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Hey, Matt: Last year that weatherman on Channel 9 (KUUUUUSI) said that, under the right, very unusual weather conditions, it was possible to see Hawaii from Del Mar. He said it was due to inversions or something like that. He said this was true, not a joke. I have never heard anything about this before or since. Is it possible, or is this guy just hallucinating? — Mark in Santee

We had to give this one to Grandma Alice. Usually she doesn’t want anything to do with us (though she has agreed to bake lots of pies to help keep our energy up). But when she heard that we were calling John Coleman (Mr. KUUUUUSI), she flew into the office, grabbed the phone out of my hand, and laid on her most alluring Grandma voice. John Coleman makes Grandma’s heart go pitty-pat. She wasn’t going to miss this opportunity. By the end of the conversation, Grandma was giddy as a schoolgirl. Too dizzy to think. We helped her back to the kitchen, toweled her off, and made her a cup of tea. We haven’t seen her this crazed since Kenny Rogers winked at her in the middle of a concert. Grandma insists he did wink and it was aimed directly at her.

Luckily, we got enough information out of her to shed some light on Mark’s question. KUSI’s weatherperson admits that no one has actually seen Hawaii from Del Mar, but based on scientific scribblings it just maybe, might possibly, theoretically happen. And, he says, it’s because of superior mirages. Those aren’t mirages that are a whole lot better than other mirages; they’re images of objects that appear to be above their actual physical location. Think of old sailors’ tales of seeing ships flying through the clouds. The ships are on the sea, but atmospheric conditions make them appear to a viewer as being well above the horizon.

How to explain this. Well, first of all, think of the earth as being wrapped in layers of atmosphere. As you move from the outer layer to the inner layer, each is denser than the last. Second of all, when light rays pass through each layer, the change in density makes the light bend. And remember, any objects we see are visible because of light rays bouncing off the object we’re looking at.

So, say there’s a fierce temperature inversion going on around your house. That is, cold air is trapped under layers of warm air. Any light passing through the inversion would be bent downward once it hit the denser cold air. So under the right conditions, if you’re gazing off to the horizon, light from an object beyond the horizon could be bent enough around the curve of Earth to appear in your field of vision. And it’s a real image. If you were lucky enough to have a camera with you, you could click it and post it with your tweet about the event.

We tried to find the Guinness Book record for the distance of superior images, but no luck. The best we could do for confirmed sightings was a cityscape with a tower and flashing red light viewed across Lake Michigan. The viewer was on the lake shore in Michigan, looking west across the very cold lake. After some investigating, it was confirmed that the image he saw was downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 75 miles away. That would place the original image well beyond the viewer’s horizon. So that’s how we might maybe see Hawaii from Del Mar, but don’t waste too much time looking for it.

One last Grandma note. Her conversation ended with John Coleman giving her KUUUUUSI lessons. Turns out the secret is starting out with the proper squeak in the back of the throat. Grandma’s in the kitchen every day refining her technique. It’s very annoying.

Erection Lasting More Than Four Hours!

[re crane construction, July 16 column] I was involved in this specific project, and the “construction” (erection is a more appropriate term) of these cranes was far, far different than you describe. In fact, it was quite a story…! The cranes were erected using a ringer-type crane. But first, the soft soils at the site had to be reinforced to support the ringer. The actual cranes were shipped in parts from another country. Getting the parts ashore was even problematic because the piers at the shipyard did not have the strength to support the parts of the cranes. But to their great credit, the men and women at the shipyard “got ’er done!” — Bob Garner

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