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July 21, 2009

Space Cadets! Space station cruises Baltimore skies

ISS/Endeavour 

The International Space Station will be making quite a few evening passes over the region during the coming week. And while most are too short or too low to the horizon for a rewarding view, two flybys will be especially bright and high in our skies.

And, it's a two-fer. You get to see the ISS, along with the shuttle Endeavour, which is docked with the station until its scheduled return to Earth on July 31.

So pick up the babies and grab the old ladies, and everyone step outside for a look at a hundred billion of your (and many other countries') tax dollars as they soar overhead. There are 13 people up there now, including the six members of the ISS crew, and seven members of the shuttle Endeavour crew. That's a record - the most people ever to fly in space at the same time, and the biggest crowd ever in orbit.

On Thursday evening, watch for the ISS/Endeavour to rise above the northeast horizon at 9:45 p.m. It will look like a very bright star, hustling briskly toward the east. When we first pick it up it will be flying about 216 miles  the Great Lakes. It will pass just "above" the North Star, rising more than halfway up the northeastern sky by 9:50 p.m. Then, it will slide off toward the east, disappearing into the Earth's shadow at 9:51 p.m.

If you miss that pass (or if skies are cloudy), you'll get a second chance on Saturday as the ISS and Endeavour make an almost identical pass, a bit earlier in the evening. Watch for them in the northwest again, appearing at 9:01 p.m. The pair will reach their highest point above the northeast horizon at 9:04 p.m., then head off toward the eastern horizon, disappearing there at 9:06 p.m.

Enjoy. (And whatever you do, don't tell my wife I'm blogging on vacation time.)

(NASA Photo)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:27 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

July 17, 2009

Gone fishin'

fishing 

No, I'm not going to be hunting down the Mason-Dixon meteorite. But I will be unplugging my blogo-keyboard and taking some time off to recharge (mental) batteries, visit with old friends and family and quit worrying about deadlines for a while.

I will be checking in from time to time to post your comments, if any. But, if my wife gets her way the blog itself will be silent, and there will be no P.2 weather comments in the print editions after Sunday's until the need to keep eating and paying the mortgage brings me back.

Thanks for reading.

(SUN PHOTO/Patrick Smith July 2008) 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Notes to readers
        

High of 94 was year's hottest

Temperatures at BWI-Marshall Airport Thursday reached 94 degrees, making it the hottest day of the year so far, and only the fifth day in the 90s in 2009. Hot as it was, it was far from a record. The hottest July 16th on record for Baltimore is 104 degrees, set in 1988.

It was 96 here at The Sun, and 91 degrees on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. Here are some more high readings from across the region.

We're not likely to see the likes of that again for a while. Forecasters are expecting plenty of clouds today, with a 60 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms - some of them severe - after 3 p.m. Portions of the state east of the mountains will face the highest threat from storms and high winds. A Severe Thunderstorm Watch has been issued for the entire region, in effect until 5 p.m. ARTSCAPE exhibitors take note!

The clouds and storms will also keep the temperatures in check, with a forecast high of 89 at BWI.

There are more showers and storms on tap for the region tonight as low pressure tracks along the cold front that has stalled across the region. The weekend looks better (or worse, if your grass is brown and your tomatoes are thirsty), with only a slight, lingering risk of rain on Saturday. Sunday looks pretty sunny, with highs through the weekend pleasant, in the mid-80s.Atlantic storm Better for Artscape.

The new work week will bring a revived, but still small chance for some badly needed rain just about every day. Temperatures will hold slightly below normal, in the low- to mid-80s.

One other note: After a long period of quiet, the tropics have perked up a bit. The National Hurricane Center is watching a stormy area of the far eastern Atlantic Ocean (right) for possible signs of development. It's given only a small chance of developing into a tropical cyclone in the next few days, but it's really the first action we've seen in the Atlantic basin since the 2009 hurricane season began June 1.

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

July 16, 2009

What happened to the rain?

After a very soggy spring, somebody has finally shut off the rain valve. Baltimore has recorded no measurable rain for more than two weeks now. The grass that grew so happily through April, May and June has suddenly choked and turned brown. My thickest lawn in 12 years is suddenly begging for moisture.

With some luck, we may get some showers and thunderstorms during the next week or so. The best shot seems like Friday night and Saturday, which forecasters give a 50 percent chance of delivering some precipitation.

For now, we're in for a real dry grasssummery day, with highs likely to top out in the 90s. West winds are bringing air down the eastern slope of the mountains, which in addition to heating things up, is also drying them out some. The relative humidity here at The Sun is holding in the 50s, so it doesn't feel quite as miserable as it can at this time of year. It only starts to feel uncomfortably humid when the dewpoint reaches 70 degrees or so.

But this won't last long. Forecasters are expecting a series of weak cold fronts, the first arriving here overnight from the Ohio Valley and stalling just to our south. Low-pressure systems tracking along that front could will deliver some showers and thunderstorms tonight or tomorrow. Then, a second, reinforcing front will slide by on Saturday with a higher risk of showers and storms, and cooler temperatures - back into the low 80s by Sunday and Monday.

After a mostly cloudy Sunday, rain chances will begin to rise a bit early in the work week, to 30 percent.

Since June 20, BWI-Marshall has received just 0.48 inch of rain, with nothing measurable since July 1. The dry air has also been relatively cool. Of the last 18 days (June 28 through Wednesday), 16 have averaged cooler than the long-term norm for Baltimore. One matched the average, while just one day - July 12 - was warmer than the norm.

Cooling degree-days so far in July are running at just 65 percent of the long-term average, saving us real money on our cooling bills. The average temperature for July so far at BWI is 72.4 degrees. We still have two weeks to go, but if this were to hold it would be the second-coolest July on record. Only 1891 was cooler, with an average July temperature in Baltimore of 71.6 degrees. 

As dry as it has been, the Drought Monitor map still shows all of Maryland with normal moisture. although unusually dry conditions exist in southeastern Virginia. Streamflow in Maryland remains mostly normal for this time of year.

(SUN PHOTO/Colby Ware 2006)

So just how dry has it been? Steve Zubrick, the science and operations officer at the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va., has done some unofficial sleuthing through the records for BWI and found this:

On Tuesday, July 14, the dewpoint at BWI reached a remarkable 39 degrees at 3:54 p.m. (The dewpoint is the temperature at which the air becomes saturated with water vapor and it begins to precipitate. The lower the dewpoint, the drier the air.)

Combined with the temperature at that moment on Tuesday, the relative humidity in Baltimore was just 21 percent, "which is probably as low as you'll ever see in July," Zubrick said. 

Unfortunately, the NWS doesn't keep comprehensive records on relative humidity. But the lowest July dewpoint that turned up in Zubrick's search of the records from 1962 to 2009 was 36 degrees, reached twice, in 1966 and 1980.

Between 1962 and 2009, Zubrick found just 16 observations with dewpoints less than 40 degrees. The last time was on July 2, 2002. There were four consecutive hourly readings with dew points below 40 degrees on July 7, 1980, and on July 21, 1966, BWI reported 9 consecutive hours with sub-40-degree dewpoints.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:20 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Forecasts
        

July 15, 2009

Rainy spring brings "vomitoxin" to grain crops

wheat crop 

The Maryland Department of Agriculture is warning farmers and grain elevator operators to check their wheat and barley crops for the presence of a fungus known as "vomitoxin" in their stored or unharvested grain. The troublesome pest does well when conditions are wet, as they were across much of the state this spring.

The fungus, more formally known as Fusarium head blight, or scab, produces a chemical called deoxynivalenol that renders the crop unmarketable, and unusable as feed. If animals eat enough of it, it causes excessive salivation, and irritated oral and gastrointenstinal tissues. The name alone suggests its symptoms.

The University of Maryland has already reported scab outbreaks , primarily in Southern Maryland and the Lower Eastern Shore, although the northern counties have seen some, too. The department's chief chemist is now testing samples of grain at elevators and feed mills to see whether the toxin is present and, if so, at what levels.

Farmers with crop insurance are advised to get in touch with their agents before harvesting the grain.  Wheat already in storage will not be eligible for insurance claims.

"Anyone considering feeding this year's crop to livestock definitely needs to know if vomitoxin is present, and at what levels, as some animals are very sensitive ... and can become sick from eating it," said Ag Secty Buddy Hance.

From April 1 through mid-June, BWI recorded more than 9 inches of surplus rain.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Phenomena
        

AccuWeather: Snowiest winter since '02-'03 ahead

Take El Nino, a burst of volcanic activity and an unusually cool summer (so far) in the Northeast, and what do you get? AccuWeather.com says it's beginning to look a lot like an unusually cold and snowy winter ahead for the mid-Atlantic states.

I'm not sure I buy it. But AccuWeather.com's Joe Bastardi, is out today with the very-long-range forecast, and it makes for some good reading:

Snowy Winter 2009-2010"The areas that will be hit hardest this winter by cold, snowy weather will be from New England through the Appalachians and mid-Atlantic, including North Carolina. Areas from New York City to Raleigh have gotten by the past two years with very little snowfall. This year these areas could end up with above-normal snowfall."

"The overall weather pattern that has prevailed this summer is pointing to a winter very similar to that of 2002-03, when major cities on the East Coast had above-average snowfall. Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity points out that in February of 2003, a major snowstorm paralyzed much ofBlizzard of 2003 the Interstate 95 corridor, including New York City and Philadelphia. During the storm, airports were closed, roads were impassable, roofs collapsed and some schools were closed for a week, causing summer vacations to start late."

For the record, Baltimore had its deepest snowfall on record, and its snowiest February in 2003. That winter was also the second snowiest on record for the city.

If you're feeling hot on this 88-degree afternoon in downtown Baltimore, you can read more of AccuWeather's forecast, here.

(SUN PHOTO/Algerina Perna February 2003)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:33 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Winter weather
        

July 14, 2009

Overnight low at BWI ties record

Gunpowder cool July 

The thermometer out at BWI-Marshall Airport touched 58 degrees this morning. That tied the record low for a July 14 in Baltimore. The last time we sank to 58 degrees on this date was in 2001, but there were other, prior years when we touched the same mark.

The lowest reading on record for Baltimore in July is 50 degrees, set on July 1, 1988 and again on July 3, 2001.

It was even colder than 58 elsewhere across the region. It was 53 degrees this morning at Dulles International Airport in northern Virginia. Hagerstown reached 57 degrees. It was 53 degrees on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville.

Martinsburg, WV reported 49 degrees this morning. It was 47 degrees at York (Pa.) Airport. 

Here are more readings around the region. Looks like 42 degrees was the lowest, out near Garrett County. We're headed for the mid-80s this afternoon, with very low humidities. The relative humidity here at The Sun at noon stands at 35 percent. The high temperature will crowd 90 by Thursday.

Go figure.

(SUN PHOTO/David Hobby July 2005)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:23 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: By the numbers
        

July 13, 2009

Meteorite search focuses on Lancaster County

At least one of the teams searching for any remnants of last week's Mason-Dixon meteor has narrowed their focus to a relatively small area of Lancaster County, Pa., roughly between Rte. 272 and the Susquehanna River.

Using the York Water Co. security video and Mike Hankey's telescopic image of the falling meteor, Rob Matson, an aerospace engineer from California  whose "hobby" interests include looking for asteroids and meteorites, has calculated the fall zone where he suspects any surviving fragments of the meteor ought to be. Here's his note to meteor hunter Steve Arnold:

"My best estimate at the moment is that meteorites should be found
somewhere in the region bounded by Pequea, Colemanville, Martic
Forge, Marticville, Holtwood, Bethesda (PA of course), and
Rawlinsville. The west side of the Susquehanna isn't ruled out,
but I would strongly favor the east side."

The search is now (mostly) up to local residents. Here's more from Arnold:

"Locals in the area need to look down!  Odds are strongly in favor of notified locals finding pieces of the meteorite over the chances even professional meteorite hunters would have.  Walking the dog, mowing the grass, walking across parking lots, walking along the sides of the roads, local are encouraged to look for smooth, dark black rocks. 
"These rocks will be heavier than other rocks of their size, and should attract a strong magnet (not a weak refrigerator magnet).  They will NOT be porous like lave.  They should have rounded corners, often oblong, shaped like a potato.  They can be any size from pea sized to basketball sized or larger.  Fist sized or larger can punch a hole in the ground, but smaller ones will often dent the ground and sometimes bounce.   If there is a naturally broken face, those edges can be sharp, with the interior usually a light cement looking gray color.
"Meteorites do not have any radiation, but oils on your hand could do some minor damage.  Ideally, picking it up should be done with a plastic baggy or a gloved hand, but the important thing is to get them pick them up.  
"Any rocks with a black smooth surface, that are attracted by a magnet should be checked out by an expert.
"Once the first specimen is found, then determining where the others are will be much easier.
"Hankey's photo revealed at least 6 fragments, and there is a possibility for hundreds of stones if there was a late break up, as often is the case.
"Meteorites belong to private property owners, so any would-be hunters must get permission to hunt and remove anything before going on to private property to search."
Anyone who finds a meteorite or a suspected meteorite is free to report it to Steve or any other meteorite hunter or collector. But Jim Reger, at the Maryland Geological Survey, has provided the following information to help guide residents who think they've got a piece of the July 6 meteor:
"The Smithsonian Institution's Division of Meteorites website at http://mineralsciences.si.edu/collections/meteorites.htm and answers a
few simple questions as a preliminary screen or test for suspected
meteorites.  NASA has also produced a booklet about identifying a
meteorite.  If either the Smithsonian or the NASA
"self-test" points to a possible meteorite, the ideal resolution should
come from taking the specimen to an expert. 

"There is also expertise at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. If
you have a question about meteorites, contact Linda Welzenbach at
at
welzenbl@si.edu
"

Jim advises against sending your specimen to the Smithsonian. If all the pre-tests are positive, make an appointment and hand-carry it to Washington.

Good luck.

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

Meteor hunt isn't over yet

 Mike Hankey meteor

The search for any fragments of last Monday's fireball meteor is continuing, although not as intensely as last week. I received the following email on Saturday from Steve "Meteorite Man" Arnold:

"Hello Frank,

" A personal situation brought me back to Arkansas today. I hope to get back there very soon.

"I am still fielding reports, a good one from Lancaster, and West Philly, also a great one from NJ.

"Also, the York Water Co. had a second video (that I haven't seen, but Jeff gave me a very detailed description) that could put the end of the fireball at the south side of Lancaster. But no new videos, after all this effort.

"I actually did some door-knocking yesterday [Friday] walking into businesses with cameras facing the right way, with no luck.

"I would love to zero in on a tight area before encouraging locals to devote time looking, but the peak of interest will be coming down pretty quick, I would guess.

"But NBC's 'Meteor' 4-part mini-series starring Jason "George Castanza" Alexander starts tomorrow [Sunday] through Wednesday, and 'Meteorite Men' airs four times this next week over on Science Channel, so who knows?

"It is a bit tough as much of the interest is down your way, and the rocks, no doubt, are up in Penn.

"Hey, there is a new debate now that the still photo of [Mike] Hankey's (above) is of a jet and not the meteor. It will be interesting to see how that plays out, especially with Sky and Telescope wanting to run it. Without that data my zone probably doesn't change too much, but it makes soime of it a bit more fuzzy ...  - Steve"

And this morning, I received the following additional information from Arnold:

"A 'rocket scientist' type friend of mine was able to crunch the numbers and get them to me about 3am today.  He has taken both the Hankey photo and the YWC video and extrapolated a real tight fall zone."

For more astro photos by Mike Hankey, visit: mikesastrophotos.com  He's also posted a letter from Richard Kowalski, at the University of Arizona, a leading asteroid hunter who had initially expressed doubts that Mike had photographed the meteor. But he's now convinced it's the real deal.

The hunt continues ...

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:36 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

Flirting with 90s by mid-week

Monday weather map 

This unusually pleasant (for Baltimore) July weather will continue today, with slightly below-normal temperatures, sunny skies and low humidities. But we may be flirting with the 90s again by Wednesday as the cold front that drifted by us over the weekend turns and slides back north as a warm front.

Ninety-degree weather and steamy humidity are what we've all come to expect from living in Baltimore and around the Chesapeake Bay. But somehow, this spring and summer, we've managed to avoid it almost entirely.

Until Sunday afternoon, the only 90-degree days we'd had (officially, at least, at BWI-Marshall) were in April. And those three hot days came before we saw any days with highs in the 80s. Since then - through all of May and June and almost half of July - the hottest we managed was 89 degrees, June 25 and 26.

On Sunday, the airport thermometer did touch 90 degrees, briefly, at 5:10 p.m. But the humidities were low, in the mid-40-percent range, making it much more comfortable if you could get out of the direct sunshine.

By Wednesday and Thursday, however, the forecast calls for temperatures near 90 degrees again, with higher humidities and slight chances for showers and thunderstorms.

Until then, we're enjoying average to slightly below-average temperatures and low humidities in the wake of that cold front, which is now stalled across extreme southern Maryland and southeast Virginia. Tuesday should be sunny and seasonably warm at 87 degrees.

The good news is that this more familiar heat and humidity won't last long. By the weekend, forecast highs drop back into the lower 80s, several degrees below the long-term averages for BWI at this time of year. 

What's becoming more apparent, however, is that the wet weather our lawns and gardens enjoyed from April through mid-June appears to have ended. The airport has recorded just eight-tenths of an inch of measurable rain since June 18.

That's not unexpected in mid-summer. But it shows in our lawns. Grass that grew luxuriantly all spring has suddenly turned brown as rain falls short of its needs. Baltimore - start your sprinklers!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:56 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

July 10, 2009

Meteorite Man asks blog posters' help

"Meteorite Man" Steve Arnold is still looking for those key eyewitness reports that could point him toward any remnants of the July 6 Mason-Dixon Meteor that may have survived the fall to Earth.

Arnold has read through more than 100 comments from Weather Blog readers who saw or heard the meteor, and he's singled out more than 30 that were detailed enough to suggest that just a little more information might help point him to the impact zone.

That's Arnold below on Wednesday, kneeling in front of the Water Co. security apparatus that captured video of the meteor as it fell east of York, Pa. Monday morning. (Click here to see the video.)

The camera itself is the dark gray object attached to the bottom of the silver box. The videographer at right is TV producer Bob Melisso, who is filming Arnold's search on behalf of the Science Channel program "Meteorite Men."

Here's what he's asking for. And below his note are the names of the commenters he wants to hear from.

"For those of you that saw the fireball, please reply with the following details: Meteorite Man Steve Arnold     The address (including city and zip code) where you saw it?

    What direction you were facing when seeing it?

    If you were indoors, and saw it through a window, what direction the window was facing?

    What direction the fireball appeared to be heading from your perspective?

    If you saw the fireball burn out, could you pinpoint exactly (or close to) the direction it extinguished?

    Was there a landmark between you and the fireball that helped you positively pinpoint the direction it was from you when it quit burning? 

   If you heard a sonic boom, how long was it between seeing the light and hearing the sonic boom.    What other details that are relevant."

Please send the details directly to Steve at MeteorHntr@aol.com 

The WeatherBlog commenters he'd like to hear from are:

Siobhan, in West Chester, Pa.; M Gaines, in Lancaster, Pa.; Matt B, in Bel Air; Melissa Tillery, who was driving on I-70 near Hagerstown; Sam Luther, who was camping near Delta, Pa.; John, in rural northwest Harford, Co.; Diane, in Port Deposit; Chuck and Nikki, in Port Deposit;

Raquel, in Bergen County, N.J.; Nicole Green, in Pikesville; Myranda Warfield, in Jefferson; Mike and Julie, in Forest Hill; DJ, in Bel Air; Kimberly, in Forest Hill; DCD, in Littlestown, Pa.; Lisa Ewing, in Port Deposit; Karen Haney, in Hickory, north of Bel Air; Jenny Gresock, in Seven Valleys, Pa.;

Frank Memmo, in Churchville; Ashley Simpson, in Arnold; Chris, in Conowingo area of Cecil County; Kristen B., in Forest Hill; Dale, in Forest Hill; Tom D., who was southbound on I-83 in York, Pa.; Matt Bureau, in Greensburg, Pa.; Timothy Jones, in Philadelphia;

Chelsea, in Forest Hill; Terry, in Earlesville; Sue, in White Marsh; and HC, who was southbound on I-83 near Glen Rock, Pa.

Thanks. We'll keep you posted on any progress in the meteorite hunt.

And while we're on the topic, NBC on Sunday night will air yet another movie about a meteor headed for the Earth, and beautiful scientists racing to save the planet. It's called, "Meteor," of all things, and it starts at 9 p.m. on WBAL Channel 11 in Baltimore.

Jason Alexander ("Seinfeld's" George Castanza) is among the cast.

Come back here after it's over and let's see how many scientific errors we can list.

(SUN PHOTO By Frank D. Roylance)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:31 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

July 9, 2009

It's official: El Nino has begun

El Nino sea surface temperaturesThe National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has made it official: Another El Nino has begun, with sea surface temperatures in the eastern and central tropical Pacific Ocean now more than 1 degree Celsius above the average.

Red and orange colors on the map at left show where sea surface temperatures in the Pacific are 1 to 2 degrees above average.

The phenomenon, which occurs every two to five years, on average, typically triggers changes in weather trends around the globe. It is expected to last at least a year, and is the first El Nino since 2006. Here's more from NOAA.

For Maryland, El Nino's effects are not as cut and dried as they are for some parts of the world, such as the Pacific coast and Indonesia. But studies have found a trend toward stormier1983 blizzard in Baltimore winters. That can mean a lot of snow, or very little - a sort of all-or-nothing deal, depending on temperatures. The most notable storm in an El Nino year may have been the Feb. 11, 1983 storm that dropped 22.8 inches on Baltimore (photo, right).

The general conclusion the experts have reached about El Nino Winters in Baltimore is summed up this way:

"El Niño winters in the Baltimore Region mean a milder than normal December. They also tend to be all or nothing when it comes to snowfall. Either there are no significant snow storms and season snow totals average less than 5 inches or there is a tendency toward multiple snow storms with seasonal totals above 30 inches.  These storms usually occur in January and February. November, December, and March often see little or no snow."

You can read more about this here.

(SUN PHOTO by Weyman Swagger 1983)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:03 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Phenomena
        

Brrrr .. Morning low close to record

That was one chill breeze coming in the bedroom window this morning. Reminds me of summer in New England. It was only 54 degrees at daybreak on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. And there were some colder readings than that across the region. York, Pa. reported a low of 50 at the airport.

It was 56 early this morning at BWI-Marshall Airport. That was within 2 degrees of the record low for a July 9 at BWI. The 54-degree reading there was set on this date a quarter-century ago - in 1984.

There was a low of 64 degrees at Washington Reagan. Dulles Airport, out in northern Virginia, reached 58 degrees. It was 58 in Hagerstown, too.

All this as we approach what is, on average at least, the hottest two weeks of the year.

Here are some other low readings from across the region. (Check the date on the map; the 7/9 data had not been loaded at the time of this writing.) 

The forecast continues to look just fine. The seasonable weather is expected to continue, with some heating-up, and a chance of showers and thunderstorms over the weekend. But the first half of next week looks a lot like this week - mild temperatures and dry weather.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:34 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

July 8, 2009

Mason-Dixon meteor turns up on security cam

The big fireball meteor that startled residents in Central Maryland and southern Pennsylvania early Monday morning was captured on a security camera video in York Pa. It's about 18 seconds into the 70-second video. Meteorite hunters hope this will be a first clue to guide them to the spot where surviving bits of the meteor - if there are any - may have landed.

The camera was one of about 50 that protect the various facilities of the York Water Company. The president and CEO, Jeffrey R. Hines, said he and his wife live in York and heard the sonic boom touched off by the meteor as it entered the atmosphere at about 1:10 a.m. Monday. But they didn't see anything.

It wasn't until late on Monday that he decided to check the security video to see what the cameras might have seen.

"It didn't take long," he said. The quality isn't great. "It's a security camera, at night."

But the meteor is unmistakable, he said. "You can see the fireball, and see it all ready to burn out, and a number of pieces of meteorite. Probably four or five frames is all it captures."

Even so, Hines said, "It's pretty cool." With two or three more images like this, meteorite hunters hope to be able to triangulate on the meteor's trajectory, and its final seconds before any surviving pieces fell to Earth.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:25 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Cool pictures
        

Here's to 12:34:56 7.8.09

fireworks Inner HarborSo you'll be sitting around the lunch table at work today, and you'll raise your cup of diet soda and call for a toast: "Here's to the magic of numbers, and to this magic moment in time: 12:34:56 p.m. on 7/8/09."

Your friends and co-workers will be amazed at your mathematical acumen, and your acute awareness of your place in the space-time continuum.

Either that, or you will be greeted with blank stares, and people will begin to leave the table, claiming to have pressing work to attend to.

Just remember, you heard it here first.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

July 7, 2009

Four evenings beneath the Int'l Space Station

 NASA ISS Cupola

There is always a chance that clouds and storms will interfere. But if we get lucky, there should be plenty of opportunity to spot the International Space Station this week as it passes over the mid-Atlantic states.

The long hours of northern daylight at this time of year are keeping the station in direct sunlight later into the evening, and earlier in the morning, so there are actually more than 20 flybys that observers in the Baltimore area could catch in the next nine days if they were so inclined. But many are in the wee hours of the morning, and other passes are low to the horizon and harder to see.

In this post I'll highlight just four passes, all of them very bright, evening opportunities at least halfway up the sky from the horizon. Here goes:

Tuesday evening, July 7: Look for the ISS as it rises above the southwestern horizon at 9:32 p.m. EDT. It will pass through the Summer Triangle, climbing to 43 degrees above the southeastern horizon by 9:35 p.m. From there it will cruise off toward the northeast, disappearing at about 9:38 p.m. UPDATE: Good pass, very bright, no clouds. The unmanned Russian Progress supply ship trailed the ISS by about 15 seconds.

Wednesday evening, July 8: On this pass, too, the ISS will rise from the southwest at 9:57 p.m., passing just above Saturn. Then it will travel through the stars of the Big Dipper, about 48 degrees above the northwestern horizon at 9:59 p.m. From there it will head off toward the northeast as it flies over New England and the Canadian Maritime Provinces and disappears at about 10:02 p.m.

Thursday evening, July 9:  This pass will begin in the southwest at 8:46 p.m. EDT. The ISS will appear like a bright, moving star, rising 46 degrees above the southeast horizon at 8:49 p.m. From there it will fly off toward the northeast and vanish at 8:52 p.m.

Friday evening, July 10: Watch for the space station to rise out of the western sky at 9:10 p.m. EDT, passing just below Saturn this time, then climbing to 46 degrees (halfway up) from the northwestern horizon. It will pass along the bottom edge of the Dipper stars at 9:13 p.m. before moving off toward the mortheast, where it will fade away at 9:16 p.m.

As always, come back here and let us know how you did. Take the kids out to watch. One of them might decide to become an astronaut. Or a science writer. 

The image above, by the way, is the expected view through the ISS Cupola that astronauts will carry to the station and install sometime next year. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:05 PM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

Wallops to test crew escape system Wednesday A.M.

There's an interesting launch planned for early Wednesday at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility, down on Virginia's Eastern Shore. It's not one that will be visible for hundreds of miles around, but it does mark an important milestone for manned space flight. The weather forecast is promising.

At 6:15 a.m. EDT, NASA will attempt to launch its Max Launch Abort System, a rocket-propelled mechanism that's designed to pull astronauts and their crew capsule away from their boosters in the event of a failure at, or near, the launch pad. If there's a delay, the launch window is open until 10 a.m.

UPDATE: Launch (photo) was successful. Anyone see it?

The idea recalls the tall escape towers that topped the old Mercury and Apollo capsules. They were essentially small rocket engines designed to yank the crew capsule to safety and provide time for its parachutes to deploy and lower the crew safely to the ocean.MLAS launch NASA

If the space shuttle had had a similar system, the Challenger crew might have made it to safety as their booster rockets and liquid fuel tanks blew up after launch in 1986.

The MLAS system is being developed for possible use with NASA's planned Orion spacecraft, the Apollo-like capsule that will carry astronauts to the International Space Station by 2015, and on to the moon in 2020, if all goes according to plan.

Anyway, the launch from Wallops Wednesday morning will be a short one - two minutes. The MLAS rocket is expected to carry a simulated Orion capsule no more than a mile into the sky, and a mile out to sea. But it would sure be something nifty to watch if you happen to be nearby.

The test vehicle is 33 feet tall and the whole system weighs 45,000 pounds. The weather forecast for the area is good.

For more information, visit the Wallops Web site. Their launches can be followed on Twitter @NASA_Wallops.

(NASA PHOTO)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:09 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

Hot weather due back (briefly) for the weekend

Feeling a little warm downtown at the moment (87 at The Sun's weather station), but the airport remains at a comfortable 83 degrees as we write. This mild-for-July weather is expected to continue for the rest of the work week. But hot weather is due back for the weekend, forecasters say.

We're only a week into July, of course, but so far the temperatures for the month at BWI-Marshall are averaging a cool 71.5 degrees. That's 4 degrees below the long-term average of 75.5 degrees for the first week of July in Baltimore.

It can't last, of course. But if it did, it would make this the coolest July on record for the city. The only Julys that come close are 1891, which averaged 71.6 degrees for the entire month; 2000 and 2001, which ended with an average temperature of 72.7 and 72.8 degrees, respectively.

Two days so far this month have failed to reach the 80s, and two nights dipped into the 50s at BWI. No recordsailing Severn Rivers were broken, but we're all saving a bundle on our cooling bills.

The days ahead look pretty much the same as another cold front slips by. Forecasters see slight chances for precipitation today, followed by some clearing and drier air for Wednesday. More chances for showers return Thursday, with highs only in the low- to mid-80s, which is a few degrees cooler than the long-term averages. Nights will hold in the 60s at the airport.

By Saturday, however, we'll be crowding 90 degrees again, with increased risk of showers and thunderstorms. That will persist until the next cold front drops by, perhaps by late Sunday.

Long-term outlooks still don't see much in store for us in the way of our more typically hot and humid Chesapeake Summer weather.

You're welcome, but please... In lieu of flowers, you may donate to your favorite charity.

(SUN PHOTO by Kim Hairston 2006)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:18 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Meteorite hunter says: Check security camera tapes

Professional meteor hunter Steve Arnold is asking home and business owners in central Maryland and southern Pennsylvania to check their security tapes from early Monday morning for evidence of the meteor that scores of residents across the region have been reporting.

Most reader reports to this Blog put the time between 1:00 a.m. EDT and 1:15 a.m., July 6, with many focused on 1:08 - 1:10 a.m. 

Arnold, co-star of the Science Channel's "Meteorite Men" program, is hoping to use the tapes to triangulate on the meteor and calculate its path. From that, he hopes to launch a search for any bits of the space rock that may have made it to the ground.

"That security camera footage is badly needed," Arnold told me in an email note. "I am optimistic, as there should be a few thousand cameras that caught it on tape. The key is to find at least three good camera angles to triangulate from. By 'good,' I don't necessarily mean the clearest, or in color, but ones that have physical objects visible in the distance so that when visiting the camera in person, with a compass, one can tell exactly where the fireball extinguished. This way a definite line can be drawn from the lens of the camera to the object and on the the point of 'redardation.' Three good lines intersecting gives us what we need."

Arnold also asked me to see whether the region's weather radar captured a trace of the falling meteor. I've asked the National Weather Service at Sterling to look into it.

Security camera footage has been used before to document fireball meteors. There are lots of them on YouTube. So, if you own or have access to security camera tapes in the region, check your Monday morning data for the flash. If you find something, you can contact me at frank.roylance@baltsun.com, or Steve Arnold at MeteorHntr@aol.com. Or, copy us both.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:57 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Phenomena
        

July 6, 2009

A Mason-Dixon meteor?

fireball 

We have been receiving reports today of a likely meteor over north-central Maryland and southern Pennsylvania early Monday morning. (Not the one in the Flickr.com image above.) 

Below are the first reports we have received. If you heard or saw something similar, around the same time, please leave a comment. Include the time, your location, which direction you saw the object or flash, a description of what you saw, and note any boom or other sound you heard, as well as the time lapse between flash and boom.

The York Dispatch:  In York County, Pa., police officers from Penn Township, Southwestern Regional and Newberry Township reported seeing a flash and hearing a boom around 1:15 a.m. Monday, July 6, according to local 911 centers. Officials in Harford County, Md. also reported seeing a flash and hearing a boom near the Mason-Dixon Line. 

Capital Gazette: An Annapolis city police officer reported that she and her partner both saw what she described as a "bright blue light in the sky" just after midnight. It was followed by "a light with a tail, falling from the sky," according to our informant. Annapolis police reported hearing a similar report on Baltimore County police radio.

Gary Moon, reporting to The Sun's News Tips: "I heard and felt a deep earth blast similar to an earthquake, which shook my home in Glen Rock, Pa., early Monday morning. I thought I would hear MUCH more about this one ... nothing."

Deborah Markow, Havre de Grace: "Last night, couldn't sleep, went out on back deck, laid on lounge, eyes closed and then it was like someone pointed a flash light in my eyes it was so bright. I saw another one streak through the sky ... It was one of the most thrilling sights to behold a ball of fire flying through the sky."

I have not yet seen any meteor reports of this event on the American Meteor Society's Fireball Sightings Log, but it's early yet, and this fireball, coming in the wee hours after a long holiday, probably did not catch many people out and about.

Which makes reports like these, and yours, all the more important. If you saw this object, be sure to leave a report with the AMS, too.

But judging from the descriptions, it almost certainly was a fireball, which is simply an especially bright meteor, vaporizing with an impressive flash.

Here's a pretty good example on video.

They are sometimes followed by a sonic boom, which would explain the booming noises in the reports. Some fireball observers - though none yet for this event - also report a crackling or hissing sound that is concurrent with the meteor's flash and which has never been fully explained scientifically.

Although meteor rates begin to pick up in July, this is not the peak time for any particular meteor shower. It seems likely this was a "sporadic," or isolated meteor that just happened to be especially big and bright. Big ones like this are always unexpected, always startling to witness, and always a thrill.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:43 AM | | Comments (111)
Categories: Phenomena
        

July 5, 2009

Space Station flyover Monday night

Space Cadets! There will be an unusually nice opportunity Monday evening to watch the International Space Station fly by on its way from the Louisiana coast to the Canadian International Space StationMaritime provinces.

If skies are clear, we'll pick it up at 10:43 p.m. EDT, rising out of the southwest as it passes over northern Alabama. Look for a bright, star-like object hustling toward the northeast, rising about halfway up the northwestern sky by 10:46 p.m. At that moment, it will be somewhere over central Pennsylvania, about 280 miles from viewers in Baltimore, moving northeast at 17,500 mph.

From there it will pass through the handle of the Big Dipper and race off toward the northeast, disappearing from view at 10:49 p.m. as it flies over New Brunswick, Canada.

Sure, it's a bit late. But hey, it's summer. Take the kids outside with you and let them try to be the first to spot the station. That's their money up there, too. Here's more on what they're doing up there.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:01 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

July 2, 2009

Another week of cooler-than-normal temps

You could almost call it a "cool wave." But "cool" is probably not the best word to describe the slightly-lower-than-normal highs and lows in the NWS forecast for the next seven days. A "mild wave," maybe?  Or a "pleasant wave"?

Whatever. It's welcome and it's saving us all money.

The real weather news is that we've slipped into this pattern of what meteorologists out at Sterling are calling "troughiness," as in, persistent low pressure to our north that is sweeping disturbances through the region, giving us plenty of clouds, with daily chances for scattered bagpipes 4th of Julyshowers and thunderstorms.

And that seems to be keeping the temperatures in check. Highs for the next week will stall out in the low- to mid-80s. And the overnight lows will sink into the low- to mid-60s (maybe even some 50s in some places) - good sleeping weather if the humidity doesn't bother you. That's all a few degrees below the long-term averages for this time of year in Baltimore, which are in the 86/87-degree range on the top end, and 65/66 at night.

Baltimore seems to have been the focus of last night's rainstorms. One city church was struck by lightning. We could hear the thunder from the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville, but only received a bit of the water. Here at Calvert & Centre streets, however, The Sun's weather instruments picked up 0.92 inch of rain. (The station was down for a few hours this morning after some computer reconfiguration. Should be back shortly.)

And that was close to the most reported anywhere in the metro area. Hamilton reported 1.13 inches to the CoCoRHaS network this morning. Towson reported 0.92 inch. Kingsville, in Harford County, had 0.86 inch. St. Mary's County also got a good deal of rain, though probably from a separate storm cell. BWI reported only 0.37 inch up until midnight yesterday.

Sunday still looks like the best weather day of the long weekend for Central Maryland, with no rain chances in the forecast, partly sunny skies and a high near 84. The 4th comes with a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms, starting after 2 p.m. and continuing into the evening. 

(SUN PHOTO/ Mauricio Rubio/Cooler-than-normal bagpipers in Catonsville parade 2008) 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

July 1, 2009

Storm risks decrease after tonight

Looks like the long holiday weekend will carry a risk of showers and thunderstorms clear through Fireworks and lightningSaturday night, with a 30 percent risk that storms will impact the fireworks. Sunday's forecast, for now, comes with no mention of rain, so if the pyrotechnics are postponed, Sunday should be ideal. (That's what happened in 2007. Sun outdoors writer Candus Thomson snapped the pic at left at the Inner Harbor on the 5th. Amazing.)

But the highest chances for thunder and lightning come tonight, rated at a "likely" 70 percent. So far, all the convection on radar appears to be well to our west, just beginning to move into western Virginia at 4 p.m. But forecasters out at Sterling seem pretty confident things will fire up around the I-95 corridor by 8 p.m. EDT, and cross the Chesapeake by 10.

After tonight, rain chances diminish to the 20-30 percent range, save for 50 percent tomorrow night. That should allow us some sunshine, at least, and time to enjoy the mild, low-80s temperatures over the holiday weekend.

Headed for the beaches? Here's the Ocean City forecast. Looks like folks headed east will have fine weather after Thursday night. No rain in the forecast at all for the weekend, with highs in the upper 70s and low 80s. Perfect. 

Going west? The forecast for Oakland, in Garrett County looks a bit wetter and grayer. But Independence Day itself looks good. Rain chances return for Sunday. Bring a book.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:51 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Small tremor jiggles Delaware Bay

The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting a small earth tremor at about 9:45 a.m. EDT this morning, measured with a magnitude of just 2.8. That's not likely to be felt by many, but is enough to detect and report. 

The center of the shaking was pinpointed in southern New Jersey, on the eastern shore of the Delaware River near Pennsville, NJ, about 8 miles south southeast of Wilmington, Del.

The quake was centered about 3 miles deep. Here's a map. Anyone feel anything?

 

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

May, June without 90s ... Cool summer ahead?

June ended at midnight last night without having delivered a single day in the 90s. May ended the same way. Baltimore - or BWI at least, the station of record for the city - has had just three days in the 90s so far in 2009, all of them in April.

So, does that mean we're in for a "cool" summer ?  "Maybe," said Steve Zubrick, the science and operations officer for the National Weather Service's Sterling forecast office. He's been crunching the numbers for the past few months, and found the following:

Cooling off1. June 2009 had the fewest 90+ days (zero) since 1979. That's only happened six times since they began keeping official records for the city - in 1886, 1903, 1916, 1972, 1979 and 2009. The average number of 90+ degree days in June in Baltimore is 5.7. Last year we had nine. The record is 18, in 1943.

2. May passed without any highs in the 90s, too. The last time May and June both stayed out of the 90s was in 1979. That's only happened four times: in 1979, 1972, 1886 and 2009.

3. So how do summers with no 90-degree weather in June turn out? Zubrick said the coolest three-month (June-August) summer period on record for Baltimore was in 1903, which saw no 90-degree weather in June. The summer of 1886 was the 6th coolest, and also had no June days in the 90s. The summer of 1912 was the 12th coolest on record, and likewise had no June days in the 90s.

4. On the other hand, that latest long-term forecast for Baltimore for this summer, issued at the end of May, called for a cooler-than-normal June, but above-normal temperatures overall for the 90-day summer period. If they're right, we're in for a hot July and August.

5. As for rainfall, April, May and June together produced 19.74 inches of rain at BWI. That ranks as the second-wettest April-June period on record for the city.

For Zubrick's complete (unofficial and preliminary) report, read on.

(SUN PHOTO/John Makely 2006)

"June 2009 featured NO 90F days (or better)...as measured at BWI.

"However, the ASOS in downtown Baltimore at the Maryland Science Center (identifier: DMH), had 3-90F/+ days this June 2009 (2nd, 25th and 26th, and today-30th-they came close at 89F). But DMH's data only goes back to 2000.

"This makes June 2009 as having the fewest (0) days of 90F since 1979. Next fewest 90F days was in 2004 when 1 was recorded.

"There have been 5 years with no 90F/+ days in Baltimore: 1886, 1903, 1916, 1972, 1979.

"June 2009 makes it the 6th for the record (we got close today...6/30...BWI had a high of 87F).

"The normal # of 90F or better days in Baltimore for June is 5.7 days.

"Last year, BWI had nine (9) 90F or better days (and DMH had 10 days of 90F or better).

"The most number of  90F+ days in Baltimore was 18 in 1943 (a year which also featured the hottest June on record in Balt with an avg monthly temp of 79.8F)

"Through 6/29 at BWI...avg mon temp stands at 71.3F, which if it doesn't change would make June 2009 tied for 27th coolest.

"May 2009 at BWI also did not have any 90F days. There have been only 3 days of 90F or better at BWI so far this calendar year (2009) at BWI; all measured in April.

"Last time both consecutive months of May and June together had >NO< 90F days was in 1979 (and it's only happened 3 times: 1979, 1972 and 1886).

"Does having NO 90F degree days in June portend a cool summer?  Maybe.

"For the Jun-Jul-Aug summer calendar period, the coolest Jun-Aug was in 1903 (a year that featured no 90F deg days in June) with an average temp of 72.1F.  The summer (Jun-Aug) of 1886 was 6th coolest (73.2F...again no June 90F days). 1972 was 12th coolest (73.5) and 1979 was 27th coolest (74.1).

"The latest official CPC Jun-Jul-Aug forecast actually called (made back on May 31, 2009) for above normal for temperatures for the 90-day period. It also (and correctly) called for below normal temps for June, which appears is going to verify.

"...Rainfall-wise...

"Rainfall so far (through 29 June 2009) at BWI stands at 5.41", which if it stands, would make this June 2009 the 25th wettest (we've picked up 0.07" this evening ... but I don't have search capability to see where it might rank...it might move up a notch perhaps).

"The combined 2-month rainfall total for Balt for May and June 2009 stands at 13.83" (thought Jun 29th)...making it the 4th wettest May-Jun two month period on record.

"The April-May-June 2009 period 3-month total rainfall for BWI stands at 19.63 through Jun 29th. This would make it the 2nd wettest Apr-May-Jun period on record in Baltimore (and we'd need almost 2" more to beat the record).

"Steve Z"

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:28 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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