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Iowa weather word of the day is Graupel.

by Beth Fisher on December 28th, 2015
Iowa weather word of the day is Graupel. Cover Image


Today’s weather word of the day in Iowa City is Graupel.

Graupel is a winter phenomenon often mistaken for hail or sleet, but it’s actually quite different.  Graupel is the result of super-cooled droplets of water freezing to the surface of a snowflake. Unlike a hailstone, they are not truly round in shape, they’re more like little globs of lumpy ice and are usually only 2-5 mm in size.  The easy way to tell graupel from hail is to try and pick it up.  Hailstones are hard while graupel pellets are soft and mushy.graupe  This is a handful of graupel.

How is graupel different from hail or sleet?  Read on.



Hail is a sphere of ice that falls from the clouds during a thunderstorm in the warmer seasons. Hail is usually 5mm to 15 cm in size (about 1/4 inch to 6 inches), and is formed inside thunderstorms with significant updrafts. Hailstones are made of many hard uniform layers of ice that rise and fall inside the clouds until they weigh to much for the updrafts to keep aloft. Hail rarely forms in the winter.

Sleet, which resembles hail, forms during winter storms when a snowflake passes through a small warmer layer of air after forming.  The flake partially melts, then refreezes into a droplet shape before it reaches the ground. Sleet often falls in conjunction with very cold rain.

Freezing rain or Glaze Ice is super-cooled rain that freezes on contact with a surface that is at or below 32 degrees.

Here’s one last fun weather word: Rime.   Rime is what is created when the water droplets in fog freeze when they come in contact with something very cold – like a car windshield. Rime comes in two types – Hard Rime which forms on the windward side of objects during moderate to high winds or Soft Rime which forms on all sides of an object when there is little or no wind.

snowflakeFor more information about snow or weather check out the following:

The Snowflake: Winter’s Frozen Artistry by Kenneth Libbrecht





Thunder & Lightening: weather past, present, future by Lauren Redniss.thunder and lightning







Restless skies: the ultimate weather book by Paul Douglasskys






How Many Presidential Candidates Are There?

by Heidi Lauritzen on December 4th, 2015

Recently I tried to do a quick search on the Internet to make sure I was remembering all of the 2016 presidential candidates.  I stumbled onto a website that listed an amazing number of people (along with the usual suspects that most of us could name) who were identified as candidates.  Was this for real?  I needed to find something a little more authoritative to be sure.

The Federal Election Commission seemed like a good place to check for an unbiased and official list of candidates.  Under the “Quick Answers” section, I found out what it takes (not too much) to register as a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate or the Presidency.  Also at the FEC website, I found their 2016 Candidate Summary, which lists all the people who have registered with the FEC or appear on an official state ballot.  There are well over 1,000 names running for the office of president, although the vast majority have no cash on hand and practically no one would take their candidacy seriously.  Some of the candidate names are suspect (see photo), and it’s easy to see at a glance who the real contenders are.

fec names













There is not a lot of middle ground between the FEC list, which includes so many names, and the coverage of the few candidates who register sufficiently high in polls and receive most of the media attention.   Ballotpedia is a website with up-to-date information on mainstream candidates and which notes the sources of its facts.  The Politics and Elections Portal lists many more candidates, but by no means all; it is interesting to read the short biographies of the lesser-known names.

If you are tired of the same old, same old when it comes to the president race, take a look at some of these other options.

Gas prices – how low will they go?

by Maeve Clark on November 25th, 2015

How low will the price of gas drop this year?  Iowa City recorded a low of $1.99 the first part of January 2015 and while the cost of filling your car has gone up since then,  prices are trending down tgas pricehe last week in November at $2.09 a gallon.  According to a Iowa City Press Citizen article on January 3, 2015, the under $2.00 price was the lowest since May 2009.  The Federal Energy Administration maintains a website of gas prices in the United States but not for Iowa specifically. The United State Department of Energy Fuel Economy also doesn’t have Iowa information but provides links to a number of commercial sites that track the price of gas by week for cities in Iowa.  To track current prices I used the Iowa Gas Prices from  AAA also provides a very useful information for the past year and the highest recorded fuel price.  However, it doesn’t include Iowa City.

What causes fuel prices to vary so greatly?  There are a number of factors that determine the cost of gas.  They are the cost of crude oil, the refining costs and profits, the distribution and marketing costs and profits and taxes.  The cost of crude oil is the major factor in the cost of fuel.  The expansion of  oil production in North America is main reason the price is dropping. If you are looking for apps to help you find the lowest gas prices here are a few suggestions from CNN Money.

Can you recall the lowest price you paid for a gallon of gas?  It might make for interesting Thanksgiving conversation.


It’s the end of the world as we know it!

by Brian Visser on November 23rd, 2015
It’s the end of the world as we know it! Cover Image

Are you prepared for the eventual collapse of society?  I see you slowly backing away from me, but wait!  Let me put away my tin foil hat and explain.  I was recently searching for a new book to read, preferably something non-fiction. (I always make a reading resolution to read more non-fiction, but I never do).  I stumbled upon a book called Lights Out by Ted Koppel.  Koppel wrote about the likelihood of a cyber-attack against the country’s power grid, and how we’re ill prepared for a lengthy blackout.  There would be no running water or means to refrigerate our food.  The smart phones that we use constantly would be useless within days.  Heavy stuff, right?  Also, Koppel investigated the federal government’s planned response for such an attack, and, apparently, there isn’t one.  So…we’re screwed.

I’m actually not all that worried about our impending doom, but it did get me to think about some common sense preparations in the case of a disaster, natural or otherwise.  While the government hasn’t planned for a power grid attack, it does have suggestions for general disaster preparedness.  The Department of Homeland Security created the Ready website to educate us on how to respond to emergencies, and, hopefully, raise the level of preparedness across America.  If you go to the website, you’ll see a “Navigation” link on the left.  If you click on that, it brings up the site’s content including an (almost) exhaustive list of the terrible things that could happen.  Space weather (!) is on this list.  Which–this gave me a chuckle–talks about damage to the electric grid, but not to the level that Koppel is worried about.

FEMA got in on the action (cause it’s their job) and made a Recommended Supplies List.  Honestly, I need to get my act together.  We don’t have most of the stuff on the list, and it definitely isn’t assembled into an Emergency Supply Kit.  Did you look at that list?  It says to consider having household chlorine bleach and a medicine dropper in your kit.  Why?  Because if things get super dire, you can use it to treat water to make it drinkable by using 16 drops of  liquid bleach per gallon of water.  I did some checking into this, and that’s basically what city water treatment does.  So, it won’t even taste weird.  Fun stuff!  If I sound like I’m making light of all this, I’m really not.  I think it’s smart to be prepared.  I’m going to start making my kit soon…Tomorrow, probably.  I’m sure I’ll get around to it sometime.

Inspiration for your fiction

by Melody Dworak on November 17th, 2015
Inspiration for your fiction Cover Image

NaNoWriMo is more than halfway over. Looking for inspiration to get you past writer’s block? Consider consulting dictionaries and encyclopedias on specific subjects.

Last week, someone stumbled upon our encyclopedias on the short Reference shelves on the second floor. He wondered if we had anything like that for sci fi/fantasy mythology. He was curious as to where storytellers got their information about the strengths and weaknesses of monsters.

Lucky for him, he was talking with someone who’s been reading a ton of fantasy fiction this year. I have read the accounts of countless vampires, ghosts, werewolves, fae, demons, witches, trolls, shape-shifters—you name it!

I got him the book How to Kill a Vampire as a place to start. As we were talking about what his goals were for finding books like this, it struck me that he had a great idea: use these kinds of books to inspire and research your fiction writing.  Read the rest of this entry »

Iowa City building permit search

by Jason Paulios on November 16th, 2015

Recently I was trying to research the construction history for my house and found some errors and/or incomplete information. The Iowa City Assessor site has a Parcel Search lookup which shows you a lot of property detail. Unfortunately, like many local databases, the information tends to be more accurate when searching construction that has happened since the world has adopted computers. My house had information describing the garage and small addition as being constructed the same year as the original building which seemed unlikely.

The next step is to visit the website for the City of Iowa City Housing & Inspection Services’ permit activity lookup. This is a great tool and could be used by people wanting to search a property prior to purchase or to research potential remodeling/repair contractors, just do a search for a local builder to see what other jobs they’ve completed. In my case the remodel must have happened too far back to be in the system so I headed to City Hall to see if they had any hard copies.  Staff there were happy to show me the back files and we found all the records on microfiche! From these I determined that the original building was done in 1955 (dated October 26th) and that the small addition (77 square feet) was from 1961 and estimated to cost $200 (hahahaha, even with inflation this is still only $1600 today or about $21 per square foot).

For your next house history hunt make sure to include the Housing & Inspection Services department!  Here’s a super detailed drawing plan for constructing a garage in 1961:


Is it going to snow tomorrow?

by Mary Estle-Smith on October 29th, 2015

Living in the Midwest, we all experience the ever changing weather and lament the sometimes frustrating inaccuracy of  forecasting that we experience, especially when trying to plan an event around upcoming weather. The Information Desk gets several questions per week about current and future weather.  We use sources like the National Weather Service as well as local media sites.

There are also many items in our collection that can help you to become a more informed observer of what is happening and  have a better understanding of meteorology as a science. These are just a few of the items you will find by searching “weather forecasting” in our catalog.  There are materials for readers of all levels on everything from weather folklore to experiments you can play with at home.  Check it out!! Here are a few examples:

Thunder and lightningIn Thunder & Lightning: Weather Past, Present, Future, Lauren Redniss tells the story of weather and humankind through the ages.  The author explores the headquarters of the National Weather Service and looks at the global and economic impact of natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.  In addition to extensive research into her subject matter, the author also designed and produced the text, artwork and cover.


 forecastingFor the DIY weather people, Guide to Weather Forecasting  may be the book for you.  The aptly named author, Storm Dunlop includes  detailed information on causes of weather,  how to recognize clouds and interpret sky appearance, and explanations of weather systems and how they  change.  The book includes charts, photographs and diagrams amateur forecasters will find useful.  Give it a try, see if you can beat the “pros”!

71bwcGmvTcL__SX342_And finally, something better to watch on a screen than outside your window: Deadliest Tornadoes. This documentary examines the extremely deadly 2011 season to try to better predict tornadoes in the future.




How to find the value of a used car.

by Beth Fisher on October 28th, 2015

Nada2At the Information Desk we are often asked to help people find the value of a used car – either one they own and are thinking of selling/trading-in or a used car they’re thinking about buying.

Two of the most commonly used sources of used car information are the Kelley Blue Book and the NADA Guides, both of which are available on the ICPL website at  Choose Reference and Research from the far left column, then Online Databases. On the Online Database page choose the category Business & Consumer Information, and scroll down the list.   Or click HERE and scroll down.

The NADA Guidebook and Kelley Blue Books are very similar – based on research, they provide suggested values for vehicles. Both have been around since before 1940.  And while they are similar, their intended audience is actually quite different.  Kelley Blue Books are geared toward consumers.  Their values are determined by considering mileage, condition, features and local demand.   The NADA Guide books are designed primarily for the members of the National Automotive Dealers Association.  Their prices are determined based on automotive sales, and show what dealers expect to sell a vehicle for.   Because these two purposes are different, the values they give for the same vehicle will almost always be different.

KBB2The Kelly Blue Book website can be used to find the price of a new or used car,  check the value of your own car,  or see reviews and ratings.   The information you provide when finding your car’s value includes the year, make, model, mileage, trim package, and options that were available when your car was made (engine size and type, transmission, entertainment, comfort and convenience options) and color. You also have to provide your zip code, as they use regional demand as a factor as well.  You are then given an option to find the Trade In or Sell To Private Party value.  But you’re not done yet – you still have to add in the condition of your car. You’re given four choices: Excellent, Very Good, Good, and Fair, with a description of what each of those categories represents.  Then you are given a page of information with a value for your car and graphic you can adjust to see how the price would vary  if your car’s physical condition were better or worse.  Unfortunately you also see adds for brand new cars you might like on this page, but advertising pays the bills.

Kelly Blue Book also provides value information for Motorcycles, Personal Watercraft and Snowmobies.


Nada4The NADA Guides website can be used to find values for new or used cars and trucks, motorcycles, RVS, boats, Classic Cars and Manufactured Homes.  According to their website their data is based on “over one million sales transactions per month” and the prices given in their guides are based on “the overall condition, mileage, history and local supply and demand.”

You fill in the same basic details here – year, make, model, mileage.  The results you see will have suggested Trade In values for cars in Rough, Average and Clean condition as well as an expected Retail Price.  Values for selling or buying a vehicle privately are not provided.

Print copies of the NADA Guides are also available at the Information Desk for use in the Library.


Edmunds1Another popular source for automotive values is  The web site has a wide variety of automotive information, but no motorcycles, snowmobiles, RVs etc.  You can find prices for new and used cars, information on national and regional incentives or rebates, dealer and inventory listings, vehicle reviews.   They have a section called Appraise Your Car which functions like Kelley and NADA websites.   Edmunds also devotes a large part of its website to reviews, research, tips and advice and a very handy section called Maintenance – which is where you can find Maintenance Schedules, Recalls and Technical Service Bulletins just by entering your cars year, make and model.   Very handy source for some times hard-to-find information.

All three of these websites- either separately or together- can help you determine a fair value for your own car or get information on a vehicle you are considering buying.


2015 Art Purchase Prize winners

by Candice Smith on October 16th, 2015

This year’s Art Purchase Prize contest has resulted in the purchase of eight new works of original art. During the annual contest, the Library solicits art from artists who live, work, or exhibit in the Iowa City area; the art is then judged by the Library’s Art Advisory Committee, made up of six local residents who are involved with, and have an interest in, the arts. Iowa City has a very vibrant and active arts community, and the contest always brings in a wonderful variety of entries.

The art will be on display during the months of December and January, and then will be added to the Library’s Art-To-Go collection of framed artwork. Works from this collection can be checked out for two months by anyone with an ICPL library card.

The winning entries are: Calliope (water soluble oil on paper, monotype) by Pamela Read; Contact (oil on canvas) by John Tiffany; Ghosts of the Mississippi: Blackhawk Bridge (photograph) by Rebecca Miller; It’s Almost 1997 (oil on paper) by Phil Ochs; Red Barn & Winter Trees (acrylic on canvas) by Lianne Westcot; Still Life with Metal Pitcher & Pears (watercolor and pastel on paper) by David Noyes; and View From Overpass I & II  (charcoal on paper) by Joe McKenna.

Calliope1 contact1 GhostsOfTheMississippi1 ItsAlmost19971

StillLifeWithMetalPitcherAndPears1 ViewFromOverpass1a ViewFromOverpass2a

Local Halloween Activities

by Heidi Lauritzen on October 13th, 2015

It’s time to think about pumpkin carving and trick or treat costumes.  Here are some local facts to help you plan your Halloween activities.

Trick or Treat Schedules:

Iowa City:  Saturday, October 31, Dusk-8:00 pm

Coralville:  Saturday, October 31, 5:30-8:00 pm

North Liberty:  Saturday, October 31, 5:00-8:00 pm

Other Halloween Events:

Halloween Parade & Carnival (Sponsored by the Iowa City Recreation Center):  Friday, October 23, 6:15 pm–Meet at Weatherdance Fountain on the Downtown Ped Mall.

Haunted Happenings (Sponsored by the North Liberty Community Center; $3.00 charge): Thursday & Friday, October 29 & 30, 6:30-9:30 pm–North Liberty Community Center.

Creepy Campus Crawl:  Histories & Mysteries at the Museums (Sponsored by UI Museum of Natural History & Old Capitol Museum):  Friday, October 30, 5:30-8:30 pm–at the museums.

Tot Monster Mash (Sponsored by the Iowa City Recreation Center):  Friday, October 30, 9:30-11:30 am–Mercer/Scanlon Gym.

Nearby Pumpkin Farms:

Wilson’s Orchard, Iowa City–Pre-picked or pick your own, 10-6 daily in October

Colony Pumpkin Patch, North Liberty–Open daily until October 30; check website for hours

Kroul Farms, Mt. Vernon–Pre-picked; check website for hours.

Sass Family Farm, Riverside–Pre-picked; check website for hours.

Activities Farther Afield:

Check this Cedar Rapids Gazette article for more pumpkin patches and Halloween activities in Cedar Rapids area.