture is able to thrive here thanks to the storage and distribution of snowmelt from the mountains to the west. Rainfall is often an EVENT. We keep a close eye on precipitation here. I’ve taken on these habits myself, often recording in photographs the rain, snow, and hail that fall at my house and sharing them with the Cheyenne National Weather Service.

(If you’re curious about that last picture, it’s featured in this blog post.)

As long as I’m making these observations already, I might as well crochet them into a scarf, hey?

I figured I’d represent rainfall in shades of blue and snow in shades of purple. Red for hail or graupel. I don’t want there to be red/hail in my scarf, but I know there will be. There always is. *sigh* I’m ok with graupel, tho. (Graupel is officially my favorite meteorological term.) In this arid climate, most of my scarf will be “no precip” – I decided I’d like a charcoal gray. And maybe a blended yarn of blue and purple to represent mixed precipitation?

Before going in search of yarn, I needed to figure out what sort of scale to use. I looked up rain data for the April-July period (using Weather Underground’s by-month daily history) and sorted the non-zero days into likely blocks. The snow was more variable, so I looked at Oct-Apr for 2019 and 2020 on the Daily U.S. Snowfall and Snow Depth reports from NOAA to get a sense of where to draw the boundaries.

Here’s what I came up with, measurements to be taken daily at 7am:
RAIN < 0.1″ = light blue
RAIN 0.1 – 0.5″ = medium blue
RAIN > 0.5″ = dark blue
SNOW < 1″ = light purple
SNOW 1-3″ = medium purple
SNOW > 3″ = dark purple

Then I went shopping . . . and came away a bit disappointed. The only yarn type that had the range of blues and purples I wanted didn’t have a charcoal gray in stock. I got a lighter gray with silver metallic threads instead. And no blue-purple blend, either. Oh well. That was probably too complicated anyway.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do on days with mixed precip, or on days with hail/graupel, since those will usually be accompanied by other precipitation. Crochet two rows? Weave a colored thread through the row? I’ll figure it out when I get there!

Here’s my “data visualization crocheting quest” colors and key:

The precipitation recorded at my house for January 1? Nada. The scarf begins in gray with silver sparkles.

I will perhaps updated this post when something exciting happens. (Like when I figure out what to do about those mixed precip days!)

UPDATE 2/1/21:

So, a month into this crochet project, I started over!

Here’s the old one, which I didn’t like:

Here’s some commentary:

  1. Turns out I was already starting to run low on my “no precip” color, and I heard it had been discontinued! Oh well – I didn’t like that color anyway. I bought some charcoal gray in another brand, and I like the look much better.
  2. Turns out I hated how the red for graupel / hail looked with the rest of the colors. By using charcoal gray for the “no precip” days, it freed up the sparkly light gray for graupel / hail instead.
  3. Those mixed precip days – I had one day that was a mix of rain and graupel. I used the light blue for the rain and wove the color for the graupel into the stitches when I was done. I tried crocheting both yarns together, and I thought it wound up too bulky / inconsistent-looking.
  4. I didn’t like the width of the scarf – too wide, so I made it narrower.
  5. With 31 days down, at 8.5 inches long already, this is going to be a LONG scarf – like 8 feet! That’s OK – all the better to wrap with, my dear!

Here’s what the current scarf looks like:

Copyright 2021 by Katie Bradshaw, aside from the screen grabs of the temperature blanket images

December 13 Ritual of Dawn

Last night I intended to observe the sunset, but I was drinking wine and writing out Christmas cards and didn’t notice when the snowy grey afternoon faded to snowy gray evening.

Not a cloud left in the sky this morning to retain any heat from the day before. The 6-degree temperature necessitated a few more layers of clothing: long sleeves, tall socks and boots, a vest.

A much noisier morning than yesterday. Still the dogs and the trains, but also the crunch and scrape and growl of snow removal operations on the neighborhood’s driveways and sidewalks. (No snow removal happening on the residential streets – in this climate, the city can save money and wait for the sun to clear the roads.)

The street lights are on, until they aren’t. It’s plenty bright enough to see, anyhow. The light blanket of snow brightens up the scene. The sky is blue / blue-white with an infusion of gold at the bottom.

At 7 a.m., church bells ring from a new blocks away. It’s Sunday. No people on the sidewalks yet. No cars on the street. I think fewer people are attending services in person, on account of the pandemic. Streamed worship services are a boon for people who have a hard time getting around, especially on snowy mornings. There are some good things to have come from this awful situation.

I see movement on the next block, between the houses, between the trees. Birds? I stare.

No, just the exhaust from a furnace wafting into the sky, matching my own steamy breath, both of us exhaling carbon dioxide, the product of each of our systems of creating warmth and life.

There is some bird activity this morning. I hear a scolding chickadee up the block, another small bird twittering in the neighbor’s bushes. A sudden intrusion on the porch as a bird zooms by from right to left between the porch pillars, two feet from my face, twittering as it flies.

There doesn’t seem to be any movement of the air, though the forecast later in the day includes a high wind warning. Still, small clumps of snow occasionally slough from the tree branches and dust the air below.

A neighbor on the block south fires up his snow blower. I loathe those things, how they tear the air with their stink and roar. But they are efficient. And this neighbor has a habit of clearing the sidewalk on his whole block, carefully angling into the curb cuts at the street corners. A wonderful courtesy for the neighbors as well as the people who will pass his house on foot.

Me, I greatly prefer to hand-shovel my driveway and sidewalks. It’s relatively quiet, cheap, better for the environment, and good exercise. It’ll be an easy task this morning, with only an inch or two of light, granular snow.

The light brightens. Without fanfare to mark the moment, the sun has risen above the horizon.

A new day has begun.

Copyright 2020 by Katie Bradshaw