Friday, January 28, 2011

The sound storm

It's a meteorological event with a conspicuous anthropogenic aggravant.

To say the same thing in non-nerd-speak, it's relatively loud outside, and a conspiracy of temporary weather circumstances is largely to blame for it. 

If you've stepped outside at all in the past 24 hours, it's hard to miss: the distinctive hum of the Gulf freeway, but seemingly louder than what one might expect.  I measured it this morning on my front stoop at a steady 58 decibels (dBA), and I'm almost as far from the freeway as one can get and still be in the neighborhood.

This colorful little thumbnail largely explains why it's happening:
Screengrabbed from at 0741h.
Ignore the psychedelic rainbow of the radar scatter and focus on the blue balloon with the tail, which represents a weather station that one of our residents runs right here in Centerpointe. 
The blue balloon can be translated as follows:  it's 44 degrees out and the air is fairly dense. The wind is blowing at less than five miles an hour, so the air is not very turbulent.  Most importantly, the wind is coming directly at us from a long segment of freeway (which the blue tail is pointing to).  And of course our entire area is very flat, so there are no obstacles between here and the freeway. 

These conditions are like a conveyor belt for the delivery of freeway sounds.  Fortunately, this type of weather-assisted delivery doesn't happen very often, as this diagram suggests:
Skipping the technical explanation, see that the longest tails point to the southeast, not the west or southwest, so most of the time, the wind is not going to blow noise toward us.  According to the dataset referenced here, we only get winds that really optimize freeway noise delivery about 10% of the time, depending on the season.
About ten percent of the time - I can live with that.  Weather changes frequently around here and this "storm" will soon be over, probably before you even read this!

No urban or suburban space is ever perfect (just watch House Hunters on HGTV if you don't believe that!).  This noise thing is certainly not worse than what I've experienced in other neighborhoods - if you live within a few miles of any freeway, you'll experience the sound from time to time (for that matter, if you live near any major arterial road such as State Highway 96 or FM 518, you'll hear those, too!).  I used to live in Pearland in an older tract house that had single-pane windows (which typically allow more sound transmission than double-pane).  I often didn't have to set my alarm because, as the morning rush-hour traffic began to build on 288, the sound of it would naturally wake me up.  And that house was a mile and a half from 288!!

Incidentally, that dark blue diagram above is called a wind rose.  Of course, if you try to do an internet search for "wind rose" in League City, mostly what you'll get is a bunch of Meritage hits, because that's also the name of one of their models.

Also on the general subject of noise, League City revised its noise ordinance just about a year ago and, if you're into that kind of thing, you can read it here.

My favorite part of that ordinance is this one:

So the next time you're sitting in local traffic and someone has one of those obscene bass-driven car stereos cranked up so loud that you can't see straight because your eyeballs are literally vibrating in your head, and you're fuming, "There oughta be a law...", take heart, because there IS.  Now if we can just get the city to enforce it consistently.

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