Friday, September 4, 2020

Summer 2020: Warmest Summer in Chicago on Record

The National Weather Service's Meteorological Summer Summary reports that 2020 was the warmest summer on record in Chicago. When I first read this, I was a little surprised. While I remember two periods of extended high heat, one in July and one in August, 2020 did not feel like a record warm summer. Maybe that is because there were no 100 degree days, or maybe it is because we tend to remember the very hot unpleasant days in a summer and forget about the weeks of below average temperatures. One thing I do know is that I was measuring soil temperatures in the 90's this year for the first time since 2013, so it was definitely warm. 

Once I looked at the statistics in detail, it made sense. June, July, and August were all well above average in temperature by 5.0, 5.2, and 4.4 degrees respectively. Other summers with memorable heat waves (like 2012 or 1995) had a few more periods of below average temps to balance out their seasonal averages. When all three summer months are above average by that many degrees, it adds up to a record warm season. We also don't tend to notice nighttime lows as much as daytime highs and 2020 had the 3rd warmest low temperature average on record and the 5th highest high temperature average. Warm nights pump up the average temperature, as well as the soil temperature, without any fanfare but turf managers certainly notice in terms of struggling plants and increased disease and insect pressure. 

Even though a lack of rain was occasionally difficult, we were very fortunate that July and August were below average in rainfall and we could keep soil from becoming saturated. Wet soil, flooding, and high heat are a deadly combination for turfgrass, especially in the lower parts of fairways or other areas with less than adequate drainage. Luckily, the heavy rains of May did not continue into the summer months.

The ranking chart below from the NWS report also shows 2010, 2012, and 2020 all in the top 10 of warm summers in Chicago. 2010 and 2012 were much more difficult for turf, at least at Sugar Creek, so I remember them as "hotter," but they were not as far as averages.  2020 was more of an even warmth while 2010 and 2012 contained more extremes in temperature and precipitation.

Below is from the National Weather Service

Temperature Rankings
All-time Top 10 Warmest Summers in Chicago (dating back to 1872)
                         Rank                                  Year  Mean Average Temperature (°F)

Notable Statistics
  • The average high temperature for Summer 2020 in Chicago was 86.2°F, which was the 5th warmest average high temperature for the summer season on record behind 1988 (87.2°F), 2012 (87.0°F), 1995 (86.5°F), and 1955 (86.3°F)
  • The average low temperature for Summer 2020 in Chicago was 67.1°F, which was the 3rd warmest average low temperature for the summer season on record behind 1921 (69.7°F) and 1919 (67.8°F)
  • There were 30 days this summer in Chicago that had a high temperature of 90°F or higher, which is the 10th most such days in Chicago's history dating back to 1872
  • There were 63 days this summer in Chicago that had a high temperature of 85°F or higher, which is the most ever in Chicago's history, besting the previous top number of 61 days that occurred during the summer of 1995
  • There were 27 days this summer in Chicago that had a low temperature of 65°F or lower, which ranks as the third fewest in Chicago's history behind 1921 (20 days) and 1919 (24 days)

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Drain Repairs

The frequent rain in May exposed many places where important drain lines were either not working or working very slowly. We tried using a drain auger but that either didn't work or made only small improvements. Once we found a restriction, we marked the spot for repair. Once the ground firmed up a bit, we were able to fix the drains. As we suspected, the problem was mostly roots.

I can see why this drain wasn't working well:

Thanks to a backhoe borrowed from Parks Department, we were able to fix them all fairly quickly and replace those sections with PVC pipe that is unlikely to be clogged with roots. The older sections uphill of them might be blocked, but these sections should be fine for a long time. It is never fun to fix an area and then have to re-fix it 2 or 3 years later. Roots are relentless!

We fixed 5 drains around the course ranging from 20 feet to 5 feet in length. They are mostly in out of the way locations:

These repairs will be most obvious the next time we have excessive amounts of rain. The water should have an easier time draining to a lower area instead of forming a temporary pond.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Record Breaking May Precipitation

With the storms in the late afternoon on May 30th, we officially broke the record for the wettest May on record at O'Hare. Somehow the airport only received .9" of rain yesterday for a total of 8.21" for the month. At our location in Villa Park, we received 3.1" yesterday making our total for the month well over 10". Surprisingly, the course has not suffered much from all the rain this month. The storms were spaced out with dryer periods in between so the turf had a chance to recover before the next saturation. Yesterday's 3" was the most we received in one storm. While the creek did temporarily flow over its banks and flood a few areas, it receded by this morning with minimal debris left to clean up.

As wet months go, we have been lucky that the days of high heat did not come immediately after a storm. It is usually the combination of standing water, heat, and scalding sun where we see lasting turf damage. It is much easier for turf to handle a wet month in May, or any cooler month, than during June, July, and August when the temperatures are usually higher and grass is more stressed.

We saw a scene like the picture below a few times this month, but in general the course has been in great shape.

High Water
Most mornings have been more like this:

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Finished Deck Pictures

We completed the deck three weeks ago just in time to be enjoyed in the nicer weather after our unusually cold early spring. Many people have had the chance to enjoy it since it was opened.

After completing the deck, we also rebuilt the retaining wall between the deck and the entrance. The old wall was built in 1992 and was failing. We made the bed slightly smaller and channeled the downspout through the wall to prevent it from washing out. I did not take a "before" picture, but it was not straight, level, or attractive. We moved the wall in 36 inches to allow for slightly more room to park golf carts.

Finished wall with top cap and downspout installed:

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Deck Rebuild and Other Winter Projects

Since October, the maintenance crew has been working on rebuilding the clubhouse deck -- on days the weather allowed, at least. At first we were only going to replace the decking but after inspecting the beams things escalated quickly into a complete rebuild. We are currently about 75% complete with the project and hope to have the deck open in April.

Here are some photos from the rebuild:

New triple 2 x 12 beams
New beams and rim joist
New frame asembled

New frame on the "wrap-around" portion

Joists covered with waterproof tape
New boards and taped joists
This deck railing jig made installing the spindles and building railing sections a snap:

Deck railing jig
Here you can see some railing installed. The finished product will have a 2"x6" cap on top.

Wrap-around section complete (except for railing cap)
We have received many questions about the wood. It isn't cedar, but it looks a little like it. It is actually pressure-treated southern yellow pine treated with a pigment to mask the usual green color of treated pine. It is often called cedar-tone in stores. The cedar boards from our original deck were rotting from the bottom up so I liked the idea of a board treated on top and bottom. It is a little more difficult to work with than cedar, more prone to warping and splitting, and a little knottier, but I think it will last longer in our situation here.

In addition to the deck, the crew also completed a lot of tree pruning and the usual equipment maintenance and reel grinding.  Here is a fairway mower reel being ground on the spin grinder:

On March 5th, we also aerified the greens with bayonet tines. This produces channels in turf to facilitate root growth and gas exchange as the greens dry out. After rolling the greens, the slits are barely noticeable and the greens can be putted on immediately. 

Here are the greens after one rolling. They will receive more rolling and mowing before they get much play. By that time, the little slits will be almost invisible but I have taken core samples of them two months later that show the slits full of new roots and still a viable channel for air and moisture.

After one rolling

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Net Replacement on #6

Earlier this year, a wind storm damaged the barrier net along the 6th hole. Several poles were cracked and one even fell over. Since the poles were around 50 years old, the golf course decided to replace entire netting system with new poles. The old net was taken down and the new net put up very quickly on July 17th and 18th. Below are some before and after pictures of the project.

Broken pole after wind storm
Old pole cracked at the bottom
Setting the new poles

Netting system installation in progress
New net system complete

New net system complete
 And here is a group of juvenile raccoons having fun prowling around:

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Grinding Reels

One of the many jobs golf course maintenance departments perform over the winter is reconditioning and sharpening mowers. Reel mower cutting units require a lot of maintenance to get through a year, and over the winter we try to get them back to "factory specs" -- or as close as possible.  It is a time-consuming job, but very necessary to keep the machines cutting through the growing season.

At Sugar Creek, our grinders are very old and "low tech" but they get the job done. As near as I can tell, the maintenance department has spent a grand total of $800 on used grinding equipment over the last 40 years. We have a Neary 500 spin-grinder from the 1980's and a Neary bedknife grinder from the same period. In addition, we have a Peerless 1300 sharpener from probably the 1960's. We normally relief grind with the Peerless, then spin grind with the Neary 500.

Peerless 1300 Manual
Our John Deere manual contains this relief grinding diagram:

From John Deere 2500B Manual

A perfect "double relief grind" as in this diagram is difficult to achieve with our equipment, so we use the Toro specification of a 30 degree single relief grind. Either one performs just as well. In the European literature, they often use the term "blade thinning" interchangeably with "relief grinding," and I think that describes perfectly the main benefit of relief grinding. According to the research, specifically Toro's, the best quality of cut results from sharp edges with "light contact" between the bed knife and reel blade. Light contact is much easier to achieve with less surface area making contact. Relief grinding, or blade thinning, achieves this and also makes keeping the edges sharp through backlapping much more effective.

This year, we tried something new: a Bernhard Rapid Relief grinder. As you can see from the manual cover above, the Peerless sharpener takes up a lot of floor space. With space at a premium in the shop, I wanted to see if a smaller tool could replace the old Peerless grinder. It turns out, the short answer for us, a 9-hole golf course with a total of 17 reels to grind, is "yes;" the long answer is "yes -- but it is quite a bit slower and a little less precise than a full size relief grinder." I'm still not sure if I will get rid of the old Peerless, but this little tool has me thinking about it.

Here is the Rapid Relief:

Berhard Rapid Relief

The rail attaches to the bedknife with strong magnets. On some reels, the front roller has to be taken off. On these reels, we had to remove the groomer to make space for the wheel. This was an extra step but the groomer gear boxes needed inspection and cleaning any way. Once you have the setup parallel and adjusted correctly, you have to get the feel down.

It takes some practice to get consistent results. The first reels we did were fairway reels and they did not come out "perfect" but they were completely adequate. Once we got to the greens mower reels, though, the results were just about as good as we could achieve with the old Peerless grinder -- but quite a bit slower. It took dozens of passes with the abrasive wheel to take off the required material. These greens mower reels took about 45 minutes each. I did take off a lot of material because they had lost almost all of their relief from the previous year. This unit is not really intended to be a shop's only relief grinder. It is more meant to touch up or restore relief to blades during the season. For a small shop like ours, though, it can get the job done.

Bernhard Rapid Relief in action

After the restoring relief to the blade, the spin grinder is used to sharpen the reel and ensure that it is a perfect cylinder. It would be nice if this Neary spin grinder had a relief grinder attachment, but it is a spin-grind only model that we purchased used about 15 years ago. It is in good shape and works perfectly but it is a single purpose grinder at this point. I would love to find a used relief head that could be retrofitted to this unit.

Neary 500 spin grinder

Here is a close-up of the spin-grinding process:

See Time to Grind and Reel Grinding Complete for more on reel grinding.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Kubota Mower Repair

We had another complicated repair to make recently on the Kubota front mower used to mow slopes and uneven terrain with a flexible Lastec deck. It is an important machine as our other mowers with flat decks scalp the turf around the greens, tees, and bunkers. The machine was leaking fluid from a gasket on the hydrostatic transmission (HST). Normally, gasket changes are not that difficult, but on this machine the bolts needed to remove the transmission housing are located inside the tractor. The only way to access them is to separate the tractor completely and remove the transmission.

Here are some interesting pictures from the process:

Kubota F3060 after separating engine frame from front axle

Hydrostatic transmission rear view

After more cleaning and disassembly

Inside of the tractor after removing transmission - amazingly clean for a 16 year old machine.

Inside of hydrostatic transmission

HST cylinder block - This little thing is what makes the mower move!

Reassembled with new gasket, o-rings, and seals
 The mower is now back together and working. Older machines are always an adventure. When I was researching this repair, I did not find much on the internet related to it. Luckily, I did have the workshop manual for this piece of equipment which was a pretty good guide. I share these photos because, first, they are pretty neat to look at (if you like machines), and, second, they might help another grounds crew or mechanic needing to do a similar repair.

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