« October 2007 | Main | December 2007 »

November 30, 2007

Weather Bureau study found climate warming

Joseph B. Kincer, chief of the division of climate and crop weather at the Weather Bueau in Washington, had this to say to a Sun reporter:

"Our study, based on authentic statistical data, definitely proves that the climate generally has been growing noticeably milder," he said. "The temperature and other records are supplemented by our knowledge of the accelerated melting of the polar ice caps. Those middle-aged and elderly folk who claim the winters today are decidedly less severe than when they were young are not deceived."

"As a matter of fact, this long-time trend is national and, indeed, international," Kincer told The Sun. 

"In making our study," he continued, "other weather features directly related to general temperature conditions were examined, such as the occurence of frost in the autumn and spring; the number of winter days with certain low temperatures; the length of winters as indicated by first and last frost, and the like."

"Each one of these factors, closely studied, confirms the general contention that we have been in a period of  abnormal warmth; a period which has come on gradually for many years."

"It has often been suggested," Kincer went on, "that tendencies to abnormally high temperature records in recent years may be more apparent than real, in that the data cited usually are taken from large cities where the thermometers may have been affected unduly by artificial influences that do not obtain in the open country (where presumably the older folks spent their childhoods)."

"We have examined this phase of the matter and find that the suggestion is not well taken," he said. "It so happens that continuous, dependable cooperative records, made in the open country or in small communities, are available for comparison with nearby city records. If anything, at least in some places, an even more pronounced upward trend exists in the cooperative data than in those for the nearby first-order city weather station."

So who is this guy Kincer? And why does he talk so funny?

Okay, the jig's up. These passages come from an article in The Sun by Herbert Hollander, published on Nov. 28, 1937.

And while Kincer may be credited for foreshadowing a trend that only decades later became a hot scientific controversy and an even hotter political potato, he did not make the connection between global warming and changes in the composition of the atmosphere.

He told Hollander that winter had not deserted us. The warming trend, he said, is part of a vast cycle. "In another hundred years," Hollander wrote, "it is quite possible that the trend will be in the other direction. When the infants of today become graybeards they may sit before some crackling fire and remember ' the nice, comfortable, open winters we used to have.'"

Today's scientists acknowledge the existence of such "vast" natural cycles in the planet's climate. But the preponderance of the evidence suggests that the warming Kincer noted in 1937 and since cannot be explained by natural cycles alone. Human activity is needed to account for the rest, especially the release of vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the combustion of huge volumes of fossil fuels (the remains of plants and trees that had absorbed that carbon from the air over hundreds of millions of years).

By the way, those "infants" Kincer spoke of? They're turning 70 years old this year. And they're still talking about the colder, snowier winters of their youth. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: History

Rain and, maybe, sleet Sunday

Well, whatever shot we had at some early-season snow on Sunday seems to have melted away. The snowy part of our weekend storm now looks like it will track well to our north and west. Even AccuWeatherAccuWeather has now pushed its snow forecast map into upstate Pa., N.Y. and New England.

Just to our north, however - including the southern tier of Pa. counties along the Maryland border - they are under a winter storm watch. Up there. forecasters expect the storm to start Saturday night as snow, change to rain and then back to snow before it ends late Sunday. Highway icing is possible.

The National Weather Service forecast has us slated for rain, with no more than a "likely possibly" chance of some sleet mixed in as the thing gets cranked up Sunday. Then it's all rain - maybe a half- to three-quarters of an inch before it's all over.

And all of it will be credited to December's precipitation total. November ends today with barely an inch-and-a-half of rain, about half of the long-term average at BWI. 

Abnormally dry conditions continue across almost 90 percent of the state of Maryland, and two-thirds of that remains in moderate drought - or worse. Twenty percent of the state - on the Lower Eastern Shore and extreme Southern Maryland - slipped back into "severe" drought over the past week. If we're going to recharge the water tables and reservoirs this winter in time for the next growing season, it will need to start soon.

But it won't begin next week. Once the storm has cleared out, the forecast looks sunny, with daytime highs a few degrees colder than the long-term averages. And we'll dip below freezing at night.

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

Need a gift for a weather geek?

You say you have a weather nut on your Christmas gift list this year? Never fear. There are lots of toys out there for people who keep the TV tuned to the Weather Channel and actually LIKE the Oregon Scientific Crystal Weather Stationbackground music for Local on the Eights. is featuring a rundown of some of the more unusual products, from refrigerators with built-in forecasts, to weird glowing orbs that predict the weather. Have a look.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool sites

November 29, 2007

Mag. 7.3 quake in eastern Caribbean

USGSThe US Geological Survey is reporting a powerful earthquake today off Martinique in the Eastern Caribbean that was initially measured at 7.3 on the Richter scale. It was felt from Caracas, Venezuela to Puerto Rico. Here are some early details from the USGS. 

Here's a BBC report. And here's a report, in Spanish, from Puerto Rico, 400 miles from the quake's center. The shaking on the U.S. island caused some panic, the report says. It was estimated to be equivalent to a quake of magnitude 6.2. 

Looks like it was felt at the quake-sensitive monitoring well at Christianburg, Va., too. The kick can be seen in the sharp spike in water levels at the end of this trace.

Martinique has a fearsome history of quakes and volcanic eruptions. The great eruption of Mt. Pelee in 1902 killed as many as 30,000 people and destroyed the town of St. Pierre. Here's more.

Here's the AP report from the nearby island of Dominica:

ROSEAU, Dominica (AP) — A powerful earthquake rocked the eastern Caribbean on Thursday, sending office workers and shoppers on several islands fleeing into the streets. Minor injuries were reported on the island of Martinique.
 The earthquake which struck at 2 p.m. EST, with a magnitude of 7.4, was centered 26 miles southeast of Roseau, the capital of Dominica, where the shaking lasted for about 20 seconds.
 The quake was felt hundreds of miles away in Puerto Rico to the west, and Venezuela and Suriname to the south.
 In the neighboring island of Martinique, a government official said police and firefighters were responding to hundreds of calls for help. He said some people sustained minor injuries, but no major casualties have been reported.
 The official declined to give his name in accordance with government policy.
 The earthquake collapsed the roofs of a bank and a store in the capital of Martinique, Fort-de-France. Ambulances were called in.
 “My house shook so hard I thought it was going to fall,” said a caller to Radio Martinique who identified herself only as Fannie. “The door, the windows, everything shook.”
 The quake struck at a depth of 90 miles, according to the U.S. Geological Survey Web site.
 “I wouldn’t expect major damage because the quake has some depth,” said Don Blakeman, a geophysicist at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.
 The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii said the quake was too deep to generate a destructive tsunami.
 In Trinidad, the shaking sent workers streaming out of office towers into the streets of the capital, Port-of-Spain.
 Thousands more ran outside in St. Maarten. Flight’s at Princess Juliana International Airport were briefly suspended. In Guyana, lawmakers evacuated the South American country’s parliament building.
 The earthquake did not disrupt production at Trinidad’s state-owned oil refinery, Petrotrin, which produces 160,000 barrels of refined gasoline, diesel and oil daily for domestic use and export to countries including the United States.
 “We have not had any reports about breakdowns from our exploration and production fields,” spokesman Arnold Corneal said. “We are still doing checks.”
 In St. Lucia, Julian Dubois, deputy director of the national emergency management organization, said the quake caused some panic and broke water lines but did not appear to cause severe damage. In the capital, Castries, people spoke of buildings swaying but not toppling. A glass door of one company was shattered.
 St. Lucia resident Annie Ellis said the quake was the strongest she has experienced. “In all my years, I have never felt any earthquake so powerful,” said the 100-year-old Ellis. “And it lasted such a long time.”
 In Antigua, islanders said the shaking lasted about 30 seconds.
 “I haven’t felt one like that in a while,” said Jessie Kentish, a resident of the capital, St. John’s. “It was a long time.”
 The temblor triggered a series of false quake alarms in California, with computers picking up energy coming out of the Caribbean and erroneously treating it as local seismic activity. The fake quakes began registering nine minutes after the Caribbean quake, USGS scientists said.
 In September, a similar incident occurred when a massive earthquake struck off the Mariana Islands in the Pacific Ocean and triggered six false reports of quakes in California.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

Nov. 30 snow caught city plowless

Hints of snow in the forecast for this weekend seem like echoes of another autumn 40 years ago when an unexpected snow brought Baltimore to a stop.

It was Nov. 30, 1967. The weather service forecast called for "cloudy, with some snow this morning, becoming mixed with sleet, then changing to rain." It was expectated that warmer air would move in after the snowy start, turn everything to rain and clear the streets. Sounds like Sunday's forecast.

Anyway, public works officials heard the part about the changeover to rain, and not so much the part about the snow. So, when the cold air persisted and the warm air stayed away, things began to slide downhill, so to speak.

The snow began in the early morning, according to the account the next day in The Sun. As much as 10 inches accumulated. After scratching their heads for a few hours, the DPW sent out 100 trucks to spread salt. But because they hadn't yet equipped the fleet with plows, they were unable to cope with the mounting accumulations. It would be 6 p.m. before they had the plows on.

Meanwhile, traffic bogged down. Businesses, factories, courts, schools closed down early, adding to the crush. The Baltimore Transit Company kept its buses running. But they, too, became stuck in the snow and traffic. Delays of an hour were common. School buses loaded with kids got stuck, and one with 25 children on board skidded into a ditch in Arnold. No one was hurt. On U.S. 1 in Elkridge, 40 trucks jack-knifed or skidded into the biggest snarl reported by State Police that day.

Baltimore wasn't alone. The snowstorm swept from Indiana eastward, affecting the East Coast from Virginia northward to New York.

The snow set a new record for the date at BWI - 8.4 inches, just a tenth of an inch shy of the month's record at the time. The Nov. 30 record still stands. Some locations north and west of the city saw more.

Twenty cars were involved in a wreck on the JFX, jamming things up for thousands more. BWI closed down for 11 hours due to slick runways. Shipping from the harbor was slowed as 9 ships elected to stay in port to wait out the storm.   

Washington received 11 inches. And as temperatures sank into the 20s that night, ice coated the roads.

The weather service said the storm had developed twin centers, one over the Appalachians, and a secondary low off the Virginia coast. Sounds almost exactly like what AccuWeather's Henry "Madman" Margusity has been predicting for Sunday's storm.

Reading these old clips is a hoot, as well as a sober reminder of how little things have changed. There are ads, pleading for nurses at Sinai Hospital, with the lure of earning "up to $10,000 per annum;" or offering two weeks in London, including jet round trip, hotel, "8 smash shows" and a daily "large English breakfast" - all for just $300.

And there's the other news, of police riding city buses to put down a rash of holdups, and of a family in Glenisle, Anne Arundel County, notified that their son, 20, was killed by a booby trap in Vietnam after only a month in country.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

2007 hurricane season fades away

This week marks the official end of the 2007 Atlantic hurricane season, and forecasters are taking some hits from critics who say they overshot the season's actual severity again.

First, the season's stats: We saw 14 named storms - Andrea through Noel. There were eight tropical storms that got no stronger than that, and five others that became hurricanes: Dean, Felix, Humberto, Lorenzo and Noel. In addition, there was one sub-tropical storm in May that jumped the season's official start on June 1, and two tropical depressions that never got organized well enough to spin up and win a name.

Of the five hurricanes that did form, two became "major" storms of Category 3 or higher. Those were whoppers. Hurricanes Dean in August, and Felix in early September, both reached Cat. 5 status and made landfall with winds over 160 mph. Dean was the 9th most intense Atlantic storm on record, and the third-most intense at landfall. It was only the second time since 1961 that more than one Cat. 5 storm formed in one season. The last time was in 2005, when four storms got that powerful, including Katrina. 

Dean and Felix killed at least 175 people and caused billions of dollars in damage. Had they not struck sparsely populated regions of Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras they surely would have done far more damage.

But after that, the season was remarkably tame. Hurricanes Humberto, Lorenzo and Noel never strengthened beyond Cat. 1. Even so, Noel killed more than 150 people due to flooding and mudslides on Hispaniola early this month before prowling up the Florida coast, kicking up the surf. But he never made landfall.

So how did the forecasters do?

The NOAA forecasters last May predicted the 2007 season would generate 13 to 17 named storms before scaling that back slightly in August. Not bad. But they said 7 to 10 would become hurricanes, and 3 to 5 of those would reach Cat. 3, overshooting the actual experience (5 and 2) on both counts.

The famed team of Phil Klotzbach and William Gray at Colorado State University predicted in April the season would produce 17 named storms, including 9 hurricanes, of which 5 would reach Cat. 3. So they overshot the mark, too. They, too, were compelled to scale back their forecast as the season wore on.

Both groups had predicted an "active" season compared with the long-term averages. As it turned out, 2007 (at 14 names storms, 5 hurricanes and 2 Cat. 3 storms) was very close to an average season (11, 6 and 2).

That should come as a relief. But clearly we have a lot to learn about hurricane forecasting. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:21 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

November 28, 2007

MD firm flies unmanned craft into hurricane

Now here's a story I wish somebody had tipped me off to. Early this month, the AAI Corporation, of Hunt Valley, a leader in the development of unmanned aircraft, flew an unmanned airplane into the core of Hurricane Noel as it blew up the East Coast. It was the first time anyone had successfully flown a craft like this into a hurricane. And nobody tipped off the newspaper.

Aerosonde Mark 4 - AAI Corp.The "Aerosonde" unmanned aerial system (UAS) - a small, lightweight, propeller-driven "pusher"-type craft carrying weather instruments and communications gear, has a 9.5-foot wingspan. It was launched on Friday Nov. 2 from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, on Virginia's Eastern Shore. It flew as far as 500 miles from Wallops, and straight through the center of the storm at altitudes between 300 and 500 feet according to a NASA release. It zipped around out there for 7 1/2 hours in 80 mph winds, skimming just 300 to 500 feet above the waves. And there were some formidible waves out there, as surfers all along the coast found out.

AAI controlled the flight from Wallops, and relayed the data back to the National Hurricane Center in Miami to aid their forecasting.  It's valuable data from where the sea meets the atmosphere. It apparently tells forecasters a lot about what's going on in a hurricane. And it's data that manned aircraft will never be able to recover. It's just too dangerous to fly that low in a hurricane. Drop-sondes - the instrument packages the Hurricane Hunters drop into the storms from higher altitudes are useful, but having a little instrumented airplane you can send anywhere you need it without risking a human life will be a boon to forecasters.

Here's the NASA release on the flight. Here's AAI's version. And here's a nifty video.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:59 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Hurricanes

Sunday snow talk persists

It looks like this big low that's expected to come out of the Rockies will cut north before it reaches the coast, leaving us on the warm side and the I-95 corridor dealing mostly with a sizable rain event. But forecasters still have not ruled out the possibility of some snow and ice before the whole mess turns to rain during the day.

The storm itself is expected to form out of a pair of lows now coming ashore in southern California and northern Washington state. The setup looks impressive to everybody. The problem is predicting how the lows will make their way across the country, and the impact of the cold Canadian air that will be in place in the East ahead of its arrival. 

Henry Margusity, AccuWeather's extreme weather blogger, is still holding out for a snowier outcome for the East Coast. He thinks the cold air moving in later this week will be cold enough, and stubborn enough, to give us several hours of frozen precipitation as the low moves east, even if it cuts north from the Ohio Valley toward the Great Lakes before reaching the coast. He also expects a portion of the storm's energy to be telegraphed offshore, with a secondary low forming to our east and increasing our risk of a more wintry event.

"Madman" Margusity has even posted a snow map, which gives is a couple of inches of snow and some ice before it all washes away in the rain. Most of his snow will fall to our north.

AccuWeather's snow map 

The National Weather Service, meanwhile still is talking about a 50 percent chance of precipitation, and mentions only a chance of "mix or frozen" stuff, briefly, as the storm begins. The overnight low forecast for BWI Saturday into Sunday is 30 degrees, rising to 46 during the day Sunday.

Capital Weather, down in the District, is pooh-poohing the whole thing.

And, once again, everybody is expecting much colder weather next week.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

November 27, 2007

AccuWeather's Margusity sees snow

Might there be some snow in the air this weekend? AccuWeather's extreme weather blogger Henry Margusity thinks so. He's looking at a fairly intense storm brewing in the Rockies and predicting it will become a strong coastal storm by this weekend. He thinks it will barrel up the East Coast, knock into some pretty cold entrenched air here and drop some snow and ice on the mid-Atlantic on Sunday before everything changes to rain.

If he's right, it would be the first significant winter storm of the season. It would also reinforce some of the seasonal forecasts that predicted most of our wintry weather this year would come in December, to be followed by a very mild "La Nina" January and February.

If he's wrong, it would provide brickbats for those who see Margusity as a conduit for winter weather scares and hype, of the sort that boosts online traffic counts. And here I am, contributing to that.

Anyway, he says he'll be posting a snow map forecast at 8:30 tonight. We'll just have to wait and see how well he does with it.

In the meantime, our NWS forecasters out at Sterling, Va., looking at the same model pedictions, think the storm will move up the Ohio Valley rather than reforming offshore and coming up the coast. That would give us warmer temperatures. They see rain falling on Sunday, after an overnight low of 28. They're posting only "snow showers" for Sunday night. The chances for either rain or snow are put at 50 percent. has this take on the snow threat, which they give only a 20 percent shot: "Minor Event -- Some accumulation. Untreated roads hazardous, slick spots possible on treated roads during heavy precipitation. (Winter weather advisory criteria, dusting to two inches)"

Everybody is looking for sharply colder weather later next week.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

November 26, 2007

Hang in there. Sunshine en route

Sorry. I've been stuffing my face for a few days and communing with family. Didn't realize the skies outside had grown so damp and gloomy. As soon as we clear this plume of moist, mild air surging in from the South, we'll have the skies cleared and plenty of sunshine in store for you tomorrow.

Forecasters say the next cold front is poised just to our west. After some more widespread rain this evening and spottier showers early tomorrow morning, the front will have passed to our east, allowing high pressure and clear skies to build back into the region, borne on gusty winds.

In the meantime we could see as much as an inch of rain in some places. Wouldn't that be nice? We're running well behind the pace for November - not even an inch and a half. And the month is nearly over. We normally see more than 3 inches of rain in November at BWI. The mountains may see some snow showers Tuesday as the colder air rushes in.

The next cold front is due through here on Thursday. Not too much in the way of clouds or rain in the cards with that one. The next chance for rain after that won't come along until Sunday, with prospects for some considerable precipitation associated with a storm moving out of Ohio. Forecasters are also hinting at some mixed wintry precipitation initially out of that, but they don't seem too worried about it. Too far away to worry about now.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

Malibu is burning. Again.

Malibu fire - NASA

There's another big wildfire burning in the Malibu area in Southern California. A NASA satellite has snapped some dramatic pictures of the smoke drifting far off the coast in the northeast Santa Ana winds. Here's more.

And here's the AP story on the fire, with links to photos and video.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 24, 2007

Clear skies bring wintry chill, view of Mars

A new, cold, dry air mass brought us crystal clear skies last night. And that allowed what heat we managed to build up Friday to radiate out into space. The result? A brilliant full moon and the coldest temperatures for Baltimore since March 8, when the overnight low reached 14 degrees.

It was 22 degrees this morning out at BWI. That wasn't a record. The low mark for Baltimore on a Nov. 24 is 17 degrees, reached most recently on this date in 1989. The thermometer out here on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville reached 20 degrees at 7 a.m., just before sunrise.

Here are some other 7 a.m. readings from across the region:

Reagan National:  31 degrees

Dulles International:  23 degrees

College Park:  25 degrees

Annapolis:  33 degrees

Philadelphia:  28 degrees

Ocean City:  28 degrees

Unfortunately, clouds will be increasing today and tonight, with rain in prospect for Monday. But if you happen to be outdoors tonight - or anytime for the next few weeks - and skies are clear, turn toward the northeast and look for a bright, reddish "star" rising over the horizon. By 9 or 10 p.m. it should be well above the trees. It's Mars, about 60 million miles away and closing rapidly toward its opposition - and closest approach - at Christmastime.

It may look remote and alien, but it is fast becoming one of the best-known places in the solar system, with a fleet of rovers and spacecraft already on the surface, or en route to the surface, or orbiting overhead and taking remarkable photographs.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

November 23, 2007

No record Thursday at BWI

There was a lot of talk yesterday about a record high temperature in Baltimore. But according to the numbers posted today by the National Weather Service, no records were broken here.

The high at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on Thanksgiving Day was 74 degrees. That fell two degrees short of the record set on Nov. 22, 1940.

That said, we did see new records for the date set at Washington's Reagan National Airport and out at Dulles International.

The high at National was 77 degrees yesterday before the front came crashing through. That beat the old record of 75 degrees, set on that date in  1979. The high at Dulles was 75, besting the 1979 record by two degrees.

The warm days of November appear to be over. The forecast calls for more seasonable highs in the 40s for the time being. No rain in sight until Monday. Enjoy the weekend.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:42 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

November 21, 2007

Beautiful, then November returns

As promised, it looks like a great day to get on the road to Gramma's house. Plenty of sunshine, dry roads and temperatures headed toward 70 degrees today. That won't help clear the traffic lanes, but at least it will look nice outside as you creep along at 10 mph in the fast lane.

But Turkey Day itself looks to be more interesting. Forecasters say the high-pressure system and this dry air begins to move off the Carolina coast. It's the clockwise circulation around that high that is drawing all this mild Southern air into the region. We're something like 15 degrees above normal for this time of year.

To replace this nice weather there's a cold front edging in from the west. It will begin to kick up some showers ahead of it. We can expect them to reach the I-95 corridor Thursday morning, and the front itself will shove through in the late-morning to early afternoon. You'll know it by the gusty winds and falling temperatures. If you raked the yard to impress your in-laws, your work may be erased by the time they actually arrive for dinner.

Behind the front come much colder temperatures and drier air. Look for temperatures to drop to the mid-30s Thursday night. Highs on Friday won't get out of the 40s, despite plenty of sunshine. Friday night will be best for stargazing, if forecasters get this right. Take the opportunity to look for Comet Holmes high in the northeastern sky. (You'll need binoculars; it's getting dimmer as it expands.) But it will be cold, with overnight lows in the upper 20s. 

Rain chances increase again for Sunday morning as a storm developing over Texas heads this way. It could begin as snow in spots, but mostly they're talking about rising temperatures and widespread rain by early Monday morning. That we could use. 

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

November 20, 2007

Watch the Earth rise, from the moon

Earthrise from the moon - JAXA 

The Japanese research satellite Kaguya, now orbiting the moon, has sent back some remarkable movies showing the Earth rising over the lunar surface on Nov. 7. There are some other links from this page to other, very eerie movies taken as the satellite simply cruised above the barren moonscape. (When it asks you to install software for Japanese characters, just click on "cancel." You don't need them.)

These may be the first motion pictures we've seen of such things since the last Apollo astronauts returned from the moon in 1973. Credit goes to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Japan Broadcasting Agency.

The text accompanying the images reminded me of something I'd forgotten:  Astronauts on the moon never see an Earthrise or Earthset. That's because the same side of the moon always faces the Earth. If you can see the Earth from where you are on the moon, that's pretty much where it will always be. It will go through moon-like phases, but it won't set unless you drive far from your base, and keep going until the big blue marble drops below the horizon.

Astronauts in orbit around the moon, of course, will see multiple Earthrises and Earthsets as they fly. And that's how Kaguya managed to get these videos.

But just look at that little orb rising above the lunar horizon. All life, all history that we know (aside from the spacecraft we've hurled off the planet) is contained on that speck. All our differences, all our hatreds, everything we love, everything we hope for in the future, rides on that same fragile sphere. And it is our life-support system. Screw it up, and we can't just pack and go home. That is home.

And here's yet another view of our planet, in true color, snapped last week by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft during a swing past Earth en route to land on a comet.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

November 19, 2007

Drive Wednesday. Hunker Thursday

If you're headed for Grandmother's house, listen up. Forecasters say we can expect a mild and partly sunny ride early on Wednesday, with southerly winds producing a high in Baltimore near 70 degrees. But things go downhill from there.

Rain could move in by mid-day Wednesday and continue on into the evening. They're calling for a 30 percent chance of showers Wednesday night, and similar rain chances thgroughout the day and night on Thursday.

So I'd say the best driving conditions (traffic aside) will prevail on Wednesday. Thursday looks like a good day to settle in with good food, friends and family, and let the weather do its thing outdoors.

Things brighten a bit for the long weekend, and the drive home, with a bit of sunshine breaking through. They're expecting cooler highs in the upper 40s. That's cool for this time of year.

The predicted rain is part of an approaching cold front. Rain begins out ahead of the front, and continues as it moves off the coast by midnight Thursday. Then the rain lingers a bit behind the front, but the weekend looks dry. Raking weather.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

November 16, 2007

Clouds will spoil view of Leonid shower

Now the forecasters out at Sterling are predicting another cold front will cut through these parts Saturday night into Sunday. We could see snow and rain showers. And it will almost certainly obscure our view of the peak of this year's Leonid meteor shower early Sunday morning.

So, we'll sleep in. But just in case the clouds part, here's what I had intended to write for Saturday's Weather Page comments:

With luck, clouds will clear tonight and give us a good look at Sunday morning’s peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower. This display is one of the year’s best, averaging 15 meteors per hour where skies are darkest. Dust from Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle smacks the atmosphere at 44 miles per second, making Leonids fast and bright. Half leave persistent trains. No moon will interfere, but get as far as possible from urban lighting. Best time to look: from 2 a.m. until skies brighten. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Sky Watching

Gloomy weekend ahead

 Keyser's Ridge Friday morning

We'll have plenty of sunshine (and wind!) today, but forecasters are calling for clouds and chances for showers beginning after lunch time on Saturday as a "clipper" system blows through the region. There may be snow showers in the mountains. "Slight" rain chances continue through Saturday night and Sunday before things clear up for the new week.

The wind has been pretty steady here at The Sun this morning, blowing between 10 and 20 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph at mid-morning. There were big tornadoes of leaves in Charles Village on the ride down St. Paul St. And yesterday the lower part of I-83 South, through Timonium and Lutherville, was under a shower of leaves as stiff winds rattled the trees along the highway. In addition to the snow this morning on Keyser's Ridge (above), there was a dusting of snow up in Frostburg. Ditto for Deep Creek Lake.

The fall colors around the city seem to have really peaked this week, after what seemed like a slow, and very brown start. Maybe some of this rain has put some color in the show. But after this wind, the trees will be a lot barer for Thanksgiving. 

The cloudy weekend will wreck our chances for a view of the peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower Sunday morning. More on that here later today.

As for next week, it looks like we'll have plenty of sunshine and seasonably cool temperatures until Thanksgiving, which may see a return of autumn showers and mild temperatures, near 60.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

November 15, 2007

Hubble zooms in on Comet Holmes

Scientists have turned the Hubble Space Telescope toward Comet Holmes in an effort to learn more about what caused the once-dim speck to blossom suddenly on October 23 into a naked-eye object in the evening sky. Here's the Web site that explains all, with lots of pictures of the comet and its nucleus - the size of Central Park.

UPDATE: Friday morning. When skies cleared last night I grabbed the binoculars and had another look at Holmes. I was amazed by how much bigger the cloud of dust and gas around the comet's nucleus has grown since my last look a week or more ago. Scientists say it is now about the same size as the sun, although it's a whole lot less substantial.

Holmes has become almost invisible to the naked eye - at least where I was observing - as it's expanded and dimmed. But it was easy to find in the binoculars. I also noticed how much Holmes has moved since my last look. It's rising higher in the northeastern sky in the evenings, closer to the apex of the triangle of stars I used to find Holmes a week ago.

Comet Holmes - Hubble Space Telescope

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:31 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

Welcome rain wrapping up

It's not over just yet, but the end is in sight for this welcome overnight rain. Here's the Northeast radar loop. We've measured a bit more than a quarter-inch here at The Sun, at Calvert and Centre streets in Baltimore, and out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville.

Thats seems typical for the immediate suburbs. But some spots in western Maryland have seen quite a bit more, with a few places reporting more than an inch of rain. Here's a full rundown. And here are some highlights as of 7 a.m.:

Friendsville, Garrett Co.:  1.34 inches

McHenry, Garrett Co.:  1.12 inches

Taneytown, Carroll Co.:  0.87 inch

Westminster, Carroll Co.:  0.66 inch

Long Green, Baltimore Co.:  0.53 inch

Jarrettsville, Harford Co.:  0.32 inch

Pasadena, Anne Arundel Co.:  0.28 inch

Columbia, Howard Co.:  0.24 inch

White Hall, Baltimore Co.:  0.20 inch

The rain associated with this frontal passage should be over after lunch. Here's the forecast. They're calling for cold and blustery conditions this afternoon and overnight, with lows near freezing. Bundle up if you're going out.

There's no rain in the forecast beyond today and through the middle of next week, so we remain in serious need of precipitation.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

November 14, 2007

Spacecraft visits Earth, takes pictures

 Earth - by ESA's Rosetta

A visitor from deep space paid a brief visit to Earth yesterday, snapping pictures and then flying off for a landing on a distant comet. The visitor was the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft.

Launched in March 2004, Rosetta was programmed to fly to a comet named 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, arriving in 2014. There, it will land - the first spacecraft ever to make a controlled landing on a comet.

Getting to the comet, however, will require a series of planetary flybys to pick up a gravitational speed boost, including two swings past the Earth, and one past Mars.

On Tuesday, Rosetta zipped by our home planet, and scientists used the opportunity to switch on Rosetta's navigation camera and take some pictures. They show Earth and the moon as a visitor from outer space might see them. Looks pretty barren. Not much chance for life there, right? 

Or maybe there is. Here are some Rosetta shots of the nightside of the planet, city lights blazing. Who left the porch light on?

And finally, here is a pair of images taken through a telescope on the ground as Rosetta sped by. One shows the spacecraft as a faint streak across the starry background. The other tracked Rosetta, which appears as a white dot, while the stars are streaked by the long exposure.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

A dose of rain here; snow in the mountains

There's change in the wind today. All this mild air, which is the reason for our foggy mornings, is about to be booted out by rain, colder air, and even snow to our west.

Visibilities will improve slowly today, but we may never shake the clouds before a new batch rolls in from the west with the approach of a strong cold front. Forecasters expect the rain will arrive late tonight, perhaps not until after midnight. They're expecting as much as a half-inch overnight and another half-inch tomorrow. The front comes complete with strong, gusty winds and even the possibility of a thunderstorm or two.

Rain may linger into the morning Thursday, with the possibility of snow showers in the mountains of western Maryland. And temperatures will not advance much, if at all, from the overnight low around 50 degrees. Today's highs in the 60s may be the last we see for quite a while. The forecast calls for no more than seasonable highs near 50 into next week, with lows in the 30s. 

As temperatures fall Thursday night, the lake-effect snow showers in the west may begin to accumulate. As much as an inch is possible by Friday morning in Cumberland, with up to six inches (!) in Frostburg and some of the higher peaks. You can watch it fall here.

Forecast is iffy for Saturday night/Sunday morning and the peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower. More on that later as the picture clears.

Forecasters are being coy about next week. They say this morning that computer "models and ensembles have backed off with potential storm early next week." But there's at least a chance that we could see some wintry weather. The bloggers at Capital Weather  are already toying with their readers on the subject. I would never do that.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

November 13, 2007

Gunga Dan and the Arctic meltdown: Tonight

If you have satellite TV or some cable system other than Comcast, you might want to take a look at a "Dan Rather Reports" special on the warming of Earth's Arctic ice, airing at 8 p.m. tonight on HD Net.

HD Net's PR operation contacted me precisely yesterday, offering to send me the program's DVD, presumably so I could watch it and write something about it before the show aired. I'm fast, but not that fast.

Consequently, I can't vouch for Dan's work, but the topic is endlessly fascinating. Record melting of the Arctic ice cap this summer opened the fabled Northwest Passage to shipping for a few weeks in September. It's a sea route across the northern edge of North America that has been ice bound throughout the whole of human civilization. Plenty of sailors died trying to sail through there and find the short route to the riches of the Orient.

Now, as the planet warms, that sea passage is beginning to open up, with a range of consequences from the prospect of cheaper ocean shipping between China and the US East Coast and Europe during a portion of the northern summer, to disruption of arctic habitats for animals and humans alike. It also opens the prospect of a political and military contest for control of the northern ocean and its resources.

HD Net's PR types say Rather traveled 450 miles north of the arctic circle aboard a Canadian ice breaker to report on the changes at the top of the globe. He speaks with scientists studying the Arctic, to government officials in the U.S, and Canada who are wrestling with the diplomatic and military issues, and historians who recall centuries of adventurers who tried to explore and exploit the region. He also meets with Inuit people who say the warmup is forever changing their lives.

At one point in the report, a former US Coast Guard officicer tells Rather the US is unprepared for this new reality: "We are not prepared because we don't have the vessels to operate there. We are not prepared because we've not signed the treaty that gives us legal standing to participate in the diplomatic discussions. We've not confronted and faced up to the reality of climate change in the Arctic. Not many Americans, I think, appreciate the huge stakes that exist in the Arctic region."

Since I enjoy only Comcast at home, I won't be seeing this program before you. So if you watch, come back here, leave a comment and let us know what you thought of it. Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:31 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Notes to readers

AccuWeather: Winter canceled for Maryland

Well, not exactly cancelled. But I just got off the phone with Ken Reeves, AccuWeather's senior meteorologist and director of forecasting operations, and he says a strong La Nina pattern in the Pacific this winter will keep us plenty warm and dry for most of the season.

This is pretty much what other prognosticators have been saying for months. A La Nina winter means mild winter temperatures and scant snow for Maryland.

Whatever cold weather and snow we may get, Reeves said, is likely to come at us early - in late November or December, and then again late in February or March. But the normally coldest and snowiest weeks of the year - in January and most of February - will be mild.

"It looks like there's going to be a noticeable turn back to a milder pattern as we move through December," he said. "For the heart of the season, we'll find there isn't a lot in the way of snowfall or cold air."

Of course, that's good news for your wallet. We'll all burn less fuel to heat our homes. And that will allow refineries to crank out more gasoline, boosting supplies and keeping prices at the pumps somewhere south of crippling. We hope.

It's also good news for your back. Less shoveling.

The bad news is that precipitation - not just snow - will be scant, too. If you're looking for a big recharge for the reservoirs and the wells this winter, Reeves is not encouraging.

"It doesn't look like it's coming," he said. "There are signs you might break out of it (the drought) faster as you head into spring," which he anticipates may be cooler and stormier. But "if you're looking for 120 percent or 150 percent (of normal rainfall this winter) it's not coming."

The forecast for mild, dry and relatively snow-free weather this winter also includes most of the eastern United States, Reeves said. The Deep South won't get any drought relief either. But the Pacific Northwest, the northern Rockies and perhaps even the northern Plains states should brace for cold weather and, especially in the Northwest - lots of snow.

He said the combination of a strong La Nina this winter  - "maybe even a top-5 La Nina" - and multidecadal warm cycle underway since 1995 in the Atlantic Ocean, is what's driving nation's winter forecast this year.

The closest analog he's found for the global conditions that will influence this winter in the US were the conditions that prevailed during the winter of 1949-1950. That January averaged 8 to 12 degrees warmer than the long-term averages in the East, he said.  In the Pacific Northwest, Seattle averaged 13 degrees below the average. And, he noted, "they had just shy of five feet of snow, the snowiest ever there in Seattle."

"We are looking for temperatures in Baltimore to be 2 to 4 degrees above normal (in January)," he said. The mild forecast "doesn't mean it can't snow," he cautioned. "It just means I wouldn't anticipate a prolonged period" of cold, wintry weather. "It's very possible that in the December through February time period, 75 percent of the days would be above normal."

I asked Reeves if farmers and residents with water wells can look forward to a recharge AFTER the winter is over and La Nina begins to wane. On that he was a tad more hopeful.

"I do believe we will see La Nina wane a bit after peaking, probably in the early part of 2008 ... and head closer to more neutral signals ... by April or June," he said. He had no precipitation predictions for the spring or summer. But he did say the decline of La Nina would allow a stormier weather pattern to develop for the Northeast.

For the record, Reeve's analog year - the winter of 1949-1950 - produced less than an inch of snow for Baltimore - 0.7 inch to be precise, the least snow ever recorded for a season here.  Temperatures for that winter (Dec.-Feb.) averaged  42 degrees, or more than 7 degrees above normal. January averaged 46.9 degrees, or more than 16 degrees above the long-term average. December and February were mild, too, but by just 2 to 5 degrees.

Here's AccuWeather's full report on the coming winter.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

Record snow last week in Baltimore. Who knew?

I guess I was asleep at the switch. Baltimore had a record snowfall last Friday and it got no mention here whatsoever. "Huh?" you say.

It turns out that the instruments at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport recorded a trace of snow on Friday, the 9th, along with some rain. In all, it added up to 0.11 inch of precipitation. It was the first in what has turned out to be (so far) five straight days of drippy skies. (Less than a half-inch total so far.) Some observers in the northern and western suburbs also reported some flurries of fat flakes that morning - the first of the season all around.

Anyway, looking back through the weather archives, I find that a "trace" of snow just happens to be the record snowfall for Baltimore for a Nov. 9. The last time it happened was in 1971.

So, that means last Friday's flakes at BWI tied the record for snowfall for Baltimore on a Nov. 9.

Only three more dates this fall have record snowfall of just a trace - less than 0.1-inch. Those are Nov. 16, 18 and 21. The next after that is April 2.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

November 12, 2007

A wet, changeable week ahead

Warm fronts, cold fronts, highs near 70, highs near 50, sun and rain. It's a real chowder of a forecast this week for Maryland. We will see sunshine, then thickening clouds again today after the little spittle of rain we had overnight - a mere 0.11 inch on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. Here are some other readings from across the region.

There's more rain in the NWS forecast for Tuesday morning (less than a quarter inch) as a weak cold front passes through the region. There will be some clear skies and sunshine behind the front as the afternoon wears on. And temperatures could climb toward 70 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday before a stronger cold front arrives Thursday morning with more serious November weather.

Look for more showers with the new front - another quarter inch early Thursday if we're lucky. Winds will pick up and temperatures will slide during the day, reaching no more than 50 degrees on Thursday, and slipping to near freezing by Friday morning. Looks like a nice weekend beyond that, with highs near normal in the mid-50s.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:44 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

Comet Holmes grows a tail

Comet Holmes - Jack Newton, Portal AZ Nov. 5

Comet Holmes, the oddball comet that erupted into naked-eye visibility almost three weeks ago, now appears in photo imagery to have grown a tail. It's not much as comet tails go. (Here are some photos of Comet McNaught, one of the most spectacular tailed comets in recent years, but hard to see from here when it peaked.) 

Holmes' tail is not apparent to the naked eye, and can't readily be seen in binoculars. But long-exposure photography does show a stubby ion tail. It's stubby because it is being blown away from the comet's nucleus - and away from the sun and Earth. So, from our perspective, it looks very short.

More recent images also suggest that a gust of solar wind has actually detached the tail from the nucleus. Here's the Holmes Photo Gallery.

Got 3-D glasses - the kind with red and blue lenses? Try them on this Holmes image.

NEW:  Here's the first closeup image of Holmes' nucleus I've seen.

Holmes was unusual from the beginning. It brightened unexpectedly from a dim dot in telescopes on Oct. 23, to a bright fuzzball in the constellation Perseus on Oct. 24. It was easily visible to the naked eye, although it looked not so much like a comet as just another unfamiliar star in Perseus. Scientists could only speculate about what sort of an eruption or collapse on the comet's icy nucleus might have caused such a huge exhalation of gas and dust.

In binoculars it looked like a ball of cotton, or a gray billiard ball. It was simple to find, and lots of casual backyard stargazers got a look at their first naked-eye comet since 1997.

In recent weeks, Holmes has moved slowly higher in the sky, climbing in Perseus toward the W-shaped Cassiopeia, in the northeastern sky in the evening hours. It has also appeared to dim somewhat to naked-eye observers, perhaps as the dust and gas expelled with its initial brightening began to dissipate.

But the tail came slowly, and is still not apparent to casual observers. Fortunately, we have digital telescopic images and the Web.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:41 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Sky Watching

November 10, 2007

Thursday night meteor

Okay. Now two people have told me they saw a particularly big and bright meteor flash across the sky over Baltimore Thursday evening. Here's how Joseph Lee described it:

"Hi, Frank.  Last night (Thursday, Nov. 8, 2007) I was traveling on the 35th Street east of Loch Raven Blvd, heading east.  I saw a very low flying object bright blue in color with a very white but short tail streaking very fast from north to south.  It was much larger than the usual shooting stars we see at a high altitude.  This was around 10:30 PM.  I just wonder if anyone else had seen it and reported to you. - Joseph" 
Joe DiCarlo, an editor at The Sun, told me late on Friday that he, too, had seen a big meteor Thursday night while walking near the Inner Harbor. His description was much like Joe Lee's, except that he said the meteor he saw was moving from west to east.
Both Joes seem to have seen a particularly big meteor. It does not sound like it was a fireball or a bolide. Here's a video showing what they look like. Amazing.
The bluish color you saw may have been related to the elemental composition of the object, the gas it was passing through, or quirks of human color vision. Or all three.
If anyone else saw this object Thursday evening, I'd love to hear about it. Leave a comment here and I'll post them as quickly as I can. Thanks. 
Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:10 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Sky Watching

November 9, 2007

MD drought a little worse

Maybe this little drizzle will help, but the drought in Maryland grew a little worse over the past week. The federal government's latest Drought Monitor map is out, and it shows that 88 percent of Maryland remains abnormally dry, or worse.

The percentage of the state that remains in moderate hydrological (water supply) drought grew from 35 percent to 42 percent. The segment with normal conditions shrank from 15 percent to 11 percent.

Streamflow across central Maryland remains at or near record-low levels. And the USGS monitoring wells continue to decline. Here's a graph showing the decline in a well in Baltimore County, which resumed quickly after last month's rainfall. 



Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drought

A few flakes, and we sort ourselves out

Fat flakes in Parkton! Flee!  Okay, so it's not a big deal, only the first whiff of winter for a region that takes some sort of perverse pleasure in its traditional fear and loathing of wintry weather.

Here's how I see it. There are three kinds of people. The first type we'll call Winter Junkies, and I'll include myself in this batch. We love snow and ice storms because they are beautiful and invigorating, and because they disrupt the humdrum routines of our lives. They test our winter driving skills, our strength, our ability to plan, to prepare and to overcome obstacles.

Then there are the Winter Stoics. They endure snow and ice storms because they have to. If they could, they would escape our winter and take refuge under a palm tree somewhere until it all blew over. They scurry to the grocery store for milk and toilet paper when the weather guys on TV utter the S word, and then they hunker down by the tube and wait for the stuff outside to melt, venturing out only when absolutely necessary.

Finally, there are the Winter Weenies. These are the mysterious tribes whose cars the rest of us see parked and empty beside the road during a winter storm. They apparently prefer to walk along an Interstate highway, or head off through the snowy woods, in their wingtips and pumps, in search of human settlements rather than drive in snow and ice. They vanish, and their kind is lost to the gene pool. Or, they reach a cabin somewhere and remain indoors, eating expired cans of Dinty Moore stew until they somehow sense dry pavement beyond the doorstep, and alert, like canine pointers, to the twitter of birds in spring.

Let it snow.

And while it's snowing, take pictures and send them to me so I can post them. Thanks.

Speaking of snow, AccuWeather's Joe Bastardi will be issuing his winter weather forecast on Tuesday. We'll talk with him and let you know what he's thinking about the winter ahead. He usually hypes the snow risks, but I don't think he'll have much to work with this winter. Still looks like mild and continued dry to me.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:41 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

November 8, 2007

Rain Friday PM; flakes lurk

It looks like mostly rain tomorow. But forecasters still can't get the whisper of frozen precipitation out of their forecast discussion for late-Friday/early Saturday. I'll let you read it and draw your own conclusions. Text in parentheses is my translation of meteorologist-speak:



Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:18 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Forecasts

November 7, 2007

Omigod! These are East Coast waves!?

Outer Banks, NC Nov. 3  

After a disappointing summer for East Coast surfers, Hurricane Noel last weekend finally delivered some of the best, most sustained surfing waves in recent memory, from New England to the Carolinas.

 Here's a link to some astonishing photos. Hang 10 surfer dudes and dudettes! (Click the "next" button to flip through the gallery of 38 photos.) Here are more. Yikes! And here's some kickin' video from YouTube. Those are Outer Banks waves, folks.

The first link provides some pretty savvy discussion of the offshore weather conditions that produced these epic (for the East Coast) waves.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

Ice or no ice? It depends ...

As the hours tick by, forecast models adjust and forecasters revise. It looks like the risk of icy precipitation late Friday is diminishing for the urban corridor of Maryland. The snowier spots in the western mountains could see some snow, but not us. Here's a piece of this afternoon's discussion:


Too bad. Looks like all you snow fans out there will have to wait a while longer for the season's first taste of wintry precipitation.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

Friday night ice?

The good news is that there is no longer any mention of snow in the NWS forecast out of Sterling. The bad news is that the shower chances now predicted for late Friday could transition to some sort of frozen mix before it all gives way to a fine weekend. Here's a snippet from this morning's forecast discussion:

"Have backed off on precipitation Friday morning ... and focused precipitation more Friday afternoon and at night. Despite what (computer models) indicate ... believe precipitation type on Friday would be rain. Howevere ... a precipitation type transition to more of the frozen variety all the way east toward the Interstate 95 corridor is possible Friday night. This at the same time that there is the potential for a few hundredths of an inch of liquid to exist. This will be interesting to watch."

The weekend promises to brighten, with daytime highs warming from the high 40s toward the upper 50s. The coldest weather in the immediate future will come tonight, as high pressure settles in, skies clear and winds die down. We could sink well into the 20s outside of the big cities and away from the still-warm waters of the bay.

Lake effect snows continue to be an issue for parts of New York State as a low pressure center over northern Canada draws wind across the Great Lakes, picking up moisture and dropping it on the lee sides of the lakes. But then, we don't live there.

Snow is coming, though. Here's the snow-cover map animation for the last 30 days.


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

November 6, 2007

Rain departs with front; cold air pours in

Erie, PA today

Check out this shot of Erie, PA today. This is why we don't live there. The patter of rain you heard in Baltimore early this morning won't end the drought. It left only a few hundredths of an inch here and there. I had 0.09 inch on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. We recorded just 0.06 inch here at Calvert & Centre streets. BWI got 0.10 inch.

The clouds accompanying the frontal passage have departed, sliding off the Atlantic coast and leaving us under bright, sunny skies. What's arriving to replace the front is the cold air that's been pouring out of central Canada, bringing lake effect snows to the lee shores of the Great Lakes. My mother-in-law in Erie  won't like that much. Check out this Erie Airport webcam shot. Ick! The cold air is arriving with stiff winds, gusting to 19 mph so far here at the paper.

Our high temperatures for the bulk of the week ahead will be stuck in the low 50s. That's almost 10 degrees below the long-term averages for this time of year. Overnight lows will drop into the 30s, with colder readings in some spots. You know who you are.

Snow remains in the forecast, tonight through Wednesday, for the Potomac Highlands - high ground in the far western part of the state. For us here along the I-95 corridor, the forecast shows a "slight" chance for rain or snow after 1 a.m. Friday morning, and possibly more frozen precip later on Friday.

The weekend looks good - cool, in the 50s, but sunny. But there's more "unsettled" weather ahead next week. Stay tuned.

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

November 5, 2007

Snow in the forecast

That got your attention, didn't it? And it's true. National Weather Service forecasters for Maryland have slipped the S-word into their predictions for the first time this season. As much as 1 to 2 inches of snow is possible west of the Alleghenies Tuesday and Tuesday night, they say, as a cold front pushes through the region.

Wind blowing up the western slope of the mountains will drop precipitation along the way, and it may fall as snow showers in "the most favored locations," according to this morning's forecast discussion from Sterling.

For those of us down here on the eastern side of the state, those same winds will cross the mountains and dry out as they run down the eastern slopes. So, after some scattered showers late Monday and early Tuesday, we'll dry out again.

Our next chance for frozen precipitation could come Thursday night as a "clipper" system races out of Canada with temperatures near freezing in some locations, and a 30 percent chance of precipitation for Baltimore. If so, we could see some frozen precip in the northern and western suburbs. Or not. It's a prediction. 

More likely perhaps, we may get a little bit of badly needed moisture this week, with temperatures cooler than the averages for this time of year. After some 60s today, the highs should sink back into the low 50s and upper 40s later in the week, with lows in the 30s for Baltimore.

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

Space Station joins morning sky show

SPace station passing Saturn - Becky Ramotowski

It was a beautiful morning in Baltimore for stargazing. With Venus and the crescent moon dominating the predawn sky, the International Space Station made a dramatic appearance. The station, with the shuttle Discovery still too close by to be seen as a separate object from 200 miles below, crossed a planet-filled morning sky.

The photo above was taken from New Mexico by Becky Ramotowski. It shows the ISS passing right to left beneath Saturn, flaring a bit as it reflects moonlight from below. That's the moon and Venus glowing near the horizon. I'm guessing the moon looks full because its crescent is over-exposed to make the relatively dim Saturn and the ISS easier to see. 

Station and shuttle rose from the southwestern sky just after 5:50 a.m., passed beneath the bright stars of the Orion constellation, and Sirius, the brightest true star in the sky.

Then it swept just above Saturn at 5:53 a.m., high in the southeastern sky. I had my little ETX telescope tracking Saturn, and the planet's rings were very clear in the morning sky. But the ISS passed too far away from the planet to fall within my narrow field of view. I'm hoping someone, somewhere saw the two objects from a better angle and managed to snap both in the same frame. If so, send me a copy and I'll post it. 

At the bottom of this post, there's a picture shot this morning by Baltimore's Streetcorner Astronomer, Herman Heyn. He was at Sherwood Gardens, shooting ISO 400 film with a .25 sec. exposure. That's the ISS crossing from right to left. (If it appears to be a dotted line, that is an artifact of our digitization of a film image, not the original.) Saturn is the "star" just below the streak, Regulus is the (real) star just above the station's path. The moon and Venus were behind the trees at lower left.

After the station and shuttle disappeared into the northeastern sky, I turned the telescope to Venus and the moon. I had never before seen Venus well enough to witness one of its moon-like phases. But there it was, with half its sphere illuminated by the rising sun. The crescent moon was dramatically illuminated, with low sun angles that threw its craters into sharp relief.

Swinging the telescope around, high in the western sky, I found Mars, a reddish disk that promises to get only bigger and brighter as the weeks tick by toward opposition at Christmastime.

Mercury was there, too, somewhere low in the eastern sky, too low for me to see below the houses and trees. It was a fine morning for the sleep-deprived. I hope others, too, got a chance to see at least part of the show. Leave a comment and let us know what you saw.

I did not get a look at Comet Holmes. But photographers say they see evidence the oddball comet is developing a tail, at least in long-exposure photos. Here's a gallery. Here's more.

ISS, Saturn over Baltimore - Herman Heyn


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Sky Watching

November 4, 2007

ISS will eclipse Saturn in MD

For those of you planning to get outside before 6 a.m. tomorrow to watch the International Space Station fly over Maryland, one of the treats of the morning will be to watch the station fly past Saturn high in the southeastern sky. For most of us it will be a near - but very close - miss. But for a few the ISS will pass directly in front of Saturn - a sort of eclipse.

If weather conditions are right, a few amateur astronomers will try to capture a photograph of the fly by. I plan to be out there with my little telescope just to watch. If you're planning to have a look yourself, you might want to check out the map below, which shows the path of the "eclipse." The line on the map shows - approximately - where observers will be able to watch the ISS pass directly over Saturn. It will be a near miss for me in Cockeysville. On the other hand, maybe the prediction will be off by a fraction and I'll get lucky.

For all those planning to watch, good luck. And if you get a photograph of the event, please email me a copy and I'll post it. If you're just out to watch, and to enjoy the stars, moon and planets, drop a comment here when you get back indoors and we'll post those too.

Clear skies! 


Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

Monday morning sky spectacular

I outlined it briefly in this morning's Weather Page commentary in the print editions of The Sun. You can also access the Weather Page commentaries from the main page. Look on the bottom of the WeatherBlog box. For those who missed it, here's the scoop on Monday's morning's predawn spectacle of moon, stars, planets (Mars, Saturn, Venus and Mercury) and spaceships.

As for the International Space Station and the shuttle Discovery, look for the ISS to appear over the southwest horizon at 5:50 a.m. EST, climbing past the bright star Sirius, then brushing by the planet Saturn at 5:53 a.m. before winging off toward the northeast. Discovery's appearance will depend on the timing of its departure today from the ISS. But give yourself a few extra minutes on either side of ISS's flyover. You may need it for any timing slips, and to spot the shuttle flying just ahead (or behind) of the ISS. The shuttle will be the dimmer of the pair.

I slipped outside this morning for a preview. Venus and the moon were beautiful, but they will be better - closer together - Monday morning. Mars was also quite a sight - red and very obvious just west of straight up. Sure hope the weather holds up. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:11 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

November 2, 2007

Fierce Noel menacing New England, Canada

 Storm at sea

Hurricane Noel is about to become a powerful extratropical storm, losing its tropical engine but remaining a ferocious Atlantic storm with top winds of 80 mph. It is already battering the Atlantic coast, and threatens Cape Cod, and the rest of coastal New England this weekend, and is fated to go ashore in the Canadian maritime provinces. We'll see this one on the news.

Here's a link showing all the ships at sea, and which are in the storm's path. Click to zoom in and see the ships' names.

Here is the latest advisory. Here is the forecast storm track. And here is the satellite view. And here is the forecast for Halifax, Nova Scotia. Batten the hatches.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

Big wind, big waves at OC

 Hurricane Noel in infrared - NOAA

Winds up to 40 mph and waves as big as 14 feet will pummel Maryland and Delaware beaches this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow, the weather service says. The winds are being drive onshore by Hurricane Noel, far at sea, and high pressure over New England. Check out this satellite loop. Wow!

The National Weather Service has issued a high surf advisory and coastal flood watch for the coast. Visitors and property owners shouold expected east and northeast winds of 30 to 40 p.m., with gusts as high as 55 mph, the advisories say. The 10- to 14-foot waves will cause rip currents to form, and some beach erosion is expected.

Here's the webcam view from the Kite Loft. Here's how folks are faring on the boardwalk. Here's the scene at Virginia Beach, Va. And here is a link to realtime data from the NOAA bouy off the Maryland/Delaware coast.

UPDATE: Just before 5 p.m. Friday, I notice that the atmospheric pressure out at that bouy has begun to fall (as it has here in Baltimore), indicating the storm's approach. Wave heights are also building. Nice to be on land. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

First Earthling in space died 50 years ago


Tomorrow (Nov. 3) marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 2, the second artificial Earth satellite hurled into space and the first to carry a living creature. The unlucky passenger was Laika (Russian for "barker"), a mutt grabbed from a Moscow street, trussed up, fitted with electrodes and packed into a space capsule.

The pup did prove that one could survive the stresses of launch. But it wasn't pretty.

For decades, the Soviets lied about what really happened after liftoff. Laika was portrayed as a hero and a martyr. In fact, the dog struggled mightily to escape as the rocket rattled into orbit, and died only hours later from overheating due to an onboard malfunction. PETA would have had a fit. You can read more about it here. And this Wikipedia link includes a discussion of all the musical outgrowths of Laika's doomed mission. Weird.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:33 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

November 1, 2007

Noel in Bermuda Triangle, could become hurricane

Jupiter Inlet, Fla. - Wednesday 

Tropical Storm Noel now has sustained winds of just below hurricane strength as it turns north northeast, crosses the western corner of the fabled Bermuda Triangle and heads for the Canadian Maritime provinces. Here's the latest advisory.

Tropical storm warnings for southeast Florida have been dropped, but a hurricane watch is posted now for the northwest islands of the Bahamas, with watches elsewhere in the islands. And gale warnings are up for Bermuda. Not a good time to be cruising to Bermuda, folks. But the surf will be up along the Atlantic beaches, including Ocean City this weekend. That's Jupiter Inlet, Fla. in the photo above. Florida beaches are taking a pounding and beach erosion has become a big concern. Beachside structures are threatened along 400 miles of coastline.

The storm is expected to merge with the prevailing weather systems now dominating the North Atlantic, thus becoming "extratropical." But that only turns it into a kind of nor'easter, still a powerful storm at sea and nothing to be trifled with.

Here's the satellite loop.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Hurricanes

Rains eased worst of Maryland drought

The weekly Drought Monitor map is in, and it shows dramatic improvement from the previous week, thanks to five days of rain last week. But the drought persists across more than a third of the state.

Last week's rains erased all traces of "extreme" drought from the state's map. It had climbed to 66 percent by the 23rd, which was the day the rains started falling here.

The portion of the state still rated in "severe" drought, according to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture fell this week from 87 percent to just 35 percent. Most of that is concentrated in Southern Maryland and the southern half of the Eastern Shore. There's also a pocket of severe drought persisting in southern Frederick, western Montgomery and western Howard counties.

Eighty-four percent of the state continues to experience abnormally dry conditions, or worse, however. Only 15 percent enjoys normal moisture, up from 6.8 percent last week.

These ratings are based on a combination of factors, including soil moisture, stream flow, rainfall and satellite assessments of vegetation health.

In the meantime, the USGS reports stream flow across the state has improved, but many continue to be well below normal levels for this time of year. And ground water recovery has been uneven. This Baltimore County well clearly got a bump from last week's rains, but has quickly resumed its downward slippage since.

We still need more rain. The months of November through April are when the reservoirs and groundwater resources need to recharge. Evaporation is down, consumption is down and plant life isn't using as much water, so more flows into our reserves. But it still needs to fall from the sky first to be of any benefit.

The next opportunity for some rain? Sorry. None in the forecast. And Tropical Storm Noel is headed out to sea.

In the meantime, the feds have just launched a new Web site that brings together a wealth of information and data about the ongoing drought here and in other parts of the country. Here's the link.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drought
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