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January 31, 2006

Colder and windy tonight

Better bring in the trash cans. As a storm center moves off the mid-Atlantic coast and intensifies this afternoon, colder air will move in behind the low, blowing in from the northwest with gusts as high as 40 mph this afternoon and tonight. There are gale warnings for the Bay. Here's the landlubbers' advisory from the weather service:

" LOW PRESSURE WILL INTENSIFY AS IT MOVES OFF THE DELMARVA TODAY.
THIS STORM WILL HELP TO GENERATE SOME STRONG WINDS. NORTHWEST
WINDS WILL GUST UP TO 40 MPH ACROSS THE REGION THROUGH EARLY
EVENING. THESE WINDS WILL ALSO USHER IN A MUCH COOLER AIR MASS WITH
TEMPERATURES FALLING INTO THE 30S BY LATE AFTERNOON IN MOST AREAS.

"SCATTERED SNOW SHOWERS WILL EVEN OCCUR IN THE HIGHER ELEVATIONS
WEST OF THE BLUE RIDGE...ALTHOUGH ANY ACCUMULATIONS WILL BE UNDER
ONE INCH.

"BE SURE TO SECURE ANY LOOSE ITEMS ON YOUR PROPERTY DUE TO THE
STRONG WINDS. MOTORISTS SHOULD ALSO USE EXTRA CAUTION."

But the cold blast tonight won't do much to bring in more seasonable temperatures. The forecast still calls for sunshine and highs this week in the upper 40s and low 50s. That's still 5 to 10 degrees above normal for this time of year.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:03 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Watches and warnings
        

Will February burst our bubble?

February has a history of delivering giant snowstorms. And it's been so mild throughout January - nearly 9 degrees above average and only a trace of snow - that it seems a good bet that February will swing us back closer to the winter averages for this region. What do the math profs call it? Reverting to the norm?

There's no sign of that in the short-term forecast, however. Instead, we're looking at daily highs in the upper 40s and 50s.  That's well above the averages for early February, but closer to what is typical for late February.

Here's the deal: The average daytime high temperatures for February range from 42 degrees at the beginning of the month, and rise to 48 degrees by month's end.  The overnight lows climb from 24 to 29 degrees. The records for the month have stood for many decades:  The hottest February day in Baltimore was Feb. 25, 1930, when the mercury climbed to an amazing 83 degrees. The coldest date was Feb. 9th, when it was 7-below zero. That tied a record first set on Feb. 10, 1899.

The average snowfall in February for Baltimore is 6.4 inches. But it's a month that can do much more damage in that department. The deepest one-day snowfall in February was the storm of Feb. 11, 1983, when 22.8 inches piled up at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It remains the region's third-largest snowstorm on record.

The biggest ever here - at least since official record-keeping began in 1883 - was also a February blast. It was the 28.2-inch Presidents Day Weekend storm of Feb. 15-18, 2003. That included the 21.8 inches that fell on Feb. 16, the second deepest one-day total on record for February. It also turned out to be the snowiest month on record for Baltimore - 40.5 inches. It wasn't even close. The next-snowiest was February 1899, with 33.9 inches.

What does the weather service think will happen this February, in the wake of this remarkably mild January?  Here is part of YESTERDAY'S climatology discussion:

"FOR THOSE WHO LIKE IT COLD... THERE MAY BE HOPE. THE NAO (NORTH ATLANTIC OSCILLATION) INDEX HAS BECOME SLIGHTLY NEGATIVE IN THE PAST FEW DAYS AND THE ENSEMBLE MEAN NAO FORECAST DOES SHOW RATHER TIGHT CLUSTERING IN THE NEGATIVE THROUGH
ABOUT THE FIRST HALF OF FEBRUARY. ALSO... THE CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER MEDIUM RANGE TEMPERATURE OUTLOOK IS SHOWING INCREASING CHANCES OF BELOW NORMAL TEMPERATURES BEGINNING FEB. 6-8.

"INTERESTINGLY... BEYOND THE TEN WARMEST JANUARIES... 6 OF 10 OF THE
FOLLOWING FEBRUARIES WERE ABOVE NORMAL ... 2 OF 10 WERE NORMAL .. AND
2 OF 10 WERE BELOW NORMAL."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:15 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Almanac
        

January 30, 2006

Where is New Horizons?

NASA's New Horizons spacecraft - en route toward mankind's first reconnaissance of the solar system's most remote planetary outpost - is speeding away from Earth at about 36,000 mph following its launch on Jan. 19. It passed the Moon's orbit less than 9 hours after liftoff, and is now more than 7 million miles from Earth. It is expected to pass Mars' orbit on April 6 and Jupiter's by the spring of 2007 - all in record time. The high speed - this is the fastest spacecraft ever launched from Earth - is needed to reach Pluto by 2015.

If you'd like to follow its progress as we all grow older during this mission, you can do it here.

And while we're on the subject of cool Web sites, here's a link that provides a remarkable sound-and-video glimpse of NASA's Stardust mission as its return capsule streaked in through the atmosphere recently. It was shot from a NASA chase plane. The capsule was carrying bits of interstellar dust and comet dust it had collected for planetary scientists. The package landed safely by parachute in the Utah desert. It is now being studied at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:39 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Cool pictures
        

A balmy day in Bawlmer

January continues to look more like March. The National Weather Service is predicting daytime highs near 63 degrees at the airport. That's more than 20 degrees above normal. Yesterday's high was 59 degrees at BWI. Not only are we burning less fuel to heat our homes, the prices are dropping, too.

If the forecast holds up, we will finish January having enjoyed 16 days with highs of 50 degrees or more, including 8 days with highs of 60 or above. Through Sunday, the average temperature for the month was 41.1 degrees, still nearly 9 degrees above average.  The only date all month in which temperatures averaged below normal was Jan. 7, when it was 2 degrees below the 30-year average for the date. Fewer than half the days this month even dropped below freezing.

The mild weather has reduced consumption of natural gas, and left inventories higher than expected. That's pushed prices lower. Read more here.

The 30-year average at BWI in January is 32.3 degrees. Our 41.1- degree average through Sunday makes this month much warmer than the average February (35.5 degrees) and nearly as mild as the average March (43.7 degrees).

Only three other Januaries since 1950 have averaged above 40 degrees:

January 1950:  46.9 degrees

January 1990:  42.0 degrees

January 1998:  40.9 degrees

All that warm, moist air has been colliding this morning with the cold air over the water (the Bay is still 40 degrees) and in the lower stream valleys. The water vapor cools and condenses, producing some impressive fog this morning.

Driving south on I-83, we came around the bend just north of the Guilford Street exit and were unable to see the city's skyline! It was totally enveloped in fog. The poor visibility near the water probably explained the sluggish traffic at 9:30 a.m. - all the way from the Beltway to downtown.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

January 27, 2006

Put this on your calendar

One of this region's most persistent amateur weather prognosticators has gone out on a scientific limb and predicted a significant winter storm for the period of Feb. 14-16.

Jim Hughes has been tinkering with weather forecasting for the region for many years, investigating what he believes are direct links between patterns he's observed in very distant events - including solar storms and "space weather" - and subsequent weather events in the Washington D.C. area.

He's had no formal training in space physics or meteorology. Nor has he ever been able to publish any of his data in a scientific journal. So he's had a hard time persuading the professionals in those fields that his theories can actually predict the weather. But he's worked hard at it for many years, taking advantage of the Internet and the wealth of scientific and observational data available now online to everyone. He's educated himself about phenomena most of us have never heard of. And over the years he's had some forecasting hits, as well as some misses.

Anyway, yesterday I received the following email from Jim, drawing a connection between past warming events at the North Pole, and "wild weather" across the country. He says we're setting up for a repeat of that pattern. I decided that the WeatherBlog finally gives us a forum where I could put him on record with one of his forecasts, and let him take the credit if the storm pans out, or the egg-in-the-face if it doesn't.

Here's what he has to say:

"An extreme stratospheric warming has been occurring at the North Pole during the past few days. Only four days have been warmer since December 1978. These were two, two day periods, in both March 1984 and February 1989.

"A warming like this will usually mean that both the Arctic Oscillation (AO), and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), are going to turn negative down the road a ways. These  negative phases mean that colder air is headed for the Northeast  and Mid Atlantic .

"Extreme weather patterns should follow this warming, approximately 23 days later, as usual. The jet stream will be amplified and this forecasting variable, along with several others, strongly suggests to me that the metropolitan area, in and around Washington DC, will be experiencing accumulating snowfall between February 14th-16th. 

"I have been using this methodology for about a decade now. So this is not new to me. The strength of the warming can vary of course, just like the atmosphere's reaction can.

"I am definitely not relying on just these two prior extreme warming events to come up with this forecast, but they do give it some weight in my opinion.

"Here are some tidbits about the weather events back in March 1984 and 1989:

"BWI in Baltimore saw temperatures of 80/43 on March 18, 1989 but they dropped drastically on the 19th (to) 44/31. The normal is 55/34.

"Marquette, Minn. recorded a low temperature of -11 degrees below average on the 19th. Snowfall totals as high as 18 inches were recorded in some parts of the country. Parts of West Virginia received eight inches.

"The amplification of the jet stream was just as severe back in March 1984.  Brownsville, Tex. recorded a high temperature of 106 degrees and Cotulla Texas set a state record at the time for March, with a 108-degree temperature. The Carolinas were hit by severe weather on the 18th and 22 tornadoes were reported there. A severe ice storm occurred in other parts of the country.

"So it looks like mid- February is going to be very interesting on the weather front."

Thanks Jim. We'll see if you're right.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:24 PM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Winter weather
        

See Saturn tonight. Or soon

Now - tonight - is the very best time in all of 2006 to get a good look at the planet Saturn. The sixth planet from the sun is at opposition tonight - "opposite" the sun as seen from Earth. That means it rises this evening in the east just as the sun sets in the west. Check the weather.

More importantly, opposition represents Earth's nearest approach to Saturn of this year. Granted, that's not very near; we're still about 755 million miles away, after all. Saturn is now more than eight times farther from Earth than we are from the sun. But Saturn is huge, about 10 times the size of the Earth. So it shows up nicely even in small backyard telescopes.

And that's the best part about Saturn. It's a truism in amateur astronomy that everyone's first look at Saturn through a telescope is a thrill. It is a beautiful planet, and its prominent and iconic ring system is immediately identifiable. And first-timers invariably react with a gasp, a "Wow!," or disbelief. Baltimore's first "streetcorner astronomer," Herman Heyn, has been accused by his customers of slipping a NASA slide into his 'scope.  No way. It's the real deal, and it is really "up there." And there's a bonus, he says: "The little 'star' always near Saturn is Titan, its largest moon."

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been circling Saturn and snapping pictures of the planet, its ring system and its moons more than a year and a half. Here's the mission's Web site, with lots of great images. They're your tax dollars at play, so have a look.

You can see Saturn with the naked eye, too, of course, on any clear night this winter. Even in urban skies, it is a fairly bright, yellowish star-like object. You can find it a couple of hours after sunset, above the eastern horizon, directly below a pair of stars called Castor and Pollux. They're all to the left of the familiar winter constellation Orion, recognizable by its "belt" of three stars lined up in a row. Here's a star map.

If you don't have a telescope, or a neighbor with one, look for Heyn or Darryl Mason at Harborplace, or Fells Point. Or visit one of the area's observatories during one of their open nights.

For information, call these numbers or visit these Websites:

Anne Arundel Community College; second Saturday of each month. 410 777-1820.

Maryland Space Grant Observatory (at Johns Hopkins): Fridays at dusk. 410 516-6525 or click here.

Maryland Science Center: Fridays at 5:30 p.m.; 410 545-2999 or click here.

University of Maryland Baltimore County: first Thursday of each month. Click here.

University of Maryland Observatory, College Park: 5th and 20th of each month. Click here.

Herman Heyn: "Weather permitting, and mainly on week-end nights (Fri., Sat., Sun.), I will be set up at Harborplace. By next weekend (early February), Saturn should be high enough to view from there by 7PM. Look for me near the Amphitheater. If I'm not there, I'll be down the Promenade toward or a little beyond Phillips restaurant. Again, it's always "weather permitting"! Everybody who sees Saturn through my scope gets a yellow 'I Saw Saturn...from Harborplace, Baltimore, Maryland' souvenir stickee. In case people want to be sure I'll be there on a particular night, they can call 410-889-0460."

Darryl Mason (Baltimore's "other" streetcorner astronomer): "I will be at Fells Point Monday Jan. 30 and Friday Feb 2, 2006."  Look for him at the south end of the square, near Thames Street.

Saturn will be visible and prominent for weeks to come. But tonight is the very best time to look.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

January 26, 2006

One more hurricane for 2005

Just when you thought we'd driven a stake through the heart of the 2005 Atlantic Hurricane Season, the National Hurricane Center has added one more hurricane to its final tally. A post-storm re-analysis of Tropical Storm Cindy - the third named storm of the record-smashing season - has prompted authorities to upgrade the storm to a Category 1 hurricane. That brings the season's hurricane total to 15, breaking its own record. Here's the full list and their reports.

The FINAL final tally for 2005:  15 hurricanes, 12 tropical storms, 2 tropical depressions and 1 subtropical depression.

Tropical Storm Cindy was born June 24 as a tropical wave off the coast of West Africa. It grew into a tropical depression on July 3 in the northwest Caribbean, and strengthened further to become a named tropical storm on July 5 as it moved northward across the central Gulf of Mexico. It would be one of five named storms to form during July, also a record.

Reanalysis of the storm data, however, showed that Cindy graduated to hurricane status just before making landfall near Grand Isle, La. later on the 5th.  The threshhold requires sustained winds of 64 knots (74 mph).

Wind measurements during the storm put Cindy's top winds at 60 knots. But a closer look at Doppler radar data revealed 65 knot velocities for a brief time. And a narrow swath of winds of at least 71 knots aloft showed up from a region 120 miles south of the radar site to another area well inland. Adjusting for the altitude of those winds, the hurricane center estimated surface winds below them to be 64 knots or greater - qualifying Cindy as a hurricane. Maybe it's a stretch, but it's official.

The storm remained a hurricane for all of three hours before weakening over land.  Its remnants eventually passed over Alabama, Georgia, western North Carolina and Virginia before moving off the mid-Atlantic coast. The wind and rain would make a second landfall in Maine on the 10th.

One person died as a result of Hurricane Cindy's flooding in Georgia. Total damage in the U.S. was estimated at $320 million, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Time remaining before the start of the 2006 season?  Four months and five days. So, how are those levees coming along?   

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:47 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

N.C. winds top 200 mph

No fooling. The weather system that's been pestering us with gusts over 30 mph pushed winds to triple digits yesterday at Grandfather Mountain in western North Carolina. The almost-4,000-foot peak is the tallest in the Blue Ridge. The wind damaged a visitor's center, toppled a 300-pound boulder and pushed a wind gauge past its 200 mph red line. The blast broke the mountain's previous record wind of 195 mph. Read on. 

The official wind speed record in the U.S. is 231 mph, recorded at the top of Mt. Washington, in New Hampshire's Presidential Range. Here's a link the the Mt. Washington observatory.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

It only seems cold

Quit complaining, Baltimore. We've been spoiled. Actually, the weather yesterday and today has been pretty close to normal for this time of year - warmer, even. And from here through the weekend, we will likely return to the above-average temperatures we've seen throughout the month of January. Here's how it shakes out:

After the cold front blew through, Tuesday produced a high of 49 degrees at BWI and a low of 29. That yields an average of 39 degrees, which is 7 degrees above normal for the date. (The average high and low for Jan. 25 are 41 and 23 degrees.)

Wednesday's high was 43 and the low was 34. That, too, averages out to 39 degrees, also 7 degrees above average for the date. Warm, right?

The forecast high and low for today are 41 and 20, which is pretty darm close to normal (41 and 23). But even if it's a shade below normal, it would be just the second below-average day in the whole month. (The other was Jan. 7, when the high of 38 and the low of 21 put us a slim 2 degrees below average for the date. Every other day this month has been warmer than the 30-year average - 12 of them by double-digit-degree margins.) We're still running better than 9 degrees above normal for the month.

We had nice, clear skies today. Here's how we looked from space. And the weekend promises more (relatively) mild weather. They're calling for highs between 47 and 57 degrees through Monday, and lows from 26 to 38 degrees.

What's made it feel much colder, of course, has been the wind. It's been gusting to more than 30 mph at BWI, off and on, since Wednesday morning. Plus, we've grown used to the mild weather and to the lack of snow that's persisted since mid-December.

There's no snow in the forecast, either. If that holds through Tuesday - and it should - we'll close the month with no more than a trace of snow at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. As we've noted here before, that would make January 2006 only the sixth January since 1883 to end with no measureable snowfall for Baltimore at all. (There was no snow, period, in January 1937. And they measured only a trace four other times - in January 1913, 1914, 1934 and 1973.)

So, we've apparently slipped unscathed through what is typically the coldest, snowiest month of the year in Baltimore. February could bring a harsh shift in the weather. But the statistics, at least are with us.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: By the numbers
        

January 25, 2006

Thundersnow explained

Well, that was quite a night. Rain, wind, snow, ice, even thunder and lightning.  And this morning, slippery roads and school delays. And almost none of it was in yesterday's forecasts.

But my editor, Mike Himowitz, knew it was coming. Yesterday, as senior editors were calling for a Wednesday story on all the mild weather in January, he warned them that such a story would upset the gods and bring snow and ice and other wintry woes. We write about a weather trend, and it comes to a crashing end.

Sure enough, the brass woke up this morning with a warm-weather story on the front page, and ice and a dusting of snow on the ground, and realized Mike was right.

The wild night was enough to stir some comments and queries from normally quiet WeatherBlog readers. Here are two:

From Robert Loskot - "Snow on green leaves, as my sainted mother always used to say.  Here in Upper Crossroads in Harford County, we not only had about a half dozen displays of staccato-like, vicious lightning with thunder that shook the dishes in the cabinets, but we received a burst of snow that turned the yard a dusty white with the grass tufts showing through.  It was an impressive 20 minutes, reminding me of that bygone commercial: It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

And this from David Gerstman -  "Last night about 10 PM two of our sons came upstairs excitedly telling us that there was a "thunder snow" going on. We were of course aware of the thunder as it had been quite loud. And it was unusual to hear at this time of the year. But the idea of there being a thunder storm in which it was snowing is not something I ever remember.

"How (in)frequent are such occurrences? Since I suspect that the Weather service doesn't actually track "thundersnows" let me ask what unique conditions (if any) must occur for there to be a "thundersnow."

Obviously, thundersnow is very rare. Meteorologist David Schultz has studied the phenomenon and estimates that only seven in 10,000 recorded thunderstorms produce snow.  But there are a lot of thunderstorms, and a lot of snowstorms. So there are plenty of opportunities for thunderstorms to produce snow, or snowstorms to produce thunder. I can recall several severe winter storms in Baltimore since I moved here 25 years ago that have been spiked by claps of snow-muffled thunder.

But the question this morning is why the cold front that ripped through the region last night produced lightning (which makes the thunder we heard) and why it wasn't forecast more than a few minutes before it occurred. So, I called the NWS forecast office in Sterling, Va. and asked meteorologist Brian Guyer what happened last night.

He said lightning (and therefore thunder) requires strong vertical motion in the clouds. That motion strips electrons from water and ice particles and creates an electrical difference between the ground (positive) and the base of the clouds (negative). When that difference is strong enough, a spark - a lightning bolt - jumps the gap.

In a severe winter storm, that electrical gap is created by the strong vertical motion of falling snow and ice. That's true "thundersnow."

But last night's event, despite the date, was not a typical winter storm, Guyer said. "It was just associated with a cold front." 

A cold air mass was driving south and east out of Canada, barging into the warmer air ahead of it that's made January here so mild. And because cold air is more dense, and therefore heavier than warm air, it drove under the warmer air like a shovel, and forced it to rise.

That vertical motion along the fast-moving moving front produced the electrical charge that gave us our lightning, and thunder. It's  different from the kind of thunderstorms we see in mid-summer. In those, the sun heats air at the surface and starts it rising by convection, forming towering thunderclouds that produce the familiar lightning and thunder.

"But in the spring and fall you do see storms that form along cold fronts," Guyer said. But "much of this month has been like March" in Maryland, he said. So last night's storm was really a springtime, cold-front thunderstorm in late January. Any snow that came with it was no more than flurries triggered by the cold air and moisture behind the front.

No such storms were predicted in yesterday's forecasts, so I asked Guyer whether they took forecasters as much by surprise as the rest of us.

"I wouldn't say it was a surprise," he said. "It was more that there were not strong indications in the models or in any (balloon) soundings that showed we would have as much instability as we saw at the surface ... The amount of instability that did come to the surface was more than we anticipated. And it was very brief. It moved through very quickly."

Sounds like a surprise to me.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:49 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Ask Mr. Weatherblogger
        

January 24, 2006

Yes, that was thunder

We heard it up here in Cockeysville, too - about a half-dozen thunderclaps just before 10 p.m. tonight as the cold front pushed through with a line of showers and gusty winds. Instruments at BWI recorded a gust to nearly 50 mph with rain and thunder around 10 p.m. as the squall line passed.

The anemometer on our backyard weather station is too sheltered by the house for accurate wind speed readings. But it recorded the frontal passage as the wind direction flipped from east to northwest.  I didn't notice any lightning, but there's no thunder without it. (We also recorded 0.06 inch of rain, pushing us past 3 inches for the month so far.)

There was almost no warning from the National Weather Service that we might get a thunderstorm in the region tonight. It's JANUARY, for crying out loud ! The NWS forecasters at Sterling had mentioned a slight possibility of showers, but there was no mention of thunderstorms until they issued a SPECIAL MARINE WARNING at 9:45 p.m. It advised of "a line of strong thunderstorms from 19 miles northwest of Aberdeen to 15 miles west of Washington DC, moving southeast at 35 mph."

That was followed by a "Nowcast" at 9:51 p.m. - about the same time we were hearing the thunderclaps in Cockeysville:

"A BROKEN LINE OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS WITH STRONG GUSTY WINDS  WILL REACH THE INTERSTATE 95 CORRIDOR FROM WASHINGTON DC TO BALTIMORE BY 10 P.M...."

The NWS forecast office at State College, Pa., noted a "snow squall with thunder" moving through south-central PA at 9:23 p.m.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:33 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Events
        

Scattered clouds and rocket exhaust

Here's a great shot of last week's successful launch of NASA's New Horizon's mission to Pluto. Weather played a spoiler's role in the launch. Liftoff was delayed one day by high winds at the launch pad, at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. A power outage at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab near Laurel, Md. - likely related to a morning rainstorm - postponed the launch for a second day.

And a low "broken" cloud deck that obscured the view of tracking cameras delayed launch on the third day of the launch window. But the clouds finally parted enough to be rated "scattered" by the Air Force meteorologists, and NASA pushed the button. The Atlas V rocket tore through the clouds and boosted the spacecraft to 36,000 mph - the fastest craft ever hurled into the cosmos from Earth. Controllers at APL will guide New Horizons past Jupiter next spring, and hope to reach Pluto by 2015.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:14 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Cool pictures
        

Snow for W. Maryland, Hawaii

We won't see any of it down here in the low country. But folks up along the western front of the Alleghenies - in Maryland's Garrett and Allegany counties - could see up to 10 inches of snow tonight and tomorrow as a cold front blows through. Here's the winter storm watch posted this morning:

"...WINTER STORM WATCH IN EFFECT FROM THIS EVENING THROUGH
WEDNESDAY EVENING...

"THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN STERLING VIRGINIA HAS ISSUED A
WINTER STORM WATCH...WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM THIS EVENING THROUGH
WEDNESDAY EVENING.

"A STRONG COLD FRONT WILL MOVE ACROSS THE REGION LATE
TODAY...BRINGING COLDER AIR ACROSS THE AREA. BEHIND THE
FRONT...SNOW SHOWERS WILL DEVELOP THIS EVENING AND CONTINUE THROUGH
WEDNESDAY EVENING. MOST OF THE ACCUMULATING SNOW WILL OCCUR ALONG
AND WEST OF THE ALLEGHENY FRONT...WHERE A TOTAL OF 6 TO 10 INCHES
IS POSSIBLE BY WEDNESDAY EVENING. GUSTY WINDS UP TO 35 MPH TONIGHT
AND WEDNESDAY WILL LEAD TO BLOWING AND DRIFTING OF SNOW...WITH
SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCED VISIBILITIES.

"A WINTER STORM WATCH MEANS THERE IS A POTENTIAL FOR SIGNIFICANT
SNOW ACCUMULATIONS THAT MAY IMPACT TRAVEL. CONTINUE TO MONITOR THE
LATEST FORECASTS."

While there's no snow in our forecast (except for a slight chance of rain or snow showers tomorrow), the same frontal passage will bring us stiff winds (22-25 mph) tomorrow and Thursday. But skies will remain clear or mostly so until Sunday, when there's a chance of showers again.

You want snow?  Go to the Big Island of Hawaii. A snowfall at the top of the Mauna Kea volcano over the weekend forced astronomers at the observatories there to evacuate and close the access road so they wouldn't become snowbound at the high-altitude scientific outpost.  Snow at the summits on Hawaii is not all that unusual. Here is a satellite view of the snow caps at about this time last year.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:56 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Winter weather
        

January 23, 2006

Texas gets rain; NE sees snow

Parts of Texas yesterday got their first rain since before Christmas. The moisture won't end the drought, but it's a relief to people in the region, and especially to fire fighters who are still working to douse stubborn brush fires that have burned homes and damaged property.

They're happy with the rain in Arkansas, too. But Arizona residents are still looking for theirs. It hasn't rained in Phoenix since Oct. 18. That's the second-longest dry spell on record there, and if it lasts through Saturday, it will set a new record.

Meanwhile, the same storm system that soaked us this morning is dropping plenty of snow on interior New England.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

Here comes the sun

We had one cold, wet, dank, miserable morning across the region, with more than an inch of cold rain.  But it will all seem like a bad dream on Tuesday, when the sunshine returns for the rest of the week. The forecast for the balance of the week calls for sunny skies, some breezy weather and highs in the upper 40s to low 50s. That's still 5 to 10 degrees above the seasonal norms.

It's also money in the bank for homeowners who have to put gas or oil in the furnace. We're still running more than 9 degrees warmer than the 30-year averages for January, and we're almost 30 percent behind the pace on degree days for January. That means we're consuming nearly 30 percent less fuel than the average for January to date.

And we've had only a trace of snow at BWI. Look at the snowline retreat to the north.

At this point, with eight days left, this month is averaging 41.8 degrees at BWI. That ranks as the 10th-warmest January on record for Baltimore, and the third-warmest since 1950. The warmest was in 1932, when the January temperature in Baltimore averaged an astonishing 47.4 degrees.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

January 20, 2006

Temps top out in 60s

For the 5th time this month, high temperatures have topped out in the low 60s at BWI.  It was the same for most stations across the region. It never got that warm on any date in December at BWI. Go figure.

Here's a rundown. Most highs were reached at 3 or 4 p.m., but a few spots hit their highs earlier, before winds shifted to the southeast and began bringing cooler air in off the Bay.

BWI:   61 degrees

Maryland Science Center:   62

Washington National:   57

Washington Dulles:   63

Annapolis:   59 (1 p.m.)

Andrews AFB:   62

Martin State Airport:   53 (noon)

Patuxent River NAS:   64

Salisbury:   60

Hagerstown:   61

Frederick:   62

Martinsburg, W.Va.:   62

Elkins, W. Va.:   61

Farther afield, it was 61 today in New York; 57 in Philadelphia; 64 in Norfolk; and 68 in Charleston. This is livin'.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:11 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (9)
Categories: Winter weather
        

A question about Bay tides

M.J. Dunlap writes with the following question about tides in the Chesapeake Bay:

"Out of curiosity, can you explain why the water levels in the Bay are so low?  Is it because of the severe winds?  In the Chesapeake Beach/ Deale area the water looks to be about 4-5 feet below the normal lows.  In some places, like Rose Haven, it looks like the Bay receded 100'.  I can't remember seeing it like this in the last 5 years I've lived down here. Thanks."

I don't have a ready answer for her. We're a week past the full moon and another week short of the new moon. The winds are out of the southwest now, so that shouldn't be pushing water out of the bay the way a northwest wind would.  I can't even find any dramatically low tides on the area tide gauges.

So, I'm stumped. Has anyone else out there noted very low tides in recent days? Can anyone explain them? If so, leave a comment and enlighten us all.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:34 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (5)
Categories: Ask Mr. Weatherblogger
        

Temperature record threatened

The National Weather Service forecasters at Sterling, Va. are predicting a high temperature of 66 degrees on Saturday. If we make it, it would tie the record set for a Jan. 21 in Baltimore, set way back in 1921. The normal high for the date - the 30-year average for the airport - is 41 degrees. So a high tomorrow of 66 degrees would put us 25 degrees above normal for the date.

And while we are enjoying a spring-like winter, Russians are suffering through a brutal cold snap.

Here's AccuWeather's take on all this warm air flowing in from the Deep South. You can thank the jet stream.

Although the following few days look cooler, the folks at Sterling say there's a good chance this sort of unusually mild January weather will continue. Here's part of this morning's forecast discussion:

"THE CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER TEMPERATURE AND PRECIPITATION OUTLOOK ISSUED THIS
AFTERNOON HAS OUTLINED THE MID-ATLANTIC REGION IN A 50-60 PCT PROBABILITY OF ABOVE NORMAL TEMPS AND ABOUT A 40 PCT PROBABILITY OF ABOVE NORMAL PRECIP FOR THE
REMAINDER OF JANUARY INTO EARLY FEB. AT THIS RATE...JAN 2006 MAY GO DOWN
AS ONE OF THE LEAST SNOWIEST (sic) ON RECORD."

In Baltimore, where weather records for snow began in 1883, there has been only one snowless January in all the 124 Januaries since. That was in 1937. There have been just four with only a trace of snow: 1913, 1914, 1934 and 1973.  If we get no more this month, this would be the fifth.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

January 19, 2006

New Horizons is off to Pluto

Update at 2:01: Launch looks good, 52 minutes late at 2:00 p.m. For the full story, click here. The pre-launch post follows.

Launch controllers at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station have delayed the launch of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, once again due to weather problems. The planned 1:08 p.m. liftoff has been put off until at least 2:00 p.m. while everyone waits for a low cloud deck to blow over. The clouds in sunny Florida are obscuring the view for tracking cameras.

Winds that scrubbed Tuesday's launch plans are OK today. And the electric power at the spacecraft's operations center - at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab near Laurel, Md. - is on again after a storm-related outage Wednesday scrubbed the second launch attempt.

Today's launch window remains open until 3:07 p.m. EST. You can watch the launch on NASA-TV via the web. Click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:11 PM | | Comments (0)
        

A January without Winter

Well, if you've been longing for a snow day to catch up on your sleep, or housework, or Holiday thank-you notes, you've come to the wrong month. It's been 36 days now since the last measurable snowfall at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, and 42 days since we've seen more than an inch drop from the sky. It's simply been too warm.

Since Christmas Day, BWI has recorded only seven days in which the temperature has dropped below 32 degrees - one in December and six in January. The normal lows for the month are 23 or 24 degrees. We're still running nearly 8 degrees above normal for January.

And there's nothing but mock Spring weather in sight. The forecast calls for highs today near 50 degrees, with afternoons in the 60s on Friday and Saturday (with rain - sorry) before things cool down again. But there's no real winter weather in sight. My bulbs are coming up, for crying out loud!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

January 18, 2006

Clearing skies, falling thermometer

This morning's rainstorm dropped almost eight tenths of an inch of water at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It also marked the passage of a cold front that will clear the air and bring out the stars tonight. Here's what the weather map looks like. You can see the mild winds from the south ahead of the front, and the cold, dry winds from the north and west behind it. New England will get the worst of this storm.

Temperatures were climbing ahead of the front. It was 61 degrees at BWI just before 2 a.m. this morning. And it was still 57 degrees on my car's thermometer when I left home for the gym this morning. It was also raining pretty hard. But by the time I left for work two hours later, the thermometer had fallen to 47 degrees. And the rain stopped soon after.

At 10:45 a.m. you could see, on radar, the rain moving away to the east of Baltimore. Here's the latest radar image. It may have cleared completely by the time you get a look at it.

Some area streams were at record or near-record flow rates for the date this morning. Among them were White Marsh Run, in, well, White Marsh; the North Branch of the Patapsco at Cedarhurst; the Gwynns Falls at Villa Nova in western Baltimore County, and the Patuxent near Unity in Howard County.

The forecast calls for a windy day with clearing skies as the cold, dry air rushes in. Winds gusted to 32 mph around midnight at BWI, and they've been as high as 30 mph in the hours since. They'll blow between 23 and 28 mph this afternoon before slowing tonight. They were gusting to 37 mph at last check, and there are gale warnings on the bay.

"Hold on to the hats," said NWS meteorologist Andy Woodcock, in this morning's forecast discussion from Sterling. But clearer skies are on the way. "I expect to see plenty of stars in the sky when I drive in for the midnight shift."

The week ahead promises to remain mild, with highs in the 50s to 61 degrees by Friday. The lows will hold at around 40 - close to the normal highs for this time of year.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

January 17, 2006

High winds delay Pluto launch

Update at 3:30 p.m.: Winds gusting in excess of the 40-mph safety limit at the launch pad have delayed liftoff of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto. The scrub came less than 3 minutes before a launch. Controllers had held the countdown for two hours in hopes the winds would die down. All other technical issues impeding the launch had been resolved. But the winds persisted.

The new launch window opens at 1:16 p.m. Wednesday. The earlier post follows:

NASA officials have stopped the countdown at T minus 4 minutes for the launch of the New Horizons mission to Pluto due to high winds above the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Scientists and engineers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory are waiting to launch mankind's first mission to the planet Pluto. Liftoff was originally set for 1:24 p.m. The new target is 3:23 p.m. _ the last opportunity in today's 2-hour launch "window."

A new issue arose shortly after 2 p.m., when a tracking station on the island of Antigua, in the Caribbean, reported its "command transmitter" had failed.  That was later resolved, as was a transient problem with NASA's Deep Space Network tracking radars. Now it's just winds.

Winds at the Cape are blowing at 25 knots (28 mph) and gusting to 35 knots (40 mph). The Atlas Launch Control commentator on NASA TV said, "We are continuing  to monitor the winds. There is some hopefulness the winds will stay under the limits - the established red lines." The limit is 33 knots (40 mph).

More high winds are forecast for tomorrow. If there's a delay, NASA could launch any day for the next four weeks. But postponement beyond Feb. 2 would cost the mission a gravity boost it's seeking from a Jupiter flyby next year. That could extend the mission by as much as five years. A launch in the next few days would get the probe to Pluto by 2015. But a delay that pushes arrival at Pluto to 2020 would reduce the chances for scientists to observe Pluto's thin atmosphere, which is expected to freeze and fall onto the planet's icy surface like snow after that date.

Here's the weather in Cocoa Beach, just south of the launch pad. Here's one for the NASA shuttle landing strip at the Cape. And here's a link to NASA TV.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events
        

Weather volunteers needed

Last week I received a note from Bruce Sullivan, the Maryland State Coordinator for a cooperative observer network called CoCoRaHS, which stands for Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow reporting network.

In real life Bruce is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Camp Springs Md. But he wrote seeking volunteers to help him expand the CoCoRaHS network across Maryland and elsewhere. Here's his pitch:

"As our website states, CoCoRaHS is a grassroots volunteer network of backyard weather observers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow) in their local communities.

"By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and utilizing an interactive Web-site, our aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications.

"The only requirements to join are an enthusiasm for watching and reporting weather conditions and a desire to learn more about how weather can affect and impact our lives. Since we only measure precipitation, the cost involved is fairly low, but the information we get is very helpful.

"We currently have quite a few observers in Southern and Central Maryland, but only a few scattered about elsewhere in the states, so that is where I'm hopeful (the Baltimore Sun's WeatherBlog) may be able to help spread the word.

"I am available for group training sessions and would be happy to answer any questions you or any of your readers may have about our organization. Thank You, Bruce Sullivan."

Sound interesting? Here is his email address: bruce.sullivan@cocorahs.org

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:15 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Notes to readers
        

Another mild week

Winter? What winter? After we get past the rain late today and tomorrow, we have another unseasonably mild and pleasant week ahead of us.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for increasing chances for rain today into tomorrow, and maybe even a springlike thunderstorm after 1 a.m. tomorrow morning. That would be the second this month for Baltimore. We could get as much as an inch of rain before it's over. And you'd better secure your garbage cans. They're calling for winds gusting to 30 mph as the storms move through.

Skies should clear by tomorrow afternoon, but the winds will keep things stirred up. Look for gusts to 40 mph. But from there forward, it looks mild for the rest of the week, with temperatures about 10 degrees above normal. Highs will stick in the low 50s, with lows around freezing.

This week marks what is statistically the coldest period of the year for Baltimore. Average highs are about 41 degrees, with the lows averaging 23.  On this day in 1982, the mercury sank to minus-7 degrees. That matched the record set for the area on Jan. 29, 1963. It was tied again on Jan. 22, 1984.

No chance of that this week. Saturday's forecast high of 58 degrees is 65 degrees above those record lows.

The month so far is averaging a whopping 40.9 degrees. That's 8.5 degrees above the 30-year average. If it holds, this would be the 12th warmest January on record for Baltimore, and the third-warmest since 1950, when official record-keeping moved to what is now Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The really good news is that we're all burning less fuel to heat our homes. The number of "degree days" at BWI this month is running 25 percent below the long-term average for January. Degree-days are a measure of demand for heating fuel based on the temperature. Now, if we could just get the gas and oil prices to drop, we'd save some real money.

And, just so we don't forget how good we really have it for now, here's a sampling of some really bad weather around the country, and around the world:

Consider Oklahoma, parts of which are 20 inches short of normal rainfall. Or Moscow, where it's been 18 below zero and people are freezing in the streets. Or Thailand, where floods have washed away homes, while exposing to gold-bearing soils that displaced residents are panning for riches. Or Washington State, which has its own problems with rain, floods and washouts. Or Japan, where heavy snow and related bad weather has killed 100 people, including a young boy buried in snow that slid off a roof.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:22 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

January 13, 2006

Alaska volcano erupts

The Mt. Augustine volcano, on an island in the mouth of Cook Inlet southwest of Anchorage, Alaska, has erupted. Weather forecasters report a tower of ash rising 30,000 feet into the air and pyroclastic flows on the mountain's flanks. The eruption follows months of increasing earthquake activity beneath the peak.

The ash is reported to be drifting eastward. A volcanic ash advisory has been issued for the Kenai Peninsula and other locations east of the inlet. (There's another bit of weather news we don't have to worry about here.)

Here's the Kenai radar image. That's Augustine Island in the inlet just southeast of Iliamna. But here's a better view, on the Kenai radar loop. It clearly shows the ash squirting out of the island volcano and drifting off to the east. Not sure how long this time sequence will remain on the loop. If you miss it, my apologies.

Update at 2:20 p.m. Jan. 17:  More ash from the volcano is visible on the loop. This time it's blowing northwest, right over Iliamna.

To read more, click here.  Here's another view of the ash cloud.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:27 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events
        

Stormy weather on tap

Looks like we're in for a stormy session late today, with plenty of rain on tap - up to an inch - and maybe even some rare January thunderstorms. Then it's cold air, wind and maybe snow showers by later tomorrow as the storm moves on and we find ourselves on the backside of the low, with northerly winds and much colder air. Here's the rundown by the folks at the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va.:

...STRONG STORM TO AFFECT THE REGION TONIGHT AND THIS WEEKEND...

LOW PRESSURE OVER THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER THIS MORNING WILL MOVE EAST
INTO THE OHIO VALLEY THIS AFTERNOON. THIS STORM WILL BRING SHOWERS
AND SCATTERED THUNDERSTORMS TO THE MID ATLANTIC REGION LATE THIS
EVENING THROUGH EARLY SATURDAY MORNING. RAINFALL AMOUNTS OF A HALF
INCH TO ONE INCH ARE EXPECTED...WITH LOCALLY HIGHER AMOUNTS IN ANY
HEAVIER THUNDERSTORM. A FEW THUNDERSTORMS MAY ALSO BE SEVERE...WITH
THE POTENTIAL FOR THUNDERSTORMS TO PRODUCE WIND GUSTS TO 60 MPH.

LOW PRESSURE WILL MOVE OFF THE MID ATLANTIC COAST ON SATURDAY. AS
THIS STORM STRENGTHENS OFFSHORE...STRONG NORTHWEST WINDS WILL BRING
MUCH COLDER AIR OVER THE REGION SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY. WINDS
WILL GUST UP TO 40 MPH WITH TEMPERATURES FALLING TO THE MID 20S TO
LOWER 30S BY SUNDAY MORNING. HIGH TEMPERATURES SUNDAY AFTERNOON WILL
BARELY TOP 40 DEGREES.

FURTHER WEST...OVER AND WEST OF THE ALLEGANY FRONT...SNOW SHOWERS
SATURDAY AND SATURDAY NIGHT WILL LIKELY BRING AN INCH OR TWO OF SNOW
TO THE MOUNTAINS.

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

January 12, 2006

A nice space station pass Sunday

It's been quite a while since we've had a convenient and easy-to-spot flyover by the International Space Station to watch from Baltimore. But there's a fine one coming up around dinnertime on Sunday. And the forecast says the snow showers will be gone, so if you can brave the wind and cold, have a look. It only takes a few minutes. Be sure to drag the kids out to see it. If yours won't go, rustle up some neighbors.

From Baltimore, the space station will appear above the northwest horizon at 6:05 p.m. EST. Look for a bright, white, star-like light moving smartly toward the southeast. It will reach it's highest elevation, 55 degrees above the northeast horizon, at 6:07. That's a little more than halfway between the horizon and the zenith - straight up.

NASA's $100 billion money pit will move on toward the east southeast, passing into the Earth's shadow and disappearing at 6:09 p.m. in the constellation Orion, near the bright orange star Betelgeuse.

This is the best pass of the current series. For more predictions, calculated for your location, visit the Heavens Above website, follow the instructions and punch in the name of your town.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:23 PM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

Snow showers Saturday as winter returns

C'mon, you knew it couldn't last until spring. But it's been nice. Really nice. Five days straight with highs above 50 degrees - and two that topped 60! And sunny skies. That's livin' in January. But it's all coming to an end Saturday as cold weather returns with chances for snow showers, at least, on Saturday. Sorry.

The forecasters are calling for weekend highs only in the 40s, which will feel a lot colder after all this springlike weather. The nights will demand coats and scarves, with lows in the 20s. Worse, a low pressure system will push through from the Great Lakes and drop a cold rain, changing to snow or snow showers during the day and into the evening as the storm moves off and we're caught in the northerly backlash.

And wind. Dress for winds from 20 to 30 mph on Saturday and especially Saturday night.

And we get off easy compared with New England, where they're looking at heavy snow, rain, high winds and beach erosion.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

January 10, 2006

Good news! This ain't Seattle!

Seattle may get better press than Baltimore, but I wouldn't trade the winter we're having for the one they're having for all the java on Puget Sound. Even Seattleites - Seattlepolitans?  Seattlepudlians? - are grumping after 22 straight days of measurable rain. The best they can do is spin their endless bad weather into a run for a new record. Read more about it here.  And get a load of their forecast. Here's ours.

So, we're the fittest city in America. And they're the wettest. Hah!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:09 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events
        

Almost smells like Spring

Even with a sense of smell as poor as mine, I caught a few sweet whiffs of warm, damp earth and springtime yesterday. The high at BWI reached 62 degrees for a couple of hours in the afternoon. That was well short of the 75-degree record for the date, set back in 1937. But it was a gift anyway, coming in the depths of winter.

The weak cold front that passed through the area yesterday dropped temperatures into the 30s overnight, but the clouds remain to our north and west, and sunny skies, if they persist, could push the afternoon highs well into the 50s anyway. They're calling for rain tomorrow, but daytime temps will remain unseasonably mild - in the 50s and 60s straight through Friday. Another cold front is due to bring more seasonable - that is, colder - temperatures by Saturday. We may see a significant rainstorm, perhaps even a thunderstorm with the system.

I spotted a remnant snowbank in Towson this morning, but it won't last long. The recent warm-up has driven back the snow cover all across the country, cutting it from 58 percent to 27 percent of the contiguous U.S. during the past month. Click here and watch it melt.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

January 9, 2006

Lightning and the Sago Mine

WeatherBug is reporting new evidence that might support speculation that last week's coal mine disaster was triggered by a bolt of lightning. Lightning detectors suggest that an especially large bolt - some 35,000 amps - struck near the mine entrance just 2 seconds before a seismic shake that may have been a consequence of the mine explosion and rock fall. For more, click here.

Mine experts I interviewed last week conceded such a scenario was possible. Electric surges could have been carried into the mine along pipes or wires, resulting in arcing that ignited accumulations of methane in the mine's shafts. But these sources deemed it a highly unlikely explanation for the Jan. 2 explosion.  All the same, if the seismic tracing really was caused by the blast, it's hard to dismiss the two events -lightning in the area and the explosion - coming just two seconds apart. The investigation continues.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

Get a grip ...

... on the wheel. There's a cold front moving through the region, and the National Weather Service is warning of stiff cross-winds for drivers heading north or south. Here's the skinny from Sterling:

A COLD FRONT WILL MOVE ACROSS THE REGION THIS EVENING. GUSTY WEST
WINDS UP TO 35 MPH WILL BE POSSIBLE AT TIMES THROUGH ABOUT 6 PM..
MOTORISTS...ESPECIALLY ON NORTH TO SOUTH ROADS LIKE
I-81...I-83...I-95 AND I-270...SHOULD USE CAUTION AS THE GUSTY
WINDS MAY MAKE YOUR VEHICLE DIFFICULT TO CONTROL. THE GUSTY WINDS
WILL DIMINISH AFTER 6 PM.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

January thaw

If there were any snow or ice around to melt, it would be gurgling into the storm drains this week as we head into a sort of January thaw-without-melting. The forecast calls for afternoon highs in the low 60s today, and - after cooler (but still mild) weather tomorrow and Wednesday - near 60 again on Thursday and Friday.

Those highs are approaching 20 degrees above normal for this time of year. The 30-year average for BWI is for daytime highs of 41 degrees and lows of 24.  The record for a Jan. 9 for Baltimore is 75 degrees, reached in 1937.

The record high for any day in January for Baltimore is 79 degrees, reached twice - on Jan. 14, 1932, and again on Jan. 26, 1950.

So far this month we're running more than 6 degrees above normal, averaging 39 degrees for the month through the 8th. That number seems certain to rise this week. It follows an unusually cold and snowy December.

All this mild weather comes to us courtesy of the jet stream, which is keeping all the cold, snowy weather bottled up to our north, while air streaming in from the Pacific and the Gulf brings us mild weather and occasional rain showers. Sure beats shoveling.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

January 6, 2006

They're freezing in India

Seriously. Temperatures in portions of northern India have plummeted to near-freezing in recent days, and at least 110 people have lost their lives. The cold has also generated foggy conditions that have disrupted travel. Read about it here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:37 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events
        

10th anniversary of the Blizzard of '96

So where were you snowed-in a decade ago? This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1996, ranked by some winter weather experts as the second-worst snowstorm ever to strike the Northeast in modern times. Also remembered as the "Great Furlough Storm," the north'easter buried portions of Maryland under 3 to 4 feet of snow. Baltimore clocked 26.6 inches over three days at BWI. It set three daily snowfall records that still stand - 15.8 inches on the 7th; 6.7 inches on the 8th; and 4.1 inches on the 9th of January. Another 6 inches fell on Jan. 12, also a record for the date.

The blizzard was actually a succession of storms. And it was followed a week later by a 3-inch rainfall that melted all the accumulated snow and ice, causing flooding on the Potomac and Susquehanna rivers. Authorities on the Susquehanna were forced to open the floodgates at Conowingo Dam, leading to flooding at Port Deposit.

Click here to read more about this famous storm and others that struck the region in the past two centuries.

And here's how The Sun's Scott Higham (and a list of other reporters who, unlike myself, made it to work that day) reported on the first day of the storm, for the Jan. 8, 1996 editions:

    One of the biggest winter storms of the century slammed into  Maryland
yesterday, paralyzing the state with a blinding mix of fast-falling snow and
ferocious winds that could turn this morning's commute into a slow, agonizing
crawl.

     If there's a commute at all.

    Motorists were expected to face nearly 2 feet of powdery snow. Forecasters
say the snow, driven by winds with gusts topping 30 mph, will make it tough --
if not impossible -- for plows to keep major highways clear before the first
commuters venture out around dawn.

    Deep, drifting snow could keep commuters from reaching their cars, never
mind their jobs.

    "The snow will return an hour after the plows leave," said Richard Diener,
a National Weather Service forecaster at Baltimore-Washington International
Airport. "We have a massive, king-size gorilla on our hands."

    More snow is forecast to hit the region Thursday or Friday.

    The Blizzard of 1996 struck states as far south as Kentucky and moved
north to Philadelphia, Newark and New York. It closed Interstate 65 in
Alabama, choked major highways on the East Coast with small mountains of
drifting snow and stranded thousands of people caught in its wide, white path.

    Forecasters say the blizzard dumped 2 inches of snow per hour on Baltimore
yesterday, and it could wind up depositing about 18 inches by the time the
system leaves Maryland today.

    The blizzard came close to challenging the record in Baltimore, set in
1922 when 24.7 inches fell on the city. By 10 p.m., 14.8 inches had fallen at
BWI.

    Yesterday's blizzard closed malls and major airports in Maryland. Only two
planes made it out of BWI -- to the warm, sunny climes of Cancun and Puerto
Vallarta in Mexico.

    The Meyerhoff Symphony Hall called off two concerts. The Metropolitan
Transit Authority shut down by 3 p.m. Even the Whitetail ski resort in
Southern Pennsylvania closed its slopes.

    Cardinal William H. Keeler gave Maryland Catholics permission to stay home
on the Holy Day.

    "It really has to get paralyzingly bad to issue an archdiocesewide
closure," said Bill Blaul, a spokesman for the diocese.

    The storm became so bad as the day wore on that Gov. Parris N. Glendening
declared a state of emergency, sending the National Guard into the streets to
help clear snow and transport the sick and the elderly to hospitals.

    Yesterday afternoon, the National Guard began dispatching  ,X all-terrain
military Humvees to help out struggling police and fire departments in
Baltimore and in Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel, Frederick, Prince George's
and Washington counties, said Col. Howard S. Freedlander, executive officer of
the Maryland National Guard. The last time the governor declared a state of
emergency in Maryland was during a winter storm in 1993.

    Governors in West Virginia and New Jersey also declared states of
emergency yesterday.

    "I'm hoping people will use a little bit of common sense," Mr. Glendening
said. "In many ways, the storm is beautiful and can even be fun. But we should
remember that when it's this cold, it can be deadly."

    In Washington, President Clinton and the first lady waded through drifts
of snow to reach St. John's, an Episcopal church, for Sunday services.
Republican presidential hopefuls Phil Gramm and Bob Dole couldn't make it to
the campaign trail. The Smithsonian Institution -- finally opened after the
21-day government shutdown -- was forced to close its doors again yesterday.

    The weather won't make it easy for thousands of government workers who
were furloughed for three weeks to make it back to work today.

    Snow blanketed the Eastern Shore. In Easton, state highway workers stayed
up all night in a frustrating attempt to keep the roads clear. In Salisbury,
state police said snow mixed with sleet made driving difficult.

    "Everything is covered in ice," said communications officer James
McWilliams.

    In Ocean City, emergency workers worried about flooding.

    "It turned to rain here," said emergency management director Clay Stamp.

    The snowstorm created nightmarish conditions on roads in and around
Baltimore.

    More than 1,200 trucks plowed around-the-clock in the city and counties
since yesterdaymorning, but only major roads and highways were kept open. For
a time, plowing became futile.

    "As soon as we plow a road, the snow covers it back up again," said Betty
Dixon, a Public Works spokeswoman in Anne Arundel County. "We care barely keep
up with it."

    At the Inner Harbor, a small plow faithfully cleared the brick walkways,
but Harborplace and the Gallery were shut tight around 10:30 a.m. The normally
crowded waterfront was desolate; the masts of the tall ship Clipper City were
barely visible through the blowing snow.

    Santa wasn't at his makeshift "workshop" that was erected for Christmas
next to the Light Street Pavilion.

    But Otterbein resident Brian Loughlin came out to capture the scene, a
camera around his neck and a smile on his face.

    "Just looking down here, it's usually so teeming with people," Mr.
Loughlin said, surveying the desolation. "This is pure pleasure."

    The snowy roads forced the Mass Transit Administration to cut off bus
service by 3 p.m. Amtrak and the city's light rail system kept running
yesterday with a few delays. Even some taxi companies pulled their drivers off
the roads by early afternoon.

    Homeless shelters planned to stay open 24 hours, hoping to keep people off
the streets. Hospitals called for help from people with four-wheel drive
vehicles to bring doctors to work.

    One weather-related death was reported. A Metro subway operator died after
his train slid into the back of another train as he tried to stop at a
slippery Washington area station late Saturday. Two passengers on board were
unhurt.

    It could have been worse. The blizzard stormed into the state on a day
normally reserved for church services and football games. Yesterday, most
people stayed home, spending time with their families, watching rented movies
or the divisional professional football playoff games on television.

    "It's football weather," said Perry Hairsine, the owner of the Purple
Goose Saloon in Morrell Park, where a dozen patrons huddled around the TV,
watching the game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs.

    Not every one stayed home.

    Even though Maryland's colonial capital was covered with snow, Laurie and
Paul Buhrer made it through the drifts to St. Anne's Episcopal Church
yesterday morning for the christening of their 3-week-old son, Ryan.

    Cradled under a warm blanket, Ryan slept through the long and bumpy ride
from their home in Severna Park to the historic church in the center of
Annapolis. They joined a small group of the most faithful congregants at the
service.

    "It snowed for our 3-year-old's baptism, too, but nothing like this," Mrs.
Buhrer said, shaking off her wet jacket. "This is incredible."

    With the snow starting to pile up in Baltimore yesterday, Mayor Kurt L.
Schmoke tried to find his police commissioner. But the city's top cop from San
Jose, Calif., was outside his home, shoveling his driveway.

    When the mayor finally reached him, he had a quip for his chief.

    "I said, 'Welcome to Baltimore.' This ain't San Jose."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:55 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Ivan's tornadoes
        

January 5, 2006

Two New Years' portraits

Here's a pair of astonishing New Year's portraits of two celestial neighbors. One was taken up close, and shows the weather to be hazy and, well, yellow. The other was shot from too far away to reveal what sorts of weather prevailed.

And here's a bonus - a view from orbit of a New Year's Day dust storm in Texas. Anybody ever see the old 1928 silent film, "The Wind?"  It starred Lilian Gish. The poor pioneer wife in the film just couldn't sweep enough to keep the dust from seeping in under the doors and around ther window frames.

Enjoy.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures
        

Ask Mr. WeatherBlogger: Any snow in the forecast?

Roseanne Lantz writes to ask this question:

"Does it look like we might be getting any snow in the next few weeks?"

Looking for a little break from work? Or school? Jeepers, Rosie, we just had a pair of long weekends. Some of us even made it an 11-day holiday. Now you want a snow break? Or, maybe you dread snow, and want to sleep easier for a coupla weeks. OK. Either way, it's tough for the pros to forecast with much accuracy beyond a week or so. But here's the best I can find:

The coast is clear for the next week. Today's storms are well to our north. Tomorrow's are well to our south. There's no precipitation in the forecast for our region except for a chance for showers by next Tuesday. Anyway, the daytime highs will be in the 40s - too warm for snow. And overnight lows will barely dip below freezing. That's all 3 or 4 degrees above normal for this time of year.

Beyond next Wednesday, it's harder to say. Here's the 8-14-day forecast map for precipitation. Looks like the above-normal precip is to our north, with below-normal to our south. We're near normal. And here's the map for temperatures. Again, it looks like we're near-normal or above. Not the best scenario if you want snow.

Finally, if you want to go by averages, we've had 6.5 inches so far this season - a half-inch in November and 6 inches in December. That's well above average for the season to date. We're still well short of the seasonal average of 18 inches for BWI, but there's still a long way to go 'til Spring.

Hope that helps.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:09 PM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Ask Mr. Weatherblogger
        

Plucky Zeta falters, revives

The Hurricane Season That Wouldn't Die still lives. Tropical Storm Zeta - the 27th named storm of the record-breaking 2005 season - continues to spin far out in the Atlantic, southeast of Bermuda. It slowed to less than tropical storm speed overnight, with top sustained winds of 35 mph. But later this morning it revived, revving up to 40 mph and regaining tropical storm strength (39 mph - 73 mph).

Here is the latest advisory. Here is the forecast track. And here is the view from space. (It's the cloudy smudge at the center-right of the image.)

Here is another view, taken on Monday, looking straight down from NASA's Aqua satellite. And remember, less than five months until the 2006 season officially begins.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:44 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

January 3, 2006

Turning the corner in January

January is the month we turn the cold-weather corner in Baltimore. We've passed the winter solstice, so days are getting longer, pouring more solar energy into the atmosphere and the oceans. But because the ocean is slower to warm up, average temperatures continue to fall for a while. The daily average high temperatures at BWI slip to 41 degrees by the 5th, and stall there until the 28th. But then they start rising again toward the return of spring.

Likewise, the average daily lows fall to 23 on the 11th, but they begin rising again by the 27th.

The records for the month are all over the place. The record high is 79 degrees, set on Jan. 14, 1932 and tied on Jan. 26, 1950. The record low is minus-7 degrees Fahrenheit, reached three times - on Jan. 17, 1982, Jan. 22, 1984, and Jan. 29, 1963. That's also the all-time record low for Baltimore.

The snowiest January day in Baltimore was on Jan. 28, 1922, when 23.3 inches was recorded in the city. It was the all-time heaviest 24-hour snowfall in the city's history. The so-called "Knickerbocker Storm," it struck even harder in Washington, D.C. The average snowfall for a January in Baltimore is 7 inches.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:55 PM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Almanac
        

December was cold, but ended mild

The month just ended gave us a good kick in the wallet, with below-normal temperatures sucking heat from our houses and burning up costly fossil fuel to put it back. Here are the numbers:

The month began very cold, with 14 of the first 15 days coming in colder than the average. There were five more cold days after that, but the last six days averaged well above normal. The coldest day was the 14th, which averaged just 20 degrees - 17 degrees below the average for the date. The warmest was the 29th, averaging 45 degrees, or 11 degrees above average.

All told, we finished at 34 degrees, 2.7 degrees below the long-term average for a December at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The month was wetter than average, too, with 3.9 inches of melted precipitation, a bit more than half an inch above the norm. Some of that fell in the form of snow. We finished with six inches in all at BWI, well above the 1.7-inch average. The snowiest day was the 9th, with 2.2 inches.

No new records were set. The wettest day was Dec. 15, when 1.23 inches of rain fell at the airport. The second-wettest was Christmas Day, with darn near an inch (0.91 inch, to be exact) falling.

There were 93 "degree-days," 10 percent above the average. That means the demand for heat energy was 10 percent higher than in the "normal" December. Add to that the sky-high cost of natural gas and oil this season and you get a big hole in your budget. My own gas bill set a new personal record. I've turned the heat down, and we're all now wearing sweaters around the house. I'm even throwing a wool blanket over my lap when I read or watch TV. I feel like an old coot.

The coldest reading at BWI in December was 15 degrees, on Dec. 14. The warmest was 58 degrees on Christmas Eve.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

We're back, and what a mess

Boy, you stop watching the weather for 11 days and all heck breaks out. We're back, and a scan of the weather data at WeatherBlog Central finds a wacky winter tropical storm - Zeta - out in the Atlantic, pounding rainstorms and floods in California, drought and fires in Oklahoma and Texas and winter gone wild in northern Europe. You can't leave this planet alone for a second.

Let's start with Zeta. The storm, which tied the record for the latest formation of a tropical storm in the Atlantic, continues to spin at 65 mph. The 27th named storm of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, it's no threat to land, just a marvel for hurricane specialists. Anything more that forms will be counted against the 2006 season. The names will draw from the 2006 name list, starting with Alberto.

Here's the latest advisory. Here's the forecast track, in case anyone cares. And here's the view from space.

As for the grass fires in the southern Plains, this satellite photo from NASA's Terra Earth-orbserving spacecraft, taken yesterday, show the smoke plumes from the fires. The accompanying imagery shows the fires themselves as hot spots on a map. Click on either image to enlarge it.

Way out west, storms continue to blow in off the Pacific. Here's the latest radar image for Northern California. The damage has been huge. The rivers out there are receding, for now. Here is a link to the real-time river data for California. The black dots show river gauges now at record highs. The dark blue dots are those at 90 percent or more of their historic high levels for the date. Click on the dots for plots of the river's rise and fall over the past several days.

Finally, if you figured the Germans and Austrians could shrug off heavy snows in the Alps, think again. Here's a glimpse of the trouble they're having in that region after heavy snowfalls.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:20 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        
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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
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