Time-Lapsed National Park Webcams: Monitoring the Shutdown

On January 12, 2019, the ongoing federal government shutdown became the longest in United States history.  One of its casualties has been our national park system, if we’re to judge from reports of rampant litter, feces, and vandalism.  I was curious to see how the National Park Service air quality webcams have been faring.

In a previous post, I showed how to create time-lapse video by scraping images from the online archives of these webcams.  As of January 12th, the official webcam interface was no longer working: the pages still load, but without any content.  However, my code directly access the archives directories themselves, and it seems some webcam images are still being uploaded automatically as they’re captured, with the equipment presumably running on autopilot while furloughed staff are away.  That means we can continue to watch what’s happening in front of the webcams even if the views are otherwise concealed from public view.

I’ve modified my earlier script a little to fit the new circumstances.  First, I added some text in the upper left corner of each frame to identify the webcam name, date, and time, and in the process discovered a mistake with my earlier code: I’d been adding the hour after midnight to the end of the day rather than the beginning.  That’s now fixed.  Second, rather than skipping missing images as before, I’m now inserting plain white frames to represent them—white so that the contrast with black night views is apparent.  When you see white, then, that means a webcam wasn’t uploading anything.  Finally, I increased the timeout for reading initial URLs from one second to five seconds and ran each segment twice to try to ensure I wouldn’t miss any frames due to unreliable connections.  I try to grab one image per fifteen-minute interval, which is the usual rate of capture.

Eleven of the air quality webcams have been down for the whole duration of the shutdown.  In fact, all eleven were already down before the shutdown, but they also haven’t been brought back online since it began.

The remaining ten air quality webcams have continued to function well into the shutdown:

One of these, thro, seems to have gone down for the count on January 6th, and as of this writing things aren’t looking good for pore either, but the others are still plugging along.  Sometimes a webcam goes down for a few hours or even a couple days, only to come back online; I don’t know whether that means a camera is auto-resetting itself or some intrepid off-the-clock park ranger has managed to set things right.  In other cases, something has gone awry and not been fixed: witness the maca camera lens, which got spattered with mud or something on January 6th and still hasn’t been wiped clean.

I’m writing these words on January 14th, and I’ve been capturing video in twenty-four-hour segments, so the initial footage I’m uploading runs through 11:45 PM on January 13th.  Depending on what the future brings, I may replace it periodically with updated versions.  It’s gratifying to be able to apply Griffonage methods to documentation of current events, but that hardly counts as a silver lining for the cloud of living in such dismal times.

Video download link

Update (January 16, 2019): Early in the morning on January 15th, images abruptly ceased being uploaded from all remaining webcams.  I’ll update the video shortly to cover January 14th and 15th and assume this will stand as a complete record of webcam footage from the period of the shutdown.

Update (January 31, 2019): Nothing new had gone online as of January 29th, but by January 29th new images began appearing, including some that date back to earlier points in the shutdown and, apparently, just hadn’t been uploaded.  I don’t think I’ll update my video any further, but it looks like a more comprehensive air-webcam record from the period of the shutdown exists than at first appeared.

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