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May 29, 2009

Orioles' rainbow

Amy GoniganOkay, so it was a great night for baseball, after all. Those boys have come alive at last. Here's a shot of the Luke Scott rainbow.

Thanks to reader Amy Gonigam, who caught it as it hung over The Sun building tonight.

Maybe it's a good omen for the newspaper, too.

Anybody else get a shot of the rainbow? Send it along and I'll post it. 

Friday's thunderstorms did some impressive damage down in southern Anne Arundel County, where powerful winds knocked mature hardwood trees onto several homes, dropped power lines and put out the lights for 15,000 thousand BGE customers.

The storm also toppled portions of a steeple on the City Temple Baptist Church on North Eutaw Street in Baltimore. The debris punched through the roof and caused more damage inside.

The thunderboomers dropped more than an inch of rain at BWI airport, bringing the total for May to 8.28 inches. That makes May 2009 the second-wettest since record-keeping began in Baltimore in 1871, and only the second time that May rainfall has topped 8 inches. The only wetter May in Baltimore was in 1989, when 8.71 inches fell at BWI.  

The forecast? Beautiful, at least until mid-week.

Here's another shot of the Luke Scott Rainbow, captured by Sun Photographer Karl Merton Ferron. Amazing! Here's Karl's caption:

"Gorgeous clouds and a faint rainbow hang over the ballpark as Baltimore Orioles designated hitter Luke Scott stands at the plate just before he hit a grand slam against the Detroit Tigers (the scoreboard that hangs in lower center image says two outs in the bottom of the third inning, Scott at bat with the count at 2 balls, one strike, and Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Dontrelle Willis on his 45th pitch) on the night of Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters's debut in front of 42,704 paid fans - over 15,000 sold since the announcement of Wieters being brought up - at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Friday, May 29, 2009. Scott hit his grand slam two pitches later, on a 2-2 count."

SUN PHOTO/Karl Merton Ferron 


Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:56 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cool pictures

Bad night for baseball

AP Photo/Gail Burton 2008 

UPDATE: Grand slam homer under a rainbow. Maybe it's a good night after all. Woo Hoo! 

Earlier: Not a great night to be at the ballpark. Baltimore remains under a flash flood watch, with a cold front marching through and wringing a lot of this moisture out of the atmosphere.

Here's the bad news:



The radar loop shows the bad stuff beginning to clear the area, slowly.

The good news is the front should move through, and begin to clear the skies and dry the air after 8 p.m. The temperature, which never got much above 70 degrees today, will turn toward a damp, chilly low of 64 degrees, with northwest winds 6 to 9 mph. 

Let's hope the game gets the green light and the O's heat things up.

UPDATE: But you already know this. Clouds are thinning and the game is underway.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

May 28, 2009

Same space station, twice the crew

When the International Space station flies over Baltimore Friday night, it may look the same to us as it did on Wednesday evening, but there will be twice as many eyeballs looking back down at NASA/Soyuz docks with ISS 2002us. Sometime around 8:30 a.m. Friday, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft (like the one at left), launched Wednesday, will dock with the station and unload the next three crew members to man the orbiting outpost. That will make six people on board.

NASA hopes the larger crew will enable additional scientific research aboard the station. With just three aboard, they spent most of their time just keeping the place going.   

If skies clear in time, the flyover will be almost as bright as Wednesday's pass, which was probably the brightest I've ever seen it in years of observations. The trajectory will be nearly the same as Wednesday's.

Watch for the ISS to appear above the northwest horizon at 8:37 p.m. EDT as it passes over Lake Michigan.

From there it will climb above the crescent moon and Saturn, lower in the southwest, rising nearly to the zenith (straight up) at 8:40 p.m. From there - high over Washington DC - it will slide off toward the southeast, disappearing far out over the Atlantic at 8:44 p.m.

If you see it, stop back here and leave us a comment.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:43 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

Season's first tropical depression off Hatteras


It is only a threat to sailors and fish, but it is a reminder that the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season is on our doorstep.

The National Hurricane Center says Tropical Depression 1 has formed in the Atlantic off the Carolina coast with top sustained winds of 35 mph. By Friday it could become the first named tropical storm of the new season, which opens officially on Monday. If so, it will be Tropical Storm Ana.

TD 1 is scooting off toward the northeast at a good clip, posing no threat to any land area. But you might not want to be on a boat in the region. I'm wondering how it is affecting the surf at Hatteras, or OC for that matter. Readers? Anyone at the beach?

Here's the advisory. Here's the forecast track map. And here's the view from orbit

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Hurricanes

May 27, 2009

Bright pass by space station tonight


If our skies stay clear this evening we may get a good look at the International Space Station as it flies directly over Baltimore en route from high over Lake Michigan to the Delmarva Peninsula and out to sea.

Look for a bright, star-like object to appear above the northwest horizon at 9:21 p.m. EDT. It will be moving briskly toward the southeast at an orbital speed of 17,500 mph. It will slip just beneath the cup of the Big dipper and pass almost exactly through the zenith (217 miles straight up) at 9:24 p.m. From there it will move southeastward, disappearing at 9:26 as it enters the Earth's shadow.

This is a very bright pass, so the ISS should be easily visible from urban locations, and even through thin clouds. Take the kids. If you see it, drop back here and leave us a comment.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:36 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Sky Watching

Tropical system brewing off Carolinas?


The chances seem small, but the National Hurricane Center is nevertheless watching a region of the Atlantic off the Carolinas that could spawn a tropical cyclone in the coming hours. You can see the swirl of clouds assembling in the satellite image above.

At the very least the low seems sure to pump more rain ashore. Here's the statement from the NHC issued Wednesday morning:


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

The wettest May 26

SUN PHOTO/Frank Roylance 

Lots of records broken on Tuesday as Gulf and Atlantic moisture continue to flow into the region and run up against the stalled cold front draped across the Northeast.

BWI recorded 2.28 inches yesterday, washing away the previous record for a May 26 - 1.72 inches, set way back in 2001.

There was a new record set, too, at Reagan National Airport. They received 1.65 inches, beating the old record of 1.49 inches set there in 2003. And out at Dulles International, they more than doubled the old record of 1.59 inches, set in 2002. The total at Dulles yesterday was 3.59 inches.

We have now erased the rainfall deficit accumulated since the first of the year at BWI. The year-to-date total is 17.95 inches, beating the long-term average of 16.68 inches. But we still trail last year's total of 19.78 inches through May 26.

There are no sunny days in the forecast until Saturday. But while we will likely see drizzle and showers and perhaps some thunderstorms for the rest of the work week, they are not likely to produce to sort of rain some of us saw yesterday.

The rain was spotty. Here are some of the heaviest totals from across the region:

   LAUREL 2.7 E          4.01   800 AM  5/26   COCORAHS
   SEVERN 2.0 W          3.35   700 AM  5/26   COCORAHS
   BALTO/WASH INTL       2.58   800 AM  5/26   METAR
   ODENTON 0.8 WSW       2.07   700 AM  5/26   COCORAHS

   WALDORF 3.2 SW        2.69   700 AM  5/26   COCORAHS

   BALTIMORE - CYLBUR    1.45   800 AM  5/26   COOP

   CLARKSVILLE           3.40   800 AM  5/26   COCORAHS 1.0SE
   LAUREL                2.90  1200 PM  5/26
   COLUMBIA 1.7 W        2.83   600 AM  5/26   COCORAHS
   NORTH LAUREL 1.5 ESE  2.65   700 AM  5/26   COCORAHS

   SILVER SPRING 0.9 N   4.10   700 AM  5/26   COCORAHS
   TAKOMA PARK 0.6 NNW   3.71   700 AM  5/26   COCORAHS
   WHITE OAK 1.2 N       3.40   700 AM  5/26   COCORAHS
   WHEATON-GLENMONT 0.7  2.71   700 AM  5/26   COCORAHS
   OLNEY 0.4 ESE         2.34   700 AM  5/26   COCORAHS

   GREENBELT             4.00   809 AM  5/26
   LAUREL                3.49   800 AM  5/26   COCORAHS 2.0S

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

May 26, 2009

Why do people do this?

SUN PHOTO/Monica Lopossay

No, not this guy; the people on this astonishing BIG WAVE surfing video from the folks at Billabong XXL. Forget the fabulous rides. Click on the link, then on the red rectangle for New Video and keep your eyes on the people who don't stay on their feet. OMG! I am so an East Coast wave wimp (see photo above).

And while we're on the subject on weather and waves, don't miss the 2009 Billabong XXL Big Waves Awards show on ESPN2 at 1:30 a.m. EDT Friday (Yes, in the early morning hours, but better check your local listings before you set your recorder).   

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:44 PM | | Comments (1)

Cyclone Ailia kills more than 120 in South Asia

It didn't take long for a new tropical cyclone to form in the Bay of Bengal, spin up to minimal hurricane force, then go ashore and kill more than 120 people in Bengladesh and India in recent days.

Cyclone Aila formed Sunday and is already dissipating (photo below) over the subcontinent. The winds never rose above 74 mph - minimal speed for a named storm. Even so, low-lying lands in the storm's path were quickly flooded by rising water and heavy rains. It's a familiar pattern in the region, where geography and poverty combine to produce terrible losses and dislocations whenever these storms steam ashore.  Read more here.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Hurricanes

May ending as it began ... wet


A stalled front across the mid-Atlantic states, persistent showers and thunderstorms, enough rain to cause flooding ... May appears to be going out the same way it came in.

Rain totals for May at BWI-Marshall were already closing in on 5 inches late yesterday, and may well have topped that mark by this morning. We have had less than a half-inch here on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. The Sun's weather station at Calvert & Centre streets downtown has clocked more than three-quarters of an inch since midnight. BWI has recorded almost 2 inches.

Showers and thunderstorms were dropping several inches of additional rain on some locations this morning. Howard County was under a flood warning as heavy thunderstorms unloaded 2 to 3 inches on the Washington DC area. Here's the radar loop.

Rescue crews have already been snatching stranded Maryland motorists from peril this morning. Don't put your life or theirs at risk. Do not try to drive through flooded low spots.

Forecasters out at Sterling are calling for occasional showers and thunderstorms through Thursday as we remain near this stalled front. Low pressure centered in the Mississippi Valley is spinning counter-clockwise, drawing lots of Gulf and Atlantic moisture northward into the eastern states. All that warm, wet air is running into the cold front, where it gets wrung out. And we get wet. That's good for lawns and water supplies, bad for roofers and vacationers.

Me? I have a new, young cherry tree that needs water, so it's okay by me. How about you? Sick of rain yet?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:50 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Forecasts

May 21, 2009

Drought, rain, now mosquitoes

Okay, so we knew there had to be a downside to all this rain that wiped out the winter drought. It's mosquitoes.

With plenty of puddles and soggy wetlands to breed in, and warming weather to kick-start their development, the little buggers are on their way.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture (that's the Ag Dept.'s Dennis Earling, below, inspecting a Baltimore County puddle for mosquito larvae back in 1997) is reminding Marylanders they can do a lot to hold down skeeter populations in their neighborhoods and around their homes. Here the advisory issued today:SUN PHOTO/Larry C. Price, 1997

"Residents in most areas can anticipate the emergence of troublesome numbers of adult mosquitoes within the next two weeks.  Land-based mosquito control activities are underway statewide in addition to aerial spraying on the lower Eastern Shore.  MDA’s combined acreage for aerial larviciding and adulticiding is 60,000 acres predominantly in Dorchester County.

“As the weather begins to warm, homeowners are reminded that their regular spring cleaning activities can help reduce mosquito populations” said Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance.  “Measures such as removing containers that accumulate water and cleaning roof gutters will help prevent mosquitoes from breeding and will make spring outdoor activities such as gardening, barbeques and outdoor sports more pleasant.”


While spring cleaning residents should:

•     Remove any buckets, cups, bottles, plastic bags, etc. that may have accumulated outside.

•     Clean roof gutters (after the oak trees have finished flowering).

•     Check rain barrels to make sure they are completely screened (including around the down spout).

•     Remove any old tires (or drill holes in those used for playground equipment).  Store usable tires in a shed or garage so they will not accumulate water.

•     Fix dripping outdoor faucets.

•     Introduce fish to ornamental ponds, even those with fountains or bubblers.  Most fish will eat mosquito larvae.

•     Make sure outdoor trash cans have tight-fitting lids.  If lids are not available, drill holes in the bottom of the can.


"For more information about Maryland’s Mosquito Control Program, call 410-841-5870 or go to Maryland Department of Agriculture’s website at"  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Phenomena

NOAA weighs in with 2009 hurricane forecast

SUN PHOTO/ Andre Chung 

We sure don't have to worry about it for this holiday weekend, but the 2009 hurricane season is approaching, and the government's forecasters have finally published their predictions for the coming season.

Like the corporate and university prognosticators before them, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's experts expect average to slightly-above average tropical activity from June through November.

Specifically, NOAA is predicting nine to 14 named storms, with four to seven becoming hurricanes, and one to three reaching Category 3 or more on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

The long-term averages are: 11 names storms, with six hurricanes, two of them reaching Cat. 3.

They base their estimates on several factors. First is the ongoing high-activity era that began in 1995, and which is expected to continue for another decade or two. That's based on large-scale cycles in the Atlantic basin, including enhanced rainfall over west Africa, warmer Atlantic waters and reduced wind shear over the ocean regions where hurricanes form.

On the other hand, there is a chance that weak El Nino conditions could develop this summer over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean, a factor that tends to suppress hurricane development in the Atlantic. Cooler-than-normal surface waters in the eastern tropical Atlantic could also tamp down hurricane development there if those conditions persist, NOAA forecasters said.

But while they are not expecting a bad hurricane season, the government meteorologists say Americans should prepare anyway. "Even a near- or below-normal season can produce landfalling hurricanes, and it only takes one landfalling storm to make a bad season," said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster at NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. Isabel (photo above) was a weakening tropical storm by the time it reached Maryland in 2003, and folks along the bayshore know what that cost them.

More than 35 million Americans now live within the regions most vulnerable to hurricane conditions. "Public awareness and public preparedness are the best defenses against a hurricane," said Commerce Secty. Gary Locke.

First up this year: Tropical Storm Ana. No sign of her yet.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:55 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Hurricanes

May 20, 2009

Minotaur rocket launches ... finally

Orbital Sciences Corp. finally got its Minotaur 1 rocket (below, left) off the ground at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility yesterday evening. It carried an Air Force TacSat-3 technology satellite, a NASA biotech satellite and three other "birds" to orbit. It was only the third successful launch to orbit ever from the Eastern Shore.

Here's the YouTube video from the launch site.

NASA/WallopsAs advertised, the launch - 20 minutes late at 7:55 p.m. EDT - was visible from Baltimore, as well as Fall River, Mass. and many other locations from the mid-Atlantic states to New England.

The word is the satellites made it to orbit and were in contact with their creators.

But the rocket wasn't all that easy to spot from 115 miles away. My daughter and I posted outselves at the foot of Bond Street in Fells Point. When we saw nothing at the scheduled launch time of 7:35, we called home, got a Web check, and learned the liftoff was delayed to 7:55. When that time arrived, we scanned the southeast horizon. I got nothing, but very soon my daughter spotted the rocket's flame rising above Tide Point. When the long, thin, white contrail appeared, I finally picked it up. And, with binoculars, I followed the Minotaur much higher above the horizon than I expected - maybe 45 degrees - before I lost it.

If they had delayed liftoff until 9 or 10 p.m., and skies at the surface had been darker, I think we would have seen more. But we've had quite a few comments from readers saying they saw the launch just fine and got a kick out of it.

Matt Schroeder/Mt. Airy

Above is an image sent to me by Matt Schroeder, who photographed the launch from Mt. Airy. Here's what he had to say:

"Frank: My friend Ben called me around 7:50 p.m. tonight to tell me a rocket was about to be launched from Wallops Flight Facility.  My son Jacob (age 5) and I ran outside and looked to the southeast.  We live about 7 miles north of Mount Airy, Maryland.  Amazingly we saw the rocket as it sped into the sky!  Jacob thought that was pretty cool (and so did I) ...  After taking the picture I also noticed a small plane in the upper right side of the image. - Best regards, Matt Schroeder"


His shot is better than the ones I got with my point-and-shoot from downtown Baltimore (below). You can just barely make out the white smoke trail rising through the brown smog at the bottom-center of my image.

SUN PHOTO/Frank Roylance


Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:24 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

May 19, 2009

Dude! Huge waterspout captured on video

National Weather ServiceTwo buddies down in Louisiana captured a huge waterspout (not the one at left) on video, and chased it down (after Mom reminded them to be careful). They were, sort of. Then they sent their video to CNN, which posted it here:

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:40 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

Virginia rocket launch "GO" for tonight

The U.S. Air Force will try again this evening to launch its TacSat-3 satellite from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. Weather conditions are expected to be favorable, with only a 10 percent chance that bad weather would stop the countdown.

UPDATE 4 p.m.: Weather is now 100 percent GO for launch.

Two attempts to launch the satellite earlier this month were stopped by bad weather. A third attempt ended 2 minutes before liftoff because of a technical problem. The only "issue" controllers were watching was a potential conflict in the use of the launch range. Not clear whether that's still an issue this morning. 

NASA/WallopsThis week's clear weather will make this a terrific opportunity for Marylanders to see the launch from wherever they are. The high-pressure system that moved in late yesterday has cleared the skies, providing ideal conditions for long-distance observation of the launch. It could be visible for hundreds of miles, from the Carolinas to southern New England, and as far west as eastern Kentucky.

The launch window at Wallops opens at 7:35 p.m. and lasts until 11:30 p.m. All we will need here in Baltimore is an unobstructed view toward the southeast. If the launch comes early enough in the launch window - even well after sunset - the sun should illuminate the rocket's smoke trail quite nicely. Later on, we may only get a view of the 69-foot Minotaur's fiery plume as it rises toward orbit.

Here's a delightful YouTube video of a Minotaur launch in California in 2006. It gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect. And here's Joe Rao's blog from the Hayden Planetarium on the first attempt on May 5. It includes a picture of a previous Minotaur launch that also gives you an idea of what to look for.

If successful, this launch will be only the third satellite to be sent into orbit from Wallops - both atop Minotaurs. The first was in December 2006, in a launch that was clearly visible from Baltimore. The second was in April 2007, but clouds obscured the view from here. An earlier attempt, in October 1995, ended in a spectacular failure as the Conestoga rocket went awry and had to be destroyed high over the Virginia beaches.

The Minotaur rocket was assembled by Orbital Science Corp. The lower two stages come from a decommissioned Minuteman ballistic missile. The upper two stages include motors from Orbital's Taurus and Pegasus rockets.

The $60 million TacSat-3 satellite is an Air Force technology package designed to demonstrate new systems for providing combat forces with battlefield information. The Minotaur will also carry a NASA/Wallopssmall NASA biological research satellite called PharmaSat, and three two-pound "picosatellites" built by private and university researchers.

One of the picosatellites is HawkSat-1, by the Hawk Institute for Space Sciences, in Pocomoke City, Md. It would be the first Earth satellite to be designed, built and launched from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia.

To track the countdown via NASA Webcast, go to:

For Twitter updates:

For phone updates: 757 824-2050

If you're in the Wallops area, tune your car radio to 760 AM.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:42 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Sky Watching

Morning cold breaks record


The morning low out at BWI this morning reached 38 degrees, setting a new record for a May 19 in Baltimore. The previous record had stood for only six years, having been set on this date in 2003.

The National Weather Service has not posted it yet (at this writing). But I've called it to their attention, so it may pop up in their data shortly.

MODIS/DNRThe low out on the WeatherDeck this morning was a bracing 36 degrees. With the heat off for the season, the blanket and spread were not quite enough for us this morning as the dawn broke. Getting up seemed the better choice. 

Here at Calvert & Centre streets, the low was 46 degrees. There were no new records at either Dulles International (low was 38 degrees, record 36), or Reagan National (low was 45 degrees, record 43). 

The high-pressure system that moved into the region late yesterday (left) had shoved all the clouds away by this morning (see satellite photo above) and dried out the atmosphere. As winds died down around sunset, that set up the perfect conditions for radiational cooling. So much of the meagre warmth we accumulated yesterday radiated back into space overnight, driving temperatures down.

The relative humidity readings today are headed rapidly downward - from 78 percent around sunrise to 44 percent at this writing (and still falling). The barometer, meanwhile, has been headed in the opposite direction, holding steady now at around 30.50 inches.

The forecast shows we can expect temperatures to warm to around 80 degrees by tomorrow, and hang around that mark right into the weekend. The sunny skies will linger, too, at least until Sunday, when chances for showers and thunderstorms begin to rise again.

Here are some overnight lows, collected by the folks at

Accident:  31 degrees

Cumberland:  33 degrees

Sabillasville:  35 degrees

Woodbine:  35 degrees

Waldorf:  36 degrees

Monkton:  36 degrees

Easton:  36 degrees

Williamsport:  37 degrees

Sandy Spring:  37 degrees

Bowie:  37 degrees

Darlington:  38 degrees

Millersville:  38 degrees 


Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:54 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: By the numbers

May 18, 2009

Spectacular photos from Hubble repair mission

I watched most of the repairs mission and spacewalks via NASA-TV, on my computer, and I had no idea how much I was missing. Here is a spectacular set of 31 images from the nearly-completed mission. (They land Friday.) 

There are several pictures of clouds and stuff from 350 miles up - my only excuse for using this on the WeatherBlog. Otherwise, it's just way-cool photography for space nerds and taxpayers. Enjoy.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:25 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Cool pictures

40 tonight, 80 by Wednesday


That's one big high-pressure system settling over the eastern United States (see map). By this afternoon it will stretch from Texas to Maine. The high brings clearing skies today and diminishing winds after sunset. And that should mean some serious cooling tonight.

The National Weather Service's Sterling forecast office is predicting a low of 40 degrees tonight at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. Patchy frost is possible in the usual cold spots west of the I-95 corridor. Frost advisories and a freeze warning are posted for parts of the state tonight, from Hagerstown west.

A plunge toward 40 would threaten to tie the record low for a May 19 by morning. The record low for a May 19 in Baltimore is 39 degrees, set on that date way back in 2003.

But with the high moving in from the Ohio Valley today, skies will be clearing, and the high May sun will start to warm things up. We may only get to the mid-60s today - still about 10 degrees below the long-term average for this time of year. But the high, and the sunshine, will stick around all week, driving temperatures well above average by Wednesday, with highs near 80 degrees Wednesday through Friday.

But, as luck would have it, unsettled weather is forecast to return by the Memorial Day weekend. Our fate rests with low pressure that's expected to develop over the Gulf Coast. If that low starts sending moisture up the East Coast as the old high moves out this weekend, we would get several days with 30 percent chances for showers and thunderstorms.

Sunny, pleasant workdays, and a showery holiday weekend. Figures.

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

May 15, 2009

Overnight rains add to soggy May

We had a pretty hard rain out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville last night. The rain gauge clocked about seven tenths of an inch. There was less here at Calvert & Centre streets - about 0.35 inch on the meter. And the airport reported only seven hundredths.

SUN PHOTO/Kim Hairston 2007As the rain fell, I found myself listening to the water gurgling down the gutters and downspouts. Am I the only one who finds the sound somehow soothing? I'm not sure whether it's some atavistic reassurance that there is fresh, running water nearby - a babbling brook - or that our shelter is keeping us all dry. Or maybe it's just comforting to know that all the dough we spent on gutter caps this spring is paying off, and keeping the gutters and downspouts clear of leaves and oak flowers and other crud.

Anyway, it was very pleasant. It was also good to hear the 12-year-old sump pump working as it should. Is there anything worse than water in the basement? Thinking of putting in a new one, just in case. What's the life expectancy on a sump pump? 

Here's a listing of rain total reports from around the state. Looks like Prince George's County had the big numbers, with Oxon Hill reporting 1.7 inches.

At the halfway point, May has yielded more than 4 inches of rain at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. We're at 3.23 inches here at The Sun. And there is more to come.

The National Weather Service forecasters out at Sterling are predicting "slight" chances for thunderstorms this afternoon, rising to "likely" on Saturday afternoon, with as much as a half-inch possible. There are more showers in the cards for Sunday morning before the atmosphere finally begins to clear out after the stalled frontal system that's causing all this instability moves off.

Next week still looks sunny and pleasant, with highs rising from the 60s to the upper 70s by Wednesday and Thursday.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:55 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: By the numbers

May 14, 2009

Sunshine? Maybe next week


My mower may choke, but my grass is gonna love this. The forecast out of Sterling today shows "chances" or "likely" showers clear across the page through Sunday night. Thunderstorms are also a possibility each day as an approaching frontal system (visible in the satellite image above) slides back and forth across the region, and daytime heating kicks in to stir up the atmosphere.

Today's sprinkles will likely be replaced by heavier showers and storms by late tonight as the first weather approaches with the cold front, and then stalls on top of us.

Tomorrow looks cloudy, much like today, with chances for thundershowers in the afternoon, especially across the southern counties as warmer, wetter air flows from the south and collides with the colder air at the front. Saturday will look much the same, too, with the additional risk of severe thunderstorms as the cold front finally pushes through. That colder air could even trigger patchy frost to the west of the Blue Ridge.

The new air mass behind the front should mean drier air and clear skies next week, with pleasant highs in the 70s.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

May 13, 2009

Pretty view of the Chesapeake from orbit

NASA/ModisHere's a pretty shot of the Chesapeake in springtime, taken Tuesday by the Modis Rapid Response Project at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt.

The region looks very green now as trees reach full leaf and lawns and farm fields green up.

Warm air rising off the land produces lots of fluffy cumulus clouds, but cooler bay water cuts off that warming both over the water and downwind along the western parts of the Delmarva Peninsula.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:23 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cool pictures

Showers return after today's sunshine

This is very sweet weather. Perfect, even, with highs around 70 degrees, a nice breeze and plenty of sunshine. But like all good things, this, too will be coming to an end by Thursday, as the high SUN PHOTO/DOug Kapustin 2008pressure that delivered the sidewalk cafe weather moves east into the Atlantic and up, off the New England coast .

As the clockwise circulation around the high moves east, that will put us in a more southerly flow on the backside of the high. And that will bring warmer temperatures and more moisture.

Daytime highs will climb toward 80 degrees by Saturday. The departure of the big high will also allow a cold front to approach from the west, and once it arrives, it will stall here, placing us in the same situation that brought us so many cloudy, showery days early in the month.

Disturbances moving along the stalled front will set us up for increasing chances for showers from Thursday through Sunday - as much as 60 percent on Saturday afternoon if the forecast holds up.

Then another cold front will finally shove the whole mess out of town, and bring us drier, cooler, sunnier weather again for Sunday and Monday.

So, if you're headed to Pimlico on Saturday for the Preakness, you should bring rain gear to protect your bonnet, a hanky to dab the perspiration from your brow, and a sharp pencil to figure thundershowers and a wet track into your wagers.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:40 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts

May 12, 2009

First week of May set a record

Steve Zubrick, the science and operations officer for the National Weather Service's Sterling Forecast Office has been snooping around in Baltimore's weather records again. He's found that the very wet start to May we just survived was one for the record books:

"Some facts about the recent wet spell we all loved...

"BWI had measurable precip. (at least 0.01") each consecutive day for May
1st - 7th (2009).

"For what it's worth (and we don't keep records on this), this was only
the second time since record-keeping began that Baltimore started the
first full week of May with 7 consecutive days of measurable rainfall.
The other time was May 1998...and in that year (1998)...the first 12
days of May 1998 had measurable rain.

"And...the 3.88" of rain measured during the 1st week of May this year
(2009) was the most rainfall ever measured in Baltimore during the 1st
full week (7 days) of May. Runner-up was 3.66" that fell the first week
of May 1989 (although not in 7 consecutive days)."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers

Space station flyby tonight

Skies should be clear tonight, so Marylanders who are willing to step outside for a few minutes  just after 9 p.m. will have a fine view of the International Space Station as it flies from high over northern Mississippi to Maine.

Because the space shuttle Atlantis, launched yesterday, is headed for the Hubble Space Telescope this time, and not the space station, we will not be treated to a two-fer. But while the shuttle is NASAnot visible this week from Maryland, the space station will be making a very bright pass that should be visible to anyone - even in city lights - who can find an unobstructed view of the northwestern sky.

The ISS will be following nearly the same track it flew on Sunday evening. It will first become visible at 9:13 p.m. EDT, low in the western sky, just below Castor and Pollux, the twin stars in Gemini. From there, it will sweep across the northwestern sky like a steady, white, moving star. It should be the brightest object in that part of the heavens. It will rise more than halfway to the zenith (straight up), passing below the cup of the Big Dipper at about 9:16 before heading off toward the northeast, slipping close by Polaris, the North Star, and then disappearing at 9:18 p.m. EDT

The ISS currently has three crew members on board. That's Koichi Wakata, flight engineer, of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, in the photo. Now that the station has its full complement of solar panels, there are plans to increase the crew soon to six people. Construction is scheduled to continue into 2010, until the space shuttle fleet is retired.

Until then we can marvel as the huge contraption soars silently across the sky at 17,500 mph, reflecting the sun's light and reminding us where billions and billions of our tax dollars have gone.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:22 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Sky Watching

Very cool Maryland dinosaur talk tonight

I know, this has nothing whatsoever to do with Maryland weather. But we don't have a science blog anymore, so this is the best I can do. Maybe including the word "cool" in the header will justify its placement here.

Sun Photo/Kenneth K. Lam/2005Anyone who has even a passing interest in dinosaurs, and especially Maryland dinosaurs, has heard of Ray Stanford (left), the amateur College Park paleontologist (or, more precisely, paleoichnologist) who has amassed an extraordinary collection of dinosaur footprints he's plucked from Maryland streambeds, mostly in the Washington area.

The Sun has written about him on several occasions. His collections have been examined by some of the top paleontologists in the country and judged to be of significant value to science.

Ray has developed a Power Point presentation and lecture on his work, and will be delivering it this evening at a Maryland Natural History Society meeting in Overlea, in Baltimore County. He also plans to bring along about 100 pounds of rocks bearing the footprints of a variety of dinosaurs that walked in Maryland mud during the Cretaceous period, some 112 million years ago.

The event begins at 7 p.m. at 6908 Belair Road, Overlea, on Route 1 about a mile south of the Beltway.

Among the finds he will lug to the meeting is what Ray describes as the world's largest pterosaur footprint, "It is both huge and beautiful, and is of incredible significance to any study of pterosaurian evolution, because the track maker was at least as large as the biggest known Quetzalcoatlus specimen," he says.

And by the way, the weather for the lecture tonight will be clear and cool, with temperatures dropping toward the 40s. So, this was about the weather after all.

Here's a story The Sun ran on Ray's work back in August 2007:

Hundreds of dinosaur footprints, in rocks plucked from Maryland streambeds by an amateur paleontologist, are being described in a scientific journal as among the most significant of their age in North America since the 1930s.


    The tracks reveal the presence more than 112 million years ago of at least 14 different kinds of animals, from carnivorous and plant-eating dinosaurs to birds, lizards and mammals. That's twice the diversity found anywhere else in rocks from the same period, the Early Cretaceous.That makes Maryland's urban corridor one of the richest sites for Cretaceous dinosaur track fossils in the world, ranked among such places as Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, as well as sites in Japan, Korea, Spain and China.


    What's more, the finds include a high proportion of very small dinosaur prints, suggesting the place was a dinosaur rookery - a rarity in such deposits, according to the paper in the July issue of the journal Ichnos.


    "There aren't that many places where you get this many species, and from very young animals and adults on the same spot," said Matthew T. Carrano, curator of dinosaurs at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington. "It's extremely important, even on a global scale."


    Ray Stanford, the 69-year-old College Park amateur whose home he filled with rocks until the floors had to be reinforced, wrote the paper with Martin G. Lockley, professor of geology at the University of Colorado in Denver, and Rob Weems, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.


    Until his collaboration with Lockley and Weems, Stanford said, he hadn't realized the importance of his finds. "That just floored me."


    He found the fossilized tracks in rocks from the Patuxent Formation, which contains the oldest rocks exposed along the Atlantic coastal plain. Like the bottom slab of a tilted layer cake, its outcrops reach the surface in a narrow band that parallels Interstate 95, from the Maryland-Delaware line to Fredericksburg, Va.


    "No other geologist ever recognized the stuff there," said Lockley, who is also director of his university's Dinosaur Tracks Museum said. "They had written off the Cretaceous in that part of the world as not having the potential to find tracks."


    Dinosaur tracks typically come in sets of two or three, or in a trackway that helps scientists understand how an individual species moved.


    In Maryland's Patuxent Formation, the Smithsonian's Carrano said, all the tracks were laid down over perhaps a million years. "We can say this was a community of animals, and you start to understand more about the paleoecology."


    Although scientists might have predicted which animals lived here, few fossil bones or teeth have been found. The deposit just didn't preserve many.


    "Now, you have proof," Lockley said. "This has just completely changed what we know about the Lower Cretaceous of the eastern seaboard."


    Although papers on several of Stanford's finds have been published over the years, this article is the first formal description of the collection in a peer-reviewed journal - in effect, its introduction into the scientific literature.


    Ichnos is a British-based international journal for research into plant and animal "traces" - the fossil signs that animals left behind, such as burrows, trails, borings and footprints, but not their bodily remains.


    Normally, scientists would now compare the finds to others. "But there isn't anything to compare to," Carrano said. "This is a totally new piece of information."


    With Stanford's discoveries, Maryland has gone "from `nowhere' to being in the top 10 [sites in Cretaceous paleontology], especially if you take into consideration the uniqueness of the fauna and the small size and high diversity," Martin Lockley said.


    "I knew it was very significant," Stanford said, "but I didn't realize the significance in that context. I'm grateful to Martin for enlightening me. I'm just thrilled with it."


    The collection includes more than 300 specimens. Lockley selected about a third of those for preliminary description.


    The prints were pressed into iron-rich silt, sand and clay laid down almost 50 million years before the dinosaurs disappeared.


    The land at that time was a swampy region of river deltas, sluggish flood plains and oxbow lakes, scientists say. The sediments were washing down from mountains to the west, flowing toward the sea, a few dozen miles to the east.


    The muddy footprints quickly solidified into rock, made harder by its high iron content. The rock layer was later broken apart by further stream erosion, and those fragments were buried by subsequent deposits. They are only now washing out of the softer sediments.


    Since 1994, Stanford has been picking them up from the beds of streams that cut through the formation in Prince George's and Baltimore counties. He won't disclose exactly where.


    Educating himself as he went along, Stanford amassed a menagerie of tracks that astonished Lockley when he first saw them in Stanford's house in 1999.


    "It was totally, definitely a big surprise," he said. "For some of them, you have to have a really good eye to recognize. Others are ... pretty obvious."


    They're impossible to miss in Stanford's house. Slabs of rock - one weighing nearly 200 pounds - fill the place, taking over the kitchen, living room and hallways. The Ichnos paper details the variety of what has been catalogued so far:


    Therapods: small and medium-sized meat-eaters with three slender toes. The critters' feet range in length from less than half an inch - the smallest ever reported - to more than 9 inches.


    Sauropods: plant-eaters represented by impressions of both the front and back feet. One front print is less than 2 inches wide - the smallest ever described - and one rear footprint is more than 26 inches wide, the first of its kind east of the Mississippi.


    The tiniest tracks suggest a sauropod "rookery" in the area, the first time that possibility has ever been suggested. "We haven't found any egg shells," Lockley said. "All we can say is that it looks like a lot of them must not have been very old, and could not have come far from where they were born."


    In fact, the journal article hints at the discovery of a baby armored nodosaur. Stanford says it looks as if it were stepped on by a larger animal. He and Lockley are talking to the Smithsonian about displaying the fossil in conjunction with publication of a paper on the find.


    Hypsilophodontids: These nimble plant-eaters left the first tracks of their species found anywhere and the first direct evidence that the animal lived in what became the eastern United States.


    Among the other beasts that left their prints were herbivorous iguanodons; tank-like, armored ankylosaurs; and flying pterosaurs. Tracks tentatively identified as those of birds, turtles and lizards also were left in Maryland's Cretaceous mud.


    There is even a complete footprint of a surprisingly large, dog-sized mammal. The track bears "superficial resemblance" to those of some modern marsupials, the report says. It's detailed enough to reveal the animal's footpads and possible impressions of fur.


    The collection's future in Maryland is in some doubt. Stanford's wife is retiring from NASA, and the couple are preparing to move to Stanford's native Texas. He is seriously considering giving nearly all of his collection to Lockley's museum in Denver.


    Maryland has no natural history museum, and Stanford does not believe the Smithsonian, the Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons or the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore would display the tracks as well, or make them as accessible, as the museum in Denver.


    "It's more than local [to Maryland]," he said. "It's a rich environment of species nesting in this area, but it's important in Colorado or here."


    Stanford believes it needs to be where it can best be accessed by the public as well as scientists.


    "The real important thing to me is that children can look at this," he said. He doesn't expect them all to become paleontologists, but he wants them to awaken to the world around them.


    "Kids are brought up on TV and these games they have," he said. "If this can cause kids to ... discover and look and observe the real world, it's healthier and beneficial to society. Ultimately, to me, that's the real legacy this work of mine will hopefully relay."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:23 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Science

May 11, 2009

Clouds back, but only for a day

It's a good thing they're not trying to launch the Hubble repair mission today from Baltimore. We're looking at cloudy skies for the day, with a 40 percent chance for rain along the way. And there's more of the same expected this evening.

Down at Cape Canaveral, however, the forecast calls for mostly sunny skies, with a high near 89 degrees this afternoon.

NASA/Hubblesite.orgThe shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven are set for blast off at 2:01 p.m. Looks like today will be the best opportunity for a clean launch of the three days in this week's launch window. Atlantis is headed for a week of repairs and upgrades to the Hubble Space Telescope (photo below).

UPDATE: Atlantis has launched on schedule and is now chasing Hubble. The repairs begin Thursday.

Tuesday's forecast at the Cape includes a 20 percent chance for afternoon showers and thunderstorms. Wednesday looks about the same.

The Hubble photo at left is the last we'll see from Hubble's workhorse Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, which will be removed and replaced on this mission with the Wide Field Camera 3. The image shows a "planetary nebula" - remnants of an exploding star - called Kohoutek 4-55. It is named for its discoverer, Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek, who also discovered the much ballyhooed Comet Kohoutek in 1973, which failed famously to live up to its media hype. Here's more on this final WFPC2 image from Hubble.

You can follow events at the Cape live today on NASA TV. Last time I looked, the crew was preparing to enter the shuttle. Three hours to liftoff if all goes smoothly.

Back here in Baltimore, we're looking at a 40 percent chance of rain after a beautiful weekend and the first relief in more than a week from the persistent clouds and showers that marked the start of May.

We ended up with nine straight days of rain - 3.9 inches in all, although Friday's count at BWI amounted to only a trace. Sunday was the first rainless day at BWI since April 30. Here's the box score:

May 1:  0.02 inchNASA

May 2:  0.01 inch

May 3:  0.82 inch

May 4:  0.84 inch

May 5:  0.42 inch

May 6:  1.21 inches

May 7:  0.56 inch

May 8:  Trace

May 9:  0.02 inch

Happily, most of the week after today looks pretty pleasant, with a few intervals of rain to water the plants. After today's clouds and light showers - spillover from a low-pressure system to our south - pass by, sunshine returns for Tuesday and Wednesday, with highs in the low 70s, as high pressure returns from the north and west.

There is a 40 percent chance of rain again for Thursday as a new cold front presses in. Then, sunny skies resume behind the front on Friday and Saturday - highs again in the low 70s. Sunday brings another cold front and another chance for showers or thunderstorms.

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

May 8, 2009

Rocket launch from Virginia scrubs a third time

This time the countdown got to within 2 minutes and 15 seconds of liftoff, but a low-voltage reading from somewhere inside the Minotaur 1 rocket or its payload last night aborted the count at about 10:43 p.m. It was the third time this week attempts to send five small satellites into orbit from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia fell short. The first two attempts were halted by bad weather.

Launch managers decided not to try a fourth time Saturday evening. The tracking facilities at Wallops will now be transitioned to assist with the planned launch of the space shuttle Atlantis from Cape Canaveral in Florida. That launch is planned for 2 p.m. Monday. The Atlantis crew is headed for the Hubble Space Telescope for a week of repairs and upgrades.

The Minotaur 1 launch, if successful, would be only the third flight to orbit from the NASA launch center on Virginia's Eastern Shore. The payload includes an Air Force TacSat-3 technology experiment, a NASA biological experiment and three "pico-satellites" built by university and commercial owners.

If skies are clear, the Minotaur launches from Virginia can be seen for hundreds of miles.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:09 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

Weather promising for Va. launch to orbit Friday

The latest weather briefing this afternoon projects an 85 percent chance the Air Force will be able to launch its TacSat-3 satellite atop a Minotaur rocket tonight. The launch window is currently set to open at 7:35 p.m. 

UPDATE 6:35 p.m.: One hour to go and everything looks fine for launch at 7:35 p.m. Range control personnel are shooing boaters from the area. No one wants rocket parts to fall on people if things go badly.

UPDATE 6:50 p.m. : Count is holding at T-45 minutes. Some sort of problem with launch support equipment.

UPDATE 8:40 p.m.: Count is still holding while troubleshooters work on a power supply problem at the pad. If the count resumes, it would take the launch to the end of the window at 11 p.m.   Thunderstorms and severe weather are due at the pad by 1 a.m. 

UPDATE 9:40 p.m.: New launch time is 10:40 p.m. The clock is running again.

UPDATE: 10:35 p.m.: T-10 minutes and counting. Cloud cover will be a problem for many of us.

UPDATE:  10:55 p.m.:  Launch scrubbed again, this time for a technical problem just 2 minutes 13 seconds before liftoff. Wallops has ruled out a fourth attempt on Saturday evening. Next try will come after the Atlantis shuttle mission to Hubble Space Telescope, preparing to launch Monday

NASA/WallopsBut while there are no storms threatening the launch at the moment, there are plenty of clouds around to spoil the view from Baltimore. Here's the radar loop.

Things may thin out some before the rocket takes to the air, so it's definitely worth watching for. But there are no guarantees. Look toward the southeast, low on the horizon.

The best place to be is clearly down on the Eastern Shore, in OC or Chincoteague.

Once again, you can follow the countdown via the NASA Wallops Webcast. But remember that it typically runs at least 15 seconds behind the actual events, so be sure to start watching for the launch a minute or so before the Web countdown reaches zero.

You can also folow the events via Twitter, at

If you see the launch, please come back here and leave us a comment. Tell us where you were and what you saw. Thanks!

QUERY: Anyone having trouble getting on Twitter?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Sky Watching

Deluge struck 49 years ago

The weather forecast in The Sun called for "mostly cloudy with showers and cooler today ...clearing and cooler tonight." But what actually occurred was much, much wetter.

When it was all over, the rain that fell on Baltimore on May 8, 1960 came to 3.28 inches, still the record high precipitation for any day in May in Baltimore. An inch and a half fell in just two hours, between 8 and 10 p.m. Four inches fell out west in Cumberland

The rain caused severe flooding across the area. Sewers and strorm drains were not up to the task. Streets flooded and the water backed into basements. Five feet of rainwater flooded a trucking company on North Point Road, trapping several workers. They were rescued by boat.

Harbor Field/Pratt LibraryCars stalled in high water at several locations, including Ponca Street, Painters Mill Lane, Pot Spring Road. Runoff caused serious erosion on the slopes of Federal Hill Park in Baltimore.

The Potomac rose to flood stage at several locations. Loch Raven Reservoir rose 1.43 feet and began spilling over the dam. Ditto at Prettyboy.

Slippery conditions at the old Harbor Field Airport in Dundalk sent a DC-3 skidding off the runway into Colgate Creek during a landing. Six aboard were soaked, but unhurt. (The airport, once also a busy terminal for flying boats (photo), closed at the end of that year. It later became part of the Dundalk Marine Terminal.)

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

Storms again threaten Minotaur launch

More showers and thunderstorms are forecast for the Eastern Shore Friday and Saturday nights, which will be the last opportunities for what could be weeks for the launch of a 69-foot Minotaur rocket from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility.

NASAThe launch, only the fourth attempt to put satellites in orbit from Virginia, could be visible for hundreds of miles if skies are clear. Two attempts this week have been scrubbed due to bad weather.

UPDATE at 4 p.m.: Launch window will open early, at 7:35 p.m., in an effort to get the rocket off before bad weather moves in. There is a 50 percent chance of another scrub. Earlier post resumes below.

If the rocket doesn't get off during tonight's 8-11 p.m. launch window, the launch team will regroup for another attempt on Saturday night. After that, NASA will need to reconfigure the facility to support Monday's planned launch of the space shuttle Atlantis from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Atlantis and its crew of seven astronauts are headed for an 11-day mission to repair and upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.

Keith Koehler, spokesman for Wallops, said that once Atlantis has landed, the Wallops tracking station will be needed again to support another Florida launch. He wasn't sure which that was. The only one I could find that's coming up on the NASA launch schedule in Florida is the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observing and Sensing Satellite, set for a tandem launch on June 2. The two spacecraft are being sent to the moon to scout potential landing sites, and search for water near the north and south lunar poles.

There's another shuttle launch - Endeavour - scheduled for June 13.  How Wallops will slip the Minotaur 1 and its Air Force TacSat-3 satellite into the mix will depend on when Atlantis actually launches and when it returns. 

Our forecast for the next two nights looks about the same as last night's. Ditto for the Virginia Shore. That means a threat of showers and thunderstorms as solar heating stirs up all this humidity and kicks off convection. Bad weather has already scrubbed two Minotaur launch attempts on Tuesday and Thursday nights. Last night, the launch pad had to be cleared because of nearby lightning. And heavy rains swept the rocket as it stood on the pad just before the game was called at around 10 p.m.

The forecasters out at Sterling say these storms are continuing to track along with the jet stream, one after the other, as they have all week. The next batch should reach Central Maryland this NOAAevening. They could come in waves, with some locations being smacked by repeated showers and storms through the night.

Saturday will bring more of the same and some storms will have the potential to become severe, with damaging winds and large hail a possibility, especially east of the Blue Ridge.

By Sunday, however, the front that has served as a railroad track for these storms will push farther south, and we will finally begin to enjoy cooler, drier air from the north and west. Incredibly, the forecast calls for "partly" and "mostly" sunny weather here from Sunday through Wednesday. Highs will be seasonable, and comfortable, in the upper 60s and low 70s.

That would end what will likely become nine straight days of rainfall at BWI. Streamflow across the state is shown in the map below. Green dots show streams that have returned to normal levels for this time of year. Blue are above normal. Black are still at record highs.

So far, the total has come to 3.88 inches. I got my calculation of Thursday's total wrong the other day. Here's the official toll so far:

May 1:  0.02 inchUSGS

May 2:  0.01 inch

May 3:  0.82 inch

May 4:  0.84 inch

May 5:  0.42 inch

May 6:  1.21 inches

May 7:  0.56 inch

Total through May 7:  3.88 inches

Normal for all of May: 3.89 inches

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

May 7, 2009

Minotaur launch scrubbed again

Launch team at Wallops Island launch site was waiting for thunderstorm cells to clear the area, and with an hour left in the countdown, time ran out on their three-hour launch window. No word yet on when they will try again. 

UPDATE: The Minotaur launch has been rescheduled for tonight - Friday - with the same 8 - 11 p.m. launch window. They seem likely to face the same problems with thunderstorms. Here's the forecast for Baltimore. And here's the forecast for Virginia's Eastern Shore.

Not sure whether they will be able to try again this weekend. The NASA Wallops Flight Facility's tracking systems  will be needed to assist with Monday's planned launch of the shuttle Atlantis. The Atlantis crew is headed for the Hubble Space Telescope for a week of repairs and upgrades. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:59 PM | | Comments (4)

Tonight's Minotaur launch weather improving

A weather briefing at T-minus 3 hours and counting finds the forecast for tonight's planned Minotaur 1 launch from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility is improving. Meteorologists now predict a 70 percent chance of good weather as the three-hour launch window opens at 8 p.m. down on the Virginia Eastern Shore.

The only potential show-stopper they see are some storm cells drifting their way from the DC area this afternoon. The storms could spoil the launch, or they could weaken and dissipate as another one did this afternoon. Here's the radar loop.

The view from Baltimore still looks pretty cloudy. We may well have too much cloud between us and Wallops to see this shot. But it's sure worth a look this evening. The rocket plume would be bright enough to shine through thin clouds. But these big cumulus heaps? Maybe not.

You can follow the countdown via Twitter and a NASA Webcast. Details in the previous post. Remember, these Webcasts are delayed as they find their way to your computer, so the online countdown lags behind the real thing by 15 seconds or more. Get outside and start looking a minute or two before the Web countdown gets to zero, at least.

By my watch - which is linked by radio to the NIST atomic clock in Colorado (such a geek) - the Wallops Webcast is currently running 16 seconds behind the true time.

Here's how the cloud cover looked from orbit this afternoon.



Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:08 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching

Mysterious yellow orb in sky

What was that thing, anyway? We've seen precious little sunshine this month. The daily tally of rain down at BWI this month has come to more than 4 inches now, with 1.21 inches recorded on Wednesday alone. That's more than the norm for the entire month of May.

It has rained at BWI every day this month so far, as if anyone needed reminding. And chances for more showers and thunderstorms remain in the forecast each day through Saturday. That would add up to 9 days of rain. Only 31 more days and nights to go before we launch the ark. Be careful what you wish for.

Anyway, here is the tally so far:

May 1:  0.02 inch

May 2:  0.01 inch

May 3:  0.82 inch

May 4:  0.84 inch

May 5:  0.42 inch

May 6:  1.21 inches

May 7 (by my count from BWI through 3 p.m.):  0.83 inch

Grand total to date:  4.15 inches

Normal for a full May:  3.89 inches

Wednesday's rainfall included some very heavy downpours and thunderstorms in some parts ofUSGS the state, especially in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties - more than 1.5 inches. Here are some 24-hour rain totals from across the region.

And here is a rainfall map from NWS observers.

Obviously, the heavy rains have filled the region's creeks and streams. The map at right shows streamflow volumes for 3:30 p.m. Thursday. The dark blue dots denote streams at 90 percent of their record flows for this date. The black dots denote streams now at record volumes for the date.

Here's the national map, showing the swath from Mississippi to New England, in blue, that has seen the most persistent rainfall in the past week or so.

For those interested in this evening's scheduled launch of a Minotaur 1 rocket from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore, meteorologists down there project a 60 percent chance of favorable conditions for launch this evening. Liftoff would come sometime between 8 and 11 p.m. Here's how the cloud cover looked from space this afternoon.

NASA/WallopsFavorable weather at Wallops does not necessarily translate into a clear view from the Baltimore area. But if we get lucky, this rocket could put on quite a show as it roars into the sky and off toward the east with its payload of five satellites bound for orbit. Hayden Planetarium astronomer and blogger Joe Rao says the launch could be visible from northern Florida to southern Maine, and as far west as Kentucky.

Baltimore-area residents should look toward the southeast as launch time approaches. You can check the status of the countdown on the Wallops Information phone line: 757 824-2050.

You can also get status Tweets from

For the launch Webcast, go to I just checked the webcast, and it is now up and running. Pretty boring, but working fine.

If we get lucky, and you spot the rocket, please come back here and leave us a comment. Let us know where you were and how it looked. Thanks!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:44 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts

May 6, 2009

More rain ... again

If it seems like it's been raining all month, that's because it has. BWI has clocked more than two inches already since the first of the month. And there's more to come as winds across the continent remain largely west-to-east. The "zonal" flow just keeps sending repeated bundles of low pressure and moisture our way, and we get showers.

Here's the tally since May Day. The amounts on some days are tiny, but what we remember is the mist and drizzle, the occasional heavy showers, and the gray skies ... the incessant gray skies:

May 1: 0.02 inchNOAA

May 2:  0.01 inch 

May 3:  0.82 inch

May 4:  0.84 inch

May 5:  0.42 inch

Points west have seen much more rain than we have. The National Weather Service has posted Flood Warnings for the Potomac River at Point of Rocks. The river was a foot above flood stage and minor flooding was expected today.

Flood Watches are up for the western part of the state, from Washington County westward. They're expecting as much as two inches of rain. Soils are already saturated, so whatever falls will run straight into the creeks and rivers, producing localized flooding Wednesday night into Thursday.

The NWS has also posted a Hazardous Weather Outlook for today and tonight that includes eastern Allagany, Washington, Frederick, Carroll, Montgomery and Howard counties. They can expect minor river flooding along the Potomac as heavy rains push some streams out of their banks through Friday.

The cloudy, drippy skies forced the postponement of last night's planned launch of the U.S. Air Force Minotaur rocket from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The rocket is carrying an Air Force remote sensing technology test satellite, along with four other private, university and NASA satellites. Once airborne, if skies are clear across the region the rocket's climb toward orbit should be visible for hundreds of miles around. Another Minotaur launch from Wallops Island in December 2006 was clearly visible in daylight from my front window in Cockeysville. 

The next launch window at Wallops opens at 8 p.m. Thursday. The forecast for Thursday night is a little better, with partly cloudy skies expected for Baltimore.  

That said, the forecast out of Sterling shows no mention of sunny skies here until Sunday. We can expect more showers and thunderstorms right through Saturday. Temperatures will climb toward 70 today, and well into the 70s through Saturday as another low-pressure system slogs through and pushes a warm front across the region. Those highs would be 5 to 10 degrees above the seasonal norms.

Behind that low we should see high pressure work its way into the area behind the next cold front. That will bring cooler, more seasonable temperatures and SUNSHINE by Sunday. The same unfamiliar golden orb may even stick around through Tuesday ... unless it doesn't. Forecasters say the same old zonal flow could deliver another package of clouds and showers anytime during that period.

Keep the umbrellas handy.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:24 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Forecasts

May 5, 2009

Meteorologists retire three hurricane names

The World Meteorological Organization has agreed to retire three names from the Atlantic Hurricane name sequences. This is done periodically out of respect for the people affected by a particularly damaging and deadly storm.

NOAAThis time the WMO has consigned the 2008 storms Gustav, Ike and Paloma to the history books. Here is their reasoning: 

  • Gustav became a hurricane on Aug. 26, making landfall in Haiti as a Category 1 hurricane. Gustav then struck western Cuba as a Category 4 hurricane, making its final landfall near Cocodrie, La., on Sept. 1 as a Category 2 hurricane. Hurricane force winds, storm surge and heavy rain produced more than $4 billion damage in Louisiana. Gustav killed 112 people, including 77 in Haiti.
  • Ike (left) became a hurricane on Sept. 3 and rapidly intensified to a Category 4 hurricane northeast of the Leeward Islands. The storm struck the Turks and Caicos Islands and Great Inagua Island in the Southeastern Bahamas on Sept. 7, and the northeast coast of Cuba later that day. Ike made its final landfall at Galveston Island, Texas on Sept. 13 as a Category 2 hurricane. Ike killed more than 80 people across the Caribbean and Bahamas, and another 20 in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas. Total estimated U.S. property damage from Ike is estimated at $19.3 billion.
  • Paloma reached hurricane intensity on Nov. 7 and became the second strongest November Atlantic hurricane on record the next day, reaching Category 4. According to the Cuban government, more than 1,400 homes were destroyed on that island with $300 million U.S. dollars in damage. 

Normally, the National Hurricane Center maintains six lists of names, in alphabetical order, that are repeated every six years. When names are retired, they are replaced with new ones. Gustav, Ike and Paloma will be replaced in 2014 with Gonzalo, Isaias and Paulette.

Six years ago, Isabel, which caused so much damage in Maryland and elsewhere was retired and replaced by this year's "I" storm - Ida.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:23 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Hurricanes

Clouds may spoil view of Wallops launch

The U.S. Air Force plans to launch a new satellite tonight from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility on Virginia's Eastern Shore. If skies were clear, the evening launch of the Minotaur 1 rocket would be visible for hundreds of miles. I watched one in December 2006 from the front room of my house in Cockeysville.

NASA/USAFBut alas, the clouds that have socked us in here for 40 days and 40 nights also threaten to obscure our view of the launch.

UPDATE: Chance for a weather delay Tuesday put at 85 percent.

UPDATE 9 p.m. Tuesday: Launch has been postponed due to bad weather at Walops. No immediate word on when the next attempt will be made. 

UPDATE Weds. 7:45 a.m.: Latest from Wallops:  The next attempt will be Thursday, May 7. Launch window 8 - 11 p.m. Earlier post resumes below...

With some luck, the clouds will be thick enough to delay the launch itself, perhaps to a date when skies have cleared. One can only hope. Here's how a recent Minotaur launch from California looked to a man and his son. A sweet moment neither will ever forget. 

I spoke this morning with Wallops spokesman Keith Koehler. He says the launch criteria call for a cloud ceiling of at least 5,000 feet, or 3,000 feet if the clouds are thin, "so folks can still see the burn." If something goes wrong, the launch team needs to have a photographic record of it.

There will be a new weather briefing at noon Tuesday. Yesterday's forecast put the chances for meeting launch weather criteria at 50 percent.

For now, the launch is set for sometime between 8 and 11 p.m. The Minotaur 1 rocket will carry the Air Force Research Laboratory's Tac-Sat 3 satellite, and four others, including several university research satellites. For more on the payload, click here.

You can check the status of the launch on the Wallops Information phone line: 757 824-2050.

You can also get status Tweets from

For the launch Webcast, go to

If you decide to drive down to Wallops for the launch, the Visitor's Center will be open. And once you're in range, you can pick up the launch broadcast on your car radio at 760 AM on your dial.

Finally, if a miracle occurs, and skies clear, you can track the countdown on the Webcast, and NASA/Wallopswatch for the liftoff low in the southeastern sky (as seen from Baltimore).  But remember to start looking a minute or so before the Web countdown gets to zero. The Webcast is delayed, something I discovered while watching for the rocket back in 2006.

By the time I finally looked out the window at the daytime launch, the Minotaur was already climbing toward orbit. It looked like a rising vertical jet contrail - topped by a bright light - that was quickly being twisted and contorted in the winds aloft. 

This is actually the third Air Force Minotaur launch from Wallops, which hopes to become a busier location for orbital flights. The first was the 2006 launch I watched. There was a second in April 2007, but long-distance observers were foiled by clouds.

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

May 4, 2009

More rain, more clouds, forever ...


Or at least that's how it seems. The forecast out of the NWS Sterling forecast office looks exactly like it did at this time last week: Rain chances, showers and thunderstorms as far as the eye can see.

Today marks the fourth straight day of measurable rain at BWI-Marshall Airport, with about an inch and a half in the gauge since Friday, including what's fallen so far this morning. Here are some more 24-hour rain totals from across the region this morning. The Eastern Shore seems to be getting a good soaking.

Easton:  1.51 inches

Denton:  1.39 inches

Ellicott City:  1.35 inches

Pasadena:  1.15 inches

Towson:  0.98 inches

Havre de Grace:  0.72 inches

The problem (if you regard it as a problem) is a stalled cold front draped across the mid-Atlantic states since last week. Low-pressure waves are moving along the front like squirrels on a wire, kicking off showers as they ramble along. It's been great for the grass, and some of it will reach the water tables and continue to raise them up from their winter-drought lows. That's all to the good.

Sun Photo/Frank Roylance 5.4.09The bummer, maybe, is that the front remains stalled just to our south. And that's keeping us in cool air - maybe 15 degrees below the long-term averages for this time of year - and northeast winds are dragging more cool air and moisture in off the Atlantic. If it feels like we're sailing the North Atlantic out there, that's why.

The rain has been heaviest to our north and west. The NWS has issued flood watches for Washington and Allegany counties in Maryland, and for the Appalachian counties of Virginia and West Virginia

This soggy state of affairs will continue Tuesday, with more cool temperatures and light rain. On Wednesday, the next low to track along the front will lift the front northward as a warm front, raising our temperatures into the high 70s on Thursday and Friday - well above the seasonal norms - with continuing chances for showers and thunderstorms.

The next cold front is due in late on Friday into Saturday, with (surprise!) more showers in the cards. If the forecast holds up, we may finally see a dry day with sunshine by Sunday.

So keep the umbrellas handy and change those raggedy wiper blades. And be grateful we're putting water in the bank for summer. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:41 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Forecasts
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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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