Finishing on the ninth day… this happened:
And once we landed, this happened:
My notes from the morning’s weather briefing:
WEATHER More moist atmosphere Minor s.w. trough approaching coast Primes mid-level moisture and instability Might cause 5PM TS w/ 41K' tops Convergence will be further south 115 to 130 thermal heights @ Shasta med lake Similar str. to yesterday.
So, on the bright side: plenty of strong lift. When the atmosphere is unstable, it means two things: masses of buoyant air will be found below the altitudes where they “want” to float, and there’s nothing (like a temperature inversion… or a roof) to stop them from making the climb. Ride them up in your glider: whee! Fun day!
Better yet, turns out there’s moisture in the air today, so in contrast with the “blue days” we’ve seen during the contest, today the rising air will lift water that builds clouds. So the lift is marked—no more guessing where to go to stay in the sky.
On the not-so-bright side: there’s lots of instability, and lots of moisture. The clouds turn into thunderstorms. We were told to expect a storm in the Shasta Valley around 5 PM: the Weather Service said so, the models said so, and contest weatherman Walt Rogers said so too.
The task committee decided to send us eastward: lift was forecast to be good, and we’d only have to face the bad weather on the way back home.
What had been a strenuous trek in heat and poverty days ago felt like coasting down a freeway today. Bouncing off of a turnpoint buried in the Scott Valley’s southwest corner, we made the long crossing over the Shasta Valley at speed, stretching for a band of thick cumulus build-up on the shoulders of its namesake peak:
More delights were in store. The convergence mentioned in my weather notes had set up a cloud street (a line of cumulus clouds) almost directly on course to the next turnpoint. All of them seemed to be sucking up air with great alacrity, burgeoning in their adolescence. High times. JOY raced along with RV and YO, diving through rising air, climbing without circling.
At last the clouds ended, but the lift did not. We pressed ahead over a landscape of dry sinks and brush fires:
It turned out that although we had chosen a decent line of lift during this part of the task, YO had chosen an excellent one: a path more centered on the active region of the convergence. While YO flew high and fast, JOY had to slow down to sidestep to YO’s line for the final glide back to Montague. The hazy air under overdeveloped cumulus congestus—the adolescents had gorged themselves into a tottering middle age—did not inspire confidence during the transition.
But once we had completed the switch, it was back on the highway again. We neared the Shasta Valley and began to pick out shafts of rain and—whoa there!—occasional lightning. Distant, and yes, right on schedule, but still unsettling.
JOY is in third place by a single point. Tomorrow is the last day—we will need to work hard to achieve a spot on the podium.