Buzzworm news briefs

The weather up here

Just how odd is the weather this year? Wouldn’t it be great to have an easy reference to turn to that would make local weather trends clear and understandable?

For 21 years, Alex Huang, chair of UNCA’s Department of Atmospheric Sciences, has compiled just such a resource: an annual calendar that charts WNC weather trends like temperature and rainfall.

Depending on the National Climatic Data Center for precise information, Huang labels each day of the upcoming year with 30-year averages — and extremes — for high and low temperatures, as well as the daily times for sunrises and sunsets. The calendar also supplies precipitation information for both rain and snow, average wind speed and cloud cover, and moon phases.

Still, those looking ahead for a sure-thing sunny day or a good snow will not find definitive answers here.

“This is not a weather forecast for the next year,” Huang says. “Nobody can do that. It’s more like seeing a trend — a baseline you can use.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the calendar (and the part Huang thinks gets used most often) is a chart inside the cover that answers such nagging perennial weather questions as “just what the heck are the wind-chill factor and the heat index?” Easy-to-read charts show how wind speed or humidity can intensify the temperature’s effect on people.

The 2006 Western North Carolina Weather Calendar can be purchased for $6 by writing to Alex Huang, UNC Asheville, 1 University Heights, Asheville, NC 28804-8511. Make checks payable to “Weather Calendar.”

— Brian Postelle

Screen wolf

When Disney-Walden Media’s adaptation of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe hits the big screen this week, a canine from North Carolina will be seen by millions of people in theaters across the country.

Maverick, a 5-year-old wolf dog, has resided at Black Mountain’s Full Moon Farm, a nonprofit haven for homeless wolves and wolf dogs, since 2003, when he was rescued from a “kill shelter” in West Virginia by Nancy Brown, Full Moon’s president.

Last year, Brown got a call from a friend who finds animals to star in movies and television commercials. After making sure that Maverick would be properly cared for, Brown sent him first to California for special training, and he went from there to New Zealand, where most of the movie was shot.

Maverick plays one of the White Witch’s decidedly evil wolf enforcers, Brown explains. “He’s not the lead dog, but he’s the wolfiest one in there,” she says (the others, she’s heard, mostly look like malamutes).

Brown, whose farm is presently home to 59 wolves and wolf dogs, sees Maverick’s movie role as a chance to dispel some ill will toward the creatures, which, she says, are “shy and timid by nature” and “not inherently dangerous.”

“We’re fighting a public battle over the ‘big, bad wolf,'” she says. “It’s all fairy tales.” While it’s true, she notes, that wolves “play the bad guys” in the Narnia flick, she believes that “the fact that these animals were trained for their parts really blows the ‘big, bad wolf’ [image] out of the water.”

To prove her point further, Brown has arranged to have a wolf dog on hand at the Hollywood-Regal Cinema in Asheville during the film’s opening this Friday, Dec. 9.

For more information about Full Moon Farm, visit the Web site (

— Jon Elliston

Got gas?

Natural gas is far and away the cleanest-burning fuel commonly available on the retail market. Most cities have gas utilities that distribute the fuel via pipelines for home and industrial heating, and the United States still has substantial domestic reserves. In addition, natural gas is one of the safest fuels available, because it’s lighter than air and “spills” dissipate readily — unlike gasoline or liquified petroleum, which puddle or sink and may readily ignite or explode. So, why aren’t we all driving vehicles powered by the stuff?

Oh, right: There aren’t any filling stations in town, or at least there haven’t been up till now. But that’s changing nationwide, and North Carolina has stepped ahead of most other states in making compressed natural gas available to motorists. With the Nov. 30 opening of Asheville’s new CNG depot, it’s now possible to fearlessly drive from Knoxville to the North Carolina coast in a natural-gas-powered vehicle, knowing you’ll never be hopelessly far from a fill-up.

Beginning in January, the Asheville facility — co-sponsored by the city, Buncombe County and Mission Hospitals and principally funded by a grant from the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources — will be open to the general public 24/7. (In the interim, it’s available only to government and hospital vehicles.) The cost of the fuel will be comparable to unleaded gasoline.

Presiding over the opening ceremony, outgoing Mayor Charles Worley touted the fuel’s advantages in terms of air quality, noting, “Smog-producing gases, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, are reduced by more than 90 percent and 60 percent respectively, and carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is reduced by 30 to 40 percent.”

But for Asheville, the next step is putting CNG vehicles on the road. The city has one 2005 Honda Civic GX sedan (a model certified as the cleanest-running car in America for the past four years) and has ordered four Chevrolet pickups for delivery in January. Mission Hospitals Vice President Sonya Greck noted at the opening that the hospital has ordered eight vehicles, and Buncombe County Commissioner Carol Peterson said, “We plan to make 20 percent of the county fleet alternative-fuel vehicles.”

But with many city homes and businesses already connected to natural-gas lines, why can’t we simply fill up at home? Honda Corporation representative Barry Carr, who attended the opening, explained, “You can purchase an appliance that lets you fill your car overnight at home.” But while a home fill-up might take 10-12 hours (because the low-pressure gas delivered to residential customers must be pressurized as it’s put into the vehicle), the CNG station pressurizes the gas ahead of time, greatly speeding up the process. At the moment, the new station can pump only 575 “gasoline equivalents” per day; an additional $75,000 investment would double that capacity.

Still, as incoming Mayor Terry Bellamy told the crowd: “We know that we can’t continue to depend on fossil fuels into the future, and whatever fuels we use are likely to be compressed — for now natural gas, and later hydrogen. This station will give us the hands-on experience we need to move toward our energy future.”

— Cecil Bothwell

Take your places, everyone

Asheville City Clerk Maggie Burleson has put out the end-of-the-year word: There are a host of vacancies on city boards and commissions, so citizens interested in being involved in the inner workings of Asheville government should get their applications in the mail.

Early next year, City Council will make appointments to no less than 10 different boards that cover a variety of interests and types of expertise, from economic development and fair housing to trees and art.

In addition to a “few good men,” Kathleen Balogh, president of the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County, hopes that a healthy number of women will add their names to the application lists.

The organization recently completed the first part of a two-part study of the application and appointment process for local government boards and commissions. “The League looked at the process and how it is supposed to work,” says Balogh, “and now we’re looking at how it does work — who applies and who’s appointed.”

The LWV has observed that although appointment statistics reflect a rough parity with the overall population, there’s a high concentration of female membership on advisory committees but a low concentration on policy- and decision-making boards and commissions.

“Women and minorities are not present in satisfactory numbers on the boards and commissions that have policy and fiduciary responsibilities,” Balogh comments, adding that “if women and minorities don’t apply, then [City Council] doesn’t have a choice” when it comes time to make appointments.

Two of the “decision-making” boards with openings are the city’s Board of Adjustment, which hears and decides on applications for variances from the city’s development ordinance, and the Metropolitan Sewerage District board, which oversees the operation of that independent entity and holds hearings on its pressing issues.

Other openings include a position on the Downtown Commission, which works on enhancing downtown’s vitality as an urban center, and the Economic Development Advisory Committee, which examines and proposes priorities for sustaining the city’s financial health.

Or, those with an interest in the human side of the city might apply for the Community Relations Council, which works to solve problems relating to racial, ethnic, religious and class relationships. And the Fair Housing Commission, which has jurisdiction over complaints of discriminatory housing practices, needs members interested in enforcing the state’s Fair Housing Act.

Other city boards and commissions with openings include the Greenway Commission, the Noise Ordinance Appeals Board, the Public Art Board and the Tree Commission.

The deadline for applications for this round of openings is Thursday, Jan. 12.

For more information on the boards and the application process, call the City Clerk’s office at 259-5601. Additional information on the LWV study is available from Balogh at 251-6169.

— Nelda Holder


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