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The Weather and It's Effect on Star Party Attendance

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#1 BarrySimon615

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Posted 01 November 2019 - 10:17 AM

Irrespective of "whether or not" there is such a thing as Climate Change or Global Warming the weather is very fluid and quite unpredictable.  The only thing we can count on is that it changes and predicting it is often wrong.

 

Our star party, the Deep South Star Gaze, is held in the fall for a number of reasons, chief of which is the statistical probability of cooler temperatures and often drier air and clearer skies.  We have been holding the DSSG now for 37 years and our history does tell us that over the long term our rationale for holding the DSSG when we do does remain valid.  (Our date criteria is simply 5 days centered on "new Moon" and ending on a weekend in the period between mid-October and mid-November).  Over the years we have had very few, perhaps only one or two star gazes that most would consider to be totally a bust in terms of the weather and it can be argued that none of them were totally clouded out.  This however is not a consolation to those that have attended DSSG's and their schedule seems to always be such that the dates that they are planning on attending happen to be the cloudy days and nights.

 

In recent years it seems that at least half of the star gaze dates are essentially no good for astronomical observation.  Our most recent DSSG is a good example of one in which we had both really good days and nights and really bad days and nights.  For those that attended beginning on Tuesday they  probably felt (especially if they left on Thursday) that this was a good DSSG with great observing (which it was on Tuesday and Wednesday).  For those that adjusted their stay and moved their arrival up to Tuesday, they made the right decision.  Unfortunately some could not do this and they found that observing was impossible, except for some periods of solar observing on Thursday and some brief periods of fleeting deep sky observing on Saturday evening.

 

So what, if anything, can we do to maximize quality time under the stars whereever a star party is held?

 

If possible, and the venue is agreeable, have flexible dates.  We are, to a large extent, an aging group.  Many are now retired so locking in dates is not as critical as it was during our working years.  For others still working you may be surprised as to how flexible your schedule may be if you ask and plan ahead.  At the very least if the club or organizer of an event can schedule an event during good weather, the weekend may be ok if your drive is not too far.  We are doing just that for our "Spring Scrimmage next year with 4 possible 3 night runs running from just past Last Quarter Moon to just beyond New Moon from mid April to mid May.  As we get close to the first set of dates, typically when we are about a week out, I will look at the forecast to see if that first set of dates is viable weather-wise.  I will ask to see who wants to and can attend.  At 5 days out we will make a "go or no go" decision.   As our head count will be smaller there will be no meals at our venue, except for maybe the evening snack bar.  Lunch can be covered by eating at the Country Diner or somewhere else and I am sure all will have snacks and drinks to satisfy your morning hunger pains.  On a good night some will be sleeping late anyway.  What our venue will get will be what we pay for our bunk space.  Note - given good weather some may choose to arrive earlier or stay longer.  We may have additional flexibility.

 

If for some reason none of the 4 date possibilities work out that will be what it is.  This may punch the ticket for some of you to attend another function or to plan a trip somewhere else.

 

For any events - past, present or into the future - as I said before and I will say again - in keeping with long standing policy for both for our events, other similar star parties, other types of events and the policies for our venue and our previous venues - When you pay you registration and fees for lodging and meals, I turn our head count and revenues received into the venue.  This past year I advised here that a good idea would be to pay for a bunk for just a few nights and to really consider what you wanted to do about meals as the venue has some flexibility to add meals.  Doing this minimizes loss for anyone who ultimately does not attend or who cuts out earlier.  Many heeded my advice and they had no financial loss or very little.  Some changed their schedule to take advantage of our good days and nights.  However some paid for everything and either did not attend at all, maybe left early or came only after the bad weather settled in.  Consider all the scenarios when scheduling your time away at events.

 

Other suggestions will be much appreciated.

 

Barry Simon


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#2 cliff mygatt

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Posted 01 November 2019 - 11:09 AM

My club, of which I am the president,  hosts two annual star parties, one in Spring, around April time frame and one in the fall, around September/October time frame.  For these events, we rent a state owned facility within a state park.  We have to rent the facility one year out to assure we have it for our planned event.  We plan our event for 4 days (Wednesday to Sunday)centered around new moon as well.  Our history has shown we have never been "skunked" claiming to have at least one good night.  We do not offer refunds due to bad weather and frankly, if we are skunked, we all have a good time enjoying each others company and getting out and about in the local area of Mid to Eastern Washington state.  It is nice to commune with like minded folks and talk about everything astronomy as well as other topics.  The weather is what it is and we just deal with it.  We often have folks that do not show up based on weather predictions but typically they tend to be wrong and we do get observing done.  Just my thoughts and experiences.


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#3 edwincjones

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Posted 02 November 2019 - 10:44 AM

I think that it is just" luck of the draw"

once the time and money have been committed.

My star party plans for longer travel has been

to have alternative vacation options if clouded out.

 

The more flexible the better though.

 

edj


Edited by edwincjones, 02 November 2019 - 10:45 AM.

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#4 John Miele

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Posted 12 November 2019 - 02:57 PM

Barry,

I think your new proposal is a great idea. It will surely make my attendance more likely. I would much rather be flexible and go a few days early or later than drive a long distance for zero observing.

#5 bunyon

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Posted 13 November 2019 - 09:18 PM

I’ve yet to see a star party with registration costs anywhere more than a tiny fraction of the vehicle used to get there. To say nothing of the gear. Registration is usually less than the gas. The advice to hedge on meals and lodging, if money is short, is a good one.

Really, the trouble is weekdays. Time off work is hard. If your star party gets two clear nights in the week and is cloudy on the weekend most working folks will consider it a bust. There is a reason star parties skew retired. Not much organizers can do about it.
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#6 edwincjones

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Posted 14 November 2019 - 12:24 PM

...............The advice to hedge on meals and lodging, if money is short, is a good one...............

 

I do not see how the clubs can even do this since they usually have a financial commitment to the food and lodging vendors.

 

edj



#7 bunyon

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Posted 15 November 2019 - 09:17 PM

I’ve been to a few where food is optional. You can pay to eat on site or bring/prepare your own. That’s usually a little cheaper and, if you end up not going, saves money.

#8 BarrySimon615

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Posted 18 November 2019 - 09:38 AM

I do not see how the clubs can even do this since they usually have a financial commitment to the food and lodging vendors.

 

edj

Ed, at our new venue, the White Horse Christian Retreat Center, we do have an amazing amount of flexibility.  As I said in my post above we have four possible date ranges from mid-April to mid-May.  

 

Last spring we had planned that Spring Scrimmage basically for a period that was on a Thursday to Sunday near new Moon in April.  Leading up to those dates the weather was deplorable and looked like it would remain horrible during our stay.  The owner of the venue suggested that we cancel those dates and move back a month to the next new Moon period in May.  She was very gracious about this and I was able to contact everyone and do just that.  As she had grass cut for us at her expense we paid for that grass cutting in appreciation for what she was willing to do.  When we did use "White Horse" in mid-May we were treated to some very nice views of Omega Centaurus (from this location we do have low horizons to the south and Omega climbs to 12 degrees up.

 

Regarding meals we do have flexibility there.  If above a certain headcount Carol has to bring in extra help so she has no problem with us eating at the Country Diner if numbers are low on the early days and she does a snack bar in the evening with hamburgers and similar type food.  It has worked out very well for us.

 

See photos from our Spring Scrimmage last April.

 

Barry

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#9 DeanS

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Posted 18 November 2019 - 10:29 AM

Week long events at least give the probability of more clear nights, but of course not always.  Have been to many that was a week long bust contrary to the forecast, but also to some where we wished for at least one cloudy night so we could get some sleep.   Luck of the draw when picking dates so all you can do is look at what the average conditions are at that time of year and go with it.

 

Since I normally drive long distances it would not be worth it for only a short star party, particularly if the weather looks iffy.  I will usually go regardless for week long events.

 

Dean


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#10 iam1ru12

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Posted 23 November 2019 - 07:12 AM

As someone that is more than 15 years away from retirement age, it’s very hard to be flexible with dates.  There are only so many available vacation days and those need to be allocated between family vacations and astronomy vacations.  While working remotely is always an option for me, lack of good /stable internet connections at most venues minimizes that option.

 

I agree with Dean, I’ll make the commitment to drive to an event if the duration is around a week, that maximizes the chance of a few good nights of observing.  If 50% of the nights are good for observing then I call that a success!

 

As an aside, I followed the advice from a friend and arrived to a recent star party a day early (stayed at a camp ground and not on the observing field).  It was awesome advice.  Even if you’re just driving a short distance, just a few hours, all the prep and loading the day of and then the unloading and setting up take their toll.  Usually by the time it gets dark, you’re exhausted and do minimal observing that first night.  By arriving early, you can set up when field opens (usually 12 noon), set up camp and your equipment leisurely, take a nap if needed and be ready for observing that first night.

 

-Mike


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