Vibrant sunset across western Massachusetts


(WWLP) – Have you noticed the sunsets lately have been bright and colorful across western Massachusetts?

A 22News viewer set photos of the sunset in Belchertown Thursday night. If you have a news tip, photos or video email us at [email protected].

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), eye-catching sunrises and sunsets seem to favor the fall and winter. Clean air is, in fact, the main ingredient common in the brightly colored low-sun hues. NOAA also notes that the most memorable sunsets tend to be those with at least a few clouds.

Certain types of clouds are more linked with enhanced sunsets than others. Clouds catch the last red-orange rays of the setting sun and the first light of the dawn like a theatre screen, and reflect this light to the ground.

But if sunsets and sunrises are red, orange, yellow and pink, why is the sky normally blue?

Depiction of sunlight scattering. (22News Storm Team)

22News Storm Team Meteorologist Kelly Reardon explains: “Remember, sunlight is called white light, but it’s actually made up of all different colors. Think of sunlight shining through a prism and splitting up the red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet colors. Each color has a different wavelength, or size, if you will. 

“Our atmosphere is made up primarily of oxygen and nitrogen. Those are tiny gas molecules, and those small particles tend to scatter blue light more strongly than red. 

“However, during a sunset or sunrise, that light has to travel a much longer distance to your eye than it does when the sun is up above us. The longer the distance the light has to go, the more the blue and violet light is scattered by atmospheric aerosols due to their shorter wavelengths. Aerosols are tiny solid or liquid particles suspended in the atmosphere. That means as the distance increases, most of the light left unscattered is red, orange and yellow.”



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Northern outlasts Western on the hardwood, 50-49


Commerce- Walled Lake Northern hosted crosstown rival Walled Lake Western for the first of two Lakes Valley Conference meetings between the two schools this season. The Knights came into the contest with a 3-3 record (1-1, LVC) facing a Warriors’ squad with an unblemished 4-0 record (2-0, LVC).

With student sections light on both sides due to upcoming final exams in the district this week, those on hand were treated to an exciting basketball game as the Knights outlasted the Warriors to escape with a 50-49 victory.

Western, coached by second-year coach Duane Graves jumped out to 9-2 lead, with sophomore sensation Dylan Smith scoring seven points in that span.

After a Northern timeout, the Knights received a spark off the bench from reserve guard Jack Smukal who would score five points in the quarter, leading a Northern rally to tie the score at 11-11 to end the first frame.

The Warriors would outscore the Knights 11-6 in the second quarter to take a five-point lead at 22-17 into the break. It was Smith again who knocked down a three and added another bucket to score five more of his twelve first-half points to help Western build their biggest lead of the night. Western junior Alex Dulcea also scored four points off the bench in the opening half. Northern senior and leading scorer John Archer would manage to score four points in the quarter after being held scoreless in the opening quarter.

After adjusting at the half, Northern outscored Western 18-8 in the third quarter. After a Smukal steal, the junior guard was fouled while making a layup in traffic. Smukal completed the “and one” and the game was gridlocked for the first time since the tip at 28-28.

The Knights would then take their first lead of the contest courtesy of a triple by junior forward Jude Muldenhauer-Whitman put his squad on top 31-28 with 1:41 left in the third quarter. After Smukal split a pair of free throws, Muldenhauer-Whitman nailed another jumper from behind the arc and the Knights took a 35-30 lead into the final quarter.

Western attempted to come back in the fourth quarter, with Smith scoring twelve more of his game-high 26 points, but the Knights’ clutch shooting at the charity stripe prevented Western from getting any closer than four points. Smith would hit a triple in the final seconds of the game as Northern prevailed with the 50-49 victory.

Down the stretch, junior guard Ryan Wardrop went four-for-five at the line with Smukal and Muldenhauer-Whitman both going two-for-two as the Knights shot 8-for-10 at the free throw line in the final quarter.

Northern coach Ryan Negoshian was pleased with the outcome Tuesday night with his team coming out on top. When asked what he thought were the keys to his team’s success, the second-year coach said, “I thought our defense was able to disrupt the flow of their offense. We were also able to hold the to one shot most of the night. That was big because that are a great offensive rebounding team.”

Negoshian continued, “We had several games step up tonight. I thought Dunlap handled their pressure well, and he got us into our offense and pushed through as he played all thirty-two minutes. And down the stretch, we had guys that were able to step up, handle pressure and hit free throws.”

Smith led the Warriors with 26 points, and junior Wil Ludwig added 7 points in defeat.  The loss was the first of the season for Western (4-1, 2-1, LVC). The Warriors will look to rebound on Friday when they travel to Milford to take on the Mavericks.

A relieved Negoshian commented on Smith’s stellar play in the rivalry matchup. “He (Smith) is a great player and he showed that tonight. We knew going in that he would be tough to stop and I don’t think we were able to do that tonight. Good players step up when the team needs them most and that’s what he did tonight.”

Northern was led by Muldenhauer-Whitman with 12 points and Smukal who tallied 11 points (5-for-6 at FT). Archer and fellow senior Nate Dunlap added 9 and 8 points respectively. With the win, Northern improves to 4-3 (2-1, LVC) on the season.

When discussing the everyday grind of the LVC, Negoshian said, “Every win is huge in this league, especially one against a crosstown rival. Being able to beat a well-coached and talented team like Western should help boost our confidence and help us get one step closer to achieve our season’s goals.”

The Knights will travel to South Lyon East on Friday to take on the Cougars (3-4, 1-2 LVC).

 





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Best Western Plus Revamping to Attract More Corp. Travelers


During the company’s annual convention in October, BWH Group board chair Ishwar Naran cited a McKinsey & Co. report that found an opportunity for the Best Western Plus brand to win more midweek corporate business. To achieve that, Best Western Plus must be more competitive in design and brand standards, he said.

As a result, BWH Group, taking the McKinsey findings—which showed the rate gap between Best Western Plus and Best Western had shrunk from about $20 per night to about $6—as well as additional qualitative and quantitative research, came up with new standards to better distinguish the Best Western Plus brand to attract new customers and maintain current ones, BWH Group SVP and COO Ron Pohl told BTN. 

“That is where the ballot initiative came out in identifying the top 10 to 15 items to make product enhancements and improve the guest experience,” Pohl said. “But based on timing of what we’ve been through [with the pandemic], we’re taking a commonsense approach on how to implement meaningful changes over the next two to three years that are affordable for hotel owners to implement, with the most important items in the beginning phase of that, with the [remaining ones] toward the end of the three-year implementation program.”

Pohl was referring to three ballot initiatives Best Western launched about a week after the convention that addressed changes to the brand’s standards—with two of the three related to changes that would affect brands beyond just Best Western Plus. All three initiatives passed in November, he added.

Brand Enhancements

Among the changes is a new requirement that Best Western Plus mattresses have some type of pillow top. There also will be requirements for in-room single-serve K-cup coffee makers or a similar set-up, as well as a 24-hour offering of specialty coffee in the lobby or breakfast area, with enhanced offerings such as lattes and cappuccinos. All are due for implementation by the end of 2022, Pohl said.

Best Western also found a disconnect in its fitness center product offerings in both the size of the rooms and the quality of the equipment, Pohl said. Beginning in 2023, the brand will require Peloton or similar equipment it its fitness rooms “because there is obviously a large following—more than 2 million people who search and use Peloton equipment in selecting their hotel stay,” he added.

Lobby community tables, music and water dispensers also will be enhanced, he said. 

The final phase covers the size and technology capabilities of guest room TVs, an area that “moves pretty fast.” Pohl said. Best Western sees a lot of requests for streaming and casting, and that hotels today typically offer one or the other but not necessarily both. By the end of 2024, Pohl said the company’s hotels will require a smart-capability TV of 50 inches or larger in each room across all three brands—Best Western Plus, along with Best Western and Best Western Premier—offering both steaming and casting capabilities.

Best Western at some point also will start a design cycle for its Best Western Plus hotels, with timing dependent on the pandemic, Pohl added.

Plans to Attract More Business Travelers

Best Western across all its brands has roughly a two-thirds to one-third mix of leisure travel to business travel, Pohl said, adding that weekend business for Best Western Plus is “far above where we were in 2019, both in rate and occupancy.” To draw in more midweek business travelers, Pohl said SVP and CMO Dorothy Dowling’s team is talking to key customers, particularly those with whom Best Western conducted qualitative research. 

“Most importantly, we’ve brought back our entire sales team,” Pohl added, “and we are continuing to see the return of business travel.” 

Pohl added that development is key to the strategy, and that the growth of Best Western Plus in primary urban markets was “slightly below where our competing brands have grown, so if you have more inventory in those markets, you’re going to attract more business travelers. The key focus for us is to ensure we can have more inventory available in primary, secondary, downtown markets where a lot of the business demand is and attract those customers midweek.”

The challenge for Best Western Plus, however, is that more than 50 percent of the brand’s hotels were pre-pandemic new construction, and “today, new construction is not something many people are thinking about,” Pohl said. “We have evolved some of our standards to ensure we can get more inventory in these markets from a conversion approach and that they are competitive in their marketplace.”

Pohl estimates that 50 to 75 Best Western Plus properties could join the company in 2022. “It’s one of our faster-growing brands,” he said. 



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Chaotic holiday traveling not as present in western Montana


MISSOULA — The Missoula Montana Airport is seeing a season that’s quite busy.

“Traffic is back to almost 2019 levels for us,” Airport Director Brian Ellestad told MTN News.

Operations at the airport are revamping after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Ellestad, on Dec. 26 there were 300 more cars in the airport parking lot than there were on that day in 2019.

Missoula Montana Airport sees uptick in travelers

MTN News

But during the uptick, flying has become very difficult in recent weeks.

“I flew out for Christmas and I was delayed 5½,” Ellestad said, of his personal experience traveling over the holidays.

Flying over the holidays was a frustrating event for many Americans with thousands of flights canceled across the US.

But Chicago resident Matt Saley said flying to Montana for the holidays to visit family went off almost without a hitch.

“Yeah, not having to worry about a connection was huge,” he said.

His direct flight made the travel easier without connection issues, but flights were still delayed.

“The one on the way like probably 45, 50-minute delay, and then the other one was like a 30-minute delay,” Saley explained.

In addition to positive COVID-19 cases and crew shortages, winter storms caused travel to be unsafe in the Midwest, in the south, and across the Pacific last week.

Saley’s flight from Kalispell back home on Dec. 26 to Chicago revealed a chaotic and busy terminal.

“You could tell the people that were in a rush pretty easily,” Saley said.

Ellestad noted that Montana airports weren’t terribly impacted by the cancellations over the holidays.

“I would say all the airports in Montana had their share of cancellations over the Christmas holiday, but we probably fared better than the rest of the country.”

According to tracking service https://flightaware.com/, over 5,000 domestic flights were canceled over New Year’s weekend.

“Being flexible right now is kind of the name of the game,” Ellestad said.





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Catamounts Travel to South Carolina State Sunday – Western Carolina University – catamountsports.com



Catamounts Travel to South Carolina State Sunday – Western Carolina University  catamountsports.com



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7 popular Western desserts Japanese chefs have made their own


(CNN) — Japan has long been famous internationally for its diverse and delicious eats, from sushi to ramen, with such staples appearing on menus around the world.

But in recent years word has also spread about its expertise in another culinary arena — cakes and pastries. The country’s chefs have taken many of the traditionally “Western” desserts known and loved around the world and elevated them to new heights.

Unlike Japanese sweets — called wagashi — Western-style confectioneries, referred to as “yogashi,” are made mostly of flour and sugar. But Japanese versions are generally less sweet compared to their Western counterparts.

Many of the classic yogashi that are popular in the West made their way to Japan centuries ago and have since been adapted, perfected and popularized. Some of the bigger dessert brands have already opened chains in other cities throughout Asia, from Bangkok to Taipei.

“In Japanese sweets making, there is a tendency to incorporate improvements … Japan is good at using local ingredients and expressing the tastes of the season while incorporating Western techniques and combinations,” says Kengo Akabame, pastry chef at Imperial Hotel Tokyo.
Akabame was part of the Japanese team that competed at this year’s Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie, or the Pastry World Cup, and walked away with the silver prize.

“I think that the point of trying to create new things while incorporating (classic methods) leads to further evolution,” says Akabame.

Hideo Kawamoto is president of Juchheim Group, one of the oldest confectionery brands in Japan. He agrees that the freedom to experiment has helped the country’s chefs build one successful dessert product after another.

“Japanese customers like to taste as much as they can, and know their favorites. Through these competitive markets, some chefs get to a famous position and create popular products,” Kawamoto tells CNN Travel.

Given Japan’s status as a leading travel destination prior to the pandemic, a successful new take on a cake would often quickly become trendy in other Asian countries.

Here are some of the popular cakes and desserts Japanese chefs have made their own.

Strawberry shortcake

Japan's strawberry shortcake has become a popular winter cake around Asia. Here's the version at Good Good, a Hong Kong bakery.

Japan’s strawberry shortcake has become a popular winter cake around Asia. Here’s the version at Good Good, a Hong Kong bakery.

Good Good

Among the most iconic yogashi in Japan is the classic strawberry shortcake, and many credit Rin’emon Fujii, founder of Fujiya — Japan’s first nationwide Western-style cake shop chain — for its popularity.

After establishing a confectionery shop in Yokohama in 1910, Fujii went to the United States to hone his pastry skills and knowledge. It was there that he tried strawberry shortcake for the first time and fell in love.

A year later, Fujii returned to Japan to create his version: an airy and fluffy layered sponge cake coated with velvety cream and topped with candied strawberries.

Considered a luxury to be indulged on special occasions, the festive-colored dessert is now synonymous with Christmas in Japan. Hotels, department stores and bakeries all promote their versions of strawberry shortcakes during the holiday season.

The tradition and popularity of Japan’s take on the iconic cake has even moved beyond its borders.

“It’s such a Japanese cake — Europe’s shortcake didn’t take on this style,” says Tammy Chan, dessert chef and founder of Good Good, a cafe in Hong Kong that serves one of the city’s most popular strawberry shortcakes.

“I put it on our menu every winter as, despite its simplicity, it is a cake that makes you feel so blissful. It’s basic but there is so much room to explore and improve.”

Baumkuchen

Japan's Juccheim Group recently invented an AI oven that bakes Baumkuchen over a spit.

Japan’s Juccheim Group recently invented an AI oven that bakes Baumkuchen over a spit.

Juchheim Group

Baked on a spit-like rotisserie, Baumkuchen is a round German cake with golden circular lines resembling a tree’s growth ring (see image at the top of this story).

“Baumkuchen in Germany is defined by Germany’s Confectionary Handicraft Association. On the other hand, the Japanese one isn’t defined and has many versions created by many chefs,” says Kawamoto when asked to compare the two.

Though it now symbolizes peace, longevity and everlasting love, Japan’s Baumkuchen had a grim beginning.

According to legend, in 1909, Karl Juchheim — founder of the Juchheim Group — opened a cake shop in the Chinese city of Jiaozhou, which was under the German concession.

As World War I broke out, Juchheim — who served as a private in the German army — was sent to internment camps in Japan with his wife. It was there that he started baking and selling the first Baumkuchen cakes in Japan in 1919. After the end of the war, the couple stayed in Japan and opened E. Juchheim in Yokohama in 1922.

Baumkuchen grew popular in the following decades for different reasons — there was the wedding cake boom in the 1960s, followed by increased demand for local gourmet cakes in the 1980s and the rise of Japanese sponge cakes in the 2000s.

Today, Juchheim Group has shops across Asia and Baumkuchen has become a staple on Japan’s dessert menus.

The company even built the world’s first AI oven, called THEO, to cook the cake.

Castella

Bunmeido is one of Japan's most famous Castella brands.

Bunmeido is one of Japan’s most famous Castella brands.

Bunmeido Tokyo

The origin story of Castella combines miscommunication and a 500-year-old trade history.

In 1543, a few Portuguese merchants became the first documented Europeans to reach Japan after a storm blew their ships off course. In the following years, the Portuguese established a trading relationship with Japan.

During one missionary exchange, a simple bread made of flour, sugar and eggs was introduced to the people of Nagasaki as the “bread from Castile.” It’s said that the locals, who loved the cake, mistook that description as the name and went with it.

It soon became known locally as “Castella” and grew to become a popular dessert all over the country.

Nowadays, Castella is made in different flavors — from chocolate to matcha — and the thickly sliced pound cake with a caramelized top goes perfectly with a cup of tea or coffee.

Bunmeido and Fukusaya are two popular Japanese brands selling these cakes.

Mont Blanc

Namashibori Montblanc is a specialty chain that serves Mont Blanc with freshly squeezed chestnut toppings.

Namashibori Montblanc is a specialty chain that serves Mont Blanc with freshly squeezed chestnut toppings.

IMM Food Services Inc

Mont Blanc may make frequent appearances in bakeries worldwide, but few countries have shown as much affection towards this chestnut vermicelli-blanketed dessert as Japan.

There are even specialty shops for different styles of Mont Blanc — from a six-seater waguri (Japanese chestnut) Mont Blanc store that gives out limited tickets at 9:30 a.m. each morning to Namashibori Montblanc, a chain store that has its own chestnut squeezing machine to ensure maximum freshness.

In 1933, after the founder experienced an amazing hike at the actual Mont Blanc in France, he asked permission from both the mayor of Chamonix (where Mont Blanc is located) as well as the then-president of Hotel Mont Blanc in the town before naming his Tokyo dessert shop in honor of the delicious treat.

Cream puffs

Beard Papa's is one of the biggest Japanese cream puff chains.

Beard Papa’s is one of the biggest Japanese cream puff chains.

Beard Papa’s

Akabame says that in spite of the evolution of so many amazing desserts, his absolute favorite is a classic sweet — cream puffs.

The pastry chef isn’t alone.

In a recent study released by Japan’s Seven-Eleven convenience stores, the best-selling sweet is its choux a la crème, known as shu kurimu, locally. It’s a crispy and light pastry with a custard cream filling. (Mont Blanc came third in the same ranking.)

In the 1850s, Yokohama was a designated foreign settlement and was open to foreigners living and working there. It was there that a French baker introduced Japan to its first cream puffs.

The sweet soon became a hit, with pastry chefs from around Japan traveling to Yokohama to learn the craft.

Cheesecake

Bakery shop Morozoff is believed to have created the first Japanese-style cheesecake in 1969.

Bakery shop Morozoff is believed to have created the first Japanese-style cheesecake in 1969.

Morozoff Limited

Founded by a Russian confectioner in Kobe in 1931, Morozoff started out as a chocolate shop. But it wasn’t until 1969, after then-president Tomotaro Kuzuno sampled a cheesecake in Berlin, that the brand was inspired to create a Japanese version.

Japanese cheesecakes are often praised for their light and fluffy texture — a marked departure from the dense versions many know and love.

Souffle cheesecake, also known as dancing cheesecake, is the fluffiest version of all Japanese cheesecake variants. It is so light and airy that it jiggles when it moves.

It’s usually made by folding cream cheese into a meringue — the froth is made of beaten egg whites, resulting in its uber fluffy texture.

Souffle pancakes

Japanese pancake restaurant Flipper's specializes in fluffy souffle pancakes with sumptuous toppings.

Japanese pancake restaurant Flipper’s specializes in fluffy souffle pancakes with sumptuous toppings.

Flipper’s

Similar to the idea of souffle cheesecake, Japan’s souffle pancakes are hotcakes made from meringue, resulting in an extremely airy texture.

The origins of these delicious and highly photogenic treats are murky, but most would agree that the trend kicked off in Japan in the last five to 10 years.

Now appearing in Instagram feeds worldwide, these stacks of fluffy, jiggly pancakes — eaten all day, not just at breakfast — accompanied with colorful fruits and cream are available in many specialty stores around the world.

Among the popular restaurants devoted to souffle pancakes is Flipper’s, which was founded in Japan in 2016. It’s since traveled to New York, with Flipper’s SoHo opening in 2019. Flipper’s Singapore opened its first outlet in 2020.

Top image credit: Juchheim Group



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Catamounts Begin Two-Game Road Swing at Winthrop Saturday – Western Carolina University – catamountsports.com



Catamounts Begin Two-Game Road Swing at Winthrop Saturday – Western Carolina University  catamountsports.com



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California’s Western Monarch Butterflies Are Making a Comeback


But why are they rebounding? That, experts say, remains unclear.

It could simply be that the butterflies had an especially good breeding season (insects can reproduce rapidly, and their populations do tend to fluctuate), or that especially warm fall weather last year changed the butterflies’ breeding and migration behavior, throwing off the count.

The current numbers, however, are still a far cry from previous population totals: In the 1980s, millions of monarchs flocked to California for the winter. In 2017, an annual count found about 200,000 butterflies. Last year, the same count found fewer than 2,000.

“I was really saddened,” Oberhauser told me, adding that she had worried “we might be seeing the end of an incredible migratory phenomenon.”

But the rebound, she and others say, is cause for cautious optimism. This year, volunteers have already counted more than 100,000 butterflies, according to the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

“It’s close to miraculous,” said Paul Meredith, 77, a volunteer with the butterfly sanctuary, who that Sunday was seated — binoculars around his neck, insect pin in his cap — among the trees.

But, he added, “there’s a lot of things we don’t understand.”

To see the magnificent butterflies, visit these groves:

  • Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo Beach (20,000 butterflies, estimated by the Xerces Society)

  • Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary in Pacific Grove (14,000)

  • Camino Real Park in Ventura (3,000)

  • Natural Bridges State Beach in Santa Cruz (2,000)

  • Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria (1,700)

Livia Albeck-Ripka is a reporter for The New York Times, based in California.



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