Halloween spooks from space
Here's a Halloween treat from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
Here's a Halloween treat from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory.
Another gorgeous autumn day in Charm City. And the rest of the week looks like more of the same. Sort of. The caveat comes in the form of a cold front at mid-week, which will likely bring a shot of rain, and a downward shift in temperatures. In fact, Tuesday night's forecast low of 50 degrees looks a lot like the forecast highs for the weekend - in the low 50s.
Says the NWS: "ENJOY THE BRIEF INDIAN SUMMER...JUST IN CASE THIS IS THE ONLY ONE WE GET!"
In the meantime, however, we can look forward to glorious weather today and tomorrow, reaching 68 at BWI today, and a "let's-get-a-table-on-the-sidewalk" high of 75 tomorrow. You can thank the current of mild air blowing out of the Southwest. It's a good day - two days - to get outside with a rake and clean up the mess that fell during the high winds of the last few days.
Or not. If you can stall for two days, you'll buy a third. Tuesday night into Wednesday is the rain window. No raking in the rain and wet. But the sun returns after that, along with starry nights and cooler daytime highs in the 50s. Then, no more excuses.
By now lots of people have stepped outdoors to watch the International Space Station fly over. It's a remarkable sight - bright and star-like, and zipping across the dark sky just as the predictions forecast. But it remains just a spot of light. A little color perhaps, if the light hits the station's coppery solar panels just right. But it's too far away to show any details.
Through a telescope however - one aimed and programmed to track the ISS as it flies over - it's very different. Here's a video shot Friday by an amateur observer named Mike Tyrrell, from Great Britain. It shows about two minutes of the flyover, time-compressed to eight times its actual speed. Cool.
And here's a bonus: A telescopic shot of the crescent moon about to eclipse a crescent Venus, snapped in the daytime. Amazing.
The deep low-pressure system departing to our northeast continues to draw stiff winds around itself in a counter-clockwise direction. That's meant stiff northwest and west winds across our region. Winds gusted to 25 mph just before 4:30 p.m. Saturday here at The Sun, and to 45 mph in a less protected spot at BWI.
The winds will continue today, although they will diminish gradually, and shift a bit closer to the southwest and south. And that will keep temperatures pretty mild - close to 70 by Tuesday.
UPDATE: Here's a report on Cimaron's landfall.
A powerful typhoon - the Western Pacific equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane - is bearing down on the Philippines today, threatening significant damage and loss of life. They're calling it "Super Typhoon Cimaron," and it promises to make news around the world over the next few days. Here's more from AccuWeather. And here's the forecast for Manila.
Cimaron is currently spinning east of the Philippine island of Luzon, with top sustained winds of 161 mph, gusting to 195 mph. After landfall, the storm will lose much of its strength in the island's mountains, slowing to sustained winds of 109 mph, gusting to 132 - a strong Category 2 storm.
After crossing the Philippines, a weakened Cimaron is expected to cross the South China Sea and make landfall again late this week in Vietnam.
The powerful storm that's moving into the region tonight will bring not just rain, the weather service warns, but high winds. Gusts could blow to 60 mph. The combination - wet ground, leaves still lingering in the trees and high wind - will likely bring down a fair number of trees this weekend. That will likely mean more power outages, too. Here's the BGE outage counter.
With apologies to Bob Dylan, we're looking at as much as 2 inches of rain over the next 36 hours or so as a very strong and very wet low-pressure system moves in from the southwest today. The National Weather Service forecasters out at Sterling actually put the outside estimates at 2.75 inches.
If we get that much, it would push the total rainfall for October at BWI-Marshall to 6.24 inches. And that would be tied for the fourth-wettest October in Baltimore in more than 60 years. Here's AccuWeather's estimate.
Even so, we only need to look back a year to find an even wetter October - in fact, the wettest on record. The airport recorded 9.23 inches of rain in October 2005. Most of that - nearly 7 inches - came in just two days as the remnants of Tropical Storm Tammy swept the region, causing power outages, flooding and some evacuations.
The rain arrives after several beautiful autumn days, as the fall leaves reach their colorful climax. Here's how it looked from orbit.
The sky today is placid and blue - not much to write about. So here are some tidbits from far above the weather.
First, NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft were successfully launched last night from Cape Canaveral, placing two Maryland-built (Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Lab) experiments into space to- eventually - provide scientists with a stereoscopic view of events on the sun. The "space weather" data they return should give us some deeper insights into the physics of the solar storms that cause not only beautiful auroral displays, but also radio interference, satellite damage and geomagnetic storms on Earth.
Here is a film clip of last night's launch.
Also, one of NASA's extraordinary twin Mars rovers - Spirit - is marking its 1,000th day on the Red Planet - far longer than anyone expected these craft to survive. To note the occasion, the space agency has posted a very nice panoramic postcard from the Martian surface. You can find it here.
Finally, astronomers say Comet SWAN, which is currently in the evening sky, has had an outburst of dust and gas that has boosted its visibility from binoculars-or-telescopes-only to naked-eye brightness. I can't vouch for it because I haven't looked in a couple of weeks. (When I tried to find it early this month with binocs, I managed to spot a faint blur that was probably the comet, but it was pretty underwhelming.) Anyway, if you want to try to find it tonight, the forecast for stargazing is terrific. Here's more on the comet's exploits and how to find it.
Sure it's cool, and breezy. But skies will stay clear for today and tomorrow, delivering a pair of gorgeous autumn days. Enjoy them, because there's more rain in our future.
First, the good news. With that strong low-pressure system now over Maine, we remain in a spot where air circulating counter-clockwise around the backside of the low brings is cool, stiff breezes out of the west. There are gale warnings on the bay. We're clocking winds averaging around 7 mph at The Sun this morning, but with gusts to 17 mph.
By Friday, however, we'll be looking at more rain, including moisture from the remnants of Hurricane (now Tropical Storm) Paul, which is now coming ashore on the west coast of Mexico. Here's the latest advisory on Paul.
Beyond that, the forecasters think skies should clear up, offering up a nice weekend and a good start to next week.
It's a chill wind blowing out there today. We've been averaging 6 or 7 mph here at The Sun in the past few hours, with gusts to 23 mph and temperatures only in the upper 40s (that's 15 degrees below average for the date). But, at least for Maryland, this wind has been free of the lake-effect snow that points west and north have been reporting.
Two observers in West Virginia have reported white stuff on the ground this morning. I think this qualifies as the first measurable snowfall this season within the Sterling forecast office's jurisdiction. Here's a loop showing the last 31 days of snow cover across North America. Watch for the lake-effect snow around Buffalo.
You'll need a sweater or a jacket, but this should be a terrific week for getting outdoors and enjoying the fall colors. (Except for us desk jockeys, who must content ourselves with watching through glass as the street trees turn.) We're looking for sunny days in the 50s and starry nights in the 30s until Thursday - about 5 to 10 degrees below the long-term average for this time of year.
Late Thursday into Friday the rain chances rebound.
In the meantime, counter-clockwise circulation around a deep low to our north will bring stiff winds from the west. We could see gusts to 30 mph today. But out west of the mountains, moisture swept from the Great Lakes and colder temperatures could put snow in the air AND on the ground. Here's this morning's discussion from Sterling:
"WIND GUSTS MAY REACH 30 MPH. MOIST UPSLOPE
WEST OF THE MOUNTAINS WILL CONTRIBUTE TO SNOW SHOWERS ALONG AND WEST OF THE ALLEGHENY FRONT. WITH THE SURFACE TRAJECTORY MORE
WESTERLY...GREAT LAKES MOISTURE WILL HAVE TO COME FROM SOUTHERN LAKE
MICHIGAN. ACCUMULATION MAY REACH 1" DURING THE DAY WHERE BANDS SET
And speaking of wind, here's a rundown on peak winds in our region last Friday.
So, was I the only nut case out there last night to see the Orionid meteor shower? Let's hear from you. I stumbled out of bed at about 3:15, bundled up and headed for the NCR bike trail parking lot.
The sky was gorgeous - especially Orion and its attendant bright stars: Aldebaran, Sirius, Procyon, Castor and Pollux. Yellowish Saturn stood almost directly overhead. And within just a few minutes of stepping out of the car and settling into a lawn chair, I spotted two nice meteors, both with sparkling trains. There were long gaps - with nothing but me and the sound of an owl off in the woods somewhere - then another flurry of shooting stars. Here's a video of an Orionid with a train taken by a veteran satellite watcher, Kevin Fetter.
And here's a shot of some Orionids over Turkey.
By the time an hour had passed, and the cold seeped into my bones and chased me back to bed, I counted 10 meteors, perhaps half of those with trains. One was very bright, almost bluish, with no train at all. That one and others were clearly Orionids - moving away from Orion and from the direction of the Earth's path through space.
But others - including one of the longest and best of the session - were clearly not Orionids. The most outstanding of those moved swiftly across at least a quarter of the sky - from north to south TOWARD Orion. Astronomers call those "sporadics." There were also a fair number of flashes just at the edge of my peripheral vision that I thought were meteors, but couldn't be sure. Maybe they were cosmic rays zipping through my eyeballs!
It was colder than I'd expected - 37 degrees on the WeatherDeck when I got back to the house. And it was humid (90 pct), which explained why the stars were brightest overhead and faded close to the horizon. And, of course, the yellow glow from the city washed out almost everything toward the south. But the advice about watching where the sky was darkest - toward the northeast in my case - between Orion and the Big Dipper - was helpful.
It took me an hour to warm up enough to get back to sleep. I'd guess there's a nap in my future today. But I have no regrets about going out to watch. I hope others took advantage of the fine night to catch a glimpse of this nice little meteor shower. If you missed it, the Leonids are coming up next month. If you did get outside and see some, please leave a comment and share the experience.
OK, for those of you without a subscription to The Sun, or a newsstand nearby, here's the lowdown on this evening's flyover by the International Space Station.
The $100 billion station and its crew of three will pass directly over Baltimore beginning at about 7:05 p.m. this evening. This will be one of the best passes possible for our area: It's high, it's bright, the weather should be clear enough, and it's due at a convenient hour. No need to roll out of bed before the dog wakes up.
Look for a bright, steady, "star-like" object rising over the southwestern horizon at 7:05 p.m. If it blinks, or if you see colored lights, keeping searching; it's an airplane. (Take the kids with you, or borrow a neighbor's kid; they have better eyes and love to be first to spy this thing.)
By 7:08 the station will be directly overhead, passing right through the bright stars of the Summer Triangle - past Vega and nearly eclipsing Deneb, the two stars forming the north segment of the triangle. (Altair completes the trio of stars.)
From there, the station will truck quickly off toward the northeast, flying up the coast toward Nova Scotia, disappearing above the northeast horizon.
The station is moving at about 17,500 mph as it cruises over Louisiana, Baltimore, New York, Boston and beyond. When you first pick it up about 10 degrees above the horizon, it's about 750 miles away. When it's directly overhead, it's 214 miles up - about the distance from Baltimore to Stamford, Conn.
And the light you see from the station isn't their porch light. It's all reflected sunlight, which is why the station is typically only visible before sunrise or after sunset. That's when the sun is below the horizon, darkening the sky for observers on the ground, but the station, high above, remains in direct sunlight.
Don't forget to wave.
And don't forget the Orionid meteor shower this weekend. It's a good year for this event. The moon is nearly new, so its light won't wash out the show. Skies should be clear. And it's a weekend - what else do you have to do with your nights? The peak will come Saturday night after 11 p.m., into Sunday morning.
The Orionids are dust particles scattered by Halley's Comet along its orbit around the sun. The comet itself hasn't been through here since 1986, but the litter it left behind is still circling the sun all along the path. The Earth crosses Halley's trail in mid-October, on this side of our annual orbit around the sun, and again in May (called the Eta Aquarids) on the other side of the solar system.
As the Earth plows through the debris, the particles burn in through the atmosphere like bugs smashing on the windshield of a speeding car. They're moving at 41 miles per second, and about half leave trails (called "trains") that glow for a few seconds before disappearing. Expect between 15 and 30 per hour at the peak, if you're in a very dark location, fewer if you have urban lighting washing out the view.
These meteors are called the Orionids because, from Earth's perspective, they appear to emerge from the constellation Orion, which rises after 11 p.m. Actually, that's an optical illusion caused by the fact that Orion is out ahead of the Earth at this point in our orbit, so that's where our atmospheric "windshield" is pointing as the meteors come in.
You can watch for the meteors in the direction of Orion. But the best plan is to look wherever the sky is darkest. The early morning hours before dawn Sunday might be the busiest, if you can stay up. A lounge chair, a thermos full of something warm, and a warm coat will make the evening more comfortable.
... and hold on to your hat. It may seem mild and calm this morning, but the cold front heralded by the rain overnight (0.43 inch at The Sun) will be moving through here with gusto as the day wears on.
Look for the wind to pick up and become very gusty by afternoon - blustering at up to 39 mph at times, especially in the Baltimore and upper Chesapeake region. We may have already hit our high temperature for the day. Expect the mercury to drop out of the 60s into the 50s by this afternoon, and on down into the 40s tonight.
UPDATE at 1:40 p.m.: We've clocked wind gusts to 30 mph here at Calvert & Centre. The barometer has turned sharply upward and the thermometer is headed down.
The good news is that skies should clear enough by this evening to give us a good look at the International Space Station as it soars directly over Baltimore shortly after 7:05 p.m. See the Maryland Weather page in today's dead-tree edition of The Sun for details. And skies should remain favorable for tomorrow night's peak of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Details on that on tomorrow's Maryland Weather page. (I'll post something here, as well, later today.)
AccuWeather has released its forecast for the coming winter, and it holds good news - for snow lovers. The private weather service company says if its reading on the coming winter holds up, the Northeast can look forward to a cold winter with increased precipitation. To the extent that this precipitation coincides with cold surges from the North, that means above-average snowfall. The 30-year average at BWI is 18 inches for the season.
Not everyone agrees, of course. The National Weather Service's seasonal forecast says there's a slightly enhance probability of milder temperatures than the long-term average from December through February, with an equal chance for more or less precipitation than normal.
On the other hand, the weather service also offers an assessment of what El Nino winters normally bring to the Baltimore area. (El Nino water temperature conditions are developing in the central and eastern tropical Pacific.) And that suggests either a lot more snow than the average year, or much less - based on a pattern of snow-feast or famine in El Nino winters since 1950.
AccuWeather's argument is that this is shaping up to be a weak El Nino, which means that other factors have relatively stronger influence over events, especially if this weak El Nino fades before winter ends. And they believe that will mean a colder winter than we've seen in recent years, and a greater chance for strong coastal storms. And when wet and cold collide around these parts, we see white.
The bottom line: Buy a new snow shovel while you can. But keep the receipt.
We may get a little sunshine after this morning fog burns off. But then we'll see more moisture and clouds moving in ahead of a cold front, and by tonight, and overnight, we can expect to see more rain. There won't be as much as we had on Tuesday. The heavier stuff will be farther inland. Here's AccuWeather's estimate. And here's how our part of the world looked from orbit yesterday. We were right on the edge of a vast expanse of cloudy weather to our north and west. Just click on the image and the enlarger button.
Behind the front the temperatures drop off sharply. After some morning showers, Friday's forecast calls for skies to clear. Saturday will be beautiful, with sunshine and highs near 60 degrees. More showers enter the forecast for Sunday.
This photo of the great Bubble Nebula is a real eyeful. And here's the latest from the Hubble Space Telescope - the sharpest photo yet of the Antennae Galaxy - actually two galaxies in collision. Here you can get a sense of what this galactic train wreck looked like before we had instruments like Hubble. There's also a very cool animation showing what happens when spiral galaxies collide, and how the Antennae Galaxy came to look the way it does.
We write a lot about hurricanes, but you don't always need a hurricane to produce hurricane-scale wind and rain. Just ask the folks down in Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee. They took it on the chin yesterday, but they won't get hurricane-scale media coverage.
So there I was, showering at the gym this morning, when I heard Bob Dylan's voice squawking from the speaker in the ceiling. He was singing the "Subterranean Homesick Blues," the one that includes the lyrics "Don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows..."
That made me wonder how many other songs are out there that include the word "weather," or otherwise deal in some passing fashion with meteorology. Like the Sesame Street theme: "Sunny day, sweepin' the clouds away..."
Readers? Can you think of any others? Let's hear from you. Best entry gets a free (read cheap) prize from MarylandWeather.com Enter your songs and lyrics as comments here. If you're the winner, I'll contact you via email and arrange to ship this "Major Award."
Did anybody notice how mild it was all night? Did anyone else wake up suffocating under too many blankets? No wonder. It never really cooled down outside last night. By 3 p.m. yesterday, it had warmed to 61 degrees here at The Sun. By 6 p.m. the mercury was headed up, not down. It was 63 degrees. And it just kept climbing ,to 64 at midnight, where it stuck until 7 a.m. BWI looked much the same.
Meteorologists call it "warm air advection" - meaning a flow of mild air into the region, this one persisting throughout the night. You can blame - or thank - a warm front that pushed north and east of the region yesterday. Behind it we're looking at a weak high-pressure system and clear air for a time. The sunshine and mild temperatures will make it feel like spring today and tomorrow, with sunshine and highs in the 70s. Sweet.
Then, of course, there's the next cold front, due here Friday with a renewed chance for showers as it bulls through. Behind it, more clear air, but cooler temperatures. If you have outdoor plans this weekend, make them for Saturday. It should be sunny, with highs near 60. Good for the bike trail or raking leaves.
Sunday may disappoint, with more clouds, and more showers possible. A day, perhaps, for reading through that stack of newspapers that's been piling up.
This all-day rain has now topped an inch here at The Sun. Our gauge reads 1.04 inch at 5 p.m. Out at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport they've recorded just under an inch. And radar suggests we're largely done with this system.
The total brings BWI to more than 3 inches for the month, with two weeks yet to go. Normal October rainfall at the airport is 3.16 inches, so we appear to be headed for a second wet month in a row. September saw more than 7 inches.
Here is a sampling of rainfall from across the region. You can ignore the Caroline Street gauge in Fells Point, which may be located beneath a beer tap.
Call it an Irish Mist. Except that it's warmer than any day I ever spent on the Emerald Isle. Warm, most air is pushing into the region this morning from the Gulf and the Atlantic, driven by a low pressure system moving toward the Great Lakes after soaking Texas and Louisiana with up to a foot of rain on Sunday and Monday.
We won't see that much. But something between an inch and two inches seems likely. We have just 0.09 inch on the rain gauge here beside the Big-shot Lot at The Sun. But the rain is picking up, and it's expected to get heavier and steadier still as the day wears on.
Then, just as Li'l Orphan Annie predicted, the sun'll come out tomorrow, or at least it should, sometime in the afternoon. And temperatures will surge to about 70. They're predicting more showers Thursday into Friday, then clearing for a really nice Saturday. Get outside on Saturday, because the rain chances return Sunday.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft, still circling the planet Saturn and its moons, has sent back a spectacular new image of the ringed planet. It was shot from the "back" side, looking back on Saturn and its rings just as they passed in front of the sun in a kind of eclipse.
The result is an astonishing view of a back-lit Saturn. It's translucent rings glow with the sunlight behind them, and they scatter much of that light back onto the "dark" side of Saturn, giving it a dim, glow of its own.
The unique lighting in this image also reveals several faint "new" rings outside the familiar inner rings. And barely visible - to the left of Saturn and at about 10 o'clock just outside of its main ring systems - is a tiny dot of light. That's Earth - you and me and everything we've ever touched - hundreds of millions of miles in the background.
We can look back the other way, too, and without any fancy equipment. Saturn is rising in the early morning these days - shortly before 3 a.m. By 6 a.m. it's high in the eastern sky, bright and pale yellow, just east of the twin stars of the constellation Gemini - Castor and Pollux.
Another gorgeous day on tap for Maryland today, after a weekend of beautiful fall weather. But we'll need to take the bitter with the better this week, because the weatherman has a couple of U-turns in store for us.
The forecast calls for a terrific day today - sunny for much of the day, with seasonable highs in the mid-60s. The clear, dry high-pressure system will move off toward New England and clouds will start to move in later in the day. That will clear the decks for some wet weather tonight and tomorrow, with cooler temperatures as the still-warm, early-autumn sun disappears.
Look for windshield wiper weather off and on tomorrow, with highs stuck in the 50s. The NWS folks in Sterling say we could see well over an inch of rain by Wednesday morning. Most of it will fall Tuesday and Tuesday night.
Later Wednesday, another autumn cold front will push the rain off the coast and bring us some sunshine again, with highs Thursday in the low 70s. But soak it up, because there's more rain and cooler temperatures in the forecast for Thursday night and Friday as yet another cold front moves in.
Here's AccuWeather's take on the week ahead for the Northeast.
There are plenty of frayed nerves and some considerable disruption and damage out on the islands of Hawaii today after an earthquake in excess of 6.0 on the Richter Scale, and plenty of aftershocks.
Here is the story currently running on BaltimoreSun.com
Here is a link to the US Geological Survey's earthquake information center. Here are some maps and lists of the quakes today in Hawaii and elsewhere around the world. And here's some earthquake history to chew on.
Tonight should be even colder than last night across Central Maryland as the little bit of solar heating we managed Friday bleeds off into space under clear skies. There are freeze warnings up to the west of I-95 and frost advisories posted to the east.
The National Weather Service expects lows in the low- to mid-30s overnight tonight, with some readings in the 20s in normally colder valley bottoms and other spots.
The real question of the moment is this: How long can we go before we crack, and switch on the furnace? So far, mine's still silent. And the daytime highs should moderate enough by next week to take the pressure off - 71 by Wednesday. It's these cold nights that threaten to throw me into the seductive arms of BGE and pick my pocket. Still, I resist.
To our north, meanwhile, evil descends as lake-effect snows continue in the lee of the Great Lakes. Here's AccuWeather's take on it.
That was bracing. The overnight low of 32 at BWI matched the record for the date. It was 34 degrees this morning out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. Frost on the windshield - the works. It was the coldest morning of the season so far as cold, Canadian air settled in, and clear skies allowed the 70-degree heat we enjoyed less than 24 hours ago to radiate off into space.
Here are some morning readings from around the region:
Dulles Airport: 31
Calvert & Centre streets, Baltimore: 42
The average low for today's date at BWI is 44 degrees, which makes this morning's minimum 12 degrees below the 30-year norm. The 32-degree reading also ties the record low for an Oct. 13 at BWI, set in 1957 and last tied in 1988.
But somehow it didn't seem that cold. The morning sun was warm, and temperatures moderated quickly. I grabbed a sweater on the way out, but haven't bothered to put it on. You gotta feel happy, and relieved, that we don't live in Buffalo.
In case you missed it, the city on the east end of Lake Erie is taking a pounding from lake-effect snows today. More than two feet has fallen already in some spots. Thousands are without electric power.
Here's the radar loop. Blame steady, cold winds out of the west, blowing around the bottom of the strong low centered north of the Great Lakes. Where the mountains to our west tend to dry such winds out, Lake Erie's still-warm waters inject them with moisture, which, when it's cold enough, falls as snow on the lee shores of the lake - in this case on Buffalo and much of western New York State. Bless them.
The thermometer is plunging this evening, dropping from the 70s to the 50s now that the sun is down. And there's more to come. My sister Polly emailed me today from Detroit to report snow in the air as this early blast of Arctic air pokes down from the Great Lakes:
"We are currently in a belt of cold Canadian air, with frost warnings last night and tonight. Bill has brought in all the outdoor plants for the duration. This morning and throughout the day we have had snow squalls, some of it sticking, for brief periods. We expected things to look like Halloween on our return from up north, but not like Christmas! The cold should get to you in a day or two, I would imagine."
Indeed it will, though not quite so wintry. We're now looking at a low of 35 degrees Saturday night into Sunday at BWI. But no snow. Here's the chilly forecast.
Sorry. I know it's way too early for this stuff.
All week the NWS forecast has sported those ominous gray rain icons for this part of the week as a new blanket of cold air pushed into the Eastern U.S. from Canada. Well, the front tiptoed by here overnight with hardly a drip. I had nothing in my gauge on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. I arrived in the newsroom at Calvert and Centre this morning to find a measly 0.05 inch in The Sun's gauge, all between 2 and 4 a.m.
Officially, at BWI-Marshall, they recorded 0.03 inch. Washington Reagan cops the prize, with almost a quarter-inch. Out at Dulles they clocked 0.11 inch. Not very impressive. And the forecast from here right through the weekend looks just fine. Cool, but mostly sunny.
The reason things stayed so dry, apparently, has been the eastward flow of air around the bottom (south) side of the big, deep low-pressure system, now centered north of Lake Superior. As it tumbles up, over and down the eastern slope of the Appalachians, the air dries out and warms up. So whatever moisture we might have received from the system is largely lost to us.
While temperatures for today and the next few days look milder than some forecasts earlier in the week, the new air mass will still bring us the coldest night of the season so far, on Friday night into Saturday. The forecast low of 38 degrees hasn't been reached at BWI since May 1. It's six degrees colder than the normal low for this time of year. There are freeze warnings up for tonight for Garrett County.
If you're planning a wedding Saturday, you can expect things to warm up a bit, but only into the upper 50s - about 10 degrees colder than today, and 20 degrees colder than Monday and Tuesday. So bring a wrap. The good news: the ground should be dry, the sun should be bright and warm, and the foliage should be beautiful. Don't forget the sunglasses and cameras.
Snow-phobes (or philes) in Maryland can add this prognostication to their calculations about what sort of weather to expect this winter. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued its official (subject to amendments as the season advances) winter weather forecast.
The agency's Climate Prediction Center expects this will be a winter influenced by the weak El Nino now developing in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. Those influences could strengthen as the winter rolls by. Or not.
Bottom line: cooler than last year, but still mostly mild across the country. For the Northeast, we should expect slightly milder-than-normal temperatures, with equal chances for above- or below-normal precipitation. But you can read it for yourself here.
For more on what past El Nino winters have been like in Baltimore, click here.
C'mon. You knew this couldn't last. Forecasters out at Sterling aren't entirely sure about the details, but they're pretty confident that there's some wet and perhaps some very cold air headed our way. So enjoy today while it lasts.
They're expecting highs this afternoon even warmer than yesterday's 78-degree maximum (at BWI), which was 8 degrees warmer than the 30-year average for the date. It reached 77 degrees here at The Sun just before 3 p.m., and 73 already by 11 a.m. today.
Things will start to go down hill from there. Look for clouds to increase later today, from west to east, as a cold front moves out of Canada into the northern Plains and the Great Lakes region. That front will be running into mild, moist air, triggering rain and storms along the front. So expect increasing clouds and humidity, then increased chances for rain Wednesday and Thursday.
The forecasters aren't certain about the timing, but once the new air mass shoves into the region, things will turn much colder. We may see overnight frost and freeze warnings in some locations by early Thursday, and some mixed precipitation in the western mountains.
The cold snap should mark the official end of the growing season, and perhaps the allergy season as well.
The forecast highs for Friday are in the low 50s, but the discussion this morning suggests those may be way too high. Our lows early Saturday could sink to the 30s.
So, how many of you actually went outside Monday morning and watched the International Space Station fly over Baltimore? We touted it Sunday on the Weather Page, and this morning I actually rolled out of bed, threw on some clothes and went outside to wait for it.
I've seen many space station flyovers, and they never fail to impress and amaze me. First, I find it amazing that we can track and forecast this sort of thing. Here's how well one amateur astronomer was able to predict the space station's orbital track - as it passed in front of the moon's Tycho crater! Click here.
(Even more astonishing to me is how we're able to predict "flaring" by the many Iridium communications satellites - the brilliant flash of reflected sunlight off one of these satellite's mirror-like antennas. You're watching an apparently empty area of the night sky, when suddenly a bright light appears - right on schedule - and then disappears just as fast. Amaze your friends. Impress your kids. If anyone's interested in trying to spot one of these Iridium flares, let me know and I'll provide the how-to details here.)
Second, there's something wonderful about being outdoors, alone on a clear morning or evening, watching for the appearance of an object that's moving around the planet at 17,500 mph, a couple of hundred miles up, carrying (currently) three superbly trained human beings. Yet most people rarely think about them - if they're even aware there are people in space. They circle the planet once every 90 minutes, for months, at huge expense. And few people will even step outside the doors to offer a wave.
I was in Bermuda one evening last summer, where my daughter and I (armed with predictions for the island) spotted the space station flying over. We barged in on a bunch of Americans enjoying drinks at a nearby sidewalk cafe, and pointed out the station to them. They were by turns disbelieving, then accepting, and finally astonished and amazed. OK, so alcohol may have increased their enthusiasm.
But I digress. This morning's flyover must have been visible from virtually anywhere in Maryland - city and country. The skies were perfectly clear. The constellation Orion, the brilliant star Sirius, bright Aldebaran and other familiar objects of the Winter night were all still up there despite the approaching dawn. (The appearance of Orion in the autumn's night skies used to be a dreaded warning to sailors that the terrible winter storms of the North Atlantic were not far behind.)
The space station appeared high overhead at about 6:35 p.m., cruising from the northwest toward the southeast. When I first spotted it, it was brighter than anything up there except the moon, and as bright - if not brighter - as I have ever seen it. It was headed toward the sunrise, and I suspect its broad new solar panels - just installed by shuttle astronauts - were reflecting an increased amount of sunlight my way. As it crossed the sky, it seemed to dim a bit as the angles became less favorable.
But it was very cool nonetheless, soaring over Orion and out toward the Atlantic. We have another chance to watch a favorable flyover Wednesday morning, although the forecast isn't good. But take heart. Next week, the ISS returns to the more convenient evening sky.
In case skies Wednesday remain clear, here are the particulars:
This flyover will be almost an hour earlier than Monday's event, so it will take some fortitude to rise from a warm bed to watch it. It's also briefer. The ISS will move out of the Earth's shadow (nighttime on-board) into the sunshine (daytime) at 5:47 a.m. At that moment it will be almost directly overhead as seen from Baltimore. Look for it to appear just east of the moon, which will be impossible to miss. The station will then move off toward the southeast horizon, disappearing there at about 5:50 a.m.
Seismographs around the world have recorded the impact of the North Korean underground nuclear test last night. It registered a 4.2 (light) on the Richter scale of earthquake severity. Here are the details from the U.S. Geological Survey. Here is how the explosion stacked up against recent earthquakes around the world. And here is the story from today's Sun. The political aftershocks, of course, are continuing.
In this gorgeous early-autumn sunshine, it's hard even to remember last week's three-day rain. But it dropped quite a bit of water on the region - from just under and inch to more than 4 inches in parts of southern Maryland. Here are some totals from across the region, as of 6 p.m. Saturday. (There was a bit more after that.) We recorded 1.62 inches here at The Sun.
Officially, when it was all over at the airport, the storm delivered 1.89 inches of rain. For the month, we've had 1.98 inches. That puts us about an inch ahead of the normal pace for October.
Most of us woke up to the sound of rain on the roof this morning. We had 0.66 inch on the gauge by 7:30 a.m. up on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. The Sun's new weather station off Centre Street downtown is reading 0.99 inch at 10:35 a.m. Here's how the storm totals are piling up across the region, based on radar estimates from the folks out at Sterling, Va. The heaviest totals appear to be to our south and southwest, with as much as 2.5 inches in some isolated locations.
Officially, they've had almost 1.25 inches at BWI-Marshall. Here are some other totals from around the region. I no longer believe the Caroline Street totals from the gauge at Fells Point. That thing must be under a downspout. It's always clocking more rain than anyplace else.
There are gale warnings posted for the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay. And the beach resorts are looking at big surf, high winds and beach erosion as this coastal storm builds and throws stiff northeast winds onto the coastline. Here's the nasty beach forecast. And here's the Kite Loft beachcam.
The forecast looks wet through Saturday night. But the new week is shaping up very nicely - with sunshine and highs in the 70s.
It's only the first week of October, but in the far North of the continent, and on the high peaks of the Rockies, snow and ice have begun to reappear. As the weeks roll on, the extent of that snow and ice cover will gradually spread south, and descend in altitude from the mountain peaks.
None of which is news, of course. But it's cool to watch it unfold. Here is a link to an animation assembled from 31 days of data - through most of September and into this week - gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Go back to it every few weeks and watch the snow and ice get closer to Maryland.
Here's another view centered on Alaska and the Arctic Ocean, including much of Siberia. It's already pretty snowy there, too. Monday - Oct. 9 - is the date of the earliest recorded snowfall in Baltimore.
If the National Weather Service forecasters out at Sterling, Va. are right, then tomorrow should be the coolest day in Baltimore since early last April. They're forecasting a daytime high of just 57 degrees, with a good chance (60 pct) for rain. The last time the mercury out at BWI-Marshall failed to rise above 57 was on April 9.
UPDATE, 5:13 p.m.: Now, the forecasters are saying we'll only reach 52 degrees tomorrow. That would be the coldest day since April 5 -almost exactly six months ago.
The average highs for this time of year at BWI are around 70 degrees. That would make tomorrow's forecast high at least 13 degrees below the 30-year norm.
The rain looks like it will stick around through Saturday as a coastal storm develops along the cold front that dropped through here early this morning. If this were January, this would be a major coastal snow-maker. But we'll see only rain, maybe an inch or more. Most of the worst weather will be to our south and east, with rough conditions at the beach.
By Sunday and Monday, temperatures should moderate back into the 70s, with some nice sunshine. (Does anybody get Columbus Day off anymore?)
There is an interesting on-line discussion underway about global warming. It's sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The "speakers" are Michael Oppenheimer, the Millbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University, and Daniel Schrag, professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard.
You can drop in on the chat by clicking here. I'll try to update the link after the session ends.
The thermometer peaked at 85 degrees here around 4 p.m. beside the Big-shot Lot at The Sun. It was 81 at BWI-Marshall. The barometer is falling now and it's all downhill from here as this cold front approaches from the north.
There are watches and warnings up all across Pennsylvania and Ohio as the potential for some severe thunderstorms rides along with the front as it plows into the warm air we've been enjoying. I'd expect they would cross the Mason-Dixon Line before long and begin to affect Maryland.
The southern winter is drawing to a close, and that means the annual destruction of the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere over the South Pole is peaking. NASA has posted a new image showing the ozone hole as satellite sensors found it late last week.
Scientists discovered 20 years ago that the release of man-made chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the atmosphere was catalyzing the destruction of ozone molecules. And the losses were greatest at the South Pole, where they amounted to a "hole."
High-altitude ozone is critical to life on the surface of the planet because it absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the sun, protecting exposed tissues from possible genetic damage - damage that can cause cancers and other harm to life forms from ocean plankton to people.
Continued ozone damage was affecting the polar regions first, but would eventually erode the ozone layer everywhere, enough to pose increasing health threats in the temperate zones where most people - most life forms - live.
International treaties in 1987 led to the phase-out of CFCs in refrigerants and aerosol propellants, and their replacement by more environmentally friendly materials.
Scientists in the nearly 20 years since have been on the lookout for signs the global actions have had some beneficial effect. Happily, they now say the long-term decline in the ozone layer globally has at least halted, and the damage may be healed (or at least back to 1980 levels) in the coming decades - well within the lives of our children and grandchildren. Here's a NASA release on the subject, noting that the best explanation for the gains is the ban on CFCs.
It's great to hear that human societies can learn about and understand a global environmental threat, and take concerted action - even when the payoff may be years or decades away.
Back in the WeatherBlog Blockhouse this morning after working up a sweat in the sunshine, in a jacket and tie, while over at University of Maryland Medical Center on assignment. Bright sunshine and summer-like highs in the 80s will make today and tomorrow seem more like October in L.A.
But forecasters at the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va. caution that this can’t last, as another pesky autumn cold front lurks off to our north and west.
The specifics are a bit uncertain. Forecast models don’t agree well on this one. But it seems likely we’ll see some chance for rain by tomorrow night, with temperatures knocked back by 20 degrees or so on Thursday.
We can thank a big high-pressure system off the Carolina coast for the mild weather. Highs circulate in a clockwise direction. That means this one is pumping warm air our way out of the Deep South.
The forecast highs of 82 or 83 for today and tomorrow are at least 10 degrees above the long-term average for this time of year in Baltimore. But they’re well short of the record highs, which are still in the 90s.
But it’s autumn, and that means periodic intrusions by increasingly cold air to our north. The next one will advance on us behind a cold front, triggering rain along the frontal boundary. Daytime highs will only reach the mid-60s from Thursday into the weekend.
Hurricane Isaac, spinning in the Atlantic with top sustained winds of 80 mph, is now posing a threat to Atlantic Canada. Although the storm is expected to weaken over the next 24 hours, tropical storm watches have been posted for parts of Newfoundland.