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March 31, 2006

Time to change the clocks

Spring forward. Fall Back. Or is it fall forward and ...   No, that's not right. Just kidding. Remember to turn your clocks ahead Saturday night (or Sunday morning if you don't have to be anywhere on time early Sunday) for the start of Daylight Saving Time.

I'm always amazed at how many time pieces we have these days. The bedside and kitchen clocks are standard equipment. But now the stove and the microwave have their own. Our thermostats each have clocks. So does the VCR, two of the TVs, both cars (those are really a pain to change, especially on the Beltway). The cell phones have clocks, but thankfully they change themselves. So does the computer. And still my daughter is 20 minutes late. (Sorry, kid.)

Now I have a clock radio and a wristwatch that are controlled, via radio signal, by the atomic clocks at the National Institute for Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo. Those adjust themselves every night, and they also do the Daylight Saving Time switch automatically. They're always accurate to the second, so I can get all the other clocks in sync again when I push them ahead this weekend.

As it happens, this is the last year we'll be changing our clocks by the old rules. Next year we'll start Daylight Time two weeks earlier, and end it two weeks later. It's Congress's way of saving energy, and if it works out, it will become permanent. Here's a rundown on the changes.

This is also the first year that all the Indiana counties in the Eastern time zone will join the rest of us switching to Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). But Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam will continue to eschew the change.   

The coolest thing about these time changes is that in the spring, there is no 2 o'clock and no 2 o'clock hour when the clocks change. The official timekeepers go from 1:59:59 a.m. to 3:00:00 a.m.  So unless you're trying to dump the poor sap, don't make any late dates for 2:30 a.m. They will never happen.  And in the fall, we do the 2 o'clock hour twice. So be sure you specify which 2:15 a.m. you mean, or you'll have a 50 percent chance of showing up alone.

The worst thing is that it will be pretty dark again for a while when the alarm goes off in the morning. Sunrise over Baltimore this morning was at 5:53 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, and it got mighty light well before that.

But on Monday morning, sunrise will occur at 6:48 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time - nearly 7 a.m. That will mean rousting ourselves out of bed into a much darker room. The days will get longer again day by day after that. But It will be May 15 before the sun is up as early as 5:53 a.m. (EDT) again.

Remember: spring back ... No, fall ...   Wait ...

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

Sky is promising for Saturday's occultation

The forecast for tomorrow shows the rain moving out by mid-day, giving stargazers a good shot at seeing Saturday evening's unusually fine lunar occultation. In case you missed today's story in The Sun's Science & Health section (call 410 539-1280 to subscribe), here's the scoop:

Just after sunset tomorrow, the slim crescent moon, on its west-to-east orbit around the Earth, will pass in front of a beautiful star cluster called The Pleiades (or the Seven Sisters).  As it plows through the cluster, as seen from our perspective, the moon's unlit dark edge will eclipse the bright stars one by one, causing them to wink out abruptly. An hour or so after they vanish, each star will reappear on the sunlit side of the moon, although the glare will make that part of the event hard to see.

These occultations of the Pleiades occur in clusters separated by 18 years. Some are better than others, and this is one will be the best for our part of the world since 1969, astronomers say. Scientists have long used lunar occultations to map the mountains and valleys on the moon's edge as viewed from Earth, and to track its orbit. Some still do. (Click that link, or see story.)

It's best observed with binoculars, or perhaps a small telescope. And the darker the sky the better. I put my 10x50 binocs on the Pleiades two nights ago, at about 7:30 p.m., in a test run. I was in Cockeysville, surrounded by porch lights, street lights and the urban glare to my south. But skies were very clear, and while it was hard to find the cluster with the naked eye, they popped out nicely in the binoculars. Of course, tomorrow evening they'll be easy to find because the moon will be in the middle of them.

What's interesting about these things is how vivid the motion of the moon in its orbit becomes when you can see it passing in front of "fixed" background stars. It travels a distance equal to its own diameter in about an hour.

And the fact that the stars wink out instantly, instead of fading out, gave early astronomers their best clue that the moon had no atmosphere. If it did, these stars would fade to black the way the sun does here as it drops below the horizon. It also tells us how far away the stars really are. If they were close, they would have enough diameter to cause their light to be eclipsed more gradually. The fact that they vanish all at once tells us their light comes to us from a distant pinpoint in the sky.

Just find a spot with a good view toward the west (where the sun went down).  Best time to look will be from dusk - whenever the stars become visible - until 9 or even later if you have an big appetite for this sort of thing.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:29 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

March 30, 2006

April is Maryland at its finest

Never mind the drought for now. April arrives Saturday, and with it the most beautiful and delightful month of the year in Maryland, for my money. I used to live in New Hampshire, where April is Mud Season. Enough said.

Here, trees and flowers blossom, the azaleas explode everywhere. Lawns green up and the reassuring hum of lawnmowers returns to the neighborhoods. And temperatures rise, too, bringing neighbors together over the backyard fence, and drawing friends and cafe tables out onto the sidewalk, at last.

The fourth month of the year also quiets the furnace, without demanding that we switch on the air conditioner. Yet. Enjoy the month's typically low utility bills, because in July we'll all be clobbered by BGE, no matter how the legislature finally decides to meddle.

But I digress. In April, average high temperatures in Baltimore rise through the 60s, from 60 to 69 degrees by month's end. The overnight lows shake free of the 30s, and rise to 47 degrees by May 1. But it's still a transitional month. The extremes in April can be quite, well, extreme. Record highs for the month soar into the 90s. The hottest April day on record for Baltimore is 94 degrees, a mark reached four times - most recently on April 23 and 25 during a heat wave in 1960.

And April can still sting. Record lows are mostly in the 20s and 30s. But the all-time slap-in-the-face cold snap was on April 1, 1923, when the mercury sank to 15 degrees.

The average precipitation in April, in Baltimore, is 3 inches. But it doesn't always fall as rain. The heaviest snowfall on record for Baltimore in April was the April Fools Day storm in 1924, which surprised the city with 9.4 inches. (What IS it about April 1?) Measurable snow has fallen on 10 dates in April. The latest was a tenth of an inch measured on April 28, 1898.

Here's how the national Weather Service remembers the April Fools Day storm:

"This April Fools Day Storm produced the largest recorded April snowfall for Baltimore. A nor'easter brought 3 to 10 inches of snow to central Maryland. Westminister, Frederick and Freeland received 10 inches of snow, Baltimore 9.5 inches, College Park 9 inches, Aberdeen 8 inches, and Chesapeake City 8 inches. Princess Anne recorded 3 inches of sleet and thunderstorms struck areas on the Eastern Shore. A trace of snow fell on May 9, 1923. The latest seasonal measured snowfall was 0.1 inch on April 28, 1898. On April 9, 1884, 8 inches of snow fell in Baltimore marking the latest significant snow for a season."

Easter falls on April 16 this year - the first Sunday following the first full moon (April 13) after the Vernal Equinox (March 20).  That full moon in April is known as the Grass or Egg Moon.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Almanac
        

Drought spreads to Maryland

Moderate drought conditions have been declared across Southern Maryland and the lower Eastern Shore, including the southern portion of Delaware. That's the message from the latest weekly Drought Monitor map just released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The rest of Maryland remains officially "abnormally dry."

It's no surprise. The instruments at BWI-Marshall Airport have recorded barely a quarter-inch of precipitation since the big snowstorm on Feb. 11-12. We've had just 0.18 inch all month, and nothing significant since Mar. 2.

That's pushing BWI toward a new record for the driest March since record-keeping began in 1871. The current mark is 0.46 inch, set in March 1910. We could get some rain late Friday as a cold front passes through the region. But it doesn't appear likely to be enough to avert a new record. They're predicting less than a tenth of an inch. We'd need nearly three tenths to tie the old record.

The drought conditions that prevailed in last week's drought map in south-central Virginia and north-central North Carolina (and eastern Kentucky), have spread north and east. As soil moisture has dropped and stream flow has declined, the drought has moved into most of Virginia, across Southern Maryland and the Shore. "Abnormally dry" conditions extend all the way up the East Coast to coastal Maine.

With spring planting approaching, agricultural interests will become concerned about low soil moisture. Crops won't germinate without some watering. Pastures and lawns also need some rain for a good green-up.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drought
        

March 29, 2006

Miss the eclipse? Click here

This morning's total eclipse of the sun wasn't visible from the United States. But they had a great view in Turkey. Click here and watch the entire eclipse, recorded in an ancient theater in Turkey by the Exploratorium. There's also a replay available from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana. Click here. They were troubled by some clouds, but you can skip to 2:05 to 2:09 in the clip and watch the period of totality. For more information on solar eclipses, see yesterday's post, below.

Here are a few eclipse images shot by astronauts aboard the International Space Station, who flew over the moon's shadow as it crossed the Mediterranean Sea.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:49 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

Ahhh, that's more like it

Highs in the 60s, a bit above normal for once, plus sunshine. What's not to like?  Well, we sure could use some rain. The little bit of a low that pushed through late yesterday brought a few sprinkles, but only a trace of rain on the official instruments at BWI-Marshall. There's a hint of a maybe, perhaps a dash of rain late Friday. But on the whole it looks like a lock that we'll set a new record for the driest March since Baltimoreans started keeping track way back in 1871.

Aside from the threat of a few showers late Friday, the rest of the week looks like clear sailing. We should poke into the 70s on Friday. And it's sunshine and starry nights everywhere you look.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

March 28, 2006

Rain prospects dim

The chances are slim we'll get significant rain out of this little disturbance they're predicting for this afternoon. The forecast puts the odds at 50 percent. But the total accumulation looks to be less than a tenth of an inch. And forecaster Andy Woodcock seems doubtful we'll see that much:

"YESTERDAY ON THE RADIO I HEARD THE DJ SAY "LOOKS LIKE RAIN ON TUESDAY..." I BELIEVE
MOST OF THE DAY WE'LL HAVE TO BE LOOKING PRETTY HARD. I STILL HAVE LIKELY
PROBABILITIES OF PRECIPITATION IN THE FORECAST FOR THE AFTERNOON...BETWEEN 50-70 (PERCENT) IS WHAT ALL NUMERICAL GUIDANCE IS GIVING...BUT BELIEVE (PRECIPITATION) WILL BE VERY LOW FOR THIS EVENT...LESS THAN .10"...MUCH LESS THAN WHAT THE PARCHED EARTH NEEDS. GOOD NEWS IS WITH CLOUDS/LIGHT WINDS FIRE DANGER TODAY IS GREATLY DECREASED."

Since March began, BWI-Marshall has seen just 0.18 inch of rain - and almost nothing since Mar. 2.  And we've had barely a quarter inch since the big snowstorm in February. With little moisture expected from today's event, we are likely to set a new record for the driest March in Baltimore since they began to keep track in 1871, busting the 0.46-inch mark set in 1910. It will almost certainly be only the fifth March in Baltimore since 1871 with less than an inch of rain.

If it does rain late today - even a little - please drive very carefully. Lots of oil accumulates on roadways when there's no rain to wash it away (into the Bay). The first rain after a long dry spell makes the roads VERY slippery.

In the meantime, we are drawing perilously close to drought conditions. Here's the old map, issued last week. The new one comes out Thursday morning. Forecasters will be watching to see if the region has finally met moderate drought criteria.

More precipitation is slated for Saturday, but that's April 1. We hope it's not a joke.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:25 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts
        

See solar eclipse Wednesday

Sadly, tomorrow's total solar eclipse won't be visible - not even as a partial eclipse - from anywhere in the United States.  But there will be lots of places to watch on line.

It will start before sunrise here, visible only in extreme eastern Brazil and the South Atlantic. The moon's shadow will then cross the Atlantic, move across Nigeria and Libya to Turkey and on to Central Asia, where it will disappear at sunset. The eclipse will be partial across all of Western Europe. For lots of information, including an animated map showing where the event will be total, and where partial, click here.

To watch on line as the eclipse crosses Africa, click here. From Egypt, click here. From Turkey, click here.  From Greece, click here.

For NASA's podcasts, click here. For NASA TV link, click here. For NASA Webcast, click here.

A few lucky folks have scattered themselves along the path of the moon's shadow. For those averse to vacationing in such playgrounds as Libya or Uzbekistan, you can sit tight, take care of yourself, and live to see two total solar eclipses right here in the good old contiguous US of A, in 2017 and 2024. For a map of upcoming solar eclipses, click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

March 27, 2006

Floods threaten Hawaii

It looks like another bad week to be in Hawaii. Heavy rains continue to threaten the island state with flash flooding and the continuing rainfall endangers saturated earthen dams and weakened hillsides.

Here's the local radar for Honolulu. And here's the view from space.

You'll remember that an old earthen agricultural dam on one of the islands burst during heavy rains two weeks ago. Three people have been confirmed dead. Four others are missing, and authorities recently called off the search for them.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

70s by Saturday

Hang in there, Maryland. There's a splash of badly needed rain on tap for Tuesday. And by Saturday the highs should creep into the low 70s for the first time after two weeks of being stuck in the 40s and 50s.

The forecast calls for as much as a quarter-inch of rain on Tuesday, with perhaps a bit more Tuesday night. That could push us over the 0.46-inch mark set for the driest March ever recorded for Baltimore - in 1910. If we fall short, March 2006 will be the new driest-ever March since record-keeping began here in 1871. That will be our only shot, as the rest of the week looks dry for now. The sprinkles that drifted over the region this weekend left nothing on the instruments at BWI-Marshall Airport.

It also looks pleasantly sunny and mild, with daytime highs around 60 degrees, which is normal for this time of year. Overnight lows will settle in to the upper 30s or low 40s - also near normal.

And the weather looks promising for a rare celestial event due Saturday evening. More on that in a couple of days.  (And it's not the total solar eclipse - that's due Wednesday. It will be visible only from parts of Africa, Turkey and Central Asia. We will post Web addresses where you can follow the event on line.)  Watch this space.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

March 24, 2006

Clear skies on Mars

NASA has received the first test images from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and they demonstrate not only how clear the thin Martian atmosphere is, but just how detailed the pictures from this new space probe's high-resolution camera will be when it begins full science operations next fall.

Here's a wide-angle shot. The little white box shows the location of the second shot. There doesn't seem to be any loss of resolution. Here's the full story.

MRO was launched last August, and arrived in orbit around Mars on March 10. It is now in a very elongated orbit, ranging from 250 miles from the surface, to more than 27,000 miles. For the next 6 or 7 months, controllers at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California will be easing the spacecraft into a more circular orbit just 200 miles above the Martian surface. These images were shot from more than 1,500 miles up, so by next fall, MRO's pictures will show even smaller detail.

The spacecraft will study the geology of the Martian surface, monitor its weather and search for signs of past or present-day water. Later, it will serve as a communications relay station for future Mars landers.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures
        

Salamanders return to Beekman Road

In a sign of spring as certain as the swallows' return to the mission San Juan Capistrano, in California, or the buzzards' arrival in Hinckley, Ohio each March 15, the spotted salamanders have returned to Beekman Road, in East Brunswick, N.J., according to news reports. All's right with the world.

Does anyone know of any similar wildlife events in Maryland that seem to be keyed to Mar. 15, or around the time of the Vernal Equinox?  I've already mentioned the overture for this year's chorus of spring peepers, but that's not unique to Maryland. The peepers are peeping in East Brunswick, too. Help me out here, and maybe we can gin up a story for print.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:33 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

Cruisin' for a record

There are some feeble mentions of rain in the forecast from the National Weather Service's Sterling office. There's some expected, maybe, this weekend, and more perhaps in the middle of next week. But with a week to go, March could still become the driest on record for Baltimore.

Instruments at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport have recorded just 0.18 inch of rain so far this month. (Just 0.27 inch since the Feb. 11-12 snowstorm.) But we could get another quarter-inch between now and April 1 and still nail a new record for the month. For now, the driest March since record-keeping began here in 1871 was in 1910 - 96 years ago - when only 0.46 inch fell on the city.

Looking back, that very dry March 1910 was followed by a wet April and June. But the summer and autumn that followed were very dry. Summer was more than 2 inches short of normal rainfall. Past is not necessarily prologue in the weather game, of course.

But the present sure looks dry. Maryland's streams are slowing to a relative trickle. Nearly all the gauged streams across the state are running at very low volumes for the date. You can see the trend well in these graphs.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:52 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: By the numbers
        

March 23, 2006

Enough already. Where's spring?

So, what happened to those balmy days two weeks ago with highs in the 60s, 70s and 80s? Since Saturday, temperatures in Baltimore have averaged 6, 7, 8, even 11 degrees below normal. We haven't managed to rise above the long-term averages in a week, stuck as we are in the 40s, and maybe the odd afternoon of 50-plus. Barely.

And with the wind, it's been downright raw. The daffodils are out, along with some forsythia and a few flowering trees. But that just makes it all the more exasperating. It looks like spring, but it feels like February.

"That's not all that unusual - for spring to behave in that way," said Todd Miner, a meteorologist at Penn State Weather Communications. "We like to think of it as the battle between winter and summer. As you progress toward summer, think of it as two steps forward and one step back. You're gonna have these setbacks."

Don't blame the forecasters. Blame the "Greenland block."  That's a ridge of high pressure in the North Atlantic, near Greenland. "Whenever you have that type of pattern, it tends to teleconnect to a cold pattern in eastern North America," Miner said.

In this case, like a boulder in a mountain stream, it's driving the northern jet stream southward into the Eastern U.S., pumping cold, Canadian air (drat those pesky Canadians!) our way, day after day.

But it's going to break up soon. Right, Todd?

"It doesn't look like it," he said. "If you look at the weather patterns for the next week or so, it's hard to come up with a regime that would bring unusually mild conditions to the Northeast for a several day period, like what we had there around mid-month."

Remember that? It was 68 degrees on the 9th, then 77, 71, 69, 84 and 74. A week of relief from winter's grip. We thought we'd stepped out into the Promised Land.

Not yet, Miner said. "It does look fairly chilly, at least to the middle part of next week.

Please suh, may we have a crumb? "You could see where there could be a day or two, toward the middle of next week, when temperatures could eke up to normal, perhaps above normal," he said.  Normal, friends, is 58, maybe 59 degrees. You will not be sitting at a sidewalk cafe sipping Mai Tais. They do that in Europe. Not here.

But that's just the way it is. "Spring is a transition season," Miner said. "More often than not, we tend to get that little warm spell in that mid-March period, and sort of flip back to winter. It seems to happen around the Equinox. Then it tends to crawl back out again sometime in late March."

And then it gets cold again, and it snows on Opening Day. We know. The increase in solar heating that comes with the advancing season just doesn't warm the atmosphere at a slow, steady pace. It's a series of lurches and setbacks.

Patience is the answer, Miner said. "You know it will not be snowing on July 4. That much we know." That's true. But then we'll complain about the heat.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Almanac
        

March 22, 2006

Longest flight in a tornado

A Fordland, Mo. man has survived the longest recorded flight by a human swept up by a tornado. Matt Suter, 19, was hurled 1,307 feet - nearly a quarter of a mile - when a 150-mph twister demolished his grandmother's trailer on Sunday. He landed in a grassy field with little more than a gash on his head. The National Weather Service confirmed the measurement with global positioning system equipment. Read more.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:05 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events
        

There WAS snow in MD

Those forecasters weren't ALL wrong. There really were flakes in the air yesterday. BWI-Marshall officially recorded a "trace." Annapolis saw some flakes in the air. So did DC. And I saw a few in my headlights driving from Catonsville to Cockeysville at around 9 p.m. last night. 

None of that amounted to anything. But the National Weather Service has posted this accounting of the accumulation to our west.  And now they're saying we could see more on Friday. Or not. Here's the latest forecast. The forecast continues cool for the season. And dry. Yesterday's fire weather watch has been lifted, but forecasters are watching the humidity and winds, and say they may have to re-issue Red Flag warnings later today. Eight acres burned yesterday near Rocks State Park in Harford County, the work of a careless smoker. Stay tuned.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather
        

March 21, 2006

Now what? Fire danger, no rain

OK, so the snow/sleet/freezing rain was a bust. Now what?  We're stuck with the same tinder-dry leaf litter and dead grass that we had before this storm threatened and booked. Most of the state remains under a fire weather watch. If the wind picks up, and some doofus tosses a cigarette out the window, the woods and quite possibly somebody's house go up in smoke.

Fact is, we've had just 0.18 inch of rain all month at BWI-Marshall Airport. And we've had a whopping two hundredths of an inch - total - since March 2, nearly three weeks ago. In fact, the airport has recorded barely a quarter inch (0.27 inch) in all since the last significant precipitation, the snowstorm on Feb. 11-12. That was more than 5 weeks ago. As it stands today, this is the driest March on record, with 10 days to go - 6 of which look dry from here.

There's nothing in the wings until next Tuesday. Here's the forecast. We need rain, folks. Rain to wet down the woods. Rain the green up the grass. And Maryland's farmers will need some rain if their spring crops are going to germinate.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

"Nothing's perfect"

Snow?  Did I say snow?  I meant to say, "There'SNO reason to worry" about the weather today. Yeah, that's it. Obviously the all-day snow, sleet and freezing rain the National Weather Service was forecasting yesterday for today in Baltimore has gone elsewhere while we slept. Like Cincinnati. There is something wet headed our way. Just look at this radar loop. But it is clearly not what was in the forecast yesterday, and forecasters suggest it may never even reach the ground.

I called the NWS forecast office in Sterling this morning and got meteorologist Calvin Meadows on the line. He explained that this was a "double-barreled system," with one storm center coming at us from the Tennessee Valley, and another forming off the coast of the Carolinas. Yesterday, forecasters and their models figured the Tennessee Valley low would hold onto enough energy to produce nasty winter weather for the Baltimore-Washington area, with frozen precipitation but not much accumulation. That's why they issued a "winter weather advisory" to take effect between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. today. And that was the information we went with for our blog posts late yesterday, and the print article we filed at 6 p.m. for this morning's paper.

Which is why it's never a very good idea to forecast the weather in a newspaper that's written 12 hours before people pick it up off the sidewalk. Readers will invariably know more, just by looking out the window, than we do.

Overnight, Meadows said, things changed. "The energy has transferred over to the coastal low, taking the energy away from the Tennessee Valley," he said. And the coastal low is headed out to sea. "We're not getting as much snow, as far north as it looked like we were going to get yesterday."  Here's AccuWeather's take on what happened. Makes sense to me.

As it stands then, there's no more than a "slight" chance we'll see anything in the air today in Baltimore and points north. "An inch or less is possible this afternoon for places like Anne Arundel County, Montgomery County, and the District of Columbia," Meadows said. Southern Maryland could still see an inch or two by 7 p.m. when the advisory expires.

So much for that. Meadows seemed pretty relaxed about the whole thing. Models are  models, and sometimes the natural forces take their own course. "It's not unusual for this to happen with this sort of setup in the mid-Atlantic (states). It was a marginal event to start with," he said. "Nothing's perfect."

For what it's worth, here's where the snow is still expected to fly. And here's the latest forecast for our area. The rest of the week looks unseasonably cool, but sunny.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:48 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts
        

March 20, 2006

Spring snowstorm, no sweat

Forecasters are looking for no more than an inch of snow here from the storm that's expected to develop off the coast tomorrow. It may be worse to our south and west, but while we could see some white on the grass, our roads should not be worse than wet. Here's the advisory at this hour.

We can handle this. Am I right Baltimore? Sure we can. Here's the latest forecast. And here's the national radar loop, which shows the moisture on its way. Easy to see why the Dallas region got hit so hard by rain over the weekend. The storm will intensify as it reaches the coast tomorrow. Here's AccuWeather's snow forecast map. Not much to worry about there.

Snow in March - even in Spring - should come as no surprise. There has been snow on every date in March, according to the snow records kept for the region since 1883 (although only once before since this young century began). The record for a Mar. 21 for Baltimore is 9.7 inches, recorded in 1964. Many of us can remember snow on the Orioles at Camden Yards. Someone out there will recall the date, but I was out there on a story - I think it was a pre-season game not long after the new stadium was built - and the snow started to fly.

Spring, by the way, arrived officially at 1:25 p.m. today.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:26 AM | | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Winter weather
        

March 19, 2006

Cyclone blasts NE Australia

A tropical cyclone - what would be termed a hurricane in the Atlantic - has struck the coast of NE Australia south of Cairnes with 120 mph winds at landfall. Gusts were clocked up to 185 mph.

The storm's name is Larry, and here's how it looks from orbit. Notice that the cyclones rotate clockwise south of the equator. Ours spin counter-clockwise. Anyway, CNN has the story. Our next hurricane season starts in 2 1/2 months.  Here's the name list. Are those levees ready yet?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

Winter storm ahead?

The National Weather Service is watching a storm system out of the Gulf Coast that could bring winter precipitation to our area later this week. Here's the scoop:

"...WINTER WEATHER POSSIBLE LATE MONDAY NIGHT AND TUESDAY...

"THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN STERLING VIRGINIA IS TRACKING A
POSSIBLE WINTER STORM THAT COULD AFFECT THE REGION ON TUESDAY. LOW
PRESSURE IS EXPECTED TO DEVELOP ACROSS THE GULF COAST TOMORROW
EVENING...AND MOVE NORTHEAST TOWARDS THE MID ATLANTIC OVERNIGHT. A
SECONDARY AREA OF LOW PRESSURE IS FORECAST TO DEVELOP OFF THE
COAST OF THE CAROLINAS ON TUESDAY AND MOVE RAPIDLY OUT TO SEA.

"TEMPERATURES ARE EXPECTED TO RANGE IN THE MID 20S WEST OF THE BLUE
RIDGE MOUNTAINS TO AROUND 30 DEGREES EAST OF THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS.
THERE IS STILL CONSIDERABLE UNCERTAINTY IN THE TRACK OF THE STORM
SYSTEM AND HOW MUCH SNOWFALL WILL ACCUMULATE...ESPECIALLY EAST OF
THE BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS.

"BE SURE TO LISTEN TO UPDATED FORECASTS AND KEEP THE POSSIBILITY
OF WINTER WEATHER IN MIND AS TUESDAY APPROACHES."

The setup looks like this. We're enjoying clear, sunny weather thanks to a strong high-pressure system that brought us cold, dry air from Canada. This high is moving away from us, and the barometer is falling. Behind it, to the north and west, there is a pretty fierce winter storm that is expected to dump a lot of snow on the Plains states. It's also going to bring a good deal of rain to the South, and a risk of some violent storms as warm , moist Gulf air comes into play. And it's that Southern system, combined with the cold air lingering in our region, that could bring us snow, or rain, or some nasty mixture, on Tuesday. Happy Spring!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:19 PM | | Comments (5) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Winter weather
        

March 17, 2006

Fire weather this weekend

We've all been reading about the wildfires in Texas and Oklahoma, and more recently in Arundel and down in Solomons, where a dropped cigarette butt is believed to have ignited a wind-whipped fire that destroyed two businesses.

Fire weather will continue this weekend in Maryland, with desert-low humidity and stiff breezes. The humidity this afternoon on the back deck here in Cockeysville is 24 percent, and the dew point is a crackling 14 degrees. I'm getting static electricity shocks every time I touch something metal - which only happens with these low humidities.

UPDATE:  Sunday 2:12 p.m.: The National Weather Service has issued Red Flag warnings for nearly the entire state. So watch those smokes. Better yet, quit the nasty habit before you burn somebody's house down.

The good news is that the forecast otherwise is beautiful for the weekend. Sunny skies, starry nights. Of course, we could use some rain. I've recorded just a quarter-inch all month out here. And we're 2.7 inches short of the average since Nov. 1 at BWI-Marshall Airport.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:57 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts
        

March 16, 2006

Snow Advisory ... Really

The National Weather Service has issued a snow advisory for early tomorrow, warning of up to 4 inches of snow by rush hour in ... thank goodness ... Western Maryland, from Washington County westward to Garrett. Here's how the forecast looks for Cumberland.  The Baltimore region could see less than an inch of the white death. Not to worry. Here's our forecast.

To blame is a little "clipper" system from the northern Plains. It's left up to 9 inches in some spots, but is expected to exhaust itself by the time it reaches us. Here's AccuWeather's take on it.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:40 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather
        

Wildfires continue

Wind and dry weather continue to threaten the region with an increased risk of wildfires. Public safety officials in Anne Arundel are battling a big blaze. Read more here. And here's the Sun's story today on the big, wind-whipped fire yesterday in Solomons.

The danger today is diminished from yesterday's Red Flag conditions. Here's the current advisory.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

Winter's last gasp

Monday it was in the 80s. Today there's snow in the forecast. Not much, to be sure, but snow nonetheless. The National Weather Service is predicting that overnight rain tonight could change briefly to snow before ending. Less than an inch, at most, is expected. Look for it on the grass tomorrow morning. Maybe. Then it will melt as temperatures rise into the 40s.

On Monday spring arrives, officially, at last, at 1:25 EST. Take a long lunch and celebrate. The rest of the week looks like it will continue unseasonably cool - in the 40s, which is 10 degrees or more below normal for this time of year. Paybacks for the 70s and 80s we enjoyed through the weekend.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:05 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Winter weather
        

March 15, 2006

March winds and fire

March is supposed to be windy, right?  Trouble is, high winds, low humidity and a general scarcity of precipitation in recent weeks have boosted the wildfire hazard across the state.

State fire supervisor Monte Mitchell reports that state DNR firefighters are currently working two wildfires - one in Southern Maryland and another mop-up operation in Somerset County. "We've had a very busy month," Mitchell said, with Forest Service crews reponding to 160 fires already in March. That's more than 10 per day, and it doesn't count hundreds of smaller blazes handled by local fire fighters.

"We're certainly expecting some activity this afternoon" as temperatures rise and humidities drop," he said. "Hopefully people are heeding the Red Flag warnings."  Wind-whipped fire has damaged or destroyed two restaurants in Solomons today. Click here for the story.

The National Weather Service has posted Red Flag warnings today from Massachusetts to North Carolina, including all of Maryland except Garrett County. Here's how ours reads:

"...RED FLAG WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 6 PM EST THIS
AFTERNOON...

"SUSTAINED WEST TO NORTHWEST WINDS OF 25 TO 35 MPH WITH GUSTS UP
TO 50 MPH WILL DRY FUELS FURTHER TODAY. MINIMUM RELATIVE HUMIDITY
ACROSS THE REGION WILL AVERAGE BETWEEN 20 TO 30 PERCENT THIS AFTERNOON.
DRY FUELS COMBINED WITH LOW HUMIDITY AND GUSTY WINDS WILL CREATE
POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS FIRE CONDITIONS TODAY.

"A RED FLAG WARNING MEANS THAT CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS
ARE EITHER OCCURRING NOW...OR WILL SHORTLY. A COMBINATION OF
STRONG WINDS...LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY...AND DRY FUELS WILL CREATE
EXPLOSIVE FIRE GROWTH POTENTIAL."

Blame a deep low-pressure system centered over the Gulf of Maine. The flow of air around the west side of the low is bringing strong winds our way from the north and west. A wind advisory is warning of sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph, with gusts to 50 mph.

The stiff wind is combining with below-normal temperatures to push the wind chill into the 30s. BWI had gusts to 40 mph this morning. The instruments on the Francis Scott Key Bridge recorded gusts to 36 knots (41 mph).

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

March 14, 2006

Wildfire hazard Wednesday

Watch those smokes. Dry air and high winds have raised the risk of wildfires in Maryland the Virginia for tomorrow. "Red Flag" warnings have been posted for much of Virginia and the lower Eastern Shore. And the danger is only slightly less in Central Maryland. Here's how the weather service put it:

"...FIRE WEATHER WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM WEDNESDAY MORNING
THROUGH WEDNESDAY EVENING...


"THE COMBINATION OF DRY GROUND...DRY AIR...AND STRONG WINDS WILL
LEAD TO POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS FIRE CONDITIONS WEDNESDAY. WINDS
WILL REACH SPEEDS OF 20 MPH...WITH GUSTS TO 35 OR 40 MPH. MINIMUM
RELATIVE HUMIDITY VALUES WILL REACH 20 TO 30 PERCENT. ALTHOUGH
THIS MORNINGS SHOWERS WILL MOISTEN THE GROUND A LITTLE...
PERSISTENT WINDS TODAY AND TONIGHT SHOULD DRY FUELS...PRIMING THE
GROUND BY WEDNESDAY.

A FIRE WEATHER WATCH MEANS THAT CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS
ARE FORECAST TO OCCUR. LISTEN FOR LATER FORECASTS AND POSSIBLE
RED FLAG WARNINGS."

The Red Flag warnings in Virginia cover all the areas in red on this map.  A Red Flag warning means:

"CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS
ARE EITHER OCCURRING NOW...OR WILL SHORTLY. A COMBINATION OF
STRONG WINDS...LOW RELATIVE HUMIDITY...AND WARM TEMPERATURES WILL
CREATE EXPLOSIVE FIRE GROWTH POTENTIAL."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:33 PM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Watches and warnings
        

Peepers say it's spring

I heard them first on Saturday night, up near a friend's place in northern Baltimore County. Now they're singing in my own neighborhood. The spring peepers are out, and they're looking for action. The tiny frogs - less than an inch and a half long - emerge from their winter hibernation in March, with the first mild weather and warm rains. And the males begin calling for females. The breeding season is here and they're open for business.

These critters, formally Pseudacris crucifer, are nearly impossible to find, they're so wary and well camouflaged. But you can sure hear them. Each frog inflates its throat and emits a brief, one-note "peep."  But in an evening chorus of hundreds, they make a terrific noise that many have likened to jingle bells. The sound carries well away from the woody wetlands into adjoining neighborhoods, and for many people it's the first, most thrilling signal that spring has finally arrived. Forget the calendar, or the equinox. It's the peepers that mark the end of winter.

For me, they have also been a reassurance that our little corner of the county - and the wetlands behind our development - remain friendly to frogs and toads. Amphibian habitats are under assault almost everywhere.  And even our slice of wetlands - part of the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed - has long been targeted by road builders who want to construct a shortcut across it to speed commuters to their jobs. The peepers tell me each spring that the road builders haven't won yet.

If you'd like to get involved in helping to study and save the peepers and other frogs, consider Frogwatch USA.  If you just love looking at these guys, and listening to their calls, click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events
        

March 13, 2006

See the space station Tuesday

If the rain clouds clear away on time Tuesday - as they should - Marylanders will get an excellent opportunity to see $100 billion of their tax dollars fly over the city. The International Space Station will make a fine, dinnertime pass, visible nearly horizon to horizon as it flies over the Great Lakes, across southern New Jersey and out over the Atlantic Ocean.

There's no need for binoculars or telescopes. You don't even need a very dark sky.  Just grab an accurate watch and a compass if you need one. Round up the kids, or the neighbors' kids, find a spot with a broad view of the night sky, and enjoy.

The ISS will appear first at 6:33 p.m. just above the northwest horizon. Look for a bright, white "star," moving at a brisk pace toward the southeast. If it blinks, or if it has colored lights with it, it's an airplane, not the space station. Keep looking. Compete to see who is the first to spot it.

After flying through the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia, the ISS will reach it's highest point at 6:36, high above northeastern horizon - 71 degrees (more than two-thirds of the way) from the horizon to the zenith, the point directly over your head. It will continue toward the east southeast, passing the planet Saturn before disappearing at 6:39 p.m. as it flies into the Earth's shadow.

The Space station is flying at about 17,500 mph, soaring 215 miles above the Earth's surface. There are two people on board - Commander Bill McArthur, a U.S. astronaut, and Flight Engineer Valery Tokarev, a Russian cosmonaut. The light you're seeing is sunlight reflected off the space station's solar panels and other surfaces. That's why we see it only in the evening or just before dawn, when the observer on the ground is in darkness, but the station is in direct sunlight.

For more ISS flyover predictions for your location, visit Heavens Above on the Web. You can register, or click on "select" as an anonymous user and plug in your location. Then, from the page that appears, click on "ISS."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:17 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

80 degrees and storms

The same cold front that triggered a deadly rash of tornadoes in Missouri, Illinois and Indiana over the past 24 hours is headed our way. For now, we're on the warm side of the front, and forecasters are expecting the high at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to reach 84 degrees or more this afternoon. Here's the forecast.

That will approach the 85-degree record for today's date, set back in 1990 during a four-day stretch of hot, early-Spring weather. From March 12 through the 15th, the daytime highs were 86, 85, 81 and 82 degrees - all new records for those dates that still stand.

But all that heat today, plus plenty of moisture, bring a risk of thunderstorms. Forecasters at the Sterling, Va. forecast office say the risk of severe storms will continue overnight as the cold front finally reaches the region and sweeps through. We could be awakened during the night by thunder and lightning. Here are the current hazardous weather advisories.

Behind the front, by Tuesday afternoon, we'll see much cooler weather, with sunshine and seasonable highs in the 50s, and even below-normal temps in the 40s and more rain by Friday.

By the way, today is the 13th anniversary of the March 13-14, 1993 "Superstorm," the worst snowstorm to strike the East Coast since record-keeping began in the late 19th century. Baltimore received only 13 inches. But locations to our north and west were buried. Here's how the Weather Service recalls it:

"The Superstorm of March '93 was named for its large area of impact, all the way from Florida and Alabama north through New England. The entire State of Pennsylvania was buried under 1 to 2 feet of snow. Even Alabama saw as much as 13 inches. The storm was blamed for some 200 deaths (many, heart attacks from shoveling the heavy snow). It cost a couple billion dollars to repair damages and remove snow. In Florida, it produced a storm surge of 9 to 12 feet that killed 11 people (more deaths than surges from Hurricanes Hugo and Andrew) and it spawned 11 tornadoes. As the storm's center crossed the Mid-Atlantic region and the Chesapeake Bay, weather stations recorded their lowest pressure ever (Baltimore = 28.51 inches).
        "This storm was not the storm of the century for Maryland, but it wasn't a wimp either. Unlike most nor'easters that move up the coast, this storm took a more inland track across Southeast Virginia and the central Chesapeake Bay. It brought rain and winds to the Maryland Eastern Shore with minor flooding to counties along the east side of the Bay. However, in western Maryland, it dumped between 1.5 to 2.5 feet of snow. Piney Dam in northeast Garrett County recorded another 31 inches of snow after recording a record 42 inches just 3 months earlier during the Dec.10-12 Great Nor'easter. Winds produced blizzard conditions with snow drifts up to 12 feet!  Hagerstown received 20 inches of snow (its fourth greatest) and winds gusting up to 55 mph caused whiteout conditions and severe drifting.
       "Interstates shut down. Road crews had to stop plowing for a period of time because it was too dangerous and the wind would just blow the snow back onto the road. Shelters opened for nearly 4000 stranded travelers and those that left without heat and electricity. The National Guard was called to help with emergency transports and critical snow removal. Oxon Hill recorded 8 inches of snow; 13 inches fell in the District and within the beltway; and 18 inches north and west of the city in Frederick County. Baltimore had 12 inches with greater amounts to the north and recorded a wind gust to 69 mph on the 13th. Eleven people died in Virginia, one in the District, and one in Maryland during and immediately following the storm. Snow removal and clean-up costs were estimated at $16 million in Virginia, $22 million in Maryland, and half million dollars in DC."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

March 10, 2006

Today's high ties record

The high temperature today at Baltimore-Washington International Airport was 77 degrees, tying the record set for the date in 1964, according to the National Weather Service.

New records were set at Washington's Reagan National airport and at Dulles International. Both stations reported 78 degrees, busting the old marks by one degree. The old record at Reagan was set in 1964. The Dulles record was set in 1986.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:11 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: By the numbers
        

Follow Mars mission online

Today's the day NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrives at Mars and either crashes, sails by into oblivion, or slips into orbit as planned for years of scientific research and communications work. There's a full story in The Sun's Health & Science section today. Go ahead, plurge. Buy a paper. Our children have to eat, too.

But you'll want to follow the probe today live online as the $720 million mission reaches its most critical phase. Two-thirds of all attempts to fly by, orbit or land on Mars since 1960 have failed. To get on board, click here to reach the NASA-TV Webcast, select your player and watch the drama unfold 134 million miles away. Coverage starts at 3:30 p.m.

When it's over, and it gets dark enough outside, you can step outdoors and see Mars for yourself, with your own eyes. It's high in the western sky, visible on any clear evening this month. First, find a reasonably dark spot with a broad view of the sky, and face toward the southwest.

About halfway up the sky in front of you, you'll see the constellation Orion the Hunter. You'll know it by the three bright stars in a tight little line, from left to right. That's Orion's belt. Follow the line of Orion's belt to the right, and a bit higher, and you'll come upon two other bright stars. One is a bit higher and to the right of the other.

The one on the left, and lower, is Aldebaran, the "eye" of the bull in the constellation Taurus. The other, higher and to the right, is Mars. Both are slightly reddish. Aldebaran is a red giant star in our own neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy, "only" about 72 million light years from Earth. Mars is just 134 million miles away in our solar system, and it's reddish because of the iron oxide - rust - in its rocks and soil.

For sky charts to help you find Mars and other sights in the night sky, go to Heavens Above, sign up and enter your location, then click on "Whole Sky Chart."  You can set it for any time or any date. Enjoy.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Notes to readers
        

Wind, fire and flood

Oh my, that air felt good this morning - 72 degrees on the car thermometer at 9:30 a.m. But this early breath of spring is also stirring up warnings of wildfire danger and coastal flooding today.

First, there's the forecast:  We're talking a high of 78 degrees this afternoon. Hello ? We haven't seen the 70's at Baltimore-Washington International Airport since Nov. 16, when it was 76 degrees. And we haven't had a 78-degree day since Oct. 6.

The warm air barreling into the Northeast from the Gulf states is rocking small cars and empty trucks. The National Weather Service says we should expect winds of 13 to 21 mph today, with gusts as high as 37 mph. You can watch the top wind speeds at BWI on the strip chart here.

Wind plus low humidity are contributing to increased wildfire hazards. The weather service has issued the following notice:

"...NEAR CRITICAL FIRE CONDITIONS ACROSS THE REGION THIS AFTERNOON...

MINIMUM HUMIDITY OF AROUND 30 PERCENT IS EXPECTED ACROSS PORTIONS
OF THE FIRE WEATHER FORECAST AREA THIS AFTERNOON. THESE VALUES ARE
NOT QUITE RED FLAG CRITERIA....HOWEVER WITH SUSTAINED SOUTHWEST WINDS OF 15 TO 25 MPH...COMBINED WITH VERY DRY FINE
FUELS...NEAR CRITICAL FIRE WEATHER CONDITIONS SHOULD BE
ANTICIPATED.

"THE GENERAL PUBLIC IS ADVISED
TO RESPECT ALL STATE AND LOCAL BURNING LAWS."

Red Flag warnings are posted for the upper Eastern Shore, Delaware and southern New Jersey.

High winds from the south or southeast are also pushing water up the bay, increasing the risk of coastal flooding. Here's the advisory:

"...MINOR TIDAL FLOODING AT TIMES OF HIGH TIDE THROUGH FRIDAY
AFTERNOON...

"STRONG SOUTHERLY FLOW WILL CREATE ABNORMALLY HIGH TIDE LEVELS
THROUGH THIS AFTERNOON. WATER LEVELS OF 1 TO 2 FEET ABOVE
ASTRONOMICAL PREDICTIONS MAY CAUSE MINOR TIDAL FLOODING IN AREAS
THAT ARE PRONE TO PROBLEMS FROM HIGHER THAN NORMAL TIDES.
ALEXANDRIA VIRGINIA AND ANNAPOLIS MARYLAND ARE TYPICALLY
SUSCEPTIBLE TO COASTAL FLOODING.

"UPCOMING TIMES FOR HIGH TIDES ARE AS FOLLOWS...

"ANNAPOLIS MARYLAND...2:49 PM FRIDAY
ALEXANDRIA VIRGINIA...4:54 AM AND 5:18 PM FRIDAY
KEY BRIDGE WASHINGTON DC...5:11 AM AND 5:35 PM FRIDAY
FT MCHENRY BALTIMORE...4:27 PM FRIDAY
BOWLEY BAR...5:18 PM FRIDAY"

You can watch the tides rise here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Watches and warnings
        

March 9, 2006

High water Friday

Stiff winds out of the south promise to push water up the bay and create unusually high tides on Friday. The National Weather Service is warning that tidal waters will rise as much as two feet above predicted levels along Maryland's western shore, causing some minor coastal flooding at high tide. Here are some sites with tide forecasts and observations. Watch the water rise without getting your feet wet.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:49 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Flooding
        

Weather, climate satellites in peril

Federal budget cuts and cost overruns have left the nation's weather and climate satellite programs in crisis, according to scientists at the National Academy of Sciences, the Government Accountability Office, and NASA. Read more here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:35 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Bitter with the better

We can't complain. I could be snowing. Or cold enough to snow. It's still early March, after all. Instead, we're looking at a weekend in the 60s, maybe even the 70s on Friday and Sunday, with plenty of sunshine on Saturday. It's going to be 15 or 20 degrees warmer than the norm for this time of year. Best of all, it's going to smell like spring.

But with that we have to accept the risk of some rain, mostly late Saturday into Sunday. Your best bet for outdoor activity will be Friday evening and Saturday. Here's the latest forecast.

The problem is a succession of warm and cold fronts - a warm front moving up from the south today, bringing temperatures into the 60s, adding 10 degrees or more to yesterday's highs; followed by a cold front from the west tonight, boosting rain chances tonight and tomorrow; followed by enough clearing Friday afternoon to allow sunshine to boost temperatures into the 70s. After a starry, but breezy night Friday into Saturday, a warm front pushes back in, with increased rain chances again late Saturday into Sunday. That will make Sunday warm - upper 60s - but with a 30 percent chance of rain.

That gets us into next week. Look for continued mild weather until mid-week when another cold front is likely to move through, cooling things off again, maybe with some thunder.

This is the battle of the seasons. Lingering cold air masses to our north and west, struggling against warming air and lots of moisture to our south and west. In a word, it's springtime. And it can get very energetic. Watch for fireworks in the news - violent weather where these air masses collide in the South.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:47 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts
        

March 8, 2006

Antarctic ice mass shrinking

Two recent reports from NASA-funded scientists agree that, based on satellite data, the water ice locked up in Antarctica is shrinking as the global climate warms, contributing to the rise of sea levels around the world.

But one of the studies found that while glaciers at the edges of Greenland are also melting, the snow pack at the center is growing as snowfall increases - both effects predicted by global warming theory. On balance, then, the water locked up in Greenland's ice and snow gained slightly during the study period, but the net change for both ends of the planet combined, shows a net loss.

The scientists say glacial melt accounts for only a tiny fraction of the rise in sea levels. Most is due to the expansion of the oceans as the waters warm. And even that doesn't explain it all. Where the rest of the added water is coming from remains a scientific mystery.

Here is a news release on the first study, published last week. And here is the release on the second, just out.  Gentle readers, inflate your water wings.

 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:50 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Research
        

Chicago runway too slick

The runway at Chicago's Midway airport was more slippery than tower controllers described to pilots Dec. 8 as a Southwest Airlines flight from Baltimore was landing in heavy snow, according to a USA Today inquiry. The airliner skidded off the end of the landing strip, careened into a city street, crushing a car and killing a 6-year-old boy inside.  Here's the story.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:16 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events
        

March 7, 2006

70 by Saturday no record

The National Weather Service is predicting a high near 70 degrees on Saturday. That would sure be a welcome gift as we near the end of winter, a chance to take a long walk in the woods, down by the harbor or along a beach somewhere. Area bike trails will surely be busy as well. But we would not be breaking a record for the date.

We could come fairly close, though. If the skies are very clear, and the forecast is just 5 or 6 degrees too low, we could tie or break the 75-degree record high for Baltimore on a Mar. 11. That mark has stood for 46 years - since 1960. And, it's low-hanging fruit - the coolest record daily high for the whole month.

Most of the record daily highs are in the 80s by this time of year. We even reached 90 degrees - once - on Mar. 29, 1945. The biggest March heat wave in recent memory was in 1990, when daily records were set at Baltimore-Washington International Airport for four days in a row - Mar. 12-15.  It was 86 degrees, 85, 81 and 82 degrees on those dates, respectively.

March 1990 remains the fourth-warmest since 1979, with an average temperature of 47.6 degrees. Baltimore's warmest Marches were:

1945:  55.7 degrees

1921:  54.6 degrees

1946:  53.0 degrees

1929:  50.2 degrees

1977:  50.0 degrees

The warmth of that March in 1921 ended rather quickly, and unpleasantly. Here's how the weather service remembers it:

"An early spring abruptly ended when a cold front passed through on the afternoon of March 28 and brought the greatest 24 hour temperature change to the state. Strong northwest winds ushered in the cold air and gave snow to Garrett County.

"On March 27, Westernport in Allegany County hit 90 F and Hancock in Washington County hit 91 F.  By the 30th, Hancock would fall to 18 F. In Washington, it was 82 F at noon on the 28th, but after wind gusts to 50 mph behind the cold front, the temperature had fallen to 26 F by the morning of the 29th. A fall of 56 F in just 18 hours.

"It was typical across the state. The greatest temperature change of 67 F occurred at State Sanatorium in Frederick County. In College Park, the temperature fell from 83 F to 25 F and reached a minimum of 20 F on the 30th. The warm temperatures early in the year caused an early bloom on the fruit trees in the state. March was the warmest on record at the time. The sudden downfall of temperatures at the end of March into early April caused great damage to the crop (several millions of dollars - 1921 dollars) for the year."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:37 AM | | Comments (3) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: By the numbers
        

March 6, 2006

Solar "minimum" arrives

The sun's disk is blank. No sunspots. And it has been that way almost every day since the beginning of February. It's a signal that the sun has entered the "minumum" phase of its 11-year activity cycle. Read more about it here.  The last "solar maximum" was in 2000 and 2001. Scientists say we can expect this minumum to last for the rest of the year. The next "solar max" is to arrive sometime in 2010, or shortly thereafter. But solar storms - sometimes big ones - are possible anytime in the solar cycle.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, meanwhile, said today they can now predict the timing and strength of upcoming solar cycles. They say the next one will start late but surge to unusually strong levels. Solar storms release vast amounts of energy that can affect the health of orbiting satellites and shorten their longevity in orbit. These outbursts can also endanger astronauts if they're caught outside the protection of the Earth's magnetic field, or shielded portions of their spacecraft.

There are also poorly understood - and much debated - links between changes in solar activity and altered weather and climate patterns on Earth. The "Maunder Minumum" - a period from 1645 to 1715 that saw very few sunspots - coincided with frigid winter weather in Europe called "The Little Ice Age."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:51 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

Shirtsleeves by the weekend

There are snow icons in the regional forecast for today, but that's nothing for us to worry about. And by late in the week we should be enjoying temps in the upper 60s, maybe even 70, forecasters say.

You can thank a big high-pressure system now centered over the Great Lakes. After a couple of low-pressure centers scoot by to our south and out to sea today, the high will take over and settle off the coast. That will give us sunshine tomorrow, good stargazing Tuesday into Wednesday. A flow of warm air around the backside of the high, from the Gulf, is next. Gulf air is wet, of course, so we could see some showers by late Wednesday into Thursday, and more Thursday into Friday.

By the weekend, however, things should clear up and temperatures could crowd 70 degrees. If we're going to see another snowstorm this season, it sure won't be this week.

That said, we can expect to read some weather news later this week about severe weather to our south and west. The same flow of warm, moist air that will dominate our weather this week will be clashing with colder air in the Southern Plains. That could trigger severe thunderstorms and possibly tornadoes in the lower Mississippi Valley as the Spring severe weather season gets cranked up.

Here's how we looked from space on Sunday, with clear skies all around. Click on the image and enlarge it with the enlarger button that appears when you move your cursor over the photo. Notice the nearly ice-free surface of Lake Erie. Just a slab along the Pennsylvania shore and at Buffalo. There's also plenty of snow in NY State and northern Pennsylvania. Thanks to NASA's Terra Earth-Observing Satellite and the Smog Blog folks at UMBC.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:03 AM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts
        

March 4, 2006

A Polish comet appears

All of a sudden, there's a comet in the sky. And it's Polish. Or at least it was named for its Polish discoverer, Grzegorz Pojmanski, of the Warsaw University Astronomical Observatory. He first spotted it on Jan. 2, 2006, in an image shot from Chile. Comet Pojmanski has since moved into the Northern sky, and it's visible just before dawn in Maryland.

I haven't seen it yet, but with skies likely to be clear and dry this weekend, it's an ideal opportunity to get a look before it fades away. Go out at the start of twilight - between 5 and 6 a.m. Look to the left of Venus, which is brilliant in the pre-dawn eastern sky. You'll need to scan the sky until you can pick it up. It's going to be a challenge. Once it's high enough above the horizon, the increasing twilight will begin to drown it out. Each morning it will rise a little higher, but it will also be fading.

Here's how it looked yesterday from Bursa, in Turkey. Here's another nice image. You'll need binoculars. Look for a fuzzy dot with a narrow tail extending to the upper right. Good luck.

Update: I'm just back from a rare (for me) pre-dawn stargazing expedition. I found a dark spot not far from the NCR bike trail, with a good view to the east. Very cold - 27 degrees. And very early - 5:30 a.m., with twilight brightening the southeastern sky. But after considerable searching the eastern sky, to the left of brilliant Venus, with my 10 x 50 binoculars I did manage to pick out the coma - the fog of dust surrounding the tiny head, or nucleus, of Pojmanski's Comet - about 20 degrees above the horizon.

It was the only fuzzy object in the area. Everything else was a nice, sharp pinpoint of light. I saw no sign of its tail. Too much twilight, or too low to the horizon, perhaps. For anyone out there with a copy of Starry Nights, or a star chart, the comet was just above 71 Aquilae, forming the apex of an almost equilateral triangle with 1 Aquari.

My Starry Nights computer program indicates the comet will move higher and to the left by Sunday morning. If you get up to see it, you can use the star chart in this Sky & Telescope link to help find it. Or star-hop from 71 Aquilae to 1 Aquari, and then a somewhat longer hop in roughly the same direction, to Pojmanski. Go earlier than I did - about 5 a.m. - and it will be darker. Maybe you can spot a tail. Good luck. And leave a comment here and let me know if you see it.

I need a nap.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:34 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

March 3, 2006

Lousy weather ... in Hawaii !

I know, it's hard to imagine. But it's been raining in torrents out in Hawaii, with up to 6 inches of rain. Flash flooding on Oahu is causing some considerable damage. Here's a brief story. And here is a link to some amazing CNN footage. You'll need to look for the link under "Watch Free Video," and click on "Flash flooding hits Hawaii."  (NOTE: This video is no longer available from CNN.) The heavy rain now seems to be moving away from the western islands.

Here's the island state's very soggy forecast. And here's more

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:05 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Flooding
        

No raking this weekend

The weather will be terrific for being outdoors this weekend, but keep the leaf rakes in the shed. Stiff breezes today through Sunday will frustrate anyone trying to rake up the winter debris. Unless, of course, you can get the old leaves to blow into the neighbors' yard.

Instead, try picking up some of the trash that's accumulated all winter. I'm always amazed at the mess that's revealed when the snow melts and the sunshine becomes more intense. Trash drops off garbage trucks and blows out of the beds of pickup trucks all winter long. It makes roadsides and neighborhoods look awful when the snow's gone and the foliage hasn't come out to hide it all again. And nobody will stoop to pick up someone else's trash.

And then there's the crowd that somehow figures it's OK to throw the bag of fast-food trash out the car window, or the six-pack of empties, or an ashtray full of butts. Who teaches their kids that's a reasonable way to dispose of trash? I don't get it. And shoes. Who throws one shoe out of a car?

But I digress.  The National Weather Service says northwest winds this weekend will run between 15 and 20 mph, with higher gusts - as high as 34 mph today and tomorrow. Add low humidity and dry leaf litter, and we face another weekend of elevated wildfire danger. The Haines Index number will rise to 5 tomorrow - a "moderate" risk. So be careful with your smokes and trash fires.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:36 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Forecasts
        

March 2, 2006

We dodge a bullet

Looks like clear sailing ahead once this cool, drippy weather moves out late today. All the snow and misery have tracked across the map to our north. Here's where AccuWeather thinks the snow will accumulate. It's already snowing in New York City. Here's what their forecast looks like, poor devils. I wouldn't want to be in Providence, RI, either. Or Binghamton, NY.

Here, we should see seasonable temperatures and clearing skies right through the weekend. Sunday looks especially nice.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:38 AM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Winter weather
        

March 1, 2006

Weather buffs: Make yourselves useful

Face it:  You're already out there watching the sky, with an eye on the weather vane and the barometer, and ... well, you read the WeatherBlog. It's time to get involved. The National Weather Service is looking for people to join Skywarn, its legion of trained severe-weather spotters who become the (volunteer) eyes and ears of the service when bad weather strikes. Classes are opening this month for Basic and more advanced training. It's free, and the weather is always fascinating. Here's the schedule.   And here's more information about Skywarn.  Check it out.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Notes to readers
        

An unremarkable winter

Sure, it was pretty cold in December. And we had a good heavy snow in February. But January was very mild, and February ended warmer than normal. So it all averages out to a pretty humdrum winter for Baltimore. The three-month meteorological winter ended with the month of February last night. We could well see more snow in March, and it will be counted. But that will be spring snow. Here's how this winter stacks up on March 1:

December saw 6 inches of snow fall at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, all of it falling in small amounts or two inches or less at a time. Nevertheless, it added up to well over the 1.7 inches that's normal for the month at BWI. The month was cold and wet. Temperatures at the airport averaged 34 degrees - 2.7 degrees below the 30-year average. And precipitation - melted down - came to 3.9 inches, more than a half-inch above normal.

It seemed for a time that we were in for a rough winter. But after Dec. 15, everything changed. Air masses began moving across the continent from the Pacific, and cold air infusions from the arctic were blocked. Temperatures came up, and everything that fell from the sky was rain.

January saw only a trace of snow. It was the first time that had happened since 1973, and only the 6th time Baltimore had recorded no measurable snow in January since they started keeping track of snow in 1883. (Normal for January here is 7 inches.) Temperatures averaged 41.5 degrees, a whopping 9.2 degrees above the long-term averages. We never saw the teens all month. And precipitation was normal at 3.48 inches.

We all saved a boodle on our heating bills that month, too, especially in light of the higher rates we're all paying for gas and oil. 

Then came February, and weather patterns changed. After a mild opening week, with daytime highs in the 50s and 60s, the Canadians opened their borders again and the cold air swept south. And when a coastal storm developed, we knew we were in for some trouble.

On Feb. 11 and 12, the airport recorded an official 13.1 inches of snow. But that was only part of the story. Some spots north and east of I-95 measured 15, 17 or even 20 inches of snow. The National Climate Data Center ranked the storm a Category 3 on the new Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale, and 20th on the list of the worst northeast snowstorms since 1948. But it was the only measurable snow all month, leaving the February total at 13.1 inches. (Normal is 6.4 inches.)

Temperatures dropped into the teens and 20s at night, with a low of 12 degrees - the low mark for the month, and the winter - on Feb. 19.

But mild days in February balanced out the frigid ones. There were nine days that reached 50 degrees or more in February. Five of those topped 60. Only five days dropped into the teens. The month's temperatures averaged about 36 degrees, a degree or so above normal, but much colder than January.

So, unless there's more snow, the winter of 2005-2006 will go into the record books with 19.6 inches of the white death. That's only 1.6 inches above the long-term average of 18 inches at BWI. And it will look like a relatively mild winter, with temperatures averaging about 2.5 degrees above normal, with about 0.4 inch of surplus precipitation.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:44 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Winter weather
        

Slippery tonight

Rain and lingering cold in parts of Maryland could spell trouble for late-night (or early-morning) motorists tonight as a storm system moves in from the Ohio Valley. The National Weather Service has issued a freezing rain advisory for the northern tier of counties, from Harford west to Allegany. Normally colder valleys may be especially vulnerable.

Heading north? There are winter storm watches and warnings up for eastern Pa., northern N.J. and the NYC area. That means 4 inches of snow or more. Click here.

Things should warm up here in the morning - at least enough to erase the ice threat. And the rain will cease. But it won't be anywhere near the balmy 65 degrees forecast earlier in the week. The cold air to our north has lingered more than forecasters expected, and the warm weather to our south will stay there, holding temps here to about normal for this time of year - mid-to-upper 40s in the daytime, 20s at night.

But once we're clear of the rain tomorrow, the sun will come out, and stargazing should be good for the weekend. And forecasters seem confident that the coastal low that's expected early next week will not push far enough north to affect our region. If it does, cold air here could mean frozen precipitation.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:30 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Watches and warnings
        
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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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