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April 28, 2006

"Blossom devil" strikes golf club

Alert weather observer Jane Gilbert, of Bel Air sent us word Thursday of a new (to me) weather phenomenon that tore things up a bit at a golf course in Havre de Grace - the much-feared "blossom devil." Read on:

"I just had to share with you the coolest weather phenomena I’ve ever seen close up! At about 3:15 p.m. today I was at the Swan Creek golf course in Havre de Grace. It was bright and sunny in the low 70s without a cloud in the sky and no wind. Several of us are standing in the pro shop harassing the pro as best we could, when all of the sudden one of my friends points out the window and says, "Check out the wind!"

"We all looked outside, and all hell was breaking loose. There were so many blossoms in the air that it looked like it (was) snowing. We all ran outside and realized what we were seeing was a big dust devil without the dust. (A blossom devil?)

"It moved across the blacktop over some golf carts and popped the windshield out of one and sent it flying about 30 feet. It then moved toward the grill room where it went up on the back patio and flipped over tables and gave one of the big table umbrellas a good toss in the air and over the side.

"I apparently was so mesmerized by the thing that I was following it. (One of the guys that works there accused me of hoping to see a flying cow.) Anyway, after wreaking havoc on the patio, it just disappeared. All was calm again, and we were all just standing there in total shock.

"Now I’ve seen the little dust devils blowing dirt and leaves around, but NEVER anything this big with the power it had. I’ll be doing some Googling trying to learn more about these things, but if you can shed any local light on them (if there is any), I’m all ears. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen!"

Jane:  I suspect that the killer Swan Creek Blossom Devil of 2006 was, as you suggest, a dust devil. Nothing more. Nothing less. We tend to think of dust devils as curious, but gentle summer phenomena that stir up the dust on a parking lot or out on a farmer's field, and disappear. In truth, and up close, they can actually be pretty big and boisterous. Here are some photographs of dust devils in Australia. They won't toss a cow into the next county, but heave a patio umbrella over the hedge? Sure. The fact that this one stirred up tree blossoms is simply an artifact of where it popped up, and what sort of debris was at hand to spin into the sky.

Check out this wild video of a dust devil that sprang up during a soccer game in Japan. Wow! (And thanks to Jane for sending it to the WeatherBlogger.) Update, 5/9/06: Here's a dust devil story worthy of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.

Dust devils occur when the air near the ground is heated by solar energy and, being lighter than the cold air above it, begins to rise. As it rises, under the right conditions, the column of air begins to spin. And as long as there is more warm air around to feed the little devil, it keeps on spinning, and drifting with the prevailing breezes, tossing whatever is handy to be tossed.

What's really fascinating about them is that they also occur on Mars. NASA's Mars-orbiting satellites began spotting their trails years ago - streaks in the Martian dust. Then they photographed the spinning columns of dust themselves, and the shadows they cast across the surface.

When the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed in 2004, they began capturing the dust devils on camera as they danced in front of them across the Martian desert. Click here for more on dust devils, and some NASA movies of the phenomenon on Mars.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (5)
Categories: Events

April 27, 2006

Moonwatch this weekend

Unusually clear skies this weekend (see forecast) offer Marylanders who wander outdoors after sunset a nice opportunity to watch for the re-appearance of the moon following its dark, "New Moon" phase for April. Here's the deal:

The moon reaches its "new" phase at 3:44 p.m. today. That's when it is directly between the Earth and the sun. We can't actually see a "new" moon unless the alignment is nearly perfect, in which case we observe a total or partial solar eclipse. Most months, the moon is just too close to the sun without blocking its light. The solar glare - and the fact that the side of the moon facing us is not illuminated by the sun's light - prevents us from seeing it at all.

That begins to change as the moon, continuing on its orbit from day to day, gets far enough east of the sun that we begin to see sunlight reflected off a slim crescent of the moon's surface.

This graceful lunar crescent is always beautiful to see, and especially so when it is unusually slender. And that requires both sharp eyes and clear skies. Which brings us to this weekend.

On Friday evening, only 1 percent of the moon's disk, as seen from Earth, will be illuminated and reflected to our eyes. Look low in the west after the sun has set. That occurs just before 8 p.m. Binoculars might help you spot it.

On Saturday, the task gets easier. The moon will have moved farther along toward the east, farther from the setting sun. Fully 5 percent of its disk will be reflecting sunlight, and spotting it should be fairly easy if skies remain clear. Each night after that the moon moves farther eastward and more of it becomes illuminated.

One of the most pleasing sights associated with these "young" moons is "Earthshine." That's the light reaching us from the rest of the moon's disk - that portion (from our perspective) that's not illuminated directly by the sun. Instead, it is bathed in relatively dim, filtered sunlight that's been bounced first off the "day" side of the Earth. So, the light's path goes from the sun, to the Earth, to the moon, then back to our eyes.

Astronomers working in the field of "astrobiology" have been using Earthshine to prepare for the day when we will be studying the light reflected from planets circling other sun-like stars in a search for for signs of life. By analyzing the sunlight reflected from the Earth to the moon and back, they hope to learn how that reflected light is altered as it's bounced off our planet. From that, they want to learn which of those alterations are caused by chemical processes unique to life. With that knowledge in their tool box, they hope one day to be better able to detect the presence of life on alien worlds orbiting distant "suns."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:11 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (6)
Categories: Sky Watching

April 26, 2006

Frost along the Pa. border

There are frost advisories up tonight in the Pennsylvania counties just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, bordering Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties. I suspect weather conditions don't much respect political boundaries, even those as venerable as Mason's and Dixon's. So watch for frost in the normally colder valleys of north-central Maryland, too.

The latest recorded freezing temperature at BWI was a 32-degree reading on May 11, 1966

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:21 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Watches and warnings

Sunny, clear, sunny, clear, sunny...

Need to replace the roof?  Paint the house?  Do it this week. The forecast shows nothing but sunny days and starry nights through Saturday. Credit a "back-door" cold front - one that moves into the region from the northeast instead of the northwest as it flows around the right side of a high-pressure system. The front, and the high pressure, will provide all the clear, dry air we could ask for during the balance of this week.

The price we pay will be unseasonably cool temperatures - in the low to mid 60s for the most part, with overnight lows close to 40 degrees. That's maybe 5 degrees below the average for this time of year at BWI.

Whatever you choose to do with this fine stretch of Maryland spring weather, get it done by Saturday. Sunday's forecast looks showery, which can only add needed moisture to this month's welcome precipitation surplus.

Me? I plan to conserve gasoline by cutting the out-of-control grass at my place (with my trusty battery-powered mower), then hang my hammock and plant myself in it with a book. You?

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

Open House at Sterling

So, you've been hearing and reading about the National Weather Service forecast office at Sterling, Va. for years - ever since they closed the office at BWI and replaced our Baltimore-savvy meteorologists with machines. Now you have a chance to actually visit and tour the office that took over our forecasting responsibilities, meet the people who work there and learn from them about the region's weather.

The Sterling office is holding an Open House on Saturday and Sunday - this weekend. Why not take a drive out there?  You can combine it with a trip to the National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Museum near Dulles Airport. There's an amazing display of historic aircraft, including an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 25, 2006

Thunder chances fade

Update: 4 p.m.: Looks like the chances for thunderstorms have washed out of the forecast for tonight. The prognosticators are now calling for a chance of showers only. And not a long period for those either. The thunder, if any, will occur well to the south of the Baltimore area, according to the latest forecast discussion.

Previous post: Looks like we're setting up for some thunderstorms this evening. Blame a cold front from the Great Lakes and a low pressure system from the southwest. Together, they'll trigger some convection - warm air being shoved aloft by the wedge of colder air moving through. That is the recipe for thunder and lightning. Forecasters at Sterling don't think any of them will become severe. Just some rain and fireworks, mostly between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Once the front works through, there's cooler air and high pressure behind it for the rest of the week. Daytime highs will struggle to stay in the 60s. That's 5 degrees or more below normal for this time of year.

So, anybody see the space station last night? It was quite a pass, with crystal clear skies. From my perspective in Cockeysville, the station nearly eclipsed Mars. It became very bright at its zenith, and stayed visible nearly all the way to the horizon. The most expensive manned space program that no one pays any attention to...

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:08 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Hurricanes

April 24, 2006

Watch the space station tonight

Clear skies tonight promise a great view of the International Space Station as it soars high over Maryland at 17,500 mph. It should be bright enough for anyone to see, even from bright urban skies. You don't need any equipment, and 10 minutes outdoors is all you'll need. Here's how:

The station will appear above the southwestern horizon at about 8:31 p.m.  Watch for a bright star-like object moving up from the horizon at about the apparent speed of an airplane. But unlike an airplane, it is a steady light - no strobes and no red running lights. The light you see is reflected sunlight only.

The station will pass by Mars, and reach its highest elevation - about 60 degrees above the northwest horizon (two thirds of the way from the horizon to the zenith - directly over your head) at 8:34 p.m.

From there, it will pass between the Big Dipper and the North Star and finally fade from view above the northeast horizon at 8:37 p.m.

It's always a kick to see this $100 billion dot of light, right on schedule. Take the kids out, and see who spots it first. Remember, there are two people on board - one NASA astronaut and one Russian cosmonaut.

When you first spot it, the station will be about 1,300 miles from Baltimore. At its closest, it will be 398 miles away. It's currently flying about 213 miles above the Earth's surface, but it's being dragged down by friction with the outer atmosphere and is overdue for a boost to a higher orbit.

This is a busy time for space station passes. You can get more predictions for your location from Heavens  No need to register. Just click on "select" and enter your location.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:55 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

Birthday spectacular from Hubble

Nothing keeps a sharper eye on the skies than the Hubble Space Telescope, and today marks 16 years since the HST reached orbit. NASA, the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and the European Space Agency are marking the occasion with the release of another spectacular image.

This time, it's a galaxy, known to astronomers as M-82 and to many others as the "Cigar Galaxy."  It's 12 million light years from Earth, visible (through telescopes) at this time of year near the Big Dipper. The picture was taken last month by Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys. Enjoy.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:32 PM | | Comments (1)

Welcome rains

While they didn't erase the deficit we've accumulated since February, the weekend rains really helped put some moisture back into the soil, which should help improve the drought index, and into the area's depleted streams. The Gunpowder was running strong and brown yesterday, and the amorous spring peepers were taking advantage of the flooded wetlands along the NCR mike trail to raise a huge racket, in hopes of raising families there.

Rainfall at Baltimore-Washington International/Thurgood Marshall Airport totaled 1.56 inches over the three days from April 21 to 23. That puts us over the top for April. Normal rainfall at BWI is 3.0 inches. We now have 3.19 on the books, with a week to go. That knocked almost an inch off the deficit we'd accumulated since Feb. 1. But we're still 3.5 inches in the hole.

At least there's more rain in the forecast. The prognosticators at Sterling say there's a 70 percent chance of thunderstorms tomorrow and tomorrow evening, with as much as a half-inch of rain possible. Beyond that, the forecast for the week looks sunny and pleasant, if a tad cool - in the 60s by day, the 40s overnight. Great for getting that new grass to grow.

The weekend rains were highly variable across the region. While the airport saw just 1.56 inches, other locations saw more than 2 inches. We had 2.37 inches in all on the back deck in Cockeysville, from Friday through Sunday . That brought our total for the month to just over 4 inches. Dulles Airport, in Virginia, recorded 3.19 inches over the three-day period.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:14 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 22, 2006

Cats and dogs

As forecast, it's raining cats and dogs this evening in Cockeysville. The weather instruments on the back deck clocked the rainfall rate at 3.5 to nearly 4 inches of rain per hour between 6 and 7 p.m.  It's slowed some since then, to about 0.4 inches  to 0.6 inches an hour. The total accumulation for this storm - since yesterday - is 1.31 inches here. Western Run is rising, though not yet in flood. And the sump pump is running like crazy.

Any observations of your own?  Leave a comment. Any photos? Post them to our Reader's Photos.

For the official data from BWI, click here. Here's the radar.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

April 21, 2006

Umbrellas, galoshes, oh my

You can kiss those dry, sunny days goodbye, at least for the weekend. The rain should start later today and intensify tomorrow. By the time it's all over we may have erased the majority of our precipitation deficit for the year. The heavy rain - as much as 2.5 inches near Baltimore - could also cause some flash flooding in some locations, so be aware.

And don't drive through flooded sections of roadway. It takes less than 2 feet of moving water to float your vehicle, and off you go to meet your maker in your new SUV. Two-thirds of flooding deaths occur when motorists try to drive through flooded roads.

So, here's the forecast from Sterling. And here are the current hazardous weather advisories.

Rain was already moving across the southern part of the region late this morning. It was expected to crank up in our area later today. Here's the radar loop. We're talking about an onshore flow of Atlantic moisture to start. That runs up against the mountains and drops lots of moisture to our west. Then, tomorrow, the weather systems shift to the east and we're affected by a wet warm front and a following cold front, both of which will bring us even more intense rainfall. Toss in a chance for severe thunderstorms and the weekend begins to look pretty interesting.

And we can use it all. A good, soaking rain will start to refill our stream beds and groundwater. And it will go a long way toward erasing the precipitation deficit, which looks like this:

January:  Normal: 3.47 inches  Actual: 3.48

February: Normal: 3.02 inches Actual: 2.64

March: Normal: 3.93 inches      Actual: 0.18

April: Normal*: 1.97 inches       Actual*: 1.63

Deficit*:  4.46 inches

* Through Thursday

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Forecasts

Cool blizzard photo

I know it was 38 months ago. But I've just stumbled across a terrific satellite image of the Northeast snapped right after the skies cleared in the wake of the historic, four-day February 2003 snowstorm. It was the biggest snowfall on record at BWI. Here's how the aftermath looked from orbit, on Feb. 20, 2003, as we dug out.

Rest your cursor over the image and the zoom box will appear in the lower right-hand corner. Click it for more detail. I love the sweep of the Appalachian valleys to our north and west - evidence of the collision of North America and Africa that created the mountain chain eons ago. And look at the ice in Lake Erie. There was almost none this past winter.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:55 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 20, 2006

China dust plumes tracked

Choking dust storms off the Gobi desert, once relatively rare events, are occurring with greater frequency now.  Some of that dust is now circling the globe, and the folks at the University of Maryland Baltimore County believe they have detected it over their campus southwest of Baltimore. Atmospheric scientists at UMBC and elsewhere have been using satellite data and "lidar" (for "light detection and ranging") to measure altitude, composition and particle size over time.

The latest blast of dust and industrial smoke from China is now headed east over the North Pacific Ocean. An earlier plume was detected over Canada. And even though our skies have seemed beautifully clear in recent days, UMBC observers believe they are seeing the effects of the dust in the way sunlight is being scattered at sunset in Baltimore.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:01 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

April 19, 2006

One more storm added to 2005

It's the hurricane season that wouldn't die. Continuing re-analysis of the data from the 2005 Hurricane Season in the Atlantic Basin has turned up yet another Atlantic storm that reached tropical-storm force, with peak winds of 51 mph. It's too late to give the storm a name, but they're referring to it as "Subtropical storm (unnamed)." For an explanation of what a "subtropical storm" is, click here.

The National Hurricane Center says the storm formed as a low-pressure center west of the Canary Islands on Sept. 28. It generated some convection and became a subtropical depression on Oct. 4, then quickly grew to tropical storm force (sustained winds of 39 mph) in the eastern Azores the same day. Winds peaked at 45 knots (51 mph).

The storm lasted only 12 to 18 hours before being absorbed into an approaching cold front on Oct. 5. Its remains were then absorbed in a non-tropical low that days later grew to become Hurricane Vince. (Vince was a freak - the first Atlantic hurricane known to have gone ashore in Spain and Portugal.)

Not much to write home about, perhaps, but Subtropical Storm Unnamed brings the 2005 season to 28 storms of tropical-storm force, which further buries the former record of 21, set in 1933. Of those, 15 became hurricanes, busting the previous record of 12 set in 1969.

There are six weeks to go before the start of the 2006 season. The National Hurricane Center will release its seasonal forecast on May 22. NHC Director Max Mayfield was at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab yesterday to talk about severe weather. He wouldn't preview the center's 2006 predictions, but made it clear we should expect another above-average season.

"I think a lot of people would say we could never have the damage and deaths like last season. I'm here to convince people otherwise. Believe me, it could have been a lot worse," he said.

Meanwhile, Colorado State University forecaster Bill Gray has already predicted a busy season, with 17 named storms, including 9 hurricanes.

So, how are those levee repairs coming along?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

Enjoy it; rain ahead

This mild, dry sunny weather is Maryland at its best. (Didn't I say April is our most beautiful month?) But enjoy it, because the weekend will be gray and wet. Forecasters at the National Weather Service's Sterling, Va. forecast office say a warm front Friday will bring more instability showers and thunderstorms. More disturbances from the Great Lakes later on Friday will bring more of the same. And that will be followed by an approaching cold front Saturday, with more showers and thunderstorms. Sunday is likely to be wet, too.

The relief comes after the cold front passes through. Monday and Tuesday, forecasters say, should be cooler and drier, with daytime highs in the upper 60s. That's about normal for this time of year.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:14 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

April 18, 2006

Chinese dust tracked to U.S.

Atmospheric scientists have been puzzling out the origins of a haze of dust that was spotted by satellites a few days ago as it crossed the Middle Atlantic states and swept out to sea. By calculating the trajectory of atmospheric winds in reverse, they have tracked the dust back to the Pacific Ocean. Spectroscopy also suggests the stuff is a silicate - sand. That has led to the suspicion that the dust originated in Northern China, which has been plagued recently by dust and sand storms. The Chinese capital is once again in a cloud of dust, (click "cancel" when asked to install language characters, unless you read Chinese) and scientists plan to track the pall as it moves across the Pacific toward the North American continent. Our weather is truly global. 

Update, April 18: Here's the latest dust cloud, passing over Japan. Next stop: North America.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:36 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

San Francisco quake centennial

OK, so it wasn't exactly a weather event. But I couldn't let the 100th anniversary of the Great Earthquake of 1906 go by without a mention. The calamity - the quake and the fire that followed in San Francisco - began exactly 100 years ago this morning. The earth along parts of the famed San Andreas Fault shifted by more than 20 feet in some places. Text, photos and links to a wealth of information about the Great Quake can be found through the U.S. Geological Survey site.

The danger - even the likelihood - that a similar quake will recur in San Francisco is reason enough for me not to live there. But remember, not even Maryland is immune. You can read more about the geology and history of Maryland quakes in this report compiled by Jim Reger, at the Maryland Geological Survey.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:07 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Cool sites

Amazing Maryland lightning

So I come back from vacation today and find we've received some astonishing lightning photos from reader James Willingham while I was away. They were taken during the thunderstorm on April 3.  He didn't say where he was during the storm. Wish I'd seen them when they first came in. Here's my personal fave. But here is the link to all four. Thanks to Jim for posting them to the Readers' Photos feature.

Remember, anytime there's unusual, or beautiful, or amazing weather happening near you, see to your personal safety first. But then think about pictures for our Readers' Photos page. Please provide information on the time and place the photo was taken, what sort of equipment you used and how you made the shot.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:45 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

April 16, 2006

Wet summer ahead?

There is probably no science to support the idea, but here's a note from the past that might make you wonder whether we're in for a wet summer this year. Intrepid Sun researcher Paul McCardell has come across this item from the 1907 Baltimore Sun Almanac. The writer takes a look back at the weather during 1906 (exactly 100 years ago):

"The summer of 1906 was remarkable for the rain which fell in the three months from June 1 until August 31. The early spring was rather dry in Maryland, but with the beginning of June the rains were unusually frequent and heavy, not only interfering with farming operations, but causing a great deal of damage.

"Crops of almost all kinds were affected. In Baltimore, where accurate records are kept, Director Von Herrmann, of the Weather Bureau, said it was the wettest summer since 1870, thirty-six years.

"The amount of precipitation during the three months was 19.10 inches. In 1870, during the same period, there was 22.58 inches. The great rainfall last summer was due to the remarkably low barometric pressures and the constant southerly breeze, which brought an abundance of moisture from the Atlantic Ocean."

Our early spring, in 2006, has also been remarkably dry. March was the driest on record for Baltimore. April is running about average. For the year to date, we are still about 3 inches short of the 30-year average for the region, measured between 1970 and 2000. The official climate forecast for the June through August period, however, shows no particular trends either way, on temperature or precipitation. That means it could go either way.

Normal precipitation for the summer looks like this:

June:  3.43 inches

July:    3.85 inches

August:  3.74 inches

Total:  11.02 inches

The totals in 1906 were: 

June:  5.10 inches

July:   7.96 inches

August:  5.80 inches

Total:  18.86 inches (Not sure why this number, from NWS archive, does not agree with the Sun Almanac total. Either way, a whole lot of rain.)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:35 AM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (3)
Categories: Almanac

April 13, 2006

April showers

After arranging this glorious spring weather for our week off, the WeatherBlogger has decided it's time for a shower. Or showers. The forecast shows varying chances for showers nearly every day for the foreseeable future. A week, in fact, including this Easter weekend.

It begins with a shot at a thunderstorm for northwestern portions of the state late today. Far Southern Maryland at parts of the lower shore were facing severe storm warnings earlier this afternoon. Blame an infusion of warm, moist air from the south and west, and plenty of sunshine to induce convection - a sort of atmospheric equivalent of a pot of boiling water - followed by a succession of cold fronts.

But of course we can use the water. Area streams and water tables are very low for this time of year. Look at Nassawango Creek near Snow Hill.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:04 PM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (3)
Categories: Forecasts

April 9, 2006

Clear sailing ahead

What a great week to be on Spring Break. Now that the rain is past, we're looking at sunny skies and starry nights for nearly the whole week ahead. And temperatures will poke through the 60s, into the 70s along the way.

That's not to say we don't still need rain. We do, despite the fact we gained nearly an inch (0.93 over two days at BWI-Marshall) on Friday and Saturday. January precipitation was only average. February and March saw a combined 4-inch deficit. April so far has been wet - running three-quarters of an inch ahead of the average pace. But, on balance, we continue to run a precipitation deficit of well over 3 inches for the year .

But wasn't that a terrific batch of rain? When was the last time we had an all-day rain like Saturday's? I had 0.95 of an inch in all here on the back deck in Cockeysville - about what the airport had.  That made it the biggest precipitation event since the Feb. 11-12 snowstorm.

And, man did that temperature sink - from the 60s after midnight to 41 degrees at BWI by the witching hour last night. And it was 31 degrees at the weather station here in C'ville this morning. The airport got to 35 degrees. That's no record, but it's well below the average low for this date.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:43 AM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts

April 7, 2006

Thunderboomers tonight; rain Saturday

We should expect some excitement tonight with a 70 percent chance of thunderstorms ahead of a new cold front that's pushing through this weekend. Here's the latest advisory.

The sound and light show may wake us up, but we can sure use the rain.The U.S. Geological Survey reports that stream flows remain near record lows for this time of year. Groundwater levels, too are at or near record lows in many locations. We're looking at levels we should not see until July or August. With luck we could receive as much as an inch of precipitation before it's all over late tomorrow.

And then things should clear up beautifully, with clear skies day and night well into next week, and temps near normal for the season. Enjoy.

I will be off next week, but will try to post as the vacationing spirit moves me.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:09 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts

Infamous storm names retired

We won't have Katrina to kick us around anymore. Or Dennis. Or Rita. Or Stan. Or Wilma. All those tropical storm names from the 2005 storm season have been officially retired by the World Meteorological Organization's international hurricane names committee, which includes officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center. The decisions came out of their recent meeting in Puerto Rico.

Filling in for the retired names will be Don, Katia, Rina, Sean and Whitney.

The international committee can retire names when storms cause very serious death tolls and damage. Otherwise, the names get recycled and reappear every seventh year in the new list of names. In this case, Katrina, Rita and the others would have popped up and haunted us again in 2011.

Here are the name lists for the upcoming Atlantic Hurricane seasons. The NHC typically assigns 21 names for each season. They run in alphabetical order, skipping Q, U, X, Y and Z, and alternating genders. The names are a mix of names from the languages and cultures of the affected region. If they run through the list, as they did in 2005, the NHC turns to the Greek alphabet.

Last year the busy season ripped right through Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and Zeta before quiet returned to the Atlantic Basin.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:41 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Hurricane background

April 6, 2006

Kayaker caught in Weds. squall

The gusty snow squall that whipped across the region early Wednesday morning caught all of us by surprise. But most of us were safe indoors, or in cars. Don Baugh, vice president for education at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, was in his kayak, out on the Severn River, commuting to work. His unusual, but normally placid morning routine suddenly became very frightening.

"I ... was able to outlast the blow, but barely," he said. Here's his story, sent to the WeatherBlog via email:

"I have paddled 14,000 miles, through 14 years of commuting, and tackled four tropical depressions, and countless northwesters, nor'easters, and squalls. This is the first bad weather that caught me off guard.

"I glanced to the horizon, when I was at the mouth of the Severn, about 1 mile from shore, and my reaction was whoa, this is not good. That storm came out of nowhere. I raced to shore, but clearly was being overtaken.

"When the storm hit, I was about 3/4 mile from shore, and had to head into the wind, shifting my course, as the winds shifted from SW to W to NW. I had my fast racing kayak, as I was not expecting harsh winds, which cannot take any gusts on the beam as they can push you over in a fraction of a second.

"I kept paddling into the wind, hard, trying to keep some forward momentum, so that my rudder would correct course changes. With head down to keep my hat flying, blinding rain, and with a steady 50 mile wind, it was a question of time. I could not last 30 minutes, maybe not even 15, before I would succumb, tip, and then really have issues to deal with. The water is cold.

Editor's note: Water temperature at Thomas Point Light this morning is 49.3 degrees.

"The sky behind the blast was blue, so I knew the back side soon would allow the winds to moderate. They did to 25 mph, or so, and I continued on my merry way, but feeling like I was visited by some phantom stalking me in the night, and whipped."

Baugh later called the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, and asked whether this event had been forecast.

"As someone who spends lots of time on the water, I want to inquire about this storm, so that it may inform future decisions ... I did talk with a ...  forecaster. They apparently did issue an alert shortly before 7 AM, a little after my departure. This apparently is a freak early spring phenomena when winds aloft are able to penetrate to the surface, with rain. They sometimes only have 15 minute warning of an event.

"This was almost exactly the same scenario as when the Baltimore ... (Harbor) Taxi capsized two years ago. There were reports of winds to 51 knots (58 mph) at the same time, but somewhere else. The winds I encountered I estimated to be about 50."

Glad you made it to shore intact, Don. It's the last time I'll complain about the JFX.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Observer reports

April 5, 2006

Warmup will be short-lived

A pretty bracing morning, with thunder and snow squalls, temperatures in the 40s and a stiff wind from the northwest, with gusts to 46 mph at BWI. There's some relief ahead. But it won't last. What can I say? It's April.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for a chance for more rain and snow showers before 5 p.m. today, with highs stuck in the upper 40s. That's more than 10 degrees below normal for this time year, when the average highs are in the low 60s.

Then things begin to warm up as the big low that's been pumping all this cold air in from Canada moves farther off the coast. Tomorrow should be sunny, with highs a tad above normal in the mid-60s. Friday gets even warmer, reaching the low 70s. But it comes with rain. And more showers on Saturday ahead of a new mass of cold air piling into the region. Looks for a high Saturday of only 56 degrees if the forecast holds up.

There's no real relief Sunday, which should be sunny but unseasonably cool - in the 50s. Next week looks better, with plenty of sunshine to start the week off, and highs near seasonal averages, in the 60s.

It's the battle of the seasons, with warming conditions to our south trying to evict the cold air to our north. Soon enough the forces of solar energy will win out, and we'll be whining about the heat.

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

Thundersnow in Cockeysville

A peal of thunder, a blast of wind and a mighty ... snow squall at 7:20 this morning in Cockeysville. It's 40 degrees on the back deck. Weird.

I'd show you the radar image, but Sterling radar is "down" for maintenance. Here's how it looks from Dover. Update 11:00 a.m.: The squall line has moved offshore.

It could be worse. We could live in northern New England.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:24 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Winter weather

April 4, 2006

2006 forecast sees more East Coast landfalls

Dr. William Gray's hurricane forecast team at Colorado State University has issued its latest forecast for the 2006 season, and it shows the risk of an East Coast landfall at double the long-term average.

The April edition of the Gray forecast, released today, show a 64 percent probability that a major Atlantic hurricane will make landfall this year along the Atlantic coast, from Florida northward. The long-term average is 31 percent. The Gulf Coast also faces a higher-than-normal risk of landfall - 47 percent versus a long-term average of 30 percent. That can only be bad news after two consecutive years of heavy pounding - in Florida, and the Gulf Coast - from the tropics.

Here's a exerpt: "Most Southeast coastal residents probably do not know how fortunate they had been in the prior 38-year period (1966-2003) leading up to 2004-2005 when there were only 17 major hurricanes (0.45/year) that crossed the U.S. coastline.  In the prior 40-year period of 1926-1965, there were 36 major hurricanes (0.90/year or twice as many) that made U.S. landfall.  It is understandable that coastal residents were not prepared for the great upsurge in landfalling major hurricanes in 2004-2005."

The good news is that only two hurricanes are known to have made a direct hit on Maryland during the period fro0m 1851 to 2004 chronicled by the National Hurricane Center. And neither of those was "major." Most storms come ashore elsewhere, and we feel a much-diminished version of their winds and rains.

In all, the Colorado State forecast team, which has a good record for accuracy, is predicting 17 named tropical storms, 9 hurricanes and 5 "intense" hurricanes during the 2006 Atlantic season, which begins June 1. That's not as busy as last year's record-breaking season. But it extends the period of heightened Atlantic basin activity that began in 1995.

Here is a link to the full report. And here is the Colorado State news release. The National Hurricane Center's forecast for the 2006 season is due out May 1.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:04 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Hurricanes

Time and date of a lifetime

OK. I know it's off-topic. But it's all over the Internet, and I can't resist because it's just the way my brain works. For just an instant, shortly after 1 a.m. tomorrow morning - I know we'll all be up to cheer it - the clock will read 01:02:03, and the calendar will read 04.05.06.

Get it? 01:02:03, 04.05.06 ? That hasn't happened since a couple of weeks before the Great San Francisco Earthquake in 1906. And it won't happen again for 100 years - in April 2106. Maybe some of you will be around, but not me.

Of course, there's a 01:02:03 every day. (1 p.m. is really 13:00.) And there's a calendar sequence like this one every 13 months for 12 consecutive years near the start of every century (from 01.02.03 to 12.13.14). And there are probably a zillion other permutations I haven't thought of.

But this one - from 01 to 06 - just seems special, a kind of royal flush for numerologists. So stay up late, raise a glass of warm milk (it's a work night) and toast it.

Or not.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:27 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: By the numbers

A welcome rain ... Now snow

Nothing like a cold shower to refresh the spirits. Yesterday was the wettest day we've had in Baltimore in two months. The rain gauge at BWI-Marshall clocked 0.63 inch of rain. I had an even half-inch on my gauge in Cockeysville.

The last time we came close to that was Feb. 12, on the second day of the big snowstorm, when the airport recorded 0.62 inches of melted precipitation. Of course, that was a two-day storm. Taken together, the Feb. 11-12 storm dropped 1.1 inch of moisture at BWI

The last date on which we exceeded yesterday's rain total was Feb. 4, when 0.92 inch fell at the airport.

Most of yesterday's rain - 0.45 inch - fell between 8 and 9 p.m. But the whole event spanned more than 3 hours - from sometime after 7 until almost 11 p.m. Lots of spectacular lightning. The winds at BWI peaked at 24 mph between 7:30 and 8 p.m., with gusts to 33 mph. That was not nearly as strong as the severe storm warnings had predicted. BGE does not appear to be having any significant outage problems this morning, although as many as 5,000 customers lost power during the storm, most in Baltimore County. The National Weather Service took numerous reports from trained spotters about three-quarter-inch hail, and storm damage. But none of it appears to have been major. Storm experts were surveying the damage today to determine whether any of it was caused by tornadoes.

Fortunately, the creeks were low, so there was plenty of room for the waters to rise without flooding. Many streams in central Maryland have returned, for now, to normal flow rates. Here's the stream-flow map.

Unfortunately, with so much rain coming over such a short span, there was less time for it to soak into the topsoil before running off. We hope it was enough to get the farmers started with their spring planting in the next few weeks. The new drought map comes out Thursday morning.

Now the forecasters say there's a chance for rain or SNOW showers tonight as a small disturbance tracks through the region and temperatures drop to the freezing mark tonight. Northern portions of the state, and the higher elevations in the mountains, are the most likely to see snow in the air. But it's not enough to worry about, even in Cumberland. There was even a trace of snow at BWI last night.

More rain is possible Friday.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:07 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: By the numbers

April 3, 2006

Rain, hail, high winds

The cold front has finally arrived, with hail, high winds and more rain than we've seen in a month. If you see damage (after the storm passes and it's safe to go out), take pictures and upload them to our Readers Photos page. Just register if you haven't already, log in, follow the instructions and file your pictures. And send us your storm reports as comments here.

There's a downpour downtown, I can tell you that. And a few peals of thunder, too.

You can watch the creeks rise here. Area rainfall totals are here. The Sterling radar loop is here. Looks like the Baltimore area is getting the worst of the rain. (These sites can take some time to catch up with real-time events.)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

We're under a tornado watch

How often do the Orioles open their season under a tornado watch?  Most of Maryland and Virginia (and parts of the Carolinas, Georgia and Pennsylvania) were placed under a tornado watch at 4:15 this afternoon as a cold front approached with a threat of severe thunderstorms. A station near Hancock reported three-quarter-inch hail this afternoon. Here's a radar image showing the storm front.

Here's how the tornado watch reads for counties in the Sterling, Va., forecast area:





ANNE ARUNDEL          HOWARD                MONTGOMERY


CARROLL               FREDERICK             WASHINGTON




CALVERT               CHARLES               ST. MARYS



Here's a definition: 

Tornado Watch (SEL):  This is issued by the National Weather Service when conditions are favorable for the development of tornadoes in and close to the watch area.  Their size can vary depending on the weather situation.  They are usually issued for a duration of 4 to 8 hours.  They normally are issued well in advance of the actual occurrence of severe weather.  During the watch, people should review tornado safety rules and be prepared to move a place of safety if threatening weather approaches.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Tornadoes

Storms after 4 p.m., then ... snow?

A cold front approaching our region from the west could bring us some violent weather late this afternoon, and some spots could see snow later on. Really. I don't make this stuff up. Hazardous weather advisories are already up for our region.

A tornado watch has been posted in West Virginia, just west of Garrett County, as the storm system moves east. This is the same frontal system that triggered deadly storms and tornadoes in the Midwest overnight. So keep in touch with the forecast.

The snow threat is small - a "slight" chance for snow showers Tuesday night as the cold air builds into the area, and overnight temperatures drop to the freezing mark. Any accumulation would be well to our west, in the mountains. But that's April for you - 70s and sunny on the weekend, stormy Monday and snow showers Tuesday. That's cruel.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:09 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts
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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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