baltimoresun.com

« July 2005 | Main | September 2005 »

August 31, 2005

Planets gather in the West

Once Katrina's remnants scoot off to the north and east, the skies should clear and we'll get a good view of the gathering of planets in the western sky this week. Venus and Jupiter, normally the two brightest planets in the sky (Mars is getting pretty brilliant in the early morning sky as it approaches opposition) are passing each other low in the west after sunset. Venus is the brighter of the pair.

Here's more from spaceweather.com

And here's a story from The Sun's science section last Friday.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

Katrina's trail of heavy rain

The National Hurricane Center has published rainfall accumulations from Hurricane Katrina. They're pretty impressive. Here are the worst-hits states:

...FLORIDA...

PERRINE 16.33
HOMESTEAD 14.41
FLORIDA CITY 12.25
HOMESTEAD GENERAL AP 11.80
CUTLER RIDGE 11.13
KEY WEST 9.92
CUTLER RIDGE 3 NE 9.65

...LOUISIANA...

BIG BRANCH 14.82
BAPTIST/NATALBANY RVR 10.49
BUSH/BOGUE CHITTO RVR 10.05
PEARL RIVER 9.79
KENNER 9.72
CAMP COVINGTON/BOGUE FALAYA RVR 9.63
DEER RANGE 9.25
VENICE/CORP OF ENGINEERS 8.77
COVINGTON/BOGUE FALAYA RVR 7.23
NEW ORLEANS LAKEFRONT 7.20

...MISSISSIPPI...

HANCOCK 9.84
CAESAR 8.98
NOXAPATER 8.30
BLACK CREEK 7.64
HATTIESBURG/BOUIE CREEK 7.33
IUKA 7.12
KOSCIUSKO 6.90
CONEHATTA 6.80
BROOKLYN/BLACK CREEK 6.78
YAZOO CITY 5 NNE 6.50

...ALABAMA...

RED BAY 12NNE 6.44
RED BAY 5.63
HAMILTON 3S 4.78
HODGES 3.87
MUSCLE SHOALS RGNL ARPT 3.74
MOULTON 3.73
SAMANTHA 4N 3.65

Posted by Admin at 12:21 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: By the numbers
        

August ends warm, with normal rains

The eighth month of the year departs tonight along with the remnants of Hurricane Katrina. It was a relatively warm August, averaging a shade less than 78 degrees. That's about 3 degrees above the 30-year average for BWI, and the hottest since 2002. But it's not particularly unusual. It was hotter in August 2002, with an average of 78.4 degrees.

Precipitation fell right in line with the long-term averages, with 3.71 inches at BWI. That's just 0.1 inch above the average. Most of it fell in just two episodes. The airport recorded 1.35 inches on Aug. 8-9 and another 1.14 inches on Aug. 27/8. Local rainfall may have varied quite a lot where thunderstorms and showers lingered, or missed entirely.

So, not much to write home about. The month saw a high temperature of 95 degrees on the 4th and 5th. There were 9 days in the 90s in all. The low temperature was 56 degrees, reached on the 25th.

As noted in the previous post, we also tied a record for the high minimum temperature at BWI - 79 degrees, reached just this morning.

Posted by Admin at 11:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

Tropical air blows away area records

All this warm, humid, tropical air that Katrina is blowing into the region from the Gulf of Mexico has toppled two records in the Washington area and tied one in Baltimore.

Andy Woodcock, a forecaster at the National Weather Service's Sterling, Va. office, said this morning that the overnight low temperatures at National and Dulles airports near Washington set new marks for date. These are not record LOWS, but "record high minimums." In other words, they were the warmest overnight lows ever recorded for this date at both airports. BWI tied the mark that stood for 73 years.

To be specific, Woodcock said the overnight low at National Airport this morning was 80 degrees, beating the previous record of 78. Out at Dulles, the overnight low was 79 degrees, besting the previous mark of 73.

At BWI, the temperature dipped to 79 degrees, tying the record set on Aug. 31, 1932.

Katrina's powerful low pressure center has been drawing strong southerly winds straight out of the Gulf states, Woodcock said. Temperatures at BWI stuck at 27 degrees Celsius from midnight through mid-morning at the airport. "There really has been no cooling period," he said.

Relief is on the way. "The low is going to move into Quebec later today, and the wind will become more westerly," he said. That will bring in drier air. The forecast calls for highs in the low- to mid-80s in the next few days, perhaps only in the upper 70s by Sunday. "Labor Day looks really grand."

Posted by Admin at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

August 30, 2005

Katrina is no more

Hurricane Katrina was downgraded today to a tropical depression, and the National Hurricane Center has issued its final advisory.

The storm was born August 23 in the southeastern Bahama Islands, the 12th tropical depression of the 2005 Atlantic season. It was the earliest date on record for the formation of the 12th storm. It strengthened to tropical storm force the following day, and was named Katrina.

Here is a graphic representation of the growth of its winds and its track over the next 5 days. The storm made its initial landfall in the Miami area on Aug. 25. Four days later, after strengthening to a Category 5 storm for a time, it struck land as a ferocious Category 4 along the northern Gulf Coast.

Here is the National Hurricane Center's archive of the storm's progress.

Posted by Admin at 12:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

Katrina's remnants on tap

The tattered remains of Hurricane Katrina are spreading north and east today. Western Maryland could see winds of 25 to 35 mph and gusts to 45. Flash flood warnings are out for Garrett County, where residents could see 2 to 4 inches of rain.

The rest of us, in the central part of the state, can already feel the warm, damp tropical air that is coming straight from hurricane country. That could spawn thunderstorms today and tomorrow. Here's the forecast.

Here's a satellite shot of Katrina as the storm came ashore on Monday.

Posted by Admin at 11:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

August 29, 2005

Ask Mr. WeatherBlogger: Why isn't the rain salty?

Dorothy Crumb writes from upstate New York to ask:

Can you tell me where the rain comes from in a hurricane? If it picks it up from the ocean, why isn't it salty? Thanks, Dorothy W. Crumb, Pompey, New York (Near Syracuse)

Dear Ms. Crumb,
The answer is that the rain does indeed come from the ocean. But as the seawater evaporates under the hot tropical sun, and moves up into the atmosphere as water vapor, it leaves its salts behind.

It's just like distilling water by boiling it, capturing the steam and condensing it again as a liquid. The process leaves most everything that isn't water behind. And the water you condense and capture is fresh.

That's how people have obtained salt for centuries - by evaporating seawater and scraping up all the salt that's left behind when the water is gone.

So, the tropical sun heats the ocean, turning some of the seawater into water vapor and separating it from its salts. The water vapor rises inside the hurricane's thunderstorms, cools and condenses, and falls again as rain - freshwater rain.

Thanks for asking.

For more than you ever wanted to know about evaporation's role in the water cycle, click here.

Posted by Admin at 5:37 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Ask Mr. Weatherblogger
        

Wild weekend waterspout ... on the Bay!

Art Keiper, a contributor to MarylandWeather.com's Readers' Photos page, snapped a terrific picture of a waterspout on Saturday morning off Hart-Miller Island. Check it out here.

Posted by Admin at 12:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures
        

August 28, 2005

Gulf Coast faces the worst

Conditions are already deteriorating along the northern Gulf Coast as Hurricane Katrina bears down, with top sustained winds if 160 mph and higher. The storm's central pressure is now 902 millibars. That's lower than either Hurricane Camille (1969) or Hurricane Andrew (1992), the last two Category 5 storms to strike the U.S.

New Orleans faces a potential for catastrophic flooding if the storm surge reaches the predicted 18 to 22 feet. The levies along Lake Ponchartrain are just 17 feet high - lower in places. City streets could flood to depths of 20 feet, devastating the historic French Quarter, the Garden District and other tourist attractions. The city's 22 pumps could not keep up with such flooding, or even with the heaviest rains expected from the storm.

The problem is that the city lies below sea level. Although it was founded in 1718 on a high spot along the Mississippi River, the pumping of groundwater has since caused the land beneath it to subside, while sea levels have risen. On average, the city is now 6 to 8 feet below sea level, protected by levies, floodgates and pumps. If they fail, the city drowns.

Disaster planning models predict deaths in the tens of thousands in a worst-case category 5 storm. Evacuations have gone extremely well in recent days, but perhaps 100,000 people are expected to remain behind.

In addition to deaths, Category 5 winds and the flooding of New Orleans would cause huge property losses. Insurance companies have been increasingly reluctant to sell property incurance policies in the city. Flooding would also leave behind a horrific stew of sewage, trash, storm debris, ruined possessions, petrochemicals washed in from the region's oil-related industrial infrastructure. Add alligators, snakes and fire ants to the mix ... well, it's not a pretty picture.

And the damage to the nation's oil and gas infrastructure could push gasoline and home heating costs even higher. The New Orleans region hosts about a quarter of our oil and gas production. Oil and gas pipelines crosscross the region and offshore platforms do the drilling and pumping.

The area is also the site of a third of America's seafood landings. And, it's one of the country's largest port complexes, moving 16 percent of our cargo.

Buckle your seatbelts.

Posted by Admin at 7:11 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

Season's 13th tropical depression forms

As if we didn't already have enough tropical weather to worry about, the national Hurricane Center said the season's 13th tropical depression formed today in the Atlantic. Nothing to worry about yet, but here's the advisory. Here's the forecast track.

Posted by Admin at 7:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

August 26, 2005

Katrina now a 100 mph, Cat. 2 storm

After landing a blow on South Florida, Hurricane Katrina is stronger than ever, blowing in the Gulf of Mexico with top sustained winds of 100 mph. That makes it a Category 2 storm on the Safir-Simpson Scale. Further strengthening is expected. Here is the latest advisory.

The National Hurricane Center's discussion of the storm's future includes a frightening note that Katrina could approach Category 4 before landfall. Category 4 means top sustained winds of 131-155 mph.
Here's what it said:

"GIVEN THE RAPID IMPROVEMENT IN THE INNER CORE STRUCTURE AND THE
SHARP PRESSURE DROP...RAPID INTENSIFICATION SEEMS LIKELY FOR THE
NEXT 12 HOURS OR SO. AFTERWARDS...STEADY INTENSIFICATION TO NEAR
CATEGORY FOUR STRENGTH BY 72 HOURS APPEARS TO BE IN ORDER GIVEN THE
VERY WARM GULF WATERS BENEATH THE HURRICANE AND THE VERTICAL SHEAR
FORECAST TO DECREASE TO LESS THAN 10 KT BY 48 HOURS."

The National Hurricane Center in Miami, which lost its radar to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, was in the calm eye of Hurricane Katrina for a time last night. The storm came ashore near North Miami Beach at about 7 p.m. with 80 mph winds. Then it arced to the southwest at a jogging speed. More than a million Floridians were without electric service this morning, and at least four had been killed, most by falling trees.

Between 1 and 5 a.m. the storm lost its hurricane status, its highest sustained winds diminished to about 70 mph. But at 5 a.m., with its center still 50 miles north-northeast of Key West, it was spinning again at 75 mph and once again a hurricane.

Moving offshore again by daylight, Katrina was strengthening over warm Gulf waters. By 11 a.m., its top sustained winds were back to 80 mph, centered 75 miles south-southwest of Naples, on Florida's Gulf coast.

Forecasters had predicted this storm would become a Category 2 hurricane (top winds of 96-110 mph) by Saturday. It beat their predictions by a day, not a good sign. They're saying now it could be at Category 3 by sometime Saturday, with top sustained winds above 111 mph. It is expected to swing northward and make a second Florida landfall along the western panhandle by early next week.

Its remnants could eventually move up the Appalachians and bring us some needed rain later next week.

Here's how the storm looks this morning from space.

Posted by Admin at 11:23 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

August 25, 2005

Mars hoax, redux

We are still getting phone calls asking about Internet reports and rumors of a sudden and extraordinary appearance by the planet Mars tomorrow (Aug. 27). Faithful blog readers already know the Mars hubbub is a hoax, or at least a weird disortion of two-year-old news. We wrote about it here on Aug. 2.

The great rumor-killing Website snopes.com has written about it, too. To read it, click here.

But since the rumors are still floating around out there, here's a repeat of our Aug. 2 posting.

Aug. 2, 2005: Stories and emails - as breathless as they are wrong - are zipping through cyberspace this month shouting that Mars is about to make an historic appearance in the night sky. Depending on the version you receive, they say Mars (on or about Aug. 27) will be closer than ever in recorded history, brighter than it will be again for hundreds of years, and bigger and brighter in the sky than the full moon.

I've received an email from a close friend alerting me to this spectacular event. It appeared in a newsletter published by my community association. And it surfaced again this morning in a phone call from a Sun reader who said he'd heard it from two friends. He couldn't figure out how Mars could EVER appear larger than the full moon.

Good for him. It can't. But, like many rumors accelerated and inflated by the re-telling across the Internet, there is a grain of truth here.

First, the very real event that appears to have been the genesis of this goofy Internet rumor occurred two years ago this month. If you weren't paying attention then, you missed it. It's over.

That was an historic "opposition" of Mars. Mars oppositions repeat about every 2.2 years, when Mars, from our vantage point on Earth, is on the "opposite" side of the sky from the sun. As the sun sets in the west, Mars at opposition rises in the east.

Think of it this way (and here I will plagiarize my own story from two years ago): "Earth is the third planet from the sun. Mars is the fourth. "Close" approaches like this one occur when the Earth, circling the sun on an "inside" track, passes directly between the sun and slower-moving Mars."

Oppositions are also the moment when Mars is closest to Earth, because Earth and Mars are briefly on the same side of the solar system. So, as seen from Earth, the red planet looks especially big and bright and, well, red.

Some oppositions are more impressive than others. That's because Mars' orbit around the sun is more elliptical than Earth's. So there are oppositions when Mars is closer than it is for other oppositions. The distances can range from less than 35 million miles to a maximum of about 65 million miles. For the rest of the year, of course, we're much farther apart than that, averaging something like 140 million miles.

In the historic August 2003 Mars opposition, the two planets were a "mere" 34.7 million miles apart. Computer runs at the time suggested that hadn't occurred for nearly 60 thousand years. And it would be 284 more years before anyone saw anything like it again. It was big news at the time.

But that was two years ago. This year, Mars will be at opposition again. But it doesn't occur until Nov. 7 (2.2 years after the 2003 event), and Mars won't be as close as it was in 2003 - about 43.1 million miles this time around.

Of course, that's still pretty darn close as these things go. If skies are clear (this is how I justify this sort of entry in a "weather" blog) it will be a great time to look at Mars through a telescope. Even a decent backyard 'scope should reveal surface markings on the planet and maybe polar ice.

In fact, it's already a good time to see Mars. It's getting bigger and brighter as it moves (or more accurately WE move) toward opposition in November. Mars is rising in the east late in the evening, and popping up earlier each night. By the end of the month it will be rising at 10:30 p.m. EDT.

Update, Aug. 25: Best time to look now may be in the hour before dawn. Mars is almost directly overhead. Look for a bright reddish "star," easily the brightest thing up there at that hour. But don't worry if you miss it. Mars will be an increasingly bright and beautiful presence in the night sky for months to come, and best in late October and early November.

For those who missed it, here is the article we ran TWO YEARS AGO about the 2003 opposition of Mars:

CLOSE ENCOUNTER
Mars makes an approach, its nearest in 59,619 years

Posted by Admin at 5:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

Space Station flyover a hit! Another Saturday

You worry when you urge people to go out to see some event in the night sky that clouds or bad luck will spoil it. Not this morning (Aug 25). The International Space Station flew high over Baltimore right on schedule.

"alocal," a WeatherBlog reader who braved the dawn to see it was glad he (or she) did: "i saw it! very cool, thanks."

It was very bright - impossible to miss - as it soared out of the northwest at 5:54 a.m. It flew past the moon and the nearby (and very brilliant) planet Mars. I noticed that it seemed to flare once or twice as it headed on toward the southeast - perhaps as the sun glinted off the station's solar panels or some other highly reflective surface.

The station seemed to nearly collide with a bright star that I presume was Aldebaran. Then it slid close by the three stars in the belt of the constellation Orion - Mintaka, Alnilam and Alnitak - before fading out in the glow of the coming dawn.

A good show. If you saw it, drop a comment here and let others hear about your experience.

And if you missed it, there's another good flyover due early Saturday morning, weather permitting. (The forecast is not promising, unfortunately.)

If there's a break in the clouds, though, Saturday's flyby will be almost a repeat of this morning's event, except that it's 45 minutes earlier. And, it's on a weekend when sane people sleep in. Be crazy and do it anyway. Here are the specs:

The ISS will appear again in the northwest, this time at 5:13 a.m. It will fly slightly south of this morning's track, passing close by the planet Mars, whose ruddy glow is the brightest star-like light up there these days. The station's highest point will be about 76 degrees above the horizon at 5:15 a.m., a shade lower than this morning, but plenty high enough to be seen easily from most locations. It will disappear in the southeast at 5:18 a.m.

There's no need to head out for the countryside. It's bright enough to be seen from city streets. And, don't bother with any visual aids. I tried looking at the station with my 10 x 50 binoculars this morning, but there's no way to hold them steady enough to make out any detail. It was just a dancing white dot.

So just step outside and enjoy it. And then head back to bed.

For more satellite flyover predictions for your location, and other cool skywatching information, visit www.heavens-above.com

Posted by Admin at 10:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

August 24, 2005

European rain, floods strike Romania

The heavy rains and flooding that have been plaguing Switzerland and Austria in recent days have now spread into Romania. Here's a news story from the Associated Press, via CNN.com.

Posted by Admin at 1:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

Tropical Storm Katrina aims at Florida

The tropical depression that was stewing in the southeastern Bahama Islands yesterday strengthened to minimal tropical storm status overnight. Spotter aircraft verified early today that it has reached tropical storm force (sustained winds of 39 mph or more). That makes it Tropical Storm Katrina, the 11th of this very busy 2005 Atlantic season.

The winds that typically steer these storms are giving the computer modelers fits. So forecasters are hedging their bets by posting tropical storm warnings along a lengthy stretch of Florida's Atlantic coastline.

With a good chance of further strengthening, the National Hurricane Center has now added a Hurricane Watch to its advisories for the Florida coast.


Here's a satellite view. It's clearly a very small storm. But it could drop up to a foot of rain - more in isolated places - before it's through.

Forecasters are also watching areas of disturbed weather in the northeast Caribbean and in the Atlantic west of the Cape Verde islands.

Posted by Admin at 11:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

Clear skies for Space Station pass

Observers of this Thursday morning's exceptional flyover by the International Space Station will enjoy clear skies if the current forecast holds up.

This is also an opportunity to see the moon and Mars in close conjunction. The space station will fly right past them both.

Just before 6 a.m. (yeah, it's early, but this one's worth it), the space station will fly almost directly over Baltimore as it zips in from the northwest and out over the Altantic toward the southeast. The station is flying at about 17,500 mph, at an altitude of 220 miles.

There are two crew members on board, one Russian, one American, referred to by NASA as Expedition 11. They are Commander Sergei Krikalov and Flight Engineer/Science Officer John Phillips.

Here are the details. Set your alarms.

Look above the northwest horizon at 5:54 a.m. EDT for a bright, fast-moving star-like object. It will be traveling toward the southeast, passing almost directly overhead for the Baltimore area at 5:57 a.m.

Just it passes the zenith (directly overhead), the station will pass the moon, which will be standing between the zenith and Mars, the bright, sort of reddish "star" just south of the moon (by 5 degrees, or the width of five fingers held at arm's length). And, just after passing the moon, the ISS will slide right down the "belt" of Orion - the three-in-a-row stars more familiar to stargazers in the evening skies during the winter and spring.

The space station will finally pass out of sight low in the southeast at 6:02 a.m.

The station should be bright enough to be visible everywhere in the region, even amid urban lights and the approaching dawn. (Sunrise on Thursday will be about 6:30 a.m. EDT)

For more information about this pass and others this week, visit Heavens-Above.com No need to register. Just click on "Select" and enter your community. Then click on "ISS" to obtain space station flyover predictions for your location. There's lots more great stuff on that page. Explore.

This week's ISS passes are all in the early morning. But for Baltimore, (if skies stay clear) the 6 a.m. flyover on Thursday will be the highest and the brightest of the bunch. Be there, and take the kids with you.

And when it's over, come back to the WeatherBlog, leave a comment and let us know what you saw. I'll post them all as soon as I get in.

Posted by Admin at 10:20 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

August 23, 2005

Where's the blanket?

The overnight low at BWI dropped to 61 degrees early today, cool enough to send many of us reaching for the covers if we went to sleep with the windows open last night. The instruments on my back deck in Cockeysville sank to 58.

It's been a while since we've had such cool overnight lows. It reached the high 50s and low 60s for several days after the Summer Solsctice in June. The only time we've been this cool since was on July 24, when the mercury at BWI reached a brisk 60 degrees.

It seems novel and refreshing after an especially hot summer. But in truth 61 degrees is close to the 63-degree average low for the 23rd of August.

The low 60s will continue to be the overnight norm this week, with cooler lows in the suburbs. A chance to shut off the AC and slow those spinning electric meters...

Posted by Admin at 10:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

Jose goes ashore; new storm forming

Tropical Storm Jose slopped ashore in eastern Mexico overnight, only hours after reaching tropical storm status (top sustained winds of 39 mph) in the Bay of Campeche. Its top winds of 50 mph quickly diminished, and this morning the storm was downgraded again to a tropical depression. Plenty of rain in that part of Mexico, but they've surely seen worse. Here's the latest advisory.

In the meantime, the National Hurricane Center continues to watch two areas of stormy weather in the tropical Atlantic. One is in the area of Cuba and the southeastern Bahamas. The other is far to the east, several hundred miles west of the Cape Verde Islands. Either one could eventually rev up to tropical depression and storm status. Here's the lowdown on them.

And here's an update, reporting that the storm in the Bahamas this afternoon became the season's 12th tropical depression. This would be the "K" storm - Katrina - if it reaches tropical storm force. Here's the satellite view.

Speaking of hurricanes, Japan is facing a heavy blow in the next several days from one of a pair of storms now in the northwest Pacific. Here's a look.

Posted by Admin at 10:24 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

August 22, 2005

Fire and rain in Europe

Heavy rains in Switzerland and Austria have caused fatal landslides in recent days. In southwestern Europe, meanwhile, the problem is still drought and resulting wildfires. And ice, or its disappearance, is an issue in Greenland, where a well-known glacier is withering away as arctic warming continues.

Posted by Admin at 11:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

Dry air, sunny skies, starry nights

The heat and humidity that kept us close to our air conditioners for the weekend have been pushed out. Clear, dry skies will allow plenty of heating this afternoon, pushing Baltimore temperatures toward the high 80s. But the rest of the week will be delightfully normal - highs in the low 80s, overnight lows in the upper 50s to near 60 degrees. That's actually a shade below normal for this time of year.

It's a great week for the beach, kids. Live it up. School starts next week.

This refreshing late-August break in the weather will also give Marylanders a good shot at actually being able to see one of the best passes yet this year of the International Space Station, just before 6 a.m. on Thursday. More on that tomorrow. Watch this space.

Posted by Admin at 11:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

New action in the tropics

UPDATE: 5:25PM EDT MON AUG 22 2005
...RECONNIASSANCE AIRCRAFT INDICATE THAT TROPICAL DEPRESSION ELEVEN
HAS BECOME TROPICAL STORM JOSE...

SHORTLY AFTER 400 PM CDT... RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT REPORTED THAT
MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS IN TROPICAL STORM JOSE WERE NEAR 45 MPH.
DETAILS WILL FOLLOW IN A SPECIAL ADVISORY TO BE ISSUED SHORTLY...
MAINLY TO UPDATE THE INTENSITY FORECAST.

Earlier posting:The National Hurricane Center this morning announced the formation of the 11th tropical depression of the 2005 Atlantic season. It's an area of storminess in the Bay of Campeche, Mexico. That's due south of Houston, Texas, but the storm is moving westward, and is expected to move onshore in Mexico tonight.

If it attains tropical storm status before landfall, this will become TS Jose. Here's a satellite image of this new area of disturbed weather.

Forecasters are also watching two other areas of disturbed weather in the tropical Atlantic. One is a few hundred miles from the Cape Verde Islands, off West Africa. The other is near Cuba and Hispaniola. Here is the discussion, which includes the storm forming off the Mexican Gulf coast.

Posted by Admin at 11:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

August 19, 2005

Smoke blots out sky in Alaska

Smoke from dozens of wildfires has blotted out the sky across nearly all of interior Alaska. Here's a pair of pictures showing what the view of Denali (Mt. McKinley) is supposed to look like, and how the smoke has obscured the view. And here's how the state looks from NASA's Terra Earth-observing satellite.

Posted by Admin at 5:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

More heat again?

I'm afraid so, kids. Just when you thought it was safe to go outside again, southerly winds on Saturday and Sunday ahead of an approaching cold front will bring high temperatures in the 90s and high, tropical humidities. The national Weather Service has issued heat advisories for most of the state, from Frederick County to Harford County, and south to the Potomac (along with much of northern and easternm Virginia). It will be in effect Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. Here's how it goes:

"THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN STERLING VIRGINIA HAS ISSUED A
HEAT ADVISORY...WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM NOON TO 6 PM EDT
SATURDAY.

"HIGH TEMPERATURES SATURDAY ARE FORECAST INTO THE LOW AND MID 90S.
COMBINED WITH HIGH HUMIDITY...THIS WILL CREATE HEAT INDEX VALUES
AROUND 100 DEGREES.

"HEAT RELATED INJURIES WILL BE POSSIBLE IF APPROPRIATE ACTION IS
NOT TAKEN. REDUCE PHYSICAL ACTIVITY...ESPECIALLY DURING THE
HOTTEST PART OF THE DAY. DRINK PLENTY OF FLUIDS...WATER IS YOUR
BEST CHOICE. STAY OUT OF THE SUN FOR PROLONGED PERIODS.

"THE ELDERLY AND THE YOUNG ARE MOST SUSCEPTIBLE TO HEAT RELATED
INJURIES...SO BE SURE TO CHECK ON ELDERLY RELATIVES AND
NEIGHBORS. DO NOT KEEP CHILDREN OR PETS IN CARS WITH WINDOWS
ROLLED UP...EVEN PARTIALLY. TEMPERATURES INSIDE A CAR WITH
WINDOWS UP CAN REACH OVER 150 DEGREES QUICKLY...RESULTING IN HEAT
STROKE AND DEATH."

Once the cold front and any associated showers and thunderstorms push through late Sunday, we'll return to more seasonable daytime highs in the low 80s and high 70s, and overnight lows in the (Gasp! Open the windows!) 50s and 60s.

Posted by Admin at 4:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

August 18, 2005

Weather Service reviews role in harbor tragedy

The National Weather Service has released its "service assessment" on the March 2004 water taxi accident in Baltimore. Five tourists died that day when the Lady D capsized in a gusty thunderstorm.

The report reviews the performance of the forecast office in Sterling, Va. on that weekend, and finds room for improvement. Some issues have already been addressed by the weather service. Here is The Sun's Aug. 18 story on the service assessment. And here is the full report.

Posted by Admin at 12:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

August 17, 2005

What a relief

What a difference this morning, stepping out of the house into air outside that seemed cooler than the air inside. The overnight low at BWI this morning was 66 degrees, and we're still in the low 80s this afternoon. Blue skies. Sunshine. What's not to like? Radar is clear, too. Nothing ahead to worry us until the risk of thunderstorms rises a bit late tomorrow evening and Friday. Then the weekend looks great. We deserve it.

Posted by Admin at 12:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Heat, drought and fires in Portugal

The historic drought and heat that has scorched southwestern Europe this summer is still contributing to raging wildfires in Portugal. Several mountain villages have been evacuated. Here's more.

Posted by Admin at 12:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

August 16, 2005

2005 Space Odyssey

Here's a spectacular shot of the International Space Station, snapped recently by the crew of the space shuttle Discovery. The largest object ever assembled in space, it has cost taxpayers something like $70 billion (and counting).

Because of the grounding of the shuttle fleet since the Columbia accident, the ISS has been limited to two crew members - one American and one Russian. They work nearly full time just to keep the place running. The Bush Administration wants to complete the station, with our international partners, and use it for research into the effects of long-term human habitation in space. What we learn on the ISS, the administration says, will help us plan for human habitations on the moon and Mars.

On the other hand, until we have a reliable way to ferry larger crews up and down, we can't do much serious research on the space station. And questions have been raised about how much the station's zero-gravity environment will teach us about living and working on the moon and Mars, which do have gravity.

The lunar surface and the flight to Mars and back will also pose greater hazards from space weather - radiation - than we're experiencing on the ISS, which is shielded somewhat by the Earth's magnetic field.

Any thoughts on the value of the International Space Station? Post them here.

Posted by Admin at 1:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures
        

A soppy day in Baltimore

A pretty good rain shower is falling in Baltimore as I write this - a welcome change from the unrelenting heat and humidity of recent weeks.

Things are a bit dicier to our south, where severe thunderstrorm warnings were issued earlier for parts of Southern Maryland, with marine warnings for the adjoining waters of the Chesapeake and the Potomac. Here's the latest radar view of the region.

There's a continuing chance of thunderstorms south of Baltimore, lasting into this evening.

The culprit is a stationary cold front, which has moved to our south. That brings us cooler temperatures and light rain, while places to the south that are closer to the front's leading edge get the less stable air and thunderstorms.

As the front begins to move off to the southeast late today, the cooler, drier air behind it works its way in, and our skies begin to clear out. Tomorrow looks sunnier, and pleasant, with highs Wednesday through the weekend in the mid-80s. Just where the ought to be at this time of year at BWI.

Posted by Admin at 1:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Hurricane Irene books for Iceland

6:15 p.m. EDT update: Irene's top sustained winds have now topped 96 mph, making it a Category 2 storm and a significant hazard to shipping in the North Atlantic. Here's the advisory.

Here is the earlier post:
Irene, a hurricane since late on Sunday, is now spinning with top sustained winds of 85 mph. Happily for most of us, she has, as predicted, turned away from the U.S. mainland. She is now due east of the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and about 800 miles southwest of Cape Race, Newfoundland, in the Canadian Maritimes.

Irene's predicted course would carry her northeast, well offshore from the Canadian Maritime provinces. Colder water is expected to weaken the storm, which appears to be on a beeline for Iceland by the weekend or early next week.

While Irene was the third Atlantic storm this season to reach hurricane force, she remained small and relatively weak. (Dennis and Emily both reached Category 4 status.) And somehow she managed to skirt all the islands and continental land masses that might have fallen into the path of her storm-force and hurricane-force winds.

In the meantime, forecasters are watching the remnants of Tropical Depression #10, which fell apart over the weekend. They seem to see some potential for it to revive. We'll see. Here's their advisory.

Posted by Admin at 1:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

August 12, 2005

Irene strengthens, could become hurricane

Tropical Storm Irene is strengthening. Its top sustained winds have reached 65 mph and could reach hurricane force (74 mph) later today. The storm is now 700 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C. Here's a satellite image. Further strengthening beyond Category 1 is not expected, due to relatively cool ocean temperatures.

Forecasters are predicting the storm will veer toward the north over the weekend, missing the U.S. mainland. Here's the forecast storm track.

But these things are never certain. What does seem likely is that Irene will kick up some pretty interesting surf along the mid-Atlantic beaches this weekend and early next week. Swimmers should exercise caution at the shore. So far, though, the water looks pretty mellow. Here's the Bethany Beach webcam.

In the meantime, forecasters are beginning to watch another area of the tropical Atlantic, 1,200 miles east of the windward islands, where conditions are ripe for the development of yet another tropical depression - No. 10 for the season - later today. Here's the outlook.

If it becomes a tropical storm, it will be named Jose.

Posted by Admin at 11:44 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

Heat and humidity to continue

Looks like we're stuck with this hot, sticky mess we're in, right through the weekend and well into next week. Heat advisories have been posted for all of central Maryland from Baltimore south, as temperatures push back into the mid-90s. And the prospects for the rest of us aren't so good either.

Add to that the chance that Tropical Storm Irene may pop by for a visit next week, and there's not much to crow about on the weather front. More on Irene shortly.

Posted by Admin at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Lights! Humidity!

Alas, the bane of Chesapeake summers for backyard astronomers - high humidity - spoiled the Perseid meteor shower over night. Clouds were mostly absent. But the warm, muggy night meant plenty of moisture in the air to reflect urban lights. And that made our skies mostly opaque.

That's not to say nothing happened. Here's a gallery of photos from this morning's sky show from around the planet. The general concensus seems to be that this was a mild display as the Perseids go.

I had a look just before 4 a.m. from my place in Cockeysville. While I could just make out Mars in the murk, mostly the sky was a flat, milky white, and glowing brightly in the direction of Baltimore to my south. So, I jumped back in bed.

If you ventured farther out into the countryside, you may have been able to see more. If so, post a comment here and describe what you saw. Also, for future reference, here are several dark-sky spots in the region that are ideal places, beyond most of the urban glow, to watch meteor showers and other celestial events.

Amateur astronomers like Tuckahoe State Park, off Rte. 404 at the Queen Anne's - Caroline County line on the Eastern Shore. I often drive up I-83 into northern Baltimore County. Howard County amateur astronomers like Carrs Mill Park, off Frederick Road near Lisbon.

If you can stay overnight, though, the darkest places in our (and I use the word in its broadest sense) region are in north-central Pennsylvania and east-central West Virginia.

In Pennsylvania, try Cherry Springs State Forest, about 50 miles north of State College, southwest of Galeton.

In wild and wonderful West Virginia, dark-sky nirvana is on Spruce Knob, southwest of Seneca Rocks, which is east of Elkton.

Posted by Admin at 11:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

August 11, 2005

Tonight! Meteors! Mars! Space station!

OK, so you'll have to be up in the middle of the night. Do it anyway. It's worth it. It's the annual Perseid meteor shower, and it's scheduled to peak for Marylanders between 2 a.m. and dawn Friday morning.

And there's a bonus in it for us this year. Two, actually. First is Mars, which will rise at about 11:30 p.m. tonight, and be visible high in the east by 2 a.m. Big, bright and red, it's approaching opposition in November and its best appearance in 2.2 years.

Also, the International Space Station will fly across the sky, from about 4:50 a.m. until 4:53 a.m. At its peak it will appear about 60 degrees above the northwest horizon Here's the track. It will pass from southwest to northeast, looking like a steady, bright, but fast-moving white star.

So roust yourselves and the kids (they don't have to get up for school anyway), find a dark spot with a wide view of the sky and settle down on a blanket or a lounge chair and just watch the sky for a few hours.

The weather forecast isn't too bad for this time of year. We've a fair shot at some clear sky.

There's no need for binoculars or a telescope. They'd just get in the way. All you need to do is scan the sky for the bright, quick streaks of light that mark the trails burned by bits of dust as they zip into the atmosphere at 132,000 mph. They're the debris left behind by the passage of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Each year at this time, as the Earth makes its way around the sun, it plows through the stuff and it puts on this really cool light show.

While it's not the best meteor shower of the year, it is the easiest to watch, thanks to mild temperatures and the number of people who don't have to be awake and functioning once the sun finally rises (at around 6:15 a.m.). You might even inspire your kids to pursue astronomy or planetary science as a career. As Willie Don would say, "Just do it!"

Posted by Admin at 4:07 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

Weather trouble around the globe

Malaysia is struggling with dense smoke that has drifted in from fires in Indonesia. The fires are the result of illegal land-clearing and dry weather conditions.

Meanwhile, 20,000 people in the Central African Republic have been made homeless as a result of heavy seasonal rains and flooding.

Posted by Admin at 11:36 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

Irene strengthens, aims for Hatteras

The storm called Irene has regained enough strength (the threshhold is sustained winds of 39 mph winds) to qualify once again as a tropical storm. The National Hurricane Center says TS Irene is now about a thousand miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., blowing at about 50 mph, and headed north northwest.

The forecast track would carry it to a point off Hatteras by the middle of next week, but plenty can change before then. Here's the satellite view.

In the meantime, the famed hurricane forecast group at Colorado State University, headed by William Gray, has updated its forecast for the balance of the 2005 Atlantic season. And, like the National Hurricane Center's recent update, the news is not good.

Gray is calling for 13 more named tropical storms before the season ends Nov. 30. That includes 9 more hurricanes, of which 4 would be "major" storms, with sustained winds in excess of 110 mph.

If they're right, the 2005 season would end with 20 tropical storms (more than twice the long-term average), including 10 hurricanes, 6 of them "major."

This, Gray said, is "the highest level of hurricane activity we have ever forecast since beginning seasonal hurricane forecasts at Colorado State in 1984."

The forecast includes the prediction that at least one major hurricane will strike the U.S. coastline before the season ends. "Citizens living along the eastern seaboard should continually be prepared for the possibility of landfalling hurricanes," Gray said.

This busy season, as has been stated before, is believed to be the result of a long-term cycle of ocean water temperature, atmospheric pressures, winds and African rainfall patterns favorable for hurricane formation. Neither Gray nor the National Hurricane Center has ascribed the increased activity to human-induced global warming.

Gray predicted that August would see five named storms, including three hurricanes, one of them major.

If he's right, September would see five named storms, including four hurricanes, two of them major.

October would witness three named storms, including two hurricanes, one of them intense.

Posted by Admin at 10:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

August 10, 2005

Irene wheezing in Atlantic

After fading over night and threatening to fall apart, tropical depression Irene showed new signs of life this morning. The National Hurricane Center now says Irene is getting better organized and could regain its lost tropical storm status later today. It continues to drift west, but so far remains a threat only to shipping. The storm track forecast, however, suggests the storm could become a factor in the Carolinas sometime next week.

Here's a satellite image of Irene.

Posted by Admin at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

Iraq dust storm seen from space

The dust storm that struck Iraq on Monday halted debate on the nation's new constitution and sent hundreds of people to the hospital with respiratory problems. These storms are typical of the region in July and August. And, they are clearly visible to weather satellites in space. Here's how this week's storm looked from orbit.

Posted by Admin at 10:39 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

In the clear

With the cool front now beyond our region, the forecasts for the rest of the week look pretty good. Sure, it will remain hot, in the upper 80s to near 90 by week's end. But that's close to normal for BWI at this time of year. The chances for an afternoon thunderstorm will remain low (20-30 percent). And if we get one or two, hey, the tomatoes can use the water. But for now, the radar screen is clear, and it looks like a great week to be on vacation.

Posted by Admin at 10:27 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

August 9, 2005

Irene still spinning in Hurricane Alley

Tropical Depression No. 9, which became Tropical Storm Irene last week only to weaken again into a tropical depression (retaining its name), continues to roil the tropical Atlantic's infamous "Hurricane Alley." That portion of the ocean is unusually warm again this year, which can be seen in this satellite image, which maps the unusual warmth by color. It's this warmth in the sea surface temperatures that has been contributing to unusually busy hurricane seasons nearly every year since 1995. It's part of a well-understood long-term climate cycle, and forecasters expect it will continue to produce busy seasons for another 10 or 20 years.

Irene may strengthen, but it is no immediate threat to land, and may never reach the mainland. But it is noteworthy because it formed earlier in the season than any previous 9th tropical depression on record.

Here's the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center. Here is the forecast track. And here is a satellite image.

Posted by Admin at 12:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

Torrential rains in St. Mary's

Heavy thunderstorms stalled over St. Mary's County are dumping copious rains - 3 to 4 inches so far this morning - over parts of the county in Southern Maryland. The National Weather Service has issued flash flood warnings for the area.

Here's the radar image.

7:15 p.m. update: The threat of heavy rains from showers and thunderstorms prompted the weather service to issue hazardous weather advisories for much of the state east of the Blue Ridge, extending into the evening. There is a risk of local flooding

Posted by Admin at 12:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Flooding
        

August 4, 2005

Another storm in the tropics

Just two days after the 8th tropical depression of the 2005 season formed and grew to became Tropical Storm Harvey, a 9th has popped up in the eastern Atlantic. Tropical Depression 9 was declared today by the National Hurricane Center. It's a long way from land, just west of the Cape Verde Islands. But it's strengthening, headed west and could soon become Tropical Storm Irene.

In 2003, you'll recall, the 9th named storm - the "I" storm - was Isabel, which formed off Africa on Sept. 1. It struck North Carolina on Sept. 18, bringing record flooding to the Chesapeake Bay. That gives you a sense of how busy and early this season's been.

The National Hurricane Center is now predicting 18 to 21 named tropical storms this season. If we reach 21, we'll reach Wilma, and the end of this year's name list.

Here's the advisory for the new storm. Here's the forecast track. And here's a satellite image.

Posted by Admin at 5:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

Hubble's latest

Take an section of the night sky just a fraction of the area of the full moon. Point the Hubble Space Telescope at it, and what you get is a view through a narrow tunnel of space billions of light years deep. And what you see is a handful of nearby stars, and a more distant menagerie of galaxies of all shapes and sizes, at receding distances and increasing ages stretching back to the first few billion years of the history of the universe.

That's what's on this new image from Hubble. Remember, each galaxy is a huge city of billions of stars, each with the potential to host planets, some of which might be hospitable to life. Don't forget to wave.

Posted by Admin at 12:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

The heat goes on

Two straight days with a high of 92 at BWI and we're headed for the mid-90s again today. Big high-pressure mound overhead, clear skies and plenty of sun beating down. Stir in the familiar summertime Chesapeake humidity and we're faced with heat advisories once again in all of Central Maryland.

But hang in there. Relief is on the way in the form of a cold front - make that a "somewhat less hot" front - from Canada. It will move through behind showers and thunderstorms forecast for Friday afternoon and evening. Look for highs over the weekend in the mid-80s.

Better. But if the sun beating down on the sand at Ocean City is just too darn hot, or if the old "Downy Ayshun" thing is just getting too old and expensive, try the dunes at Presque Isle State Park, in Erie, Pa. Sure, it's a seven-hour drive. But prices are low, the Lake Erie beach is clean and delightful, the water's refreshing (and fresh!). When you need a break, you can get fries, burger and shake at Sara's, rent a bike and head out on the bike trail that winds down the sandy peninsula. Or rent a canoe, or a rowboat or sailboard. There's a water park -Waldemeer - just up the bluff, and batter-fried lake perch and beer nearby at the Pittsburgh Inn. Here's the forecast. I'll see you there.

Posted by Admin at 12:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

August 3, 2005

Friends in Illinois? Send water

Much of Illinois, especially in northern and western counties, is suffering through the sixth-worst drought since record-keeping out there began in 1895. The corn is shriveling, streams are drying up and groundwater levels are falling. Illinois is one of the nation's biggest corn-producers, but the drought is fairly limited in its geography, so only minimal effects are expected on corn prices nationally.

Here's the state's report on the crisis. And here's a USA Today story.

Posted by Admin at 1:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drought
        

TS Harvey strengthens

The eighth tropical depression of the 2005 Atlantic season reached tropical storm strength today and earned the name Harvey. TS Harvey is spinning well off the coast of Georgia, headed toward the northeast, away from the mainland. But tropical storm warnings have been posted for the island of Bermuda, which is likely to feel its full effects by Thursday morning. It's a minimal storm at this point, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, but has some potential to strengthen.

2:10 PM UPDATE:

"THE FIRST REPORTS FROM AN AIR FORCE RESERVE UNIT RECONNAISSANCE
AIRCRAFT INVESTIGATING TROPICAL STORM HARVEY INDICATE THAT HARVEY
IS STRONGER THAN PREVIOUSLY ESTIMATED. THE AIRCRAFT FOUND A
MINIMUM SEA-LEVEL PRESSURE OF 999 MB AND PEAK FLIGHT-LEVEL WINDS OF
62 KT. BASED ON THESE DATA...THE INTENSITY OF HARVEY IS NOW
ESTIMATED TO BE NEAR 60 MPH."

5:00 PM UPDATE:

"THE BERMUDA WEATHER SERVICE HAS ISSUED A
HURRICANE WATCH FOR BERMUDA...INDICATING THAT HURRICANE CONDITIONS
ARE POSSIBLE DURING THE NEXT 24 HOURS.

"A TROPICAL STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR BERMUDA. A TROPICAL
STORM WARNING MEANS THAT TROPICAL STORM CONDITIONS ARE EXPECTED
WITHIN THE NEXT 24 HOURS."

Here is the advisory. Here is the storm track and warning map. Here is a satellite image of the storm.

Posted by Admin at 10:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

August 2, 2005

Hurricane forecast worsens; new storm forms

The National Hurricane Center has updated its forecast for the rest of this record-breaking 2005 season, and the news only gets worse. The new forecast calls for 11 to 14 MORE named tropical storms before the season ends Nov. 30. That will include 7 to 9 MORE hurricanes. Mercy.

Here is the new report, which predicts this will wind up as the seventh "extremely active" hurricane season since this new period of high activity began in 1995.

So far, this season has already generated 7 tropical storms, of which two have become hurricanes. Bot of those reached "major" status - Category 3 storms with top sustained winds of 111 mph or more. The early pace was a record.

And just when you thought things had quieted down, the hurricane center this afternoon announced that tropical depression No. 8 has formed in the Altantic. It's a threat only to Bermuda and shipping interests for now. Here's the strike probability map. And here's a satellite image. If it grows to tropical storm strength, it will become Tropical Storm Harvey.

The statistical peak of the season runs from mid-August through September. This season is just beginning to roll.

Posted by Admin at 4:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

Sunny & hot through Friday

More daytime highs in the 90s all this week, and no sign of rain until late Friday. It's still summer in Baltimore, folks. So, seek cooler places, use that sunblock and curl up with a good ... newspaper! Tune up your brain with the crossword puzzle. Get mad at a columnist, or an editorial, and write a Letter to the Editor. Turn the page and stumble across a story you didn't expect, or an idea you hadn't considered.

And when you're done, you can use it to clean the windows, pack the dishes or line the puppies' corner. (You can't do that with a flat-panel monitor.)

Better yet, share the paper with a neighbor who doesn't subscribe. And while you're visiting the neighbors, make sure their AC is working. If it's not, bring them a fan or invite them over to your place to cool off. We're all in this together.

Posted by Admin at 12:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Old news from Mars

Stories and emails - as breathless as they are wrong - are zipping through cyberspace this month shouting that Mars is about to make an historic appearance in the night sky. Depending on the version you receive, they say Mars (on or about Aug. 27) will be closer than ever in recorded history, brighter than it will be again for hundreds of years, and bigger and brighter in the the sky than the full moon.

I've received an email from a close friend alerting me to this spectacular event. It appeared in a newsletter published by my community association. And it surfaced again this morning in a phone call from a Sun reader who said he'd heard it from two friends. He couldn't figure out how Mars could EVER appear larger than the full moon.

Good for him. It can't. But, like many rumors accelerated and inflated by the re-telling across the Internet, there is a grain of truth here.

First, the very real event that appears to have been the genesis of this goofy Internet rumor occurred two years ago this month. If you weren't paying attention then, you missed it. It's over.

That was an historic "opposition" of Mars. Mars oppositions repeat about every 2.2 years, when Mars, from our vantage point on Earth, is on the "opposite" side of the sky from the sun. As the sun sets in the west, Mars at opposition rises in the east.

Think of it this way (and here I will plagiarize my own story from two years ago): "Earth is the third planet from the sun. Mars is the fourth. "Close" approaches like this one occur when the Earth, circling the sun on an "inside" track, passes directly between the sun and slower-moving Mars."

Oppositions are also the moment when Mars is closest to Earth, because Earth and Mars are briefly on the same side of the solar system. So, as seen from Earth, the red planet looks especially big and bright and, well, red.

Some oppositions are more impressive than others. That's because Mars' orbit around the sun is more elliptical than Earth's. So there are oppositions when Mars is closer than it is for other oppositions. The distances can range from less than 35 million miles to a maximum of about 65 million miles. For the rest of the year, of course, we're much farther apart than that, averaging something like 140 million miles.

In the historic August 2003 Mars opposition, the two planets were a "mere" 34.7 million miles apart. Computer runs at the time suggested that hadn't occurred for nearly 60 thousand years. And it would be 284 more years before anyone saw anything like it again. It was big news at the time.

But that was two years ago. This year, Mars will be at opposition again. But it doesn't occur until Nov. 7 (2.2 years after the 2003 event), and Mars won't be as close as it was in 2003 - about 43.1 million miles this time around.

Of course, that's still pretty darn close as these things go. If skies are clear (this is how I justify this sort of entry in a "weather" blog) it will be a great time to look at Mars through a telescope. Even a decent backyard 'scope should reveal surface markings on the planet and maybe polar ice.

In fact, it's already a good time to see Mars. It's getting bigger and brighter as it moves (or more accurately WE move) toward opposition in November. Mars is rising in the east late in the evening, and popping up earlier each night. By the end of the month it will be rising at 10:30 p.m. EDT.

For those who missed it, here is the article we ran TWO YEARS AGO about the last opposition of Mars:

CLOSE ENCOUNTER
Mars makes an approach, its nearest in 59,619 years

Posted by Admin at 11:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

August 1, 2005

How many planets?

Caltech astronomers are reporting the discovery of a 10th planet in our solar system. At least it's a planet if you consider Pluto a planet, which is the subject of a long-running debate. This new one is much farther away than Pluto, but it's also much bigger. Read more here.

Posted by Admin at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

August promises cooler weather

But don't expect things to cool off this week. The forecast calls for highs in the 80s today. But the rest of the week will bump up into the 90s again, at least through Thursday.

But the statistics are with us. We're well past the summer solstice and have rounded the bend that leads inexorably to winter. The sun angle is declining and the days are growing shorter. That means the average daily high temperatures (and the overnight lows, too) have begun to decline.

The records show that average daily highs slide from 87 degrees at the start of the month, to 82 by the end. The overnight lows sink from an average 66 degrees to 61.

That's not to say it can't still get very hot. It can. August 2002 saw 17 days with highs in the 90s. The record high temperatures at BWI for much of the month remain in the upper 90s and over 100 degrees. In fact, the record high for August at the airport is 105 degrees, reached on Aug. 6 and 7, 1918, and again on Aug. 20, 1983.

It can also cool off dramatically, usually with a cool front bearing fresh, crisp air from Canada. The record low for the month at BWI is 45 degrees, set on Aug. 30, 1986.

July, by the way, ended up the 5th-wettest on record in Baltimore. The instruments at Baltimore-Washington International Airport recorded 8.77 inches of rainfall. That was 4.92 inches above the 30-year norm for the month. Two of the six wettest Julys on record here have been in this year and last.

July 2005 was also a bit warmer than average, at 77.9 degrees.
Here's how the rainfall records stack up:

YEAR RAIN

1889: 11.03 inches
1905: 10.65
1945: 9.68
1884: 9.43
2005: 8.77
2004: 8.69

Posted by Admin at 11:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        
Keep reading
Recent entries
Archives
Categories
About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff
-- ADVERTISEMENT --

Sign up for FREE weather alerts*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for weather text alerts
SKY NOTES WEATHER

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Maryland Weather Center


Area Weather Stations
Resources and Sun coverage
• Weather news

• Readers' photos

• Data from the The Sun's weather station

• 2011 stargazers' calendar

• Become a backyard astronomer in five simple steps

• Baltimore Weather Archive
Daily airport weather data for Baltimore from 1948 to today

• National Weather Service:
Sterling Forecast Office

• Capital Weather Gang:
Washington Post weather blog

• CoCoRaHS:
Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. Local observations by volunteers

• Weather Bug:
Webcams across the state

• National Data Buoy Center:
Weather and ocean data from bay and ocean buoys

• U.S. Drought Monitor:
Weekly maps of drought conditions in the U.S.

• USGS Earthquake Hazards Program:
Real-time data on earthquakes

• Water data:
From the USGS, Maryland

• National Hurricane Center

• Air Now:
Government site for air quality information

• NWS Climate Prediction Center:
Long-term and seasonal forecasts

• U.S. Climate at a Glance:
NOAA interactive site for past climate data, national, state and city

• Clear Sky Clock:
Clear sky alerts for stargazers

• NASA TV:
Watch NASA TV

• Hubblesite:
Home page for Hubble Space Telescope

• Heavens Above:
Everything for the backyard stargazer, tailored to your location

• NASA Eclipse Home Page:
Centuries of eclipse predictions

• Cruise Critic: Hurricane Zone:
Check to see how hurricanes may affect your cruise schedule

• Warming World:
NASA explains the science of climate change with articles, videos, “data visualizations,” and space-based imagery.

• What on Earth:
NASA blog on current research at the space agency.
Most Recent Comments
Blog updates
Recent updates to baltimoresun.com news blogs
 Subscribe to this feed
Charm City Current
Stay connected