« May 2006 | Main | July 2006 »

June 30, 2006

Teeny ants invade

I don't know if it's the current weather, the mild winter we had this year, or the alignment of the planets. But my house is being invaded by the smallest ants I've ever seen. They're trouping in along a trail that leads from under the shed, across the heat pump pad to the patio door, then up the frame to the top, where the endless marching hoards vanish into the house.

They emerge in the kitchen, where - until we blasted them with ant spray - they fanned out across the floor, up the wall and across the counters.

I was talking yesterday with University of Maryland entomologist Entomologist Mike Raupp, whom you may remember from our stories about the Brood X cicadas two years back. I was interviewing him for an upcoming Sunday story about mosquitoes. But before I let him go, I asked him about these little ants.

He said he's been battling them too (as have any number of the people my wife has mentioned the problem to). Mike confesses he doesn't know, either, what's brought them on so strong. But he says they're probably Tapinoma sessile, also known as the "odorous house ant."  I haven't tried this, but Mike says if you crush one, it smells like coconut. I'll take his word for it.

Anyway, Mike wrote about these critters last winter for his on-line Bug of the Week column. You can learn a lot about them, and how to get rid of them, by clicking here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:16 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Events

Week's rains pour into Chesapeake

NASA's Terra Earth-observing satellite captured a striking image of the Chesapeake Bay at noon yesterday (Thursday) as it received the silty runoff from the heavy rains that began last Friday and persisted into Wednesday. (To enlarge, hold your cursor over the image, then click on the expander box when it appears.)

All that silt seems sure to cause severe problems for the bay grasses and all the species that rely on them for habitat and shelter. The influx of nutrients from the runoff will likely worsen the summer's "dead zones," as well. Sun Outdoors writer Candy Thomson writes about the impact on the bay in today's editions.

UPDATE: July 1: Baltimore County public health officials have issued some warnings about contamination in Bay waters due to the runoff. Click here.

And here's a link to the satellite image, with caption material.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

June 29, 2006

Flash! Drought over!

Here's a news flash that's sure to come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever. The recent rains have erased what had been "moderate" drought and "abnormally dry" conditions in much of Maryland, especially counties west of the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Here's the new Drought Monitor map, out just this morning. You can click on the end of the blue line of type ("To compare current drought conditions with last week's map") beneath the map to see where we were on last week's map, before the heavens opened up. The dry zones have retreated entirely from the region.

The bad news is that many of Maryland's farms have gone from too little water to too much. The heavy rain has caused considerable crop damage.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drought

Beach forecast: GO!

The rain's gone, the sun's out and the surf's up. If you spent last weekend indoors, watching the rain run down the glass, this is the weekend to go back and get your OC fix. Here's the blue-sky forecast. Here's the surf cam. And here's the boardwalk cam from Kro-Art's joint.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

Maryland rivers cresting near or below flood

With the exception of the lower Susquehanna and Potomac, most rivers in Maryland appear to be falling this morning after cresting near or below their flood stages. Here is a rundown from the National Weather Service. You can check the status of your favorite streams here. Fewer are running at record volumes for the date today. You can almost hear the state's drain gurgling.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Flooding

June 28, 2006

Shiny yellow thing appears

A huge, shiny yellow orb appeared in the sky over Maryland today. It rose above the horizon in the east, easily the brightest object in the sky - which itself had turned an astonishing shade of blue. And somehow the air itself seemed drier. And that familiar gurgling in the gutters stopped, leaving an eerie silence...

OK. I'll stop.

The rain ended not long after midnight last night at BWI-Marshall. The final tally at the airport: 1.17 inches on Tuesday, topping off six straight days of rain that totaled an official 5.38 inches. Of course that doesn't reflect much higher amounts - a doubling in some cases - in places like Bel Air, Hyattsville, Ellicott City, and Federalsburg. Here's the tally through 7 a.m. today.

We recorded another 0.79 inch on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville in the 24 hours ending at 7 a.m. this morning. That brings the storm total since last Friday's early morning thunderstorm to 5.95 inches. The June total stands at 7.42 inches.

That compares to 6.73 inches for June at BWI-Marshall, which is 3.66 inches above their long-term average, but far from an all-time record. That mark still stands at 9.95 inches, set back in June 1972, in the wake of Tropical Storm Agnes.

And as wet as it's been over the last week, one only needs to look back as far as last October to find a wetter month in Baltimore. The rains in October totaled 9.23 inches, more than 6 inches above the long-term average. That total was swollen by the rains from the remnants of Tropical Storm Tammy, which blew through on Oct. 6-8. That storm dropped 6.72 inches at the airport in just three days, arguably worse than our latest drubbing.

The overnight rains caused plenty of problems, but they don't seem to have measured up to forecasters' warnings yesterday afternoon of 3 to 5 inches of additional accumulations. The storm center that came ashore in North Carolina swept up the coast pretty quickly, and the dry air moved in right behind it, capping the precipitation in the early morning hours.

It wasn't true everywhere. Annapolis and Martinsburg, W.Va. each reported more than 3 inches of rain in the 24 hours ending at about 8 a.m. today. But elsewhere the tallies were smaller.

Hagerstown:  1.87 inches

Salisbury:  1.78 inches

Maryland Science Center: 1.75 inches

Andrews AFB:  0.53 inches

It made our Page One headline today ("Rain Not Done Here Yet") seem a bit behind the facts as readers awoke to bright sunshine. That's a constant hazard when you're writing weather stories 12 hours before they land on readers' doorsteps.

That's not to say the consequences of this six-day deluge are behind us. Officials remain worried about a leaking dam in Montgomery County and rising water along the lower Susquehanna - which this morning does not look as dire as it did in yesterday's forecasts. Several Marylanders are dead or missing in flood waters. And thousands of residents are grappling with flooded basements, and the damage from leaky roofs. It's quite bad enough, thank you. But it could have been worse.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:35 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Sky Watching

June 27, 2006

Flash flooding to our west

Flash flood warnings are posted tonight across most of western Maryland as torrential rains continue to pound the region. Emergency officials were investigating a suspected tornado, which damaged structures earlier this evening down in Chaptico, in St. Mary's County. Voluntary evacuations are also taking place along portions of the bay shore in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties as abnormally high tides cause minor to moderate coastal flooding.

The forecast map shows a broad swath of flood-warned areas. Water vapor images from space show plenty of moisture continuing to stream north across the state, from Washington County east to Carroll, and south the Montgomery and Prince George's.

The heaviest rains - described as "torrential" - appeared to be falling in the Catoctins, according to the weather service. Flooding was expected in Wolfsville, Pleasant Walk, Bolivar and Arnoldtown. Heavy rain was also reported this evening in Rockville, Emmitsburg and Mt. Airy.

"Significant" rises were reported in the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. Little Falls, on the Potomac, was expected to surpass flood stage by Thursday morning and runoff from the rains flowed out of the tributaries and reached the main stem of the river. The Potomac was expected to rise above flood stage at Wisconsin Avenue in Washington by Thursday night.

Two to 4 more inches of rain were forecast tonight for Prince George's County, including Upper Marlboro, New Carrollton, College Park, Beltsville and Hyattsville (which saw some of the heaviest rain over the past four days -more than a foot).

All that said, it doesn't look - at least from the radar image - that this rain can last long into the morning. The echoes seem to be closing in on our region, with drier air close behind. By this time Wednesday, we're going to be much more focused on rising rivers than rainfall.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:03 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Flooding

Brace yourself: 3-5 inches tonight

Update: We're not out of this mess yet. The National Weather Service says the low pressure system that's coming ashore in the Carolinas this afternoon could drop another 3 to 5 inches of rain across Central Maryland tonight. Worse, some locations could see new accumulations of up to 8 inches. I feel like I'm writing a snow forecast.

But this is rain we're talking about. This new system nearly developed into the season's second named tropical storm. Top sustained winds at 5,000 feet are blowing at 55 knots (63 mph, well within tropical storm force). But hurricane hunter aircraft have been flying around inside the storm this afternoon and have not been able to find circulation around a defined storm center. So they're not calling it a tropical storm.

But it doesn't really matter. If the forecast holds up, the storm's impact will be the rain it adds to the mess we're already grappling with. These additional tropical rains will merge with the surge of wet, tropical air that's been blowing northward from the Atlantic since late last week. That's already dropped 4 to 12 inches of rain across the region. Add to that another 3 to 5 inches - all of it due overnight tonight. Man the pumps! And read these advisories.

Forecasters at the National Hydrometeorological Prediction Center say the only good news is that, once this last blast of tropical downpours is gone, drier air will move in to end this water torture. The weekend looks sunny and mostly dry.

Earlier: The National Weather Service at Sterling has dished up a smorgasbord of weather watches and advisories for today, none of them anything we want to hear.

For starters, there's a coastal flood watch up for the Bay shore, as these persistent south and southeast winds shove more water up the bay and prevent it from leaving. Forecasters are looking for high tides today 1 to 2 feet above astronomical predictions. That means a chance for minor flooding at high tides through this evening. Tide data already shows the water well above predictions.

There are also warnings of more showers and thunderstorms - some of them heavy or severe with rainfall rates of 3 to 4 inches an hour - this afternoon and this evening as more moisture from the tropical Atlantic pours into the region. A developing low off the South Carolina coast is expected to blow northward into our region, with the possibility for several more inches of rain and flash flooding.

With that in mind, there are more flash flood watches posted for the region through tomorrow (Wednesday) morning. Sigh.

As always, stay safe. And if you have photos of heavy rain, flooding, high water, wet dogs, splashing kids ... post your best pictures on our Readers' Photos page. Just register, log in and upload your images. We'll post all we can. Be sure to include information on the photographer, where the shot was taken and when.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:55 PM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (5)
Categories: Forecasts

Latest rainfall totals. Wow

Here are the latest rainfall totals, as reported to the National Weather Service from stations across Maryland and Virginia. The numbers include rain totals recorded since the storm began late last week. Looks like Bel Air wins today's soggy cigar, with well over a foot of rain. That's nearly four months' typical precipitation in about 4 days.

Here's a batch that includes Cecil COunty and the upper Shore.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: By the numbers

More records washed away

The persistent rainfall has washed away more weather records across the region. Washington's Reagan National Airport yesterday set a new mark for a June 26. The capital's landing strip reported an impressive 4.22 inches for the date. That demolished the old record of 2.62 inches set on the same date in 1942.

Dulles International Airport also posted a record, although not nearly as impressive. Instruments there recorded 1.92 inches of rain on Monday, edging out the old record of 1.91 inches, set in 1978.

There was no new record yesterday at BWI-Marshall, where the rain gauge collected 0.83 inch. Sunday's rain there did set a new mark for the date - 2.75 inches, busting the old record of 1.95 inches, set in 1872. Another 19th-century record bites the dust.

The impact of all this rain is all around to see. But sometimes it helps to see the havoc in writing. Here's one of the longest storm reports I can remember from the National Weather Service at Sterling.

Today, the rain train appears to have moved west of our region, as the big high-pressure system out over the North Atlantic - the roadblock that has prevented the misery from moving off shore - has edged west. Meteorologists call it "regression."  Weather systems in these parts aren't supposed to move east to west. Here's a nice radar loop that shows where the worst of the rain went. Looks like a bit of rain this morning out on the beaches.

And to top it all off, the National Hurricane Center is watching for signs of organization in a broad region of low pressure off the Southeast coast. Whether it starts to rotate or not, the weather maker promises a new load of moisture for the Carolinas. Here's a fairly amazing satellite loop showing the northward flow of Atlantic moisture that has been soaking our basements, and the strengthening of that low off the South Carolina coast.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

June 26, 2006

Glug ...

This has been one amazing spate of rain, no?  Instruments on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville have recorded 3.82 inches from Saturday through this morning - including an inch overnight. And that followed 0.67 inch early Friday. For June we've measured 5.96 inches so far.

Here are some 24-hour measurements from the region. Looks like Hyattsville, in Prince George's County wins the wet cigar, at 10-plus inches. But Columbia saw more than 8 inches.

The official station at BWI-Marshall was lagging behind, until yesterday. Sunday rainfall at the airport totaled 2.75 inches, obliterating a 134-year-old record of 1.95 inches, set in June 1872, just a year after they started keeping records for the city. That brings the June total (so far) to 4.73 inches. And that's 1.89 inches above the long-term average for the month at BWI.

It's also made this the wettest month in Baltimore since last October, when the remnants of a tropical storm blew through and pumped the total accumulation to 9.23 inches.

And don't put your Shop Vac away yet. The forecasters at Sterling are predicting more heavy rain today, tonight and tomorrow. If you take the upper end of their estimates, we could see as much as another 3 inches before things start to taper off on Wednesday. But there is rain in the forecast as far as the eye can see.

As I write, there are flash flood warnings up from Montgomery County east to Arundel and Prince George's, Kent and Caroline counties as more slow-moving thunderstorms drop more heavy rain on more people who don't need any more rain. Stream flows across the eastern half of Maryland are all at record levels for the date (block dots on this map).

But as wet as it's been, June 2006 doesn't yet look like a record-breaker. Even if we do get another 3 inches by week's end, that would only bring us to perhaps 8 inches. There are three years on the books when June brought more than 9 inches of rain, including June 1972, which was the month that Tropical Storm Agnes struck.

June 1972:  9.95 inches

June 1948:  9.36 inches

June 1963:  9.16 inches.

Here's something to ponder as you bail: No scientist or meteorologist will ever blame any particular weather event on global warming. Nevertheless, global warming theory does predict more extreme weather events, including heavy rainfalls and flooding, extreme drought and more-intense hurricanes (though not MORE hurricanes). Anything like that in the news recently?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:47 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Forecasts

June 25, 2006

Rain, followed by ... well, more rain

It came in fits and starts, but when it rained yesterday, it seemed to rain in earnest. We clocked just over an inch on the WeatherDeck.  BWI-Marshall recorded a bit more than half an inch. Other locations saw quite a lot more than that.

Here are some observations compiled by Sterling around mid-day yesterday. They don't reflect the rain that fell later in Maryland. But it illustrates the spottiness of the accumulations - from little or none to over 4 inches in some locations. Hopefully, they will post some updated figures sometime today.  UPDATE: Here are some Maryland totals, but there's lots of missing data.

This storm-total radar loop is probably a better measure. The red areas show 5 inches or more of rain, mostly on the Eastern Shore. Dover AFB has recorded more than 3 inches.

More of the same appears to be on tap for today, as we continue to sit here under a stalled cold front that is funneling very wet air from the south into our laps. The region remains under a flash flood watch. The chance of showers and thunderstorms will persist throughout the week, according to the latest from NWS Sterling. Gentlemen, start your umbrellas.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:05 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Forecasts

June 24, 2006

Sterling sticks by forecast

The National Weather Service continues to warn of possible flooding with heavy thunderstorms today and well into next week as a stalled cold front leaves us in the path of humid tropical air moving into the region from the southwest. Here's the forecast.

On the other hand, the WeatherDeck is dry this morning. And the weather instruments here show no significant rainfall since a very loud thunderstorm very early Friday morning. And it's as still as death out there, with the humidity at 91 percent.

The radar record shows that most of the rain has actually been falling well to our south, over SE Virginia and the Lower Eastern Shore. Salisbury Airport recorded nearly 2.5 inches of rain in just an hour - between 1 and 2 p.m. yesterday.

And the chatter this morning suggests that most of the rain today could along the Blue Ridge. Here's the one-hour radar loop. It will show where the rain is falling now. We can watch to see if Sterling lays an egg today.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:26 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

June 23, 2006

Drenched? Flooded? Send photos

The sun shines brightly on Baltimore this afternoon. But they're still calling for a whopper of a rainy weekend. So, if the creek rises, the dog comes home soaked, a rainbow breaks from the clouds or the water pours into your basement, take pictures. Then post them on the MarylandWeather photo gallery, accessible at the bottom of the main weather page.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:17 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Notes to readers

Flash flood watches posted

Looks like we're in for a hosing over the next day or two. The National Weather Service has posted flash flood watches for all of Maryland west of the Chesapeake Bay (the green counties on this map).  And the beaches at Ocean City won't be spared. Here's the Shore forecast. A Parcheesi weekend ahead on Condo Row.

Blame the cold front that moved in with the thunderstorms last night. It's predicted to stall over the region today, placing us in the middle of the tracks as wave after wave of showers and thunderstorms roll up the front. The "training" effect will cause rainfall - heavy at times during thunderstorms - to pile up. Creeks will rise and some flooding is expected.

We're likely to remain on the tracks well into next week.

The first thunderstorm struck very early this morning, producing loud thunder and plenty of rain in some locations. We had 0.64 inch on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville - most of it falling sometime around 1 a.m. The official rain gauge at BWI-Marshall clocked just a tenth of an inch between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. The Washington Reagan Airport station reported 0.71 inch between 1 and 2 a.m.

We can expect much more later today and through the weekend. The forecast calls for as much as 2.75 inches in the Baltimore region. Could be more or less depending on where you are, and where the sun breaks through to boil up the humidity and trigger storms. Take the umbrella.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Flooding

June 22, 2006

Big rain ahead

The folks at the Sterling forecast office say a cold front approaching from the northwest will stall over the region, putting us in the path of a succession of storms that could drop 3 to 5 inches of rain in some spots between tomorrow and the middle of next week.  We can certainly use the rain. But if it comes in too big a hurry we could see some localized flooding before it's over. Most definitely NOT the weekend to spend at the beach.

Here's the forecast for BWI-Marshall, which shows the heaviest rainfall amounts tomorrow (Friday). Here's the hazardous weather statement from Sterling. And here's a snippet from today's forecast discussion:


Something to watch: If the cards fall the right way, the tropical disturbance off the Eastern bahamas could slide our way and pile up even more rain over the weekend. Here's more on that from AccuWeather.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

Four "cheapy" rain gauges

Sun Weather Page reader Emily Johnston writes with a question about why her rain gauges don't agree with each other:

"I have 4 cheapy rain gauges, two of which agree; one is hard to read, so I'm guessing; and the last is totally out of line with the readings of the others. How can I calibrate these (or at least one of them) without some sort of fancy equipment?  Is there a rule of thumb relating the cross-section of the collector with inches of rainfall? Or should I just add up all the numbers and divide by 4? (I really don't want to do that.)  - Emily Johnston, Westminster, MD"

Well, Emily, I think you've answered your own question. Your problem is that you are using at least two "cheapy" rain gauges. Like anything else, you get what you pay for. Some rain gauges are made with some care and precision - which costs money - while others are made cheaply and consequently without such precision. You might as well use a jelly jar and a plastic ruler.

I would say the odds are that the two gauges that agree with each other are somewhere close to accurate. The one that's hard to read is badly made; a scientific instrument has to be readable. And the fourth, which seems to be "totally out of line" is most likely just badly calibrated.

When you lift the veil of mystery - and all the fancy technology - the truth is that measuring rainfall is pretty simple. Real meteorologists assure me that an inch of rain really means an inch of rain. So it doesn't really matter whether your gauge is a beer glass or a kiddie pool. So long as the sides are vertical and the bottom is flat, if the clouds drop an inch of rain on the yard, you should get an inch of rain everywhere.

Professional instruments, of course, are usually far more complicated. The "standard" gauge used by the weather service - invented over a century ago - is a cylinder 20 centimeters (almost 8 inches) wide at the mouth. It's actually a funnel that sends the raindrops into an inner cylinder that is 50 cm tall. Its cross-sectional area is exactly one-tenth that of the mouth of the collecting funnel. But it's not as arcane as it sounds. By concentrating the collection area in the inner tube, forecasters can stretch or exaggerate the vertical dimension of the accumulated rain. That lets them measure the depth more precisely with a specially calibrated scale - usually to the nearest 1/100th of an inch.

The gauge on my WeatherDeck is a "tipping bucket" instrument. The rain from the funnel-like collector drips into a little bucket inside the contraption. When the bucket fills and gets heavy enough with the accumulated rain water, it tips like a seesaw, dumps its water and brings the second bucket under the funnel. The cycle repeats as long as it rains. Each tipping action sends a wireless electronic signal, which registers as 0.01 inch of rain on the console in the house. A hundred tips equals an inch of rain.

But there's no need for most of us to invest in that kind of instrument. There are well-made rain gauges on the market that are simple plastic cylinders with carefully calibrated measurements on the outside. An inch of rain fills the cylinder to the one-inch mark.

Your options would seem to be these: Fill the one you can't read with water and stick a flower in it. Throw the outlier away. And use one or both of the two that agree. We'll assume that if two inexpensive gauges agree, there's at least a chance that someone at the factories got it right.

Or, if you need a rain gauge for some serious purpose, throw them all away and invest in a good instrument. One place to start looking would be Ambient Weather, which offers gauges from a variety of manufacturers on line. Prices seem to range from about $10 to $35.  But look around. And this time, don't go "cheapy."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:17 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Ask Mr. Weatherblogger

June 21, 2006

Hot Thursday, then showery

The National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va. is warning of high heat index readings tomorrow as winds from the southwest begin pumping more humidity into the region. That means anyone working outdoors, or stuck inside with no air conditioning, could encounter some dangerous overheating from the combined effects of heat and humidity. New to Baltimore? You're gonna love this weather.

They're expecting this "misery index" to climb into the high 90s, particularly in the "heat islands" of downtown Baltimore and Washington. The actual forecast high isn't that bad - 92 degrees at BWI-Marshall. That's only a shade warmer than today's high of 91 at BWI.

But after that - actually by late in the day Thursday - the rain chances begin to climb as the threat of showers and thunderstorms increases. That threat will bump to 50 percent for the weekend and beyond. We could have a real active few days. But the daytime temperatures will moderate - falling to the 70s by Sunday.

I remember when we first moved to Baltimore - from Massachusetts - in June 1980, the first several weeks we were here it seemed like we had thunderstorms virtually every day. We thought we had moved to the Amazon. Thunderstorms are amazing, and beautiful ... provided nothing heavy, or electric, strikes your house.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:56 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts

Tuesday fireball report

Glenn Simeral reports seeing a bright meteor, low in the southern sky, Tuesday evening. He doesn't say where he was, but I'll assume it was somewhere in the Baltimore area. (Glenn? Can you fill us in?) Here's his report:

"At 9:30 p.m. 6/20, I observed a very large ball of fire streaking in the southern sky from left to right and quite low on the horizon. It was indeed an awesome sight and a bit frightening since from my perspective it looked like it would collide with the earth not too far away. I'm sure whatever it was must have been a long way out there, but it sure looked like 'Star wars' from where I stood. Nothing in the Sun today about it. Can you identify this?"

First, I'll ask anyone else who happened to see this object to leave a comment. Please describe where you were, in which direction you were looking, which way the meteor was moving, how long it remained visible and whether it left a persistent "train" 0 a sort of sparkly trail in its wake. With enough reports, we could triangulate a little bit and get a better idea of where this object really was. (If it appear low in the south both from Baltimore and Richmond, for example, we can be assured it was quite high and far away.)

These objects are most often referred to as "fireballs."  They're really just meteors, but larger and brighter than the run-of-the-mill variety that can be seen on almost any night, streaking across the sky. The fireballs, being larger chunks of rock or metal, glow more brightly and longer as they burn up in the atmosphere, and often last for several seconds. Sometimes they appear to disappear behind a tree line or buildings. They're VERY cool and invariably leave observers thrilled and wondering whether they might have landed in a nearby field, or just over the hill. (Anyone remember the short-lived "Glen Burnie Meteor" story?)

Almost always these objects are much farther away, and far higher in the atmosphere than they look. And they almost invariably burn up high in the atmosphere. If they're big enough to crash to Earth, you can expect them to light up the night and even cast a shadow.

As for identifying it, I can't. We are at the tail end of the June Lyrid meteor shower, which runs roughly from June 16 to 21. But Glenn's description doesn't make it sound like the meteor appeared to radiate from the constellation Lyra (about halfway up the eastern sky at that time of night), as a well-behaved Lyrid meteor should.  And besides, the June Lyrids have been pretty dormant in recent years.

We're also approaching the start of the June Bootids, which appear between June 26 and July 2. But they've been quiet too, and it's really too early.

My best guess is that Glenn saw a "sporadic," meteor - one not associated with a particular shower or "radiant."  And I'm pretty confident it was NOT the International Space Station, which passed over Baltimore at about the same time last night, traveling from southwest to northeast over several minutes. That sounds quite different from what Glenn describes.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:30 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Sky Watching

Summer Solstice arrives

That's a relief. The mechanics of the solar system continued to function as designed today, and the sun reached its northernmost point above the celestial equator at 8:26 a.m.  That marks the Summer Solstice and the official start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere (and the start of winter below the equator). The event was marked at Stonehenge as it always has been. Or not.

But this date in many northern human traditions was marked as Midsummer's Day. And tonight would be celebrated as Midsummer's Night - the longest and brightest of the year. I can remember visiting friends in Sweden one summer during this week. We enjoyed a great dinner, and afterwords lingered over drinks and good conversation. Looking out the window we figured it was maybe 8:30 or 9 p.m. - not nearly time to leave our hosts in peace and go home.

But then I checked my watch. It was after midnight, and still light enough to sit outside and work a crossword puzzle. We drank up and excused ourselves.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:26 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

June 20, 2006

Waterspout today in O.C.

WJZ Television is reporting a waterspout during bad weather today in Ocean City. The O.C. Airport reported a thunderstorm in the area at the time.

The station, without attribution, says the twister swiped the (closed) beach at 14th street just after noon and tossed a lifeguard chair some 20 feet.

If you saw it, or better yet if you got a photo of it, leave a comment here or email me at and upload your picture to the "Readers Photos" feature at the bottom of the webpage. Thanks.

Waterspouts are akin to tornadoes, but they form under different conditions. To read more, click here. And here's a photo gallery. Waterspouts can even form on lakes, such as Lake Tahoe, in California's Sierras. Here's an amazing gallery of Tahoe spouts.

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

Skies look clear for Space Station flyover tonight

It's looking like the skies over Central Maryland should be clear enough for a good view of tonight's flyover by the International Space Station. It's among the best you'll see - bright and high overhead. No need for binoculars or telescopes, or even super-dark skies or low horizons. Just step outside at the right time, look up and wave to $100 billion of your tax dollars and the two loneliest astronauts on (or off) the planet. For details see the post below, or click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:47 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

Nice rain. Send more

Yesterday's storms and this morning's showers have done a nice job of watering the garden. Some locations received well over an inch of rain, along with some storm damage. But we're still in the hole on precipitation. A few streams in Central and Western Maryland are flowing at record lows (the bright red dots). And portions of the state remain in abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions. The forecast , for now, looks pretty dry through tomorrow. Then rain chances climb again late Thursday, rising to 50 percent by Saturday.

Here's a beautiful shot of the storm front as it pushed across Maryland yesterday. It was taken by NASA's Aqua Earth-observing satellite. Click on it, then click on the enlargement box.

The heaviest rains fell on instruments in Fells Point, and the Hillsmere and Owings Beach sections of Anne Arundel County. Parts of Prince George's also saw more than an inch. Officially, the storms delivered less than a quarter inch - the 0.22 inch recorded at BWI-Marshall Airport. I had just 0.12 inch on the WeatherDeck in my back yard in Cockeysville.

But Howard County - at least where the rain is measured - was largely skipped over. Seneca Creek, in Dawsonville, Montgomery County, is continuing to run at a record low flow for the date this morning.

Among those flowing at very low rates, but not at record levels, are the Cranberry Branch, in Westminster; the Monocacy River at Jug Bridge near Frederick; and the Potomac at Point of Rocks, in Frederick County.

The new Drought Monitor map will be out Thursday morning. But the old one, dated June 13, still shows moderate drought in portions of the state.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:34 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

June 19, 2006

A rainfall lottery

This afternoon's shower brought more than inch of rain to one recording station in Baltimore. But it was a hit or miss event. Here's the data. The "Caroline" rain gauge - located at the foot of Caroline Street in Fells Point - recorded 1.26 inches of rain during the storm, which produced heavy rain but only briefly. Other stations around the region saw far less - from zero to three-quarters of an inch. On radar, it looked like the heaviest rain was directly over downtown Baltimore and Washington.

Officially, the NWS rain gauge at BWI-Marshall, at last check, saw just 0.16 inch. For an update, click here.

The weather service is reporting a 63-mph wind gust at Andrews Air Force Base, in Prince George's County just before 5 p.m.  Forecasters also have backpedaled on the rain chances for the week. Tuesday now looks rain-free.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

Space station flyover Tuesday

This close to the summer solstice, the sun is shining all day on the high arctic. It's also shining more on the International Space Station as it flies along the northernmost segments of its orbit around the Earth. And that means the station is visible here more frequently - nearly every night this week. But the best of the bunch will occur Tuesday evening, provided the skies remain clear enough.

Actually, there was a terrific pass Sunday night around 9:33 p.m. The station came barreling out of the southwest, glowing brightly with the slightly coppery color of its solar panels. It passed the end of the handle of the Big Dipper, and soared off toward the northeast. And I was kicking myself for not posting a notice about it. Missed it completely. I only managed to see it because I spotted another satellite as I was locking the car, and went to my Starry Night program to try to identify it. That's when I noticed the International Space Station was due to fly over RIGHT THEN. I raced outside again (in my socks) and there it was.

So to make amends, here are the specs on Tuesday's flyover, with plenty of time to prepare, and to pray for clear-enough skies.

The pass will be almost identical to Sunday's. The station will appear above the southwest horizon at about 8:59 p.m. Look for a bright, moving star-like object. If it blinks or includes multiple, colored lights, it's an airplane. Keep looking. Take the kids. They have better eyes. Make it a contest - tell them whoever spots the ISS first gets a telescope for Christmas. Or a cookie. Your choice.

The station will fly toward the northeast, passing almost directly over Baltimore at 9:01 p.m. It will pass by the last star of the handle of the Big Dipper, and past Deneb, at the north end of the Summer Triangle, before disappearing above the northeast horizon at 9:04 p.m.

You can get flyover predictions for your location at Heavens Above. Just "Select" your location from their database, click on "ISS", and the program will display all your upcoming opportunities to see the station. There are also sky charts and loads of other cool stuff.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

Some needed rain this week

The chances aren't high, but forecasters are keeping rain and thunderstorms in the forecast for nearly the entire week ahead. Only Wednesday holds no chance for precipitation for now. And that's fine. We need it. We are nearly an inch short of rainfall so far in June alone, and more than 7 inches below average for the calendar year to date. Parts of Central Maryland are in moderate drought conditions, and some streams are flowing at record lows for this time of year.

March saw record low precipitation - just 0.18 inch. And May dropped just 1.6 inches. In fact, only January (+0.01 inch) and April (+0.28 inch) have delivered surplus precipitation this year, and precious little of it.

Maybe our rain was mistakenly shipped to Houston. Look at this rainfall at that city's airport: click here. Some spots got more than 10 inches of rain this morning.

The recent hot weather here has only quickened the pace of evaporation from the soil. Yesterday's high of 95 degrees at BWI-Marshall was just 2 degrees short of the record high of 97 degrees last reached in 1957.  Here's a gorgeous view of the Northeast, including Maryland, shot by NASA's Terra Earth Observing satellite. It's not dated, but was likely snapped yesterday. Click on the photo, then on the enlargment box when it appears in the lower right-hand corner. Wow.

The rest of the week will see highs in the upper 80s to 90 degrees, and lows in the 60s. A little rain would go a long way.

Today's relief, such as it is, will arrive behind a front leading slightly cooler, drier air into the region. The clash of cool-and-dry air with the warm, humid stuff we've steeped in all weekend could mean hit-and-miss thunderstorms in the afternoon and evening. Some could be strong, with high winds and localized downpours. Welcome it.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:00 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts

June 18, 2006

Week's hottest weather today

If you can make it through today, the rest of the week should be easier. Forecasters say today's high of around 93 degrees in Baltimore looks like the warmest we'll see for the balance of the week, although not by much. And today will be plenty hot enough for special care if you're planning to be outdoors. Here's the special weather statement issued earlier today.

Tomorrow and Tuesday will bring a weak cold front through the region, cutting off some of the sunshine and offering a chance for some cooling thundershowers. The highs will slip into the upper 80s to near 90 - not much relief, but it helps.

Hot as it is this Father's Day weekend, we have not been in record territory. The record high for June 17th was 96 degrees, set back in 1939. Here is a nifty satellite image of the region, snapped Saturday by one of NASA's Earth-Observing Satellites. With all that sunshine we made it to 90 degrees at BWI-Marshall.

Today's record is 97 degrees, reached in several years, including 1957. Dulles, where records don't go back as far, has a better shot at breaking into new territory today. The record there is just 93 degrees, set in 1993.

UPDATE: The mercury reached 94 degrees Sunday ay Dulles International Airport, breaking the 93-degree record set there in 1993.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:54 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts

Space junk smacks car in Poland

Rain, sleet, snow, hail ... we can handle it all. But when chunks of spacecraft fall from the sky, it's another matter. Residents of Poland heard a whizzing sound in the sky just before (what was identified as) space junk crashed into some poor guy's car. Here are pictures of the results. If anyone out there can translate the Polish text, please post it here as a comment.

But tell me, how bad does your luck have to be to have your car - of all the square footage on the planet - become the bulls-eye for falling space debris?  And how lucky do you have to be to be somewhere else when it strikes?

UPDATE: A member of the Polish Fireball Network has reported to the "Meteorobs" message group that the "space junk" was not space junk, but part of an old Russian Katyusha ground-to-ground rocket. Somebody must have been playing with a souvenir from the old days. Never mind.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 16, 2006

Perfect, then haawwt

Took the day off today, and boy am I glad. It's a perfect 82 degrees on the Weatherdeck in Cockeysville. Humidity is an amazing 28 percent. The sky is, well, sky-blue. And the stargazing tonight should be just fine.

But there's some really hot weather on the way. The forecasters in Sterling say we're looking at the low 90s for the weekend. That's about 10 degrees above normal, but well below the records for this time of year. Still five days before the official start of summer, but the forecasters are tagging this for what it is:


Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:02 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

June 15, 2006

New problem for La.: drought

Less than a year after torrential rain and storm surge inundated much of southern Louisiana and coastal Mississippi, the region is struggling with an ironic new plague: drought, or more precisely, extreme drought. The months since Katrina have been among the driest stretches the area has ever recorded. Read more here.  Here's the drought map.  It's so bad some people have begun wishing for a nice, small tropical storm.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:13 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Drought

Can you find Mercury?

Now that skies have cleared and it looks like we're set for several clear nights ahead, it's a great opportunity for backyard stargazers to put another planet - and maybe four - under their belts. Be sure to take the kids.

If you've never seen Mercury - the most elusive of the naked-eye planets - now is about as good a chance as you'll get this year - at least without having to rip yourself out of bed before sunrise on a cold November day. The nearest planet to the sun, Mercury is approaching what astronomers call its greatest eastern "elongation," on June 20.

It's pretty simple: Mercury orbits so close to the sun - one-third of Earth's distance from old Sol - that from our perspective it always appears near the sun. The problem is, you can't see it because of the sun's glare - it's daylight, after all. So, stargazers wait until Mercury's orbit carries it as far as possible from the sun, to one side or the other, then look for it just after sunset, or just before sunrise, when the sun's thermonuclear "fires" are hidden below the horizon.

Right now, Mercury is nearing it's farthest distance (elongation) east of the sun, which means it sets after the sun goes down. And it remains visible for a time, low in the western sky, after the sun has set and skies have darkened.

Look for it this week and next, beginning about 20 minutes after sunset, which is now at about 8:30 p.m. EDT. Mercury will appear as star-like point of light, just a bit to the right of due west, and about 12 degrees above the horizon (the width of your fist held at arm's length). If it's not too hazy or smoggy, the tiny planet should be easily visible to folks with good eyesight. But binoculars may help. The best times to look will be before Tuesday, the 20th. It will fade away quickly after that.

As you're searching, it's fun to realize that NASA's Messenger mission, designed, built and controlled by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab here in Maryland, is en route to orbit and study Mercury beginning in 2011.

Just above Mercury, twinkling side by side and slightly to the right, are Castor and Pollux, two stars that represent the "heads" of the twins in the constellation Gemini. Don't confuse them with brighter Mercury.

To the left of Mercury, and a bit higher this weekend, you can also find Saturn and Mars - also the objects of ongoing orbital missions. NASA's Cassini mission is still orbiting Saturn, and has also put a lander on the surface of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The space agency also has several orbiters circing Mars, and still has two hardy rovers prowling the surface.

Mars and Saturn are separated by vast distances, of course. But from Earth's perspective this week they appear to be extraordinarily close together, barely a half-degree apart on Saturday evening. That's yellowish Saturn just below and to the left of reddish Mars. Binoculars will definitely help with this pairing. You can see them change their relative positions from night to night as they - and the Earth - follow their separate orbits.

Finally, this month is a great time to see giant Jupiter, blazing in the southeastern sky in the evening. It's the brightest star in the sky. You can't miss it. With decent binoculars and a steady hand, you should be able to make out as many as four or Jupiter's moons, lined up on either side of the planet.

If you spot all four planets, and add in the Earth, you will have seen all of the naked-eye planets except Venus (now in the morning sky before dawn) - in just one evening ! Nice going, space cadets !

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:57 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Sky Watching

Beautiful, but warming up

With Alberto's remnants pulling away, the back-draft is pulling in clear, dry air surrounding a high-pressure system over the Great Lakes. That means a breezy day today, and a promise of a gorgeous weekend ahead. Temperatures will be in the 80s, even the upper 80s, but sinking back into the 60s overnight.

The daytime skies will be sunny, and the nights should be fine for stargazing. More on that shortly.

The Baltimore region escaped the heavy rains that followed Alberto's remains up the coast. Instruments at BWI-Marshall Airport clocked just 0.01 inch Wednesday evening. But it was a wet day to our south and east. Ocean City Airport saw 1.52 inches. Salisbury has just 0.87 inch.

Down in Virginia Beach, the Oceana Naval Air Station reported 4.31 inches, most of that falling during a four-hour period in the afternoon. It was coming down at nearly three-quarters of an inch per hour, on average.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:51 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Forecasts

June 14, 2006

Alberto's rain stays south

There's still a chance of rain or thundershowers in our forecast this afternoon, but the worst of Alberto's remnants are hanging just south of our region, affecting mainly southern Maryland and the lower Eastern Shore. The northeast radar loop shows it pretty well.

Flooding remains a concern to our south, in Virginia and North Carolina, where some flood watches and warnings have been posted by the Wakefield, Va. forecast office. Here's their radar loop.

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency, flexing its storm-monitoring mechanisms, has issued an "executive summary" for Alberto. There's no real news here for Marylanders, only a hint at what we might expect when (not if) a significant storm threatens the state. Here's what MEMA had to say this morning:

"At 5 a.m. on Wednesday, June 14, 2006, all tropical storm warnings have been discontinued. Tropical Storm Alberto is weakening to a tropical depression over South Carolina.

"The Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) is operating at Level One (green). The Maryland Joint Operations Center monitoring the storm track.

"Tropical Storm Alberto Status  "At 5 a.m., the center of Tropical Depression Alberto was located about 35 miles south-southeast of Columbia, South Carolina. The depression was moving toward the northeast at about 21 MPH. An increase in forward speed is expected over the next 24 hours. Maximum sustained winds are near 35 MPH with some higher gusts. Alberto is expected to lose its tropical characteristics later this morning, although some re-strengthening is possible during its transition to an extra-tropical cyclone.  Rainfall amounts of 2-4 inches with some possible isolated areas of 6 inches are possible through this evening for central and southeastern Virginia. Coastal storm surge will subside today. Isolated tornadoes are possible over north coastal South Carolina and southeastern North Carolina today."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

Trouble sleeping-in today?

If the dawn seemed to come way too early this morning (I know I was awake at 5:30, listening to way too many birds), it should come as no surprise. Today's sunrise was the earliest of the year, coming at 5:39 a.m. EDT in Baltimore. From here on, mercifully, the sun will rise a bit later each day, until the latest sunrise occurs on Jan. 5, at 7:27 a.m. EST.

Today's celestial milestone will be followed on June 21 by the longest day, and on the 27th by the latest sunset (8:37 p.m.) It's the 27th that will seem like the longest day to most people. That's because most of us never witness the sunrise, but many of us are outdoors for summer sunsets.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

Moon takes it on the chin

Everybody knows the moon gets pelted by meteoroids. Craters everywhere on the lunar surface testify to 4 billion years of bombardment. But it's rare that a hit is actually photographed. On May 2, NASA astronomers monitoring the moon for strikes captured a fraction-of-a-second flash that signaled the impact of a rock estimated at 10 inches in diameter. It wasn't the first one captured on film, or video. But it was easily the best.

The object of the surveillance is to accumulate strike data that will help NASA plan for the arrival on the moon of the next wave of human visitors - and the first long-term residents. How often can they expect to be dodging rocks from space? What can they do to protect themselves?

On Earth, a 10-inch meteor would burn up in the atmosphere, putting on a spectacular light show for star-gazers, but vaporizing before ever reaching the surface. But the moon has no atmosphere, so everything drawn in by the moon's gravity will reach the surface - at speeds of tens of thousands of miles per hour.

So far, the evidence would seem to suggest that meteor strikes are pretty common. Astronomers observing last Nov. 7 spotted an impact during the first night of a test run with their telescope. On May 2, they photographed another within just 20 hours of observation.

Here's Bill Cooke, of the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, talking about that November strike and its significance to the future of lunar exploration. He believes something like 250 rocks weighing 8 pounds or more strike the moon every year.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

June 13, 2006

Maryland will dodge Alberto flooding

The remnants of tropical storm Alberto appear unlikely to cause any serious problem for our region. Although the predicted 4 to 8 inches (or more) of rain will pose flood threats to coastal regions of Georgia and the Carolinas, the storm seems to be aiming to depart through the Outer Banks and head for the Maritime Provinces. Forecasters put our chances for showers and thunder storms Wednesday at 40 percent, with greater chances for more rain in southern Maryland and the Shore.

Here's AccuWeather's take on where the serious rain will fall. The satellite loop shows that the first fringes of cloudiness from the system have swept across parts of Maryland today. Here's the forecast  for Bawlmer. Once this rain threat is past, we're in the clear well into next week.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

London broils in June heat

Londoners have been basking in record-breaking summer heat of late. It was 87 degrees yesterday - a scorcher by UK standards, and the hottest June 12 since 1897. News reports have the sweltering Brits clearing the shelves of barbecue staples, beer and ice cream as they cool off and enjoy the unusual weather. And there was a lot of "suncream" spread on that pasty English skin.

Cooler weather is due today.

Meantime, those of us here on Thames Street and out in Westminster are enjoying unusually cool June weather. We're running at an average of 69 degrees so far this month - almost 3 degrees below average for June.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

Alberto off Md. coast by Thursday


Earlier: Whatever remains of Tropical Storm Alberto after its landfall today in northern Florida, and its anticipated trek across Georgia and the Carolinas tomorrow, is expected to emerge off the Atlantic coast sometime on Wednesday. That will place it off Maryland's beaches late Wednesday and early Thursday as it accelerates toward the Canadian maritime provinces.

For now, the National Hurricane Center projects the storm will weaken to a tropical depression later today as it passes over land. But it's expected to regain tropical storm strength (39 -73 mph) once it moves over water again.

Forecasters expect our skies will become more cloudy, with rain chances increasing Wednesday and Thursday as the northern edges of Alberto's moisture combine with weather patterns approaching from the Ohio valley. But it doesn't appear we'll see much weather here to write home about.

Ocean City forecasts show a stronger chance for rain Wednesday and Thursday, but it's nothing to worry about. Looks like a movie day for the kids.

The mid- and lower-bay could see small craft warnings, but even that doesn't appear to be certain. Here's a bit of the marine weather discussion this morning:



Here is the latest Alberto advisory. Here is the looped view from space. And here's an interesting site, with an estimate of what's at stake for Florida during this storm.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:54 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Hurricanes

June 12, 2006

Tropical storm warnings up on Atlantic coast

Alberto remains a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, with top sustained winds near 70 mph. But forecasters say it still could reach hurricane force by the time it makes landfall on Tuesday. In the meantime, tropical storm warnings have been posted on the Atlantic Coast, from Flagler Beach, Fla. to the Savannah River - on the Georgia/South Carolina border.

That's in anticipation that the storm will cross from the Gulf to the Atlantic. But the storm's track is now expected to carry it inland and northeastward parallel to, but just west of the Georgia and Carolina coastline. That seems likely to weaken the storm's winds after landfall, and limit the threat to the beaches. But it would increase the danger of inland flooding. And freshwater flooding is the biggest killer in hurricanes and tropical storms.

Here's the latest advisory. Here's the view from space. And here's the forecast storm track, which suggest that whatever remains of Alberto will move off the coast from the Outer Banks.

Alberto's impact may be limited by very dry air immediately to its west. In fact, this satellite loop reveals where the greatest amounts of water vapor associated with the storm are located. It looks like most of it has already gone ashore.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

Merrill sailed into stiff breezes

We may never know precisely what caused Capital-Gazette Publisher Phil Merrill's disappearance from his sailboat during his solo outing on Saturday. But weather data technology can help fill in some of the blanks. The Thomas Point Light weather buoy, located just south of the mouth of the Severn River, recorded the winds, air temperature and water temperature in the area.

Merrill, an experienced sailor, reportedly left his private dock on the Severn, in Arnold, around 2 p.m. He was alone, and sailed despite a small craft advisory issued at 4:22 p.m. Friday, and in effect throughout the day Saturday. The advisory meant boaters could expect sustained winds of 18 to 33 knots (20 to 38 mph) and 4-foot seas. While Merrill's sailboat was 41 feet long, there is no legal definition for "small craft" targeted by small craft advisories.

The data suggest that Merrill sailed into the windiest part of the day, but wind conditions - at least at the weather buoy's location - never reached small-craft advisory criteria. After a morning with sustained winds between 5 and 10 mph, the breezes picked up around noon, and blew between 10 and 13 mph throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Instruments atop the buoy recorded gusts as high as 14 mph around 5 p.m.

The weather station does not record wave heights.

Whether he became ill, stumbled and fell, or was knocked into the water by a swinging boom, Merrill evidently found himself in the water. The weather buoy recorded the air temperatures Saturday afternoon between 62 and 66 degrees. The water was actually warmer - between 69 and 71 degrees. But it's not likely Merrill, 72, could have survived for many hours treading water in the bay before hypothermia and exhaustion would have claimed him. Friends reported that Merrill did not customarily wear a life vest while sailing.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

Video: 27 storms in 5 minutes

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center has produced a fascinating video from 2005 Atlantic hurricane season data that recaps the record-smashing six-plus months of storms. It features a speeded-up satellite view of the entire season, tracking each storm as it forms over an overheated ocean, steams toward shore or wanders aimlessly at sea, and then dissipates.

It's very similar to the Science on a Sphere exhibits at the Maryland Science Center and the Goddard visitors center. Nice musical background, too. To watch it, click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricane background

Alberto's strength surprises

Tropical Storm Alberto, the first named storm of the 2006 season, is showing surprising strength in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Unexpectedly, forecasters say it could becomes the first hurricane of the young season. Top sustained winds are now near 70 mph.

Here's a very cool satellite loop of the water vapor Alberto is packing. And here's a nice real-color image from a NASA Earth-observing satellite, taken Sunday. Click on the picture, and then the enlargement box.

I can't help noting that if Alberto does become a hurricane, it will be weeks earlier than the date of the first hurricane of last year's record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season. That was Hurricane Cindy, born on July 3, 2005.

Here's how the forecast looks in Tampa. Hurricane warnings have been issued from Longboat Key (south of Tampa) to the Ochlockonee River, east of Apalachicola. Here's the breakpoint map.

Born late last week in the western Caribbean, the storm became a tropical depression (TD-1)Saturday, and a named tropical storm at 11 a.m. Sunday. Now cruising north and east across the Gulf, soaking the west coast of Florida (which actually can use a good soaking, that is unless your house is still under a roof damaged in the 2004 storms, and you still rely on a blue tarp to keep you dry).

Forecasters say the storm has received a boost from the "loop current" - a pool of warmer water in the Gulf. As it moves off that region, that source of added energy will no longer be available, so they don't anticipate further strengthening. But they're being cautious. Here's some of their chatter:


Alberto is forecast to cross the peninsula and enter the Atlantic, then track north and east up the coastline. There's no expectation of a significant impact in the Baltimore region. With Alberto tracking offshore, up the coast, whatever rain and wind we see would be mostly on the Eastern Shore. Here's a bit of this morning's discussion from the NWS forecast office in Wakefield, Va., which covers the lower Shore:


Here is the latest advisory on Alberto. Here is the view from space. And here is the predicted storm track.

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

June 10, 2006

Season's first tropical threat

The first tropical depression of the season has formed in the Caribbean, and forecasters are already looking at its potential to affect the East Coast, and the Bay, by mid-week. The storm is expected to become the first tropical storm of the season - Alberto. Western Cuba could see 10 to 20 inches of rain, and parts of Florida could see 4 to 8 inches.

The storm is predicted to cross the Florida peninsula and ride up the East Coast. Forecasters at Sterling are watching for some impact in our region.

Here is the current advisory. Here is the view from space. And here is the storm track. We're off and running.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

June 9, 2006

Edge-on galaxy is Hubble's latest

Imagine a huge dinner plate, spinning in space, and exactly edge-on as seen from our perspective. That's not a bad description for NGC 5866, a disk galaxy 44 million light years from Earth and a target last fall of the Hubble Space Telescope. The Hubble folks have just released a striking image of the object, glowing with the light of billions of stars, and streaked by dark trails of opaque dust.

Here's the photo. And here's the news release with more versions of the same image.

NGC 5866 - also known as the Lenticular, or Spindle Galaxy - is about two-thirds the size of our own Milky Way Galaxy. Light from a star at one edge of the disk would take 60,000 years to make the trip to the opposite edge. The galaxy is visible - in telescopes - in the constellation Draco (the Dragon), just east of the handle of the Big Dipper.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

We spoke too soon; tropics stirring

Hurricane forecasters are watching an area of stormy weather in the western Caribbean that shows signs that it could develop into the season's first tropical storm. It's boiling up north of Honduras and east of Belize, in the same region where last year's first storm - Arlene - first appeared, on June 8.

Here's a bit of today's tropical discussion:


Here's what it looks like from space. If the storm gets itself organized, and reaches tropical storm strength, it will become Tropical Storm Alberto.

And here is the name list for 2006. You look at these lists in June and you have to wonder: Which of these names will become household words by August or September, and which will have to be retired because of the damage and death they cause? Will it be Debby?  Isaac?  Sandy? You could make book on it. Come to think of it, somebody probably is.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

June 8, 2006

Storms starting later than 2005

OK, so we're ahead of the game, at least so far. On this date last year, meteorologists were already tracking what would become Arlene, the season's first tropical storm in the Atlantic basin. For now, the tropics remain mercifully quiet. Here's a satellite view of the Gulf and the Caribbean and part of the Atlantic.

Arlene was born June 8, 2005 in the western Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Honduras. On June 9th it reached tropical storm strength and received its name. It crossed over western Cuba and headed north across the Gulf of Mexico. About halfway across the gulf it reached its maximum strength, with top winds of about 69 mph.

Arlene made landfall near Pensacola, Fla., with gusts as high as 59 mph. There was little property damage, but one fatality - a Russian exchange student caught in a rip tide at Miami Beach - was blamed on the storm.

What was left of Arlene continued north across Alabama, Tennessee and Illinois, finally merging with other weather systems and passing into hurricane history near Flint, Mich.

But the 2005 season was just getting wound up. Tropical Storm Brett was born on June 28 and became the second named storm. The first hurricane was Cindy, which arrived July 3. Before the season finally wheezed to a close - when Tropical Storm Zeta fell apart in the Atlantic on Jan. 6, 2006 !! - there would be 28 named Atlantic storms - an all-time record.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricane background

High tides for western shore

With the full moon approaching, it's a good time to be on the lookout for unusually high tides. And as it happens, with winds from the south earlier today driving water up into the bay and holding it there, high tides have indeed been running about a foot above predicted levels.

The NWS issued a coastal flood statement earlier today, warning of minor flooding in some spots along the western shore and on the tidal reaches of the Potomac River. And they're looking for even more water tomorrow morning as we get closer to Sunday's full moon. (The full moon in June is known as the Rose Moon, or the Strawberry Moon. Nice.)

Here's how the tides are running now in Baltimore. You can click on other stations, too. Pretty clear how much higher the observed tides have been in recent days that the predicted values.

Here are the upcoming high-tide times from the weather service:



Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Flooding

Nice weekend on tap

Having dodged a major rainstorm - it slipped off to our north and east - and still in the shelter of a cool front to our south, Marylanders can look forward to a seasonably cool and sunny weekend. Forecasters at the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va. are expecting highs this weekend in the 70s, and great sleeping weather, with lows in the 50s - all a few degrees below normal for this time of year.

So we can keep those windows open and the air conditioners silent. Set aside your cooling pennies for the depths of summer, after BGE's electric rates jump.

In the meantime, New Englanders are adding up the rainfall totals for this storm and those that preceded it, and it's all pretty impressive. For details from AccuWeather, click here. We really dodged a very wet bullet.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:59 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

June 7, 2006

A rare June nor'easter

That coastal storm - a rare June nor'easter - is pushing its showers back in our direction - from the northeast. You can see the edge of it well on local radar, and the big picture is visible - and dramatic - on the northeast loop. Not clear that it will reach Baltimore before the storm moves away, but it's a possibility. Meantime, looks like a rainy day in New Haven, Conn.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

Hurricane masterpiece

Slate has reprinted (with permission) a classic piece of hurricane journalism. David Von Drehle's 1989 story, for the Miami Herald, from the eye of Hurricane Hugo, is a great read. The author has since moved on to the Washington Post. Scroll down through Jack Shafer's column to find Von Drehle's dispatch from disaster.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

Haboob sweeps Phoenix

Haboob?  OK, it was a new one on me, too. But it's apparently a familiar term in Arizona. Haboob is an Arabic word for sandstorm, and that's what swept through Phoenix yesterday as a wind front swept up desert dust and pushed it across the region. It darkened skies and stung anyone caught outside. 

CNN today ran some very cool footage on the storm. On the main CNN web page, look for the "Watch free video" feature, then click on the "more most watched video" link, and scroll down to "Miles of a Cloud of dust." If you can't find it, try one of the other pages (there are four; just click on the number "2" above the list). Arizona TV station KPNX also had video on their website. If you can get it to download, you're way ahead of me.

The pictures reminded me of black and white images of dust storms during the Dust Bowl days on the Great Plains.

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

June 6, 2006

This is odd; T-storms from the east

The National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling is advising that showers and thunderstorms are possible tonight, but not from the usual direction. These are approaching mostly from the east or even northeast, instead of the west.

You can blame the storm system developing off the Carolina coast. It's spinning counterclockwise, like a tropical storm or a nor'easter, throwing wind and moisture onto the shore on its north side.

Once the storm moves up the coast, we'll still be stuck in the same unsettled weather pattern, with slugs of hit-or-miss showers arriving from the north and moving through the region until things finally dry out for the weekend. I dunno. Looks fine outside my window. I'll take this over hot-and-humid anytime.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

"Unsettled," but very nice

They're calling this "unsettled" weather, not that there's anything wrong with that. Sure, there's a low-pressure system developing off the Carolina coast. And there's a lot of moisture that's skidding into the region off that low, which means a slight risk of showers or thunderstorms each day.

But there's also a good deal of dry air rushing in from the north, keeping temperatures pleasant enough - in the near-normal 70s to low 80s - for the next few days. The mix leaves us with some sun, some clouds, some morning fog. On the other hand, it's not 90 degrees and humid. So we'll take it and enjoy.

In the meantime, the coastal low appears headed for New England, which probably doesn't need another big rainstorm.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

June 5, 2006

That sinking feeling in NOLA

Everybody knows that New Orleans, La. - and its levees - are sinking. Now, thanks to Canada's RADARSAT, we know precisely where they're sinking and how much. Just in time for the new hurricane season, which threatens to overwhelm the city's battered defenses once again.

This satellite has been bouncing radar signals off the city's intersections and rooftops for years. By comparing the signals' return times to the satellite, the technology can measure minute changes in elevation over time. The greatest changes are represented on this image by the yellow and red colors.

In this case, scientists found that much of the city sank about 8 millimeters (0.31 inch) per year between April 2002 and July 2005. Some of the biggest numbers came along the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet canal, one of those where levees were over-topped during Katrina's storm surge last August, and in the eastern sections of the city - the ones most affected by the flooding.

The recent rates of subsidence are thought to be much slower than in the years right after the levees were built. So, earthworks designed to be, say 17 feet above mean global sea level, over the years sink to be 13 or 14 feet above. If they're not constantly monitored and raised, their protective value diminishes.

"An ounce of prevention ... "  - a maxim too often ignored by government budgeteers.  Or, maybe the notion that we can hold back the sea forever, and maintain a modern city in the swamps of southern Louisiana, is simple hubris.  Anyone?

In the meantime, another tropical depression - the second of this young season in the eastern Pacific - has formed and dissipated off the coast of Mexico, just a hop and a skip from the Caribbean. And waters in the Caribbean and the Gulf are warming up - the precondition for early storms there.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

June 2, 2006

Caribbean eruption continues

The eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Monserrat continues, and NASA's Earth-observing Terra satellite today captured the ash plume rising from the crater.

Vacationers rarely think of the Islands as hot-spots of volcanic and seismic activity, but they are. They're perched along the boundary of two of the Earth's crustal plates, much like the "Ring of Fire" that surrounds the Pacific Basin. Eruption of Mt. Pelee on the French island of Martinique killed something like 28,000 people in 1902. Only two are known to have survived. And quake-driven tsunamis have struck Puerto Rico (1918) and the Virgin Islands in 1867.

Small quakes have rattled Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands 14 times in the past three days.

So go easy on the rum punch. You never know when you'll have to get up and run for your life.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

Storms batter; more coming

Torrential rains, flash flooding, damaging winds, fires due to lightning strikes. Thunderstorms last evening sure got our attention, and there's more on the way. Here are the storm reports posted by the National Weather Service. Here's The Sun's story from this morning's paper. The storms probably played a role in power outages at several area schools this morning. Here's the latest from BGE on the outage repairs.

The airport saw almost a quarter-inch of rain from the storms. Other spots saw far more. We had about 0.40 inch on the Weather Deck in Cockeysville. Annapolis clocked about three-quarters of an inch at the Naval Academy. Fullerton takes the prize on this tally, with more than 3 inches.

The WeatherBlog welcomes your reports.

As for today, more storms threaten as the slow-moving cold front approaches. Flash flood watches have been issued for most of the Baltimore region. Here is part of the forecast discussion from Sterling:


Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:59 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Forecasts

June 1, 2006

No hurricane, but Texas floods

A slow-moving storm system that briefly showed some signs of developing tropical characteristics has instead dropped as much as a foot of rain on parts of coastal Texas. There are reports of flash flooding near Corpus Christi. Here's the 24-hour rainfall accumulation map. Wow. Here's the satellite loop showing the Gulf as the system finally began to break up.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May ends dry

May wrapped up overnight by adding another 2-plus inches to the precipitation deficit in 2006. But the hot weather of the last few days managed to pull what had been a rather cool May back to the mean in the temperature column.

Only 1.6 inch of rain fell at BWI-Marshall last month. That was 2.29 inches short of the 30-year average. Add that to the 3.84-inch deficit through April (due mostly to the driest March on record) and we're 6 inches in the red. We may make some of that up today and tomorrow, as a slow-moving cool front from Canada promises to trigger thunderstorms and possibly heavy rains.

Unusually cool weather during the middle of the month had held average May temperatures below the norms. But the last six days made all of that up, with highs in the 80s and 90s. We ended the month at 63.3 degrees - almost a half-degree above the 30-year average for May at BWI.

The only significant precipitation all month was the 1-inch storm on the 11th. We've seen just 0.08 inch since mid-month.

The high temperature in May was 95 degrees, reached on Tuesday at the airport. That was 3 degrees short of the record for the date. The coldest May day this year was May 1, when the official thermometer reached 38 degrees.

Twenty-two days in May were rated as clear or partly cloudy. Nine were cloudy. The windiest day was Sunday May 14, with average winds at BWI of 13.3 mph. The strongest gust - 30 mph - came a week later, on Sunday, May 21.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

Rolling thunder tour

Forecasters seem pretty sure of themselves this morning, predicting fairly strong chances for thunderstorms today, tonight and tomorrow as we begin to shake off this hot, humid air mass and usher in a cold front with cooler, drier weather for the weekend.

Here's the forecast as it stands. The forecast discussion calls for "heavy rainers" today. Add up all the predicted rainfall maximums and you get 2 inches of precipitation over the next two days. Of course, we're not likely to get the max each day, in every location. These storms are notoriously spotty. But whatever falls will be welcome. We're 6 inches short on precipitation for the year.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:43 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts
Keep reading
Recent entries
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

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

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

Area Weather Stations
Resources and Sun coverage
• Weather news

• Readers' photos

• Data from the The Sun's weather station

• 2011 stargazers' calendar

• Become a backyard astronomer in five simple steps

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

• National Weather Service:
Sterling Forecast Office

• Capital Weather Gang:
Washington Post weather blog

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

• Weather Bug:
Webcams across the state

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

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

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

• Water data:
From the USGS, Maryland

• National Hurricane Center

• Air Now:
Government site for air quality information

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

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

• Clear Sky Clock:
Clear sky alerts for stargazers


• Hubblesite:
Home page for Hubble Space Telescope

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

• NASA Eclipse Home Page:
Centuries of eclipse predictions

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

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

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