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March 31, 2009

Rain due late Weds; sunny, 60s by the weekend

Sun Photo/Jed Kirschbaum 2003 

If you had two wishes for the weather this week, what would they be? My vote would be for a few days of soaking rain (we're still in a drought, after all), clearing in time for a sunny, spring-y weekend (we deserve it).

Well, that's exactly what the National Weather Service forecasters out at Sterling are cooking up for the balance of the week. Today's sunshine will be the last for a while. There's a cold front approaching, and ahead of that we can expect increasing high clouds this afternoon, thickening up overnight, leading to rain sometime after noon Wednesday.

As the wind shifts around to the east and southeast today, communities along the Western Shore of the bay will feel chillier than the rest of us as they get that breeze off the still-cold (46 degrees) Chesapeake.

Wednesday's rain could deliver a quarter- to a half-inch in the afternoon, and another tenth- to a quarter-inch overn ight into Thursday. All of it is welcome on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville, near which we will be planting a new cherry tree tomorrow.

There's a second storm system due to spin up off the southeast coast on Friday along with another cold front. All that will bring us more rain Friday until the front blows through. Sterling describes that event as a "soaking rain." We'll take it. Streamflow across Maryland is up compared with last week, but falling again.

Behind all this wet weather we can expect clearing skies late Friday, bringing us sunshine and highs in the mid- to upper-60s for the weekend. But don't put away the umbrella. Rain returns next week.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:01 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Forecasts

March 30, 2009

Virginia fireball was not Russian booster rocket

There has been plenty of debate today about the nature of the fireball spotted around 9:40 p.m. Sunday in the southern sky (as seen from Maryland). But I'm now convinced that it was a natural meteor, and not space debris.

Geoff Chester, spokesman for the U.S. Naval Observatory got out in front early on this story, saying he was "99.44 percent" sure the object was a Russian rocket booster, falling to Earth after the launch of the Russian Soyuz space capsule en route to the International Space Station.

I don't think so. Man-made space debris is traveling at orbital velocities, and re-enters the atmosphere at a fairly slow speed compared with meteors. We all remember the painful video images of the space shuttle Columbia breaking up on re-entry in 2003, with the loss of its crew. It is very slow compared with meteor entries.

Eyewitness descriptions of Sunday night's event said they watched this object for only a few seconds before it vanished. Here's a eyewitness comment we received this morning:

"I live along the coast on the Eastern Shore of MD. I too saw this amazing fireball. From my vantage point the bright orange ball of fire just suddenly appeared at approximately 9:40 PM. It was definitely larger than a refrigerator, as reported. It fell downward and slightly east then seemed to burn out. It only lasted about 5 seconds; however, this was the most spectacular site I have ever seen!  - Jill Schline"

Dear Frank,

The object was 2009-015B / 34670, the SL-4 rocket body from the recent Soyuz-TMA 14 launch to ISS. Geoff Chester of the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. expressed certainty that its decay is what was seen last night, but he is mistaken:

The U.S. Strategic Command's final report on this decay, predicted decay over 24 N, 125 E, [near Taiwan] on 2009 Mar 30, within 1 minute of 03:57 UTC (11:57 PM EDT).

It did pass within sight of the Virginia and Maryland Sunday night, but at about 9:26 PM EDT, about 2.5 hours before decay. It was 137 km high, but that is far too high to have begun burning. Burning begins a little below 100 km. The object was in Earth's shadow, so it was invisible, because it was not burning yet.

But clearly it was a meteor, based on its high angular velocity.

I observed a satellite decay five years ago, and the object took about 90 seconds to cross from a point low above the SW horizon to a point low in the SE.

That is much faster than a normal satellite, but nowhere near as fast a meteor, which could traverse the same angle in about one tenth the time.

Best regards,

Ted Molczan


TUESDAY AM UPDATE: The Joint Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California this morning adds this confirmatory note:

"The JSpOC tracks over 19,000 manmade objects in space.  The "bright light"
that was reported on the East Coast on Sunday, 29 March at 9:45 p.m. EST was not a result of any trackable manmade object on reentry.  Natural phenomena are not tracked by JSpOC professionals.


Stefan T. Bocchino
Deputy, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs"

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:38 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Sky Watching

Week winds up wetter; threatens weekend astro fest

Enjoy these sunny skies while you can, because the forecast out of Sterling has us slated for a wet start to the month of April. Rain and shower chances rise to 70 percent by Wednesday night as the sunny, high-pressure air on top of us now gives way to an approaching cold front. That's the front attached to the big low that's dumping snow and rain over the Northern Plains.

There's another storm behind that one, reaching us by Friday evening. Both look pretty wet, which is a good thing:

"Both disturbances look to have solid PWAT [precipitable water] values / just above one inch / bringing continued needed rain to the region,"  Sterling said.

But it's not so good for the planned weekend celebrations of "100 Hours of Astronomy," events Sun Photo/Algerina Perna 2008including those at the Community College of Baltimore County, both the Catonsville and Dundalk campuses. It's all part of this year's observance of the "International Year of Astronomy," which is in turn part of the 400th anniversary of Galileo's early discoveries with the telescope in 1609/10.

The public is invited to follow in Galileo's footsteps by having their own peek through telescopes - at the moon and Saturn in the evening, or Jupiter and (if you're lucky) Mars and Venus just before dawn. If you've never seen Saturn's rings with your own eyes, you're really missing a thrill.

Here are the hours:

CCBC Dundalk: Friday, April 3 from 8 to 11 p.m. (Call 410 282-3092 for weather cancellation information.)

CCBC Catonsville: All night, from 8 p.m. Saturday, April 4 through 6 a.m. Sunday, April 5. If you're not a nightowl, there's a free daytime lecture at the Banneker Planetarium on "Galileo: The Starry Messenger," at 10 a.m. Saturday, April 4. Also try...

Maryland Science Center: Telescope viewing from 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday April 3. (An earlier version of this post listed an incorrect date. I regret the error.)

Baltimore-Annapolis Trail: The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the Friends of Anne Arundel County Trails are sponsoring a daytime "Planet Walk," along the linear solar system installed on the trail. Experts will be stationed at each planet from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 4.

Howard Community College: The Howard Astronomical League will host daytime solar observations through sun-safe filtered telescopes, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 4.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

Weekend rain helps, but not much


This graph of the streamflow in the Little Patuxent River shows that the weekend's rain did help to boost the amount of water in the river. But the benefit did not last long, and water levels quickly began to fall back toward previous levels. In short, the rain was welcome, but it has not ended the dry conditions thast state faces as spring arrives.

Rainfall at BWI totaled 1.27 inches from Thursday through Sunday. That brought the month's total to 2.07 inches. That's a big boost from where we stood at this time last week. But it remains 1.63 inches below the long-term average for March. So we continue to sink deeper into a moisture deficit.

Here's how USGS hydrologist Dan Soeder put it to me this morning:

"The weekend rain helped some, but the National Weather Service is still showing us in a precipitation deficit.

"The USGS has not changed the designation of the Mid-Atlantic region as being under a moderate drought ("Streamflows responded to the weekend rain as expected by rising, but most are now falling rapidly. Smaller streams like the Little Patuxent (graph above) are showing a drop off in flow that appears to be trending back toward below normal levels. Bigger watersheds like the Potomac ( show a steadier increase in flow from the weekend rain, but are still below normal. The low streamflows are related to groundwater deficits.

"High water tables in the spring generally produce more robust base flows.

"Our water tables are not as high as they should be, thus making base flows (the streamflow between runoff events) lower than normal.

"Groundwater levels in the Coastal Plain have not yet responded to the rain. It's a little too soon for the water to have made its way to the water table, but maybe we will see a rise in groundwater in a week or so.

"Piedmont aquifers have responded in some cases, showing once again that flow through fractured rocks is much faster than flow through porous sediments. Gentle rains with cool temperatures will help to recharge groundwater levels."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:21 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drought

Booming fireball rattles lower Chesapeake

Residents of Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina were startled Sunday night by what appears to have been a sizable meteor, complete with bright flashes and a sonic boom, at about 9:40 p.m.

That explanation is not official, but from the descriptions finding their way onto the Internet, that sounds like a likely explanation. Here is more on the fireball phenomenon. This log of sightings reported to the American Meteor Society will give you an idea of how common they are.

Here are more eyewitness reports.

The WeatherBlog would welcome any comments, photos or video from readers who witnessed last night's event. Be sure to tell us where you were, what direction you were looking, the time, and what you saw or heard. Here's a gallery of Leonid meteors from 2001

Here's a description of Sunday's event from Bryan Bonner, of Carroll County, passed along to me this morning:

"Saw a huge fireball at 940 pm sunday night in south souteast sky. It started at 45 degrees and descended straight down, tail covered entire path. Began white hot and went through the color spectrum before disappearing just above the horizon. It seems like it was too big to have burned up completely. I`ve lived in carroll all my life and have seen many a falling star as it were, but never anything like this."

And here is a FAQ page on the pheneomenon of meteoric fireballs.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:35 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Sky Watching

March 27, 2009

Scariest shuttle re-entry you never read about

The space shuttle Discovery is set to return to Earth Saturday with a clean bill of health on its heat-deflecting tiles. NASA has been ultra-careful about inspecting the heat tiles after reaching orbit so as to avoid a repeat of the Columbia accident in 2003 that cost the lives of seven astronauts. Columbia's wings were damaged by a fragment of insulation during launch, and the spacecraft was destroyed during re-entry.

NASA/STS-27 at launchNASA has not always been that careful. A 1988 flight of the shuttle Atlantis - the second mission after the Challenger disaster - nearly ended in disaster after 700 of the heat tiles were damaged during launch (left). One was kocked out entirely.

The crew spotted it, but were unable to communicate their worry - fear - to mission control in Houston because of restrictions imposed by the Department of Defense. They were flying a classified spy satellite mission and were barred from sending clear photos of the damage.

The crew knew it looked bad - likely fatal. But the guys on the ground couldn't see it. They gave the crew a green light to come home.

So the crew crossed their fingers and headed home. They made it, by a whisker. Everybody was astonished by the damage they found after landing. If they had burned up on re-entry just two flights after Challenger, it likely would have ended the shuttle program.

It's a helluva yarn, told by CBS's Bill Harwood, and posted online by

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

Lights out Saturday night!

Remember when you could see stars? Have your kids ever seen the Milky Way? For some reason we have, as a society, decided we need to keep the bulbs burning in our stores and offices when they're empty, and illuminate things that don't really need to be seen at night - like tall buildings. Too many of our outdoor lights waste energy lighting up dust in the air and the underside Skyglow/International Dark Sky Associationof the clouds.

That's what causes the skyglow captured in the photo at left, andInternational Dark Sky Association erases the stars. It is costing us billions in wasted energy, contributing to climate change and divorcing us from our heritage in the night sky (right).

For one hour beginning at 8:30 local time Saturday night, from Baltimore's City Hall to the Pyramids of Egypt, the lights will go out in a global expression of concern for our planet.

"Not only does it help reduce carbon emissions, but [it] encourages citizens to reflect on ways they can help save on energy costs and make Baltimore and their environment even greener," said Khalil Zaied, head of Baltimore's Bureau of General Services.

In addition to City Hall, the lights will go out for an hour downtown at the city's Abel Wolman Municipal Building, the MECU Building, the Charles Benton Building, the People's Court, the War Memorial Building and Fire Department Headquarters.

The global event is called Earth Hour, and it's being organized by the World Wildlife Fund. This will be the third year of its observance, and it continues to grow. This year, 2,400 cities in 82 countries are participating, up from 400 cities in 35 countries last year. In addition to Baltimore, U.S. cities taking part include Washington DC, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York City and Nashville, Tenn.

Also going dark for an hour will be the Acropolis in Athens, Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler Building in New York, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. In London, the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus will go out for an hour, and Marriott Hotels around the world will also switch off their outdoor lights.

Of course, everyone is invited to take part, switching off their porch lights and other unneeded illumination for an hour wherever they are. But one hour of darkness at a relative handful of locations won't be much more than a symbolic vote in favor of more sensible energy use and more rational illumination ordinances.

What the Dark Sky movement has been about for many years has been a campaign to educate the public and their policy makers about the needless waste of energy for illumination, which has the added effect of erasing the night sky by allowing unnecessary light to shine sideways, or up into the sky where it's not needed.

Dark sky advocates agree that some nighttime illumination is needed for safety and security. But they argue that too much of that lighting is badly designed, shining on things that don't need to be illuminated, instead of being concentrated on the things that do.

Wasted light/energyFor example, light from a streetlight that beams into your upstairs bedroom window is not helping anyone see the street (left). That light isGood lighting/International Dark Sky Association wasted and intrusive. Such lights should be aimed and shielded (right) so that the light goes only where it's needed. That would not only prevent light intrusion into your bedroom; the proper engineering of the light fixture would also require less energy, since less light would be needed to do the job. 

In Baltimore County, the owners of Bengies Drive-In Theater argue that unnecessary light intrusion from a neighboring business is causing problems for their movie-going customers. Better lighting design could have avoided the problems and saved money and energy.

Likewise, a spotlight shining onto a billboard from below the sign sends much of its light into space, lighting up the bellies of migrating birds and washing out the night sky. Mount that light on the top of the billboard, and shine it down onto the ad only, and you have a cheaper, more sensible plan.

Many cities have enacted good, strong outdoor lighting ordinances, some with the help of the International Dark Sky Association. What's needed is for more local governments to do the same, and for all those who enforce these ordinances to do their jobs.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:02 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Events

It's official: 52 percent of Maryland in drought


The Drought Monitor Map for this week is out, and it shows parts of Maryland are now experiencing "moderate" drought conditions. The rest of the state is rated "abnormally dry."

The measurements were taken on Tuesday, so the rating does not reflect yesterday's rain. And there is more rain due this weekend. But hydrologists do not believe the latest rainfall will significantly impact the dry conditions that have been deepening since last October.

Don Soeder, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Baltimore, says this year's setup looks a bit like the months leading into the record-breaking drought of 2002, although he does not believe this will be as severe. We'll have more on the drought in Saturday's print editions.

The good news is that Baltimore's reservoir system remains in good shape. It stands at 91 percent of capacity. Loch Raven and Prettyboy are full or nearly so. Liberty Reservoir is at 85 percent, and looks a bit parched where Md. 140 crosses the north end out at the Baltimore County/Carroll County line. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:39 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Drought

March 26, 2009

It takes green to go green

After a brutal winter on the energy front - everyone's electric bills soared this winter - it's time to take stock. While December and February were relatively mild, January ended 3 degrees below the long-term averages. Heating degree-days, a temperature-based measure of heating demand -  are running 7 percent above average. So, it's the season to take a look around and find ways to cut down on energy use in the future.

I'd like to get a discussion going here about how readers are dealing with their energy consumption issues. Perhaps you're feeling depleted by this winter's high bills, and you're looking for ways to conserve energy. Maybe you've already converted to solar, or geo-thermal and you're reaping the rewards in the form of lower utility bills than last year. Maybe you've found simple, low-tech ways to tighten up your house and now you're seeing some payback.

Sun Photo/Elizabeth MalbyDrop us a comment and let us all know what you're doing and how it's working out. Ask questions, and maybe I can find an answer, or another reader can chime in and help.

I'll start. After 12 years in our townhouse, and some of the biggest winter utility bills we've seen, my wife and I decided it was time to replace the old heat pump. It serves the second floor and loft (we have gas heat on the lower floors). It still ran. But it had developed a noisy clatter, seemed to run a lot, and our HVAC guys said it was going to need $400 or $500 worth of work.

There were other problems. To start with, it was, from the beginning, a cheap builder's model, with the lowest energy efficiency ratings available at the time. Our bedroom, in the rear, was frequently 10 degrees colder than the front rooms. The heat pump just was never up to the task when temperatures fell much below freezing.

Knowing that heat pumps - at least the compressors - typically have a 10-year life expectancy, we decided it was time to get a new model. After some discussion with our contractor, we decided on a high-efficiency, Energy-Star model from Bryant. In addition to some energy savings, it comes with the promise of a $1,500 credit on our 2009 federal tax return, knocking the effective price down to about $4,500. Ouch, but ...

The new unit was installed this week and, well, it is HUGE. It dwarfs the old model, and looks like a dirigible has landed on the patio. It took some finagling to make it fit in the space available. Likewise, the indoor half of the system had to be shoehorned into a loft closet, and it occupies every available cubic inch. But bigger, we were told, means a bigger surface area for heat exchange, and that contributes to its higher efficiency.

There's also a fancy computerized programmable thermostat that comes with a small book of instructions. We also added a new register and return to the loft, which never cooled properly with the old system. Eventually, we plan to add a humidifier to the gas furnace, which may allow us to turn the thermostat settings lower in winter.

So the new system is running now, although it is so quiet you can barely hear it, especially after living with the old clattertrap for so long. The neighbors may appreciate that. The back bedroom does seem warmer, but it's too soon to tell whether we're actually spending less to run the new system compared with the old. Years until our savings cover the cost of the new system? Who knows? I should live so long.

But I will watch the bills, and report back. In the meantime, let us hear what you're doing to reduce your carbon footprint, or cut the costs of heating and cooling your home. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:25 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Saving energy

March 25, 2009

On well water? Time to worry ...


As the dry weather continues in Maryland, hydrologists are beginning to worry about falling water tables. The U.S. Geological Survey's monitoring wells in Baltimore and Frederick counties have been falling since mid-February - a period when they should be continuing their winter recharge.

Once things green up, plants and trees will be taking up much of whatever precipitation we receive, diverting it from reaching the streams and groundwater on which well water depends.

"This is of concern," the USGS said yesterday. "If dry conditions persist in the region into the summer, some shallow domestic wells may be unable to supply sufficient water to meet demands."

Those of us on public water systems have less to worry about, for now. Baltimore's reservoirs remain in good shape for this time of year, public works officials have said. And municipal systems that rely on well water generally tap into deeper aquifers that are less vulnerable to year-to-year weather events. (Although those aquifers, too, have been falling for years due simply to rising demand and recharge cycles measured in decades or centuries.)

In the map above, the dark brown color shows where 7-day average streamflow is running at 5 percent or less of historical averages for this time of year.

For the moment, at least, the forecast looks rainier than it did yesterday. There's a little on tap for tonight, and as much as a half-inch due tomorrow. But we remain almost 10 inches in arrears for the first three months of the year.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:42 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Drought

March 24, 2009

Rain chances increase ... a little

Looks like we'll have one more day of this clear, very dry weather before low pressure now over the upper midwest begins to press east and bring us actual RAIN off and on for the latter part of the week and into the weekend.

USGSWell, okay. Maybe not the sort of rain we really need. (The red dots on the USGS map at left represent streams flowing at record-low levels for this time of year.)

More like rain showers, with chances running in the 20 to 50 percent range, and accumulations of a quarter inch or less, if the forecasts out of Sterling hold up.

For today, we'll stick with relatively cool temperatures after overnight lows in the 20s. The high Tuesday afternoon will be hard-pressed to reach the 50s. The average high for this time of year at BWI is 57 degrees, so we are almost 10 degrees below the norm. We also remain very dry. The relative humidity here on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville bottomed out at 16 percent late Monday afternoon. It was 25 percent at The Sun's weather station at Calvert & Centre streets.

And as this high pressure moves east of us, winds will swing around to the east, clouds will build in from the west as the storm system approaches with a cold front. The problem for our thirsty region is that it may take this storm system time to overcome the dry conditions here and push humidities high enough for significant rain. Sterling is calling for only a tenth to a quarter-inch on Thursday. We've had only 0.8 so far this month - about 2 inches behind the average pace, with just a week left in the month.

We'll get a second chance to wet the place down this weekend, as another low moves out of the Southwest and heads for Quebec. That will bring us another cold front and another chance for some showers late in the weekend. Temperatures will be closer to the long-term averages later in the week, with highs near 60 degrees and lows in the 40s.   

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:10 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Forecasts

March 23, 2009

Increased fire threat today

With strong sunshine, a scarcity of rain recently and very dry air today, the National Weather Service has posted a Special Weather Statement noting increased risks of brush fires today.

The winds are not too active, so they have not yet issued a Red Flag Warning, as they have to our north and east. But it would be wise to be careful with fires today, and to crush those butts in the ashtray.

The humidity here on the WeatherDeck this afternoon has dropped from 63 percent  at 7 a.m. to 22 percent just after noon. That's desert-dry. And there is lots of tinder around after weeks without significant rainfall.

Here's the statement on this afternoon's fire hazard:




Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:08 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Watches and warnings

Driest year on record - so far

BWI has received just 3.79 inches of precipitation so far this year, and barely an inch since Jan. 29. We've had only 1.87 inches in 2009 on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville.

National Weather Service forecaster Andy Woodcock, out at Sterling, had these observations this morning about the dry weather:






Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:10 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: By the numbers

March 19, 2009

Pacific quake rocks water in Va. well

This afternoon's big earthquake near the Pacific island nation of Tonga has sent seismic waves around the world. The impulse was felt in a USGS monitoring well in Christianburg, in southwest Virginia, where water levels surged as the seismic wave passed through the surrounding rock.

This well is especially sensitive to seismic signals, and regularly responds to big quakes around the world. Here is the water level tracing from today's quake. The Tonga quake is the big blip at the right end of the trace.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Phenomena

Maryland astronaut Ricky Arnold starts spacewalk

Ricky Arnold, the Maryland-born-and-raised former middle-and high-school teacher has begun his first spacewalk. Launched into space aboard the shuttle Discovery earlier this week, Arnold is busy NASAthis afternoon attaching the final truss segment on the International Space Station. Later, he and astronaut Steve Swanson will install the fourth and final pair of ISS solar panels on the truss.

Right out of the hatch, Arnold marveled at his view of the moon high overhead, but he went quickly to work.

You can watch the spacewalk live on NASA TV. Click here.

As they worked, the ISS passed over Europe not long after sunset there. Satellite observer Leo Barhorst watched it fly over Holland. Here's his report, from the SeeSat discussion group:

"Just saw ISS and the shuttle making a beautifull pass.

"It passed above Sirius (alpha CMA) and was just a bright, but more yellower.

"When it moved to the east ISS became brighter and was brighter than Venus shining low in the west.

"Before it would disappear behind houses ISS entered shadow."

UPDATE: 6:30 p.m. The truss is installed and the new solar arrays have begun to unfurl. Mission accomplished. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

90 percent of Maryland now "abnormally dry"


The dry conditions that have been creeping northward across Maryland this winter have finally engulfed the Baltimore region, and now encompass the entire state west of Allegany County.

The weekly Drought Monitor map, released Thursday morning, shows that conditions in almost 90 percent of the state are now classified as "abnormally dry." This is the most extensive area to be so classified since the fall of 2007, as the state's last major drought began to wane. No part of the state is yet considered to be experiencing drought conditions.

As recently as Feb. 3, the Drought Monitor map showed normal moisture across 100 percent of Maryland's territory. Today, Baltimore's reservoirs are reported to be in good shape, but Maryland streamflow is at or near record low levels for this time of year. Only about an inch of melted precipitation has fallen at BWI since Feb. 1. The airport has not seen a rainfall surplus since September.

The Drought Monitor map combines a variety of measurements to classify regions affected by dry weather and drought. They include measurements of soil moisture, temperature, streamflow, precipitation and the health of vegetation as measured by satellite imagery.

By "abnormally dry," the drought map refers to short-term dryness that may slow planting and growth of crops or pasturelands. Fire risk is above average.

The dry conditions in Maryland prevail at the northeastern end of a large arc of the country - from the West Coast through Texas to Florida and the mid-Atlantic states - now experiencing dry conditions or drought of varied intensity.

The 7-day forecast for Baltimore shows only showers today, amounting to less than a tenth of an inch, followed by dry weather at least through the middle of next week.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:21 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drought

Showery cold front passing by


This morning's sunshine was the end of the sunny, springlike weather for today. The showers and clouds that are moving across the region now mark the cold front that will usher in cooler, more March-like weather and, by tomorrow, a return to sunny skies. Here's the regional radar loop.

Forecasters out at Sterling say we have already seen the day's highs. We made it to 56 degrees here at The Sun, but the mercury has already turned downward as the sun vanished and clouds moved in. And the barometer as curved upward again. We'll slide into the 40s this afternoon and the wind will turn and become northerly as the colder air moves in. Showers won't amount to nearly enough - less than a tenth of an inch.

But it will be all uphill from here. Tomorrow, the first day of the northern spring, will be the coldest day of the next seven, with a high only in the upper 40s, well below the seasonal norms. The overnight lows this weekend will drop into the upper 20s to near freezing. But the sun will be back and stick around right through Wednesday of next week. Temperatures will rise gradually into the mid-50s this weekend to the low 60s by mid-week.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

March 18, 2009

First hurricane forecast for 2009 is out

The official start of the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season is still two and a half months away, but the first spring forecast - this one from - is out today.

Joe Bastardi, chief long-range forecaster for the private weather service, says he expects fewer storms to develop this year compared with 2008. And fewer of the storms that do pop up, he says, will make landfall in the U.S.

Sun Photo/David Hobby/Isabel 2003That's not to say it will be a quiet year. Bastardi is still looking for an "active" season compared with long-term averages. But if he's right, it should be a slower hurricane season than we saw last year.

"This year's forecast shows only half as many impacts on the United States as there were last year," he said in a release. "But keep in mind, it only takes one major hurricane hitting a highly populated area to have a devastating impact." (That's flooding in Maryland from Isabel in 2003 at left.)

Bastardi is forecasting a total of 13 named storms in 2009, down from the 16 recorded in 2008 and close to the long-term average. Of those 13 storms, he expects 8 will reach hurricane force (the same as last year) but only 2 will become "major" (Cat. 3 or higher) storms.

Only four storms would reach the U.S. coast, if Bastardi's estimates prove accurate. That's half as many as made it last season. He says three of those would make landfall as hurricanes, and one would strike at Cat. 3 or higher - one more than last year.

The hurricane forecast calls for "probably less" activity this year in the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico compared with 2008, but "probably more" activity in the western Atlantic, closer to the U.S. East Coast.

Bastardi has been predicting for years that the East Coast is overdue for a major hurricane. He believes the conditions of the atmosphere and the ocean today are analogous to those in the early 1950s, a decade of major East Coast storms.

"I think along the Eastern Seaboard that we're getting into that period that was right up their alley [in the '50s]," he says in the AccuWeather interview linked below. "In the 1950s, the roadmap of hurricanes was up the East Coast ... We're in the '50s now." NWS

Among the factors Bastardi considered in reaching his forecast estimates:

* A shift, in the mid-to-late portion of the season - from a weak La Nina to a weak El Nino in the tropical Pacific Ocean. El Nino events - above-average warming of the surface waters of the eastern and central tropical Pacific - are associated with decreased hurricane activity in the Atlantic. 

* Stronger easterly trade winds off northern Africa. These winds typically carry dry air and dust out over the hurricane nursery region of the Atlantic, suppressing development.

* Cooler water in the "deep tropical Atlantic." This, he says, could lead to reduced activity and intensity of Atlantic storms

* Continuation of a multi-decadal pattern - established in 1995 - that leads to higher-than average hurricane activity overall.

For a video presentation of Bastardi's forecast, click here.

Stay tuned for the annual forecasts from the Colorado State University team of Phil Klotzbach and William Gray, due out in April, and the official government prediction, in May. The season opens June 1 and lasts through the end of November.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:39 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Hurricanes

Showers Thursday, great weekend ahead

Once this fog and overcast burn off, forecasters say, we should have a mostly sunny day with temperatures rising well into the 60s. With the bulbs coming up, and the willows starting to blush, it almost feels like spring, which arrives officially Friday morning around daybreak. I expect to hear USGSthe spring peepers any day now. In fact, they're late. Anyone hearing them yet?

That's not to say we're not going to have some crisp mornings ahead. There's a cold front headed this way. It will slide across the region Thursday, preceded by increasing clouds, a rising chance for showers tomorrow and cooler temperatures - only in the 50s Thursday and Friday.

But behind the cold front there is clear sailing ahead. Skies will clear Friday and stay that way into next week. Temperatures will rise out of the 50s as we get into a southwest flow around the new high, and settle around 60 degrees for the weekend. That's about 5 degrees above the averages for this time of year at BWI.

But we're not done with chilly weather entirely. The overnight lows Friday into Saturday, and Saturday into Sunday are predicted to dip into the 20s as winds calm and clear skies allow heat accumulated during the day to radiate back into space.

March is a time for temperature and weather extremes as the sun moves north and rapidly warming sub-tropical air collides with still-cold arctic air. Here is roundup of what we've already seen just this month:

March 2:  Record daily snowfall set: 4.7 inches, breaking the previous record for the date of 3.7 inches set in 1969.

March 3: Record low temperature for the date - 10 degrees, breaking the previous record of 12 degrees, set in 1925.

March 8: The low temperature of 54 degrees set a new record high minimum for the date. 

March 8: Record temperature range over 5 days tied - 68 degrees. The mercury at BWI rose from 8 degrees on Mar. 4 to 76 degrees on Mar. 8. That tied the record set March 8-12, 1990, when the temperature rose from 18 degrees to 86 degrees.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:04 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Forecasts

Which weather event kills the most Americans?

Nope. It's not tornadoes. Not even hurricanes, at least not their high winds. It's flooding. And more than half of those flooding deaths occur when people try to drive through high water.

Sun Photo/Gene Sweeney 2004The National Weather Service has declared this week to be Flood Awareness Week. Not that we've had enough rain since September to flood a street. But we will again, someday.

For now, as a public service, we are posting the weather service's  renewed warning to us all: Turn Around. Don't Drown. (That's TADD. Government loves acronyms.)  Here goes:











Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Flooding

March 17, 2009

"Optimism bias" could kill you

Sun Photo/Karl Merton Ferron, La Plata 2002The National Weather Service is turning to social science research to figure out why people don't take their severe weather warnings seriously enough, fast enough.

A recent review on the forecast performance and public response during a severe tornado outbreak last year found that the weather warnings were issued in plenty of time for people to take shelter - 17 minutes on average. And there had been days of weather broadcasts about the potential for deadly storms before they finally materialized.

But 57 people died anyway, and 350 were injured. Property damage in the outbreak on Feb. 5-6, 2008 came to $400 million.

It was the second-deadliest rash of tornadoes on record in the U.S. A total of 82 twisters swept through nine Southern states. (The photo at right is from the 2002 tornado in La Plata, Md.)

In reviewing the aftermath, the NWS found that two-thirds of the people who died were in mobile homes, and 60 percent did not have access to a basement or a storm shelter. Some of the survivors interviewed said they discounted the danger because they didn't consider February to be part of the traditional "tornado season." Others said they spent time trying to confirm the tornado warning, and sought shelter only after they saw the funnel cloud coming.

Many others, the report said, minimized the danger they were in due to what sociologists call "optimism bias" - the tendency to be over-optimistic about the outcome of one's plans. Or, put another way, it's the belief that bad things only happen to "other people." That reminds me of the comment reporters often hear from survivors of violent crime or violent weather - "You read about these things happening to other people, but you never think it will happen to you."

Well, it can, and it does.

The post-storm assessment team recommended that the NWS improve the wording and "call-to-action" statements in their warnings to "more effectively convey the urgency and danger of the message. The agency will also continue using social science research ... to further understand people's interpretation of and response to severe weather situations and to improve public response..."

Perhaps that led to the language in the memorable warning issued last September when Hurricane Ike was approaching Galveston, Texas, with a predicted 20-foot storm surge:

"Persons not heeding evacuation orders in singe-family, one- or two-story homes will face certain death," it said.

The storm surge wasn't quite that high, but it swept parts of the Texas coast clear, and dozens of people died. More vanished. Here's Bolivar Beach:

National Weather Service/Houston-Galveston office

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:22 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Research

Hubble captures rare Saturn transit

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope last month captured a rare moment as four of Saturn's moons passed in front of the planet (as seen from Earth) within a short period of time.

The moons - Titan Mimas, Enceladus and Dione - each cast their own shadows onto the planet's gassy cloud tops as they drift past. Here's more on the event and the photos.

NASASaturn's iconic rings appear very narrow. They are approaching a period of edge-on orientation relative to Earth, when they all but disappear from view. They will be precisely edge-on on Aug. 10 and again on Sept. 4. It's something that occurs once every 14 or 15 years, and it's called a ring-plane crossing.

These transits of Saturn's moons across the planet's disk tend to occur during these ring-plane crossings because most of the moons orbit in the same plane as the rings. 

The images were shot by Hubble on Feb. 24, when Saturn was about 775 million miles from Earth. The Hubble folks have assembled views of Saturn into a video of the transits.

Pale yellow Saturn is visible in Maryland skies on clear nights this month. Just past opposition - its closest approach to Earth this year and the best time for a look through a telescope - it is rising in the east around 7 p.m. and is high in the southeast at midnight.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures

Sunshine's coming; a sip of rain Thursday

Once these overcast skies burn off today we should be looking at a pleasant, sunny March afternoon as dewpoints finally drop and drier air moves in. Tomorrow will be even better, with more sunshine and afternoon highs well into the 60s, if not 70.

There is a bit of rain in the forecast for late Wednesday and Thursday as another cold front pushes through to deliver a cool, clear weekend.

But don't look for any relief from this dry weather. The showers they're forecasting from Sterling are chancy, produced by what they expect will be a "weakening" band of precipitation along the frontal boundary as it heads for the coast.

So far this month we've recorded just 0.62 inch of rain, and only 0.12 for the past two weeks. We have another two weeks to make this up, of course. But if it were to continue, March 2009 could rank among the three driest Marches since record-keeping began in Baltimore in 1871.

March 2004:  0.18 inch

March 1910:  0.46 inch

March 1966:  0.93 inch

March 1986:  0.96 inch

March 1987:  0.99 inch

This dry weather in March, of course, follows what was the driest February on record for Baltimore. Only 0.26 inch of melted precipitation was recorded at the airport, breaking the previous record of 0.36 inches set in February 2002.

In fact, Baltimore hasn't had a monthly rain surplus since September. But the conditions at BWI may be a better reflection of what's been happening south and west of Baltimore in recent months. That's where Maryland's driest conditions exist this winter.

North of the city, where the region's three reservoirs draw their reserves, things have been closer to normal. (See below) And Kurt Kocher, spokesman for the city's water system, says the water on hand amounts to almost 92 percent of capacity, "pretty average" for this time of year. Prettyboy is full, he said; Loch Raven is almost so, and Liberty Reservoir stands at 86 percent of capacity.

For now, those of us on city water remain in good shape. Another tip of the hat to Abel Wolman and the other founders of Baltimore's water system who had the foresight to ensure stable water supplies for populations no one else in their day could have imagined.


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

March 16, 2009

Forecast improving for space station flyby Tuesday

Our skies will be clearing off by Tuesday evening - just in time for Marylanders to get a fine view of the International Space Station as it flies high over Baltimore. The flyby begins at 7:39 p.m. EDT, only about two hours after the shuttle Discovery is scheduled to pull up alongside the ISS and dock. NASA

UPDATE: Tuesday 5 p.m. Here's a picture of the pair just before they docked, snapped from Holland.

The Discovery crew of seven includes Maryland native and former Waldorf science teacher Richard Arnold (right). There are three crew members aboard the ISS, for a total of 10 humans zipping up the Eastern seaboard, passing 220 miles over Baltimore at a speed of 17,500 mph. Imagine Arnold's two daughters looking up and seeing Dad soaring over like a star!

Look for the ISS and Discovery to appear above the southwest horizon at 7:39 p.m., like a bright, moving star, rivaling Venus in its brilliance. It will be barely 25 minutes after sunset in Baltimore, so the sky will still be quite bright. But observers should have little difficulty spotting the station, which wiNASA/artists concept ll be reflecting the light from the just-set sun.

From there it will fly very close to the bright star Aldebaran, the reddish "eye" of Taurus the Bull, which may or may not be visible in the dusk. It will move close (86 degrees) to the zenith - (90 degrees) straight up - at 7:42 p.m.

Then it's off toward the northeast, passing just beneath the bowl of the Big Dipper before disappearing at 7:46 p.m. Those stars may not be visible, either, depending on where you are.

With luck, Discovery will be slow, and late in pulling up beside the ISS. That would give us an opportunity to see the two objects as separate dots of light - one brighter (ISS), the other dimmer (Discovery). I've seen that twice, and it's quite a spectacle.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

Me mudder says: More Leprechaun spit


That's what we used to call this gray, cool, drizzly weather. It was just like Ireland out there for the St. Patrick's Day parade yesterday, only warmer. Last time we were in Eire, we had to buy wool sweaters, wool caps and scarves to stay warm. And I threw in a (green) rubber coat to stay dry. And it was June! No wonder they invented pubs. And Guinness.

Anyway, we're in for another day of this stuff. Forecasters out at Sterling have little faith we'll even top 50 degrees today. (The average high for a March 16 in Baltimore is 54 degrees.) Rain moves into the region tonight, with as much as a quarter-inch possible. You can see the moisture pouring in on this satellite image loop of water vapor.

Sun Photo/Barbara Haddock TaylorThe dampness and fog may be slow to depart tomorrow east of the mountains. But things will begin to clear out as low pressure finally drifts off the southeast coast and high pressure moves in behind it.

Temperatures tomorrow should begin to rise through the 50s as the mid-March sunshine begins to work its magic. And as the high settles in, the southwest flow will push temperatures on Wednesday toward the 70s, in sunshine. 

But that breath of spring will be brief. There will be a cold front close behind the high. That will mean more showers late Wednesday into Thursday, and temperatures will sink back into the 50s - though they will remain above average for the season.

Then, finally, the weather clears behind the front, giving us cool but sunny weather into the weekend. Best days for being outdoors? Wednesday, if you can get it off (near 70 and sunny), and Sunday (58 and mostly sunny).

The leprechaun in the photo? That's 17-month-old Kyleigh Musick, of Parkton, with her friend Donna Steinmentz, of Lancaster, Pa., at yesterday's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Baltimore.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:04 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

March 13, 2009

Snow dusts Southern Maryland; rainy weekend ahead

Maybe this was our Farewell to Winter storm. Parts of St. Mary's, Calvert, Charles and Prince George's counties reported a dusting to a half-inch of snow on unpaved surfaces this morning as a weak storm drifted across the Carolinas and bumped into the dome of cold air to the north.

 Here is the radar loop. Here are some of the reports from the NWS and CoCoRaHS::

Park Hall, St. Mary's County:  0.8 inch

Waldorf:  0.5 inch

White Plains:  0.3 inch

Salisbury:  0.3 inch

Solomons:  0.2 inch

Lusby:  0.1 inch

There was a bit of snow in the air behind the White House TV reporters this morning. But the best this disturbance could manage across the region was 3 inches in Pendleton County in West Virginia's eastern panhandle. Hightown, in Highland County, Va., reported 3.5 inches.

Temperatures will remain well below normal, with rain for the weekend. Pretty dreary. Good for reading or sitting in a pub. And we won't break out of it until mid-week. Forecasters see a high near 60 degrees on Wednesday.

I think we should hang up the snow shovels for the year; we're through with winter. What we need now is a long, hard rain. And forecasters at Sterling are giving us a 40 percent chance of rain Saturday and Sunday. No good for the St. Patrick's Day Parade, but whatever we get - and they're calling for less than an inch - should be very welcome. BWI has had barely 3 inches since New Year's Day.

Looks like Prof. Foot's prediction of surprise delays for school openings in Southern Maryland today fell short. But there were a few late openings out in west-central Virginia - Nelson, Rappahannock and Page county schools, according to Steve Zubrick, the science officer at Sterling.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:18 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather

March 12, 2009

Too far north for snow ?

So there are a few snowflake icons in tonight's Baltimore forecast this morning. That was unexpected. But the morning discussion out of the Sterling forecast office doesn't seem to support the idea that any of those flakes will make it this far north. Southern Maryland may be another story. Here's the deal:

High pressure is building into our region,. The clockwise circulation around the east side of the high is the reason we're feeling these chilly winds out of the north. Today's high probably won't reach 50 degrees.

Sun Photo/Amy Davis 1997At the same time, there's plenty of moisture tracking along with the jet stream at the southern boundary of the big dome of cold air. Where that moisture gets high enough and collides with the cold air being dragged south by the high, there could be light snow.

Forecasters at Sterling aren't sure yet about the details, but they seem to feel any accumulating snow tonight will stay in the southern and western portions of their forecast area, namely central Virginia and Southern Maryland. It's less likely to get into the District of Columbia and the Shenandoah Valley. There is no mention of points north, including Baltimore. Here's how the Hazardous Weather Outlook reads this morning:


Not everyone is persuaded that the snow won't be felt in the Baltimore region. Here's Dr. Foot's forecast. He's hinting at some surprise school delays tomorrow morning. At, Elliot Abrams figures anything that does reach Baltimore won't stick (or "lay," if you're a native.)

Looking farther out, to Sunday and Monday, forecasters do see a 30 percent chance for badly needed showers as a weak storm sets up off the Georgia coast and tracks toward the northeast. The rain is rated as only "moderate." We could use plenty more. The Drought Monitor map out this morning still shows 73 percent of the state is "abnormally dry." There's no change from last week, but the percentage is up from zero on Jan. 1.

How does the water level in Liberty Reservoir look? Anyone have any pictures? 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

March 11, 2009

Dry weather digs in

People who make their living from the soil, and those who depend on well water, are watching the skies this month, wondering when the rains will return.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that January and February of this year were the driest first-two-month period in the 114-year record for precipitation in the contiguous states.

That follows what was the fifth-driest December-January period on record. Texas had its driest winter ever and the Southeast had its 10th driest. And at the end of February, 24 percent of the lower 48 states was in moderate to exceptional drought.

Here in Maryland, conditions vary across the state. At BWI, we are running 6.25 inches behind the average pace of precipitation since Oct. 1. Barely three-quarters of an inch of melted precipitation has fallen since Feb. 1.

The Drought Monitor map released last week showed 73 percent of the state was experiencing abnormally dry conditions. That was up from zero percent on Jan. 1.

We are at the northeastern fringes of a dry/drought region that stretches from Texas and the southern Plains region, across the Gulf Coast and up the Eastern Seaboard. The eastern center of drought is in the western portions of the Carolinas and northern Georgia. Much of California and the Great Basin are also seeing drought conditions this winter.


Streamflow across Maryland is approaching record-low volumes for this time of year. And we're just part of a vast swath of territory from Texas to New Jersey that is reporting such conditions. Just to our north, however, communities that have been in the path of this winter's storm track are reporting record-high streamflow (black on the streamflow map in the previous link).

If you're not a fish, you may not be concerned about stream flow volumes. But that's a reflection of the reservoir recharge that depends heavily on winter precipitation. It's also a proxy for recharge of the water table from which many Marylanders draw their residential drinking water. Those levels have also been falling since Feb. 1, at least in northern and western portions of the state. (In Calvert, where the heaviest snow fell last week, wells seem to be doing fairly well.) Here's a monitoring well in Frederick:


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:51 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Drought

March 10, 2009

When the weather has no sizzle

These are the times that try men's souls. Weathermen, anyhow. The single-digit cold, the record snows, the rumors of snow and even the obscure records breaking - those are the things that keep the weather news clicking. But that was last week.

This week, we've had some stiff breezes, but today even those have died away. Now we're looking at a couple of days with "a slight chance of showers," and temperatures loitering near the averages for this time of year in Baltimore. Where is the juice? Where is the adrenalin?

NOAANope. Not this week. The storm centers are passing through the Great Lakes into Canada, to our north and west, leaving us with a couple of days of vague shower forecasts, as fronts tied to those lows drag past without doing very much. 

Today it's a warm front, (red on the map)headed north to the Mason Dixon Line with plenty of clouds and moisture. That's what snuffed out this morning's sunshine. It will mean warmer highs tomorrows - in the upper 60s - but with clouds and a 40 percent chance of showers.

The clouds will obscure the rising tonight of the Worm Moon, also known to our forebears as the Lenten Moon, Sap Moon or Crow Moon - the third full moon since the winter solstice.

Then a cold front (blue) sweeps through late Wednesday into Thursday. That will chase off the showers and drop daytime highs to the 50s on Thursday. Friday will be even colder - 40s - as the high pressure builds in, but also what the weather service calls "much more quiet weather conditions and near seasonal temps through the end of the week."

Ho hum. Maybe I'll go watch reruns of the 1962 Ash Wednesday storm.

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

March 9, 2009

Weather changes may trigger your headaches

AP Photo/Dave Hammond 

People have been blaming the weather for their aches and pains for centuries. Some claim they can forecast the weather in their hips or knees. Other scoff. Now, science suggests some of these people may be on to something.

Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, in Boston, say higher temperatures and low barometric pressure do indeed seem to set off migraine, tension and other severe headaches. Their results appear in the March 10 issue of the journal Neurology. (That's Oakland Athletics player Rickey Henderson, above, coping with a migraine that took him out of a game against the Orioles in July 1994.)

In what they describe as the first large-scale investigation of this weather lore, the Boston investigators looked at the medical records of more than 7,000 patients who visited the emergency room at the medical center between May 2000 and December 2007, and who were discharged with diagnoses of migraine, tension or unspecified headaches.

Then they looked at measurements of average air temperature, barometric pressure, humidity - as well as several measures of air pollution prior to those hospital visits, again on the same days of the week before or after their hospital visits during the same calendar month.

The idea that environmental factors can trigger migraine headaches is not new. Certain foods - such as aged wine and cheese - alcohol, stress and hormonal changes have long been recognized as headache "triggers." And some patients have long associated their maladies with changes in the weather.

"But none of these [weather factors] have been consistently verified. We wanted to find out if we could verify this clinical folklore. We also wanted to determine whether air pollutants trigger headaches, much as they have been found to trigger strokes," said Dr. Kenneth Mukamal, the study's lead author.

His findings revealed no significant impact from air pollutants, or from humidity. But higher average air temperatures in the 24 hours before these patients sought hospital care was the single factor most closely correlated with the headaches. Headache patients in the study had a 7.5 percent higher risk of suffering a severe headache for each increase of 9 degrees Fahrenheit.

That isn't a large increased risk compared to exposure to certain foods, or other potential migraine "triggers," and it may not be an important consideration in the way these patients are treated, Mukamal acknowledges in the paper. But the fact that everyone is exposed to the weather, while only a fraction would be exposed to other triggers, the public health impact of higher temperatures would likely be much greater. 

Also significant, but less so, were changes in air pressure. Changes in pressure didn't seem to be a factor, but lower barometric pressures 48 to 72 hours prior to the ER visits also seemed to correlate best with the severe headache symptoms that followed.

The study had some limitations, the authors agreed. They relied on regional weather data, not readings for each patient, so their personal exposures were not recorded. They also knew when the patients appeared at the hospital, but could not say when the patients'  headaches began. 

Nevertheless, "these findings help tell us that the environment around us does affect our health and, in terms of headaches, may be impacting many, many people on a daily basis," Mukamal said.

Still unclear is how this happens. "[Higher] temperature has a host of physiological effects, including lower blood pressure," Mukamal said in an email message. "How those lead to headache is uncertain, but we don't understand the full mechanisms behind headaches at this point, so hopefully this will point us in new directions." 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:00 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Science

Kite weather

If only I didn't have to be here on the inside looking out, I might be in a park somewhere today, with a kite. This would appear to be perfect March kite weather, with sunny skies, highs in the 60s and sustained winds predicted to be around 20 mph. Gusts could reach 45 to 50 mph, forecasters Sun Photo/Jed Kirschbaum March 10, 2006say.

In fact, the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling has posted a Wind Advisory north of Baltimore until 4 p.m. today. That means wind gusts from 46 to 57 mph are possible, enough to make driving difficult, especially for high-profile vehicles. (Not to mention little ones, like mine.)

There's also a gale warning on the northern part of the Chesapeake and small craft advisories across the mid-bay and the tidal Potomac River. 

And, with humidities dropping rapidly, the wind will also pose a increased fire danger today, forecasters warned. So use your ashtray. (I've always been tempted, at red lights, to get out of my car and toss those still-smoking butts back INTO the car in front of me when the driver tosses it to the curb. But I've always thought twice about that idea, which may be why I'm still here.)

Where was I?

Okay, so aside from the wind, we're looking at a fine day today, with a high near 63, which is more than 10 degrees above the long-term average for this time of year in Baltimore. But cooler weather and a series of showers come next Tuesday and Wednesday as several storm systems pass by to our north and west.

Cold fronts moving by in the wake of these disturbances will bring back sunny skies by Thursday and Friday, with unseasonably cold air, in the upper 40s by day and dipping to freezing at night. The weekend, at least, looks pleasant, with sunny skies and highs in the 50s.

So, how about the week just past? From the low of 8 degrees early on Wednesday we climbed to a high of 76 degrees at BWI by Sunday afternoon. That's a 68-degree spread in just four days. Hard to calculate how rare that is, but the largest temperature spread on a single calendar date in Baltimore was 48 degrees on April 1, 1978 - from 40 degrees to 88 degrees.

Note to readers: The usual links to data tables and weather maps are missing here this morning because the NWS Web site is experiencing difficulties. I will paste them in when they become available.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:13 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Forecasts

March 8, 2009

Another record threatened in Baltimore

The overnight low at BWI-Marshall this morning was a balmy (for March) 60 degrees, just after midnight. Temperatures have been rising ever since, and will take a long time falling tonight. That puts another record at risk.

This time it's the record high minimum for March 8 - the warmest low temperature for any March 8 on the books since record-keeping began here in 1871. Here's how science officer Steve Zubrick, out at the Sterling forecast office, put it to me in an email this morning:

"FYI...if our forecast for BWI holds...looks like we have a shot at breaking the record Hi-min for today...March 8.

"The current record is 52F (2000). The overnight low at BWI was 60F...and our hourly temperature forecast grids only drop to 58 by midnight tonight (Sun night).

UPDATE: The low temperature for March 8 at BWI was 54 degrees, setting a new record high minimum for the date.

"Tomorrow's record Hi-min of 56F set in 1921 appears safe...again if our forecast is good...temps should be falling sharply tomorrow (Mon) evening and into the overnight as the stationary front to the north sags south of the Balt. metro area. late Mon.

"Steve Z
SOO-NWS WFO Sterling"

Cool! Or is it "Warm!" ?

It's already been a month of extremes - on both ends of the thermometer, and in less than a week. We toppled the record low for a March 3 at BWI (10 degrees, breaking the 12-degree mark set in 1925); and the snowfall record for any March 2 (4.7 inches, besting the 3.7-inch mark set in 1969.)

Today's forecast high is 71 degrees. We've already reached 70, but there's little chance we'll break the high-temperature record for the date - 83 degrees, set in 2000).

But busting the record high minimum looks like an easy target. The mark - 52 degrees - is the lowest record minimum still standing for March.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: By the numbers

March 6, 2009

Bay keeps Annapolis in the fridge

The impact of the Chesapeake Bay on local weather has never been more apparent than it is this afternoon. As temperatures rise into the 60s and 70s across the region, the mercury is stuck at 45 degrees in Annapolis, as of the 3 p.m. reading.

The Annapolis reading comes from the U.S. Naval Academy, which is right on the Severn River where it enters the bay. Water temperature at the Thomas Point Light is 38 degrees.

Glenn L. Martin Airport, on Middle River, is reporting a chilly 54 degrees, even as BWI chimes in at 64 degrees. The Sun's station at Calvert and Centre streets read 65 at 3 p.m..

Here is a list of 3 p.m. readings from across the region:

Washington National: 64 degrees

Dulles International:  67 degrees

BWI:  64 degrees

Charolottesville, Va.:  70 degrees

Fredericksburg, Va.:  66 degrees

Winchester, Va.:  73 degrees

Annapolis:  45 degrees

Hagerstown:  71 degrees

Martin Airport:  54 degrees

Martinsburg, W. Va.:  71 degrees.

Baltimore Sun:  65 degrees

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

A taste of spring; a rumor of snow

Sun Photo/David Hobby March 10, 2006 

That's March for you. Temperatures have been climbing daily this week, headed for a pleasant weekend in the upper 60s and low 70s. What's left of the snow and ice is surely doomed. But the folks out in Sterling still couldn't resist reminding us that winter has not yet left the continent. More on that in a minute.

First the good news. That big ol' high-pressure system has moved off to the east, but it continues to pump warm, moist air up from the Southwest. That puts us in the path of a warm front that will pass through the region today, driving temperatures noticeably higher. We should be looking at a high this afternoon around 60 degrees. The clouds that moved in this morning are a signal of that warmer, wetter air mass. But they should break a bit this afternoon after the front gets by, warming things even more.

Forecasters think the cold front that would normally follow the warm front will stall to our north, leaving us to enjoy a southwesterly flow and continued warm weather on Saturday and Sunday, with highs near 70 Saturday and perhaps in the mid-70s Sunday.

By late Sunday, however, the front is expected to get moving again, dropping across the region with some showers. Next week looks like it will be cooler than the weekend, but still mild for this time of year, with showers forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday.

But then another cold front clears the slate. We'll return to more seasonable temperatures, and computer models foresee a new Great Plains storm racing across the southern U.S. and intensifying off the southeast coast. Says Sterling:

"If the former verifies ... another round of snow will be possible over portions of the forecast area late next week."

You knew it was too good to last.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:43 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Winter weather

March 5, 2009

Temperature marches higher

 From the record low of 10 degrees reached on Monday, the mercury at BWI-Marshall is headed for a balmy 73 degrees in sunshine by Sunday. If the forecast from Sterling holds up, it will be the highest temperature reading at the airport since Nov. 15, when we also topped out at 73 degrees.

MODIS.DNRSince then, BWI has seen the 70s only once - back on Feb. 11 when the instruments there reported a high of 70. 

The weather patterns responsible for the warmup include the huge high-pressure system that moved in after Monday's snowstorm (left).

As that high moves eastward, we come increasingly into the return flow around the back (west) side of the clockwise circulation. And that pumps warmer, wetter air into the region from the South.

So, we can expect to reach the 40s in Baltimore today, the 50s on Friday, 60s on Saturday, and the 70s on Sunday.

As it happens, that's exactly the day West Virginia forecaster Jim Hughes predicted, on an online weather forum Feb. 17, would reach the 70s. Bullseye.

After Sunday's warmth, the next cold front, with some accompanying showers on Sunday night, clears the decks and sends us back to more seasonable temperatures next week.

Those of us living along the water may not get the full benefit of this warmup. Winds off the still-cold Chesapeake or the Atlantic may well hold down temperatures in places like Annapolis, at least by a few degrees.  The Ocean City high on Sunday may stall out in the 50s.

Whatever rain we get from the next cold front will be welcome. The new Drought Monitor map is out this morning. It shows the region of "abnormally dry" conditions is spreading northward, and now encompasses 73 percent of the state. That said, the map is based on conditions on Tuesday, so it may not fully incorporate the benefit from Monday's snow, which is still melting.

Here's what Jim Hughes predicted about this week, back on Feb. 18:

"I firmly believe that we are going to see a significant warming trend developing in the east after the first few days in March. This trend should last at least one week and this will show up in the temperature anomaly average for the below stated time period.

"I think this warming trend is to occur between March 3rd - 10th. I am expecting to see at least one 70-75 degree day, (Or +15 mean anomaly) , and I wouldn't rule out two, or even a high close to 80 degrees.

"I am also expecting to see at least two daily +10 mean anomaly days. And the overall temperature average for this eight day period should end up being at least +5.0 (+40 cumulative). And this could be a conservative call. I am going to use the three local airports in the Baltimore - Washington area as a measuring stick but I expect this warming trend to be seen elsewhere around the east coast.

"If I had to pick a specific day for the warmest temperature. It would be March 8th."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:22 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Forecasts

March 4, 2009

Photo gallery recalls "Ash Wednesday Storm"

Sun Photo/Clarence B. Garrett 

Nor'easters can do far more damage than merely burying Maryland in snow. On a Tuesday and Wednesday, March 6-7, 1962, one of the most intense coastal storms ever to strike Maryland - summer or winter - pounded the region with snow, wind and punishing surf. Ocean City suffered extensive damage and severe flooding as the ocean washed across the island.

Quickly dubbed "The Ash Wednesday Storm," the tempest was ranked as more violent than the 1933 hurricane that carved out the Inlet. Hotels and homes were demolished or floated away. Fires broke out. Private boat owners were asked to help evacuate 1,500 stranded residents.

That pile of rubble above is identified as the remains of the luxury Coronado apartment house at 47th Street. It collapsed in the third high tide, and most washed away in the fourth.

Chincoteague, to the south, was under six feet of water. Fenwick Island in Delaware, and Dewey Beach, too, were ravaged. Ocean City averaged 3 feet of water in the streets as two days of successive high tides under a new moon inundated the place. The boardwalk was torn from its pilings.

A Sun reporter told of OC resident Louise Garland, who was seated happily in front of her TV, munching cheese and crackers, when "a huge uprooted piling the size of a battering ram smashed open the front door and rode into the house on the crest of a wave that engulfed woman, TV set, stove and all the furniture." She would spend the night holding back the elements, wrapped in her drapes for warmth, until a boat took her out in the morning.

Sun librarian Paul McCardell has assembled a sobering photo gallery of the storm from The Sun's archives. It is a reminder to those who can recall those days - and perhaps a revelation to the many younger Marylanders who cannot - that the ocean can still rise up and squash what we build there. And it doesn't require a hurricane. 

Here's how the National Weather Service describes the storm. If you remember it, please share your memories in a comment.

March 5-9, 1962: The "Ash Wednesday Storm" was perhaps the most intense nor'easter of 20th century. It caused over 200 million dollars in property damage (1962 dollars) and major coastal erosion from North Carolina to Long Island, NY. The Red Cross estimated that 40 people died in the storm. In New Jersey alone, the storm severely damaged or destroyed 45,000 homes.

It hit during "Spring Tide" (sun and moon phase to produce a higher than normal tide). Water reached nine feet at Norfolk (flooding begins around five feet). Houses were toppled into the ocean and boardwalks were broken and twisted. The islands of Chincoteague and Assateague were completely underwater.

Ocean City, Maryland sustained major damage especially to the south end of the island. Winds up to 70 mph built 40-foot waves at sea. Heavy snow fell in the mountains to the west.

Big Meadows, southeast of Luray, recorded Virginia's greatest 24-hour snowfall with 33 inches and the greatest single storm snowfall with 42 inches. Frostburg, Maryland had 21 inches in 24 hours and Cumberland had over 17 inches. Baltimore had 13 inches of snow. Roads were blocked and electrical service was out for several days in some areas. Areas to the east of the bay fell into the mixed precipitation zone.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:37 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: History

Sidewalk dining by Sunday

Sun Photo/Nanine HartzenbuschSurely this white stuff, the ice and the single-digit thermometer readings were some sort of late-winter hallucination - a flu season fever-dream. 

The forecasters out at Sterling say the mercury will climb to 65 degrees on Sunday - back where it was last Friday. The sun will shine, and Daylight Saving Time will have resumed. And we will sit in some sidewalk cafe, sipping champagne late into the day, listening to the birdies tweet.

We will forget that it was only 8 degrees at BWI-Marshall this morning, just 3 degrees shy of the all-time record low for any day in March in Baltimore (set on this date in 1875). We will forget Monday's record snowfall (for the date), and the record-low reading of 10 degrees on the same morning. Let Sterling remember such things.

We will put behind us this pitiful winter, with its feeble 9.1 inches of snow - precisely half the 30-year average for Baltimore. We will think of snowdrops and jonquils and seed catalogs, and watch for the return of the robins and our 401Ks.

...And we will say Phooey! to those like Justin Roberti, at, who sent this bit of advice this morning:

"Don't put your winter clothes, snow brushes and shovels away just yet. Computer models are hinting at a see-saw weather pattern through the first part of April."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:35 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

March 3, 2009

Map of Monday's snowfall posted


The National Weather Service forecasters at Sterling have posted their map of actual (reported) snow totals from our Sunday/Monday snowfall. It's probably the most detailed tally to date of the storm, which I'll wager will be the deepest of this winter season. And you can compare it with the forecast map posted on Monday.

Or, you can compare it to the real deal, (below) snapped from orbit. Enjoy.

NASA Earth Observatory


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:34 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

Snow shoveling story omitted "Wovel"

Hell has frozen over, the cows have come home and Baltimore has had its first snowfall deeper than 5 inches since Feb. 11-12, 2006.

And happily, the story I wrote in December 2007 - about the physiology and hazards of snow shoveling - has finally run, albeit in a much shortened version from the original. It had been held since December 2007 - possibly a new record - in anticipation of the next snowfall deep enough to shovel. That snow - all 5.8 inches of it - finally arrived yesterday.

But as relieved as I am to see the piece in print, I mourn the loss of the last few paragraphs, which once included discussion of improved snow shovel designs, including one of the coolest snow-fighting gizmos I have encountered in a long time: The Wovel. Those paragraphs were lopped off by an editor some weeks ago as we were preparing the story to run in anticipation of another storm. The hole available in the next day's paper simply wasn't big enough to take the whole story as written.

In the end, the storm fizzled, and the story went back into storage, minus the Wovel. And that's Wovel/Structured Solutionsthe version that ran online Monday, and (even shorter) in the print editions today.

What's a Wovel? First, let me state that I have no financial interest in this thing. I do not own one; I have never used one, and I have spoken with the inventor and owner only once - in December 2007. Can't even remember his name.

But speaking as a science writer, a weather buff, chief shoveler in our household, and a lover of anything that reduces my physical exertions and risks of dropping dead in a snowbank, I think this thing is too cool for school.

Here, my friends, is the Wovel.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather

84-year-old cold temperature record falls

That crash you heard this morning all over Baltimore was the sound of another record falling. This morning's low of 10 degrees just before dawn at BWI-Marshall Airport was the coldest official reading on a March 3 since record-keeping began in 1871. It shattered the previous record of 12 degrees, last reached downtown on this date in 1925.

Sun Photo/Kenneth K. LamAnd if you were outside in the wind for any length of time this morning, you appreciated just how cold that was. It's just not supposed to feel that bitterly cold in March.

And we're not likely to see the wet side of freezing at all today. The forecast high is just 27 degrees. That, too, will see us flirting with a record. The coldest high temperature on record for a March 3 in Baltimore is 26 degrees, set on this date in 1960. 

Forecasters are calling for a low tonight of just 11 degrees. No record will be in jeopardy, however. It was just 5 degrees in Baltimore on March 4, 1873.

It's been quite a week for weather records in Charm City. On Saturday we set a new record low for precipitation in February - a mere .26 inch at BWI. On Monday we set a new record for snowfall on a March 2 in Baltimore - 4.7 inches. That beat the previous record of 3.7 inches set back in 1969. There was 8.3 inches by 10 a.m. yesterday in Annapolis, where Sun photographer Ken Lam captured the image above.

Hate snow? Can't wait for spring? Well, have a look at this delightful gallery of snow photos from the Spruce Hill photo blog, and try to remember the magic.

Here are more snow tallies from across the region. And here are several interesting temperature readings around noon Eastern Time today: Jacksonville, Fla. - 50 degrees. Atlanta, Ga. - 37 degrees. Helena, Mont. - 44 degrees.

The good news is that we are headed up the slope toward more springlike weather by the weekend. We are under a very strong, very cold dome of high pressure. Highs circulate clockwise, so as this high moves east, we'll lose the cold northwest winds and come into the return flow of warmer breezes from the south by Wednesday. 

The forecast calls for daytime highs to reach 53 degrees by Friday, just above the normal high for this time of year at BWI. Saturday could reach 57 degrees, and Sunday could hit 60. (Who remembers it was 65 at the airport last Friday?)

We should be looking at sunshine throughout the period (and good stargazing, especially tonight), with no rain in the forecast until showers threaten on Monday. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:21 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: By the numbers

March 2, 2009

Calvert wins area snow derby

Snowmap.NWS.SterlingThe forecasters out at Sterling have posted their snow forecast map for accumulations from mid-day yesterday.

Looks like Calvert and St. Mary's counties top the actual tallies with 11-12 inches. Yesterday's Winter Storm Warning called for 6 to 10 inches. Not a bad call from the looks of this map.

Got this note from Science Officer Steve Zubrick:


Our official NWS total snowfall forecast from yesterday at noon. Port Republic, MD in Calvert Co. reported 11 and 12 inches from 2 observers there. Arlington VA had 2 reports of 8". Herndon VA (my house) in NW Fairfax Co had just over 6".

Steve Z

In case you missed it, BWI set a new record on Saturday: February 2009 was the driest February on record for Baltimore. Only 0.26 inch of precipitation fell during the month, breaking the old record of 0.36 inch, set in the drought year of 2002.

Another record was broken today. The 5.8 inches of snow that fell today broke the old record of 3.7 inches for the date, set back in 1969.

Today's snow will help put a little moisture back into the soil and the water table.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:46 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: By the numbers

Snow ending, but not yet

Sun Photo/Roylance

Looks like we got our snow. Here's the official forecast. They're talking about another surge of snow, particularly in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, before things wind down late this morning. But there doesn't seem to be much more en route, according to the radar loop.

Here are some NWS accumulation reports from around the region. (Note the times.) And more from volunteer observers.

Here is this morning's discussion from Sterling. And here's the Winter Storm Warning, which remains in effect until 2 p.m.

Let us hear from you, too. I'm especially curious about locations along the bay and south of Baltimore, where totals were supposed to reach 10 inches. Anybody seeing that much? We have 3-4 inches on the WeatherDeck. But it's still coming down.

Looking ahead, the forecasters out at Sterling are expecting a low around 13 degrees tonight at BWI Marshall as cold air continues to pour down from Canada behind the departing storm.  The record low for a March 3 in Baltimore is 12 degrees, set in 1925.

More later.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:15 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Winter weather

March 1, 2009

Snow begins in Va., Annapolis

There's no sign of it yet out on the WeatherDeck (at 6 p.m.), but light snow has begun falling in Virginia and Annapolis, according to the National Weather Service. Here's the radar loop. And snowflakes/NOAAhere's the report from Fredericksburg, Va., where it has been snowing since before 4 p.m.

There has been no significant change in the forecast since this morning's post.

The official forecast for BWI calls for 4 to 8 inches of snow at BWI tonight, with 5 to 9 in Annapolis. Frederick is slated for 3 to 7 inches. Salisbury on the Eastern Shore is in line for 2 to 4 inches. Everybody could get a bit more on Monday as the storm pulls away.

The band of heaviest snowfall with this storm will be quite narrow. But within that band the snow can be expected to be quite intense for several hours tonight, forecasters say, with as much as an inch an hour falling at times between 8 p.m. and 3 a.m. Here's abit of this afternoon's forecast discussion:


Here's on the storm. Their snowfall map still has central Maryland in the 3-to-6-inch range.

Let us know what you're seeing. Heck, it may be another three years before we see another decent snowfall in Baltimore.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:10 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Winter weather

Could it be? NWS forecasts 6 to 10 inches

If they're right, it would be the deepest snowfall for Baltimore in more than three years and a record total for the date. Here's the forecast.

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Warning for Central Maryland from 2 p.m. this afternoon until 2 p.m. Monday as an approaching low-pressure system  reaches the NOAA snowstormAtlantic coast, intensifies, and clashes with the cold air in place across the region. It covers everybody in Maryland from Frederick County east, and on up the coast through eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York City, southern New York and most of southern New England.

Here, the warning calls for 6 to 10 inches of snow before it all ends on Monday. (This morning's dusting came from a separate disturbance, but suggests that conditions are ripe for a snow event.) You can watch the temperature and barometer fall here, on The Sun's weather instruments at Calvert & Centre streets, as the storm approaches.

In contrast to the usual pattern, forecasters expect slightly deeper amounts to the south and east of the I-95 corridor, and lighter totals to the north and west.

Such a total would be the deepest for BWI since a 13-inch accumulation Feb. 11-12, 2006. Prof. Foot seems pretty juiced about this storm. Teachers and students will likely get a break. If we get more than 6 inches before midnight tonight, it will snap the 6-inch record for a March 1 in Baltimore, set in 1952. And if we top 3.7 inches on Monday, it will break a record set here on Mar. 2, 1969.'s snowmap hasn't changed since I last checked. But the NWS forecast would seem to shift the heavier now slightly north and west, including Baltimore more squarely in the heavier accumulations.

Here's this morning's discussion from Sterling. They expect that the heaviest snowfall will occur late today and tonight, followed by light-to-moderate snows tomorrow, with gustier winds blowing it around. Expect sharply colder temperatures Tuesday as winter drops back for a visit in the wake of last week's flirtation with spring.

Okay, readers? NOW what do you think? Fab snow or Flop?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:42 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Winter weather
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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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