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February 28, 2009

Snow fever spikes

Well, I'm not going to venture any prognostications about this late-weekend storm that's got everybody buzzing. We've had too many disappointments this winter. But it is my duty, I suppose, to pass along the various forecasts and hypecasts that are taking up so much Web bandwidth today. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

First, the National Weather Service: The forecasters at Sterling have, of course, issued a Winter Storm Watch today. It's in effect from Sunday night through Monday morning. The watch - as all watches must - says 5 inches or more are possible. But that's no guarantee we'll get that much. By the same token, we could get more. The 5-day forecast doesn't suggest much in the way of accumulations. Yet. Here's the latest discussion from Sterling.

The Watch notes that low pressure is developing on the Gulf Coast, and is expected to cross to the Georgia coast, strengthen, and spin up the Atlantic seaboard, throwing lots of moisture onshore, into the cold air that settled over us late yesterday.

For the school kids and teachers hoping for a day off on Monday, I offer Prof. Foot's Forecast. He's looking for 6 to 10 inches to fall from the sky, but says warm surfaces and the late season's high sun angles will likely keep the effective accumulations to 5 inches. He's comparing this storm with one at this same time of year in 2005 that left only 5 inches or less behind.

For hype addicts, there is always Henery "the Madman" Margusity seems to be asleep at the switch today, so here's Elliot Abrams.

Are you truly a weather/snow junkie? Here's the EasternUS weather forum. Somebody there is predicting a foot of snow on the Eastern Shore. Dig in.

And here is the snowmap, which seems to show the heaviest accumulations south of Baltimore and on the upper Eastern Shore.

Me? I'm not holding my breath. And The Sun hasn't asked me to dust off the "Physiology of snow shoveling" story that's been on hold since December 2007, waiting for a shovel-worthy storm.

Am I so wrong? What's your prediction? Fab or Flop?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:10 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Winter weather

February 27, 2009

Spring today; winter this weekend

Cold front approaches 

At 10:30 a.m. we've already reached 60 degrees in downtown Baltimore - topping the NWS forecast (59 degrees) for the afternoon's high. But before you put away your winter togs, you need to know that we're in for a - you guessed it - "wintry mix" this weekend as sharply colder air and a coastal storm move in.

Sorry. Here's the deal:

The warm air we're enjoying this morning is sweeping up from the South on a stiff breeze ahead of an approaching cold front. My weather vane - the giant U.S. flag at Bob Evans in Timonium - was rippling and streaming hard toward the north this morning.

The south winds are also bringing in rain showers, which you can see in the satellite photo above as they drift east and squeeze out the last of the clear skies over Maryland. (That will also blot out a beautiful close conjunction tonight of Venus and the crescent moon, in the western sky after sunset.)

The rain should reach our region around lunchtime today.  The precip ushers in a cold front that extends southward from a low moving into Eastern Canada today.

After the front passes by to our east, temperatures here will drop toward a forecast low of 37 degrees tonight, and a daytime high tomorrow of just 42 degrees - perhaps 20 degrees colder than today.

That's when the trouble begins. The western counties could see snow showers after midnight. After the cold front reaches the Carolina border, Saturday morning, low pressure will develop along the Gulf Coast and head north and east to emerge off the coast of North Carolina.

As that low spins up, it will start to throw plenty of moisture onshore. Winds will become north, then northeast here on Saturday, with afternoon rain that could amount to as much as a quarter inch.

The rain will continue into the evening Saturday. But as temperatures sink toward a low near freezing, we should expect an overnight mix of rain, snow and sleet into the early hours of Sunday morning. Melted totals could reach a half-inch, according to the forecast from Sterling. And before it ends Sunday night, we could see a bit of snow as temperatures drop back into the mid-20s.

UPDATE 5:30 p.m.: There is some chatter about accumulating snow and ice, with school delays Monday. But forecasters at Sterling are doubtful.

I know ... Ick. But in whatever form it arrives, we need the moisture. The cold? We're stuck with it for a while longer, it seems. Monday's forecast high is just 34 degrees, with a low of 22 before dawn on Tuesday. At least we should see some sunshine again.

Today's high is not headed for record territory. It was 76 degrees on this date in 1997. The record low is 20 degrees, in 1934.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:27 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Forecasts

February 25, 2009

Shore counties get drought disaster okay

Crop losses during last year's drought were sufficient in the northern counties of the Eastern Shore to win a drought disaster declaration from the federal government. Farmers in those counties and those immediately adjacent will be eligible to apply for low-cost loans and other benefits.

Here is today's news release from the Maryland Department of Agriculture:

Maryland Receives Federal Crop Disaster Designation for Caroline, Cecil, Kent and Queen Anne's Counties due to Drought

ANNAPOLIS, MD (Feb. 25, 2009) - Governor Martin O'Malley has received
notification from U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Thomas J.
Vilsack that Maryland's request for a disaster designation for crop
losses due to a drought during the 2008 growing season has been
approved.  The February 19 letter stated that there were sufficient
production losses in Cecil, Kent, Caroline, and Queen Anne's counties to
warrant a Secretarial disaster designation.  The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) estimated production losses to be $29 million for hay and grain crops.

"Because farmers in the four northernmost Eastern Shore counties
experienced significant crop losses, we requested a disaster designation
and thank Secretary Vilsack for granting it," said Governor O'Malley.
"It is our hope that the designation will provide relief to the farmers
who need it and help them prepare for the upcoming growing season."

"Rainfall on the Eastern Shore was spotty last summer causing some
areas to have a normal crop while other, sometimes adjacent land,
received almost none and had failing crops," said Roger Richardson,
Secretary of the Maryland Department of Agriculture. 

This designation makes farm operators in the four primary counties as
well as contiguous counties - Dorchester, Harford and Talbot counties -
eligible to be considered for assistance from the USDA Farm Service
Agency, provided eligibility requirements are met.  This assistance
includes FSA emergency loans and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance
Program which was approved as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

USGSRainfall departures from normal based on National Weather
Service-gathered rain gauge reports between May 28 and November 23 of
this year were: Cecil County -1.0 inch; Kent County -3.0 inches; Queen
Anne's County - 2.8 inches; Caroline County -4.2 inches."

Much of the state is dry again this month. Here (left) are today's streamflow data from the USGS. The  dark red and bright red dots indicate record or near-record low volumes for this time of year.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drought

Can we break February rainfall record?

Somehow, in the middle of winter (okay, we're past the middle), with nothing growing, it's hard to grasp that this has been, so far, the driest February on record for Baltimore. But it has. Barely 0.24 inch of melted precipitation has fallen so far this month.

The stingy dribbles we've received at the station of record (BWI) have been few and far between. There were traces on six dates, and measurable amounts on just three dates:

Feb. 3:  0.04 inch

Feb. 11:  0.08 inch

Feb. 18:  0.12 inch

The snow was even scarcer - 0.6 inch in just two events, on the 4th and the 18th, plus two days when mere traces of flakes were recorded at BWI.

This could all change before the month finally ends on Saturday night. Forecasters out at Sterling are predicting a "slight chance" of showers Thursday night, followed by "likely" (70 percent chance) showers on Friday, tapering to 30 percent Friday night.

In all, they're calling for as much as a quarter- to a half-inch of rain on Friday as warm, moist air moves in with a warm front from the South, all ahead of the next cold front. Even if the forecast holds up, February 2009 would still deliver less than an inch of rain total, and would still rank among the 10 driest Februaries since record-keeping began in Baltimore in 1871. Here are the Top Ten Dry February rankings:

2009 (so far):  0.24 inch

2002:  0.36 inch

1978:  0.56 inch

1977:  0.63 inch

1901:  0.65 inch

1968:  0.72 inch

1991:  0.73 inch

1895:  0.83 inch

1974:  0.94 inch

1925:  0.98 inch

The lack of precipitation has expanded the proportion of Maryland that is now rated as "abnormally dry" to encompass more than half the state, basically from Baltimore south on both sides of the Chesapeake Bay. Here's last week's Drought Monitor map. This week's map comes out tomorrow morning.



Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:27 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: By the numbers

February 24, 2009

The catbirds and the raisins

I received a delightful, handwritten letter today from Angela K., a resident of Baltimore County. She wrote to me in response to the article on migrating songbirds I wrote for The Sun last week. She has graciously given me permission to reprint her letter here. I am omitting her last name to protect her privacy. Enjoy!

"Dear Mr. Roylance.

 "I do not own a computer, hence the letter. I am 93 years old and have a remarkable tale to tell about my (at least two) catbirds.

"I lived alone for years after the death of my husband, and therefore had plenty of time to observe my 'bird company.' For at least 10 years I have observed my two friends (catbirds) returning to my back windowsill for a raisin feast, practically [the] same days for arrival and departure.  I no longer am able, because of a stroke, to keep [the] same records in my calendar I once did.

"Someone told me they nest in the Yucatan area in Winter, but they return each year to my backyard window sill, even recognizing my voice when I am talking inside my house, and fly near the window to let me know they have returned."I now have so-called 'care-givers' who I employ and find a somewhat indifference on their part, due to their many chores, to put raisins each A.M. on the kitchen window sill.

"When I was able to walk in my yard, they would follow me from bush to tree, talking to me in their chirps.

"I remember years ago worrying after they left to go South for the Winter, when hearing of a cyclone occuring in either N.C. or S.C. But they are still back to my house and yard each Spring looking for the raisins on the window sill of my kitchen window.

"Living alone, I suppose, made it my pleasure to observe my catbirds. I hope you will contact the National Geographic Society to let them know the 10 years of my observation of my catbirds each summer, and their remarkable memory of where to return from as far away as their Winter nesting territory, which I think I read years ago was near the Gulf of Mexico.

"Perhaps a geo-locater could be placed on one of my birds to find out how many stops they make before returning to my home in Baltimore County in each Spring.

"They leave here approximately in September, mid-month and return in March or April. This year they returned a month earlier than usual but I noticed the other song birds did, too.

"Thank you for your interesting article.

"Sincerely, Angela [K]." 

The photo is by Prof. Dan Sudia. Credit: Used with permission.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:18 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Observer reports

Hang on ... Warmup coming

Sure, it was bitterly cold outdoors last night, looking for Comet Lulin under dark and starry skies. But you'll be warming up shortly. Forecasters out at Sterling are predicting afternoon highs 5 to 10 degrees above normal later this week as this deep high pressure system moves off to the east and its clockwise spin brings us into a return flow of milder, southerly breezes.

We can look for highs near 60 degrees by Thursday, under partly sunny skies, we're told.  Thursday night's low will be around 39 degrees at BWI, which is our forecast HIGH for today.

The warmup comes just ahead of an approaching cold front, which is likely to bring us some rain showers late on Thursday into Friday. No chance for a wintry mix this time, at least not east of the mountains.

Things will chill a bit after the front passes through, with highs by the weekend only in the 40s. But that's about the norm for this time of year in Baltimore. And the sunshine will make it seem just fine.

Mike Broussard photo/Maurice, LAFebruary has so far been very dry in Baltimore, with less than a quarter-inch of melted precipitation and only 0.6 inch of snow. Temperatures, thankfully for our heating bills next month, have been relatively warm, averaging more than 2 degrees above the long-term average for February.

Tonight's skies should remain very clear and fine for taking another look at Comet Lulin. It will have moved a bit farther west of Saturn and higher in the southern sky by late evening. Check here for a sky map. That's Mike Broussard's Lulin photo at left. Used with permission.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:45 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

Northwest wind lowers bay water levels

Have you noticed unusually low water around the bay today? That would be the work of the gusty northwest winds, which have been pushing water down the bay. The effect is especially noticeable in the upper tidal Potomac and Baltimore Harbor, according to the National Weather Service.

Here's the water level forecast from NOAA, predicting water levels as much as 2 feet below predicted tidal levels (dark blue).

You can follow the tide gauges here; just click on the map for Maryland. The noon graphic is reproduced below.

NOAA tide gauge
Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:19 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Phenomena

February 23, 2009

Md. skies clear, dry tonight for Comet Lulin

 Photo by Gary Honis, Conyngham, Pa

Except for the cold, the forecast out of Sterling this morning could not be better for those of us hoping to catch a glimpse of Comet Lulin as it makes its closest approach to Earth - a "mere" 38 million miles. Lulin should be visible high in the southern sky around 1 a.m., but you may be able to spot it earlier - say, after 11 p.m., if you look a little lower in the southeast.

Here is a sky map to guide you. The photo above was shot last week by Gary Honis, in Conyngham, Pa. Used with Gary's permission. You can explore the comet's orbit in 3D with this interactive tool.

Observers in recent days have said Lulin has brightened to a magnitude of 5.35. That's just a shade brighter than 6, which is considered to be the limit of naked-eye visibility. By contrast, Venus, high in the western sky after sunset, is a brilliant minus-4 at the moment. (The lower the number, the brighter the object.)

I would not count on being able to see the comet as a naked-eye object from urban or suburban locations tonight without binoculars, at least. A small telescope is even better. But if you can flee the urban corridor, you should be able to pick out the comet as a fuzzy blob or light alongside the planet Saturn. With binoculars or a telescope, you should be able to capture both comet and Saturn within the same field of view. A rare treat! 

But if you're going out tonight, bundle up. The forecast low for BWI is 21 degrees. Today's gusty winds, which in combination with very low humidity, has increased the fire hazard this afternoon, should have died down by the time comet-watchers are venturing out.

If you can't bring yourself to venture out into the cold tonight (or even if you can), you can also watch the comet online. The Coca Cola Space Science Center in Columbus, Ga., will be Web casting the encounter after 11:30 p.m. tonight., You can join in by clicking here.

And here is a large and growing photo gallery of Lulin images. Some astronomers have assembled time-lapse movies of the comet moving in front of background stars. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:47 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Sky Watching

February 20, 2009

Skies promising for Comet Lulin

Comet Lulin/Gregg Ruppel, Ellisville, Mo./used with permission 

You can never be sure about weather forecasts. But stargazers looking for Comet Lulin in the coming days will be encouraged by the predictions coming from NWS Sterling this morning. The forecast calls for mostly clear skies tonight, and again early next week - prime time for Lulin hunters.

As you may already have read, Lulin - a lovely green comet discovered in 2007 by astronomers in Taiwan and mainland China - has made its turn around the sun this winter and is now speeding off into deep space. That's Lulin in Gregg Ruppel's Feb. 6 photo above, just above the bright star Zubenelgenubi in Libra. (Ya gatta love a star named Zubenelgenubi! Sounds like Obi wan Kenobi.) 

On Monday evening, Lulin will be "only" 38 million miles from Earth - its closest approach, and therefore the best opportunity for Earthlings to get a glimpse. Here's on the comet. And here's an article from Sky & Telescope.

Lulin, like so many comets, is a visitor from the Oort Cloud, a realm of icy objects far beyond the orbits of the outermost planets. Something - perhaps a collision - sent or hurtling inward toward the sun. In January, the sun's gravity grabbed it and hurled back out toward the Oort Cloud, and it is only now passing our general vicinity, outbound.

Astronomers who have calculated Lulin's trajectory say it is parabolic, rather than elliptical, which suggests that it has never visited the inner solar system before. And that, they say, may explain why the comet's icy nucleus is spewing such large volumes of gas and dust. Solar heating and the stream of solar particles called the "solar winds" have been activating the comet's ices and dust and sending them off into space in the form of a large halo, or "coma" around the nucleus, and several "tails" of gas and dust.

Astronomers have been watching Lulin for months through their telescopes. Here is a beautiful gallery of their photos. And in recent weeks, as Lulin has drawn closer to Earth, it has been brightening to naked-eye visibility - at least from locations far from urban light pollution. But binoculars will be your best bet for finding the comet wherever you are.

Remember that it is moving each night as it hurtles back toward deep space. So it will be rising about a half-hour earlier each evening, and drifting westward with respect to the background stars.  Baltimore's Streetcorner astronomer, Herman Heyn, has calculated Lulin's rise times for the next week, starting at 8:30 p.m. tonight.  So, as the next week rolls by, the best viewing times will be getting a bit earlier each evening as Lulin rises higher in the evening sky.

Monday night may be the best opportunity to find Lulin. At around 11 p.m. that evening, Lulin will be just below Saturn in the southeastern sky. On prior nights look for it farther east; on subsequent nights, look farther west. 

The star chart below is set for 11 p.m. Monday in Baltimore. On that night, Lulin will be right below Saturn. You should find it within the same binocular field of view as Saturn itself. Today's article in the print edition of The Sun includes a list of observatories opening for a Lulin watch, and a sky map.

As always, if you spot Lulin, drop back here and help the rest of us by describing what you saw, where you were, how dark your skies were, the time of night, and how hard (or easy) it was to find. Good hunting!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:50 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Sky Watching

February 19, 2009

6 to 9 inches of snow due ... in Garrett

There's a cold front pushing across Maryland this morning, and behind it come gusty winds and - for far Western Maryland, at least - a return to winter. The radar loop shows snow coming off the Great Lakes on that cold wind, and sweeping up the western slopes of Maryland's mountain Taylor-Made Vacations Web camcounties. That's Deep Creek in the photo, where it is snowing hard this morning.

The National Weather Service's Pittsburgh office has posted a Winter Storm Warning for Garrett County, calling for 6 to 9 inches of windblown snow by Friday morning, the greatest amounts closer to the ridgetops.

Allegany County is also forecast to get snow today, but slightly less than Garrett.

Down here in the lowlands, we're looking at gradually clearing skies today, with increasingly gusty winds. As the new air mass builds in, we will see cooler temperatures Friday under sunny skies. The promised clipper system will arrive late Saturday, bringing chances for an all-snow event west of I-81, forecasters say. Here to the east we may see rain and/or snow showers, ending Sunday.

From there things clear up again, with sunny skies well into next week. There remains some talk about a storm forming off the coast at mid-week. But there seems to be little certainty about that for the moment.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:37 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather

February 18, 2009

Snow no issue; sunny days ahead

Sun Photo/Frank Roylance 

It looked pretty in the air, but this morning's snowfall was a non-issue on the ground. And it was quickly turning to a dreary light rain as temperatures rise on a south wind. The rain could continue tonight, but it has been scrubbed from Thursday's forecast.

In fact, except for a brief brush with a clipper system out of the northwest on Saturday, the way ahead looks sunny, right into the first part of next week. Forecast highs are just a shade under the long-term averages - hovering near 40 degrees in the afternoon, and dropping into the 20s at night.

Saturday's clipper doesn't look very troublesome, either. Forecasters at Sterling say it does not have a lot of moisture associated with it, and what's there may have difficulty moving east of the mountains. Whatever does get this far looks like another rain/snow mix of little consequence. 

Other parts of the Northeast are likely to get a much snowier experience from these storms. Here is's take on the forecast.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:42 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Forecasts

February 17, 2009

Snow in the air Weds., none under foot

The forecast hasn't changed much, so there still seems to be little chance that tomorrow's precipitation will bring anything more than a few morning flakes, followed by two days of cold drizzle and showers. 

Today's sunshine will fade as the high pressure drifts off shore, and the storm system that pounded California moves closer out of the west. The center of the storm will pass to our north and west, this time, which leaves us on the warm and rainy side of the picture. And with warmer air moving up from the South behind the departing high and in advance of a cold front, tonight's forecast low is just 31 degrees.

That leaves open the possibility that the precipitation will begin as snow. But sadly, at least for this winter's forlorn snow lovers, forecasters at Sterling say it will not stick. And by mid-morning temperatures will be rising, and it will be changing over to all rain. Here's on the dismal forecast.

Once the cold front behind the storm gets through, some western counties could see a brief changeover to snow. But not down here in the lowlands.

Next on the agenda after a sunnier day on Friday is a clipper system out of the northwest on Saturday.  Forecasters are calling for a rain/snow mix. But they don't seem any too sure, even about that.

In the meantime, here is Foot's Forecast on the chances for school openings to be affected tomorrow. (Don't hold your breath, kids.) On the other hand, he points out that it's probably too soon to give up on the season.

Consider this: Five of the 20 biggest snowstorms in Baltimore have occurred in March, but the most recent of them was way back in 1993. Remember the March 1993 "Superstorm?" 

Top 20 Snowstorms in Baltimore: (1891-2006)

128.2 inches ... Feb. 15-18, 20031114.1 inches ... Dec. 11-12, 1960
226.5 inches  ... Jan. 27-29, 19221213.1  inches ... Feb. 11-12, 2006
322.8 inches ... Feb. 11, 19831313.0  inches ... Mar. 5-7, 1962
422.5 inches ... Jan. 7-8, 19961412.3 inches ... Jan. 22, 1987
522.0 inches ... Mar. 29-30, 19421512.1 inches ... Jan. 30-31, 1966
621.4 inches ... Feb. 11-14, 18991612.0 inches ... Feb. 16-18, 1900
720.0 inches ... Feb. 18-19, 19791711.9 inches ... Mar. 13-14, 1993
816.0 inches ... Mar. 15-18, 18921811.7 inches ... Feb. 5-8, 1899
915.5 inches ... Feb. 15, 19581911.5 inches ... Dec. 17-18, 1932
1014.9 inches ... Jan. 25, 20002011.5 inches ... Mar. 21-22, 1964

Big snows in March seem to be becoming a thing of the past. Here's a list of monthly snow totals for Baltimore. (Now that I've said that, of course, we're in for a whopper!)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:45 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather

High-altitude U-turn ... What was that about?

Betsy Shade photo 

One of the things about people like me who habitually watch the skies is that we see things that we can't explain. It happened again on Sunday afternoon. And I was not alone.

My wife and I were returning from a weekend in Philadelphia. We were headed south on I-95 at about 2 p.m. I was driving and my wife was snoozing in the passenger seat, when I noticed a lot of jet contrails in the skies. That is not particularly unusual along the busy east coast air lanes. But one of the contrails caught my eye.

There was an aircraft that - as near as I could tell - had been headed north, or northeast, probably well east of the Chesapeake Bay. But judging from its contrail, it had just made a wide left (toward the west) turn, leaving a broad arc of vapor that swung around 180 degrees until the plane, by the time I noticed it, was headed south, or southwest. 

It was a complete U-turn, at what looked like a pretty high altitude - maybe 30,000 feet or more.

Now, scheduled airliners don't generally turn around in mid-flight and go back where they came from without first landing and dropping off passengers. It could have been an emergency, but in that case, I would expect the plane to descend and head for the nearest airport. This one did not appear to be doing that.

Another possibility I considered was that it was a military aircraft, on some sort of maneuver, or patrol, or training flight. Perhaps it was an executive jet, and the CEO just realized he forgot his power tie. Or, maybe it was a research, or mapping, or aerial photography flight. That just about exhausted my guesses.

Although my wife slept through the whole thing, I was not alone in my observation. On Monday, I received the following email from Betsy Shade, in Millersville: 

"On Sunday afternoon, 2/15, while playing football in our backyard (Go Ravens!), we noticed a lot of contrails--seemingly more than usual. We live about 10 miles southeast of BWI. At least three of these contrails originated in the north, headed south, and made very wide 180 degree turns eastward then headed north. The contrails were high--probably too high to have originated at BWI. A picture of one is attached.

Not sure this is entirely weather-related, but can you please explain the higher than usual number of contrails, and the strange 180 degree turns?

Thanks very much- Betsy Shade"

That's Betsy's photo at the top of this post. I explained the contrails as best I could. Cold air aloft and plenty of humidity means aircraft engines will leave a trail of condensation. Particulates in the exhaust provide the seeds for water vapor to condense, forming droplets that create a trail of clouds. Under the right conditions, these "condensation trails" or contrails can persist for quite a while. They may even expand as more water vapor condenses on the droplets already formed.

Although there is a community of people out there who are convinced jet contrails are actually "proof" of secret government conspiracies to conduct chemical warfare or thought-control experiments on the US population, there is absolutely no evidence to support such a notion. And how long do you think the government could keep the secret? (Conspiracy theorists: No need to flood my Inbox. I'm just not buying it.)

But I could not explain the U-turn. Nor could I account for why the three (?!) U-turns Betsy and her family saw seemed, to them, to be headed south, making a U-turn to the east, then north. She said she's sure of that. The one I saw was northbound and turned south.

I have placed a call to the FAA to see if I can get an explanation. But I am not at all confident they'll bother to pursue the matter. It's just not very important given all the serious work the FAA does. But if I do get an explanation, I will post it here.

In the meantime, I'd be curious to hear whether anyone else was outside Sunday afternoon, looking up, and noticed the same odd contrail. Leave a note here and let me know what you saw. 

UPDATE: Feb. 19. I finally heard from the FAA this afternoon. They sent me a graphical image of all the radar traces for aircraft in the Chesapeake area between 2 and 2:30 on Sunday. It was an amazing tangle of contrails, but I could see none that matched the broad turn we witnessed that afternoon. When I ran the fighter plane theory by the FAA spokesman, he said, "I can't even go there with you."  I suspect if the 180-degree turns were made by fighters on hijack patrol, the FAA would never confirm it.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:02 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 16, 2009

Another flirtation with winter


The Winter of 2008-09 continues to follow its script this week as yet another winter storm promises to brush the area with a hint of winter, but little of its inconvenience.

Forecasters at Sterling are calling for stubbornly seasonable fare this week, with both high and low temperatures sticking closer to the long-term norms (45 and 26 degrees) for Baltimore. Sunshine will be the rule until late Tuesday, when the high-pressure system now dominating the eastern half of the country moves east, and a new storm approaches from the west.

The center of the low is forming now in the Rocky Mountains. By Wednesday it will pass over the Great Lakes, to our north and west. So the associated cold front will pass by us at mid-week with little to offer but rain. Cold temperatures before daybreak on Wednesday could mean a bit of snow before it all changes to rain. But most of the event is expected to be rain for us. Highs Wednesday will rise well into the 40s.

Rain is okay. Southern Maryland and the southern portion of the Eastern Shore are both running abnormally dry for the first time since mid-December, according to the Drought Monitor.

The rain will continue Thursday as a "chance" of showers. Western counties and higher elevations could see some small accumulations.

Then, high pressure returns as the front passes by. Friday looks sunny. Saturday clouds up, however as a clipper system barrels through with yet another chance for a "wintry mix." Sunday looks sunny again. 

By then we will have passed through what are arguably the snowiest 10 dates of the year without much to write about ... a relief to many, a disappointment to the rest.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:28 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Winter weather

February 13, 2009

Saturday dries up; storm rumors for next week

The computer models seem, finally, to have sorted out the path of the rain/snow storm that forecasters have been saying would slide by on Saturday. The consensus now is that it will largely fizzle, and pass too far to our south to affect the urban centers, although lower Southern Maryland could still see some precipitation.

That leaves us with a mostly seasonable forecast through the weekend, with sun and clouds and temperatures about average for this time of year - although way cooler than the spring-like air AP Photo/Matt Rourkewe've enjoyed this week.

After topping out above 50 degrees this afternoon, temperatures will drop below freezing tonight as cold, clear, dry air continues to build into the region behind the departing low that brought us yesterday's wind storm. (The bad hair day at left was in Philly.)

As the high moves off the coast tonight, the storm will approach from the southwest, but the precipitation threat will be held to Central Virginia and far Southern Maryland. We should stay dry.

Sunday looks sunnier, with seasonable temperatures. President's Day will be the coldest of the lot, sunny, but with a high only in the 30s and a low in the lower 20s.

The next chance for precipitation around here comes Wednesday or Thursday, but the storm track, of course, remains uncertain. And forecasters are hedging their bets for now, predicting a rain/snow mix.

But some winter-watchers see the developing scenario as a potential snow-maker for our region, maybe the last chance for a decent snowfall this season. Here's Prof. Foot, of Foot's Forecast, on the subject.

And here's's Elliot Abrams' analysis of the storm risk.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:40 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Winter weather

February 12, 2009

Better sit down: Time for BGE to read your meter again

Just got a message from "Rex," a reader who has just received his BGE bill, based on a Feb. 9 meter reading. It is not a pretty picture:

"I just looked at my Feb. bill on line (Feb. 9th reading). $748 !!! Jan. was  $366  and last Dec. was  $213. We keep our place at 60 when we're out for the day and 65 when we're home."

Is this even possible? A doubling from January to February? My January reading blew my bill past $320 for the first time, and when I posted my reaction on this blog, it drew plenty of commiseration from around the region.  You can read it here.

If Rex's bill is a harbinger of what the rest of us are in for from the February meter reading, consumer spending in these parts is going to take another hit as we all divert the kids' milk money to pay the gas and electric bill. 

AP photoHere's the tricky part: December was relatively mild, at least when compared to the long-term averages for BWI - about 1.8 degrees warmer than the norm. So were the first week or two of January.

But the second half of January - from around the 13th on - was very cold. Only three days topped the daily averages, and nine days dipped to the teens or single digits at night. (Normal lows are 23 or 24 degrees.) February, thankfully, has been very mild so far. But depending on when they read your meter this month, you may be seeing a "February" bill with a hefty chunk of very cold January weather - and steep energy consumption - on it. If so, you can expect a huge hit in your wallet.

It's also true that we're all still absorbing the steep electric and natural gas prices that BGE negotiated way back last summer when energy prices were extraordinarily high. Even though those rates have plummeted since, our bills still reflect the prices BGE built into its wholesale contracts last summer. Ouch!

Sun business reporter Jay Hancock has pointed this out in his stories and blog posts recently, and he's noted that the wholesale rates BGE is passing along in our bills are about to drop, finally reflecting the crash in oil prices and giving us all a break in the coming months.  

In the meantime, the Maryland Public Service Commission has announced it will hold hearings on the crazy BGE bills we're all paying this winter. I'm sure that will make everything okay ...

Anyway, as your bills come in, stop back here and let us feel your pain. Misery loves company.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:34 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Winter weather

Maryland winds top 60 mph

 Sun Photo/Kim Hairston

Today's windstorm has caused widespread damage as trees and limbs brought down power lines, struck homes and crushed cars. It even contributed to the partial collapse of an empty building at 1226 Argyle Ave., in Baltimore (above). Read more here.

Here are some top gusts recorded by WeatherBug stations across the region:

65 mph:  Rockville

63 mph:  Urbana High School, Ijamsville

60 mph:  Rocky Hill Middle School, Clarksburg

59 mph:  Montgomery County DPW, Poolesville

57 mph:  Winters Mill High School, Westminster

56 mph:  Maryland Science Center, Baltimore

56 mph:  Mt. Airy Christian Academy, Mt. Airy

54 mph:  Anne Arundel Community College, Hanover

54 mph:  Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring

52 mph:  Bowie State University, Bowie

52 mph:  St. Martin School, Gaithersburg

53 mph: BWI Marshall Airport (NWS report)

National Weather Service reports described trees and power lines down in Carroll, Montgomery, Washington and Allegany counties. Baltimore County schools reported a tree down at the Chatsworth School in Reisterstown around noon today. Eight cars were damaged. Five were undrivable.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

Stiff winds cut power, fuel fire danger


Northwest winds have been gusting to more than 50 mph at BWI-Marshall this morning as that intense low pressure system pulls away toward the Canadian maritime provinces. BGE has reported more than 25,000 customers lost power today as the winds pulled down tree limbs and utility lines. More than half of those outages have already been repaired.

The winds have also contributed to traffic light outages and the partial collapse of a vacant rowhome in Baltimore. Read more here.

The high winds, coupled with low humidities have raised fire hazards across much of the state. Red Flag Warnings are posted across Central and Southern Maryland Maryland:


While these winds have topped 50 mph in several locations across Maryland, there are reports of gusts in excess of 70 mph in West Virginia. They reached 19 mph at The Sun.  Gale warnings and storm warnings are up over the northern Chesapeake bay and Maryland's offshore waters.

Jim Studnicki photoI spent part of the night listening to the wind howling, and wondering whether the three bags of paper recycling I put on the curb last night would have blown off and papered the neighborhood by daybreak. No one else had put anything out for pickup this morning, and I began worrying that they had seen the windy forecast and decided, prudently, to wait until morning to take out the recycling. I could see the headline in the community newsletter: "Weather guy ignores own forecast, plasters neighborhood with newspapers." I imagined myself spending the morning collecting my own windblown trash.

Fortunately, the bags appear to have held together. Whew! Anybody else have wind stories today?

Jim Studnicki sent in this message, and a photo of the doomed poplar hanging over his house:

"Hi Frank: Out here in Towson off Providence Road, we’ve had a large tulip poplar fall and get caught by another one about 80’ off the ground and about 15’ from the corner of our house!  We’re hoping it stays up until our “tree guy” can come out later this afternoon to size up the situation. -- Jim"


Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:44 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Events

February 11, 2009

Fire weather watch: Crush those smokes!

Sun Photo/Jed Kirschbaum 2005

When this cold front blows through tonight it will bring strong winds. And as the air rolls across the mountains and down the east slopes tomorrow, it will warm up and dry out. That's the recipe for wildfires, so the National Weather Service has issued a Fire Weather Watch for Central Maryland, in effect all day Thursday.

Here's how they put it in this afternoon's discussion:


Western counties are already under a High Wind Warning:
Here in Baltimore, we're under a Wind Advisory:

The weather tonight will get rocky. Here's the radar loop, showing the front moving into the Appalachians. Here's the Northeast radar loop, which will show the front in a few hours. Better tie down the small children.
Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

Hold onto your hats

Sun Photo/Jed Kirschbaum

So how sweet is this? It's 57 degrees at 10:30 a.m. at The Sun. And the forecasters out at Sterling say we're headed for a high of 67 degrees this afternoon at BWI. My bet? If the sun stays out we could top 70 degrees, at least downtown.

UPDATE: The official high today at BWI-Marshall was 70 degrees. It was 71 at Reagan National, and at The Sun.

But before the day is out we'll be watching for increasing clouds as a sharp cold front blows through, bringing cooler temperatures and strong, gusty winds. There's even the chance of some isolated thunderstorms tonight. We may even have flakes in the air by Saturday. 

You can watch the mercury rise and fall at The Sun's weather station, at Calvert & Centre streets. Just click here.

The record high for a Feb. 11 in Baltimore is 72 degrees, set WAY back on this date in 1887. That was just 16 years after the Weather Bureau began recording weather data for Baltimore. Breaking that mark today would really be something.

The overnight low at BWI this morning was 44 degrees. That is just 4 degrees short of the record high minimum for the date - 48 degrees, set in 1925. Our low here at the paper was 50 degrees. So maybe if we still used downtown as the official weather station for Baltimore, we would have bested the 1925 record. Here's's take on the surge of mild air into the Northeast.

Seventy-degree weather in winter in Baltimore is not at all unusual. We pulled it off three times last winter and three times the winter before that:

Dec. 1, 2006:  75 degrees

Dec. 18, 2006:  72 degrees

Jan. 6, 2007:  71 degrees

Jan. 7, 2008:  70 degrees

Jan. 8, 2008:  70 degrees

Feb. 6, 2008:  72 degrees

UPDATE: Feb. 11, 2009:  70 degrees

The cold front due here tonight is part of the same system that set off a rash of deadly tornados in Oklahoma. The violent weather is occurring along the cold front, which extends south and west from a powerful low-pressure center moving through the Mississippi Valley toward the Great Lakes today.

You can see it in action in this radar loop.

By tonight that front will reach Maryland, and as the cold air plows into the warm air being drawn up from the Gulf, it will trigger strong winds, showers and perhaps a T-storm or two. Winds could gust as high as 41 mph tonight, and continue strong and gusty into Thursday.

Temperatures behind the front are not dramatically colder. The highs Thursday and Friday at BWI should be in the 50s - still 10 degrees above the norms for this time of year. But more cold air will get pumped in as Friday rolls by, and when the next storm center fires up over the Southern Plains and heads this way, we could see some more wintry weather.

Once again, it will depend on the storm's track. Sterling is expecting a more southerly track for now. "This would keep us on the cold side of the system," they say. "And with an intensifying coastal storm off Hatteras by Saturday afternoon, would provide for a rain/snow mix or even mostly snow."

But, they're not too certain about all that yet, so for now the forecast calls for "a period of snow Saturday morning, then rain."

So, enjoy today while you can.

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

February 10, 2009

Brutal winter blast struck 110 years ago

Baltimore Sun photo 

One of the worst weeks of winter weather ever to strike Baltimore was in full fury on this date in 1899. Brutal cold and persistent, heavy snow paralyzed the city and turned the harbor and the bay into an icy prison. We weren't alone. Much of the country from Denver east, and deep into Florida and the Gulf Coast, was caught in the same deep freeze. 

Some of the weather records set during that week still stand. They include five consecutive days of record-low maximum daily temperatures; three straight days of record low temperatures, and the deepest snowfall ever recorded on a Feb. 13 in Baltimore. Here they are; all are records still on the books:

Feb. 9, 1899: high temperature: 8 degrees

Feb. 10, 1899:  high temperature: 3 degrees. Low temperature:  minus-7 degrees

Feb. 11, 1899:  High temperature:  11 degrees. Low temperature:  minus-6 degrees

Feb. 12, 1899:  high temperature:  11 degrees. Low temperature:  5 degrees

Feb. 13, 1899:  high temperature:  10 degrees. Snow: 15.5 inches

The pages of The Sun during that week were increasingly filled with stories about the terrible weather. They even began to crowd out the dispatches from Manila, where the U.S. was fighting to put down a Filipino insurgency and establish U.S. rule over the Philippines, which it had captured from Spain during the Spanish-American War. On Feb. 9, the paper listed six U.S. soldiers dead and 47 wounded in the latest fighting.

The same editions reported 8 p.m. temperatures from around the country the night before. They reflect the deep cold that was settling in. It was 0 degrees in Pittsburgh, 16 degrees at Philadelphia, 14 in Baltimore, 12 in Washington, 22 in Norfolk, 20 in Atlanta, 34 in Jacksonville and 58 in Key West.

The Friday morning paper (Feb. 10) reported the thermometer at The Sun Iron Building had fallen below zero after midnight, and sank to minus-2 by 3 a.m.

Since Groundhog Day, on Feb. 2, the paper noted, "it has rained, hailed, sleeted and snowed ...and yesterday capped the climax by being, without the shadow of a doubt, the coldest day of this winter, and also of several preceding winters in this locality. Thus has the groundhog sustained his reputation."

Temperatures had fallen all day on the 8th as high pressure moved in from the Canadian northwest. The cold was even deeper outside of the city proper. Catonsville reported 8-below; the Green Spring Valley reported 10 and 12 below zero. It was 11-below in Roland Park and 20 below at Hampton Mansion in Towson.

The wind was sweeping snow off rooftops and "into the faces of pedestrians ... and making progress at times almost impossible," the paper said. "The poor of the city suffered greatly from the cold and applied in numbers to the various station houses for help. Motormen and conductors grew almost blue from exposure and ran their cars with difficulty."

Indeed, the suffering of the streetcar crews reignited a debate in the city over whether the car lines should be required to provide enclosed "vestibules" for them to stand in. There was concern that snow and ice on the glass would obscure their vision, but the motormen argued that a coat of oil on the glass would preserve their view.

Outside the city, drifting snow clogged the roads. Rivers and harbors all around the bay were clogged with ice. Ice breakers, called "ice boats," ventured to the outer harbor to assist steamers and oystermen caught in the thickening ice. They reported the harbor ice was 2.5 inches thick all the way to Fort Carroll, just beyond where the Key Bridge stands today.

Across the East, the line of communities reporting zero degrees Fahrenheit ran from Oklahoma to central Virginia. Oranges and other crops in Florida were being ruined. The Ohio River was freezing up, stranding coal barges and keeping badly needed fuel from many homes and businesses across the country. Frostbite and deaths by freezing were reported from many cities.

On the morning of the 11th, The Sun reported the coldest temperatures ever recorded for Baltimore since the Weather Bureau was established 30 years earlier

It was minus-7 on the 10th, the paper said. That's still the lowest official reading ever in Baltimore, although it has since been matched on several other dates. The high for the day was a palid 3 degrees, the coldest maximum ever recorded at the time. 

"The local interest in the temperature yesterday was nowhere better shown than in front of The Sun office, where the reliable thermometer records for the public benefit every change implying heat ot cold," the paper noted. "All day long there was a throng gathered about the instrument, striving to note the variations of the mercury."

While the Sun thermometer reported a low of minus-7, another at the "Rogers" blacksmith shop in what is now Rodgers Forge recorded a low of minus-14 degrees. Allen's Pharmacy in Hampden read 9-below. Catonsville reported minus-13.

Harbor ice averaged 6 to 8 inches, and covered the water from shore to shore, and as far as the eye could see. Livery stables were cleaning up, renting sleighs to all comers. Some 400 to 500 were available to rent in the city. A one-horse sleigh could be had for two hours for $5. One livery owner said he had already cleared $250, and "if sleighing continues good for several days more," he said, "I expect to double that amount."

One sleigh dealer said he sold 18 of them in an hour. They were surprisingly cheap - $20 to $80 each. At the same time, smithies were making money "roughing" horseshoes. "A horse constantly in use on the streets in weather like this must have its shoes 'roughed' at least twice a week, each job costing $1," the paper observed. There were an estimated 17,000 horses in the city.

Shovelers and plumbers were also making money as snow piled up to 18 to 24 inches, and plumbing froze.

Motormen were suffering frostbite and other inconveniences. Some took to running alongside their cars to get warm. "Mustaches proved to be a decided disadvantage to the men. The moisture in their breath quickly froze on their mustaches, and before they could return to their terminus, their mustache would have the appearance of solid blocks of ice. In some cases the cold started tears from the eyes of the men and the water would freeze on their eyelashes, causing great discomfort."

By Monday morning, the 13th, The Sun was reporting widespread suffering among the city's poor.  Coal bins were emptying and calls went out for charitable donations to help the police station houses furnish the poor with food and fuel.

"Seventy-three persons designated as tramps enjoyed the the hospitality of Turnkey Godwin at the Canton police station last night," the paper reported. "They were quartered eight in a cell, and those for whom cell accommodations were not sufficient occupied berths in the corridors. The men are mostly oyster dredgers and have been discharged from boats in Canton Hollow, the captains and owners not having any use for crews while the freeze lasts."

There was misery everywhere, not all of it imposed by Nature. "At Wilmington, Del.," the paper reported, "several criminals stood at the pillory with the temperature at zero. They were afterward whipped."

On Tuesday morning, Feb. 14, 1899, The Sun reported what it headlined as "The Worst Blizzard Ever Known Here."  More than 15 inches of new snow had fallen the previous day. The nine-day total was now 32 inches. Winds howled at 30 mph with temperatures below 10 degrees. Roads and railroads in and out of town were cut off. Only the phones and telegraphs still worked. Word came in that "Thousands of persons in New York are starving and a bread famine is threatened."

Three thousand Baltimoreans applied to their local station houses for assistance. Mail deliveries - normally four times a day in some parts of the city - fell to just one, if you were lucky.

The paper recounted many tales of hardship and rescue.

"Henry Bowers, aged forty-five years, an ice dealer, died suddenly at 7 o'clock last night after shoveling snow in front of his home, 38 East Cross Street ... His wife saw him stagger and fall, and rushed to the door. Mr. Bowers had risen to his feet and managed to get inside the door, when he fell lifeless to the floor."

"Miss Alberta Starr, aged eighteen years, an employee of Gail and Ax Tobacco factory, was overcome by cold on her way to her home, 1514 Boyd Street, about 5 o'clock in the afternoon and sank in the snow unconscious at Light and Ostend streets. She was almost covered with snow when Patrolman Pfister saw her. He took her in his arms and hurried into Herman's shoe store with her. She recovered in about half an hour."

As the city began to dig out, the paper's editorial writers finally had their say:

"There is reason for thankfulness that Baltimore is at a latitude which is but rarely exposed to such trying visitations. Warmer weather is promised in a day or two, and it is to be hoped that the weather bureau will see that this promise is kept. It may not be too much to indulge the further hope that winter has expended most of its stock of cold and snow during the last two weeks and that the remainder of its reign may be somewhat milder."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:23 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: History

February 9, 2009

Spring temperatures due, then winter resumes

Sun Photo/Frank Roylance

Today's hazy sunshine will be the last for a while as wetter, warmer air arrives from the south and west. But temperatures will remain delightfully springlike for much of the week.

Forecasters out at Sterling say today's high will reach well in to the 50s - about 10 degrees above the norms for this time of year at BWI. And that's just the beginning. We'll have more 50s, with cloudy skies and some slight threat of showers tomorrow. And by Wednesday, temperatures are likely to rise into the 60s on southerly breezes. That's more typical of mid-April in Baltimore than mid-February.

The driver behind this pleasant break from winter is the high-pressure system that's moving across the region today. As it drifts east, we come into a return clockwise flow around the center of the high. That draws warm, moist air from the south. Clouds will be increasing by late today as this warm front approaches.

The risk of showers will increase as this wet and warm air mass piles in. By late Wednesday there may be a line of showers and thunderstorms moving across the region, forecasters say. That will usher in a cold (or at least cool) front, with temperatures Thursday and Friday in the upper 40s. That's closer to the norms for mid-February.

There is even some talk of frozen precipitation by Saturday, in the form of mixed rain and show showers. The highs will return to the 30s for the weekend, and our vacation from winter will be over.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:26 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

Australian bushfires from space

NASA/ AQUA Earth-Observing Satellite

Bushfires in southeastern Australia over the weekend have killed more than 130 people and destroyed whole towns. It is the nation's worst fire season ever. The devastating fires and their smoke are being imaged by orbiting spacecraft. That's a shot from NASA's Aqua Earth Observing satellite above. The red markings outline active flame.

Here's some video from CNN.

Australian officials have said there have been as many as 400 separate fires, some of them believed to have been set by arsonists. You can read more here. But weather conditions have played a powerful role. That section of Australia is in deep drought, and summertime temperatures have gone as high as 117 degrees, winds to 60 mph, drying the vegetation and turning it to tinder. Lightning strikes and idiots set it off, and the wind drove the flames hard.

Here's another shot, taken on Saturday:




Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

February 8, 2009

Record high temperature Saturday at Dulles

The high temperature of 65 degrees Saturday at Dulles International Airport set a new record for the date, topping the old record of 59 degrees, set in 2005.

At BWI, the Saturday high of 62 degrees fell just short of the record - 64 degrees, set in 1904.

Today's record high temperature at BWI is 70 degrees, set on this date in 1965. The forecast high for this afternoon is 67 degrees. It was 64 degrees at noon.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:42 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: By the numbers

February 7, 2009

Baltimore haze blamed on Southeast fires


It was an unseasonably mild and sunny Saturday in Baltimore. But the view was marred by an unusual pale, smokey haze across the region (below, from CAMNET). Air quality observers at the University of Maryland Baltimore County have been tracking the smoke, and they say it has originated in numerous wildfires (yellow flames on the map above) burning in the southeastern part of the United States, and blown our way on southwest winds. 

Here's more from the UMBC "Smog Blog." So far, the air quality readings for Baltimore have remained "moderate," according to the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:47 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

February 6, 2009

Space Station will "buzz" Venus this evening

So how's your view of the southwestern sky? If you can get a clear view in that direction early this evening, you can look forward to a very nice flyby by the International Space Station as it passes over the eastern U.S. from high over Chicago to the South Carolina coast.

This pass is lower - closer to the horizon as seen from Baltimore - than those I usually mention here. It can be hard for some people to get a clear view past trees and buildings when the flyovers are less than 45 degrees above the horizon. And the lighting geometry can make these passes dimmer, and harder to see.

Heavens-Above.comBut this one caught my eye for several reasons: It is an early-evening pass, when many Marylanders will be able to pause on their way to their cars after work, or step outside to watch before dinner goes on the table. The station will also fly very close to brilliant Venus from our perspective (the red dot at left), drawing attention to the planet, which has dominated the evening sky for many weeks.

And, the skies should be clear.  

So, set your cell phone alarms, and look for the station to rise above the western horizon at 5:41 p.m.. It will pass just below Venus, about 37 degrees above the southwestern horizon at around 5:44 p.m. At that point the station will be about 360 miles from Baltimore, traveling at about 17,500 mph.

From there it will slide off toward the southern horizon, disappearing at 5:47 p.m., to the right of the bright winter constellation Orion, rising in the east.  

As always, we urge you to take the kids and let their young eyes help you spot the station. And, drop back here afterwards and share the experience with those who missed it. 

Speaking of the ISS, here's an astonishing photo of the station, snapped from California, just as it was passing in front of the moon.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Sky Watching

February 5, 2009

One more bitter-cold night

The mercury sank to just 13 degrees this morning at BWI - 15 at The Sun and 12 degrees out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. And tonight promises to be another very cold night as clear skies Sun Photo/Glenn Fawcettopen the window for quick radiational cooling.

Not that we gained much solar heating today. I was on assignment at the zoo, and yoiks! it was cold out there. Today's HIGH for BWI looks like 24 degrees.

That's no record, but it is the normal LOW temperature for Baltimore at this time of year. Those heat pumps and furnaces have been spinning like crazy, gobbling up those hard-earned dollars we haven't technically earned yet. Ouch!

Help is on the way. As this big high-pressure center moves off winds will start to swing around the the south and southwest. That will drive daytime temps back toward 50 degrees by Saturday and (how sweet this is) 60 degrees by Sunday.

Things won't stay quite that springlike next week. But the sunshine will hang around, and we'll enjoy highs in the 40s to near 50.

The next precipitation doesn't pop into the forecast until Thursday. And unless you live in the mountains of western Maryland, it's rain.

Total snow (officially) for the season to date at BWI: 3.1 inches

Thirty-year average, full season:  18.2 inches

Last time we exceeded the average: 2005-06 - 19.6 inches

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

February 4, 2009

Cold Thursday, then a big warmup


We may even see some more snow showers tonight before all these little disturbances clear away. But forecasters at Sterling don't think any snowfall we see will amount to even as much as we had this morning.

Then big-time high pressure moves in strongly over the eastern half of the nation, with cold air pushing south tonight and tomorrow. Check out Atlanta's conditions. And Mobile's.

Temps won't reach 30 degrees here Thursday, if the forecast holds up. But as the weekend approaches and the high moves off to our east, we'll come into a return flow from the south, warming things up sharply for the weekend and into next week.

Highs should settle in the 50s by Saturday, and hold there through mid-week. That's about 10 degrees above the norms for this time of year at BWI-Marshall. Nighttime lows won't even reach freezing.

Forecasters see no prospects for snow in the long-range forecast with those sorts of temperatures. Friday through Wednesday should remain largely sunny.

That said, we are still in February, and as I keep repeating, half of Baltimore's 10 biggest snowstorms ever have struck between Feb. 11 and 18.

In that vein, here is a link to the Eastern US Weather Forums site, where Jim Hughes has been holding court on his predictions for a snowstorm on Valentine's Day. Hughes is a former DC-area (now West Virginia) resident and amateur weather analyst who has made some accurate predictions based on ocean temperature and solar activity patterns. He's also struck out a few times, as all forecasters do. See what you think.    

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:21 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Forecasts

Surprise snow tangles commute

Residents of Central Maryland awoke to a snowy surprise this morning as snow showers - some quite heavy for a time - coated roads with a slick fluffy carpet of trouble. Schools have closed or delayed this morning, and there were early road accidents all over the place.

Here's the current radar loop. Here's the story. And here's the official forecast. And here is the report from CoCoRaHS. And from the NWS. Two inches in parts of Howard and Carroll County seems to be the most on the report.

Forecast discussions out of Sterling at 9:30 last night hinted at the possibility of snow overnight. They noted:


Well, they did. The 3 a.m. discussion noted some impressive accumulations from these "snow showers":


Of course, everybody was asleep as all this was developing. Hence, the wake-up surprise. Clearly the potential significance of this snow threat was largely missed in the forecasts, and Sterling - like the road crews - has been playing catch-up ever since.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:13 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather

February 3, 2009

Watch continues on Alaskan volcano

Alaska Volcano Observatory

I know. It has nothing to do with Maryland weather. At least not yet. But the rising seismic activity and eruption watch now underway in Alaska at the Redoubt volcano brings to mind the days before Mount St. Helens blew in 1980, as well as the spectacular eruption at Redoubt almost 20 years ago.

That's the one in the Redoubt photo above. The image was one of a series shot by J. Warren, on April 21, 1990. Looks like a nuclear blast, doesn't it? The ash from a December 1989 eruption of Mt. Redoubt was sucked into all four engines of a 747 airliner bound from Amsterdam to Tokyo. All four were snuffed out. But unlike the recent bird-strike incident in New York, pilots of the KLM airliner managed to restart two engines (after dropping 12,000 feet in eight minutes), and they landed safely. At the airport in Anchorage.

The incident occurred despite the then-new, satellite-based system of ash cloud warnings for aircraft. If Redoubt blows again, all airspace around the volcano and downwind may be closed.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory has a fascinating Web site, where anyone can keep watch over the volcano and track its rumblings.

Here's the Web site. There are details on the current activity here.

You can link to a live Redoubt Web cam here. And, you can follow the activity via Twitter, here

And there is a gallery of photos of the 1990 eruption here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:28 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

Small quake rattles North Jersey

USGSA small earthquake rattled part of northern New Jersey late last night. The tremor was centered in Morris County, 30 miles west of Manhattan and just southwest of downtown Morristown, near the community of Victory Gardens. No injuries were reported.

The magnitude was rated at 3.0 and a depth of about 3 miles.

Residents described the event as a loud "booming," or an underground explosion. Here is a New York Times report on the event, which occurred at 10:34 p.m. EST.

Here's more on the history of earthquakes in New Jersey.


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

No-stick snow ushers in colder air


Well, it was snowing pretty nicely in the northern part of Baltimore County this morning. But none of it was sticking to the pavement. And as we passed the Pepsi sign on the JFX, it seemed to be falling more as light rain.

The problem is that, while temperatures aloft are cold enough to generate snow, temperatures at the surface are warmer. The city heat-island effect may also be at work on this snow. Most of what makes it to the ground as snow quickly melts on contact. So much for the big storm snow-lovers had hoped for from this system.

What we've seen so far has been generated by a weak cold front that has been edging into the region since yesterday. You can see its outline in the satellite image above. The much-anticipated coastal storm tracking along that front is now just getting cranked up off the Carolina coast. It's forecast to intensify and slide north and east toward Cape Cod today. We stand on the western edge of the storm's influence as it throws moisture back into the cold air behind it. Forecasters at Sterling say the best chances for precipitation - snow showers - today and tonight will be from I-95 south and east.

The biggest impact from all this may be the colder, drier air that will begin to sweep south and east into the region as the storm at sea deepens and pulls away toward the Canadian maritime provinces. Here's the BWI forecast. Western counties may see some accumulating snow from that, but all we'll see are temperatures in the low 30s tomorrow and Thursday, and overnight lows in the upper teens to near 20 degrees.

It won't last long, however. As that high-pressure system spins clockwise and pulls off the coast, we'll come into the return flow from the south. Temperatures through the weekend and into Monday will climb into the springlike 50s - about 10 degrees above the norms for this time of year at BWI.  Overnight lows may not dip to freezing. 

Next week we move into what are arguably the snowiest 8 days on the record books for Baltimore. But for the moment, there is nothing in sight to speed the pulse of the deperately snow-deprived among us.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:14 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

February 2, 2009

Never mind ... snow "threat" dwindles

Once more our snow-lovers' hopes are dashed. What could have been a shovel-worthy storm - and maybe our first snowfall to top 5 inches in three years - appears to have melted away in this morning's forecast. An inch and a half of accumulating snow is the most forecasters out at Sterling can offer for tomorrow.

AccuWeather.comThe Gulf storm that late last week looked like it might drop up to 6 inches on the I-95 cities is now expected to pass too far off the coast to deliver a big, snowy punch here. Forecasters are calling it "a glancing blow." They're attaching the boiler-plate CYA tag: "Any deviation from the projected path of the low would cause the forecast to change." But that seems a long-shot at best.

You can compare the snow map at left with those we posted over the past 3 or 4 days and see where the snow went. Here's Henry "Madman" Margusity eating his hat.

Look for increasing clouds and rain late today, changing over to rain and snow tonight, followed by perhaps an inch of snow during the day Tuesday. After all the hype, a dusting. And with all the salt on the roads, it's hard to imagine much impact on transportation tomorrow. One to two inches are possible north and west of the city.

Temperatures will rise to a spring-like 50 degrees at BWI today (it's already 51 here at The Sun), until a weak cold front begins to press through. But even that won't chill things off very much. Tonight's low will sink to about 30 degrees, and tomorrow's high of 35 degrees will make it tough for any snow that falls to stick around long enough to be an issue.

Colder air is coming. Tuesday night's low is forecast to drop into the teens, and Wednesday's high probably won't get above freezing. Wednesday night and Thursday will be cold, too, in the teens. But once the high moves off, and more southerly breezes take over, we'll head toward the 60-degree mark by the weekend - maybe 15 degrees above the long-term averages.

Sorry about the snow. Maybe next time. Can't wait for snow here? Fly to London.

Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:37 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Forecasts

February 1, 2009

Storm track drifts east; snow estimates less

Every computer model run seems to bring a change in the forecast track of the brewing coastal storm(s). Now that track has drifted farther out to sea, again, and estimates of the accumulating snowfall for Baltimore and Washington have dwindled some.

AccuWeather, (and WJZ's Bernadette Woods) are now talking about 1 to 3 inches Tuesday, down from the 3 to 6 AccuWeather ventured earlier today. Surely that's a disappointment for some snow-starved Marylanders (and a relief to others).

The problem is the difficulty of predicting the storm track and speed, and the timing of the arrival of cold-enough air behind the front due to pass through tomorrow. The storm is still forecast to be a powerful one. But it now seems poised to hit New England much harder than the mid-Atlantic states. And the heaviest snow on the map has skidded north and east.

It could all change back again by Monday night, of course. But generally speaking, these predictions get better - closer to what actually is going to happen - as the time gets shorter.

Here's's main story this evening. You can catch WJZ's forecast at Here's the latest forecast discussion from Sterling. Here's the official NWS forecast for BWI. And here's Capital Weather Gang's take.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Forecasts

Snow coming; storm track critical

Once again, Central Maryland is on the bubble, while a powerful winter storm works out where the devil it's going. A slight drift to the right or left at the right time and we get mostly rain, or we get a half a foot of snow. Or more?

For now, the National Weather Service out at the Sterling forecast office isn't ready to commit either way. This morning's discussion suggests the computer models are bringing the Gulf storm back closer to shore. That's good news for snow lovers.

The storm track forecast had been pushing eastward. That dragged the heaviest precipitation of the Appalachians and into our laps. But it kept going, which would have had the rain and snow falling on the ocean. And what use is that? Right? 

This morning, the computers seem to be reversing course, bringing the main axis of the snow back our way. This morning's discussion puts the storm "somewhere off the mid-Atlantic seaboard Monday night." One run had the surface low just off the coast. Says Sterling:


AccuWeather.comThat said, forecasters said they are still "not entirely sold" on the scenario. The official forecast for BWI has rain starting on Monday, changing to snow after midnight Tuesday. The snow continues into the morning, but tails off after lunch. There is no accumulation prediction yet. But if their forecast holds up, we can expect schools to be affected Tuesday for sure.

Then there's, always a reliable source of encouragement for snow lovers - and despair for the rest. They've already got their snow map out, calling for 3 to 6 inches here, and lots more along a corridor to our north and east. They also hedge their bets, noting that a change in the storm's path as it's currently forecast, could change everything - from mostly rain to lots of snow.

Here's their main story this morning.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:12 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Forecasts
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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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