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December 31, 2010

It's all uphill from January's lows

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

January cold in BaltimoreJanuary arrives with the new year tonight. It’s the coldest month of the year, averaging 32.2 degrees at BWI-Marshall. The coldest days of the year fall at mid-month, when the average highs bottom out at 41, and the lows at 23 degrees. It’s the snowiest month, too, averaging 7.0 inches. The snowiest January at BWI was in 1996, with 32.6 inches. And the snowiest day on record for Baltimore was Jan. 28, 1922, with 23.3 inches. That three-day storm left 26.5 inches.   

(SUN PHOTO: Lloyd Fox, January 2005) 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition
        

December 30, 2010

Snow contest update

I finally got around to organizing the entries to our 2010-11 Snow Contest, in which clever readers try to guess the total snow accumulations for the season (through March 15) at BWI-Marshall Airport.

We have a grand total of 68 participants, including Angel Hernandez, of Easton, winner of our Dec. 26 snowfall BaltimoreGuess How Many 90-degree Days Contest last summer. The snow guesses range from a low of 7 inches (Ms. Nash) to a whopping 65 inches (Ken Marsh). The record was set last winter at 77 inches.

We have four potential ties - at 10 inches ("Henry" and Diane Goldbloom); 13.6 inches (Rick and Zevonista); 22.2 inches (Kevin and Eric), and 36 inches (David G. and Therese). But everyone else has staked out his or her own territory, some down to two decimal places.

As you'll recall, the 30-year average for BWI is 18 inches. Many of the entries - more than a third - are clustered, predictably, in the 16-to-23-inch range. Angel's guess for the snow contest, in case you're wondering, is a just-a-little-snowier-than-average 22 inches.

But so far this winter we've recorded a not-too-impressive 1.2 inches of snow at the airport. January and February average a bit more than 13 inches combined. So those who guessed low can take some comfort in the pace through December.

The person who comes closest without going over will be our winner. I'll keep you posted as the snow totals accumulate. But as the new year opens, we'll need a 6-incher just to reach our lowest guess. The forecast for Sunday calls for rain.

(SUN PHOTO: Dec. 26 snowfall - a trace - in Baltimore, Algerina Perna)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:25 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Notes to readers
        

South winds promise mild New Year's Eve

Marylanders planning to step out on Friday night to celebrate and watch some fireworks should have a relatively pleasant evening for it. Forecasters out at Sterling promise late-evening temperatures in the 40s with no precipitation and light winds.

New Year's Eve BaltimoreAfter a month of unusually cold and windy weather, winter is finally taking a breather. As this sunny high pressure system moves off the coast Friday, we'll get winds from the south and mild temperatures. Highs Friday through Sunday will cluster near 50 degrees, with overnight lows Friday and Saturday nights near 40 degrees.

The only hitch may be the chance for showers, beginning in the afternoon on 1/1/11, rising to 50 percent overnight into Sunday. There's a 30 percent chance for more showers on Sunday ahead of an approaching cold front. The good news is that all the precipitation will be liquid, washing some of the salt off our cars and streets.

The first work week of the new year looks to start out sunny, with more seasonable temperatures in the low 40s, and lows in the 20s. 

This morning's forecast discussion from Sterling notes that the coldest New Year's Eve on record for Baltimore occurred in 1880, when the late-night low was minus-1 degree F. The low down in DC that night was minus-13 degrees. And it slipped to minus-14 before dawn on Jan. 1, 1881. The all-time record low for DC is minus-15 degrees, on Feb. 11, 1899. 

Baltimore's record is minus-7 degrees.

(SUN PHOTO: Gene Sweeney Jr., Jan. 1, 2009)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Remembering 2010's fireballs

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

It was a great year in Maryland for meteors. At 5:45 p.m. on Jan. 18, many of us watched as a fist-sized rock flashed through the sky over northern Virginia, leaving a sinuous trail of smoke before crashing through the roof of a Lorton medical office. On May 10, just before 5 a.m., a spectacular meteor startled early commuters as it crossed the sky from west to east. Many Marylanders also spotted the fireball that brightened the sky Tuesday at 6:50 p.m. Duck!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition
        

December 29, 2010

Weekend snowstorm, from orbit

NASA has released an image from its Terra satellite showing where the snow fell over the weekend. Central Maryland is quite clearly in the snow-free bubble, between the new snow to our east and south, and the old snow to our west.

Here's more. The bubble reaches from Central Virginia to Central Pennsylvania. Lucky or unlucky? 

And while we're at it, here's Terra's view of snowy Ireland.

Christmas weekend storm 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures
        

Space Station flyover tonight

Forecasters predict partly cloudy skies for tonight's flyover by the International Space Station. But maybe we'll get lucky.

The giant tinkertoy is making an early evening appearance in dusky skies just northwest ISS cupola viewof Baltimore. Look for a bright, steady, star-like object rising above the western horizon at 5:03 p.m. EST as it tracks northeastward along the Appalachian mountain chain.  If it blinks, or has colored lights, it's an airplane. Keep looking. 

The ISS will climb more than halfway - 56 degrees - above the northwest horizon by 5:06 p.m., then slide off to the northeast, disappearing into the Earth's shadow at 5:10 p.m.

There are currently six people aboard the station, five men and one woman. There are two Russians, two Americans (including the lone female), a Latvian and an Italian. The station is larger than a five-bedroom house, and weighs more than 816,000 pounds. It is orbiting about 218 miles above the Earth, at a speed of about 17,500 mph.

As always, after you've dragged the kids and the neighbors out to watch, stop back here and leave a comment. Share the experience. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:28 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

December: In like a lamb, out the same way

December is still running about 5 degrees below normal for the month at BWI-Marshall Airport. But it came in like a lamb, with a high on Dec. 1 of 62 degrees. And now forecasters out at Sterling say it's going to exit the same way, with a forecast high of 53 degrees on New Year's Day. Late-night revelers Friday night should enjoy temperatures in the 40s.

NWS/Sterling December tempsTemperatures on either side of the new year's arrival will be more nearly normal. Expect some sunshine and daytime highs in the mid-40s, and overnight lows in the mid-20s.

The warming trend as we hit the weekend will come as the high pressure system that's bringing us sunshine today (Wednesday) moves east into the Atlantic, and a new storm - now coming ashore in the Pacific Northwest - approaches us from the west.  Together, clockwise winds around the high and counterclockwise winds around the low will funnel warmer, wetter air our way Rainfrom the south, forecasters say.

There's a 50 percent chance we'll see rain from that storm Saturday night.

The high on Jan. 1 will be only the second time since Dec. 1 that temperatures at BWI will have topped 50 degrees. The first was the 62-degree high on Dec. 1. The second was the 54-degree high on Dec. 12.Snow Baltimore Dec. 16, 2010

The rest of the month has been cold, with only three other dates that rose above the average (Dec. 22, 23, and 28). Thursday and Friday will also, likely, wind up above average as well. 

Our only measurable snow at BWI this month was the 1.2 inches that fell Dec. 16 (photo).  We recorded traces on five other days and had a very close call here over the Christmas weekend, while portions of northeast Maryland and the Eastern Shore saw significant accumulations. Ocean City reported 13 inches.

The coldest day of the month, relative to the averages, was Dec. 14, when the high was 28 degrees, and the low 20 degrees. That came to 13 degrees below the norm for the date. It was windy in December, too, with winds topping 40 mph on six dates.

The mildest day in December (so far) was Dec. 12. The high was 54, the low 37, and the average 8 degrees above the norm.

We're averaging 32 degrees through Tuesday. That's 5 degrees below average for the month, and the coldest December since 2000, which averaged 30 degrees.

(SUN PHOTO: Gabe Dinsmoor, Dec. 16, 2010)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:52 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Bright Md. meteor spotted Tuesday evening

I came back today to two reports of a bright meteor visible from Maryland Tuesday evening, Dec. 28, 2010. Details are still very sketchy. But 25-or-so other people from Virginia to New England spotted something similar at about the same time, according to fireball reports to the American Meteor Society web site.

If you spotted it, too, we'd love to get your descriptions.

Please leave a comment, and describe where you were, the time and date you saw the meteor, the direction you were looking and the direction of the meteor's duration, movement and approximate angle above the horizon.  As an example: "Meteor moved from 40 degrees above the northeast horizon to 20 degrees above the southeast horizon before disappearing..."  (On the horizon is zero degrees; straight up is 90 degrees.) Also include any color, visible trail or sounds.

The first report to us came from G. Mitchell, who emailed us at 9:18 p.m. Tuesday:

"Spotted a large geren meteor tonight, approx, 6:50 p.m., moving east to west, lasting about 6 sec. with a shower of green sparks following my location 5 miles south of Pocomoke City, Md."

The second came from a former Evening Sun colleague, Charles "Hap" Hazard. Still trying to reach him directly, but he left a message Tuesday night reporting a "bright red" meteor that "shot across the sky."  Hazard was "near the Beltway and Reisterstown Road."

I need more detail than that, Hap. Put on your reporter's hat and call me. Everyone else, please leave a comment below. And, obviously, if you happened to capture it on a security camera, still image or video, send it along! Thanks! 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:40 AM | | Comments (62)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

December 27, 2010

So near, and yet so far

Snow accumulations 

All that excitement about a Christmas weekend snowstorm, and we come home to ... nothing?

Well, as hard as it is for many to believe, it was a very near miss. Less than 50 miles separated Baltimore from significant snow. Here's the accumulation map from the NWS in Sterling. Watch and Warning coordinator Chris Strong is also asking for some feedback on the weather service's policies regarding advance warning on snow accumulations:

"While the Christmas weekend storm of 2010 has largely spared our area from significant snow, it sometimes can be storms like this to examine how the process of informing everyone can be improved.  While some storms, such as many of last winter's, can have high confidence several days out, not all do - as was the case for our area this time.  As you can see from the map ... the area of 5+ inches of snow (our warning criteria) was just less than 50 miles from the DC/Baltimore section of the I-95 corridor.

"As policy we at NWS Baltimore/Washington:

* Mention the possibility of significant snow in our Hazardous Weather Outlook out to 7 days in advance. [in this case it was being being mentioned 7 days in advance]
* Limit specific accumulation forecasts out to 36 hours in advance. [which helps limit the wild swings that would frequently happen with more extended accumulation forecasts]

"I would like to encourage you to pass on any comments you have on how the process worked (or didn't work) to me directly. While certainly "I would like a more accurate forecast with more lead time" is a goal for all of us, I would like to hear any thoughts on our accumulation policy listed above, or any other constructive criticisms you might have for future events.
"

Feel free to leave your comments here. They read the MarylandWeather blog in Sterling.

BTW, we had plenty of snow in Erie, Pa. Snowed every day.

Lots of weather folks with regrets today. Here's Eric the Red as the snow faded for Baltimore Sunday morning:

"Well...  our first big storm is looking more and more like an egg-in-face moment.  I think 8" would be a miracle at this point.  2-4" is more like it in the metro area, perhaps less, with little if any snow farther west.  I guess I should've listened to my earlier thought... no high to the north = no big MD snowstorm.  The killer for me was the models, most of which avertised a serious winter storm.  Given that these things are processing more info in a minute than I can in a week, it's often hard to ignore them.  My bad."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:16 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Winter weather
        

Looking for Marylanders stuck in NY, New England

 

 

While the Baltimore area avoided a snow disaster this weekend and is just dealing with high winds, other places on the East Coast have been hit hard.

Marylanders, are you stuck in the snowstorm in New York and New England and can't get home? Want your plight featured in the Baltimore Sun? Contact reporter Nicole Fuller at (410) 818-6212 or nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Getty Images photo of snow removal equipment at Newark Liberty International Airport. See more East Coast storm photos here.

Posted by Kim Walker at 2:19 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather
        

Strong winds, not snow, affect commute

Fighting strong winds that threaten to undo their work, snowplow and salt crews continued to clear Maryland roads early Monday morning, especially in parts of the Eastern Shore, Cecil County and northern Harford County, state highway officials said.

Charlie Gischlar, a spokesman for the State Highway Administration, urged drivers to use extra caution when using Route 50 to travel to and from the Eastern Shore region, as parts of the highway still have some isolated snow patches.

High wind gusts, in some places reaching more than 45 mph, have been pushing snow back into already cleared areas, Gischlar said.

“In the rural areas we could have some lanes open and come back out on our next pass and they’ll be covered again,” he said.

The National Weather Service has a wind advisory in effect until 9 p.m. Monday for much of the Baltimore metropolitan area, as well as parts of Allegany county and Charles county.

“The big enemy today is going to be the wind, so wherever you go just take it slow,” Gischlar said.

Plow and salt crews are also out in southern and western Maryland, Gischlar said, who said he expected road conditions to improve as the day goes on.

“As soon as the sun starts to heat things up we should see some rapid improvement,” he said.

Gischlar recommended commuters check the state highway website for updates on traffic conditions and road closures

    --Yeganeh June Torbati


 

 

 

Posted by Anica Butler at 9:10 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Travel, Winter weather
        

December 26, 2010

Snow accumulations down to 1-2 inches

The Baltimore area is now expected to get 1-2 inches of snow, according to the latest Winter Weather Advisory from the National Weather Service. While the snow totals have gone down, the service continues to forecast a windy and cold evening with gusts up to 35 mph for this afternoon, increasing to 40 mph overnight. Temps in the lower to mid-20s.

Posted by Kim Walker at 2:51 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Forecasts, Winter weather
        

Twitter feed for #mdsnow

Baltimoresun.com has a page pulling in the #mdsnow comments from Twitter. Check it out here.

 

Posted by Kim Walker at 1:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather
        

NWS downgrades to Winter Weather Advisory

As of right now, the National Weather Service has downgraded the Winter Storm Warning to a Winter Weather Advisory for the Baltimore area. Don't put away the shovels just yet. They are still calling for 2-4 inches of snow with wind gusts up to 40 mph tonight.

The advisory:

"THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN BALTIMORE MD/WASHINGTON HAS
ISSUED A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY FOR SNOW... WHICH IS IN EFFECT
UNTIL 6 AM EST MONDAY. THE WINTER STORM WARNING HAS BEEN
CANCELLED.

* PRECIPITATION TYPE...SNOW.

* ACCUMULATIONS...2 TO 4 INCHES.

* TIMING...LIGHT SNOW WILL OVERSPREAD THE AREA THROUGH NOON...AND
  CONTINUE DURING THE AFTERNOON AND EVENING HOURS.

* TEMPERATURES...AROUND 30 TODAY...FALLING TO THE LOWER TO MID
  20S TONIGHT.

* WINDS...NORTH 10 TO 15 MPH THIS MORNING...INCREASING TO 15 TO
  25 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 35 MPH THIS AFTERNOON. NORTHWEST 20 TO 30
  MPH WITH GUSTS TO 40 MPH TONIGHT."

AccuWeather.com  is saying 1-3 inches during the day with 1-2 inches tonight. "Otherwise mostly cloudy and windy."

Foot's Forecast folks are finalizing their storm grade amounts, but earlier this morning they were estimating 6 inches from Baltimore County east and south to Anne Arundel County. 

 

Posted by Kim Walker at 10:29 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Winter storm to begin in region around 10 a.m.

The winter storm warning remains in effect for the Baltimore region, with a steady shower of flurries beginning around 10 or 11 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.
At about 8: 15 a.m., the leading edge of the snow was beginning in Fredericksburg, Va. over to Calvert County, according to Stephen Konarik, with the National Weather Service.

Heavier snow showers will begin around mid-afternoon, Konarik said, and continue through the evening hours.
Baltimore and Anne Arundel County should expect between 5 to 8 inches, Konarik said, at least by the time winds die down and flurries stop a little after midnight.  Howard and Montgomery counties are still under winter weather advisory.
Accumulation totals could be adjusted if there's any deviation of the storm’s center, Konarik said. 

Posted by Kim Walker at 8:49 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Christmas in B'more can be arctic, balmy

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Did you overdo things a little yesterday? No worries. Even Mother Nature can overdo things at Christmastime. The coldest Christmas in Baltimore was in 1983, when the mercury hit zero degrees F. The most recent Christmas in the top-five coldest was 1998, when it was 13 degrees. The warmest Christmas at BWI-Marshall was in 1964, when it was a tropical 72 degrees. The most recent Christmas in the top-five warmest was in 1989, when it was 67 degrees.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:02 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, Sky Notes
        

December 25, 2010

NWS issues Winter Storm Warning

The National Weather Service has upgraded its winter storm watch to a warning with accumulations of 6-10 inches:

"WINTER STORM WARNING NOW IN EFFECT FROM 4 AM SUNDAY TO 6 AM EST MONDAY... * PRECIPITATION TYPE...SNOW. * ACCUMULATIONS...6 TO 10 INCHES. * TIMING...LIGHT SNOW WILL BEGIN FROM SOUTH TO NORTH DURING THE EARLY MORNING HOURS SUNDAY...THEN BECOME STEADIER AND HEAVIER TOWARDS MID MORNING. SNOW WILL CONTINUE HEAVY AT TIMES THROUGH THE EARLY EVENING HOURS SUNDAY...BEFORE TAPERING TO SNOW SHOWERS LATE SUNDAY NIGHT INTO EARLY MONDAY MORNING. * TEMPERATURES...LOWS IN THE UPPER 20S LATE TONIGHT. HIGH TEMPERATURES IN THE LOWER 30S SUNDAY AND MONDAY. LOW TEMPERATURES SUNDAY NIGHT IN THE LOWER TO MID 20S. * WINDS...NORTH 10 TO 15 MPH LATE TONIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING... INCREASING TO 15 TO 25 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 35 MPH SUNDAY AFTERNOON. NORTHWEST 20 TO 30 MPH WITH GUSTS TO 40 MPH SUNDAY NIGHT."

Posted by Kim Walker at 10:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Latest on the snow

Just a head's up that our reporters on duty today will be updating the snow forecast story here.  Also check our weather page to see the latest radar (scroll toward the middle of the page).

For those traveling today:

Transportation officials across the region are monitoring the possibility of snow and preparing their crews. In the Washington region, the Metro subway system has workers on standby to remove snow from rail station entrances and platforms if necessary.

Metro says that it will operate a very close to normal rail schedule in snowfall of up to six inches. But if snow reaches a depth of eight inches Metro may suspend rail service above ground.

Posted by Kim Walker at 2:10 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Winter storm watch issued Dec. 25-27

The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Storm Watch  for Central Maryland expiring at 6 a.m. Dec. 27.

The alert says there's a possibility of 5 inches of snow or more starting late tonight with a peak period of snowfall Sunday through Sunday evening. Winds of 15-25 mph on Sunday afternoon with gusts up to 30 mph Sunday night.

Read the full alert and see alerts for other Md. areas here.

Posted by Kim Walker at 9:47 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Christmas snow in B'more is a gift, not a given

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Christmas on the PotomacGot snow? It’s a rarity at Christmas in Baltimore. If you run the numbers, I’m told, Baltimore has just a 6 percent chance of measurable snowfall on Dec. 25. There’s a 13 percent chance of having snow on the ground; last year was one. We’ve had just six Christmas Days since 1892 when Santa has brought an inch of snow or more. The biggest Dec. 25 snowfall was the 9.3 inches that fell in 1909. The biggest Christmas Eve storm brought 8.4 inches, in 1966. Let it snow!

(GETTY PHOTO: Chip Somodevilla, Dec. 24, 2009)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, Sky Notes
        

December 24, 2010

Slight chance of a white Christmas

Santa will have some tough sledding as he lands on Baltimore rooftops tonight -- the National Weather Service isn't forecasting any snow, and says wind gusts will get as high as 25 mph.

There's just a 20 percent chance of snow in Baltimore during the day on Christmas. That rises to 30 percent at night and to 40 percent on Sunday, according to the NWS forecast.

Posted by Dave Rosenthal at 9:16 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Forecast low is for the next night

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Roger Hendrix, in Pasadena, is confused by forecasters’ habit of listing the day’s high first, then the low:MON High 34, Low 22.” After all, the low for a given date usually occurs around sunrise, well BEFORE the day’s high. He suggests listing the low first, then the high. Or, “is there too much history behind this reporting standard to make simplifying change possible?”  Old dog. No new tricks. The forecast looks ahead to the next overnight low, even if it occurs on the following date

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, Sky Notes
        

December 23, 2010

Gone (ice) fishin'

Ice fishing in CumberlandNow that we have (we hope) disposed of this pesky Christmas weekend snowstorm (except maybe out on Delmarva), we can safely step away from the controls and place The Sun's Weather Complex on autopilot.

We'll be spending a few days with friends and family, catching up on neglected reading, lost sleep (the eclipse) and long-overdue painting (daughter's house).

May your Christmas/Holiday break be Merry and Long. And may all your weather be average. - FR

(SUN PHOTO: Doug Kapustin 2002)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:52 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Notes to readers
        

NWS lowers our Christmas snow risk

Now the National Weather Service has begun to fall into line. The forecasters out at Sterling have begun to lower their estimates of our snow risks for the weekend, dropping the snow Snow chance 30 pcthazard on Sunday from 50 percent to 30 percent. But they remind us that this storm's track, while trending away from our shores, is not yet entirely certain:

"A COASTAL LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM IS FORECAST TO DEVELOP ALONG THE SOUTHEAST COAST AND THEN TRACK NORTHEAST UP THE EASTERN SEABOARD SUNDAY INTO MONDAY.

"WHILE LATEST FORECASTS HAVE TRENDED TOWARD KEEPING THIS LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM FAR AccuWeather.comENOUGH OFFSHORE FOR LITTLE TO NO IMPACT ACROSS MUCH OF THE MID ATLANTIC...THERE DOES REMAIN A DEGREE OF UNCERTAINTY REGARDING THE EXACT TRACK OF THE STORM. ANY SHIFT IN THE TRACK OF THE STORM TO THE WEST WOULD BRING A CHANCE OF SNOW TO THE AREA."

Maryland residents could still see flakes in the air as early as Saturday afternoon as a weak storm system - the first of the weekend - moves down from the northwest, according to the forecast from Sterling. If it manages to hold itself together as it crosses the Appalachians, we could see some light accumulation.

Then, the second act begins, with the storm intensifying off the Southeastern states on Sunday and moving up the coast. The latest model runs keep the storm pretty well off shore. If they're proven right, we may see nothing from it. A shift more to the west could bring us some accumulating snow Sunday into Monday, Sterling said: 

"WE CANT COMPLETELY LET THE GUARD DOWN JUST YET AS THERE REMAINS A DEGREE OF UNCERTAINTY WITH THE EXACT TRACK OF THIS STORM. THEREFORE ALL INTERESTED PARTIES SHOULD CONTINUE TO MONITOR THE LATEST FORECASTS."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:53 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Forecasts, Sky Notes, Winter weather
        

Storm worries appear to fade

The National Weather Service hasn't changed its outlook quite yet, but forecast observers say the the latest model runs appear, finally, to be diminishing the chance that the mid-Atlantic states will see a serious snowstorm this weekend. The storm track is beginning to look like it will carry the snow out to sea.

Christmas giftWeatherBlog contributors Eric the Red and UMBC Prof. Jeff Halverson have already thrown in the towel:

Eric, at 11:20 a.m.: "Morning models are rolling in now, and quite honestly, just don't see it happenin'. That's been the trend so far this winter, and don't see a reason to go against it now. There will be a storm in the Gulf, but we still don't have the requisite high to our north.

"In addition, the two compnents of the storm - a northern and southern part - will not phase; or consolidate until the storm is too far offshore for it to matter. So it appears this storm will be an ominous-looking close call, but not a hit. However, we do stand a half decent shot of seeing some light snow or flurries on Christmas Day as the northern part of the system swings thru.

Prof. Jeff, at 11:30 a.m.: "Perhaps we can start to wipe the sweat off our collective brows; I will wait to see the trend continue, but it appears that most models...now including the ECMWW...are converging on a solution that takes the storm out to sea, and far enough away from the coast, to not pose a heavy snow threat for Baltimore."

Foot's Forecast, at 10:50 a.m., was continuing to hold the door open: "...[A] major to high-impact winter storm remains possible for portions of the Eastern United States in the December 24-27 period. There is still considerable uncertainty with regard to computer model projected tracks and timing of the event. The regions which would be affected extend from the Deep South and the Tennessee Valley to the Carolinas (Dec 24-25), then into the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, especially the I-95 corridor, from Eastern Virginia to Southern New England (Dec 26-27)."

(SUN PHOTO: Kenneth K. Lam, 2007)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:34 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Weekend snow still uncertain

There's only a little more clarity this Thursday morning about the prospects for significant snowfall in Central Maryland this weekend.

Margusity AccuWeather.comAlthough AccuWeather.com blogger Henry Margusity  (map at left) - almost always at the extremes on these things - is already predicting snow totals, more mainstream forecasters aren't ready to go that far out on a limb.

The National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va. has added 30 percent chances for snow on Christmas Day and Saturday night as a weak storm system drops through the area from the northwest. Those chances then rise to 50 percent on Sunday and 40 percent on Monday as a bigger, more powerful system moves out of the Gulf and up the East Coast.

But there's still an exasperating uncertainty in their morning discussion about the intensity and track of that bigger storm:

"GUIDANCE STILL NOT IN CONSENSUS WITH EVOLUTION OF THIS COASTAL LOW PRESSURE...IN INTENSITY OR TRACK...THOUGH SPREAD OF SOLUTIONS HAS NARROWED A BIT OVER LAST 12 HRS.

"IF THE TRACK OF SYSTEM REMAINS FAR ENUF OFFSHORE...CLOSER TO GFS [MODEL] FORECAST...THE
CWA [FORECAST AREA] MAY STILL [SEE] LITTLE IMPACT ASIDE FROM INCREASING NORTHERLY WINDS SUN/MON.

"HOWEVER...IF THE TRACK IS CLOSER TO THE COAST...AS INDICATED BY THE ECMWF [MODEL]...WHICH ALSO PAINTS A SLOWER MOVING AND STRONGER LOW PRESSURE SYSTEM DUE TO THE AFOREMENTIONED PHASING...SIGNIFICANT SNOW ACCUMULATIONS COULD RESULT. AT THE MOMENT...FORECAST IS HIGHLY UNCERTAIN..."

Over at AccuWeather.com, the regular forecasters are beginning to go with a more southern storm, with snow in places like Birmingham, Atlanta and Charlotte. But that doesn't yet get us off the hook:

"The storm appears as though it will be stronger and farther south upon crossing the middle of the nation. While this probably means snow for part of Dixie on Christmas, it could lead to a wrapped-up storm heading northward along the Atlantic Seaboard in the Sunday-to-Monday period."

More immediately, Marylanders should be prepared today - Thursday - for persistent cold temperatures and stiff winds gusting out of the northwest at 40 mph - and more in the mountain highlands. Wind chills today will sink into the 20s or less, with a chance for flurries in northern sections of Baltimore and Harford counties.

Here's Eric the Red's morning line:

"Seems to be the general idea of the models is to keep the whopper storm offshore, with perhaps some light snow or flurries on Christmas, and then cloudy on Sunday to Monday.

"But as always, there are vast differences amongst the models, so this is far from a done deal. The European model (ECMWF) still has a crippling snowstorm, while the latest runs of the NWS' GFS is a bit father east with the storm."

UPDATE, 11:20 a.m.: Eric says the latest model runs make a major storm here this weekend unlikely:

"It appears this storm will be an ominous-looking close call, but not a hit. However, we do stand a half-decent shot of seeing some light snow flurries on Christmas Day."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:53 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Forecasts
        

December's cold continues

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:Cold Baltimore

Our cold weather continues. December at BWI saw 13 days with highs below 40 in the first three weeks. It’s only the fourth time since 1871 that’s happened, says NWS forecaster Chris Strong. The record was 18 days below 40, in 1910. Ten Decembers since 1871 have been colder in their first three weeks than this one. The coldest was in 1989, with an average of 27.1 degrees. We’ve averaged 31.4 degrees so far. The next-coldest in recent years was 31.8 degrees, in 2005.

(SUN PHOTO: Karl Merton Ferron, 1996)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers, From the Sun's print edition, Sky Notes
        

December 22, 2010

Storm edges into Sunday, track still uncertain

The most definite thing that can be said about the prospects for a Christmas snowstorm in Baltimore may be that the storm mostly likely won't get to the East Coast by Christmas. But nobody is sure yet whether Central Maryland should prepare for a near miss, or a serious day-after-Christmas winter storm. Cars in snow 2010

The best news is that, if you're traveling in the region on Friday or Saturday, the chances are you'll be able to make the trip without worrying about getting stranded in a ditch, or at the in-laws' house.

Forecasters say the storm - still coming ashore in California on Wednesday afternoon - looks like it will be moving slowly enough to put off any snowfall in the mid-Atlantic states until Sunday and Monday.

What happens then remains a frustrating meteorological cliffhanger - all the more so because so many millions of Americans will be traveling this weekend into the path of this cross-country storm. 

"To give you a number, an exact snow total, wouldn't be a great forecast because there is such uncertainty with the storm," said Jared Klein, a National Weather Service forecaster in Sterling, Va. "It's a very complex pattern" that is still coming together.

The complex computer models that forecasters use to predict the evolution of such storms days ahead of the actual events simply have not been able to reach agreement on this one. Some have been predicting a track that would take the bad weather off the southeast coast of the United States and out to sea. Others bring it off the Virginia Capes by Sunday, tracking up the coast with a major snowstorm for the mid-Atlantic.

"There are some models that are showing a light dusting, and there are some systems showing heavy snowfall ... six inches or more," Klein said.

It's not like last year, he said. "With the December and February storms, five or six days out we saw this coming. We didn't give amounts this far out, but there was a lot of agreement on a big storm."

That should begin to change as the Pacific element of the storm gets ashore in California, and more surface observations and analyses can be made. "Usually, when you start getting three days before the event, you start getting higher confidence," Klein said.

One issue on which there was increasing agreement Wednesday, in addition to the later arrival, was on the storm's intensity. "There is increasing confidence it is going to be a strong storm," Klein said. But "it may be out to sea, too."

As the hours went by Wednesday, the models, and forecasters, could do no better than offer a choice between two possible scenarios.

The afternoon online forecast discussion from the weather service in Sterling, said, "The first scenario is that low pressure intensifies as it tracks along the coastline, producing a significant snowstorm across the area. The second scenario is that the low remains far enough off the coast for little or no snowfall across our area."

"Latest guidance [Wednesday] has trended a bit towards the first scenario, but [computer model] AccuWeather.comguidance still remains divergent in the overall solution," forecasters said.

The forecasters at AccuWeather.com, in State College, Pa., took a similar, two-choices (map at left) approach: "The first is the storm will quickly strengthen, tracking northward along the coast and spreading heavy, accumulating snow through the I-95 mid-Atlantic and New England. Snow could extend back to the Appalachians with this track."

"The second," they continued, "is the storm will drop accumulating snow on part of Georgia and the Carolinas, but then head out to sea. However, this track could still allow the storm to hook back into New England with heavy, windswept snow."

Other meteorologists have weighed in with their own ideas about how this storm will behave four or five days out. Eric the Red, a professional forecaster from Baltimore who contributes his predictions anonymously to the Maryland Weather Blog, said, "The trend is ominous ... There is going to be a whale of a storm moving up the coast Sunday into Monday. Its final final track means everything ... but I'm starting to get that sinking feeling about Monday."

Foot's Forecast, a forecasting web site manned by high school and college students who did well with last winter's storms, was saying this on Wednesday: 

"Abundant surface and upper level cold air in place across the eastern U.S., combined with the expected influx of Pacific moisture may increase the possibility that energy from [the] northern jet stream phases with an already active subtropical jet. This scenario would produce a significant to major winter storm along the U.S. East Coast."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:34 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Forecasts, Sky Notes
        

Snow in Cleveland for Ravens game?

 

While most people are worried about the prospects of a snowy Christmas weekend in Maryland, die-hard Ravens fans are wondering what the weather forecast will be in Cleveland for Sunday's game against the Browns.

According to the National Weather Service, there's a 30 percent chance of snow Saturday with a high near 29 and low of 21. On game day, there's a 30 percent chance of snow during the day, increasing to 40 percent in the evening. The high will be 27, so bundle up. If you're planning on leaving Ohio on Monday, there's still a 40 percent chance of snow showers.

(Baltimore Sun file photo)

 

Posted by Kim Walker at 12:53 PM | | Comments (2)
        

Christmas storm slows; could miss, could be big

There's not much more certainty today about the prospects for a snowstorm on Christmas Day. It does look like the system is likely to slow down, but the computer models are still divided over whether it will steer south and east of the mid-Atlantic, or crank up off the Virginia Capes for a real jingle bell-ringer.

Here's what UMBC's Prof. Jeff Halverson is saying this morning:

"The shorter-term models have started to take the storm farther south and out to sea, and slowed down the timing, which would mean a reprieve on Christmas Day.

Christmas snow"But the European model (ECMWF) bucks the tide, developing a massive, rapidly deepening storm that stalls just off the Delmarva Christmas Day night into Sunday-Monday, the type of storm that would bring the Mid Atlantic and New England to its knees, and a contender to be a historic high wind and heavy snow event.

"It seems that HPC is buying into this solution, at least for now...this is getting to be a very interesting late holiday forecast...stay tuned!"

For their part, the forecasters  at the National Weather Service's Baltimore-Washington Forecast Office in Sterling have bought in to the idea of this storm slowing down. They expect we won't see anything until Saturday night at the earliest. Their seven-day forecast calls for  sunny weather through Friday, with a mostly cloudy day on Christmas Day.

They give the snow a 50 percent chance on Saturday night, followed by more of the same Sunday. Daytime highs Sunday would be near the freezing mark.

In their morning discussion Wednesday, the Sterling folks see the storm center moving out of Texas early Saturday, then east across the Deep South at about the same time that another storm system moves out of the Great Lakes toward the mid-Atlantic.

"The southern jet should induce cyclogenesis across the northern Gulf, or along the southeast continental U.S. Saturday night. But future evolution and interaction with the northern system [is] highly uncertain at the moment."

"The GFS [computer model] keeps [the] two systems from phasing [combining and strengthening] ...and weak low pressure moves quickly northeast, well offshore Sunday.

"ECMWF [another model] keep low pressure moving slower, and strengthens it rapidly ... Latter solution would provide for [more moisture] , much better chance for measurable snow across mid-Atlantic Sunday, AccuWeather.compossibly into Monday."

"Due to unusually high uncertainty and potential for significant snow over holiday weekend and busy travel period, monitor forecast closely."

AccuWeather.com is hanging on to the possibility of a snowy Christmas for the mid-Atlantic:

"The storm may not head completely out to sea. Computer models have been consistently turning the storm northward Saturday night into Monday. As a result, there is a chance of snow spreading up the I-95 corridor in the Northeast.

"The cold, dry roadblock that shunted snow to the east over much of the I-95 Northeast this past weekend is still present. However, it does not look to be as strong and could allow accumulating snow to run up the coast late in the Christmas weekend."

Ain't this fun?

(SUN PHOTO: Jed Kirschbaum, December 2009)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:15 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Forecasts
        

December 21, 2010

NWS: Chance of Christmas snow here - 50/50

Well, we sure can't say we haven't had a white Christmas in ages. Our Dec. 18-19 blizzard last year left plenty of snow on the ground to make the place look like Santa's North Pole workshop. But there weren't any flakes in the air. And that's what all the ads have taught us to expect. Right?

(Actually, we had rain, more than and inch-and-three-quarters on the 25th and 26th.)

So that's what makes the current forecast so encouraging. The NWS forecast office in Sterling, Va. has posted chances for snow right through the weekend - 30 percent Christmas Eve, and 50 percent AccuWeather.comChristmas Day and Christmas night, and 40 percent on Sunday.

That's no guarantee, of course. Although the storm that they're watching is already making landfall on the West Coast with a ton of rain and snow for those people, its precise track remains up for debate amongst the computer models. Some runs bring us a major storm. Others bring us ... well, sunshine.

Here's the NWS discussion:

"MEDIUM-RANGE GUIDANCE STILL IN GENERAL AGREEMENT WITH A COASTAL LOW
PRESSURE MOVING UP THE EASTERN SEABOARD FOR THE CHRISTMAS WEEKEND.
HOWEVER...EXACT EVOLUTION INCLUDING TIMING AND TRACK DETAILS OF THE
STORM SYSTEM ARE UNCERTAIN AT THIS TIME.

"LATEST MODELS ARE TRENDING TOWARD AN OVERALL SLOWER SOLUTION. HAVE ACCORDINGLY TRENDED SLOWER WITH ONSET OF [PRECIPITATION] FRIDAY NIGHT. THE FASTER GFS AND ENSEMBLE SOLUTIONS HAVE THE MAIN IMPACTS FROM THE COASTAL LOW ON CHRISTMAS DAY WHILE THE SLOWER ECMWF/CANADIAN HOLD THE BULK OF THE SNOW OFF UNTIL SAT
NGT INTO SUN.

"ALSO...ANY SHIFTS IN THE TRACK OF THE COASTAL LOW WILL PRODUCE SIGNIFICANT CHANGES TO POTENTIAL SNOWFALL AMOUNTS. AT THE MOMENT,  IT APPEARS THAT THE LOW WILL TRACK CLOSE ENOUGH TO THE REGION THAT PEOPLE SHOULD CONTINUE TO MONITOR THE LATESTS. Dallas St., Baltimore FORECASTS AS DETAILS BECOME MORE CLEAR CLOSER TO THE EVENT...ESPECIALLY BECAUSE THIS COULD IMPACT THE HOLIDAY WEEKEND TRAVEL."

Eric the Red has checked in this morning. The Baltimore meteorologist sees the uncertainty in the model runs, and persistence in our cold, dry pattern. So he's being cautious:

"Until I see a high building over New England, I'm gonna lean away from a Christmas snow storm... but obviously, it is still several days away.  If there's one thing the snow camp has going for it, it is that the storm more or less already exists off the US west coast... so it's not like we're waiting for something to form.  It will be very trackable, which in turn should help me get a clue as the week unfolds."

Eric Update, 2 p.m.: With new model runs this afternoon, Eric is still siding with an outcome that  takes the storm away to our south and offshore. Little or no snow here. But he notes three models that slow the storm down, with snowier results for us. One, he says, "brings a monster Nor'easter up the coast Sunday night into Monday. Like a crippling snowstorm. Not making this up. Christmas itself would be sunny and cold, but we'd all be tapping into our stockpiles of milk and toilet paper early next week."

AccuWeather.com says:

"The roadblock from last weekend's storm in the Northeast may still be in place. If the block holds, snow could be avoided in Detroit, Scranton and New York City.  Meaning that Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore and New York City may be on the "bubble" for this snowstorm right out of the box.

"The storm is forecast to be over the Rockies and Intermountain West Wednesday, the Plains Thursday, the Midwest Friday, and along the mid-Atlantic coast on Christmas Day. For portions of the Ohio Valley and central and southern Appalachians, this could transpire to deliver an old-fashioned classic Christmas Eve snowfall."

And here's Foot's Forecast's Forecaster Ryan: "The stage is beginning to be set folks. The chips are beginning to fall more and more, and the likelihood of a Christmas snowstorm is getting higher with each passing day (as I said on MPT last night.) The things we can tell at the moment are that it is highly likely that Baltimore will ...receive some snow, and as for the potentially for a significant storm (4"+), odds are around 60%."

(PHOTO: Lindsay Rothstein, Baltimore Feb. 6, 2010)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:01 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Eclipse is now total, under starry skies

From the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville, it looks like Baltimoreans must be getting a great view of tonight's total eclipse of the moon. Skies are cold and clear and full of stars.

UPDATE: Did you miss the eclipse? There's a time-lapse video of the whole thing, in just 2 minutes, here: http://ht.ly/3sz5J   

From where I sit, the moon stands just above the winter bones of an old oak. Below, to the left, is the constallation Orion, with its well-recognized belt of three stars. Below the belt is the pale smudge of the Orion nebula, a nursery of young stars. Over my right shoulder is the Big Dipper.

Lunar eclipse 12/21/10I woke with a start, and immediately feared I'd slept through the eclipse. Checked the clock radio and was relieved to see it was 1:59 a.m. I'd set my phone alarm for 2 a.m. Guess I didn't need it.

Checked the sky from the deck in my PJs, saw that it was clear and that the eclipse was well underway, so I threw on some warm clothes, grabbed the 10x50 binoculars from the closet and headed outdoors.

Already more than half the moon was in shadow. The sunlit half was very bright, the shadowed half glowing in a dull ochre color. As I watched, the curved shadow of the Earth, slid slowly across the moon's craters and maria. Now the eclipse is total.

I'm always struck by how three-dimensional the eclipsed moon looks, not the flat white disk of most full moons. A beautiful night. Hope you got the kids up to watch. My grown daughter is texting me as sheEclipse, Mike Himowitz watches through her skylight. This stuff still gets her going, 20 years after I first got her and her little brother up to watch a lunar eclipse in Baltimore.

"I will never forget that night," she said. "I remember ... being disappointed that it didn't disappear entirely. Like it was lazy and didn't finish."

Please share your impressions. Tell us who's with you and how everyone is reacting. And if you're taking pictures, email a copy to me and I'll post it.

In the meantime, here's a gallery from SpaceWeather.com. Here's what people are saying on Twitter.

It's a night to remember.

(PHOTO: Top: Alin Tolea, 1.3s at ISO 100, using a Canon 5D MKII through a homemade 80 mm achromatic refractor telescope. Bottom: Mike Himowitz, "with my little Canon.")

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:42 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

December 20, 2010

Eclipse forecast improving

Worries that increasing clouds leading to possible snow on Tuesday seemed to be easing Monday morning, giving renewed hope for Marylanders eager to see tonight's total eclipse of the moon.

Lunar eclipse 2004Forecasters out at Sterling, in their morning forecast discussion, said it looks like we'll get an opening in the clouds tonight just long enough to catch at least part of the eclipse:

"Low-level stratocumulus will linger into the evening before clearing out. High clouds ahead the approaching front will begin to overspread the area late tonight. Therefore, most of the [forecast area] should have a mostly clear look at the lunar eclipse tonight."

Okay, so it's not quite unequivocal. But it's a pretty good forecast. I know I'll be out there to watch. Here, again, are the key times:

Partial eclipse begins: 1:32 a.m. The full moon begins to slide into the Earth's shadow.

Total eclipse begins: 2:41 a.m. The moon is now in total shadow, taking on what may be an eerie coppery color. It always looks strangely three-dimensional, too, at least to me. 

Mid-eclipse: 3:17 a.m. This is the darkest part of the eclipse.

Total eclipse ends: 3:53 a.m. The moon begins to re-emerge from the Earth's shadow.

Partial eclipse ends:  5:01 a.m. The moon is now back in full, direct sunlight.

Be sure to stop back here after the show and share your impressions. Did you wake the kids for a look? How did they react? My grown kids still remember when I got them up for a lunar eclipse back in the '80s. It makes an impression.

The next lunar eclipse visible from Maryland is in 2014.

(SUN PHOTO: Total lunar eclipse, October 2004, Karl Merton Ferron)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:53 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Sky Notes, Sky Watching
        

December 19, 2010

Eclipse prospects dim, but Xmas snow possible

The weather gods give a little and they take a little. The forecast for Tuesday's early-morning lunar eclipse seems to be going sour. But the National Weather Service is posting a 30 percent chance for snow in Baltimore on Friday, rising to 50 percent overnight on Christmas Eve, and back to 40 percent on Christmas Day.

First, the bad news. The prognosticators at Sterling say we'll have sunny weather on Monday. But Christmas storm 2002 Baltimoreas night falls, they say, clouds will be increasing. If they have the timing right, we may well be looking at the underside of clouds by the time the full moon begins to enter the Earth's shadow at 1:32 a.m. Tuesday morning. There's a 30 percent chance of snow on Tuesday.

If we get lucky, the clouds will hold off long enough to get at least part of the show in. The period of totality lasts from 2:41 a.m. until 3:53 a.m.  If we miss it, it will be 2014 before we get our next chance to watch a total lunar  eclipse from start to finish.

Now, the good news - good, at least, for those who love to see snow falling on Christmas; bad if you're traveling. Either way, it doesn't happen much for Baltimoreans.

The weather service says we have a 30 percent chance of snow on Friday, with a daytime high of 37 degrees. Our chances get better overnight on Christmas Eve, with a 50 percent chance for snow, and a low of 29 degrees. And they're giving us a 40 percent chance of flakes on Christmas Day, and a high of 38. Sounds like wet snow.

That would be news. Statistically, Baltimore has only a 6 percent chance of measurable snowfall on Dec. 25, and just a 13 percent chance of having snow on the ground on that date. Since daily snow records were first kept in 1892, the city has recorded an inch or more of new snow only 6 times on Dec. 25, and five times on Dec. 24. 

Foot's Forecast is already hyping this one, calling it "a potentially sleigh-crippling 12/24-25 storm that will make every Emergency Manager in the Ohio Valley and Mid-Atlantic move to the Caymans, permanently. We're not kidding and this is not a drill."

AccuWeather.com's Henry Margusity, normally a snow-hype machine, seems to see arguments on both sides.

Jeff Halverson, an Associate Professor of geography and environmental science at UMBC, has some thoughts today on the prospects for a Christmas storm:

"Looking at the models this afternoon makes be a bit nervous about next weekend, which looks analogous to the big storms of '09-'10. At least one of the trusted models (GFS) rapidly blows up into a powerful nor'easter ... [with] significant sustained winds, bringing the possibility of single-digit wind-chills, local blizzard conditions and widespread power outages into the mix ..."

"Undoubtedly, the models will likely go through their usual gyrations with respect to intensity and track over the next 2-3 days, so it's important not to latch onto any one solution, but rather, noting trends that seem to stick."

Well, we'll see. It's too early to vest much confidence in the forecast. But at least they're not calling for highs near 60, like we had two years ago.

 

Words to clip to the fridge: The negative NAO - North Atlantic Oscillation - that has brought us such frigid weather this month, is headed for positive territory. That should mean milder weather in January.

(SUN PHOTO: Christmas Day storm, 2002, Doug Kapustin)

 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:56 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Forecasts
        

A celestial trifecta on Tuesday

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Lunar eclipse October 2004On Tuesday, Dec. 21, we will hit the celestial trifecta with three red-letter events on the same date. It begins with the first total lunar eclipse since 2008, and the last visible here (weather permitting) until 2014. The period of totality begins at 2:40 a.m. EST and ends at 3:54 a.m.

In mid-eclipse, at 3:14 a.m., the moon will be full – a moon known to some as the Long Night Moon. And about 15 hours later, at 6:42 p.m., we’ll mark the winter solstice, and the official start of winter.

(SUN PHOTO: Karl Merton Ferron, Lunar eclipse, October 2004)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:01 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, Sky Notes
        

December 18, 2010

Expanded color weather page coming soon

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Weather mapThanks to the many weather page readers who have sent us their suggestions for the things they’d like to see included on our new, expanded print weather page. The debut is still about a month away, and we’re still tweaking the design. But it appears the new, half-page, color weather display will include better graphics, a national weather map, degree-day totals, rise-and-set times for the visible planets, and more of the features you asked for.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, Sky Notes
        

December 17, 2010

Snow chances fade as storm track shifts east

The latest computer models appear to be converging to take our weekend storm farther east, off the Georgia coast. So forecasters in Sterling this afternoon have been lowering their expectations for snow in Central Maryland late Saturday into Sunday.

20 percent chance of snowThe official forecast still holds out a 20 percent chance for snow at BWI-Marshall late Saturday, but that's down from 50 percent earlier in the day. And the afternoon discussion suggests that slim chance is there only because of a single holdout among the models. And that one keeps most of the snow on Delmarva and Southern Maryland.

Our next shot at some pre-Christmas snow in Baltimore will come Monday night or Tuesday, but that clipper system seems to want to slide by to our south, forecasters said.

So perhaps we've dodged the bullet this weekend, and maybe the next one, too. Is this a good thing? Is continued cold weather enough? Or are we still caught up in the excitement of the first snowfalls of the season, and White Christmases and sleigh bells? Do I wear my snow tie next week, or not?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:54 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Forecasts
        

St. Mary's wins Thursday snow lottery

The totals are in for the season's little starter snow on Thursday, and it looks like St. Mary's County wins the prize for this one, with the Lower Eastern Shore a close second. Most of the rest of us saw 1 to 2 inches. The official tally at BWI-Marshall was 1.2 inches. It was hardly a memorable storm, unless it was your car that slid into the ditch.Snow in Baltimore

Here is a snow map from the NWS. Here are some totals from the CoCoRaHS Network:

Ridge, St. Mary's County:  3.2 inches

Colton's Point, St. Mary's:  3.2 inches

Frederick, Frederick:  2.3 inches

Prince Frederick, Calvert: 2.2 inches

Princess Anne, Somerset:  2.2 inches

Waldorf, Charles:  2 inches

Cumberland, Allegany:  2 inches

Elkridge, Howard:  1.8 inches

Columbia, Howard:  1.7 inches

Severn, Anne Arundel:  1.1 inches

Towson, Baltimore:  0.8 inch

Bel Air, Harford:  0.5 inch

Westminster, Carroll:  0.5 inch

(AP PHOTO: Rob Carr, Baltimore, Dec. 16, 2010)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: By the numbers
        

More cold, more snow, then winter starts

Do you remember what we were all doing a year ago on this date? Here's a hint: We were watching the weather forecasts as a weekend coastal storm threatened to dump heavy snow across the region on the night of Dec. 18-19.

Thank goodness that's behind us, right? Except that today, we're all watching the weather forecasts as a weekend coastal storm threatens to dump snow across the region on the night of Dec. 18-19.Dec. 19, 2009 White House

In fairness, this one doesn't yet appear to be nearly as formidable as the 2009 blizzard. By this time last year, snow chances were set at 80 percent, and by the late afternoon, the predictions from Sterling were rising above 5 inches. By the next day, they were in the range of 1 to 2 FEET.

In the end, the Dec. 18-19, 2009 storm (photo, right) dropped an official (and debatable) 18 inches on BWI-Marshall Airport, now ranked the 9th deepest two-day storm on record for the city. Many locations saw far more than that.

The National Weather Service forecast for this weekend puts the snow risk at 50 percent, with the flakes beginning to fall sometime after 1 a.m. Sunday. Computer models continue to disagree on the precise track of the storm as it redevelops off the southeast coast of the U.S. A more westerly track up the coast would mean plenty of snow for our region. A more easterly track would keep the snow on Delmarva, and shift the greatest threat to New England.

NWS forecasters at Sterling this morning are saying the model solutions generally have been moving to the west. But at least one has shifted east. "Obviously the changeable nature in the forecast track of low pressure from the models provides a low-confidence forecast right now," they say, "and thus it's important to stay apprised of the latest forecasts for Saturday night/Sunday."

The Hazardous Weather Outlook says:

"A COASTAL STORM WILL BRING A CHANCE OF SNOW TO THE AREA SATURDAYBWI Temperatures December
NIGHT AND SUNDAY. THERE REMAINS UNCERTAINTY REGARDING THE TRACK
OF THIS STORM. AT THIS TIME THIS LOOKS TO BE A COASTAL EVENT."

What seems more certain is that the cold weather that has settled into the mid-Atlantic states since the first of the month (graph, right) is going to hang around until further notice. Thursday's HIGH of 25 degrees at BWI was 2 degrees colder than the average LOW for the date.

Highs through the weekend will stick in the low- to mid-30s, with lows in the mid-20s. That's 10 degrees below the average for this time of year.

Blame a "blocking" pattern over Greenland that is holding a deep southward loop in the northern jet stream in place. And that has allowed arctic air to plunge deep into the eastern half of the nation, all the way to Florida's orange groves. 

AccuWeather.comThe pattern is also what will bring this weekend storm out of the Southwest, slide it across the Southern states and out to the coast, where it promises to intensify and become a snowmaker for someone.

AccuWeather.com  (map, left) seems to be siding with a more easterly storm track, giving no more than a glancing snow-blow to the Lower Eastern Shore and nothing much at all for the I-95 corridor.

Foot's Forecast is taking an "either-or" approach:

"Scenario A would allow the system, now in the four corners area, to track close to the coast, bringing heavy snow for the entire I-95 corridor from Richmond, Va to Boston, MA. Scenario B would permit the system to track off the Southeast coast and further out to sea, with snow being confined to coastal portions of the Mid Atlantic."

"Timing for this system would be from late Saturday evening 12/18 into early Sunday evening 12/19 for the Mid Atlantic. One year to the day. Even the Climate Prediction Center came out guns blazing today with "Heavy snow and high winds remain a possibility for the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast." Just when you thought this weekend would be nice and calm."

Eric the Red is unequivocal: "Looks like the weekend storm is a no-go ... so that should do it."

Whatever happens, winter will arrive, officially, with the winter solstice, at 6:42 p.m. EST on Tuesday. Oh, and we may see more snow that day, as another clipper system passes by to our south, much like Thursday's storm. Stay tuned.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts, Sky Notes
        

BWI's last sub-zero reading: February 1996

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:Sub-zero on Mount Washington

Sure it’s cold. But it’s been much colder in Maryland. The record low for Baltimore in December is minus-3 degrees F, set Dec. 30, 1880. The all-time record here is minus-7 degrees, reached on five dates in January and February, most recently on Jan. 22, 1984.

The last time BWI saw a temperature below zero was a minus-1 reading on Feb. 5, 1996. The airport has recorded 20 sub-zero days since 1960. Dulles International has had 56, Washington’s Reagan National, just four.

Text SKY to 70701 to get SKY NOTES posts like this one sent to your mobile device. 

(SUN PHOTO: Sub-zero weather on Mount Washington, N.H., 2004, Candy Thomson)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, Sky Notes
        

December 16, 2010

Sat. night snow chances edge up to 50 pct.

National Weather Service forecasters have boosted their estimate of our chances for more accumulating snow Saturday night into Sunday. The risk climbed this evening from a "slight" - 20 pct - chance, to 50 percent. Here's a slice of this evening's forecast discussion from NWS Sterling:

"AN UPPER-LEVEL DISTURBANCE WILL PASS THROUGH THE TENNESSEE AND
MISSISSIPPI VALLEYS SATURDAY BEFORE APPROACHING THE SOUTHEAST COAST
SATURDAY NIGHT. AS THE UPPER-LEVEL DISTURBANCE INTERACTS WITH THE
BAROCLINIC ZONE ALONG THE SOUTHEAST COAST...LOW PRESSURE IS EXPECTED
TO DEVELOP. LOW PRESSURE WILL MOVE UP THE MID-ATLANTIC COAST SUNDAY
AND TOWARD NEW ENGLAND SUNDAY NIGHT.

"THE TRACK OF THIS SYSTEM WILL HAVE A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON OUR
FORECAST SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY. IF THE SYSTEM HOLDS CLOSER TO
AccuWeather.comTHE COAST...THERE WILL BE ACCUMULATING SNOW ACROSS MOST OF THE AREA.

"IF THE SYSTEM MOVES FURTHER OUT TO SEA...ACCUMULATING SNOW WILL BE
MAINLY TO OUR EAST. THERE IS STILL A GOOD DEAL OF UNCERTAINTY AS TO
EXACTLY WHAT SCENARIO WILL PLAY OUT...BUT LATEST GUIDANCE HAS
SUGGESTED THAT THE LOW MAY BE CLOSER TO THE COAST."

Heh heh. Snow.

Foot's Forecast doesn't have much more than this to offer yet on this storm.  AccuWeather.com is leaning more toward a Delmarva event (map, above) as the storm bears right out in the Atlantic:

"The latest consensus among AccuWeather.com meteorologists is the storm will graze the eastern mid-Atlantic with accumulating snow, while the full fury of the storm could be unleashed over New England and neighboring Canada. This is by no means the final word on the storm, but rather our best shot at this early stage. Updates on the storm will follow on AccuWeather.com

"With a track well off the coast Saturday night and Sunday, it appears to be unlikely "heavy" snow will reach the I-95 mid-Atlantic and the northern and western suburbs from Washington, D.C. to Philadelphia."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:08 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts
        

1 to 3 inches due, with rush hour headaches

It sure isn't a lot of snow, certainly not by last winter's standards. But the first measurable snowfall of the season is getting off to a quick start and seems poised to mess up a perfectly nice evening rush hour commute.

UPDATE, 11:20 a.m.: The snow has begun falling in downtown Baltimore. If you're out there driving around, let us know if road conditions begin to deteriorate, or if highway crews are staying ahead of it. Send us a comment and describe. Thanks!

UPDATE, 12:20 p.m.: Foot's Forecast is calling for 4 inches in Annapolis; 2.5 inches at BWI-Marshall; 2.5 inches at Bel Air; 2.8 inches in Dundalk; 2.75 inches in Reisterstown.

By 12:30 p.m. the snow was sticking - or "laying," as they say in Baltimore - to city streets, and traffic was slowing down. Starting to become a traffic issue.

UPDATE, 2:45 p.m.: The NWS says they may lift the Winter Weather Advisory early as the storm moves rapidly to the east. But even as the snow stops, the cold will remain. That means icy patches will remain a hazard into tomorrow. More snow is possible for the weekend, but the computer models disagree on that. More later. Earlier post resumes:

Forecasters at the National Weather Service are predicting "about an inch" of snow for the northern tier of counties farthest from the Virginia storm track. But places south of that, and on the Eastern Shore, could see as much as 3 inches before it all winds down this evening. Temperatures are  forecast to remain in the upper 20s, making this an all-snow event for Maryland.

Snow BaltimoreSnow was already falling at 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C. Here are the Winter Weather Advisories. And here's how the forecasts break down:

1 inch: Frederick, Carroll, Baltimore, Harford counties, including the cities of Frederick, Westminster and Baltimore. Beginning around 11 a.m., contiuing through the evening rush and ending around  9 p.m. "Travel difficulties... Be prepared for slippery roads and limited visibilities and use caution while driving."

1 to 2 inches: District of Columbia, Montgomery, Howard, Prince George's, Anne Arundel counties. Beginning in late morning, continuing into the early evening, and through the evening rush hour. "Travel difficulties ... Be prepared for slippery roads and limited visibilities and use caution while driving."

1 to 3 inches: Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties. Schools are closed. Snow is falling, will continue through the early evening. "Travel difficulties ...Be prepared for slippery roads and limited visibilities and use caution while driving.

1 to 3 inches: Dorchester, Wicomico, Somerset counties, Maryland beaches. SNow beginning in late morning, continuing into early evening. "Travel difficulties... Be prepared for snow-covered roads and limited visibilities and use caution while driving."

1 to 3 inches:  Southern Delaware, Talbot and Caroline counties. "Largest impact should be during the evening commute from school and work. Snow will accumulate quickly on untreated roadways as the ground is cold. The first widespread snow of the season normally causes numerous accidents. Please be very careful driving later today."

Eric the Red is agreeing with one model that sets the storm's "peak intensity" between 1 and 4 p.m., "and it's pretty much done by 7. A quick-hitting 1-2 inches seems likely now in central MD, closer to an inch in northern MD, and perhaps 2-3 inches south of BWI. Northern and Central VA are still looking at 2-4 inches, perhaps more. I think this is reasonable."

Here's Foot's Forecast. And here's the storm-total radar loop.

(SUN PHOTO: Clarksville, Md., Kim Hairston, Dec. 16, 2010)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:21 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Winter weather
        

It's cold, but not a December record

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:Bitter cold in Baltimore

Fred Weiss, in Baltimore, asks, “Have we set any records with this cold weather?

December has been unusually cold so far. We’ve averaged 33.4 degrees through Tuesday. That’s 5.4 degrees below the long-term norm.

If it stayed that cold, this would be the coldest December since 2000. The coldest on record was December 1989, which averaged 25.4 degrees at BWI-Marshall. Brrr! Tuesday’s electric demand did set a new December record in the 13-state PJM Interconnection.  

Text SKY to 70701 to get SKY NOTES posts like this one sent to your mobile device. 

(SUN PHOTO: Amy Davis, January 2000) 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, Sky Notes
        

December 15, 2010

Winter Weather Advisory for S. Md, Lower E. Shore

Go south, snow lovers! But drive carefully. The National Weather Service has issued a Winter Weather Advisory for three counties in Southern Maryland and for three more the Lower Eastern Shore.

Forecasters say those folks in Charles, Calvert and St. Mary's counties can expect 1 to 3 inches of snow between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Thursday. Temperatures will hover in the upper 20s and lower 30s.

In Dorchester, Wicomico and Somerset counties on the Shore - including the beaches - the forecast calls for 1 to 2 inches of snow between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Says NWS Sterling:

"A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY MEANS THAT PERIODS OF SNOW WILL CAUSE
TRAVEL DIFFICULTIES. BE PREPARED FOR SLIPPERY ROADS AND LIMITED
VISIBILITIES...AND USE CAUTION WHILE DRIVING."

40 pct chance of snowAs for the rest of us up here in the urban corridor, the forecast holds a Hazardous Weather Outlook message noting snow to our south. But the expectation for BWI-Marshall is a 40 percent chance for "less than a half-inch" of snow accumulation. Here's the NWS forecast office in Sterling:

"THERE MAY BE A SHARP SNOW CUTOFF IN THE [FORECAST AREA] ..W/
CLOSE TO THE MASON-DIXON LINE RECEIVING LITTLE TO NONE. HIGHLAND TO
NELSON/ALBE [COUNTIES IN VA.] LOOKS TO RECEIVE THE MOST SNOW...UP TO 4".

"GREENE TO ST. MARYS [IN MARYLAND] SHOULD RECEIVE 2-3". DC METRO UP TO 1". BECAUSE OF THIS WE`VE ISSUED A WINTER WEATHER ADVISRY FOR THURS WELL SOUTH OF DC. IT MAY BE THAT A "1" FOR THE AFTERNOON COMMUTE" ADVISORY MAY BE REQUIRED FOR THE GREATER DC AREA..."

Meanwhile, a Winter Storm Warning has been posted for central, southern and southwestern Virginia, including Richmond. Two to 5 inches of snow is expected in some areas. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather
        

First measurable snow may come Thursday

BWI-Marshall Airport could see its first measurable snow of the season - barely an inch - Thursday as a weak low-pressure system begins to move out of the southern Plains states and heads our way. There's a chance for a bigger event this weekend, but forecasters and their computer models haven't quite figured that one out yet.

Light snow BaltimoreWhat seems most certain at this point is that our unusually cold December weather will continue to unfold well below the long-term average temperatures for Baltimore. The average high for this time of year is 46 degrees, and we'll have trouble breaking the freezing mark today.

In fact, we've broken 40 degrees on only six dates so far this month, with only two above-average days..

Baltimore City has declared another Code Blue for tonight, extending shelter hours and inviting anyone in from the cold who needs a place to warm up. Outreach workers will seek out the homeless and other vulnerable citizens.

"Extreme cold weather is a killer," said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, Health Commissioner. "While we are primarily concerned about individuals experiencing homelessness, the elderly and chronically ill also are at risk for developing hypothermia should they lose heat or venture out in the cold without adequate protection. Please check in frequently on those loved ones, friends and neighbors who might benefit from the extra attention."

Overnight temperatures reached 19 degrees out on the Weather Deck in Cockeysville, and 21 degrees here at The Sun's weather complex at Calvert and Centre streets. BWI recorded a low of 19 degrees. Strong winds have made being outdoors downright painful. Record lows at this time of year range from 5 to 11 degrees.

AccuWeather.comThursday's storm will develop as warm air out of the southwest rides up and over the cold air at the surface we've been grappling with for days. That can mean snow, or at least mixed wintry precipitation. And it will be cold enough for either. Overnight lows will fall into the 20s, and the teens farther west.

Forecasters say the center of the clipper-type storm will pass to our south, and they're not entirely sure how far north the precipitation - which is expected to be light in any event - will reach.

They've settled, for now, on the theory that it will reach the Mason-Dixon Line, and fall as snow, with some chance for mixed precipitation to our southwest. It's likely to reach the Baltimore region in the afternoon, although the timing is still a little iffy. The official forecast calls for less than an inch of snow before it ends in Thursday evening.

Here's AccuWeather.com's take on the prospects. Foot's Forecast - the consortium of student forecasters that did so well with last winter's storms, is a bit more ominous about the prospects:Dec. 19, 2009 snow Baltimore

" ... [M]eteorologists, school officials and transportation managers are keeping close watch on a non-descript and fast-moving clipper system that has the potential to schedule a nightmare on Thursday from the Ohio Valley to the southern Mid-Atlantic.

"The unique alignment of suppressed northerly flow from central Canada, a squashed high pressure ridge off the southeast coast, and the 5,000 foot 0 degrees C line in North Carolina tomorrow morning means precip from Virginia and Kentucky northward should be snow. The Shenandoah and Blue Ridge mountains are likely to experience periods of sleet Thursday. For everyone else extending from Richmond to the PA line, prepare for a challenging day tomorrow."

Eric the Red, a professional meteorologist from Baltimore and frequent contributor here, says, "We're not talking major storm here. But the ground is frozen solid ... and with the snow likely to start after we're all at work/school, the afternoon trip could get a bit dicey. Or hellish. The dusting last Friday caused all sorts of issues, and this has repeat written all over it."

The next event out there begins Friday night as a new low forms off the coast and brings light snow to the counties to our south Friday night and Saturday. 

Foot's Forecast is ringing the alarm bells on that one, too. Sort-of:

"It looks to come right on the exact day 365 days ago when on December 19, [2009] Baltimore received its first Kahuna of the winter. The time frame for this storm, if impacted the area, would be Saturday evening through Sunday evening.

"Right now the team continues to analyze all the models, which shows both extremes. One extreme shows the potential for a repeat of last December's storm. Others show an out-to-sea situation which would leave us with no snow. We are fairly confident all precipitation with this storm will be snow, so the main thing to watch is how close to the coast this storm comes."

Eric the Red makes this observation: "Three of the [computer] ensembles have a major snow; four have a very close call, and the other five have nothing (too far offshore)." 

(SUN PHOTOS: Top:, light snow in Baltimore, 2008, Amy Davis. Bottom: Baltimore, Dec. 19, 2009, Karl Merton Ferron)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:13 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Forecasts
        

December 13, 2010

2010-11 Snowfall Contest opens

With the return of cold weather, last Friday's flurries, and the mayhem that resulted on the roads north and west of Baltimore, the winter weather season is undeniably here. So let's have some fun with it.

The Friday Flurrimageddon put a TRACE of snow on the official season's tally at BWI-Marshall. That's one parameter for guessing the season's total accumulations. Last year's all-time Baltimore record (adjusted) total of 77 inches provides the other. We're not likely to see that again in my lifetime.

SnowIn between, however, there is a wide range of possibilities for the new season. You can start with the long-term (30-year) average of 18 inches for BWI and work backwards, or forwards. You can calculate using temperature trends in the Pacific Ocean. (These La Nina winters tend to result in more mixed-precipitation storms for us, and more storms out of the Midwest that pack less moisture than the big coastal nor'easters.)

Here's a pile of winter data for the region from the National Weather Service. Here are the average monthly and seasonal snow totals for Baltimore going back to 1883.

You can go with the big forecasting outfits, most of whom seem to be predicting a more nearly average winter.  Or you can strike out on your own. Make a guess using your age, door number, or the number of hybrid cars you count on the way to work.

Whatever your reasoning, or system, submit your guess for the total snow accumulation this winter season at BWI-Marshall Airport. The meteorological winter ends officially on Feb. 28, but we all know the March can bring a flakey surprise, as it did in 2009. So let's cut off the count on March 15.

Post your entry, in inches for the entire season, as a comment here. I'll keep a tally, and the person coming closest without going over will win some fabulous Baltimore Sun swag of my choosing. People related to me, and time-travelers, will be disqualified.

UPDATE, Dec. 15: Entry period will close with the first measurable snowfall of the season at BWI. That could come Thursday. Or not.

UPDATE: Dec. 16: With snow in the air and on the ground at BWI, we hereby close the entries for the 2010-11 snow contest. Thanks to all who have entered. And good luck!

Let the snow bands and whiteouts and wintry mixes begin! 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:48 PM | | Comments (71)
Categories: Notes to readers
        

Oops! Geminid meteors peak tonight, not tomorrow

Your calendar-challenged weather blogger has an apology to make. In Sunday's Maryland Weather blog post, I listed Tuesday night/Wednesday morning as the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower.

The actual peak, it's finally dawned on me, is Monday night/Tuesday morning. My bad. I read "midnight Tuesday" in my astronomical calendar as the hour when Tuesday ends, not the one where it begins.

Anyway. I'm owning up to my error now so that anyone hardy enough to brave the bitter cold tonight can get out there in time to see the Geminid shower at its best.

That is, of course, assuming the skies clear in time. Tuesday/Wednesday actually promises better seeing conditions for Central Maryland. And meteor counts will still be pretty high, although not at Monday/Tuesday morning's peak. Rhiannon Blaauw, at NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office, in Huntsville, Ala., said meteor rates Tuesday/Wednesday night should be 30 to 50 an hour between 1 a.m. and 3 a,n, under dark skies.  

Here's more on the event, below. Again, my apologies.

The Geminids at their peak can generate more than 80 meteors an hour or more for observers who can get away from the light pollution of the urban corridor.

And they have a great story to tell.

Astronomers have linked the annual Geminid shower to one of the solar system’s oddballs – an object discovered in 1983 and named 3200 Phaethon. It was ther first time since the Geminid shower - the year's most intense shower - was first described in the 1800s that anyone had identified their source.

Phaethon's orbit made it seem to be an asteroid — a three-mile-wide chunk of rocky debris from the construction of the solar system 4.5 billion years ago. It appears to have emerged from the main asteroid belt, between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, scientists said. Its color matched other asteroids, and it didn’t show a comet’s tail when it approached the inner solar system.

But even so, debris tossed off along Phaethon’s path as it circles the sun seems to be responsible for the annual Geminid meteor shower. Rocky asteroids aren’t supposed to do that.

Other meteor showers have been linked to icy comets — frozen snowballs from the outer reaches of the solar system that toss off gas and dust as they near the sun. Annual meteor showers occur as the Earth, on its own orbit around the sun, intersects and passes through that comet dust.

Even more curious, astronomers traced the debris in the Geminid stream back to Phaethon at a point in its orbit when it passed inside the orbit of Mercury - very close to the sun.

Scientists using NASA’s STEREO spacecraft last year spotted Phaethon just 15 solar diameters from the sun. And while they watched, Phaethon brightened. Scientists at UCLA surmised that its surface rocks were being broken up by the sun’s heat and radiation — a possible mechanism for creating the debris that causes the Geminid shower.

There are still problems with the hypothesis. Others argue Phaethon is a husk of a comet that lost all its ices during previous encounters with the sun.

This business of main belt asteroids that unexpectedly light up and toss off debris has become a "real hot topic," said Keith Noll, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. "People have realized that there are objects that look like ordinary asteroids, yet they become active like comets, although at a low level."

Scientists would now like to know whether these objects are comets from far beyond the planets that got "implanted" in the asteroid belt, Noll said. "Or, have they always had this stuff underneath? And what does it take to turn them on?" 

He said astronomers learned over the weekend about another object, called 596 Schelia, previously thought to have been an asteroid, that has had an "outburst," perhaps one like Phaethon's.

"This may be just part of a general process of these things that's going on all the time," Noll said. 

Still other scientists will monitor the Geminids tonight as they impact the Earth's atmosphere and the moon. Using all-sky cameras and telescopes trained on the moon, they will try to quantify the meteors that manned spacecraft, satellites and future outposts on the moon might encounter.

Anyone venturing out tonight for the shower should look for the darkest skies they can find – well away from the urban corridor. The moon will set around midnight, leaving what should be a clear, dark, crisp winter sky for meteor viewing.

As each bit of Phaethon’s rocky debris strikes the Earth’s atmosphere at 35 km per second, its friction heats up the air molecules and causes them to glow, creating a bright streak across the sky. Some meteors may leave persistent trails.

You can look anywhere in the sky, but the true Geminids will appear to radiate from the constellation Gemini, rising in the east in late evening.

The best time to look is between midnight and dawn’s first light. Aside from very warm clothes, a hot beverage, sleeping bags or blankets, no special equipment is needed.

"It's just really fun to get out in the middle of the night, go out in the freezing cold," Noll said. "It's an experience you're not likely to forget, even if you don't see any meteors ... The winter sky is gorgeous when it's clear."

If your skies are cloudy, or it's just too cold, you can follow the Geminids beginning at 11 p.m. Monday tonight at www.nasa.gov/connect/chat/geminids2010.html   You can also go to http://fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov/ and watch the sky over the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, live as the Geminids come in. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:47 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Sky Watching
        

A cold and windy week ahead

We may see a few more flakes in the air in Central Maryland if the moisture blowing off the Great Lakes makes it this far. But otherwise we seem to have escaped the flakiness being visited on Western Maryland.

But we are in line for some cold and windy conditions as the week advances. Forecasters at the National Weather Service say low pressure spinning over the Northeast states will be dragging frigid air out of Canada (sound familiar?) this week. That's going to mean more persistent snow showers in the western counties as the Great Lakes moisture rides up the higher terrain.WISP web cam

A few of those "streamers" of lake-effect snow (see radar image below) sometimes make it beyond the mountains, at least as far as the Mason-Dixon Line. So watch for some flurries or showers in the northern parts of Carroll and Baltimore counties, they say.

Winds will be picking up later on Monday, especially overnight into Tuesday, and particularly across the mountain ridges. Gust could go to 40 or 50 mph, pushing wind chills into he mid-teens in the western Maryland mountains.

Tuesday will be more of the same - cold and windy. Our western cousins will see more Winter Storm Warnings , 6 to 12 inches of additional snow and possibly blizzard conditions as the snow really starts to blow around. Highs are expected to stall in the teens, with wind-chill numbers below zero.

The WISP resort in McHenry has already recorded 35 inches of snow this season.

Temperatures in the urban corridor may not get past the freezing mark Tuesday, forecasters said, Lake effect snow on radarwith wind chill numbers in the low teens or single digits Tuesday night.

Temperatures are expected to moderate as we get toward the weekend, but it looks like they will remain in the 30s - 5 to 10 degrees below the averages for this time of year.

Forecasters are watching the computer models for the next snow-maker. They're showing a weak low-pressure system tracking across the Great Plains, bringing snow east into the Carolinas on Thursday. The NWS forecasters at Sterling say:

"The exact track of this system will determine how far north the light precipitation - most likely in the form of snow - will reach. At the moment, the heaviest axis of precipitation appears to track just south of the [forecast area]. The track could easily shift north or south, so will have to keep an eye on this system."

After some moderating of the temperatures over the weekend, the forecast models show a coastal storm developing, but it's too early to say what, if anything, that will mean for Central Maryland.

(PHOTO: WISP Resort web cam, Monday)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:07 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Forecasts
        

December 12, 2010

Light snow at rush hour Monday morning?

It may feel positively balmy out there today, with the mercury here on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville has already passed the 50-degree mark. But once the cold front that is delivering the gray skies and rain passes by later today, temperatures will drop sharply.

And when that happens, forecasters say the rain may switch to snow showers. And it could occur around the time of the Monday morning rush hour. So keep a weather eye out and take it easy tomorrow. I think Friday's snow showers proved that it doesn't take much to put traffic on the skids.

The hope, of course, is that the 30 percent chance of snow showers posted by the folks out at Sterling will work the odds in our favor. Or, that the road crews will be pre-treating the pavements, or that the salt they spread Friday will continue to work its magic.

In any case, here's part of the NWS's Hazardous Weather Outlook posted this morning:

"AN UPPER LEVEL DISTURBANCE MAY PASS THROUGH THE REGION LATE SUNDAY
NIGHT AND MONDAY MORNING. WITH COLDER AIR HAVING MOVED IN BEHIND A
COLD FRONT...THIS DISTURBANCE HAS THE POTENTIAL TO PRODUCE
SCATTERED SNOW SHOWERS WHICH COULD RESULT IN LIGHT SNOWFALL
ACCUMULATIONS MONDAY MORNING DURING RUSH HOUR. THERE IS STILL SOME
UNCERTAINTY REGARDING THIS SITUATION...SO PLEASE STAY APPRISED OF
THE LATEST FORECASTS."

If you happen to live farther west, you may have more wintry weather in store. The NWS has posted a Winter Storm Warning for Garrett County and western Allegany County. Those hardy souls could see freezing rain today change to snow this afternoon, with 10 to 14 inches possible through early TUESDAY morning. Temperatures could reach single digits Monday night, with strong and gusty winds taking wind chills below zero.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:25 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

Geminid meteor shower peaks this week

Meteor shower 2010FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Watch for “shooting stars” this week as we near the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower, late Tuesday evening and early Wednesday.

This is one of the year’s best if skies are clear. The waxing moon will have set by midnight, in time for the best viewing hours.

Bundle up and head for the countryside. Under the darkest skies, meteor counts can exceed 80 per hour. They’ll seem to radiate from the constellation Gemini, rising in the east in late evening. 

(AP PHOTO: Fayetteville Observer, Johnny Horne November 2010)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition
        

December 10, 2010

Three Marylanders dead from hypothermia so far

This week's unusually cold weather has contributed to the death of an elderly Anne Arundel County resident, according to state health officials. The death was the third this fall attributed in part to hypothermia. All were 65 or older and all had underlying illnesses that contributed to their deaths.

Maryland's Health Secretary, John M. Colmers, urged Marylanders to stay warm as temperatures drop. "Check on friends and neighbors, especially seniors who may be living alone. A little care and awareness will help us avoid these tragedies," he said.

COld in BaltimoreThe first two deaths involved a person in Cecil County in late October, and a Baltimore City resident in early November. Temperatures in the region at that time were averaging about 3.5 degrees below normal. Since Dec. 1 the mercury has averaged more than 5 degrees below normal.

After a brief warmup this weekend, temperatures are expected to drop again, with highs early next week near 30 degrees, and lows in the teens. Average highs at this time of year in Baltimore are around 46 degrees.

Last year, 42 Marylanders died in circumstances in which hypothermia played a role, state health officials said.

Signs of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, cold, pale skin, numbness, fatigue, poor circulation, disorientation, slurred speech and bluish or puffy skin.

Tips for dealing with cold weather can be found at www.dhmh.maryland.gov/ Click on "Hypothermia and Frostbite."

(SUN PHOTO: Barbara Haddock Taylor, January 2010)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather
        

Disaster declared for Nov. 17 tornado

FROM SATURDAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Federal officials have issued a disaster declaration for the Nov. 17 tornado in northeast Baltimore and Parkville. The action makes affected homeowners, businesses and non-profits eligible for low-interest loans to assist their recovery from uninsured damage and economic injury. Those affected by storms that night in Anne Arundel County also are eligible. Information will be available Dec. 14 at 800 659-2955. Or, email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition
        

Light snow causing numerous accidents

 

A surprise snow squall was causing numerous accidents in Central Maryland at mid-day Friday as light accumulations created slippery conditions on some roadways.

Baltimore County Police reported one person with "life-threatening injuries" after an accident on Jarrettsville Pike in Jacksonville, between Stansbury Mill and Manor roads.

"A bread truck truck and a passenger car were involved," said police spokeswoman Louise Rogers-Feher. But she had no further information on the accident, which occurred shortly after 1 p.m.

Police counted 21 more crashes around Baltimore County, most of them in the Cockeysville and Franklin precincts. There were some injuries, Rogers-Feher said, "but nothing major."

The storm slicked roads in Carroll County, too, police said.

"We have dozens of accidents right now," said Sgt. Alfred A "Andy" Eways, at the Westminster barracks of the Maryland State Police. "Fortunately, right now, it appears everything at this point is property damage."

"We also have numerous disabled vehicles, either getting stuck or skidding into ditches," Eways said.

Salt trucks were dispatched around noontime, but Eways said, "We would encourage anybody who doesn't have an absolute need to be driving in Carroll County not to."

The State Highway Administration's CHART system was reporting four collisions on I-70 from Washington County to Howard County. A tractor-trailer overturned on I-270 in Montgomery County. There were no immediate reports of injuries. Vehicles were pulling to the side of the road because of slippery conditions on I-68 in Cumberland.

SHA spokesman Charlie Gischlar said that in many cases drivers moving at speeds better suited for dry conditions.

"What we're trying to do is get folks to slow down a little for the conditions," he said. "The speed limit is set for ideal conditions, and when they're not ideal, you have to slow down."

Traffic cameras showed clear pavement, but with some snowy patches, at I-70 and U.S. 29 in Howard County, as well as at I-70 and I-270 in Frederick.

State highway officials said salt trucks were sent out, but the roads were not pre-treated because the forecast had called only for flurries.

Howard Silverman, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va., said reports received there indicated no more than a few tenths of an inch of snow.

"It hasn't been a consistent, widespread band of accumulating snow, but there are consistent flurries moving across Virginia and Maryland," he said. "But with temperatures right around freezing, that's not to say it's not capable of creating slippery conditions, and it has been. But it's not a lot of snow."

The possibility of snow today, and its potential impacts, had been discussed by meteorologists, Silverman said. "It was not off the probabilities. But it was not a definite forecast, either."

Temperatures have been well below average in recent days, he noted, and that has probably cooled pavement temperatures and contributed to the traffic problems.

The little storm was expected to pass by after an hour or two, leaving no more than a dusting, Silverman said. "But that's about all it takes."

 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:49 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Winter weather
        

Snow in NW suburbs "shouldn't be a big deal"

My favorite teacher and her very excited First Graders report that it is "snowing to beat the band" out in NW Baltimore County just after noon. They were on their way out for a romp. Any other snow Window frostreports out there, campers?

The National Weather Service folks in Sterling say, "While this shouldn't be a big deal, it may result in a few white patches." Here's part of the Short-Term Forecast:

"LIGHT SNOW WILL END ACROSS FREDERICK AND INSIDE THE CAPITAL
BELTWAY BY 12:30 PM...WITH THE BACK EDGE PROGRESSING ACROSS
METROPOLITAN BALTIMORE BETWEEN 1 AND 2PM. JUST ABOUT EVERYONE
WILL RECEIVE A FEW SNOWFLAKES...BUT A FEW COMMUNITIES MAY RECEIVE
A LIGHT DUSTING OF SNOW...A QUARTER INCH OR LESS."

In fact, it is 34 degrees and snowing lightly here at Calvert and Centre streets. Let the winter begin! The forecast beyond today calls for some milder temperatures, reaching the mid-40s for Saturday and Sunday at BWI.

Rain is expected to develop late Saturday night or early Sunday morning, with a quarter- to a half-inch possible Sunday, ending in snow showers early Monday morning.

Next week will be sharply colder, with highs near 30 degrees and overnight lows in the teens before moderating at mid-week.

(SUN PHOTO: Window frost, Frank Roylance)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:10 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Winter weather
        

December 9, 2010

How would YOU change the weather page?

Unless you believe in the meteorological power of prayer, you can't change the weather. But maybe you can change the weather page.

Baltimore Sun weather pageThe Baltimore Sun is preparing for a major overhaul of its PRINT weather page. Having weathered a period of shrinkage and a loss of color, we are now on the rebound. Soon, perhaps as early as January, we will be expanding our current quarter-page of weather data to its former half-page glory. It will also be relocated from P. 3 to the back page of the Sports section.

And, we will be bringing back the color.

With the added space, we plan to add or restore weather data we haven't been able to provide in our currently cramped quarters. 

So, consider this your opportunity to tell us what you'd like to see on the print weather page starting in 2011, or what you'd like to see disappear. A national weather map? An accounting of heating and cooling degree-days? Humidity and barometric pressure readings?

Could you use a clearer display of pollen counts and air quality conditions? More (or fewer, or better-displayed) national and international temperatures and forecasts? More information for stargazers? More (or less) of me? 

Leave a comment here, or send me an email directly and let us know what changes you'd most like to see, what information you find most (or least) useful, and what you'd most like to see if we can squeeze it in. 

Over to you...

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Notes to readers
        

Sunsets get later from now until June 28

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Winter sunsetCheer up! Your days will soon brighten – at least in the afternoon. Last night witnessed the earliest sunset of the year, at 4:43 p.m. EST in Baltimore. From today, our afternoons will begin to get longer until the latest sunset, at 8:37 p.m. EDT, June 28.

 We’re not fully over the hump. Sunrises will continue to get later until Jan. 4. And total daylight hours will continue to dwindle until the advance of dusk outpaces that of the dawn, on Dec. 21 - the winter solstice.

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(SUN PHOTO: Karl Merton Ferron, February 2003)

 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, Sky Notes
        

December 8, 2010

Colo. State: Busy hurricane season in 2011

The Tropical Meteorology Project at Colorado State University is predicting another busy hurricane season in the Atlantic next year.

The forecast team of Phil Klotzbach and William Gray said this week that the multidecadal active cycle at work in the Atlantic since 1995 remains in place. And they see a small likelihood that El Nino conditions will arise in the Pacific to stifle storm development in the Atlantic.

Hurricane IgorPut that together and they see a season very close to the 2010 season, which ended Dec. 1 after recording 19 named storms.

Their "extended range" forecast calls for 17 named storms in the 2011 season, of which 9 will become hurricanes, and five will reach "major" hurricane strength at 111 mph  (Cat. 3) or higher.

And while no 2010 hurricanes crossed the U.S. coastline, the CSU team said, "We would expect to see more landfalling hurricanes in 2010." The average is 1 in 4 Atlantic hurricanes making a landfall in the U.S.

Last year's extended range forecast from CSU correctly predicted an above-average season. But the team underestimated the totals: They called for 11-16 named storms, 6-8 hurricanes and 3 to 5 major storms. The actual count was 19 named storms and 12 hurricanes, five of them reaching Cat. 3.

They also set a 64 percent chance that at least one major hurricane would make landfall in the U.S. None did.

(GRAPHIC: Wind field for Hurricane Igor; red indicates hurricane force; tan is tropical storm force; NOAA/NHC)

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

Midwestern snow cover, from orbit

Midwest snow, early winter

 

 

NASA's Terra satellite has snapped a photo of the snow cover that has spread across the upper Midwest in recent days.

Snapped around noon Tuesday, it shows a swath of snow from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan and across the northern sections of Illinois and Indiana and northwestern Ohio. 

Officially, winter doesn't begin until the solstice, on Dec. 21.

But Meteorological winter begins Dec. 1. And around the Great Lakes, it is in full swing. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cool pictures
        

Keep your Christmas tree watered

As it does every year, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has released video of what happens when a spark ignites a dry Christmas tree, as compared with one that has been kept fresh and well-watered. It speaks for itself.

Here's more from NIST:

"Once ignited, a dry Fraser fir, one of the most popular Christmas tree choices, bursts into flames in less than 7 seconds, and it will be consumed by fire in slightly more than a minute. But if a well-watered Fraser fir briefly ignites, the flame soon dies. This experiment, videotaped by researchers at National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), provides a stunning, visual lesson on why keeping one’s Christmas tree moist can be a matter of life-and-death importance.

"Every holiday season, hundreds of homes catch fire when something as small as poor insulation on a Christmas tree light sparks or causes a small flame, which is what was simulated in the NIST video. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), each year holiday trees fires cause 210 home fires, injure and kill dozens and cause more than $13.3 million in property damage. The NFPA also reports that one in nine Christmas tree fires lead to a death."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Phenomena
        

Sunday storm likely all rain; colder next week

Snow hounds' wishes for a big snowstorm this weekend appear to have melted away. The forecast models that had held out for snow or even mixed precipitation seem to have fallen into line with those predicting rain.

December cold BaltimoreIn the more immediate weather future, Central Maryland can expect more cold temperatures today as that stubborn low over eastern Canada continues to pump frigid air down from Canada. We had a low of 26 degrees here at The Sun's weather station at Calvert and Centre streets. It was 23 on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville, and BWI-Marshall reported 22 - the lowest reading of the season so far.

We may get no higher than 33 degrees at the airport Wednesday afternoon, which would make this the coldest day of the season to date. The overnight low at BWI could drop to 20 degrees tonight and tomorrow night.

There is one break in the forecast for those of us who hate to hear that furnace cranking. The high pressure moving slowly into the region today and tomorrow will begin to move off to the east on Thursday. That will put us into the clockwise return flow, bringing slightly warmer air into the region. Highs should reach the mid- to upper-40s for the weekend - just a few degrees below the norms for this time of year.December rain in Baltimore

But that will also bring us the storm system forecasters have been anticipating for days. The center is now forecast to  move up the Appalachians Sunday, putting Central Maryland on the east side, which is also the milder and rainy side of the system. Precipitation could start late Saturday, with rain chances rising to 90 percent Sunday. 

As that storm reaches New England Monday it is forecast to intensify. And that will draw more strong winds our way out of Canada. Forecasters say this new invasion of cold air next week will be colder than the one we're in now. Highs on Monday and Tuesday at BWI may have trouble reaching the freezing mark, with lows near 20. 

Love that electric blanket.

UPDATE, 2:30 p.m.: Eric the Red, a Baltimore forecaster and frequent contriibutor here, has just chimed in with a revised guesstimate. He says some of the models are now trending back toward a more wintry end to the weekend:

"This morning I would have put this weekend's storm odds at 90 percent all rain, 10 percent winter storm. I'm upping the ante a bit, thinking 60 percent all rain, 40 percent some sort of winter storm. It depends on a multitude of factors, with the main players being the track of the original storm and what sort of coastal development occurs, and if it does, where and when.

"If I had to give you a forecast now, I think I would go with mixed precip Saturday night ... with rain Sunday, changing to snow and sleet and becoming windy Sunday night, lasting into Monday."

(SUN PHOTO: Top: Lloyd Fox, Dec. 2007. Bottom: Amy Davis, Dec. 2004)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:01 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Forecasts
        

December 7, 2010

2010 hurricane season in one mesmerizing movie

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has captured satellite views of the entire 2010 Atlantic hurricane season and put them into a single 5-minute movie. It is mesmerizing. The season was a busy one. It tied with 1887 and 1995 for the third-highest number of named storms - 19.

Fortunately, warm and dry weather patterns over the U.S. blocked any of them from making a direct landfall on the U.S. mainland. Here's the movie: (Be patient while it loads.)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:17 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Hurricanes
        

Beautiful crescent moon tonight

NASAOn Wednesday night we will witness the earliest sunset of the year, at 4:43 p.m. in Baltimore. We're also just two days past the new moon, and skies should be clearing.

That means Tuesday and Wednesday evenings will be great times to pause and look west right after sunset to see the young moon as the thinnest crescent, with "Earthshine" dimly illuminating the rest.

We're also now just two weeks from the next full moon, the one that will be be fully eclipsed early on the morning of Dec. 21. Later that day we will mark the winter solstice and the beginning of winter.

We'll have more here on the eclipse as the day grows nearer.

(NASA PHOTO: Andy Skinner)

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Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:52 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Sky Notes, Sky Watching
        

Lake-effect snows winterize W. Maryland

Winter Storm Warnings continue in far western Maryland Tuesday, with local amounts up to two feet possible in western Allegany County as Great Lakes moisture continues to ride stiff northwest winds up the western slopes of the Alleghenies, and fall as snow.

I-68 Savage, Md.The National Weather Service is reporting a storm total of more than 5 inches in Frostburg, in Allegany County. Across the line in West Virginia, Bayard, in Grant County is reporting 23.8 inches of snow this morning. 

The cold and windy conditions that have made fire-fighting so miserable in Baltimore this week are forecast to continue through Wednesday as low-pressure over Quebec draws frigid Canadian air south across the lakes. That will also keep the upslope snows falling in Western Maryland. Wind-chill advisories may be needed out there as wind-chill readings drop toward minus-5 degrees. Actual temperature readings could reach single digits.

The winds will finally calm and temperatures will rise toward the seasonal norms later in the week as high pressure settles into the region. Weekend highs should reach the mid-40s by the weekend before a new storm system reaches the area, with sharply colder weather moving in behind that.

Forecasters at Sterling are still predicting rain with that system east of the mountains, beginning late Saturday. That could change to a mix of rain and snow as temperatures drop Sunday night.  

So far this month BWI-Marshall has seen temperatures drop from 62 degrees on the 1st to 26 degrees on the 2nd. Daily averages have been well below the norms since the 2nd, and the month to date is averaging 3.5 degrees colder than the long-term averages.

Officially, we've had no precipitation at BWI. Heating degree-days are running 15 percent above the average. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:58 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather
        

December 6, 2010

Snow on Dec. 5 a gift from Grandpa

Mirtha Stadler, in Gaithersburg, has finally provided an explanation for the snowfalls we seem to see each Dec. 5 in Central Maryland.

Ms. Stadler's father, Bernardo Sapcariu was 78 when he died in September 2002. He had beenSNowman Dec. 5, 2002 very close to his granddaughter Rachel, Mirtha's daughter. Rachel is now a 10th grader at Quince Orchard High. But she was just 6 when her Grandpa passed away. Her first birthday without her grandfather was on Dec. 5, 2002, and it began to snow.

"She [Rachel] was sitting at the kitchen table, and next to the table there was a window," Mirtha wrote. "She looked up at the sky and said, 'Thank you, Grandpa.'"

"I looked at her and asked her, 'Why did you say "Thank you, Grandpa?"'

"She said, 'Because Grandpa could not be here to spend my birthday with me, and he knows how much I love snow, [so] he gave me snow for my birthday.'"

"At that point, the phone rang and it was my sister-in-law, and she asked me why I was crying, and I told her, and of course we both started to cry," Mirtha continued.

"So the reason that it snowed every year on Dec. 5th is because Grandpa gave my daughter a birthday gift. She is now 15, and still wishes for snow on her birthday."

And on the two - now three - years since 2002 when it hasn't snowed on Dec. 5, Mirtha said, "Rachel said that Grandpa's snow machine was broken, and he was working on it." When snow finally came, "it was a belated birthday gift."

(SUN PHOTO: Snow in Annapolis, Dec. 5, 2002)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:28 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather
        

Cold continues; snow hawks eye storm next week

Officially, despite sightings of flurries in many places around the Baltimore region Sunday, there was no snow at BWI-Marshall - not even a trace - on Dec. 5. So, for those counting the Dec. 5ths that have produced at least a trace of snow, we stand at six out of the last nine years. Of all the dates in December, it's still the record-holder. 

Now the cold: Sunday's high of 39 degrees at BWI-Marshall marked the first time since last Feb. 26 that we've failed to reach 40 degrees. The unseasonably cold weather - the average high for this time of year at BWI is 49 degrees - is forecast to continue all week.Wisp resort web cam

Blame a negative phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation - the key to snowfall in Maryland. That is contributing to a deep southerly loop in the northern jet stream, which is allowing arctic air to surge into the mid-Atlantic states. Foot's Forecast says low pressure over Maine is powering the NW winds that are crossing the Great Lakes and dumping lake-effect snows on the lee shores.

The folks in Sterling say we may see some snow showers in Baltimore overnight tonight, with a low of 27 degrees. Tuesday's high may be no better 35 degrees, with gusty winds that will make it feel much colder.

Our compatriots in far western Maryland have been seeing far more than flurries. There are Blizzard Warnings posted today for parts of West Virginia just south of Garrett and Allegany counties in Maryland. They're warning of 10 to 20 inches of snow from this afternoon into Tuesday, with winds of 20 to 25 mph gusting to 40 to 50 mph. Garrett and Allegany are under a Winter Storm Warning of their own.

Web cam photos from CHART and the WISP resort (photo) show the terrain draped in white. Some of the white stuff at WISP is manmade, but they're getting the natural variety, too. No skiers in evidence yet.

As the week unfolds, it will remain cold, with highs in the upper 30s to low 40s, and overnight lows in the 20s. At the far end of the 7-day forecast the NWS has inserted a chance of rain for Sunday. AccuWeather.comBut there is considerable disagreement in the models about that storm, and the usual snow hawks have already begun to chatter about the possibility of a significant snowstorm for the mid-Atlantic early next week.

Once again it comes down to a debate over the storm track. A more westerly track up the Ohio Valley or the Appalachian chain would admit plenty of relatively warm air here, bringing us mostly rain. Edge the storm track farther east and we get a wintry mix. Send it out to sea and we keep the cold air in place and see the snow pile up.

What we need to remember, though, is that in a La Nina winter like this one, most of the storms can be expected to track to our west, bringing us more mixed precipitation and smaller accumulations compared with the big coastal storms more typical of an El Nino winter (like last year).

That said, there have been exceptions - big coastal storms in La Nina years. And even a few inches of snow and ice can be every bit as disruptive as an 18-incher, and maybe moreso as more people venture onto the roads, figuring they can tackle a few inches of snow and ice, no sweat.

Anyway, here's AccuWeather.com's take on the prospects for early next week. 

Eric the Red, a professional forecaster form Baltimore and frequent contributor here, says we may see some light snow Friday, but:

"The bigger issue is Sunday into Monday. Models have been all over this for days. The idea is pretty straightforward... moisture-laden storm will approach from the west-southwest.

"But the models are all over the place on the track this thing takes... some have it going into the Ohio River Valley, which puts us on the warm, southeast side of the storm (mostly rain), while others take it right overhead (that's a mixed mess), and still others show a track closer to the coast (kaboom!).

"Two things here: (1) the models have been trending farther north and west with the track, and (2) this doesn't make much sense since a strong blocking high would typically cause the storm to track farther south and reform on the coast."

"So we have the models showing a less favorable track for snow, but this solution - for now - just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Many days to sort this one out as well."

And finally, here's how Foot's Forecast sees it: "Forecaster Hunter Outten stated in a mid-November report that within a 60-day "Long Range Cycle" would be a significant event in the mid-December period. With the long duration period of cold weather to dominate much of the nation this week, the stars appear to be aligning for what could be the final significant coastal storm of the year to occur in the December 12-15 period."

Stay tuned.

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Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:26 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Forecasts, Sky Notes
        

December 5, 2010

Garrett, Allegany due up to 12 to 18 inches of snow

While we marveled at a few flurries and flakes here in the Tidewater Sunday, our fellow Marylanders out in Garrett and western Allegany counties were under a Winter Storm Warning. The National Weather Service says they can expect as much as 12 to 18 inches of snow overnight into Monday.

And light snow is expected to keep coming into Tuesday. And if that doesn't sound wintry enough for you, here's the rest of the warning for the high country in Allegany County:Wisp Web cam

"* TEMPERATURES...HIGH TEMPERATURES THIS AFTERNOON WILL BE IN THE
  LOWER TO MIDDLE 20S. LOW TEMPERATURES TONIGHT WILL BE IN THE
  TEENS. HIGH TEMPERATURES MONDAY WILL BE IN THE UPPER TEENS AND
  LOWER 20S. LOW TEMPERATURES MONDAY NIGHT WILL BE IN THE SINGLE
  DIGITS TO THE MIDDLE TEENS.

"* WINDS...WEST-NORTHWEST 20 TO 25 MPH WITH GUSTS OVER 40 TO 50 MPH
  THROUGHOUT THE PERIOD. GUSTY WINDS WILL CAUSE BLOWING AND
  DRIFTING SNOW WHICH WILL REDUCE VISIBILITY BELOW ONE HALF MILE
  AT TIMES."

Mountain regions of West Virginia and south-central Pennsylvania are also under Winter Storm Warnings tonight. Check out these lake-effect snow echoes on Great Lakes radar.

(PHOTO: Wisp Resort web cam Sunday night)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:17 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Winter weather
        

Coincidence: Dec. 5 snow "spike" due to chance

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Dec. 5 snowfall 2007Will BWI see snow today?  Not likely. But it has on six of the eight Dec. 5ths since 2002. Steve Zubrick, science officer at the NWS forecast office in Sterling, Va., checked the records and found we’ve recorded an inch or more of snow on nine Dec. 5ths since 1892, more than any other date in December. And there’s NEVER been an inch of snow on a Dec. 7 in that period. But statistical tests found the Dec. 5 spike appears to be due to nothing more than chance.

UPDATE, 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5: 35 degrees and snow flurries on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville!

(SUN PHOTO: Glenn Fawcett, Dec. 5, 2007)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition
        

December 4, 2010

"StarTalk" returns to airwaves Sunday at 6

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Galaxies NASAHungry for some real brain food? And maybe some laughs?

Tune in to CBS Radio Sunday at 6 p.m. EST as astrophysicist and frequent NOVA host Neil deGrasse Tyson welcomes guest comedian Jon Stewart on StarTalk.

Topics can include space travel, life in outer space, the Big Bang, the future of the Earth and killer asteroids.

Try Washington’s Big Talker at 1580 on your AM dial, or listen online at www.startalkradio.net   

(NASA photo)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition
        

December 3, 2010

Our snowy Dec. 5ths ... just a coincidence?

I spoke Thursday with Steve Zubrick, the science and operations officer at the NWS forecast office in Sterling, and we talked again about Baltimore's curious history of snowfalls on Dec. 5. It seems he, too, was intrigued by the phenomenon. And he was not alone.

As faithful WeatherBlog readers will know, Baltimore has recorded at least a trace of snow on six of the last eight Dec. 5ths. When I asked Steve about the phenomenon in an email a while back, heDec. 5 snow 2009 expressed doubt that a real statistical analysis of the phenomenon would find anything more than coincidence at work.

But he queried the weather service computers and found that snowstorms of an inch or more have occurred on Dec. 5 more than any other date in December - nine of them since daily snowfall records began for the city in 1892. There is a similar spike for snow on Dec. 5 at Washington's Reagan National Airport, although it's not the snowiest December date there.

That stirred some speculation at the Sterling office. Forecaster Jared Klein noted that early December is about when the first arctic cold outbreaks begin the reach Maryland, and wondered whether the Dec. 5 snow spike is "more a factor of when the first cold outbreak makes it possible to snow."  

At a Winter Weather Workshop for media types Thursday in Sterling, Zubrick revealed that he had been intrigued enough to run the question by some heavyweights in the meteorological statistics community.

The first was Harry R. Glahn, director of the NWS's Meteorological Development Lab. Glahn took the 117 years of data and ran it through a series of statistical tests. Finally focusing on the December numbers for Baltimore, he said the math "leads me to conclude that, looking at the Dec. 5 snow Baltimoredata and finding one spike in December of [greater than or equal to] 9 days is not unusual."

He called it a "singularity," and added that, "while at first blush there may be something unusual about December 5, it is nebulous. I might say, it is unusual not to find something unusual in a set of data." But, he added, "Much more work would have to be carefully done to confirm a Dec. 5 abnormality. It might make a good MS thesis topic for some student, or even a Ph.D."

Glahn forwarded the question to Ian Jolliffe, a professor emeritus at Aberdeen University in Scotland, whom Zubrick described as a "world reknowned statistician and atmospheric scientist." Jolliffe agreed, saying there is "clearly no evidence of anything but a chance occurrence."

"I'm pretty convinced by this," Zubrick said. Me, too.

Still, Glahn cautioned against dismissing such oddities too quickly.

"In your original email," Glahn told Zubrick, "you said it is absurd to think there may be something happening that could cause such an 'abnormality.' I wouldn't be too sure about that. There are extra-terrestrial events that could conceivably cause something like this; meteor showers come to mind. But most such things wouldn't be tied to specific earth calendar days," he said.

He reminded us all not to be too quick to dismiss apparent oddities: "Sometimes, someone noticing something unusual leads to new understandings."

(PHOTOS: Top, Laurel Park, Dec. 5, 2009, by Jerry Dzierwinski, Maryland Jockey Club. Bottom: Sun Photo, Baltimore, Dec, 5, 2002, by Algerina Perna)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:24 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Winter weather
        

Snow likely this weekend ... but not here

Sorry kids, it just doesn't look like the Baltimore region is going to get any of this late-autumn snow that so many of our neighbors to the north are enjoying today.

While Buffalo and other communities in the lee of Lakes Erie and Ontario are digging out from big lake-effect snowfalls, we're looking at a weekend forecast that goes from just mostly cloudy to Snow Buffalopartly sunny to mostly sunny by Monday.

Snow lovers don't have to go terribly far for better news. The hardy Marylanders in our far-western counties are looking at a pretty much unbroken string of snowflake icons on their 7-day forecast. That goes for both Garrett and western Allegany counties.

And forecasters are watching a "clipper" system - a storm riding along the jet stream out of the northern Rockies - that's expected to cross the Great Plains and reach the Midwest by tonight. That storm is forecast to pass well to our south, across southwest Virginia late Saturday into Sunday.  Forecasters say it will be cold enough for that to produce snow Saturday night across the southern Potomac Highlands and the central Shenandoah Valley.

But none of it will be heavy. These clipper systems just don't pack the moisture needed for that. We're likely to see more of these this winter than of the big coastal storms that buried us last winter, forecasters say. And then we're looking at mostly sunny skies well into next week.

This, or course, pretty much kills our chances of seeing snow on Dec. 5 this year. More on that later.

(AP PHOTO: David Duprey)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:30 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Winter weather
        

"Bay-effect" snows are rare, but possible

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Lake-effect snow in BuffaloEarl Needhammer, in Westminster, writes: “We hear of ‘lake-effect snows’ up around the Great Lakes … Is there a noticeable ‘lake-effect’ on local weather from the reservoirs and the Bay?” Lake-effect snow requires a pretty long “fetch” of cold wind across relatively warm, open water, then rising terrain. Our reservoirs are too small. “Bay-effect” snows are rare, but possible. N.C. State scientists reported a 1999 event when north winds blew down the bay and dumped snow on Norfolk.

 Text SKY to 70701 to get SKY NOTES posts like this one sent to your mobile device.

(GETTY IMAGES: Lake-effect snow in Buffalo 12/2/2010)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, Sky Notes
        

December 2, 2010

Venus dazzling in the east before dawn

FROM TODAY'S PRINT EDITIONS:

Venus in crescent phaseUp early? Venus dazzles this morning, close beside a crescent moon. It’s the brightest appearance by the brightest object in the sky except for the sun and moon. You can even see it in daylight if you know where to look.

Through a telescope, Venus, too, appears as a moon-like crescent. Look for it in the east an hour or two before dawn.

Missed it today? Venus will be nearly as bright for the next few weeks.

(NASA photo: Venus in crescent phase, April 2009)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Sky Notes
        

December 1, 2010

Storm damages Catoctin Preserve; no injuries

Catoctin storm damageHigh winds have caused some damage at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo, in Turmont, but the folks out there say all the animals - and people - have come through unharmed. Spokeswoman Susan Small reports:

"Strong winds turned animal shelters into kites! With the extreme stormy and windy conditions over the last 24 hours, the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo had down branches and limbs in Thurmont, MD.

"The biggest tree lost was a Catoctin storm damage60 foot Tulip Poplar near the Sun Bear enclosure. Fortunately, none of the animals were injured and all of the exhibits were fine.

"To the shock of staff, however, the 60 foot Tulip Poplar tree fell directly on the front of a staff utility vehicle during it's daily rounds. The staff member driving the truck was fine, no injuries."

(PHOTOS: Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:47 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Storm reports
        

A wild and windy morning

That's about as busy a forecast map as I've ever seen coming out of Sterling. The region continues to be buffeted by rain and wind as a strong cold front approaches from the west.

Here's the rundown for BWI as of 10:30 a.m. Wednesday:Baltimore tidal departure

Coastal Flood Warning until 3 p.m.: Southeast winds at 25 to 35 mph are holding water in the bay, producing high tides about 2 feet above normal (red line on chart at right). Once the front passes this afternoon, wind will shift to the northwest and the water levels will drop.

Tornado Watch extended until noon: Covers seven Maryland counties, includingAnne Arundel, Prince George's Baltimore, Harford, Calvert, Chalres, St. Mary's and Baltimore City.

Special Weather Statement: Strong thunderstorms were noted south of Baltimore just before 10 a.m.

Flash Flood Watch until 1 p.m.: Covers Central Maryland. One to two inches of rain could put small streams and creeks out of their banks.

Wind Advisory until 11 a.m.: For Central and Southern Maryland, with southeasterly gusts to 45 or 50 mph.

Sun weather station

UPDATE: At  11 a.m. it appears the front has passed. The temperature here at The Sun's weather station has dropped from 63 degrees at 9 a.m. to 51 at 10 a.m. and 48 degrees just before 11. The wind has shifted to the NW, and the barometer (below) also has turned around, rising now from a low of 29.54 inches at 9:40 a.m.

Sun barometer

The Sun's weather station has recorded 0.81 inch of rain overnight. But the top honors go to Cumberland, with 2.62 inches of rain in the 24 hours ending at 7 a.m. Wednesday. Here's more from the CoCoRaHS Network.

And if you're looking for snow, head for Western Maryland. Here's the view on Keyser's Ridge. And here's the forecast for Oakland, in Garrett County. (Did you know there are five Oaklands in Maryland?) 

(SUN PHOTO: Frank Roylance)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:38 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events
        

Dec. 5: The month's most-likely snowy day?

For several years now, we've been writing about Dec. 5, and how frequently we here in Baltimore seem to get at least a little bit of snow on that date. 

Here's the recent history:Dec. 5 snowfall

2009: 1 inch

2008:  None (but there was 0.6 inch on the 6th)

2007:  4.7 inches

2006:  Trace

2005:  1.4 inches

2004:  None

2003:  3 inches (and another 3.8 inches on the 6th)

2002:  7.4 inches (and a trace on the 6th)

Well, okay. Maybe snow on six of the last eight Dec. 5ths is a coincidence. But it's been a pretty persistent one. I asked Steve Zubrick about it. He's the science and operations officer at the National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va.

"I don't think it's any more favored than any other date during winter," he said. "I have not done a statistical analysis of this" but he doubts it would stand up as statistically significant. Maybe not.

Still, Zubrick did run the numbers for me, looking back on all the dates with at least an inch of Dec. 5 snowfallsnow in Baltimore since they started keeping daily snow records for the city in 1892.

That search revealed that Dec. 5 REALLY IS the date with the most snowfalls of an inch or more. (Chart below.) It's occurred on nine Dec. 5ths (five of those since 2002). The runners-up are Dec. 10th and 14th, with seven snows of an inch or more.

Curiously, it has NEVER snowed an inch or more on Dec. 7 since the record-keeping began. Zubrick doesn't think that would hold up as statistically significant, either, if he had a longer time scale to work with. 

So maybe there's nothing special about the date. It just seems likely to snow on Dec. 5 in Baltimore, and not on Dec. 7. Whatever... Here are some other curious-but-probably-meaningless facts from Zubrick's data search:

* The date with the most frequent snowfalls of an inch or more for Baltimore:  Jan. 7, with 13 such snowfalls since 1892.

* The runner-up, with 11 days: Jan. 28.

* Those are followed by a six-way tie, with 10 days each: Jan. 16, 19, 30, and Feb. 4, 6 and 17.

* January and February had the most days with an inch of snow or more: 206 days each since 1892.

The forecast for this coming Dec. 5 - Sunday - calls for partly sunny skies and a high near 43 degrees, after a morning low of 30. On the other hand, Eric the Red, our contributing meteorologist from Baltimore,  says several computer models suggest the first significant storm of the season in a Dec. 7-8 time frame.

Maybe we'll see the first inch or more of snow on a Dec. 7 in Baltimore since records began in 1892. Stay tuned.

(SUN PHOTO: Top: Nanine Hartzenbusch, Dec. 6, 2005; Bottom: Amy Davis, Dec. 5, 2003)

NWS/NOAA

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:00 AM | | Comments (8)
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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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