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January 31, 2008

Freezing rain by morning

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Weather Advisory, effective from 2 a.m. until noon tomorrow, warning of freezing rain across the northern and western suburbs of Baltimore and Washington. As much as a tenth of an inch of ice accumulation is possible. Slippery roads may be an issue in the morning in the advisory area.

Farther west, from Washington County west, they're under a Winter Storm Warning, and could see a quarter-inch of ice. Power outages seem likely, too, as ice weighs down limbs and wires.


The storm is brewing in the Deep South, tapping into moisture from the Gulf, which it will carry up the Appalachians overnight. The rain will fall into sub-freezing temperatures near the surface, freezing on contact. If the forecast holds up, I think we can expect some delayed openings, at least, north and west of the urban centers.

Down here in the city, and from here south and east, we're only offered a Hazardous Weather Outlook. We could see some early freezing rain, but mostly we get plain rain - and now they're talking about as much as 2 inches of it, along with minor flooding and maybe even some thunder.

Remember, it's a state law: when your wipers are on, you must switch on your headlights.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:48 PM | | Comments (1)

February to enter "semi-lionish"

Forecasters this morning are sticking with their predictions for an icy winter storm late tonight and tomorrow, but it appears as though the I-95 corridor will see mainly rain. We'll know more when the afternoon forecast package comes out.

For now, the barometer here at Calvert & Centre streets continues to rise, passing 30.62 inches at 11 a.m., so the big dome of fair weather is still firmly seated on top of us.

11 a.m. radar - NWS 

In the meantime, they're expecting the storm now brewing in the Plains to pick up a good deal of Gulf moisture and run it up the west side of the Appalachians tonight. With fairly cold air still in place, that will mean sleet and freezing rain as the system arrives in western Virginia around midnight.

This morning's forecast discussion says: "Feb to come in semi-lionish," at least for western counties of Virginia and Maryland, and in West Virginia. 

Here's's precip map for the storm. The National Weather Service forecast says the precipitation should fall as sleet or freezing rain along the I-81 corridor. The ice could accumulate to a quarter-inch. But "I-95 does not seem to have a shot for any freezing rain," the folks at Sterling say.

In between the two highways, west of Baltimore, they're looking at some frozen precipitation, which will begin to change to rain as the morning wears on and surface temperatures slowly rise above freezing. We could get up to an inch of needed rain before it's all over. It's a very wet system.

The cold front behind the rain should move across the region during the afternoon and dry us ip by dinnertime. Some light snow in the mountains may persist, but won't amount to anything, they say.

The weekend should find us back under high pressure and sunny skies, followed by more clouds, and rain again by Wednesday, sunny for the end of the week and some kind of precipitation again next weekend. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:46 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

January 30, 2008

Sleet and ice expected Fri. west of Baltimore

Friday's storm system is threatening to put a glaze of ice on things west of the I-95 corridor. The National Weather Service has posted a Winter Storm Watch from Carroll and Frederick counties westward.

The watch, in effect from late Thursday through Friday afternoon, calls for sleet first, then freezing rain. "The watch area has a potential for a quarter-inch or more of accumulating ice," forecasters said. They're most concerned about the stretch from Hagerstown to Westminster.

Worse, behind the rains late on Friday we'll get strong winds, which will likely bring down some trees, limbs and power lines already burdened with ice. It could be a cold, dark weekend for some.

Down here in the low country we still have a potential for some freezing rain. There's now a Hazardous Weather Outlook message posted for the I-95 corridor. But on the whole it should be a rain event. But it will pay to be cautious driving around on Friday.

This event is still 24 hours away, and the forecast could change and shift the slippery stuff eastward. So stay tuned.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

Hefty rain due

No need to ponder it much today, amid all the sunshine and blustery winds, but there is a substantial and welcome rainstorm due here by Thursday night.

If the forecast holds up, we can expect the rain to start Thursday evening, or soon after midnight Friday as a storm makes its way up from the Gulf. We could receive as much as a quarter-inch by Friday morning, with another half- to three-quarters of an inch during the day Friday. If the upper numbers prove accurate, this would be the wettest 24-hour period we've seen (at BWI) since Oct. 26.

It is - at least in the I-95 urban corridor - expected to be all rain.

And we can still use the moisture. January precipitation has been running almost 2 inches below the long-term averages, and we still have a large deficit to erase before the spring and summer months arrive. Much of Maryland - nearly half, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor - remains in official drought conditions.  Streams are low and the ground water levels in many wells are still slipping. Here's a tracing for groundwater levels over the last 30 days in a USGS well in Granite, Baltimore County:

USGS groundwater well, Granite

So let the patter of rain on your roof Friday morning be a welcome sound. Grab an umbrella, step outside, put a smile on your face and think of Gene Kelly.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

January 29, 2008

Coastal flooding tonight, wind tomorrow

The National Weather Service has posted a coastal flood advisory for tonight as southerly winds drive water up the bay and send it lapping onto low-lying spots on the Western Shore of the bay and the tidal Potomac River. Check the advisory for high tide times at your location. Here's how the tide tracker saw it around 5 p.m. Tuesday. You can follow it yourself if you click here.

Tides Online 

They're only talking about "minor" flooding, but it pays to keep a watch out, especially in flood-prone spots such as the Alexandria, Washington and the Annapolis City Dock. 

The flood threat will disappear during the morning tomorrow, as an approaching cold front crosses the region and turns the winds around to the west. But these will be strong winds. A wind advisory has been posted for the Baltimore metro area, from 5 a.m. Wednesday to 4 p.m. It warns of sustained winds reaching 15 to 25 mph, with gusts to 50 mph. Take that into account if you have to put trash out tomorrow.

Next up? Freezing rain late Thursday into Friday, with the best chance for icing west of I-95. Nice.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Watches and warnings

Skies may clear for space station flyover

Attention Space Cadets! The forecast is beginning to look more hopeful for a clear view of tomorrow evening's flyover by the International Space Station.

NASAIt's not an ideal situation. Although it is an evening event, making it more convenient for most people, the flyby is comparatively late in the evening, which means the Earth's shadow is high in the sky. So, the ISS will fly into the shadow near the highest point in its passage and disappear abruptly from our view. So expect a short view. A much better flyby is expected Friday evening, but the weather looks problematic.

So, here are the details. You should leave the house a few minutes early, to allow for any inaccuracies in your clocks, or in the orbital predictions:

The ISS will appear above the western horizon at about 7 p.m. Look for a bright, star-like object moving briskly toward the northeast. It will rise to more than halfway up the northwestern sky, and head for the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia. There, at about 7:03 p.m., it will suddenly disappear from view. To an astronaut on board, the sun will appear to set, the windows will go dark, and the ISS will move into the "night" side of the Earth.

We'll watch for the forecast for Friday, and if it looks promising, we will post ISS viewing details here. The map below shows the path the ISS (red arrow) will take Wednesday evening. You can calculate ISS flyover predictions for your location at

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:48 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Sky Watching

January 28, 2008

China whomped by snowstorms 

Weird weather in China. Two dozen people are dead and eight hundred thousand have been displaced by heavy snows. Another half-million were stuck in train stations.

Transportation is a mess and power lines are down. Here's a CNN report. And an older BBC report.

And here are some satellite images from a few days ago. And more on the bitter cold.

Here's a gallery of photos from the BBC. Now we know where our winter weather went.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:42 PM | | Comments (0)

Weather report from McMurdo Station

McMurdo Station - NSF 

Peter West, a spokesman for the National Science Foundation's programs in Antarctica, just sent this dispatch from McMurdo Station, where it is mid-summer, and snowing:

Greetings from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, the National Science Foundation’s logistics hub on the southernmost continent, where the forecast for today is cold, with continuing periods of cold for, well, pretty much the foreseeable future.

Actually, as I sit here on Monday afternoon (your Sunday morning: we’re 18 hours ahead of you on New Zealand time) broodily watching the wind-driven snow fall over McMurdo Sound I am in a less-than-jolly mood, as a flight out to the McMurdo Dry Valleys and the Cape Royds penguin colony--two of the most spectacular places on Earth--with reporters from CBS News and National Public radio, seems a diminishing possibility.

Still, it gives me time to write.

People often ask me, and more so lately, as I’ve been to the continent a number of times, "Is it true that the ice is melting and it’ll soon be all gone."

The best way I can answer that is that it’s a question better aimed at the scientists who study the glaciers and sea ice. It IS true, for example, that large portions of the massive Larsen Ice Shelves on the Antarctic Peninsula disintegrated and washed out to sea in 1995 and 2002. The rapid collapse—in a period of weeks--of the Larsen B shelf in 2002 took scientists a bit by surprise and they surmise that what they had not factored into their thinking about a potential collapse was that the melt water that formed on the surface during the near 24 hours of daylight in the summertime, then flowed down into cracks and, acting like a multitude of wedges, levered the shelf apart, almost in one fell swoop

But the Larsen Shelf is located on the "Banana Belt" of the continent, the piece of Antarctica that stretches upward towards South America. This area, all the scientific data agree, has warmed noticeably in recent decades.

But what I reflect on when I stand at the South Pole, which I did only a day or two ago, is that the ice beneath my feet is nearly two miles thick and how almost incomprehensible it is that it might melt anytime soon, even in geological terms. Without discounting the very solid science behind the many reports of global climate change--which is not at all my intent—it is very hard to fathom, without arguing with the underlying truth that, as we did with the Ozone Hole, human activity can affect things on a planetary scale, that human beings could make an appreciable dent in such a mass of ice, covering as it does a continent the size of the U.S. and Mexico combined.

Put it this way, imagine yourself standing in the middle of an ocean of ice, stretching to the horizon in very direction and knowing that ice beneath your feet is almost two miles thick. That is what it’s like to stand at the South Pole.

And that, I think is a dimension of the global climate issue that easily gets lost when settling in to a story in the morning paper about climate change: the sheer scale of the planet. And yet if the observations are correct, we, as a species, are having measurable effects on that scale.

Well enough big-picture ruminations.

The meteorologists—who are forecasting weather with a mere handful of weather stations--tell that there is good news in store for Tuesday (which means, among other things, I will be boarding a C-17 cargo plane for New Zealand and, eventually, home); that the clouds will clear and the sun return.

The temperature will be a balmy 28 degrees Fahrenheit, falling to 16 degrees at night. Night, of course, being a relative concept, as the sun never sets in January.

Conditions at the South Pole, of course, are expected to be much different. The projected high? Minus 35 degrees Fahrenheit. With unrestricted visibility. Oh, and sunrise at the Pole? Well that took place on Sept. 21, 2007. It’ll start to get dark again on March 22.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Climate change

Sunny, rainy, then sunny, then rainy

Some forecast, huh? Looks like the week ahead will be marked by a series of high-pressure systems, followed by cold fronts and rain. Temperatures will slide above the normals for this time of year and stay there, with highs in the mid-40s to near 50 degrees.

We start today with high pressure and sunshine that may push readings to 50 degrees in some spots. Things will cloud up tomorrow, and rain chances begin to climb in the afternoon and become "likely" overnight into Wednesday. After the cold front pushes through Wednesday, we'll see clear skies again Wednesday night into Thursday as more high pressure builds in.

Friday brings yet another rain system and a cold front that will clear the decks for a nice, sunny weekend.

The predicted clouds and rain on Wednesday and Friday will, if the forecasters got it right, wash out our chances to watch the International Space Station fly over Maryland. We'll keep an eye on the forecast in case things clear out in time. Our best shot may be Wednesday evening, provided the day's rain clouds clear off before 7 p.m.

Wednesday's flyover is not the best of the week. That would be Friday's. But Wednesday may be our best chance to see anything at all of the ISS amid the clouds and rain. I'll post the details when the weather prospects become a bit clearer.  

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

January 25, 2008

One cold day

Whew! Glad this day is over. When you work mostly indoors, you forget what it's like to be outdoors in winter weather for long periods of time.

I had to stop in Wiltondale for an hour or so this morning, to interview residents for a story that will likely run in The Sun Monday morning. It was about 28 degrees. The sun was shining, but it wasn't helping much. Stood in the cold, scribbling notes as fast as I could while my fingers slowly froze. And as any reporter knows, Bic pens begin to slow and fade when temperatures dip below freezing, so as my notes grew a paler shade of blue, I had to stop periodically to warm the tip o' the Bic in my too-cold hands.

The folks who graciously gave me their time and thoughts never thought to invite me inside. So my hands and face are still red from the exposure, and it took me all day back in the newsroom to warm up. It's my own fault, really. I went out without a hat. And I could use some gloves with the fingers cut out so I can hold a pen. And I learned long ago I need a No. 2 pencil on days like this. Lesson learned.

The forecast   calls for bitter cold temperatures tonight, with a low around 17 degrees, and another cold day tomorrow, more than 5 degrees below normal. Things will cloud up, too, and there's a slight chance of snow early Sunday morning. Only an inch or less. And given the snow-forecasting success we've seen from Sterling in recent weeks, I wouldn't count on that. More storms are forecast for next week, but all of them have still-unresolved issues about snow/rain mixes.

We'll just have to wait and see whether clouds ruin our view of a couple of nice evening flybys expected next week by the International Space Station. Stay tuned for the specifics.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:16 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather

January 24, 2008

Flocks of robins aren't earlybirds

I've had a number of startled readers drop me a note to report seeing flocks of 20-or-so robins converging on backyard trees, gobbling up leftover fruits and berries. We had a bunch of them in our back yard in Cockeysville on New Years Day, feasting on some sort of red berries in a low tree at the edge of the woods. Sun reporter and columnist Fred Rasmussen spied a robin in a tree in Ruxton:

American robin - USGS 

"Isn't it a little early for them to be back in Maryland? It really shocked me. Seeing them in late February or early March is more normal," he said.

Well, apparently that's when we expect to see them. They're the traditional harbinger of spring, after all. But it's not unusual to have a flock of foraging robins in Maryland in mid-winter, according to David Cursom, director of bird conservation at Audubon Maryland DC.

"There is a population that overwinters in the coastal plain of Maryland," he said. "The largest groups are over on the Eastern Shore, a regular roost of robins. I believe around 14,000 have been counted in Easton."

Robins, it turns out, are strongly migratory birds, but they breed all over North America. So, there are populations that breed well to our north, for whom Maryland's coastal plain is "South."  Those that breed here likely migrate in October to the southeastern states, and along the Gulf of Mexico. They return in March and April.

"The groups people are seeing now are part of the wintering population that are moving around. As the weather fluctuates between cold and mild, the robins move accordingly to find food," Cursom said.

Although some of my correspondents have expressed worry about the birds as they search for meager pickings in bitter cold weather, Cursom said "there is no reason to be concerned. There is a certain amount of winter mortality among all birds related particularly to when there is a lot of snow on the ground. But that's natural ... (the birds) come here and if they don't find enough food they just move on and find it somewhere else."

It's not clear whether the robins' current migratory and over-wintering behavior is any different, in a warming climate, from what they have always done, Cursom said, "but I think it would be a very worthy line of research."

"It shows the value of keeping written records, and doing regular counts of birds so you can record the times they are absent, as well as present," he said. He noted the Audubon Society's annual Christmas Bird Count, which has now accumulated more than a century of data on bird populations in North America.

As interesting as the birds' foraging behavior is their roosting behavior, where thousands of birds of a feather flock together overnight during the winter, then fly off at sunrise to forage for food. Scientists have not yet figured out why they do it.

"There are some interesting theories," Cursom said. One is "thermo-regulation," the idea that the birds crowd together to take advantage of each other's body heat to help them through a cold winter night.

Another theory is that the birds somehow share information during their roosts. "Maybe birds can size up their roosting partners' body condition" and judge from that whether it would be fruitful to follow them to their foraging grounds the next morning, he said.

Crow roost - Cornell University

In addition to the big robin roost in Easton, there has been, for many years, an enormous roost of crows in northwest Baltimore, near the Seton Industrial Park. Evening commuters on northern and western sections of the Beltway can see crows by the hundreds as they fly toward the roost at sunset. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:57 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Observer reports

Snow advisory for Central Shore

Looks like the central counties on Maryland's Eastern Shore stand the best chance for some accumulating snow today - but only an inch or two.

The National Weather Service has posted a Snow Advisory for Caroline, Talbot and Queen Anne's counties, effective from noon to 7 p.m. Also included are southern Delaware and southeastern New Jersey. Here's an Easton webcam shot.

A passing cold front, coupled with a low-pressure system forming off the Virginia coast are combining to generate the snowfall east of the Chesapeake. Unfortunately, prime time for this snow will be between 4 and 8 p.m., if the forecasters are right - drive time for those crossing the bay and heading for home on the shore. They may encounter some heavy snow showers that could quickly turn things white. Here's the radar loop.

The urban corridor on the Western Shore shouldn't see that much - just scattered snow showers, forecasters said.

But Maryland's mountains could see some accumulating snow as the cold air moves in. "Will go 1 to 3 inches, although I wouldn't be surprised to see higher amounts," forecasters said in this morning's discussion.

Friday should be sunny but cold, perhaps 5 degrees below the norm for this time of year at BWI. A weak storm system will pass by on Saturday, with only slight chances for rain or snow. Sun returns Sunday and things begin to warm up for the start of the new work week. We may even move into above-normal territory, in the mid-40s.

The meteorological winter will be two-thirds over by the end of next week. And we have so far seen just 7.2 inches of snow. That's less than 40 percent of the average seasonal snowfall at BWI (18.2 inches). Only two winters in the last 10 have seen less. They were:

1997-98:  3.2 inches

2001-02:  2.3 inches

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

January 23, 2008

Another flirt with snow

What a tease. Mother Nature will toy with us again Thursday as yet another arctic cold front plows through, and another coastal low spins up off the Virginia Capes.

In any other winter that could be the recipe for a significant snowstorm for the Baltimore region. But in this winter of feeble snowstorms and too-mild temperatures we're likely looking instead at snow showers, and snow squalls in far Southern Maryland.

Today we get high pressure building in from the west. That means clear skies and good stargazing tonight if you want to brave the coldest temperatures we'll see for the rest of the week. The moon is still big and bright, and ruddy Mars still gleams high overhead in the evening. You might even spy Mercury lurking low on the western horizon after sunset.

By daybreak Thursday the next arctic front pushes across the mid-Atlantic states, triggering scattered snow showers, "where any burst could produce a quick coating of snow not unlike Tuesday of last week," the forecasters at Sterling said this morning.

Complicating the picture are computer models showing the development of a storm center off the coast. Some models predict that storm will get strong enough to increase the snowfall in Southern Maryland. "We will have to keep a close watch on successive model runs because if the NAM (model) is correct there will be the potential for a few inches across portions of (the forecast area)."

Okay, so it's hardly enough weather to write about. But this winter, this is the sort of stuff we get. Beyond tomorrow, we're looking at seasonably mild temperatures through the weekend. The next chance for precipitation comes early next week. They're expecting "mainly rain."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

January 22, 2008

Never mind. Next snow chance Thursday

The weather service has backed off from its earlier forecast for a "wintry mix" (still sounds like a crisp salad) today. Instead of snow, sleet and freezing rain, we're now in line for a little rain, maybe a little sleet after 3 p.m., ending by midnight. The winter weather advisory was cancelled earlier today for the Baltimore area, thought it remains in place to our north and west.

The noon discussion from Sterling suggests the problem was too-dry air left over from the bitter-cold high we saw over the long weekend. Whatever precipitation there was with this thing, it was unable to do very much as it moved up against the dry air already in place. Forecasters are still holding out for some snow showers on the western slopes of the Alleghenies.

Behind all this stuff is more high pressure and a sunny day tomorrow with a high near 40.

The next chance for snow appears to come after sunrise on Thursday. Forecasters are calling for a 50 percent chance for snow showers on Thursday as another cold front presses through. If the forecast holds up, there may be some intense squalls, with rapid accumulation of an inch or two in spots, and gusty winds.

Temperatures Thursday night will drop back into the teens. The weekend looks sunnier, with temperatures about right for this time of year.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

When is the moon full?

NASA photo 

Emily Johnston was looking out the window of her home in Westminster last night and she spotted the full moon. Or at least it looked like a full moon.

Then she checked her calendar. It told her the full moon isn't until today, Tuesday, the 22nd.

"So define 'FULL MOON.' I don't mean dropping yer drawers, either," she said.

It sure did look full last night, didn't it? It was a gorgeous night, with a brilliant moon, bright Mars overhead, lots of stars. If it hadn't been so darned cold, it would have been a perfect night for stargazing.

The moon is officially "full" when it is precisely opposite the sun as seen from Earth - sitting along a straight line drawn from the sun, through the Earth, to the moon. At that moment the side facing Earth is fully illuminated. That's where it was at 8:34 a.m. today, although it had already set for Marylanders. By the time the moon rises this evening at around 5:30 p.m., it will be nine hours past "full."  Last evening, it was about 12 hours or so short of "full."

But it doesn't really matter. It was big, bright and beautiful. BTW, the first full moon of the year is called the Moon After Yule, or the Old Moon.

Not much chance we'll see the moon tonight.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Ask Mr. Weatherblogger

January 21, 2008

A wintry mix Tuesday, snow Thursday

Looks like a short but wintry work week ahead. You needed to hear that on your day off, right? Well, National Weather Service forecasters say this big, dry and very cold high-pressure system is slowly moving off to our sotuh and east. That will bring us into a more southerly flow. Don't expect balmy temperatures. It will remain below average for this time of year all week.

But the warmer, wetter weather, coupled with a low-pressure system out of the Great Lakes will bring us some snow after 10 a.m. Tuesday, they say. It will likely change to rain late in the day Tuesday. "Only minor snow/ice accumulations possible," they promise.

Behind that we get another cold front from the upper Midwest, and more dry, sunny weather for Wednesday. But right on its heels they're expecting an Alberta Clipper system from Canada, one of the world's great exporters of weather.

These clippers don't typically bring us a lot of snow. But the air in advance of it will be fairly cold. So when the storm gets cranked up here late Wednesday night, it will start out as snow, and some of it may be pretty heavy, in squalls, if the forecast holds up. "A couple of inches is not out of the question with this system," the forecast discussion says.

The good news is, we're now past the (statistically) coldest days of the year. From here on out, the average daily highs and lows gradually creep upward. Spring may not be in sight, but from here we can begin to imagine it.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:41 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Winter weather

BWI low of 8 degrees not a record

The mercury sank to an official low of 8 degrees over night at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. That is plenty cold for Maryland, but far from a record. The record low for Baltimore on a Jan. 21 is minus-6 degrees F, in 1985.

It was 8 degrees out on the Weatherdeck in Cockeysville, too. Here are some other readings from around the region. Feel free to drop us a comment and report your overnight lows. Be sure to include your location.

BWI:  8 degrees

Washington DC:  18 degrees

Dulles International:  7 degrees

Inner Harbor:  16 degrees

Frederick:  5 degrees

Martinsburg:  10 degrees

These mid-winter cold snaps always arrive with big high-pressure systems from the arctic. The barometer reading at BWI at this writing was 30.79 inches. It was 30.82 inches at Washington. That's darn high. You can track the barometer's meanderings on a nifty fever chart, here.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

January 20, 2008

93 mph winds on Mt. Washington

Sure it's cold. The thermometer out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville slumped to 13 degrees at around 9:30 p.m. on Sunday. It's 15 degrees out at BWI at this writing, and 10 degrees in Frederick. It's expected to be the coldest night of the winter so far at the airport. My heat pump is grinding away out there, but you'd never know it by the temperature (60 degrees) in our bedroom.

But then, we're not exactly on Mt. Washington, either. The Mt. Washington Observatory in New Hampshire has clocked winds at over 90 mph today, with a real temperature tonight of minus-17 degrees. Oh, and a wind chill of 60-below! You can check it yourself at the observatory's Web site. Noodle around and find the observers' comments. They're pretty amazing. They had ravens and foxes up there today.

Photo by Jason B. Hill 1/1/08

So how cold is it where you are? Drop me a comment and let us all know what your thermometer is telling you. Tell us where you are and how you're coping with the cold. Did you see those guys on the field in Green Bay tonight? Two below zero with a wind chill of minus-23 degrees. In their short sleeves?!  Who would go to a game like that, in those conditions, and sit in the stands? What am I missing here? Alcohol?

What's the coldest temperature you've ever experienced? When my wife and I lived in Hanover, N.H. back in the early 1970s, we awoke three mornings in a row to temperatures of 27 degrees below zero. Never got warmer than minus-4 during the day. We had to bring the car battery indoors at night or there was no hope of the thing starting in the morning. And, I had to go out to the parking lot at work every 2-3 hours during the day to start it up, or it would refuse to get me home at night. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:49 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Winter weather

January 19, 2008

So long, Earth. The Movie


On August 2, 2005, NASA's Maryland-built Messenger spacecraft flew past Earth at the start of a series of planetary flybys needed to send it sunward to the planet Mercury. The flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury are designed to use the planets' gravity to slow Messenger down enough to enter orbit around Mercury in 2011.

The Messenger Web site includes this movie assembled from still images taken during the Earth flyby in 2005 - a year after Messenger's launch. It shows an astonishingly beautiful blue planet, rotating in the sunshine as we - aboard Messenger - speed away from our world, and everything - and everyone - we've ever known. Amazing.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Moon and Mars Show, tonight!

If you're out in the cold tonight, and if the skies clear off enough, look for a striking conjunction of the moon and the planet Mars, high in the eastern sky after sunset (and almost directly overhead in the late evening hours).

The two orbs will be separated by less than a half-degree. That's less than the width of your finger held at arm's length.

Mars is only a month past its closest approach to the Earth for this year, and still very bright, and still rather reddish compared with the bright, white stars of the winter constellations. Imagine - sunlight streams outward from the sun, bounces off the surface of Mars, gets tweaked by the iron oxide in the dirt up there such that the reflected light we see - 60 million miles away - appears slightly reddish. Amazing.

If you miss it tonight, or if skies are too cloudy, try again Sunday night. The moon won't have moved too far east of the moon and, while not as striking as tonight's view, it will still be worth a look. Here's more.

Several faithful readers emailed me last month after they spotted a similar - though not so close - conjunction of the full moon and Mars on Christmas Eve. This one is better, even though the moon is not quite full this time. Enjoy.


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

January 18, 2008

Maryland primary now in snowiest week

As Maryland has moved its presidential primary elections earlier and earlier in the year in futile bids to remain relevant, it has also been moving them deeper into our high-risk snow season.

Back in 1972, all the presidential candidates were campaigning in Maryland in May. That's why George Wallace was in Laurel on that balmy spring day when he was shot down in an assassination attempt.

In 1988, the primary was moved to Super Tuesday, in early March. But as other states advanced their primaries, Maryland's visibility faded again. In 1992, the date was shifted a week earlier. And Martin O'Malley last year tried the tactic once again when he orchestrated another advance to the second Tuesday in February - Feb. 12 this year.

Well, guess what? That's backed the primary deep into snow season in Maryland. Oh it won't always snow during the second week in February around these parts. But when it does, it can be a whopper. And Marylanders don't deal with heavy snow like they do in Iowa or New Hampshire. Maryland stops moving, often for days.

As I've noted here before, that single week between Feb. 11 and Feb. 19 has seen five of the biggest 10 snowfalls on record for Baltimore, and six of the top 10 for Washington, going back well into the 19th century. It's happened three times  in recent memory: in 1979, 1983 and 2003. You can look it up here.

None of those years was a presidential election year. But what would happen if - or, better put - what will happen when one of these giant nor'easters buries the state in 15 or 25 inches of snow just as Marylanders are preparing to vote for the presidential candidate of their choice? Do you think Baltimore's election officials will get the polls open if it's snowing? How many voters will make it?

There's a price to be paid for this sort of scrambling for attention. What we really need is a thorough overhaul of the presidential primary system. Make it shorter, and thereby less costly, and allow voters in every state have a meaningful voice in the selection of party candidates. But that's for another blog.

Here's an Associated Press story on the issue:

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland’s earliest-ever presidential primaries next month could have a downside lawmakers can see right outside their windows — heavy snow.
      State elections chief Linda Lamone tells lawmakers that the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and local road officials are on standby to help voters make it to polling places on February 12, when Maryland holds its primaries.
      Lamone says she doesn’t think a Maryland election has ever been canceled for winter weather — but she says a big snow next month could depress the predicted 30 percent turnout. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

Chilly? Check out this forecast !

Sure, it's headed for the teens in Baltimore this weekend. But there's a reason we live here and not in Warroad, Minn. Check out this forecast. Arctic air pouring out of Canada is nothing new for them.

Here's a graph of the average daily temperatures in Warroad.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

Snow Saturday not a worry

By Jed Kirschbaum (Sun Photographer) 

Yes, there is more snow in the forecast, nevermind the bright sunshine and all the melting going on out there today. The National Weather Service folks in Sterling are making it a 50 percent chance of snow as yet another storm gears up for a run along the coast.

Our results will depend on the storm's track, but even if it tracks farther offshore than expected, we will still see some precipitation, they say. Temperatures will be cold enough to support snow. But "amounts for the most part will be light," the NWS says. "The exception could be lower Southern Maryland." Here's's take on the storm, which it tags as having "little impact."

But stay tuned. Snow forecasts can change.

The real weather news this weekend won't be snow, but cold. As the Saturday storm departs, an arctic cold front will move across the region, dropping temperatures into the teens Saturday night into Sunday. Winds will be blustery all weekend, adding serious wind chill issues to the low temperatures.

Behind the front, the air will be clear, so Sunday will be sunny. But temperatures will stay below freezing all day with a forecast high of only 28 degrees. Monday morning will be the coldest, with a low of 13 degrees forecast for BWI.

After that, the warmup will be slow, creeping toward the freezing mark on Monday and the upper 30s by Tuesday as the arctic high moves off the coast to our east. Normal highs at this time of year are in the low 40s.

Forecasters say we can expect another bout of precipitation at mid-week, but they're calling for rain, not snow.

Yesterday's snow left 2.4 inches at BWI - Baltimore's station of record. But many locations recorded more than that. One spot in Montgomery County reported 6 inches, and 5 inches was common in Howard and Carroll counties. Here's a rundown. And here are some interesting snow maps from

In terms of badly needed moisture, the airport reported an official 0.77 inch of melted precipitation from yesterday's storm. That still leaves us more than a half-inch in the red for the month to date. We need surplus precipitation to restore the groundwater and reservoirs in time for the spring and summer seasons.

Not sure yet how much we got here at The Sun. We don't have a heating element in our rain gauge, so the snow is still melting through the hopper. So far, it's reporting 0.57 inch and counting. Here are some other measurements from across the region, for melted precipitation, and also for snow.

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

January 17, 2008

Slop continues tonight, N & W of cities

National Weather Service forecasters say the precipitation will continue into the evening, though it will be lighter than we saw earlier today. But warmer air is working it's way into the region, and that means we'll see more rain south and east of the cities, but sleet and freezing rain north and west.

Here, I'll just let the folks in Sterling sort it out:


Bottom line, stay home with a good book tonight.

So far Glen Burnie, of all places, seems to hold the brass ring for the most snow in the Baltimore area today, at least according to the latest storm report from Sterling.

And the cleanup has begun. Our ace tech person in the newsroom has just put on his coat and he's headed up to the roof to sweep off the satellite dish antennas. The snow cut off reception of our Associated Press news and features feeds, and our New York Times wire feed. 

And here's a hoot. I received this photo this afternoon from Steve Zubrick, the NWS science and operations officer out at Sterling.

Here's what he had to say about it:


Check this out...this is >one< "snowflake" that landed on my shirt around 3 PM this afternoon here at the weather office that measured nearly 1.75" across. Wow! This is an aggragate of snow flakes. When the whole sky is full of these, it's impressive!

Winds were very light at the time. These mega-flakes fell almost vertically. If winds were gusty, these mega-flakes would never make it to the surface.

Picture credit: NWS WFO forecaster Steve Rogowski (and that's my shirt!).

Steve Z."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

So, how bad is it?

Here I am, stuck inside on this beautiful snowy January day, writing about the weather outside. But I'm inside, chained to a computer, and I can only see a stretch of Calvert Street, the JFX and Guilford Avenue. They're starting to look slushy and slippery. But how would I know?

If you've been out in it, drop me a comment here and let us all know what the driving and walking conditions are like. How bad is it really? Be sure to say where you are. As Stephen L. Miles used to say, 'Lets talk about it.'

You can also upload your digital photos to our readers' photo page. Do it now! Give us shut-ins a vicarious day in the snow.

I notice that the precip at BWI has changed to rain in the last hour. I guess that's the beginning of the end for accumulations across the area today.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:41 PM | | Comments (26)
Categories: Winter weather

Snow starts downtown; more due Saturday

The snow has begun to fall at Calvert & Centre streets. But the temperature outside the newsroom is 36 degrees, so it's hard to imagine any of this will stick on the streets. Forecasters continue to call for an inch or two in the I-95 corridor, and a couple more than that to our west.

Maybe they're onto something. I notice the barometer has been falling since the snow began. So is the temperature, which happens when it precipitates.

Some Virginia locations are already reporting several inches on the ground. To check for school closings, or subscribe to school closing alerts, click here.

Here's the Winter Weather Advisory for east of I-95. And this is the Winter Storm Warning posted for Carroll County and west. Below is the snow prediction map from  Clearly most of the snowfall will be well to our west and northeast, by their estimates.

AccuWeather.comThe NWS says to expect moderate to heavy snow rates as the storm gets started. Here's the radar loop. The changeover to a rain/snow mix will start to our southwest and work its way north and east. As the storm moves up the coast we will fall into a more easterly flow of air off the ocean. The NWS is saying that will mean warmer air and a change to freezing rain or rain this afternoon, depending on how long it takes to shake the colder temperatures near the surface. But it looks to me like the air near the surface is already well above freezing.

Even if we get off easy with this one, as it appears we may, the forecasters have more in store. They're expecting a second coastal low to move our way on Saturday, with precipitation likely to increase as the day wears on. Like today's weather, that storm is expected to start as snow, then mix and change to rain in the eastern sections of the region during the afternoon.

The really cold air arrives as the Saturday storm departs with a high Sunday only in the upper 20s.

Our next storm chances are forecast for the middle of next week.

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

January 16, 2008

Bawlmer snow forecast deepens

After preaching about "an inch," and changeover to mixed precip, and then rain, and no accumulation, the National Weather Service has deepened its forecast for Thursday. Now, the winter weather advisory posted west of the I-95 corridor is talking about 2 to 4 inches of snow during the day Thursday, and an inch or two east of I-95 with a late changeover to freezing rain.

Here's the morning advisory.

Farther west, in Carroll and Frederick and points west, they're looking for 4 to 8 inches in an all-day snowfall. Really. They've posted a winter storm warning out there.

AM UPDATE: Overnight, the NWS has scaled back its accumulation estimates by an inch or two. It's now 1-2 in the advisory area, and 3-6 in the warning area. Here's the map.

School systems may have a hard time with this one, since the snow isn't expected to start in Baltimore until after sunrise. Do we close schools with no snow in the air? Or do we bring everybody to school and send them home early after it starts to accumulate?

The precipitation is on its way. Here's the radar loop. And here's's take on it all. And Madman Margusity's.

This will be messy. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:40 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Winter weather

Snow in the morning

A new storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, and the relatively cold air in place in our region, should combine to bring us a bit of snow in the morning, forecasters say. But there's not a lot of hope - for those in need of a snow day - for any significant accumulations.

UPDATE: 4 p.m.:  Or maybe there is. The NWS has issued a WInter Weather Advisory that says the I-95 corridor could see up to an inch on the ground in the morning, with several inches to our west as the day wears on. Snow will change over to sleet, freezing rain and rain during the afternoon, but not as early as earlier forecasts (below) suggested.

EARLIER: The storm is spinning up in the northern Gulf today, and is expected to move across the Florida panhandle into the Atlantic, just off the Carolina coast, by tomorrow afternoon. That will supply the precipitation.

The cold air is already in place, with a forecast low tonight in the mid-20s. That will set the stage for snowfall in the morning hours, at least until temperatures start to warm up during the day. NWS forecasters at Sterling are saying it will be all snow until around 10 a.m., and mix with rain until about noon. By then enough warm air will have pushed into the region, and worked its way down to the surface, to change it all to rain.

The farther west you are - west of I-95 - the later the changeover will occur, they say. In any case, they're saying "little or no snow accumulation expected." But this is the sort of winter scenario that is notoriously hard to predict with confidence in these parts. So we could wake to slippery roads, or just wet.

The highest likelihood for prolonged wintry precip is in western Virginia. 

What we do know with some confidence is that there is a huge wedge of cold air plunging south out of arctic Canada that will, by late Friday, sink temperatures all across the eastern U.S. Our forecast calls for daytime highs of just 26 degrees by Sunday, and overnight lows in the teens. The Monday holiday will be cold, with a high in the low 30s, and an overnight low around 20 degrees.

They're calling it "the coldest air mass of the season." And it looks pretty cold for Des Moines, Iowa. We won't get that cold, but check your fuel oil levels and dig out the longjohns. It's gonna be brisk.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

Let's just say 2007 was very warm

When two federal scientific behemoths disagree, what's a mere citizen to conclude? Or does it even matter?

Yesterday, both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released their data on global average temperatures for 2007. The bottom line? It was very warm, one of the warmest years on record, and continued a trend that has persisted since the beginning of the last century.

But how exactly did 2007 rank? Well, there the two agencies part company.

NASA - 2007 Temperature anomaliesClimatologists at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York, concluded that 2007 tied with 1998 as the planet's "second-warmest year in a century." The record-holder remains 2005. What's more, they said, "Barring a large volcanic eruption, a record global temperature clearly exceeding that of 2005 can be expected within the next few years, at the time of the next El Nino, because of the background warming trend attributable to continuing increases of greenhouse gases."

In other words, unless a volcanic blast shades the planet in dust, the warming trend will continue, and will likely peak when the periodic warming of the Pacific, known as El Nino, shifts weather patterns in ways that tend to make things warmer all over.

The map shows where 2007 average temperatures were the warmest relative to the 1951-1980 mean. Cooler colors show where they were cooler than the long-term mean.

NASA GISS also noted that the eight warmest years of the last century have all occurred since 1998, and the 14 warmest have all occurred since 1990. They also note that this especially hot year globally came during a time of low solar irradiance and of La Nina cooling in the Pacific. The steepest warming curve was in the Arctic, which observed record-low sea ice during the summer.

Okay. So what about NOAA?

NOAA's release yesterday reported that global land and ocean surface temperatures in 2007 ranked as the fifth-warmest on record. Taken separately, the average global land surface temperature was  actually the warmest on record, while global ocean tempertaure was the 9th warmest since records began in 1880.

The agency said seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001, while the rate of warming in the last 30 years has been three times the rate during the last century.

Obviously, we are comparing different data sets here, or measuring the 2007 data against different spans of historic records. NASA seems to be using 1900 as a starting point, while NOAA goes back to 1880.

But I'm not sure it really matters. They may see the details differently, but the big picture seems clear. Things have been warming up since at least 1900, and that's not slowing down.

BTW, for the lower 48 states, NOAA found 2007 was the tenth warmest on record, averaging 1.4 degrees above the 20th Century mean of 52.8 degrees F.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:42 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: By the numbers

January 15, 2008

First Messenger image from Mercury flyby


Scientists and engineers at Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics lab have released the first closeup image of Mercury from Monday's flyby by the Messenger spacecraft. The photo includes some never-before-seen terrain that looks just like, well, the rest of Mercury, first (and last) photographed by the Mariner 10 spacecraft in 1974-1975. It also looks a lot like our moon.

That's okay. There's plenty more to come, and you can be sure there will be some surprises. Here's the release from APL. And here's an approach "movie" assembled from stills shot as Messenger neared Mercury on Sunday and Monday.

More to come. Here's Messenger's home page.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:06 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

Snow showers, no sweat

Low pressure over eastern Canada is dragging plenty of cold air into our region today from the west. And a weak disturbance embedded in that cold air could trigger some snow showers this afternoon. In their morning discussion today, forecasters call it "not enough for accumulations, but enough to be noticed if it happens."

So if snow does appear in your office windows today, there's no need to panic and flee into the flakes, headed for the grocery store. Just relax and enjoy the scenery.

UPDATE: 3 P.M. - Some of the showers we saw this afternoon actually did leave a measurable accumulation. Click here.  And here's what it looks like on radar.

It will all be over tonight as skies clear and the stars come out. Tomorrow should be sunny and bright, too, with seasonable highs in the 40s. They're calling for a coastal low to develop on Thursday, bringing us another shot at some significant precipitation by the afternoon. The forecast high for Thursday at BWI is 40 degrees, so they're talking about "mostly rain" east of the mountains, and "mostly snow" to the west. 

Thursday night into Friday could bring some changeover to a mix of rain and snow here. But forecasters caution that, with this kind of coastal storm, they won't get a handle on the rain/snow line until 12 to 24 hours ahead of its arrival.

Whatever we get, there may be a good deal of it. The forecast mentions a potential for up to a half-inch of rain Thursday night. With enough cold air in place, and just the right storm track, who knows?

Friday could usher in the coldest weather of the season so far. The forecast calls for highs only in the 30s for the long MLK weekend. Sunday night's low could sink to 13 degrees.

The forecast for rain and cold notwithstanding, January has so far proven to be unusually mild and dry - just as the prognosticators predicted back in the fall.

With La Nina's track record in mind, they said we could expect to receive most of our wintry weather in December, followed by unusually mild and average-to-dry weather in January and February. So far, they're right on the beam.

The only measurable snow we've seen was the 4.7 inches that fell at BWI on Dec, 5. December ended about one degree warmer than the long-term average.

January is so far averaging 8 degrees above normal. And the airport has recorded barely a half-inch of precipitation - a full inch below normal for the month to date. Heating degree-days are running about 25 percent below normal this month, which means we should be consuming about 25 percent less energy to heat our homes. That's the really good news.

The next few days, of course, could knock all of that back to about average. We'll see.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:15 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

January 14, 2008

Rain here, snow there

So we get less than a tenth of an inch of rain out of this "storm," but a slice of the western Allegany County may get up to a foot of snow ? How is that fair? New England is finally getting some wintry weather, too.

WISP webcamNo matter. The heavy snow warnings are up in the mountains to our west. Really! Look, I won't even make you click to see it:


Here's a webcam view from WISP, taken this morning. And here's our forecast - seasonable temperatures and no precipitation until Thursday. The weekend looks cold, though, with highs stuck in the 20s. Then all we'll need is a coastal storm, and we could get actual winter weather.

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

January 11, 2008

Hell freezes over: Snow in Baghdad

It snowed in Baghdad today. It wasn't much, and it never really stuck. But it was the white stuff, and it provided a welcome distraction and a delight to Iraqis who have no memory of such weather in the capital.

Here's some video from You Tube. And this, too. And here's a view from orbit.

The storm was part of a series of snowy events in the region. Deep snow - up to 20 inches - in parts of Iran where it was virtually unknown have killed a score of people there. Here's more from And a report from CNN.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

Snow, and rumors of snow

National Weather Service forecasters are usually reluctant to start talking about possible snowstorms more than a week in advance. But this morning's discussion from Sterling includes some very early speculation about an overdue outbreak of cold arctic air late next week, coupled with another coastal storm. That's often the formula for a Chesapeake snowstorm. And in this snow-starved and weirdly balmy La Nina winter - heck, even Baghdad got snow this week -  it's worth writing about.

More on that in a minute. First, we have this weekend to watch. This morning's NWS forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of rain or snow Sunday and Sunday night. The snow part looks like a stretch. The lows Saturday and Sunday night barely dip below freezing, and they're expecting Sunday's high to reach well into the 40s.

That sounds more like rain to me. But in the Hazardous Weather Outlook posted this morning, (after dealing with today's cold front passage and the showers and thunderstorms that could bring us today), forecasters seem to take seriously the threat of something frozen on Sunday.

Specifically, they say, today's frontal passage will put some colder air in place in our region. Then a coastal low develops off the Carolinas. As precipitation associated with the storm develops on Sunday, forecasters are saying we could first see snow and sleet mixing with rain, changing to all rain in the afternoon, especially southeast of the I-95 corridor. Then, on Sunday night, the whole mess could switch back to snow, with "minor" accumulation possible, "especially north of Baltimore toward the Pennsylvania state line."

Over at, extreme weather blogger Madman Margusity has posted a snow map that gives us 3 to 6 inches of snow. I don't buy it. I'm not sure he does either. Even his own company shows us getting a mix, at best.

So that's Sunday. But what about next week?

On that, the Hazardous Weather Outlook, unexpectedly, again has something to say:

"Several long-range computer models indicate a possible coastal winter storm during late week ... followed by some of the coldest temperatures of this winter. Interested parties should monitor later forecasts for updates."

As if that weren't surprising enough, this morning's unsigned forecast discussion also ventures into long-range speculation: (edited by me for clarity)

"WHILE I DO NOT USUALLY GET TOO CONCERNED ABOUT DAY 7 (more than a week into the future) ...A FEW THINGS
INTO THE MIDWEST MID WEEK. FOR NOW HAVE INTRODUCED 40 POPS (percent probability of precipitation) AND

All of which is probably delighting Jim Hughes, an amateur forecaster working out of West Virginia who specializes in long-range storm forecasting. He bases his predictions on large-scale climatic forces and solar activity. As faithful readers of this blog know, he's been calling for a winter storm for the period from Jan. 20-22. Are the forces of Nature converging to prove him correct? Stay tuned.

On the other hand, my editor, Mike Himowitz, may have stumbled upon the reason we have had so little snow this winter. Forget La Nina. He reminds me that I wrote a story for him last month about the physiology of snow shoveling, and why it's bad for your heart.

Before I left for vacation at Christmas, we agreed that he would hold the story until we got a significant, shovelable snowfall. Well, the story is still holding. It hasn't snowed since I wrote it, once again proving the meteorological theorem that when I write about a weather issue - deepening drought, a snowy winter, or approaching hurricane landfall - the threat goes away. Drought yields to gentle rain. Snow turns to sunshine. Hurricanes veer out to sea.

Once again, the Roylance Corollary is proven true. And we didn't even have to publish the article.

Then again, now that I have written here about this snow-starved winter, maybe the snow will start to fly. Sorry.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:57 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Winter weather

January 10, 2008

Big storms, huge waves, tiny surfers

Robert Brown/

All those big rain, snow and wind storms crashing ashore on the West Coast have been producing some titanic surf. And a few brave - nay, certifiably crazy - surfers have paddled out to take them on. For a gallery of stupefying photos from this past weekend, click here.

The waves at Cortes Bank, pictured above, occur 100 miles offshore, but surfers take long boat rides out there to get their jollies. Yikes!

Want video? Click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Sunday/Monday snow threat ... for mountains

Yeah, I know. The National Weather Service has the snow icons up on its five-day forecast for Baltimore. They're calling for a "chance" of rain or snow Sunday into Monday. But I'm not holding my breath.

When you read down deep into the forecast, you see high temperatures Sunday and Monday in the 40s, and a low of 33 for Sunday night. And well down in the morning discussion from the Sterling forecast office, you find a lot of uncertainty about this event. It all hinges, once again, on the storm track.

Some of the computer models keep the storm far to our South after it fires up along the Gulf Coast. One brings it right up the coast, which would give us a better shot at rain or snow. The forecasters like the latter model better because it has been doing a better job this winter with these kinds of storms.

However, even if they're right, it does not look like that scenario would bring us snow here in the I-95 corridor. "The best chance for any wintry precipitation," the discussion says, will be "west of the Blue Ridge." Sorry kids. We get rain, which is fine. We still need it.

For the record, Henry "Madman" Margusity, the always-hyper storm blogger at, had a post up yesterday that said, with his usual reserve:

"EURO HAS MONSTER STORM - I just got a peak at the Euro model and it has a monster of a storm coming up the coast. It tracks the storm from Mobile, Al to Philadelphia to Portland, Maine. On that track, the Appalachians get blasted by snow."

Nah. Another forecaster, Elliot Abrams, describes the possibilities, and the uncertainty, here. He also hints at a series of coastal storms over the next two weeks. That could raise the possibility of a significant snowfall, or at the very least much-needed rain.

In the meantime, we first have to get through the rest of today and tomorrow, which will bring us another storm - all rain, with as much as a half-inch in all. It comes with  the passage of a cold front across the region Friday afternoon. They expect showers and maybe even thundershowers and gusty winds with this front. 

Temperatures will continue to be way too mild for this time of year, with highs in the 50s, maybe as high as 60 on Friday, cooling to the 40s on Saturday. The normal high for this week in January in Baltimore is 41 degrees. We may get back there by early next week.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:21 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather

January 9, 2008

Skiers wait for white, get wet

It's a tough time for skiers in these parts, and for those who profit from the wintry white stuff. Princeton Sports has emailed its customers, canceling its "Customer Appreciation Day" at Whitetail:

"Whitetail called this afternoon to say that warm weather and rain is forecasted for 2 days. If you choose not to ski, please feel free to return you unused lift ticket to Princeton Sports for a full refund. If the mountain is open and you decide to ski, neither our employees, nor our manufacturers will be at Whitetail on Wednesday.

"With this warm weather, I know that you all understand. We regret the poor weather conditions. We were looking forward to the opportunity to ski and ride with all the member sof the Princeton Sports family. Here's hoping the weather returns to winter conditions soon and you can all get out and enjoy the slopes!"

Indeed, Whitetail reports on its Web site that it will close Thursday and Friday. Ditto for Liberty and Roundtop. The region is due for some substantial precipitation, but it won't be the frozen variety. 

Here's Liberty's Web cam link.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:43 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

Mild night could have been a contender

Last night's low temperature out at the airport was a too-mild-for-January 59 degrees, occurring just after midnight. The continuing rush of warm, moist air from the southwest ahead of a cold front even drove temperatues higher during the night. At BWI they had climbed to 63 degrees by sunrise.

Under normal circumstances, the pre-dawn low might have qualified as the low for the day. If so, we would have set a new record. The National Weather Service forecast office at Sterling, Va., tells me the record high MINIMUM temperature for Jan. 9 in Baltimore is 50 degrees, set back in 1930. 

But the showers that marked the front's passage - and the clear, dry skies behind it - mean that the thermometer will be dropping later today. And it's more than likely we'll drop well below 50 degrees before midnight tonight. In fact, the forecast low for tonight is 33 degrees. So, no record.

On the other hand, we're looking at one gorgeous day out there. Sunny and unseasonably mild today (though not as warm as yesterday), and clear tonight.

(I got a quick look at Mars through the telescope last night. It's almost directly overhead in the late evening now. My 'scope's too small to reveal any detail, but just seeing the Red Planet as an amber disk, rather than a tiny point of light, is cool enough for me. The Orion Nebula was grand, too. And 60 degrees at 10 p.m.? What a great January night out under the stars!))

But soon the weather moves in again, with another cold front. Look for badly needed rain tomorrow and Friday, followed by a cooler weekend, with highs in the still-too-mild-for-January 40s, and lows, finally, below freezing again. Almost like winter.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

January 8, 2008

New temperature record at BWI

The thermometer out at BWI touched 70 degrees this afternoon, busting the old record of 69 set on this date in 1930. It was the second day this week with 70-degree readings at the airport. Monday's high fell short of the record for that date - 74 degrees, set in 1907.

The picture was a little different closer to the Chesapeake. The temperatures at the U.S. Naval Academy stalled in the 50s because of a bay breeze through early afternoon. But when the wind shifted to the southwest - off the land instead of the water - before 3 p.m., the mercury jumped to 73 at the academy.

Over at Martin State Airport, also on the water, they didn't get the wind shift and temperatures stalled in the upper 50s to near 60 degrees.

Washington National and Dulles also reported readings in the 70s this afternoon.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

Fireball over Baltimore

I'm starting to receive reports of a fireball southwest of Baltimore Monday evening. Here are two of them:

From Donna Caudle: "My husband and I were driving last night (1/7/08) through Perry Hall, MD when we spotted a blue-green fall fireball speeding to some site not far from us ... We were traveling near the area of Magdlet Rd in Perry Hall and Joppa was closed for some accident. I would say we were facing north west when we spotted it falling the the direction of Carney or Towson. The time was about 8:50 pm last night ,Monday the 7th of Janurary "

And,  from Jeff Ceccola, who has reported before: "Frank, I was lucky enough to see another fireball tonight (1/7/08). Twice in a 2 months. I fear my friends are going to think I'm fibbing when I tell them about this one.

This one was to the southwest, in front of the constellation Cetus. It had a greenish hue, with a magnitude of about a -4, lasting no more than 3 seconds.

I was in West Chester, Pa., the event occurred about 8:40 PM.  From my POV, it was to the SW at about a 30 degree angle, falling from SW to W.

Since my first event, I've been doing a lot more star gazing and have studied sky maps. I'm sure my increased interest is why I was lucky enough to see yet another fireball..

Let me know if anyone has seen this one. Look for you in the Sun. -Jeff"

UPDATE: More reports, from Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina, are now appearing on the American Meteor Society log. The broad area where this object was visible gives you an idea of how high and far away from Baltimore it actually was. Observers frequently describe such things as falling "just beyond the trees," or in the next town. In fact, they are usually quite distant, very high in the atmosphere, and rarely reach the ground.

If anyone else out there saw this object, please send me a comment. Be sure to include the time you saw it, where you were, which direction it was going relative to your location, any sounds that seemed to accompany the event, and any other descriptive details you have. Here is more on what to include.

You can also file a fireball report with the International Meteor Organization, or the American Meteor Society.

Never seen a fireball? Well, here's one in a terrific image captured Nov. 2, 2005, by Mark Vornhusen of Germany and published by NASA. It is NOT Monday's object. But if you got a picture of it, send it to me and I'll replace this one with yours.

NASA fireball

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:52 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Sky Watching

January 7, 2008

April in January

Temperatures at BWI are headed into the low 60s today, and maybe the upper 60s tomorrow afternoon as the jet stream shoves winter back north of the Canadian border. That would be close to 25 degrees above the long-term average for this time of year in Baltimore.

We're in a stream of moist, mild air out of the southwest that could put us within striking distance of a new record tomorrow. The all-time high for a Jan. 8 in Baltimore is 69 degrees, set back in 1930. The forecast high for tomorrow is 67 degrees. Looks more like April than January.

The overnight LOWS are expected to be 5 to 10 degrees warmer than the average daytime HIGHS for this time of year.

The mild weather will continue into Wednesday, but it will be tougher to reach a record today or Wednesday. The record high for a Jan. 7 is 74 degrees, set in 1907. We're only slated for 63 degrees today. And the record for Jan. 9 is 75 degrees, set back in 1937. The forecast high is just 60.

The mild weather will fade late Wednesday as a cold front pushes through, bringing a chance for some rain. There's more precipitation in the cards for Thursday and Friday, with more clouds and more rain likely over the weekend.

The best chance for a walk in the sunshine this week looks like Tuesday afternoon, after the morning fog burns off. Sunshine and 67 degrees.

So how weird is this mild January weather? Not very weird at all, it turns out. We commonly see temperatures in the 60s, even the 70s during the first weeks of January. Here are the high temperatures reached on Jan. 7, and within a few days of the 7th, over the past five years:

2007: Jan. 7 (56 degrees); Jan. 6 (71 degrees)

2006: Jan. 7 (38 degrees); Jan. 9 (62 degrees)

2005: Jan. 7 (48 degrees); Jan. 13 (70 degrees)

2004: Jan. 7 (30 degrees); Jan. 4 (63 degrees)

2003: Jan. 7 (35 degrees); Jan. 9) 59 degrees)


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:35 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Forecasts

January 4, 2008

Beware of thin ice

Sure it's cold. There's even some ice on area streams and ponds. But it hasn't been cold enough long enough to produce ice thick enough to bear the weight of people and pets. The National Weather Service has issued a warning urging area residents to stay off the ice. Here it is in full:





Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather

Cool pictures we missed

Vacation is good for the soul, but you miss stuff while you're away. Here are some images that have come across my desk in the last couple of weeks, which need to be shared.

Here's a NASA satellite one of the snow left behind by the New Year's storm that swept across the Midwest and Northeast, missing us.


Here's a shot of Monument Valley, with the stars of the Constellation Orion and (far left) Mars illuminating the snow-dusted desert. It's by Wally Pacholka, of

Wally Pacholka -

Finally, a little late for the Solstice, is Danilo Pivato's delightful multiple-exposure of the sun traversing the sky over the Tyrrhenian Sea on the winter solstice in 2005. (You can find these and more spectacular shots by clicking here.)

Danilo Pivato

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:10 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Brrrr! Cold morning in the 'burbs

Well, that was brisk. The heat pump seemed to run all night last night as temperatures sank to 12 degrees out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. The cold air, calm winds and clear skies produced plenty of frost on the windshield, too. Here's a sampling of unofficial low readings from across the region.  

Officially, the low at BWI was 15 degrees, precisely as forecast. It was 24 degrees before dawn here at Calvert & Centre streets in downtown Baltimore. Here are few more readings:

Frederick:  10 degrees

Morgantown:  11 degrees

Aberdeen:  14 degrees

Annapolis:  22 degrees

Ocean City:  15 degrees

Dulles Int'l: 13 degrees

Washington National:  22 degrees

That should be it for the really cold weather for a while. The forecast calls for gradually warming temperatures, reaching the 60-degree mark early next week.



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

January 3, 2008

Weather Channel for sale?

A story on (via the AP, from the New York Times) says that the hugely popular Weather Channel may be for sale as part of a family-owned group of media properties now on the block. Here's the scoop.

Weather ChannelOwned by Landmark Communications, Inc., in Norfolk, the WC Web site alone had 32 million unique visitors in November, the story says. It's the 19th biggest media site on the Web. One estimate puts the value of the whole WC caboodle - Atlanta-based cable TV channel and Web site - at $5 billion. Who says you can't make money in weather?

Landmark also owns nine daily newspapers, including the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, and a bunch of TV stations.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

Five to eight feet of snow?

FRIDAY UPDATE: Click here. 

No, not here. But meteorologists are watching a huge weather-maker that is stalking northern California and southern Oregon. Heavy rains are already pounding the region, and the really big storm hasn't even arrived yet. It's still out over the Pacific. But it's on the way ashore in the next few days.

Early predictions call for huge surf, 5 to 9 inches of rain where it rains, and "tremendous" snows of 5 to 8 feet for those places above the 7,000-foot level in the Sierra. Add 50 mph winds and you have the makings of an historic storm for that region. We'll be seeing this one on the telly. Here's more from AccuWeather.

The blizzard warnings are up - in red - on this map. And here's the forecast for Reno.

Got friends in Southern California? They won't escape this thing. They can expect heavy rains, which are to Angelenos what snow is to Baltimoreans. Except our houses don't usually slide down the hill when it snows.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:11 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Winter weather

Quadrantid meteor shower Friday AM

Readers are reminding me to pitch tomorrow morning's annual Quadrantid meteor shower to those inclined to be out in the cold before dawn in January. Brrrrr!

If you're among them, this looks like a particularly good year for the Q's, which are active during the first five days of January. They can produce meteors at rates - under very dark skies - anywhere from 60 to 200 meteors per hour. A waning crescent moon will stay out of the way most of the night, rising after 4 a.m. The weather forecast is good.

The year's peak works best for the eastern U.S. So get out there in the hours before dawn, when the radiant is high in the northern sky. Dress warmly and good luck.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

15 degrees tonight; 60 by Monday

Temperatures will struggle to reach freezing today, and they'll sink deep into the teens tonight, the coldest readings of the season so far. But help is on the way. Monday's highs could top 60 degrees - 20 degrees above the seasonal norm.

This crazy roller coaster comes to us courtesy of a big, high-pressure system that swept all this arctic air into the Eastern U.S. in the last day or two. Have you seen the low temps in Florida and Louisiana? The barometer here at The Sun has reached 30.70 inches this morning and is still climbing. That's the highest reading I'v seen in a long time.

Deep Creek LakeThe big high cleared the skies, allowing for plenty of radiational cooling at night. Any warmth we build during the day is quickly radiated back into space at night. Calm winds tonight will mean even colder lows away from the urban areas and in normally colder valleys and such.

It was 18 degrees at sunrise this morning on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. We touched 21 degrees just before dawn here at Calvert & Centre streets. Here are some other low readings from across the region, thanks to NWS Co-op Observers. Lake-effect snows continue to affect the western counties. Here are some accumulation reports. Here are some webcam views.

Forecasters are calling for a low of 15 degrees tonight at BWI, and 11 degrees out in Westminster. The western mountains will see single digits. Fortunately, winds have died down from their peak yesterday evening. We had a gust of 27 mph here at The Sun last night, and 29 mph at BWI.

The best news, unless you're hungry for more wintry weather, is that the high will be moving off shore this weekend, the jet stream will shove back to the north where it belongs, and we will find ourselves in the return flow around the backside of the high. That will bring mild, moist air up from the Southwest. Forecast highs top 60 degrees for Monday and Tuesday.

Enjoy it. The next cold front is due sometime next week. Here's AccuWeather's take.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:25 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

January 2, 2008

Stargazing; where the dark skies are

Just received an alert from my Clear Sky Clock, letting me know that skies will be clear enough tonight in the Baltimore area some fine stargazing.

If you're looking for a good place to go, within reasonable driving distance of Baltimore, for some reasonably dark skies and decent stargazing, consider this map. It shows where the worst urban light pollution is, and isn't. You can click on the Google Earth overlay feature for a more detailed map. Good luck.

If you're into this stuff, consider the Clear Sky Clock. You can use it to email you an alert when skies in your location look clear enough for stargazing. Works for me.

While we're on the subject, be sure to visit the new Science Matters blog for some marvelous photos of Comet 8P/Tuttle, which just slid past the M33 spiral galaxy this week.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:10 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

Big snow in the mountains

Stiff northwest winds are sweeping moisture off the Great Lakes and dropping it as snow in the mountains to our west. The western slopes in Garrett and Allegany counties could see another 3 to 5 inches, and up to a foot more in a slice of high terrain in Allegany. Here are some accumulation reports. And more. Here's where snow is falling nationwide.

Keyser's Ridge web camA heavy snow warning is in effect until early tomorrow in extreme western Allegany County. Wind chill advisories have also been posted in that part of the state through 10 a.m. tomorrow, as winds gust to 35 and 40 mph today and tonight.


Down here in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain, we're looking for some of the coldest temperatures of the winter so far. The lows could sink into the teens Thursday night. The low for the season so far at BWI was 14 degrees, on Dec. 7. Here's AccuWeather's take on this outbreak of arctic air.

On the other hand, skies should clear a bit, bringing us a stretch of sunny days and starry nights.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather
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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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