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October 31, 2008

Don't miss Mars Rover TV special Sunday

NASAJust stumbled across the promo for this Sunday's National Geographic TV special on NASA's twin Mars rovers - Spirit and Opportunity.

The two little explorers landed on Mars in January 2004 on what scientists hoped would be a 90-day mission to photograph and sample the surface of Mars in two widely separated locales. They are not in perfect shape, but they are still working and gathering scientific data almost five years later.

Here's some promotional stuff from National Geographic. Looks like a fine way to spend an hour on Sunday evening. It's at 8 p.m. EST, on the National Geographic Channel.

Want to learn more about the rovers? Click here.

Speaking of Mars, NASA has just shut down its Phoenix lander (below) after worsening winter weather near the Martian north pole left the craft with too little solar energy to keep itself warm. The weather? Cloudy, dust storms, with a daytime high of minus-50 degrees Fahrenheit, dropping to minus-141 at night. NASA

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:58 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Science

Election Day weather looks sunny, mild

You may find other excuses for not voting next Tuesday, but bad weather likely will not be one of them.

National Weather Service forecasters out at Sterling are predicting "mostly sunny" skies for Tuesday, with high temperatures in the mid-60s in the Baltimore area. If you plan to vote early in the morning, there may be a chill as temperatures recover from a forecast overnight low of 42 degrees at BWI Marshall. But the rest of the day - and the rest of the week - look sunny and mild. Nothing like the rainy primary weather in September 2007, seen here.

Sun Photo/Amy Davis says much of the country will enjoy similarly voter-friendly weather. Exceptions include the Pacific Northwest, which faces rain and snow showers. But those folks are used to crummy weather like that. The Southeast may also see rain as low pressure draws wet Atlantic air onto the Florida peninsula and coastal Georgia and South Carolina.

But the weather in the blue-leaning Northeast and most of the red-leaning South and Plains states looks fine.

How does the weather affect the outcome of elections in the U.S.? AccuWeather says the popular wisdom is the bad weather hurts Democrats, because more people walk or take public transit to the polls in Democrat-heavy urban areas. Do you buy that?

Click here or read more below from the discussion on that topic.  

"The common belief is that bad weather hurts Democrats, because more Democrats live in cities and either walk or take public transit to polling stations. A rainy or snowy election day could discourage many Democrat voters from standing in long lines at busy urban polling places.

"There may be some truth to the theory. In 2005, a team of political scientists led by Professor Brad Gomez of the University of Georgia completed a ground-breaking study titled "The Republicans Should Pray for Rain: Weather, Turnout, and Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections," published in the June 2007 issue of the Journal of Politics.

"Despite the tongue-in-cheek title, the study found the weather "may have contributed to two Electoral College outcomes, the 1960 and 2000 presidential elections," and "poor weather is also shown to benefit the Republican party's vote share."

"The research team analyzed the impact of the weather on voter turnout in 14 U.S. presidential elections and concluded that rain reduced voter turnout by a rate of just under 1 percent per inch, while voter turnout dropped by almost one-half of one percent for each inch of snow.

"The study concluded that had it not been a bright and sunny day in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey on Nov. 8, 1960, Richard Nixon would likely have defeated John F. Kennedy to become the 35th President of the United States."
Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

Cold a factor in two Maryland deaths

It's only October, and already state health officials are reporting two deaths in Maryland where cold weather was found to be a factor. It's fair warning that we need to be paying attention to folks in our community who may be especially vulnerable to the cold - especially our elderly neighbors and relatives, and those coping with chronic illnesses.

Last year cold weather was found to be a contributing factor in 38 deaths in Maryland. I wrote about an elderly Wiltondale woman who, despite regular contacts with concerned neighbors, was found dead in the basement of her heatless home.

AP PhotoElderly people living alone, and others weakened by heart disease or dementia or alcoholism, are particularly at risk. Financial problems and efforts to keep heating bills to a minimum can also leave our homes so cold that our bodies cannot compensate. Infants and children who spend long periods outdoors can also be at risk, said John Hammond, a spokesman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"If you have elderly or home-bound neighbors or loved ones, please check with them on a regular basis to make sure they're okay, or if there is anything you can do for them," he said.

In fairness, only one of Maryland's first two cold-related deaths this year falls into those categories. But the DHMH reports any death as cold-related if hypothermia (low body temperature) is included on the death certificate.

The first case involved a 54-year-old Prince George's County man who was involved in a single-vehicle collision on Sept. 20. The vehicle ran off the road and he was not found until a day later. Temperatures that night dipped to 49 degrees at BWI. It was the coldest night of the month. The man died Oct. 18, and the contributing factors included pneumonia, multiple injuries and hypothermia, according to the DHMH.

The second case is more typical. It involved an 84-year-old Anne Arundel County man. He was found outside his home on Oct. 19 in temperatures below 45 degrees, according to health officials. The low at BWI on that date was 36 degrees, the coldest morning of the year up to that date. The medical examiner's report said the man had a history of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, commonly a factor on cold-related deaths.

So as it gets colder, pay attention to your friends, family members and neighbors. Make sure they're safe and warm, and get them help if they're not. For more information on cold-weather health issues, click here.

For the record, it was 29 degrees this morning out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. The mercury here at The Sun only dropped to 40 degrees. BWI Marshall saw a low of 31. That's 8 degrees below the long-term average for this date. 

Some other lows across the region:

Annapolis: 38 degrees

Washington National: 36 degrees

Martin State Airport:  34 degrees

Aberdeen: 30 degrees

Washington Dulles:  29 degrees

Frederick Airport: 28 degrees

York Airport: 26 degrees

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:32 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

October 30, 2008

Spooky skies for Halloween

Tony Hallas/ 

As if the news on the ground weren't scary enough, this Halloween season is producing some really creepy images from the skies and even outer space.

The image above, used with permission from Tony Hallas at, shows glowing gas clouds in the star-forming region of the great nebula in the constellation Orion. I see a blood-red monkey face on the right, and the gaping jaws (and sparkling teeth) of a silvery ghost on the left (turn your head sideways, to the right). How about you?  

And here is a gallery of photos of ghostly Northern Lights displays from around the northern latitudes. You can see all sorts of spooks and wraiths there if you use your imagination.

Finally, as you're Trick or Treating with the kids (or the parents) tomorrow night, sneak a look at the western sky. You should see the bright planet Venus hanging above the first sliver of the very young crescent moon down near the western horizon.  It will look even better Saturday night. That's bright Jupiter high in the southwestern sky.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

Widespread lows in 20s tonight

Forecasters are warning that we should expect the coldest air of the season so far tonight. The city may hold in the 30s, but many of us can expect lows in the 20s - the first of the season and the first for BWI since March 25.

As high-pressure builds into the region, skies have cleared, and the snow out west in Garrett is melting. And as winds die down, we will get lots of radiational cooling tonight east of the Blue Ridge. Whatever solar warming we get today, a good bit of it will escape into space after sunset.

Sun Photo/Doug KapustinThe advance of cold weather finally reached Southern Maryland overnight, with freezing conditions putting an end to the growing season in Calvert and St. Mary's counties.

The good thing about the clear skies and dry air is that, after the sun rises tomorrow, the warm-up will be quick, with temperatures reaching the 60s by afternoon. Should be a gorgeous day. And as the high drifts off the coast, we'll come under a return flow from the south. That will keep temperatures from sinking quite so low Friday night and Saturday morning.

The look ahead is for some clouds late Saturday as another weak (and dry) cold front passes by, followed by more sunshine and somewhat cooler temperatures right into next week. A great outdoor weekend. If there's any wet weather in the cards for next week, it would come Wednesday. But forecasters aren't ready to bet on that yet.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

October 29, 2008

Fireball over the Northeast

Hearing about another fireball meteor, this one spotted last evening in the northeastern sky. Here's a report from Bowley's Quarters, in eastern Baltimore County. Did anyone else spot this one? 
"Hi there, last night about 7pm I believe - Bowleys Quarters- there was an amazing fireball I saw through clouds traveling north in the north eastern sky. I  haven't seen anything else on this- I know meteors are common but this was so bright and through the clouds I was amazed. Have you heard anything on this?  Thanks, Marcie"
There were more reports of a similar fireball over Colorado at around 7:00 p.m. Mountain Time last night. Not the same event, obviously, but here's a description from an observer named Thomas Ashcraft, in New Mexico, clipped from

"I am pleased to report that I just eye-witnessed a major fireball event out my window. This fireball was traveling east to west, possibly over central Colorado. It was long trailed, turquoise and green, and shed sparks ... It looks like this fireball may have been at least 300 miles north of my location."

Here's a photo of the Colorado fireball, from  Be sure to click on the videos, too.

Here is an eyewitness report from the Colorado fireball, emailed to Thomas Ashcraft. What a sight:

"My wife and I were driving on I-70 just west of the Peoria Street
bridge and we both saw the fireball very brightly, even with the bright
lights of the interstate.  It was greenish and south and slightly west
of our location on I-70.  We saw it for about 5 seconds.  It did not
seem high in elevation above the Denver skyline.  It seemed to be almost
parallel to the surface of the earth.  It was 7:28 on the car clock when
we saw it.  It was beautiful.  There was a flash of flames at the end. 
We had the windows rolled up in the car and did not hear any noise

I'm wondering whether these fireballs might be early members of the Taurid meteor shower, which peaks early next month. If so, we should all be watching for these things. Here's another report on the Colorado event:

"I live in Grand Junction, CO.  Last night my sister and I were standing
on my East-facing deck talking.  We both saw a 'light' over the
Bookcliffs ( a range of E-W running hills on the north side of Grd Jct)
coming from the NE.  This is the general vicinity of the local airport
and we both dismissed it as landing lights of an airplane.  A couple of
seconds later my sister yelled "Look at that!", pointing to the East. 
We both saw the last two seconds of what we initially thought was a
firework (roman candle type) because of its color and brightness.  There
were sparks observable in the tail as it passed overhead traveling in a
SW direction, and sparks when it 'went out', but no sound.  The color
was a bright bluish-green - even the sparks were green.  We speculated
that it might have been a fireball and were extremely excited to learn
today that it was.  Unfortunately we did not get any pictures but it was
beautiful none the less. "

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:08 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Sky Watching

Winter in Garrett, autumn here


The Winter Weather Advisory in Garrett County continues until noon today, with more snow due in the wake of 4-to-5 inches of lake-effect flakes overnight. Frostburg got a 2.5-inch dusting, too, as the WeatherBug web cam image above shows. Check out this radar loop showing lake-effect precip.

Garrett Countians can expect snow showers to continue this morning, with 3 to 5 inches of new accumulation in the higher elevations as winds sweep around the west side of the big low that caused all the ruckus. That storm is now far up in eastern Canada, but it is still bringing us cold, blustery winds. Winds will be gusting to 25 mph before diminishing this afternoon.

Back here on the lowlands, it's still autumn. Today will be the coolest of the next seven, with a AccuWeather.comhigh around 50 degrees if the forecast holds up. From here forward, high pressure will build in, skies will be sunnier and stay that way right through the weekend. Daytime highs will return to near 60 degrees, only a few degrees below normal for this time of year in Baltimore.

But winter has arrived for the north country, with more snow due today and tonight in upstate New York, northwest Pennsylvania. Here, at right, is's snow forecast map for today.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:24 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather

October 28, 2008

Wintry weather hits western Md. counties

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning until noon Wednesday for Allegany County, with 4 to 7 inches of snow possible before it all ends. The Pittsburgh forecast office has a Winter Weather Advisory up for Garrett, with 3 to 5 inches possible there - and up to 8 inches in some isolated spots.

That's the Lakeside Creamery picnic area at Deep Creek Lake below. You can find the web cam here.

Deep Creek WebcamA NWS observer near Dolly Sods, not far from Elkins in West Virginia, has already reported 5 inches of snow this afternoon, according to the discussion from Sterling. Several other sites, also in West Virginia, have also reported 2 to 4 inches on the ground as lake-effect snows reach into the mountains. Friendsville, in Garrett County, Maryland, reported 0.1 inch.

So the snow season has begun. Sort of.

The departing coastal storm has also produced some impressive wind gusts across the region, including a 53 mph gust at Gaithersburg. Here is a list from the NWS.Aileen Kammer

We're not the only ones spotting flakes today. Here's a shot sent to me this evening by Aileen Kammer, in Cockeysville. It's from her grandmother in Burlington, N.J.:

"A mere 120 miles or so from us here in Cockeysville.  She said the snowflakes were big and wet and weren't accumulating.  But there they are!"


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:45 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Storm reports

“Surprise” nor’easter wets the state

If you were surprised by the overnight rain and the cold, damp morning you found on your doorstep today, you were not alone. I had this in my inbox this morning:

"Frank, I enjoy reading your blog. How could the forecasters have totally missed this storm we're in the middle of. I live on the eastern shore and it's been raining since Monday afternoon!! As of Sunday night, the forecast called for no rain on Monday or Tuesday. How could they have been so wrong on this one??" -David

Indeed, Salisbury has had 0.3 inch since dinner time last night. We’ve had more than that here on the Western Shore. Here are some other measurements from around the state.

I still have yesterday morning’s forecast on my desk. Updated at 10:19 a.m., it called for "mostly cloudy" skies overnight and today (Tuesday), with a "slight chance of showers" Tuesday night.

Instead, we had 0.4 inch of rain in the gauge out on the WeatherDeck this morning, and nearly that much here at The Sun. BWI-Marshall reported 0.43 inch.

So what happened? I called Brian LaSorsa, a forecaster out at the NWS office in Sterling. He said the Sterling forecasts began to reflect the approaching rain late in the day yesterday. The problem was this:

As cold air pushed south through the region yesterday, a wave of low pressure began to form along the front and rapidly intensified off the coast. The counterclockwise flow of air around the low began to sweep cool, moist air off the Atlantic, triggering the rain overnight. And this morning's dank chill.

The intensifying low wasn’t a surprise, LaSorsa said. But "it was originally expected to be further offshore ... The track has been a little further west, and that allowed for the rain to come back further south and west into our area."

Here’s on the topic. Here's the pretty cool radar loop.

AccuWeather.comAs the coastal "nor’easter" heads north into New England, it will draw cold air and strong north winds our way. Wet snow is expected along a corridor from Quebec, to eastern New York State and northeastern Pennsylvania. is forecasting as much as a foot of snow in part of the Adirondack mountains in Upstate New York. Blizzard conditions are possible in the Poconos, Adirondacks, and the Green and White Mountains of New England as winds reach 60 mph amid wind-AccuWeather.comswept rain and snow.

There is a wind advisory in effect for our area through late tonight. Winds gusting as high as 41 mph will be out of the north. That will blow a lot of water out of the bay, pushing low tides 1 to 2 feet below forecast levels.

There will be chances for more rain and even snow showers tonight and tomorrow. It will be too warm at the surface for any accumulations here, but cold air aloft could produce enough flakes to be noticed.

Farther west, in Garrett and western Allegany counties, they’re looking at real snow - a Winter Weather Advisory calls for 1 to 2 inches of accumulation today and another 1 to 3 inches by tomorrow.

Check out this forecast. Ho-hum snow for those mountain folks.

Once all this gets past, by late tomorrow, we can look forward to milder weather. High pressure arrives with sunshine for Thursday and Friday, and temperatures will rise back into the 60s.


WeatherBlog readers: Exasperated by how long it takes your comments to process? I feel your pain. The blog platform The Sun uses is very slow, and frequently breaks down on this end, too. It was down all morning today. We are in the process of replacing it with one that actually works. We hope.

I’m told that all Sun blogs will begin migrating to a new system around Nov. 15. The only difference we should notice is that things will happen faster. (Although your comments will still have to be noticed, read, approved and posted by us. That is, me. We have no 24/7 decency police.) Thanks for your patience.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:36 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

October 27, 2008

Snow gets a mention in forecast

And so it begins. The National Weather Service's forecast office in Sterling has uttered its first mention of snow for this season. It's not enough to worry anyone in Maryland, but there it is. Parts of West Virginia have been told to expect accumulations up to an inch or two.

This morning's discussion from Sterling notes there is a cold front pressing south across the region today. That will bring us winds out of the northwest, gusting as high as 28 mph by tomorrow, with cloud cover keeping temperatures in the 50s.

NOAAAfter a secondary cold front reinforces the cooler air tonight, locations west of the Allegheny Mountains will be cold enough for some lake-effect snow to blow down from the north. "Less than an inch of accumulation is possible," the forecasters said. It's the first wintry cold-air outbreak of the season for points north of us. You can see the lake effect at work in this radar loop

My mother-in-law will not be pleased. She lives in Erie, Pa., and dreads winter. And if Mama ain't happy ...

Tuesday night could produce snow showers in the higher elevations to our west. "Given forecast strong northwest flow, would not be surprised if some precipitation made it east of the Blue Ridge Mountains late on Tuesday night and early Wednesday," the forecasters said. "If precipitation were to make it that far east, a few wet snow flakes could not be ruled out. For the mountains [we are] anticipating that a snow advisory will be required on Tuesday."

Here are some recent first-snow dates at BWI Marshall:

2007:  Nov. 9  Trace

2006:  Dec. 5  Trace

2005:  Nov. 23  0.5 inch

2004:  Dec. 13  Trace

2003:  Dec. 4  Trace (followed by 6.8 inches on Dec. 5-6)

High pressure returns after Wednesday, and by Halloween (Friday) we should be looking at sunny skies again, with highs in the mid-60s - the best day of the week, in case you expect to be out with the kids, or are looking for a promising mental health day. Here's the forecast.

The weekend looks cool and sunny.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:34 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

October 26, 2008

Rain helps, but October is still dry

Many locations west of the I-95 corridor received more than an inch of rain on Saturday. One would guess that the heavy rain helped bring what had been a very dry October more into line with the long-term averages. It sure helped.

But for many locations, including the official station at BWI Marshall, we remain very dry for the month. High winds during the height of the storm yesterday afternoon reached 20 mph at BWI, with gusts to 29 mph, resulting in thousands of power outages. Only a few thousand  of the 20,000 or so affected by the storm are still without power this morning.

Here are some unofficial rain totals from CoCoRaHS:

Thurmont:  1.56 inches

Taneytown:  1.44 inches

Sykesville:  1.40 inches

Cockeysville:  1.36 inches

Ellicott City:  1.32 inches

Fallston:  1.26 inches

Columbia:  1.12 inches

Towson:  .81 inches

Crofton:  0.68 inches

Pasadena:  0.53 inches

Easton:  0.38 inches

Out at BWI they recorded just 0.72 inches, bringing the month's total to only 0.84 inches. That is 1.73 inches below the average for the month through yesterday's date. If we get no more rain through the end of the month (Friday), which seems likely, this would become the fifth-driest October for Baltimore since 1963: 

October 1963: Trace (record)

October 2000:  0.08 inch

October 1978:  0.71 inch

October 2001:  0.78 inch

October 2008:  0.84 inch

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:25 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: By the numbers

October 23, 2008

Saturday washout ahead


We'll have two more sunny autumn days to enjoy this week - today and tomorrow - before things begin to change for the wetter. If you have outdoor plans for Saturday, better switch them to Sunday.

Forecasters out at Sterling are watching a strong low-pressure system that's forming out over the Central Plains. That storm will draw moisture from the northern Gulf of Mexico, and deliver it here beginning Friday night. Saturday looks like a washout. Here's a pretty cool satellite loop looking at the water vapor winding into in the storm.

The rain will begin as showers sometime Friday evening. Only a fraction of an inch is likely, if the forecast holds up. But Saturday will bring as much as an inch or two more, with heaviest amounts in the thunderstorms that could pop up. Mariners could face gale-force winds, and some minor coastal flooding is possible. It's a fast-moving storm, so the worst of it will be over as early as 2 p.m. But the rain could still linger into the evening hours Saturday, with another half-inch possible.

There does not appear to be much risk of flooding, despite the heavy rain. It's been so dry this month that creek levels are low, so there's plenty of room for the runoff. That may not hold in urban areas, where some street flooding is possible. 

Here's's take on the storm.

Sunday would be rain-free under this scenario, but mostly cloudy. The nice weather returns for the first part of the new workweek, with sunny skies and highs in the 50s. Mid-week could see another significant rainstorm.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

October 22, 2008

A report on NWS Sterling open house

Shaun Bell photo, used with permissionThe Sterling, Va. forecast office of the National Weather Service - the place that generates the official weather forecasts for all of Central Maryland - from Allegany County to the bay - held an Open House this past weekend.

I didn't make it out there, but Laryssa Wirstiuk, who edits Too Shy to Stop, an online arts and culture magazine for young people, did.

She stopped by with a photographer, Shaun Bell. They seem to have had a good time, while learning quite a lot.

Here's her report.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 21, 2008

Fireball spotted over Elkridge

Dennise Cardona writes with the following report. Did anyone else see this meteor? 

Hi, I saw something this morning, October 21, 2008, in the sky that I thought was strange, and was wondering if anyone else has reported seeing the same thing. At 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning, I saw a fireball in the sky over Elkridge, MD. I was looking down at first, as I was running, and the sky lit up like it would in a lightening storm, that?s when I looked up and saw and object the size of a softball (scaled compared to the size of the stars behind it) far up in the distant sky explode in a yellow/white bright light, then shoot upwards, leaving a foot long trail of white behind it before disappearing into a thin trail of dust.

Just curious if anything has been reported on this?

FR: Quite likely part of the annual Orionid meteor shower, which peaked this morning. Not normally a big deal, the Orionids were supposed to have been an even less impressive show this year because of the bright moon currently in the early morning sky. But they have been surprising observers in recent days with an unusually vigorous display. The Orionids are named for the constellation Orion, from which the meteors appear to radiate. They are bits of dust left behind by Halley's Comet, which last visited the inner solar system in 1986. They may remain active for another day or two, so early-morning joggers and dog walkers should keep an eye peeled before dawn. You can read more, and see several photos, here

The photo below shows an Orionid meteor, snapped this morning in Poland by Przemek Zoladek and used with his permission. The big white light is the moon. And here's link to a video of a fireball similar to the one described above, taken this morning in California. Notice how it lights up the area near the final explosion.

Przemek Zoladek

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:46 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Sky Watching

Wildfire hazard this afternoon

Scant rainfall, very low humidity and brisk winds will combine today to boost the danger that a a spark, a tossed cigarette or some other activity will touch off brush fires in Central Maryland.

The National Weather Service has declared an "Enhanced Fire Danger" for the Mid-Atlantic region this afternoon. In Maryland that covers every jurisdiction except Worcester and Garrett counties. Here's the scoop:



While September was very wet here, Baltimore has recorded only 0.12 inch of rain since Oct. 1.

The forecast calls for a "dry cold front" to pass through the region around noon today, bringing gusty northwest winds for the afternoon and evening. Winds will be in the 20-25 mph range, with gusts to 35 mph. With any luck, it will blow your leaves into your neighbor's yard.

LA Times photoMore cold air will pour in behind the front, dropping temperatures into the 30s for the next three nights. But skies will remain pretty sunny, and starry at night, until the weekend. Then, we're looking for increased rain chances and gray skies.

The bad weather is coming from a low forming out over the Plains, which will gather up Gulf moisture as it heads east and forms a secondary storm center off the Southeast Coast. It's the sort of storm we look for to produce some of our best winter storms. But we're not there yet, fortunately.

Now, in a seasonal note, trees in The Sun's little grove of ginkgoes - or at least the female members - planted many years ago along Calvert and Centre streets in Baltimore, are once again dropping their stinking fruit. They smell like vomit, but nonetheless attract a handful of folks each year who - garbed in masks and gloves - quietly collect and open the nasty, pulpy things and harvest the seeds.

These are ginkgo nuts. They're widely used in Asian cooking, I'm told. Former Sun reporter Rob Hiaasen wrote a story in 1995 about this annual visitation to The Sun's grove. It follows below. If you have no stomach for ginkgo nut gathering, I can't blame you. But drive by our building sometime in the next few weeks as the ginkgoes at Calvert and Centre turn their golden shade of yellow. It's a beautiful show and worth the detour.

By Rob Hiaasen, Sun reporter, Dec. 4, 1995

     It was an uneventful Wednesday. Staring out the fifth-floor window of The Sun newsroom, we noted that life appeared normal on Calvert Street. People were just going about their business. Then, they came.In broad daylight, the couple came onto the property, donned masks and gloves, and began picking through the yellow, fan-shaped leaves. They were taking some kind of nut from the ground. Then, they left.


    A ring of nut thieves? The tip of an exportation operation? An investigation was launched. We have the resources, and we're not afraid to use them. We consulted one reference book, which confirmed nuts fall from trees. Apparently, this is not uncommon in autumn. But why are these nuts so special and worth such brazen transport?


    We scooped up a few nuts and immediately thought this must be an area doggies frequent. This was not a special smell. This, as it turns out, is the rancid smell of the ginkgo nut.


    "This buff-colored, delicately sweet nut comes from the center of the inedible fruit of the maidenhair tree, a native of China," according to Barron's Food Lover's Companion. Right between "gingersnap" and "ginseng," the entry for ginkgo nuts spills the beans. "Ginkgo nuts, which turn bright green when cooked, are particularly popular in Japanese cooking."


    People use these berries in food? The same nuts that emit that curb-your-dog kind of odor? Is that what the masked couple wants the nuts for?


    "I've never seen ginkgo nuts used, and I asked our chefs," says Joe Belvedere, assistant director of the Baltimore International Culinary College. "It may be a very regional delicacy. You got me wondering about it now."


    The ginkgo (GING-koh) nut is indeed an ingredient in Japanese dishes, such as Chawan-Mushi (savory egg custard). The seed is also used to make a sauce called Bai Guo, a delicacy in South China, as reported in The Sun.


    But one story libeled the ginkgo. A Louise Teubner-Rhodes of Towson wrote to correct us that only the female tree bears the smelly fruit. "The male makes an ideal urban tree," she said. There's a big, female ginkgo tree at the Cylburn Arboretum. "But we don't allow people to collect the nuts," says horticulturist William Stine.


    He says the ginkgo tree is the oldest species of tree and dates back to the dinosaurs (ginkgo nuts/dinosaurs extinct . . . coincidence?) The ginkgo, truly a living fossil, is commonly planted in parks and along thoroughfares, such as East Main Street in Westminster. The nut's smell is caused by the presence of something called butyric acid.


    The ginkgo nut has been a valuable staple of Chinese traditional medicine and is used to treat asthma, among other problems. The nut is also an ingredient in Herbal Ecstasy, a legal, butterfly-stamped pill. The "designer nutritional supplement" is popular at rave dance parties and has been billed as the coolest way to turn on.


    So, is this older couple bagging ginkgo nuts for the production of Herbal Ecstasy? Small, inquiring minds want to know.


    The word on the street is the masked couple walks down Centre Street on fall afternoons while making the nut run. Sure enough, they were spotted Thursday coming down Centre, crossing Charles, then setting up camp in front of The Sun and under the ginkgos.


    The man puts on red utility gloves. She puts on white surgical gloves. They both take out plastic bags. Both wear masks. She sits and sorts, as he crouches and gathers the nuts. He unloads his bag of nuts in front of her. She picks away the leaves and fills the master bag with ginkgo nuts. Bystanders stop, look at the couple, look up at the trees, look back at the couple.


    "Must be some kind of pecans or nuts, I guess," a woman says, before boarding an MTA bus.


    Fire engines scream by and car horns shout; the man and woman do not look up from their work. Another woman approaches the man, who just shakes his head. The woman returns, whispering, "I do not speak Taiwanese."


    After 65 minutes, they are done. They take off their gloves, tie off their engorged bag of ginkgo nuts and leave. Will they lead us to a Chinese restaurant or to more ginkgo trees?


    They walk quickly down Centre Street toward I-83. She secretly stows the bag of nuts behind bushes on Centre Street. They walk under the underpass over to Front Street, then on to Hillen Street and to the entrance of the Baltimore Gas & Electric Front Street Complex. They walk up to the security guard, who lets them pass. They enter the building and are out of sight.


    The guard says they work for a cleaning company and are here until about 9 p.m. He doesn't know who they are and doesn't know anything about ginkgo nuts. Based on this information, we're confident the electric company is not involved in the retrieving and storing of The Sun's ginkgo nuts. We leave the premises.


    Given the choice between waiting on Hillen Street in the cold until 9 p.m. or heading home to a warm house and meal -- we decide to take off. We can only hope to see the masked couple again.


    Friday morning, the bag of nuts is gone. And at 2:30 p.m., the man and woman return with their gloves and masks. Using a piece of paper, he writes the name Tae, and she writes Sung. Korean? They nod. Speak English? No. We grab a ginkgo nut and make an eating gesture. The woman smiles, reaches into her bag, and hands us five shelled ginkgo nuts.


    Awash in the scent of ginkgo, we pop the nuts in our mouth. They taste like a gelatinous, unflavored Raisinette, portions of which remain in our teeth. But this is a matter of taste.


    We should and will continue to open our hearts and front yard to the ginkgo nut collectors. May they come in peace with their masks and gloves.


    Just watch where you step.
Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Watches and warnings

October 20, 2008

NE autumn, imaged from space


There is a spectacular image of the Northeastern United States on NASA's Earth Observatory Website. It stretches from Nova Scotia to Buffalo, and south to Virginia Beach, all bathed on sunshine under clear skies. You can see autumn colors spilling down out of the mountains, and creeping southward.

The image was taken on Oct. 12 - a week ago - by NASA's Terra Earth Observing satellite. It is a "photo-like" image taken by the satellite's MODIS spectroradiometer, and it shows fall colors or orange and green, and the gray sprawl of urban areas, including Baltimore and Washington. You can even spot the Texas limestone quarry in Cockeysville.

It's a huge, high-resolution file and may be a relatively slow download, but worth the wait. The version above doesn't do the whole picture justice. Here's the direct link.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

The smell of heat in the morning, the smell of capitulation

Sun Photo/John Makely 2001 

I caved. It was warm enough under the quilt this morning, but the air in the bedroom was 59 degrees. So we threw in the towel. I was hoping to wait until Nov. 1 before I switched on the heat this season, but the thermometer out on the WeatherDeck this morning was 30 degrees, and we just needed to put more space between the outside reading and the inside.

So, with 11 days still to go before my heating goalpost, I slid the lever to "Heat" and heard the reassuring whine of the gas burner kicking in. To minimize the damage to my checkbook, I only ran the thing for an hour - just enough to raise the first-floor temperature to 70 degrees. And I left the heat pump, which warms the upstairs (and our frigid bedroom) off. 

Please tell me we weren't the only ones to give in to creature comforts this morning.

Anyway, the mercury is headed for the 60s this afternoon, with bright sunshine. So the house should absorb some solar energy during the day, and leave the place warm enough to carry us through the evening and into bed without burning more fossil fuel. If I need another blast from BGE in the morning, so be it.

Here are some of the low readings for this morning across the region. The freeze and frost warnings issued yesterday seem to have been justified. There was plenty of frost on the windshields this morning where I live:

BWI Marshall:  32 degrees

Baltimore Sun:  41 degrees

WeatherDeck in Cockeysville:  30 degrees

Annapolis:  44 degrees

Reagan National:  38 degrees

Dulles International:  29 degrees

York, Pa.:  26 degrees

Hagerstown:  30 degrees

Ocean City:  39 degrees

Here's a map of more unofficial low readings from the region. The lowest seem to be in the low 20s, out in the mountains. The bay and the ocean kept some of us relatively warm.

Weather on your mind? Stargazing? The turn of the seasons? Don't make me do everything around here. Send us a question or comment and we'll consider it for the print Weather Page comments this weekend. With everyone thinking about the elections, or the economy, or the Ravens, the well has gone dry.

The forecast for the week ahead shows the sunshine and starry nights continuing. Tonight won't be quite as cold. But there's a cold front expected  to blow through tomorrow, bringing us windy days on Tuesday and Wednesday.

More immediately, as the weekend's north winds slacken, the water that had been blown out of the Chesapeake is surging back in today. Forecasters have posted coastal flood advisories along the Bay shores. High tides could rise 1 to 2 feet tonight above predicted levels.

Tomorrow's strong winds, coupled with the continuing dry weather, will raise the risk of brush fires tomorrow. BWI has logged just 0.12 inch of rain since Oct. 1. Forecasters may decide to issue a Fire Watch for the region later today. 

The front will also drop temperatures again, with an overnight low of just 35 degrees forecast for Wednesday night into Thursday morning - the lowest of the autumn so far. Daytime highs on Thursday may not get out of the 50s. 

The bad news is the weekend forecast, especially if you were planning a getaway to the beach. The folks out at Sterling are expecting a complex storm to bring heavy rains, high winds, isolated strong thunderstorms, abnormally high tides and a risk of coastal flooding. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:08 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Forecasts

October 19, 2008

Freeze tonight NW of I-95

Marylanders north and west of the I-95 corridor can expect freezing temperatures tonight as high pressure, clear skies and calm winds combine to drive temperatures to 32 degrees and below.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va. have issued a freeze warning (light blue on the map) for tonight:


The warning does not include Baltimore and its suburbs in Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Charles counties, where frost "advisories" are posted: 


"Patchy frost" is expected in Baltimore City and the suburbs of southern Baltimore County.

In the meantime it was plenty chilly this morning north of the city. We had a low of 36 degrees here on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. Must have been a chilly start for the Susan Komen Race for the Cure in Hunt Valley, too. Here are some low readings across the region

BWI:  42 degrees

Reagan National: 44 degrees

Annapolis: 49 degrees

Dulles International: 41 degrees

Hagerstown: 35 degrees

York, Pa.: 39 degrees

When they finally post it this morning, the NWS will have these overnight lows for the region. Be sure to check the date on the map. In the meantime, here are links to amateur weather stations across Maryland, from Weather Underground, including The Baltimore Sun.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

October 17, 2008

Amazing video of spacecraft re-entry

NASANASA has posted some spectacular footage of the re-entry of the 13-ton ATV-1 "Jules Verne" spacecraft on Sept. 29. The images were shot from one of two aircraft that carried scientists hoping to witness the re-entry over the South Pacific Ocean. Here is the main page for the re-entry observation project, with lots of stills.

And here is the link to the video. Enjoy.NASA

The ATV, or "Automated Transfer Vehicle," is a sort of robotic cargo ship designed to carry cargo to resupply the International Space Station. Designed and built by the European Space Agency, the first was launched last April. When its work is done, the ATV is guided to a safe (for people on the ground) re-entry into the Pacific. Here's more on ATV.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Freeze watches up for western counties

North winds behind the cold front that passed through here yesterday are bringing much cooler, drier air into Central Maryland. High pressure over the Great Lakes is drawing the cool air out of Canada and sending it this way. That's keeping some clouds and light rain at bay to our south. Here's the satellite view.

And as skies clear and winds die down, forecasters are posting freeze watches for tomorrow night for the western counties of Maryland (blue on the map).

NOAA"Expect widespread temperatures near freezing west of the Blue Ridge," this morning's discussion from Sterling advises. A freeze would end the growing season, killing any crops or other "sensitive vegetation" remaining outdoors. The watches are up for Garret, Allegany and Washington counties, including the cities of Frostburg, Hagerstown and Cumberland.

Here in the Baltimore metro area, they're looking for lows near 40 degrees Sunday and Monday mornings. But we can expect colder temperatures north and west of the city. Westminster has a forcast low of 37 degrees for Sunday morning. 

The good news is that we'll see sunny skies clear into the middle of next week. Forecasters say daytime temperatures will be somewhat cooler than normal, topping out at just 58 degrees Saturday at BWI Marshall, but in the 60s for the rest of the next 7 days.  A day that holds in the 50s would be the first for BWI since May 20.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:39 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

October 16, 2008

Warm October days ending

Yesterday's high of 82 degrees at BWI Marshall Airport - and the low of 63 degrees - gave us an average temperature of 73 for the day. That average was 17 degrees above the normal average for the date, making it one of the warmest days of the year so far.

The 82-degree high was, however, short of the 86-degree record for an Oct. 15, reached most recently in 1989. (We're back in the 80s again today, at least at Annapolis, Martin Airport and down in Washington. BWI is still at 78. We have 79 at The Sun, downtown.)

But our mild October weather, which has given us highs in the 80s for three days in a row, are about to end. Forecasters say the cold front moving through the region today will bring a "slight" chance for showers this afternoon and tonight. There is only cooler air behind the front. When the sun returns tomorrow, the highs will only reach the mid-60s. And that's about where we'll stay for the next week.

Of course, the mid-60s is where we belong in Baltimore at this time of year. The average high for Oct. 16 is 67 degrees. The average low is 44 - also where the mercury will come to rest for the coming week in Baltimore.

Still, hasn't it been sweet? Only six other dates in 2008 have exceeded their norms by more than 17 degrees. They are:

Feb. 6:  High 72, low 45, average 59 degrees, 25 degrees above average.

Jan. 7:  High 70, low 42, average 56 degrees, 24 degrees above average.

Jan. 8:  High 70, low 39, average 55 degrees, 23 degrees above average.

Jan. 9:  High 64, low 39, average 52 degrees, 20 degrees above average.

March 4:  High 71, low 47, average 59 degrees, 19 degrees above average.

Feb. 18:  High 71, low 37, average 54 degrees, 18 degrees above average.

Oct. 15:  High 82, low 63, average 73 degrees, 17 degrees above average.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:08 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

Cat. 3 Omar roars away from Leeward Islands


Hurricane Omar, an odd duck that formed in the Caribbean two days ago and appears headed northeastward across the Atlantic toward the Azores - seemingly the reverse of most Atlantic storms - seems to have peaked as a 120-mph Cat. 3 hurricane just as it crossed the northern Leeward Islands overnight.

Here are some early damage reports, including outages at Venezuelan oil ports and gasoline and heating oil refineries on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center, using Air Force reconaissance data and radar imagery from Puerto Rico, said Omar's core and its strongest winds passed through the Anegada Passage, between the Virgin Islands and St. Martin/Maarten in the early morning hours.

The region was under a Hurricane Warning, with forecasters predicting 5 to 10 inches of rain, with localized amounts up to 20 inches. Storm surge flooding along the storm's path and to the right of the path was expected to reach as high as 4 to 6 feet above normal tides, with large and battering waves. The storm surge was expected to be somewhat less for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands - to the left of the storm's path, but forecasters still warned of coastal erosion and damage to waterfront structures in these U.S. possessions.

Here is the latest advisory on Omar. Here is the forecast storm track. And here is the view from orbit.

Omar is continuing to weaken, and will likely become a Cat. 2 storm again in the next few hours.

In the meantime, far to the west. Tropical Depression 16 has gone ashore in Nicaragua and Honduras and other countries in Central America, dumping huge amounts of rain.

Here is the latest advisory. Here is the storm track, and here is the view from space.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:29 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Hurricanes

October 15, 2008

Hurricane Omar could hit islands at Cat. 2


People in the Northern Leeward Islands are bracing for a strike tonight and tomorrow by Hurricane Omar. The hurricane is now a Category 1 storm with top sustained winds of 85 mph. But forecasters at the National Hurricane Center expect the storm will grow to Cat. 2 status before landfall, with top winds of at least 96 mph on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

UPDATE: At 8 p.m. EDT Wednesday Omar was upgraded to a Cat. 2 storm, with top sustained winds of nearly 105 mph. Earlier post resumes:

"It also isn't out of the question that Omar could achieve major hurricane status (Cat. 3, 111 mph) just before the cyclone reaches the northern Leeward Islands," forecasters said today. But drier air from the northwest could still intrude and weaken the storm before landfall.

Here's's take on the storm.

Omar sprang up yesterday in the Eastern Caribbean just north of the Dutch Antilles, and pummeled those islands - Aruba. Bonaire and Curacao - with heavy winds and rain.

Now forecasters have posted hurricane warnings for the U.S. Virgin Islands and the small islands east of Puerto Rico - Vieques and Culebra. Also under warnings now are St. Martin/Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Barthelemy, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis.

Puerto Rico itself is under a Hurricane Watch and Tropical Storm Warnings. TS warnings are also posted for Antigua, Barbuda and Montserrat.

Omar this morning was centered 235 miles southwest of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. It was moving to the northeast at about 9 mph.  Hurricane force winds were limited to a fairly small radius - just 15 miles from the center. But communities in its path can expect  tropical-storm-force winds 115 miles from the center. Five to 10 inches of rain are also possible in Puerto Rico and the other islands, which may trigger flash floods and mudslides.

Here is the latest advisory. Here is the storm track and here is the view from orbit.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:30 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Hurricanes

Open window weather

October is always one of the cheapest months on my utility bill. The days are warm enough to call for open windows. No heating needed, but no air conditioning, either. And the nights are mild enough for open windows, too, or at least for no more than an extra blanket.

Sun Photo/Perry Thorsvik 1996Last night's low at BWI-Marshall Airport was 63 degrees. That was 3 degrees short of matching the all-time record for the highest overnight low temperature for Baltimore on this date - 66 degrees, set on Oct. 15, 1941. The high yesterday was 82 degrees at the airport. It was 80 here at The Sun in downtown Baltimore, for the second day in a row. The low this morning was 69 degrees.

And already we're looking at 76 degrees just after 11 a.m. Forecasters out at Sterling think we could reach 78 today at the airport. We may touch the low 80s again downtown. But this will soon come to an end.

A cold front will bring clouds late today and into tomorrow, with a chance for some light rain. Temperatures won't start to slide until Thursday evening. The sun returns for a prolonged stay on Friday, with nothing but blue skies well into next week. But temperatures will climb no higher than the 60s on Friday. And Saturday will feel like autumn, with a forecast high for Baltimore of just 56 degrees. We haven't seen a day that held in the 50s since May 20.

From there things will moderate some, and daytime temperatures into next week will reach the 60s. Overnight lows will be in the 40s.

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

October 14, 2008

Omar nears hurricane force, islands warned

Tropical Storm Omar is strengthening rapidly and turning toward the northern Leeward Islands. Hurricane watches and Tropical Storm warnings have been posted for the island of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Also:




Landfall is expected Wednesday night in the Northern Leeward Islands.

Here's the latest advisory. Here's the forecast storm track. And here's the view from space.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

Nana fades; Omar forms; another storm brewing


As some hurricane forecasters predicted, October is proving to be an active month for the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season. As one tropical storm (Nana) fades away in the Atlantic, another (Omar) has formed today in the eastern Caribbean. And yet another tropical depression - the 16th of the season - is taking shape in the western Caribbean.

First, remnants of Tropical Storm Nana have dissipated in the central Atlantic, leaving just a tropical depression with top sustained winds of 30 mph. Another area of low pressure just south and east of Nana's remains is kicking up some wind and rain, but is not expected to strengthen.

Here is the final public advisory on Nana. Here is the storm track. There's not much to see from orbit.

In the eastern Caribbean, meanwhile, Tropical Storm Omar is lingering with top winds of 50 mph. It shows little motion for now, but is being felt in the Dutch Antilles - with wind and heavy rain for Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Forecasters are now considering storm watches from Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands, and St. Martin, St. Eustatius and Saba.

Here is the latest advisory. Here is the forecast storm track. And here is the view from space

And off to the west, a disturbance off the coast of Nicaragua and Honduras has reached tropical depression status, with top winds of 30 mph. Now referred to as Tropical Depression 16, it is a threat to Central America, and is likely to become a tropical storm (Paloma) by tomorrow morning.

Here is the latest advisory. Here is the forecast storm track. And here is the view from space.

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

California wildfires from space


NASA's Aqua Earth-observing satellite yesterday afternoon snapped this spectacular image of smoke from the California wildfires as Santa Ana winds blew it out over the Pacific.

Here's how it looked from the ground.

LA Times

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

Eighties again today; full moon tonight

We can look forward to another delightfully pleasant day today as high pressure, clear skies and abundant sunshine again drive temperatures in Baltimore to the 80-degree mark. And if skies remain clear into this evening, we can enjoy a full Hunter's Moon as it rises in the east around 5:06 p.m.

Temperatures reached 80 degrees yesterday at BWI. It was 80 here at The Sun, too. The airport reading was the first daytime high to reach 80 degrees since Sept. 21. The record for Baltimore on an Oct. 14 is 86 degrees, set back in 1975.

The mild weather and sunshine should carry over into Wednesday, but an approaching cold front promises increasing clouds for Wednesday night, and a chance for showers on Thursday. Once the front passes, daytime temperatures will drop off sharply. Friday will remain cloudy and cooler, in the 60s. And depending on how things develop, we could see a continuing risk of showers Friday into Saturday, forecasters say.

NASA photo/STS35A return of sunshine for the  weekend won't help the temperatures much, with highs only in the low 60s - some 20 degrees cooler than today. Overnight lows will sink into the low 40s and it will begin to feel more like a real October.

With luck tonight, we'll have skies clear enough to reveal the Hunter's Moon, named for the added light it afforded our ancestors as they stalked the game they needed to fatten up for the long winter ahead. Some also called this the Frosty Moon, or the Beaver Moon, a nod to the deepening cold and the critters' busy preparations for winter.

Clear, dry skies are also giving us new opportunities to observe Jupiter, still high and bright in the southern sky after sunset, and Venus, now an easy target in the southwest at the same time.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:12 AM | | Comments (0)

October 13, 2008

Tropics stirring; storms and quakes


The 14th named storm of the 2008 hurricane season popped up far out in the Atlantic over the weekend, and this morning another tropical depression (above) was forming in the Caribbean.

Tropical Storm Nana - not exactly a name to be feared, it would seem - was an especially unimpressive patch of clouds about halfway between the coast of Africa and the Caribbean islands. Struggling against strong shearing winds aloft, the storm was managing top sustained winds barely strong enough to qualify as a tropical storm. And she has since lost strength and been demoted to a tropical depression. She is expected to be no more than a "remnant low" before the day ends.

Here is the latest advisory for Nana. Here is the pathetic little forecast storm track. And here is the view from space.

The other actor in the tropics this morning is Tropical Depression 15, now centered about 340 miles southwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico in the eastern Caribbean. TD15 is sporting top sustained winds of 35 mph, and is expected to pick up speed and begin drifting toward the northeast later today. It is also likely to strengthen to tropical storm status. If so, it will become Tropical Storm Omar.

The National Hurricane Center is considering tropical storm watches for the islands of Puerto Rico and the Virgin US Islands later today. From there, the storm is forecast to become a hurricane and head out into the Atlantic, with no further threat to land.

Here is the latest advisory for TD15. Here is the forecast storm track. And here is the view from space.

Speaking of the Virgin Islands, there was a sizable earthquake  - 6.1 on the Richter scale - just north of the islands on Saturday, with lots of aftershocks since. Anybody down there reading this? We'd love some reports.

Here is a news report from the USVI, and another from the British Virgin Islands.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

Fab beach weekend continues


My favorite schoolteacher and I escaped to the beach this weekend, and found we had picked the very best autumn weekend to be there. Kudos to the Bavarian Oktoberfest and Endless Summer Cruisin' antique car rally for getting their dates right. Highs in the 70s, light breeze perfect for kites, water still swimmable (for kids and surfers; not this boy). And the mild, sunny autumn weather at the shore is continuing into the early workweek, alas, without us.

As a special bonus, beachgoers this weekend (and anyone else who happened to look up) were treated to a spectacular display of parhelions or "sun dogs" and solar halos thanks to the high, thin clouds of ice crystals. It was the most complex and persistent display of these phenomena I have ever seen. The sun dogs were visible at least from late morning when we hit the beach right up until sunset. 

If any of this was visible from the Baltimore area, please let us know. The photo above is a stock photo from the NOAA Photo Library. I didn't have a camera. (Doh!)  But it looks very much like what we saw Saturday from the Delaware shore. If you have a photo of this weekend's phenomenon, please send it in.

Forecasters out at Sterling are looking for highs in the upper 70s to low 80s again today for Central Maryland, thanks to high pressure building across the southeastern U.S. The highs are still well short of the records for Baltimore at this time of year. But they are also a delightful 10 degrees above the long-term averages.

Once the high begins to move off at mid-week, there's a cold front waiting to pass by. That will bring us some clouds Thursday, with cooler weather on the other side. Look for highs back where they belong, in the 60s, for the end of the workweek and into the 60s for the weekend. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:23 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

October 9, 2008

A fine holiday weekend

Sun Photo/Amy Davis/1998Forecasts don't come any better than this. A cold front slipping by us today will usher in nearly a week of delightful weather, taking us right through the Monday Columbus Day (for some of you, but not newspaper types) holiday.

Prognosticators out at Sterling say we can expect highs in the upper 70s today and again on Monday. The days in between will also be sunny, but a bit cooler - in the mid-70s. Overnight lows will slide into the 50s.

That's all just about 5 or 10 degrees above the long-term averages for this time of year at BWI. The extremes are, well, a lot more extreme. Record highs for this time of year are still in the upper 80s and low 90s. Record lows are in the 20s and 30s.

And today is the 105th anniversary of the earliest snowfall recorded for Baltimore since they began tracking snow here in 1883. The city recorded a trace of snow on this date in 1903. The earliest measurable snow fell on Oct. 10, 1979, when 0.3 inch was recorded at the airport.

Headed for the beach this weekend? The forecast there, too, is terrific. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:08 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

October's downsides - Of mice and pears

I said here a few days ago that October was one of the most pleasant months in the Land of Pleasant Living - all mild temperatures, vibrant colors, dry, sunny days and cool, starry nights. Then we had a visitor.

It was a house mouse. His presence in our home was announced last evening by my wife's shrieks. She was at the kitchen table, correcting students' papers when a member of the Mus US Forest Servicemusculus family made a run for it. He emerged from under the basket where we keep cushions for the deck furniture, made a beeline across the kitchen to the stove, and vanished into its dark underbelly.

His bold break, in the glare of a half-dozen kitchen lights, was a mistake. Darkness is the mouse's friend. He forgot that. 

Meanwhile, alerted by my wife's shrieks, now coming in rapid succession, I scampered down the stairs, expecting to find her impaled on a kitchen implement and bleeding out.

"There's a mouse!!" she gasped. Where? I asked.

"The stove! Under the stove!," says she. What do you want me to do?

"Get the broom!," says she. And what? Sweep him out the door? He may not go along with that plan.

So we pause to think. I have an unused snap-type mouse trap in the basement. We'll put a little treat in it, set it out overnight and see what happens. It's a good plan, she agrees, except for the part where we go to bed with a mouse loose in the house. But I retrieve the trap, we load it with a dab of peanut butter on a cracker, cock the snap mechanism, and set it down in front of the kickboard below the sink.

The arrival of the first cold nights this week - in the upper 30s out on the WeatherDeck a few mornings ago - means it's time for Mus musculus to find warmer places to spend the winter. Those that have enjoyed the bounty of the gardens and woods around our house are beginning to look for a cozy, centrally heated interior to share (preferably with plenty of crumbs to eat and pantries to explore).

It's one of those less-pleasant autumn events that we have come to expect in our neighborhood. A few years back the mice found a gap in our eaves and set up housekeeping in the attic. We would lie in bed and listen to them scratching and gnawing up there, and determined to wipe them out.   

So we set out some mouse poison and a couple of snap traps. In a couple of days, the attic was quiet, and the trap was occupied. I cleaned up, and sealed up the openings I could reach.

Autumn can be messy like that. We also have a Bradford pear tree. It was planted in the front Wikipediayard by the builder because it was cheap and fast-growing. In 11 years it has grown from a spindly stick to a gangly giant, nearly as tall as the house.

In its maturity, the Bradford has become a prodigious producer. Today it is loaded with thousands of tiny pears, about the size of grapes. The birds and squirrels love them. And they have drawn as many as four hungry deer at a time, in broad daylight. But the little globes drop and cover the walks with a squishy mess. They stain the concrete, get caught in our shoes and track into the house. 

The tree also stinks when it flowers in the spring. And it's fragile, threatening to split in a storm and drop large branches onto parked cars. It has to go. We plan to have it chopped down, ground up and replaced sometime this fall.

I hate to lose the cooling shade it throws across the house in summer. And in recent days I have been captivated by a large spider web, spun between our Bradford and the neighbor's identical tree, and backlit by the morning sun. But the tree has strung out our tolerance to the limit.

So had our mouse. While I showered this morning, my wife ventured downstairs for a peek at the trap. She returned to announce, with a mix of revulsion and relief, "There is a tail sticking out of the trap."

And so the hunt is ended. Twelve hours. Not bad.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:59 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Observer reports

October 8, 2008's forecast: Colder and snowier

 Sun Photo/Chiaki Kawajiri

The folks at have issued their preliminary winter forecast for Baltimore, and they'll calling for "one of the coldest winters in several years across much of the East."

At first glance that sounds pretty foreboding. But I spoke Wednesday with Ken Reeves, who co-authored the forecast with Joe Bastardi, and it turns out that what they're really expecting is a more nearly normal winter, compared with the easy ones we've seen in recent years.

"We're keeping in mind what it's going to feel like to people in your area, given what it was this past season," Reeves said. Last winter was mild. In fact, winter temperatures at BWI have averaged 2 to 3 degrees above normal since the winter of 2003-2004. Better still, at least for snow-haters, we clocked only 8.5 inches of snow - almost all of it in December. Average winter snowfall for BWI is about 18 inches.

This year, Bastardi and Reeves say the meteorological set-up has changed. We're looking at a more nearly "normal" - that is to say, a more nearly average - winter. And that, Reeves said,  means people around these parts (at least those with short memories or thin blood) are in for "a shock."

With colder temperatures and higher prices for electricity and heating fuels, this may also portend a more financially painful winter than we've seen in some time. And it could begin sooner rather than later.

"We think we're going to get off to a roaring start in December, then ease back in January, before getting cold again in February," Reeves said.  

He and Bastardi arrived at their conclusions by looking at several indicators. One, of course, is the state of the tropical Pacific Ocean's ENSO cycle, or El Nino Southern Oscillation. Last winter we were in a La Nina phase of the ENSO cycle - with cooler sea surface temperatures than average in the eastern and central tropical Pacific. That typically means mild winters in our part of the world. This time, Reeves noted, we're in a "neutral phase" of the cycle.

Combining a neutral ENSO with other factors, including this year's active hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico, the forecasters concluded that weather patterns over the continental U.S. will shift eastward. That will bring a high pressure ridge - similar to one that produced colder weather to Iowa and eastern Nebraska last winter - farther east into Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. And that, they say, will increase the opportunities for cold Canadian air to flow south into the eastern third of the nation, including Maryland.

Sun Photo/Glenn FawcettWhen they looked for "analogs" - past years when similar patterns were in place - they found several. And in those years, Baltimore and its environs recorded average to just-blow-average winter temperatures.

When I asked Reeves about snow, he wisely hesitated. Seasonal snow forecasts are "tricky," he said. "If it's colder, you do stand a greater chance of more snowfall. That makes sense. But it does depend somewhat on when the cold air arrives."

To make snow, you need both cold AND moisture. And they have to meet up at the same time. But this is Baltimore, and I couldn't let him get away without some kind of snow forecast for the coming winter. Baltimoreans demand snow omens at this time of year. So I leaned on him a little more.

"The thinking is the season will certainly be a snowier season than last year," Reeves ventured. That shouldn't be hard. I mean, we got 8.5 inches. But he took the bait. "Probably somewhere in the mid- to upper-teens. Maybe around 20 inches," he said, with an early "rude slap" coming in December. (Sounds like a lot, especially if it all fell at once. But remember, 18 inches of snow in Baltimore is about average for the season.)

With luck that wintery "slap" will come on Dec. 5 and bring snow. BWI has recorded at least a little snow on Dec. 5 in five of the last six years:

2007: 4.7 inches

2006: Trace

2005: 1.4 inches

2004: None

2003: 0.85 inch

2002: 7.4 inches

For the record, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center forecast for December thorugh February calls for warmer-than-average temperatures here with no clear trend either way on precipitation.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:17 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Winter weather

October 7, 2008

Some in region reach 30s, but not BWI

It was starting to feel a little chilly around the edges at home this morning, and I confess I thought about turning on the heat to take the edge off. But I didn't. It was 37 degrees out on the Weatherdeck in Cockeysville, but still in the high 60s inside. Still no excuse for burning dollars Sun Photo/Kenneth Lamand pumping more CO2 into the air.

That day is coming. I usually cave before Nov. 1. But the outlook is for some warming in Baltimore through the rest of the week, so I know I can get through the next week or so.

Still, while it was still quite mild near the bay and the ocean, the temperatures dropped sharply last night north and west of the city. BWI still hasn't recorded a night in the 30s this fall, but others have. Here's a sampling of some overnight lows:

BWI: 41 degrees

The Sun (downtown Baltimore):  47 degrees

Annapolis:  51 degrees

Ocean City:  50 degrees

Reagan National (DC): 50 degrees

Dulles International:  42 degrees

Hagerstown:  38 degrees

Martinsburg, WV:  36 degrees

Frederick:  34 degrees

York, PA:  33 degrees

Here's a NWS map with some more observations.

Tonight should be clear, a good opportunity to catch the International Space Station as it orbits from high over Lake Michigan and Central Virginia to the Outer Banks. The times are slightly different than those we published in the print editions on Sunday. That's because the Russians gave the ISS an orbital boost over the weekend, increasing its altitude and thereby putting it about a minute behind the previous flyby schedule.

Watch for a bright, star-like object to rise above the northwestern horizon at 8:01 p.m. It will climb about two thirds of the way up the southeastern sky by 8:04 p.m. It will pass high above the moon and Jupiter and very close to the bright star Altair in the Summer Triangle before vanishing abruptly into the Earth's shadow at 8:05 p.m.

As always, come back here after watching the ISS, leave a comment and share the experience.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:15 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: By the numbers

Predicted meteor may have been sighted

A large meteor reportedly was sighted last night by a KLM airlines pilot near the time and place predicted by astronomers hours earlier. It was the first time astronomers have ever identified an Earth-bound space rock and predicted its arrival. (See previous post.)

Here's the report, from an online rumor network for professional pilots:

"The following potentially confirming report comes from Jacob Kuiper, General Aviation meteorologist at the National Weather Service in the Netherlands: "Half an hour before the predicted impact of asteroid 2008 TC3, I informed an official of Air-France-KLM at Amsterdam airport about the possibility that crews of their airliners in the vicinity of impact would have a chance to see a fireball. And it was a success! I have received confirmation that a KLM airliner, roughly 750 nautical miles southwest of the predicted atmospheric impact position, has observed a short flash just before the expected impact time 0246 UTC. Because of the distance it was not a very large phenomenon, but still a confirmation that some bright meteor has been seen in the predicted direction."

Another pilot reported the following:

"Yes, I saw it from over central Europe - a bigger brighter trail than the usual shooting star, terminated by an explosion. All over in about a second, but definitely an unusual event."
Here's more from And here's a time-exposure image of the asteroid taken yesterday just hours before it reached Earth.
Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:27 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

October 6, 2008

Small asteroid likely to strike Earth tonight

This just in from

"A small, newly-discovered asteroid named 2008 TC3 is approaching Earth and chances are good that it will hit. Steve Chesley of JPL [NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] estimates that atmospheric entry will occur on Oct 7th at 0246 UTC over northern Sudan [Africa].

"Measuring only a few meters across, the space rock poses NO THREAT to people or structures on the ground, but it should create a spectacular fireball, releasing about a kiloton of energy as it disintegrates and explodes in the atmosphere. Odds are between 99.8 and 100 percent that the object will encounter Earth, according to calculations provided by Andrea Milani of the University of Pisa."

If the estimates of a 2:46 UTC entry are correct, that translates to 10:46 p.m. EDT tonight. Here's a link to the asteroid's 3-D orbit diagram. It may take some time to load.  And here's a link to the circular for this asteroid from the Minor Planet Center of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in Cambridge, MA. And here's more from NASA.

Amazing. I can't remember ever seeing an alert like this before, and the NASA release says it's the first time one has ever been issued. It shows the search for "near-Earth asteroids" is beginning to provide us with real, useful warnings. A much bigger asteroid could explode over a populated area and do tremendous damage, like the Tunguska blast a century ago in Russia. It might also be misinterpreted as an enemy attack, triggering a retaliatory strike. This sort of warning could head off such a tragedy.

In this case, of course, there wasn't much warning. The asteroid was only discovered earlier today. But it will be fascinating to see how this plays out, and how accurate the prediction turns out to be. Stay tuned. In the meantime, here is an account of a similar event in 2003 near Chicago. And here's a pretty cool video of another over Australia. 

Here's the full release from the Minor Planet Center:


A tiny asteroid discovered just hours ago at an Arizona observatory will enter Earth's atmosphere harmlessly at approximately 10:46 p.m. Eastern time tonight (2:46 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time). There is no danger to people or property since the asteroid will not reach the ground. It is between 3 and

15 feet (1-5 m) in diameter and will burn up in the upper atmosphere, well above aircraft heights. A brilliant fireball will be visible as a result.

"We want to stress that this object is not a threat," said Dr. Timothy Spahr, director of the International Astronomical Union's Minor Planet Center.

"We're excited since this is the first time we have issued a prediction that an object will enter Earth's atmosphere," Spahr added. Odds are between 99.8 and 100 percent that the object will encounter Earth, according to calculations provided by Andrea Milani of the University of Pisa.

When a meteoroid (small asteroid) enters the atmosphere, it compresses the air in front of it. That compression heats the air, which in turn heats the object, causing it to glow and vaporize. Once it starts to glow, the object is called a meteor.

"A typical meteor comes from an object the size of a grain of sand,"

explained Gareth Williams of the Minor Planet Center. "This meteor will be a real humdinger in comparison!"

The meteor is expected to be visible from eastern Africa as an extremely bright fireball traveling rapidly across the sky from northeast to southwest. The object is expected to enter the atmosphere over northern Sudan at a shallow angle.

"We're eager for observations from astronomers near the asteroid's approach path. We really hope that someone will manage to photograph it," said Williams.

The Minor Planet Center, which is located at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, serves as the worldwide clearinghouse for asteroid and comet observations. It collects, checks and disseminates observations and calculates orbits.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:13 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Sky Watching

First-quarter moon crowds Jupiter tonight

NASAThey should be a striking pair this evening, as bright Jupiter and October's first-quarter moon dominate the southern sky.

As the clouds clear off this evening, step outside after sunset and feast your eyes. Low on the southern horizon, the moon stands just west of, and below, the planet Jupiter (left), the largest planet in the solar system. Jupiter, looking like a bright star, is currently about 470 million miles from the Earth - about five times the Earth's distance from the sun.NASA/GSFC

The moon, a week past new, stands 250,700 miles from Earth. That makes Jupiter about 1,872 times more distant than the moon.

Now turn to the west. If it's soon enough after sunset and you have a clear view to the west, you should be able to spot the planet Venus (right), shining like a bright star, low on the western horizon. Venus is currently about 127.5 million miles from Earth. It is just coming around from the back side of the sun, so it is still farther from us than the sun itself, which is about 93 million miles away.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:49 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

Tropical Storm Marco forms off Mexico


Looks like the 13th named storm of the 2008 season will form today in the Gulf of Campeche. But the little cyclone has little chance to develop into more than a really bad rain storm - as much as 6 inches of rain -  for southeastern Mexico.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say the storm will likely move west onto Mexican shores late today or tomorrow, becoming one of the shortest-lived tropical storms of the season. Now only a tropical depression, it will become Tropical Storm Marco if its top sustained winds increase to 39 mph before it goes ashore and weakens.

UPDATE: At 4 p.m. the National Hurricane Center upgraded this storm. It is now tropical Storm Marco. Earlier post resumes below.

The storm at last check was located about 100 miles east of the coastal city of Veracruz. It was moving toward the west-northwest at at 10 mph, with top sustained winds of 35 mph. Forecasters said some strtengthening is expected, and it is likely to become a tropical storm.

Here is the latest advisory. Here is the forecast storm track. And here is the view from space.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:59 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Hurricanes

Frost along the Mason-Dixon Line

Sun Photo/Kim Hairston 

These cloudy skies should clear out later today with passage of a cold front. And, with a clear view of space tonight, temperatures will drop. And that, forecasters say, could mean at least patchy frost along the northern tier of counties in Maryland, especially if the winds calm, too. Clear skies, still air, spell frost when temperatures get into the 30s.

We won't be quite that cold in the city or near the bay. The forecast for BWI calls for a partly sunny skies today, with a high near 72. As skies clear, we could drop into the low 40s overnight. But it will be colder - in the 30s - to the north and west of the cities by early morning Tuesday. Westminster's forecast shows a low of 37 tonight. Ditto for Parkton, in northern Baltimore County.

Frost advisories are already posted for tonight across southern Pennsylvania, with freeze warnings in the northern half of the Keystone State. State College could see 35 tonight. Bradford could touch 30.

Skies should remain sunny through Wednesday. But then the high pressure moves out to sea, and we get into warmer, wetter flow of air from the south. The next storm system arrives from the west with increasing clouds on Wednesday, and chances for showers from Thursday evening through Saturday.

After a cool day Tuesday - in the mid-60s - daytime highs will stick near 70 for the rest of the week. Nights will warm back into the 50s as the week progresses.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

October 3, 2008

Exploding myth of 1970s global cooling "consensus"

When global warming skeptics set out to undermine the current scientific consensus that the planet is warming up, they often point to a 1975 article in Newsweek magazine that was titled "The cooling world." The story cited research on increasing Northern Hemisphere snow and ice, and other work on the shading effects of atmospheric dust kicked up by human activity, and suggested that the planet was sliding toward a new Ice Age. Other articles, pegged to some very cold U.S. winters in the 1970s, made similar points.

The scientific consensus then, the skeptics argue, was that the planet was cooling down.

"Back then, the 'coolers' had the upper hand because, indeed, the planet was cooling," writes one. "But nature quickly shifted gears ... Needless to say, the abrupt shift in the climate caused almost as abrupt a shift in the balance of scientists who predictably followed the temperature."

Their argument is that scientific "consensus" shifts with the winds of politics and research funding priorities, and can't be relied on as the basis for making public policy.

But in the September issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, a trio of authors reports on a study of the scientific literature and the popular press of the day. They conclude that climate scientists were struggling in the 1970s to understand the forces of global climate change, and to draw together the findings of researchers working in a variety of different fields.

There was no consensus yet, they say. But the prevailing opinion was that global warming, driven by the increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, was the dominant global trend and the larger worry for mankind on the "immediate" scale of decades to centuries. 

USGS/AlaskaThe authors surveyed the peer-reviewed scientific literature from 1965 to 1979 and found seven articles that presented evidence of global cooling, 20 that were neutral on the issue, and 44 that concluded the climate was warming. The "cooling" articles received far fewer citations in other research than the "warming" articles, a measure of which climate trend dominated the scientific thinking of the time. 

They also point to a 1979 conference of top climate scientists at Woods Hole, Mass., convened by the National Research Council. The panel sorted through the science of the day and concluded that, despite a great deal of remaining uncertainty, there was enough evidence for global warming to warrant public action. "A wait-and-see policy may mean waiting until it is too late," their report concluded.

"Global cooling was never more than a minor aspect of the scientific climate change literature of the era, let alone the scientific consensus," the paper's authors conclude.

The AMS paper also raps Newsweek and others in the popular press of the 1970s for seeking out and exploiting the "dramatic or new," at the expense of nuance and accuracy. Even so, they found "no consensus" among journalists of the time, either. (In our defense, I'd argue that, taken as a whole, the journalism of that era accurately reflected the unsettled nature of the scientific opinion at the time.)

The authors argue that today's global warming skeptics seize selectively on news clips and quotes from the 1970s to bolster their argument that the scientific community back then had concluded that the planet was cooling. They use their snippets to undermine the credibility of today's scientists, who - backed by a much more mature science of global climatology - overwhelmingly agree that the planet is warming, "very likely" due to the burning of fossil fuels.

The "cooling concensus" of the 1970s, they conclude, is a myth. And "in this case the primary use of the myth is in the context of attempting to undermine public belief in and support for the contemporary scientific consensus about anthropogenic climate change..."

But decide for yourself. You can read the whole article here. Scroll down to the PDF link for the piece by Thomas C. Peterson, of the National Climatic Data Center; William M. Connolley, of the British Antarctic Survey; and John Fleck, of the Albuquerque Journal.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:54 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Science

Videos: Why they warn us of flash floods

NOAAJust stumbled across some astonishing videos that illustrate, in case you needed convincing, why flash flood advisories and flash flood warnings are issued, and why we need to pay attention.

Here's one of the most jaw-dropping examples of a flash flood I've ever seen. (Be patient. It has a slow start.) And the two guys watching it seem like they're contemplating cows chewing their cuds.

Here's how a flash flood looks from the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Not a smart place to be, I'd wager. 

And here is a demonstration of what happens when you mix water and alcohol.

Fortunately, we have nothing of the kind in the works. There's only sunshine and mild temperatures ahead for the next week. Truly the Land of Pleasant Living.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Flooding

October 2, 2008

Make-up weekend ahead

Sun Photo/Amy DavisOkay, so last weekend was a miserable, soggy bust, with torrential rains and flooded streets and no reason to step out the door except to shake your fist at the sodden skies.

This weekend will be the make-up weekend, the sunny antidote to last week's bad medicine and the time to do what ought to have been done then, but wasn't.

Forecasters say this cool, dry air sweeping down from the west-northwest and high pressure will keep us in the clear for as far as the weather-eye can see. A week.

Look for mostly sunny to plain-old sunny skies through next Thursday, with daytime highs in the low 70s and upper 60s. Definitely October now. The overnight lows will dip into the upper 40s most nights as the clear NASA/Venusskies allow the heat to radiate back into space.

OC-bound? Same deal, only the nights won't get quite so cool, thanks to the heat still lingering in the ocean water.

Some spots west of the Blue Ridge may slip into the upper 30s, and there are frost advisories up for tonight in the Appalachian counties of Virginia and West Virginia.

With clear skies in store this weekend, look for bright Venus (right) that bright "star" low in the west after sunset. Back after a long absence from the evening skies, she will watch over our evening commutes for months to come.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

300 still missing in Texas after Ike

Some people scoffed at the dire warnings. The National Weather Service predicted a 20-foot storm surge and warned people in the Galveston area that those in one- or two-story homes who remained behind faced "certain death." Thousands of residents decided to "ride out" the storm at home anyway.

When the storm surge turned out to be only 12 or 13 feet, and the storm passed, apparently without leaving a high death toll behind, some people concluded that the warnings were hype, and that those who stayed behind did just fine.

But the devastation to some island communities that began showing up in aerial photographs (see Crystal Beach, below) a few days later made it clear that the storm was indeed catastrophic for smaller homes. Then one began to wonder: Where were the people who lived in those homes? Did they all get out in time?

Now comes this story from CNN. It says there are something like 300 people still missing three weeks after Ike. Many other "missing" folks have turned up. In time, maybe they will all be found in shelters, or with friends or relatives far from the damaged coastline. One has to hope so. They have many frantic friends and relatives looking for them. But there is growing concern that many, too many, may in fact be lost, buried in the muddy debris, or washed out to sea, or worse.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

Hurricane forecasters predict an "active" October


The Atlantic is quiet for now, but people in hurricane country can expect three more named storms to form this month on top of the 12 we've already experienced this season, at least according to forecasters at Colorado State University.

The respected team of Phil Klotzbach and William Gray issued their late-season forecast yesterday, saying "Well above-average hurricane activity is expected for the month of October." They predict that two of the three storms that form in October will become hurricanes, and one will become a "major" (Cat. 3 or higher) hurricane. That means top sustained winds of 111 mph or more.

"We continue to observe low sea-level pressures and warm sea surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic," Klotzbach said in a release issued from CSU. "A combination of these two factors typically leads to an active October. In addition, we continue to observe neutral ENSO [El Nino Southern Oscillation] conditions in the tropical Pacific, so we do not expect that ENSO conditions will be detrimental to this year's October activity."

William Gray added: "We predict that October will be quite active based on climate signals through September. There has been a strong clustering of hurricane activity around mid-July and late August/early September. We think we are now entering a new period of heightened activity that is likely to go for another two to three weeks."

Well, maybe so. But for now, the tropical Atlantic remains quiet. If we do see three more named storms, they will bear the names Marco, Nana and Omar. Somehow, Nana just doesn't seem like she will be much of a threat.

It has been a busy season so far, as Klotzbach, Gray and NOAA all predicted before the season began in June. It has also been deadly, with 860 deaths directly attributed to the storms.

July saw three named storms, including Bertha, which was the longest-lived July storm on record (July 3-20).  August was slightly more active than normal, with Gustav as the biggest news-maker.

September was also more active than normal, with Ike battering Texas, Hanna bashing the northern Leeward Islands and the middle Atlantic states, and Kyle striking Maine and the Canadian Maritimes.

Klotzbach and Gray need a few more storms to meet their June forecasts. The 2008 Atlantic hurricane season is already running slightly above the 1950-2000 averages, with two months to go in the season.

Named storms so far: 12 Gray's June prediction: 15 Average:  9.6

Hurricanes so far:Gray's June prediction: 8   Average: 5.9

Major hurricanes so far:Gray's June prediction:Average: 2.3 

The season is also just short of the team's predictions for "named storm days" - the number of days when named storms (tropical storm strength or higher) have been prowling the seas. The count has far exceeded the average, however.

Named storm days so far: 74.5  Gray's predictions: 80  Average:  49.1


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:20 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

October 1, 2008

Sept. 2008 ends among the wettest

Thirty days hath September, and 10 of them this year produced at least a little rain, according to the National Weather Service. Seven produced heavy rain, and the total - 7.22 inches by midnight last night - made September 2008 the 13th wettest September on the record books for Baltimore. Those books go back 137 years, to 1871.

("Normal" September rainfall for Baltimore is 3.98 inches, the region's wettest month.)

It was the wettest September at BWI since, well, since last year, when the airport instruments recorded 7.56 inches. Here are some other September totals for the last half-century.AP Photo/Gail Burton

1999:  11.50 inches (the second-highest September rainfall)

1975:  8.62 inches

1966:  8.50 inches

2007:  7.56 inches

2003:  7.47 inches

1987:  7.34 inches

2008:  7.22 inches

There were six more Septembers with higher totals than 2008 - all before 1936. The highest was in 1934, when 12.41 inches were recorded for the city.

The 7.22-inch total for last month exceeded the long-term average by 3.24 inches - nearly equal to a month's normal rain fall for Baltimore. All of that and more fell on Sept. 27, when airport instruments recorded 3.57 inches in 24 hours from an Atlantic storm.

Temperatures were also above average by 2 degrees. The high was 93 degrees on the 3rd and 4th. The low at BWI was 49 degrees, on the 21st.

Sun Photo/Kim HairstonNow it's October's turn. Average daytime temperatures sink from 73 degrees to 62 by month's end. The average lows drop from 50 degrees to 39 degrees. But almost anything can happen.

October's record highs linger in the 90s until mid-October. The record lows are in the 20s and 30s. The coldest October day in Baltimore reached 25 degrees in 1969. 

This is also the earliest month for snow in Baltimore. Yes, snow. Smile, Baltimore, it's that time of year again.

The earliest recorded snowfall for the city was on Oct. 9, 1903, when a trace was reported. The earliest measurable snowsfall was on Oct. 10, 1979, when 0.3 inch was noted at the airport. The most recent October snowfall was the trace that fell on Oct. 22, 2003.

But October snows have never been anything to worry about. The deepest on record was 2.5 inches of the White Death. It fell on Oct. 30, 1925.

If you really want to break some sort of historic weather record this month, pray for 2.23 inches of rain on Oct. 25. That would break a rain record for that date that has stood unassailed since 1872, the year after they started recorded the weather for Baltimore.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:37 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
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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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