October 14, 2011

Tornadoes hit Va. area

Frank is still on vacation, but here's some information about a significant weather event just to the south of us.

Two months after the area was the epicenter of an earthquake, tornadoes struck New Kent County, Virginia, on Thursday.

About about 30 homes were damaged, according to The Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia. The National Weather Service is visiting the area today to gather information about the storm.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore and Arundel areas were under a tornado watch last night.  Southern Baltimore and Arundel are still under a coastal flood warning until noon.



Posted by Kim Walker at 10:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 22, 2011

Sunday storms were hit-or-miss, again

Woke up and heard all this talk about trees down and outages in the region due to Sunday's storms. But all we had out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville were a couple of brief morning showers. The rest of the day was humid, but mostly rain-free. 

Oh, we heard some thunder, in the distance. But no rain to speak of beyond the morning showers.

It was another day of hit-or-miss storms across Central Maryland. The Sun's weather station, at Calvert and Centre streets, shows 1.72 inches. BWI-Marshall Airport reported 0.99 inch.

Here are some of the totals, from the CoCoRaHS Network:

Columbia, Howard County:  2.00 inchesBWI Precip August

Catonsville, Baltimore County:  1.91 inches

Laurel, PG:  1.66 inches

Columbia, Howard:  1.64 inches

Severn, Anne Arundel:  1.34 inches

Jarrettsville, Baltimore County:  1.17 inches

Hamilton, Baltimore City:  1.06 inches

Pasadena, Arunde:  0.88 inchBWI Temps August

Crofton, Arundel:  0.85 inch

Towson, Baltimore County:  0.49 inch

Bel Air, Harford:  0.40 inch

Salisbury, Wicomico:  0.25 inch

Taneytown, Carroll:  0.06 inch


Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:32 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: By the numbers, Events

August 17, 2011

Terrific rainstorm in downtown Baltimore

Rainbow over East BaltimoreIt's been absolutely pouring in downtown Baltimore since shortly after 6 p.m. There were no warnings from the weather service. There is almost nothing  showing on radar.

But the streets are full of water, the visibility is much reduced in heavy rain and lashing winds. And anyone caught outside will be drenched. 

The instruments at The Sun show almost three-quarters of an inch of rain have fallen, sometimes at nearly 7 inches an hour. 

And now, there is a full arch rainbow over East Baltimore as seen from The Sun building.

"It was just a shower that developed along the bay breeze," said Nikole Listemaa, a NWSRain meteorologist at the regional forecast office in Sterling, Va., The bay breeze occurs when sunshine heats the land, causing the air above it to rise. That draws in cooler air from the bay. The bay breeze collides with the rising air over the land. It rises, cools and its moisture condenses, triggering a thunderstorm.

This one was small, Listemaa said. "Looks like it actually missed BWI airport and probably missed Martin State Airport. It was just one lone shower or thunderstorm that stayed over the same area for a little while."

It was not severe, hence no Severe Storm Warning. There were a few lightning strikes, but not many, she said. Radar estimates  show an inch and a half of rain. "Looks like most of that fell over the Inner Harbor area."

(SUN PHOTOS: Frank Roylance)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:17 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Cool pictures, Events

July 26, 2011

Huge rain totals in Monday storm

A blog comment from "djordan" this afternoon called my attention to the rain that fell with thunderstorms across Central Maryland as the cold front swept through on Monday.

I was deep in an interview in East Baltimore as the thunder announced the storm, and it was over by the time I got out. So I missed it entirely. But djordan wrote to me:

"Frank, were any rainfall records set yesterday? I got caught in that never-ending thunderstorm in western Howard Co...I understand over 3 inches of rain fell in 1.5 hours or something like that."

So I checked CoCoRaHS Network data and found some impressive totals:

Eldersburg:  3.49 inches

Woodbine:  3.21 inches

North Laurel:  3.20 inches

Sykesville:  2.98 inches

Gaithersburg:  1.99 inches

Towson:  1.59 inches

Baltimore:  1.50 inches

Cockeysville:  1.22 inches

The Sun: 0.83 inch

I can't say whether any of these totals are records for the date in the places where they were measured, because the only official record-keeping in the area is the NWS station at BWI.  The wettest July 25 on record there saw 2.00 inches fall in 1978. So if the storm had stalled a bit farther east, over BWI, we would have demolished the record for the date.

As it was, BWI reported just 0.64 inches, so, officially, there was no new record.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:09 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events

June 23, 2011

Some shipwrecks are funnier than others...

I've been working on a story about the growing potential for oil spills from old shipwrecks off the U.S. coast, many sent to the bottom during 1942, when German U-boats lay off the coast attacking coastal shipping.

So, I was looking through the Dictionary of Disasters at Sea, a seemingly endless listing of grim, often horrific sinkings as far back as 1824. And I came across this one, which was so bizarre and tragic and hilarious, I had to share. It's the story of the Royal Tar, a 164-foot wooden paddle steamer (not the one below, which is the Italie, on Lake Geneva) out of St. John, New Brunswick in the Canadian maritimes. The skipper was Capt. T. Reed. The dictionary picks up the story:

"In October 1836, she was chartered to carry Dexter's Locomotive Museum and Burgess' Collection of Paddle steamerSerpents and Birds from St. John, N.B. to Maine, as well as an elephant, two lions, a tiger, two camels, several horses, and a large number of smaller animals.

"For the accommodation of these unusual travellers a huge Noah's Ark-like tent had been erected to cover the whole afterpart of the steamer.

"In addition to the animals there were the circus personnel, which included a full brass band, as well as private passengers and crew, making 93 all told.

"On the morning of October 21st, 1836, the steamer left St. John harbor in fair weather, but towards the end of the day a strong west wind forced her to anchor in Eastport [Maine] Harbor, where she remained until Tuesday, 25th.

"Shortly after leaving this anchorage she was again forced by the high winds to seek shelter off FoxCircus tiger Island.

"The next day a fire was kindled under the boilers without previously ascertaining the depth of the water in them, which was very little. The small amount of water soon evaporated and the boilers became red hot, setting fire to nearby woodwork. The vessel was still at anchor.

"The wooden steamer blazed with fierce intensity, the two funnels falling overboard and causing much havoc. Soon there was terrible panic, in which human beings and animals struggled together to reach some place of safety. Meanwhile the captain had given orders to slip the cable to allow the vessel to drift landwards, as she was at the time anchored two miles offshore.

Continue reading "Some shipwrecks are funnier than others... " »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:21 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Events

March 17, 2011

Spring is official: the spring peepers are singing

No need to wait until the vernal equinox on Sunday. For me, spring begins when the spring peepers begin their lusty chorus in the wetlands along Western Run in Cockeysville. And they've been singing up a storm since last week's rainstorm.

The peepers are known to biologists as Spring peeperPseudocris crucifer, and they're common in wetlands throughout the eastern U.S. The "crucifer" part of their name refers to the darkly pigmented "X" on their backs. Not that I've ever been able to see one. They're a purely auditory experience for me. Click here to listen.

The little frogs lives in the litter on the forest floor, and it's the males you hear singing in the early spring as they work to attract a mate.

They like places in or near wetlands, and our stretch of Western Run certainly qualifies. Last Thursday's storm flooded a wide expanse of the floodplain, and apparently it was just what the froggies needed.

Welcome back!

(PHOTO: U.S. Geological Survey) 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:47 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Events

February 17, 2011

Suspect arrested in Auburn U. tree poisoning

Why would anyone kill century-old live oak trees over a football game? It's inexplicable, but somebody apparently has done just that.

Toomer's CornerThe famous pair of live oaks at Toomer's Corner, on the Auburn University campus, have been dealt an almost-certainly lethal dose of herbicide in what appears to have been an act of sports rage.

The oak trees are a landmark on the Auburn campus, where students go to heave toilet paper rolls over the branches to celebrate sports victories.

Late last month, someone called a nationally syndicated radio talk show host in Birmingham to boast he had dosed the trees with a powerful herbicide. "Al from Dadeville" signed off, saying "Roll Damn Tide," an apparent reference to the University of Alabama "Crimson Tide." 

Auburn narrowly defeated Alabama in the 2010 Iron Bowl, the traditional rivalry game between the two schools. 

News media in Alabama are reporting an arrest in the case. Here's more.

And here's a live web cam trained on the doomed trees.

Now, back to the weather.

(AP PHOTO: Dave Martin, December 2010)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:29 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Events

February 16, 2011

Md. Forest Service watching two big marsh fires

The Maryland DNR Forest Service is investigating the causes of two wildfires this week that have burned more than 3,500 acres of marshland in Dorchester County. Both fires have been brought Transquaking Riverunder control, but continue to burn.

"We typically get large marsh fires at this time of year," said state fire supervisor Monte Mitchell. "With the conditions we had on Monday, with gusts from 20 to 40 mph, low relative humidity and dry fuel conditions, it's a recipe for large fires."

The two big fires were among 12 wildfires the Forest Service has tackled already this week on the Eastern Shore, in Dorchester, Caroline, Kent, Talbot and Somerset counties. Most were small and they were extinguished quickly.

No injuries were reported in any of the fires. But one fire Monday near Andrews, in Dorchester County, destroyed 5 acres of woodland, 32 acres of marsh, and two sheds. A hunting lodge was saved by fire fighters from the local volunteer company and the Forest Service. Fishing Bay 

Both of the large marsh fires began Monday. The largest, dubbed the Irish Creek fire, has charred more than 2,900 acres in the Fishing Bay Wildlife Management Area, about four miles south of Bestpitch.

The second fire, named the Thorofare fire, burned across 590 acres less than a mile south of Bestpitch along the Transquaking River.

"Both are under investigation at this time," Mitchell said. "I don't want to speculate as to what the cause would be." But there was no lightning and there is nothing out there that would ignite a fire of its own accord, he said.

"Fires like that are suspicious in nature," he said. 

Because of the fires' inaccessibility, two fire fighters were dispatched by boat with orders to confine and monitor the fires until the blazes burn themselves out, making sure they do not threaten  woodlands or houses, Mitchell said.

The risk of wildfires continues this week, Mitchell said. "It looks like the winds are going to die down some after today. That's good. For the rest of the week it looks like we're still going to have dry conditions ... Fires ignite easily and spread easily under these conditions."

(PHOTO: Kayakers on the Transquaking River, Perry Thorsvik, 1997)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:40 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

December 1, 2010

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

October 4, 2010

Last week's storm, seen from St. Leonard's Creek

Rainfall map 

The Baltimore Sun's environmental writer, Tim Wheeler, has passed along this delightful essay, written late last week by Kent Mountford, former senior senior scientist with the EPA's Chesapeake Bay Program office, and still an environmental historian and estuarine ecologist.

He's semi-retired, writing for the Bay Journal. He lives on St. Leonard's Creek, in Calvert County, where he measured Kent Mountford photomore than 14 inches of rain in last week's rainstorm. That's his yard in the photo, taken during the storm. The rainfall map shows the storm totals in one-inch increments, from 3 or less (darkest blue), upward to 13 or more (red). Enjoy.

"I don’t get fresh brewed coffee very often, and never at home, but this morning, I made a pot to get myself going.

"This storm was an amazing experience. I’ve kept rainfall records at Osborn Cove since 1974 and this storm exceeds anything encountered in that three-and-a-half decade period. I can say with confidence that this rainfall, at our location in Maryland, vastly exceeded disastrous Tropical Storm “Agnes” in 1972 (which was about 150 mm or 6 inches). 

"It has, at the very least been a four decade event.  Since “Agnes” was called a Millennium Storm, the return interval for what we experienced is much longer than 4 decades. I hope my science colleagues mark this and monitor the Chesapeake appropriately:  “Agnes” after all shook this ecosystem to its foundations, and the Bay, if anything is in a more delicate state than in 1972."

(PHOTO by Kent Mountford. Used with permission.)

Continue reading "Last week's storm, seen from St. Leonard's Creek" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:41 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Events

July 12, 2010

Heavy rain in downtown Baltimore

Heavy rain Baltimore SunVery heavy rain falling at 3:15 p.m. in downtown Baltimore.

The rain gauge at The Sun's weather station has been showing rates of up to 5.3 inches an hour. Almost a quarter-inch has fallen in the last 10 minutes.

UPDATE: Now showing 0.67 inches at 3:35 p.m.

UPDATED UPDATE @4:15: Temperature has dropped from 85 degrees at 3 p.m. to 72 at 4 p.m. Rain total is now 1.24 inches in about one hour.

We'd be interested in your reports as these cells move across the region. Leave a comment.

Severe Thunderstorm Warnings are posted for for the city and immediate suburbs until 3:30 p.m..

(SUN PHOTO: Frank Roylance)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:14 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Events

May 18, 2010

Iceland eruption a "little fart in the ... ocean"

Curious about how Iceland's ongoing volcanic eruption compares with other famous eruptions, like Mt. St. Helens in 1980, or Mt. Vesuvius when it buried Pompeii in A.D. 79 ? Ever wonder how the devil Icelanders pronounce Eyjafjallajokull?

Here are all the answers, from the Smithsonian Institution geologist Liz Cotrell.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

February 22, 2010

Mason-Dixon, Lorton meteors in TV cameo Weds.

Amateur astronomer and astrophotographer Mike Hankey, of Freeland, reminds the WeatherBlog that this week's edition of Meteorite Men will include a "short segment" on two recent meteor events in the mid-Atlantic states.

UPDATE: Apparently, the Mason-Dixon meteor has been edited out of the final version of the show. Lorton survives. Earlier post resumes:

The show, on Discovery's Science Channel at 9 p.m. Wednesday, will focus on last year's meteorite fall in Ash Creek, Texas. But Mike says there will be some attention paid to the Mason-Dixon meteor last July 6, and the Lorton meteorite fall in suburban Washington, D.C. on Jan. 18, 2010.

The Mason-Dixon meteor startled residents of north-central Maryland and nearby Pennsylvania with sonic booms and a fiery pass through the atmosphere. A security camera at a York Water Company pumping station caught it on tape. And Hankey captured the space rock's entry by accident on a digital camera hitched to his telescope. Despite a search by meteorite hunters, no trace of the meteor was ever found.

The Lorton meteorite was found quite easily. The fist-sized rock crashed through the roof of a Lorton doctor's office. No one was hurt, and the meteorite was turned over to the Smithsonian Institution. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

January 28, 2010

Torrential Peru rains strand 1000s at Machu Picchu

Here's a weather story that has not received as much press as it deserves: More than 2,000 tourists, including many foreigners, including Americans, remain stranded by heavy rains, flood waters and mudslides Urubamba River near Machu Picchunear the Incan ruins at Machu Picchu, in the Peruvian highlands northwest of Cuzco.

The railroad that brings most tourists to the archaeological site from Cuzco has been washed out by a mudslide. Roads and bridges have been damaged, and the Peruvian government is cooperating with the U.S. and others in an effort to bring the tourists out by helicopter. It's not going well.

Food and water and other supplies are running short. So are some tempers. Crowds are being sheltered in hotels, hostels and public buildings. Some tourists are pitching in on sandbagging duty while they wait for a flight out. Some vacation.

More importantly, thousands of Peruvians are homeless or dealing with damaged homes in the wake of building collapses and other rain-related damage. Crops also have been inundated.

I have seen little of this in the big media. You have to drill down some to find CNN's report. And it says little or nothing about the damage and hardship being suffered by Peruvians.

These rains are the heaviest in many years in Peru. I suspect they can be attributed to the El Nino event underway in the tropical Pacific.

(AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:15 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Events

December 29, 2009

High winds buffet cars, cut power

Woke up Monday and again Tuesday to the sound of wind roaring through the trees. And when I went to the drive-up ATM machine this morning, the wind caught the receipt as it emerged from the machine, and before I could grab it, the thing soared high into the swirl of leaves and trash around me and out of sight. The cash, happily, stayed put.

The cause is a "tight pressure gradient" - close proximity between a deep low-pressure center in the Canadian Maritime Provinces and a high in the Midwest. That is funneling a gusher of Canadian air into the Northeast, and we get stiff winds. And it's cold. Temperatures were dropping all night after the passage of a cold front, and seem to be struggling to reach the freezing mark at mid-day Tuesday. The wind chills are in the low 20s. Look for a low near 20 degrees tonight. Windy weather

The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory for Central Maryland through 6 p.m. Tuesday, warning of sustained winds of 20 to 30 mph, gusting to 45 or 50 mph. Such winds can make driving difficult, especially for high-profile vehicles. Gale Warnings are in effect for the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay, and the tidal Potomac River.

Here are some peak wind gusts around the region. Some have reached 50 mph.

Winds down at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport have been steady at more than 20 mph this morning, and gusting to 38 mph. BGE is reporting more than 13,000 customers have lost power since the windstorm began. More than 8,000 of those have already been restored.

Instruments at the Thomas Point Light are recording winds of 29 knots, gusting to 36, with falling temperatures.

(SUN PHOTO/Amy Davis/January 2000)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:17 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

December 21, 2009

Okay: NOW it's winter; solstice arrives at 12:47 p.m.

It may have looked like winter to you for several days. But officially, if you buy the tradition, winter arrived today - Monday, Dec. 21 - at 12:47 p.m. - with the winter solstice.

Winter solstice - AP PhotoThe winter solstice is the moment when the "sun stands still" - from the Latin "sol" and "stistere." That is, it's the time when the sun stops its apparent drift southward in the sky, and begins to rise and set a bit farther north each day, headed toward spring and the summer solstice in June.

In fact, the solstice occurs at the moment in the Earth's annual orbit around the sun, when the Northern Hemisphere reaches its maximum tilt away from the sun - 23 degrees, 26 minutes from the perpendicular. At the same moment, the Southern Hemisphere is enjoying its Summer Solstice, its longest day and the start of the southern summer.

In many cultures, the winter solstice was celebrated as mid-winter, not the beginning. And it made sense. Today is the day with the shortest period of daylight. From here, the days get longer, and brighter. We have already passed the date of the earliest sunset (Dec. 7), and on Jan. 4 we will note the latest sunrise. But from this moment, on balance, the days are getting longer. It's all good from here.

So cheer up and shovel.

(AP PHOTO/Chris Young - English Druids celebrate the 2005 winter solstice at Stonehenge)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:14 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Events

October 8, 2009

LCROSS to slam moon Friday morning; how to watch


NASA's LCROSS spacecraft and its booster rocket are on course to crash into the moon's south pole Friday morning as scientists make another bid to determine whether there is useful water ice hidden in the rocks and soil of a deep polar crater.

The idea is to blast enough of the moon into space with the booster's impact that detectors on board LCROSS itself can measure the water in the debris and send the data back to Earth before the spacecraft itself follows its booster into the dirt. (No, it won't hurt the moon.)

Plans call for both objects to target the Cabeus crater, impacting at 7:31 a.m. and 7:35 a.m. EDT. Scientists and engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center are playing roles in the the mission's final moments.

Both impacts will also be watched closely through telescopes on Earth and in orbit, in the expectation that one or both crashes will reveal the presence of water. If the answer is positive, it would be a boost to hopes that a manned base at the south pole would have access to water, for drinking and for hydrolysis, which breaks the H2O into hydrogen and oxygen.

The oxygen could help supply the base with breathable air, and the two gases - if there's really enough there - could be repackaged and used as fuel for sending rockets and people back to NASA's LCROSS missionEarth, or elsewhere in the solar system.

Previous unmanned missions to the moon have provided hints of hydrogen at the poles. And the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission now circling the moon has detected a thin, volatile "dew" of water on the lunar surface.

But lunar mission planners are especially interested in water ice at the polar craters. The moon's poles are attractive to base-builders because high elevations could provide nearly constant sunlight for solar electric generation, and shelter (thanks to the steady, low sun angles) from the extremes of heat and cold that prevail closer to the moon's equator.

And the deep polar craters, thanks to the absence of sunlight, are where scientists suspect water ice - delivered during the early bombardment of the inner solar system by icy comets - is most likely to have been preserved.

Unfortunately for people in Maryland, and anywhere east of the Mississippi, the LCROSS impacts won't be visible directly because the moon will have set. (SEE COMMENTS BELOW) In any case, you would need a telescope, with a lens or mirror at least 10 inches in diameter. But there will be ways to watch the events in your jammies via Webcast. Here are some of them:

NASA TV will Web cast the impacts beginning at 6:15 a.m. EDT. There is an onboard camera that should send back dizzying video of the fall.

LCROSS has a Twitter site, too. Follow developments minute to minute.

The mission is also on Facebook, believe it or not. Looks pretty nasty to me, but I guess you could be a friend for a few hours.

Also, the online SLOOH telescope system will provide live Web feeds of the impact. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:08 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Events

Another one bites the dust

Bird strikes Sun bridgeAs the autumn migration season continues, another bird has flown into the glass windows of The Sun's footbridge over Centre Street. It appears to be the fourth of the season so far.

In addition to the yellow-bellied sapsucker that fell a few days ago, an unidentified gray bird (maybe a catbird?) lies in the gutter of the bridge a few yards from the sapsucker. This morning on the way in I noticed another bird lying in a puddle on an awning not far from the bridge. It has black and white spots, perhaps another sapsucker.

Here (photo) is the latest addition to the count, spotted today on the east ledge of the bridge. If you can identify the species, let me know.

This is an annual phenomenon at The Sun. Easily a dozen or more birds die in collisions with the footbridge windows each fall. Indeed, bird strikes on glass buildings are a major cause of bird mortality in the U.S. Millions die each year.  

A number of readers have sent us suggestions for inexpensive ways to make the bridge window glass more visible to the birds. I have forwarded them to management and will let you know what happens.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:43 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Events

September 11, 2009

Rain. Finally.

Northeast radar 

Awoke this morning to the sound of rain on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. After more than a week of rainy forecasts and dry skies, the storm that's been loitering off the Carolinas and bluffing about a drift inland finally made a move our way overnight.

There was heavy rain - about 5 inches  since noon Thursday - in Ocean City, closer to the low's center off Delmarva overnight, and the rain finally headed our way early this morning. We've got more than 1.5 inches of new rain in the gauge on the WeatherDeck. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport had something closer to three-quarters of an inch at 7 a.m. Ditto for The Baltimore Sun's weather station at Calvert and Centre streets downtown.

Washington's Reagan National and Dulles airports have received far less rain this morning. More rain seems to be moving onto the cities to our north, including Philadelphia, where they've seen more than an inch, and Wilmington, Del., with an inch.

Here are some of the highest 24-hour rain totals from across the region:

Berlin: 5.88 inchesI-83 rain

Salisbury: 3.11 inches

Jacksonville:  2.3 inches

St. Michaels:  1.9 inches'

Cockeysville: 1.88 inches

Jarrettsville: 1.82 inches

Pasadena:  1.45 inches

Towson:  1.33 inches

Catonsville:  1.21 inches

Columbia:  0.87 inch

Crofton:  0.80 inch

Here are more tallies.

Forecasters out at Sterling say the center of the low, now off the Delaware beaches, will be drifting out of the region over the next 24 hours, That will draw much drier air our way from the southwest. It's already sunny in Harrisonburg, Va.

The northeastern portion of the state will be the last to shake free of the lingering showers and cool temperatures, while the Shenandoah Valley enjoys sunshine and highs in the 80s. Our weather should look brighter by Sunday and Monday, with sunny skies and highs in the low 80s.

(SUN PHOTO by Frank Roylance)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:15 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events

August 24, 2009

Annual cicadas are making a racket

Stuck at home after surgery, and I'm noticing an amazing chorus of insects in the woods behindAnnual cicada/nDroae from Flickr the WeatherDeck. They're the annual, or "Dog-Day" cicadas, (right) and they seem to be enjoying an unusually loud and busy summer in Maryland's trees.

University of Maryland entomologist Mike Raupp agrees. "I can't remember a year that the annual ... cicadas have been as abundant and active," he said in an email on Monday.

And how. Just off the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville you can see them flitting from tree to tree in search of that special someone, following the chattering, rasping chorus of come-hither songs. The noise seems to come in waves, rising and falling in volume as if they're all listening to each other and responding with ever-more vigorous refrains.

The insects almost drown out the air conditioners. Here's an audio clip from the WeatherDeck.

Periodical cicada/Maryland 2004These are annual cicadas, among them Tibicen linnei, a separate set of species from the well-remembered 17-year periodical cicadas, or Magicicada, (left) that last emerged from the earth in central Maryland in May and June 2004. Known as Brood X (ten), they're due back in 2021.

Raupp had some speculation about what might explain the bugs' abundance this summer:

"Like with all bug-related issues this year, we are attributing the fine cool and wet spring to enhanced survival of many insects and superior quality of plants that serve as food. With many of the subterranean dwellers including termites and cicadas, getting out of the ground is critical. This is only speculation on my part, but I am guessing that moist loose soil coupled with nice humid conditions favor emergence and survival of these guys. Also, the glorious lush growth of trees and shrubs this year may be providing adults with abundant high quality food during their tenure above ground."

The annual cicadas we're hearing now are sometimes called Dog Day cicadas because they emerge and start their singing in mid-to-late summer, the "dog days" of summer.

It's an interesting expression. It evokes images of overheated dogs lazing about in dusty southern streets under oppressive heat and humidity.

If fact, the "dog days" label refers to the position of the sun at this time of year, near the bright star Sirius. Sirius, the brightest true star in the heavens (actually, a double star system), is also known as the "Dog Star" because of its position in the constellation Canis Major, the Big Dog.

Because Sirius is so near the sun in the daytime sky at this time of year, we can't see it. But it is prominent in the night sky in winter and spring, just to the left of, and below, the familiar constellation Orion. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:20 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Events

August 20, 2009

Weds. storm drops baseball-sized hail

Severe thunderstorms rolling across southern Maryland yesterday produced a number of funnel clouds and what witnesses described as baseball-sized hail. Here are details from Steve Zubrick, science and operations officer for the National Weather Service forecast office at Sterling:

NOAA"An intense supercell formed yesterday afternoon (19 Aug 2009) just 
after 4pm in SE Charles Co. MD. As the storm intensified as it moved 
east into St Marys Co, it produced large hail up to baseball-size just 
south of Leonardtown.

"The storm was rotating and prompted us to upgrade our severe t-storm 
warning to a tornado warning...and while we had multiple reports of 
funnel clouds, no confirmed touchdowns or extensive damage have been 

"An impressive storm!"

For the record, the largest hailstone on record in the U.S. was nearly the size of a soccer ball! That's the one in the 2003 NOAA photo above.

If anyone has pictures of the Leonardtown hailstones, please send them to me at and I will post them here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:11 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 30, 2009

High tides on the Eastern Shore

Charlie, on the Eastern Shore, left a comment here this morning asking why the rivers and creeks over there have been experiencing unusually high tides in recent days:

"I wanted to ask if you have any idea why we seem to be having a month's worth of very high tides here on the Upper Choptank and Tuckahoe Creek. Its been going on day after day, super high tides one after the other. What gives? Thanks. Charlie"

Well, he's right about the tides. Below is a graph of the tides at Cambridge over several recent cycles. You can see that water levels (red lines) have been running a foot or so above predicted levels for several days - at least four high tide cycles are captured on this graph. 

The Western Shore has been seeing the same thing. Annapolis and Solomons Island are also running about a foot high. The NWS says the next several high tides will also be a foot or two above predictions. Here's this morning's tidal discussion from Sterling:


The blue arrows on the next graph down show wind direction. And they also reveal a persistent component out of the west or southwest. That would tend to blow water up into the Bay, and hold more of the water in at low tide.

The next chart down shows atmospheric pressure, which has been trending low in recent days. Tides tend to run higher under low air pressure.

There is also the moon to consider. The moon was "new" on the 22nd, and that would have exerted an extra tug on the tides for several days, making the highs higher and the lows lower last week. The astronomical, or lunar component, however, would have been weakening in recent days, leaving the winds as the dominant factor. The moon will become a bigger factor closer to the full moon in another week - on July 7

The persistent winds would seem to be the result in part of low pressure systems that have been lingering off the New England coast, and the Great Lakes for several weeks.

That's my take on it, anyway. Anyone else? Take any good high water photos? Email them to me at

Cambridge tides

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:08 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events

April 29, 2009

From the clouds to your tap; water isn't free

It may start free, but almost as soon as the rain hits the ground, it begins to cost money. The Baltimore Department of Public Works has to capture that water, protect its purity, process it, ship it to your spigot and send the sewage off for treatment.

The folks in Baltimore who make sure that water reaches the millions of people who rely on it have their hands full, especially when this old city's aging pipes begin to crack, as they have so spectacularly this week.

So maybe this is the perfect time they tried to educate the public about the often invisible work they do. May 3 to 9 is National Drinking Water Week, and the Baltimore DPW had organized a full week of activities designed to showcase the water system that produces what is arguably the tastiest and most reliable - even in drought - municipal water of any big city in the Northeast.Sun Photo/David Hobby 2005

The week kicks off Sunday from 10 to 3 at Loch Raven Reservoir, where you and the kids can learn about where the city's water comes from, and the history of the valleys and the dams and the three reservoirs that now capture and store the city's water. There's also plenty to know about the critical role we all play in making sure the watersheds that feed these reservoirs stay clean - for us and for the wildlife and the fishery that share the land and water with us.

On the 4th, at noon, there will be an event at the Ashburton Water Treatment Plant (3001 Druid Park Drive) that includes dedication of the renovated atrium, and a screening (5:30 p.m. at the Maryland Science Center) of the documentary "Liquid Assets," describing the water and wastewater systems that keep us all healthy and hydrated.

On Friday, May 8, 12:30 to 2:30, the DPW's water and wastewater employees will be honored at an "Employee Appreciation Event at the Haven Street Maintenance Yard, 804 N. Haven St. These are the guys who repair those pipes, getting wet and muddy in sometimes freezing conditions to keep the fluids flowing under the streets.

Finally, on Sunday May 9, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the public is invited to tour the Montebello Water Filtration Plant 1, at 3901 Hillen Road. Learn how our water system operates, and how the mains are repaired, replaced, cleaned and re-lined. 

Sun Photo/Kim HairstonIt's a tough, expensive job, but someone's got to do it. And, of course, someone's also got to pay for it. So when the city asks for a (another) water rate increase (9 percent) later this year, at least you'll know where the money goes. The proposed hike amounts to $74 a year for a typical family of four using 39 units of water each quarter.

The new rates would mean we would pay five cents for a 10-minute shower. The increase would bump Baltimore from the second-cheapest water and sewer rates to fourth, out of seven nearby jurisdictions. The annual costs for a family of four are now the cheapest of seven eastern cities, the city argues. The increase would bump us to second, leap-frogging New York City, but still cheaper than Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, Boston and Atlanta.

The money is needed, the city argues, in order to rebuild and replace aged water and sewer lines, and to tackle the rising number of main breaks being reported - 5,000 between January 2005 and January 2009 alone. Leaks cost us all 20 percent of all the water the city processes. Work in the queue includes $2.2 billion in capital improvements to the system.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:21 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Events

March 27, 2009

Lights out Saturday night!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 12, 2009

Stiff winds cut power, fuel fire danger


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

February 7, 2009

Baltimore haze blamed on Southeast fires


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

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

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

February 3, 2009

Small quake rattles North Jersey

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

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

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

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


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

January 29, 2009

Schools close in ice or snow. So what else is new?

So how tired are we of hearing this from people who move here from snow country? "Schools are closed? Because of some ice?"

I know. I moved here from Massachusetts. I said it myself. But after living here for 29 years, it does get tiresome coming from new arrivals. Here's how the Associated Press covered the latest exclamations from a new arrival:

 Sun Photo/Doug Kapustin   President Barack Obama, steeled by many snowy Chicago winters, expressed disbelief Wednesday when his daughters woke up to find that their classes had been canceled for the day.
    Schools in Washington and the surrounding suburbs either opened late or scrapped all their classes because of icy conditions.
    “Can I make a comment that is unrelated to the economy very quickly?” the new president told reporters at a gathering with business leaders. “And it has to do with Washington. My children's school was canceled today. Because of, what? Some ice?”
    The president said he wasn't the only one who was incredulous.
    “As my children pointed out, in Chicago, school is never canceled,” Obama said to laughter. “In fact, my 7-year-old pointed out that you'd go outside for recess. You wouldn't even stay indoors. So, I don't know. We're going to have to try to apply some flinty Chicago toughness.”
    Asked if he meant the people of the national's capital are wimps, Obama said: “I'm saying, when it comes to the weather, folks in Washington don't seem to be able to handle things.”
    Obama's daughters attend the private Sidwell Friends School.
    Malia, 10, is a fifth-grader at the middle school campus in the District of Columbia, while younger sister Sasha is in second grade at the elementary school in Bethesda, Md., just outside Washington.

It's just the way it is, kids. We close because we can. Snow and ice don't happen much here. It's safer. And it's fun to get an unexpected holiday and spend it sledding, or sleeping, or just catching up. Go with it. Enjoy. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Events

December 9, 2008

Weather Channel launches "Top Ten" series

Sun Photo/Lloyd FoxMy daughter used to be addicted to The Weather Channel. She switched it on as she was getting dressed, and fell under the spell of the goofy background music they play during the "Local on the 8's" segment. (An odd child... Me, I'm partial to the AccuWeather bloopers page.)

Okay, so TWC production values are a little sketchy, but when bad weather threatens, it's good to dial them up. 

This week, TWC is airing its "Top Ten Weather Events of 2008" series. They're not saying in advance exactly what they are. They want you to watch, of course. But the first - No. 10 on their list - aired last night. It was the March 14 tornado that struck downtown Atlanta. (The rest will air during the 7-8 p.m. and 8-9 p.m. hours, weeknights through the 19th.)

You know Hurricane Ike, the one that cleared parts of the Texas coast near Galveston, killed dozens and caused billions in damage a couple of months back, will be a contender (if not a shoo-in) for No. 1. TWC meteorologist Mike Bettes has his own list, which looks like a reasonable one for 2008.

How about an All-time Top Ten Weather Events list for Maryland? Here's a start, right off the top of my head. Feel free to rearrange them, or submit your own favorites.

1. Tropical Storm Agnes June 1972Sun Photo/John Makely (for sheer destructive power and lasting impact, here and elsewhere).

2. Blizzard of February 2003 (right) (For beauty, civic disruption and inspiring community spirit).

3. Tropical Storm Isabel September 2003 (For damage, surprise and surreal images).

4. Hurricane Hazel 1954 (Much like Isabel).

5. Great Hurricane of 1933 (the one that cut the inlet at Ocean City and changed everything for the resort).

6. Drought of 2001-2002 (For duration, crop losses, mandatory water restrictions).

7. The Knickerbocker Storm, January 1922 (98 fatalities in theater collapse in DC).

8. Heat wave, August 1918 (For 100+ days and sheer misery pre-air conditioning).

9. Ice storms of January-February 1994 (For the icy misery that wouldn't stop).

10. La Plata tornado, April 2002 (Top photo; for power, speed and staggering destruction).

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:51 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Events

October 28, 2008

“Surprise” nor’easter wets the state

If you were surprised by the overnight rain and the cold, damp morning you found on your doorstep today, you were not alone. I had this in my inbox this morning:

"Frank, I enjoy reading your blog. How could the forecasters have totally missed this storm we're in the middle of. I live on the eastern shore and it's been raining since Monday afternoon!! As of Sunday night, the forecast called for no rain on Monday or Tuesday. How could they have been so wrong on this one??" -David

Indeed, Salisbury has had 0.3 inch since dinner time last night. We’ve had more than that here on the Western Shore. Here are some other measurements from around the state.

I still have yesterday morning’s forecast on my desk. Updated at 10:19 a.m., it called for "mostly cloudy" skies overnight and today (Tuesday), with a "slight chance of showers" Tuesday night.

Instead, we had 0.4 inch of rain in the gauge out on the WeatherDeck this morning, and nearly that much here at The Sun. BWI-Marshall reported 0.43 inch.

So what happened? I called Brian LaSorsa, a forecaster out at the NWS office in Sterling. He said the Sterling forecasts began to reflect the approaching rain late in the day yesterday. The problem was this:

As cold air pushed south through the region yesterday, a wave of low pressure began to form along the front and rapidly intensified off the coast. The counterclockwise flow of air around the low began to sweep cool, moist air off the Atlantic, triggering the rain overnight. And this morning's dank chill.

The intensifying low wasn’t a surprise, LaSorsa said. But "it was originally expected to be further offshore ... The track has been a little further west, and that allowed for the rain to come back further south and west into our area."

Here’s on the topic. Here's the pretty cool radar loop.

AccuWeather.comAs the coastal "nor’easter" heads north into New England, it will draw cold air and strong north winds our way. Wet snow is expected along a corridor from Quebec, to eastern New York State and northeastern Pennsylvania. is forecasting as much as a foot of snow in part of the Adirondack mountains in Upstate New York. Blizzard conditions are possible in the Poconos, Adirondacks, and the Green and White Mountains of New England as winds reach 60 mph amid wind-AccuWeather.comswept rain and snow.

There is a wind advisory in effect for our area through late tonight. Winds gusting as high as 41 mph will be out of the north. That will blow a lot of water out of the bay, pushing low tides 1 to 2 feet below forecast levels.

There will be chances for more rain and even snow showers tonight and tomorrow. It will be too warm at the surface for any accumulations here, but cold air aloft could produce enough flakes to be noticed.

Farther west, in Garrett and western Allegany counties, they’re looking at real snow - a Winter Weather Advisory calls for 1 to 2 inches of accumulation today and another 1 to 3 inches by tomorrow.

Check out this forecast. Ho-hum snow for those mountain folks.

Once all this gets past, by late tomorrow, we can look forward to milder weather. High pressure arrives with sunshine for Thursday and Friday, and temperatures will rise back into the 60s.


WeatherBlog readers: Exasperated by how long it takes your comments to process? I feel your pain. The blog platform The Sun uses is very slow, and frequently breaks down on this end, too. It was down all morning today. We are in the process of replacing it with one that actually works. We hope.

I’m told that all Sun blogs will begin migrating to a new system around Nov. 15. The only difference we should notice is that things will happen faster. (Although your comments will still have to be noticed, read, approved and posted by us. That is, me. We have no 24/7 decency police.) Thanks for your patience.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:36 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

October 22, 2008

A report on NWS Sterling open house

Shaun Bell photo, used with permissionThe Sterling, Va. forecast office of the National Weather Service - the place that generates the official weather forecasts for all of Central Maryland - from Allegany County to the bay - held an Open House this past weekend.

I didn't make it out there, but Laryssa Wirstiuk, who edits Too Shy to Stop, an online arts and culture magazine for young people, did.

She stopped by with a photographer, Shaun Bell. They seem to have had a good time, while learning quite a lot.

Here's her report.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:13 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

September 30, 2008

So how will you spend that $170 BGE credit?

That was sweet! I got my BGE bill this week and found a balance due of exactly zero dollars. It was the bill that reflected the one-time credit of $170 from the gas and electric company, the sum worked out as part of a $2 billion settlement of a lawsuit between the utility and state.

So, at least in theory, I should have an extra $170 in my household budget this month to spend on something else. Heck, the bill tells me I still have another $28 coming as a credit in next month's bill. But what to spend it on?

I could send it to my bank, and ask them to put it toward my car loan, or the home equity loan, or my credit card balance. They may be the last loans I can ever get. And it might save me a little bit of interest. Or, I could hang onto the $170, and put a sticky note on it saying: "For BGE gas cost increase" which the company says will cost me something like $110 more this winter.

But forecasters say the coming winter looks pretty mild for most of the country. So, maybe I won't need the extra cash for heat.

There is the banking crisis, of course. Maybe I should put  $1 in the cup of each of the next 170 bankers I encounter selling pencils on the sidewalk. Maybe that will help them get back on their feet.

Hey, maybe I should invest the money in my 401K. If history is any guide, it should be worth, oh, $17 by the time I'm ready to retire. Or, by tomorrow. Whichever comes first.

Hmmm. On second thought, maybe 10 cases of Oktoberfest would be a better investment in my future happiness AND my mid-winter warmth. Yeah. That's the ticket.

What are your plans for your $170 BGE credit? Drop us a comment. Let it all out. You'll feel better. I know I do.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:25 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Events

September 22, 2008

A sunny welcome to Autumn


These are the final, sweet, sunny moments of the Summer of '08. At 11:44 a.m. EDT today we welcome the Fall Equinox and the official start of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere as the sun appears to cross the equator into the southern sky in its inexorable slide toward the next Solstice on Dec. 21.

The long-term forecast for the Fall season calls for temperatures and precipitation in our section of the country for the next three months to be near the 30-year averages. The Winter forecast, from December through February, anticipates near-normal precipitation in Maryland, with some chance for milder-than-normal temperatures. A big snowstorm is always a possibility, of course, but the averages would appear to be working against it. I suspect this winter will look more like last winter - very little snow and mild temperatures.

More immediately, we're looking at more delightful late-summer/early-fall weather as we head into the new work week. That's us in the sunshine in the satellite photo above, with clouds from the low off to our south and east. Here's how it looks in the satellite loop.

Forecasters at Sterling are expecting mostly sunny skies through Thursday, with highs in the 70s and lows in the sleep-friendly 50s as yet another cold front sweeps through today with more cool, dry air and high pressure.

Low pressure circulating off the Carolina coast later in the week will likely bring northeast winds and wet weather to the Chesapeake by Thursday or Friday. Models disagree over exactly how the event will play out. Confusing the issue is the tropical weather developing over the northern Leeward Islands, and how it will impact weather over the Southeastern U.S.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 14, 2008

Localized downpour swamps Lutherville area

Reports are now trickling in from the torrential but extremely localized rain that fell yesterday afternoon in the Towson, Lutherville, Timonium area. One official NWS spotter in Towson reported 3.6 inches of rain in an hour.

The amateur CoCoRaHS network reported very little rain across the state yesterday. But what fell was significant and very narrowly focused. The high readings:

Cockeysville:  .85 inch

Jacksonville:  0.67 inch

Long Green:  0.54 inch

Towson:  0.47 inch

We clocked 0.12 inch on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. Here at Calvert & Centre streets, we saw nothing. BWI saw nothing. The National Weather Service in Sterling has posted its Cooperative Observer measurements for yesterday. They have no observers in the Baltimore area, but do show some very heavy, very localized accumulations in Virginia and West Virginia.

But much more impressive than the numbers have been the eyewitness reports I've been receiving, like this:

"Dear Mr. Roylance,

On Wednesday evening (August 13th) 99% of the Baltimore area was rain-free. The exception was the Towson-Carney-Parkville area where a compact - but persistent - thundershower parked (or "trained") over the area for 2-3 hours. There was wave after wave of torrential rain and gusty winds. Busy intersections were awash and there was considerable tree damage - especially in the area of Goucher Boulevard and Joppa Road. Several times the skies brightened and it appeared the storm was moving out of the area but it drifted back as strong as ever. My question - what atmospheric conditions can cause an isolated storm to behave that way? Thanks! - Ted Lingelbach, Parkville"

You can read some other rain reports in the reader comments I posted here late yesterday. Here's a private station in Towson with more than an inch. And here's one in Timonium with nearly 4 inches in the can.

I called Brandon Peloquin, a NWS meteorologist at Sterling. He said the problem yesterday afternoon was the lack of wind to push the thunderstorms along. So, with plenty of moisture in the atmosphere, and strong sunshine to heat it up, convection began to carry the warm, moist air high into the atmosphere, where it cooled, condensed, and began to rain out.

"It was very persistent and localized - one storm that just sat there and did not move," he said. "The flow in the atmosphere was very weak, and storms that didn't have any wind to push them along." After one storm peters out, "something redevelops right over the top of what was there before."

One NWS spotter in Towson reported 3.6 inches of rain, Peloquin said. The weather service did issue a flash flood warning for an area east of Towson because of the heavy rain. Some basements were reportedly flooded, but there were no official reports of street flooding or damage. Only a few miles in any direction, it was "an entirely different ballgame." Streets were dry, or nearly so.

"It will be different today," he promised. Although showers and thunderstorms are in the forecast, but there will be "more push" to the atmosphere. Storms may be locally heavy, but they will be moving toward the east and should not persist as long in one place.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 26, 2008

Blogger sucked into wedding wormhole

Your WeatherBlogger, who has been circling the event horizon for days, has finally been pulled into the Wedding Wormhole. Scientists, citing Alfred Einstein's Especially General Theory of NASARelatives, say no information can pass into or out of the event horizon.

Theorists say the blogger can be expected to be eclipsed by the glare of his daughter's happiness, emerging again on the other side no sooner than July 2. Unfortunately, his wallet will be crushed into an infinitely small singularity with zero mass.

Watch this space for further developments. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:17 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

June 20, 2008

Summer solstice tonight

Summer arrives at 7:59 this evening. (Misled by a typo on a reference book we use, we mistakenly said on the print weather page last week that the solstice arrived on the 19th. Just a reminder that humans produce this stuff.)

We have visitors from Sweden with us this week. For them, tonight is the night to celebrate Midsummer's Night and dance around a pole with candles in their hair. Or something. That's MID-summer's Night. Not BEGIN-summer's Night.

They conceded to us that they, too have been confused about why summer BEGINS on the date called MID summer, when the sun is in the sky longer than any other. And where they're from, it never does get truly dark at night at this time of year. 

We were visiting them one summer many years ago in Sweden, and we all went to dinner at the home of some friends. We drank. We ate. We talked alot. And each time I looked out the window it was dimmer, but still light. My wife and I, accustomed to summers living around a latitude of 40 degrees or so, figured it was, maybe, 9 p.m.

When we finally looked at the clock we were astonished to discover it was past midnight! We were dining at around 57 or 58 degrees north latitude, the equivalent of Churchill, Manitoba, on Hudson's Bay. The sun was down - we weren't above the Arctic Circle. But it was still twilight. I could have read a book without a flashlight.

ShakespeareAnyway, the idea that summer BEGINS around June 20 or 21 is a recent notion. Many of our ancestors did indeed see this as MID-summer. They used "cross-quarter days" - the midway points between the equinoxes and the solstices - to mark the beginning and end of the seasons. For example, by the Celts' reckoning, our summer began somewhere between the 4th and 10th of May, on a day they called Beltane. And it will end between the 3rd and 10th of August, on Lughnasadh.

Some also find it curious that the hottest days in Maryland - the warmest long-term daily average temperatures - are in mid-July, a month after the solstice. If the days are longest, and the sun is highest, and its rays most direct and intense around the 20th of June, why does this month not also produce our highest average temperatures?

The answer lies in the oceans. Literally. It just takes a few weeks for the increased solar energy falling on the Northern Hemisphere to heat the oceans to their maximum seasonal highs. That, in turn, delays heating of the atmosphere. It's like heating a pot of water on the stove. It takes a while on HI to get the water to boil. By the time temps reach their peak, the incoming solar energy is waning, and by late July, the oceans and air finally begin to cool again.

Anyway, enjoy the long day today. From here on until Dec. 21, the days only get shorter. And don't forget to get a look at the solstice moon tonight. It rises at 10:24 p.m. in Baltimore. It's just past full, but still a gorgeous sight in the east.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:03 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Events

June 18, 2008

Chilly morning wasn't a record

Another chilly June morning, blessed by the silence of idle air conditioners.

It was 52 degrees at dawn on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville, and 52 degrees also at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport down in Linthicum. That was not a record for the city's official weather station, but it was a nice run at one. The record low for a June 18 in Baltimore is 48 degrees, set back in 1959. We still haven't touched 80 today - only the third day this month that's happened. It was 62 this morning at The Sun's weather station at Calvert & Centre streets.

The forecast low for tonight is 57 degrees, as temperatures begin to warm back toward more seasonable readings this week.

All this cool air is being delivered by a big low rotating north of Lake Ontario. That's dragging cool air in from the north and west, along with little disturbances that, with some solar heating, may trigger some showers or thunderstorms - a few perhaps with hail - as they roll by us. 

So far, however, the coast is clear. Just some cumulus clouds and patches of blue, clearly visible in the satellite image below.

They're calling for more of the same Thursday and Friday, with a risk of showers both days, and highs near 80 degrees. Saturday looks perfect for a wedding - sunny and 83 - but showers and thunderstorms become a risk again for Sunday.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May 7, 2008

Volcanic smog sickens Hawaiians

Formosat-2 - Taiwan National Space Organization 

In Los Angeles, the choking smog comes from the tailpipes of cars and trucks. On the Big Island of Hawaii, it comes from the mouth of the Kilauea volcano, and they call it "vog" (volcanic smog).

Sulfur dioxide gas from the volcano has been wafting across the island for weeks, forcing the closure of portions of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It has also begun to sicken residents of the island, who are reporting coughing, choking symptoms. They are also seeing casualties in their gardens.

Here's a satellite view measuring concentrations of sulfur dioxide emissions. Each little square pixel represents a volume about 13 kilometers square, rising 5 kilometers above the surface. Red incidates a concentration of 30 metric tons of sulfur dioxide inside that little volume, or 845 cubic kilometers. 

NASA Aura Earth Observing Satellite

Here's another view, in visible wavelengths shot from space, showing the sulfur dioxide "vog" plumes blowing across the island and out to sea.

 NASA Terra Earth Observing Satellite

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 18, 2008

Illinois quake details


This morning's Mag. 5.4 earthquake in Illinois occurred in an area with a history of small tremors - and some big ones - going back to the early 1800s.

Here's a link to the U.S. Geological Survey report on today's quake. And here's one to a description of the local geology and the history of tremors in the region.

Although we don't think of the middle of the country as being earthquake-prone, there have been some very powerful quakes in the region, centered mostly on the New Madrid, Mo., area. Historical accounts of New Madrid quakes in the early 19th century are quite astonishing. They were felt as far away as New England.

Here's what the USGS says about the area: "Moderately damaging earthquakes strike somewhere in the region each decade or two, and smaller earthquakes are felt about once or twice a year. In addition, geologists have found evidence of eight or more prehistoric earthquakes over the last 25,000 years that were much larger than any observed historically in the region."

Emergency managers in Memphis and other communities in the area have recently begun to take the threat very seriously, and there has been a great deal of planning, and quake-proofing work in recent years to protect key Mississippi River crossings and gas and oil pipelines.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:35 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events

March 19, 2008

A half-inch of rain already; more to come

The rain gauge here at Calvert & Centre streets has already clocked in nearly a half-inch of rain at this writing. BWI has seen nearly as much. This is just the start of a rainy, and possibly stormy night tonight ahead of a cold front.

The same weather system has caused heavy rains, flooding and 10 deaths in the Midwest. Some spots have recorded 10 inches of rain or more. Here's more on that, plus some video.

We won't likely see anything close to that.  But forecasters out at Sterling are calling for up to another half-inch tonight before the front goes by, winds shift, and cooler, drier air pushes in from the west. Here's the radar loop.

Here's why we're so socked in:




Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:48 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 11, 2008

Dangerous water on the Potomac

Great Falls of the Potomac - National Park Service

Runoff from heavy rain and snow melt are not a problem just on the Susquehanna this week. The Maryland Natural Resources Police have issued an advisory, warning against most recreational uses of the Upper Potomac River, through Friday.

Based on data from the National Weather Service and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, the DNR said hazardous river levels persist this week on the Upper Potomac all the way from Cumberland, in Allegany County, to Little Falls, in Montgomery County. Here's a look at data from Point of Rocks.

Wading fishermen, swimmers (in March!?) and anyone venturing onto the river in non-whitewater boats or tubes runs a risk of life-threatening hypothermia, wave action, high-velocity or treacherous currents, the DNR police said.

These hazardous conditions exist along the Potomac itself, as well as on adjacent rivers and creeks.

The advisory does not apply to "professionally guided river trips," or "teams of experienced whitewater paddlers," the police said. All the same, be careful out there. We don't need to be writing any search and rescue stories.

For river condition updates, call 703 260-0305.

Continue reading "Dangerous water on the Potomac" »

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Categories: Events

March 5, 2008

Spring peepers are, well, peeping

Pseudacris crucifer  

Okay, as far as I'm concerned, it's spring. As I walked from my car to my front door last night, I heard the first spring peepers calling from the soggy flood plain of Western Run in Cockeysville.

These tiny frogs are a sure sign that winter is on the run, and froggy love is in the air. It also tells me that the wetlands along the river remain healthy enough for the frogs, turtles, fish, deer and occasional beaver I've seen down there. It's a miracle, frankly, with all the development in Hunt Valley, with more to come. The Brightview folks are planning a new assisted living facility on the rise above the peepers' love nest. Baltimore County zoning hearings on the proposal are coming up.

In the meantime, if you haven't heard the peepers, or just love their jingle-bell calls, here's a Web site that offers a sound file. It's very cool.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:55 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events

Storms topple trees, wires, structures

Sun photo by Kim Hairston

Utility crews work to repair wind damage at Ritchie Highway and Wellham Avenue this morning. Sun photo by Kim Hairston.

Last night's storms knocked down a surprising number of trees, utility poles and wires across the region overnight as they heralded the passage of a new cold front and the end to our balmy weather. They also collapsed a barn roof and a garage in Frederick County. Here's a summary of damage reports.

The damage also caused some traffic disruptions this morning.

Heavy downpours produced some minor flooding west of the urban centers. Flood Warnings are posted from Frederick County west to Allegany County. Parts of the Potomac River, the Monocacy and the Conococheague were expected to crest above flood stage in the next few days. Here's the full list of Flood Warnings.

The rain left 0.4 inch in the gauge at BWI, and 0.45 here at Calvert & Centre streets. Winds at the paper gusted as high as 30 mph overnight, and 35 mph out at the airport. As much as 2 inches fell in other parts of the state. Here's a rainfall map. Here are some other readings across the region.

Continue reading "Storms topple trees, wires, structures" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:47 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

February 19, 2008

Greece buried in snow

AP PhotoFirst it was Iraq, then Iran. Now Athens, Greece is grappling with unfamiliar depths of snow in this very odd winter in the Old World. Up to three feet have fallen on communities woefully ill-equipped to deal with the stuff. Yet there it is. Here's CNN's report. Here's more.
Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

February 14, 2008

Get involved in the weather

Tired of being just a passive victim of the weather? Well, you can take an active role in observing the weather, and make a real contribution to science in the bargain. Get involved with CoCoRaHS, an organization of volunteers dedicated to recording and reporting on precipitation across the United States.

The group, the Community Collaborative Rain Hail and Snow Network, is looking to expand, and they're meeting Friday, at noon, at the NOAA offices in Silver Spring to spread the word. Here's their release: 

On Friday, February 15, 2008, Henry Reges and Nolan Doesken of Colorado State will present "CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network."

Abstract: What do meteorologists, hydrologists, farmers, emergency managers, newspaper reporters, golfers and baseball players have in common? They all keep track of precipitation! Precipitation is one of the most important of all climate elements for daily life. Yet, precipitation varies tremendously from place to place and from month to month and year to year. These variations have widespread impacts. This seminar will describe a project where people of all ages, using very simple and low cost instruments, are helping scientists study storms and precipitation patterns. Volunteers provide valuable data for NOAA applications while learning directly about climate processes, impacts and research. Methods for measuring rain, hail and snow will be demonstrated, and CoCoRaHS results will be shown including precipitation patterns from recent storms.

The seminar will be held at 12 noon in the NOAA Central Library, 1315 East-West Highway, SSMC3, 2nd Floor, Silver Spring, MD 20910

Henry Reges is the National Coordinator for CoCoRaHS at Colorado State University. He was formerly with the American Meteorological Society in Boston, MA. Nolan Doesken is the State Climatologist for Colorado and has worked for the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University since 1977. He initiated the CoCoRaHS project after an extremely localized storm in 1997 dropped over 14 inches (350 mm) of rain near his home but was not well detected by existing observing systems. Nolan Doesken has worked closely with National Weather Service headquarters on several snow measurement projects.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

February 12, 2008

Afternoon shaking was not a quake

Many residents of northeastern Maryland felt a series of tremors this afternoon, and Joe MulQueen figured the shaking his house took must have been an earthquake. "It sounded like an explosion, but the entire house shook," he said.

But area seismographs were quiet. The shakes were the result of explosions at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground. Base spokesman George Mercer said the blasts included three "static detonations" at the facility's Edgewood Area. "And they were loud," he said.

Aberdeen Proving Ground areaA temperature inversion - a layer of warm air atop a layer of cold air at the surface - caused the sonic energy to reflect back to the ground rather than dissipate into the sky above. That just made matters worse, he said.

The noise and shaking was heard and felt from Perry Hall to Middletown Del. Mercer took 30 calls from concerned citizens. About 20 of them were complaints, the rest just expressions of concern and curiosity. 

There is more on the incident at and there will be an article in Wednesday's print editions. Break a buck and buy one. Our kids gotta eat, too.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:49 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

February 11, 2008

Ice could follow cold, high winds

Cold wind straight out of arctic Canada raked the region yesterday, toppling trees, snapping power lines and launching tons of leaves, branches and trash into the air. It also threatened to shove small cars and empty trailers off the highway. I know. I was in one of them. (A small car, that is.)

Here's a long, but by no means complete list of wind-related incidents across the region. And here's the latest accounting of power outages that BGE crews are scrambling to repair.

Temperatures at BWI dropped to a low of 13 degrees just before dawn this morning. It was the second-coldest morning of the season, after the 8-degree low on Jan. 21. (December's low reading was 14 degrees, on the 7th.

It was 11 degrees out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville when I got up. That was the night's low. Here are some other readings from across the state.

Ordinarily,  an outbreak of arctic air like this, in the middle of February, would be a setup for a big snowstorm. The cold air is dense, and heavy, and difficult to dislodge. The first coastal storm that runs into it should drop 10 or 20 inches of snow on our heads.

But alas, this cold doesn't seem destined to last. And, while there is a storm headed this way for tomorrow and Wednesday, it's coming from the Ohio valley, so it is likely to affect us mainly with rain. After a cold day today, stuck in the low 30s, we're headed for the 40s for the rest of the week. Here's the Hazardous Weather Outlook for this area. Here's how's Elliot Abrams maps out the precipitation:

I say mainly rain because forecasters at Sterling are hedging a bit. The computer models are having some trouble with the strength and timing of the storm system, and exactly when the cold air we're in now will be forced out.

Hence, the morning's discussion says stuff like this (my edits, for clarity, in parentheses):

"Assuming it (storm) comes Tuesday morning-midday (forecast area) will be recovering from a cold start ... So initial precipitation most likely to be snow" (before warm air erodes and it all changes to rain)."

"Am somewhat concerned about northern tier of (counties in Maryland, W.Va. and Virginia) ... Setup hinting that cold air may hang on longer than (forecast) ... There could be a period of freezing rain, maybe for several hours. Maybe for the entire afternoon into evening. From this perspective, don't think we will be able to avoid a headline with this event, especially (Cumberland-Hagerstown)."

The forecast also mentions  a "chance" of more snow or rain Saturday night, the 5th anniversary of the start of the biggest snowstorm on record for Baltimore, back in 2003.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

February 7, 2008

Deadly front has little impact here

The spring-like cold front that triggered dozens of deadly tornadoes across the South crossed Maryland late yesterday without much fuss. Baltimore-Washington International Airport saw winds of 26 mph, with gusts to 40 mph around 11 p.m. as the weather boundary passed.

The Sun's anemometer, somewhat sheltered by buildings, spiked to 25 mph around midnight. But there was none of the predicted heavy rain.

We had two hundredths of an inch of rain here at Calvert & Centre streets. It rained very hard for a brief time out on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. But when it ended we had just five hundredths of an inch in the gauge.

Reagan National Airport in Washington collected 0.14 inch of rain, but Dulles, out in northern Virginia, had none. Hagerstown reported 0.31 inch, the most I could find in the immediate area. The Inner Harbor saw just 0.03 inch. Here are some other readings from across the state. McHenry, out in far western Maryland, reported an inch of rain, perhaps the most anywhere in the state. Here's the CoCoRaHS report.

We're still well ahead of the curve for February, thanks to the heavy rain - 1.8 inches - on the 1st. But the long-range picture is still dry. Here's this morning's Drought Monitor Map. We still have not made up the deficits accumulated after April of 2007. The southern counties of the Eastern Shore are hardest-hit.

Streamflow, however, looks much improved. So do some of the USGS groundwater monitoring wells. Here's one near Granite, in Baltimore County.

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

January 3, 2008

Weather Channel for sale?

A story on (via the AP, from the New York Times) says that the hugely popular Weather Channel may be for sale as part of a family-owned group of media properties now on the block. Here's the scoop.

Weather ChannelOwned by Landmark Communications, Inc., in Norfolk, the WC Web site alone had 32 million unique visitors in November, the story says. It's the 19th biggest media site on the Web. One estimate puts the value of the whole WC caboodle - Atlanta-based cable TV channel and Web site - at $5 billion. Who says you can't make money in weather?

Landmark also owns nine daily newspapers, including the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, and a bunch of TV stations.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

November 29, 2007

Mag. 7.3 quake in eastern Caribbean

USGSThe US Geological Survey is reporting a powerful earthquake today off Martinique in the Eastern Caribbean that was initially measured at 7.3 on the Richter scale. It was felt from Caracas, Venezuela to Puerto Rico. Here are some early details from the USGS. 

Here's a BBC report. And here's a report, in Spanish, from Puerto Rico, 400 miles from the quake's center. The shaking on the U.S. island caused some panic, the report says. It was estimated to be equivalent to a quake of magnitude 6.2. 

Looks like it was felt at the quake-sensitive monitoring well at Christianburg, Va., too. The kick can be seen in the sharp spike in water levels at the end of this trace.

Martinique has a fearsome history of quakes and volcanic eruptions. The great eruption of Mt. Pelee in 1902 killed as many as 30,000 people and destroyed the town of St. Pierre. Here's more.

Continue reading "Mag. 7.3 quake in eastern Caribbean" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 17, 2007

1,000-year-old cedar topples

Western red cedar in Stanley Park -Tourism BC 

It had survived 1,000 years of bad weather. But in the end it was simply old age and rotted roots that brought down the famed giant Western red cedar in Vancouver's Stanley Park. The tree - the largest in the vast park in British Columbia, and perhaps the biggest cedar anywhere - had been featured in a 1978 issue of National Geographic magazine, and it drew thousands of tourists each year.

The magazine article reported the much-photographed tree's circumference at 45 feet back then, and its height at 130 feet. Park officials cut a path through the tree's remains where it had fallen across a path last week. But they plan to leave the rest in place, to support the next generations of forest life.

To read more, and view video reports, click here.

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

October 16, 2007

Still no rain, but metal drops from the sky

A 16-inch piece of twisted metal rod, reportedly still hot to the touch, fell from the sky in Delaware Monday afternoon and punched through the roof of a (unoccupied) car. The initial word is that it didn't come from an airplane. Space junk remains a possibility. Read on.
Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 12, 2007

"Arbutus" quake was actually in Lochearn

Site of Monday's tremor - USGS 

Seismologists have now had time to study the seismic data on that little "micro-quake" that tapped Baltimore County at about 8:28 a.m. on Monday. Turns out the tremor was actually centered beneath Lochearn, off Liberty Road just west of Baltimore, and not the southwestern community of Arbutus, near the UMBC campus, as initially reported.

That's not the only revision. (This sort of reassessment and adjustment is normal after a quake as more data is evaluated. These things take time.)

It turns out Monday's event was also a tad stronger than initially stated - a twitchy 1.5 on the Richter scale, rather than 1.3.  That's not inconsiderable, but also not a lot, at a difference of two-tenths of a Richter number. Each whole-number increase in Richter measurement represents a 32-fold increase in the energy released. At 1.5, it's the energy equivalent of 392 pounds of TNT, not unlike a conventional WWII bomb.

And, the Monday tremor occurred deeper under the surface than initially estimated - 5 miles instead of 3 miles.

Finally, because it was less than a 2-pointer on the Richter scale, it was both common - more than 8,000 a day somewhere on the planet - and "unfelt" as geologists rate such things.

Maybe so, but there have been a few people who have reported sensing something of the quake. We got this email from "Cathy:"  "We heard/felt it at our law office in 'downtown' Arbutus. We thought is was either thunder or a big tractor-trailer."

At the Maryland Geological Survey, Jim Reger also told Sun reporter Dennis O'Brien yesterday he had heard from residents of Edmondson Heights, just outside the city line, between US 40 and I-70. Another person living near Lake Montebello, on the other side of Baltimore City, reported feeling or hearing the jolt.

The tremor was also detected by instruments 180 miles away, maintained by the Lamont-Doherty Cooperative Seismographic Network.

There's one other interesting note. Similar micro-quakes have been recorded recently in other parts of the Northeast. There was one, in Hackensack, N.J., measured at 1.3 on the Richter scale, at 8:48 a.m. last Friday. Another, also at Richter 1.3, was recorded 8 miles north of Lawrence, Mass. at 7:15 a.m. on Monday, just 73 minutes before the Lochearn quake.

Curiously, of you look at all three of these spots on a map (three blue dots on the following linked map), they form an almost perfect straight line. But Reger says there's no single fault line that would explain the coincidence.

Once again, if you heard or felt this little tremor, leave a comment here and describe it. Here's more on Maryland quakes.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:30 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Events

October 11, 2007

Rainless streak at BWI ends

A tenth of an inch of rain late last night at BWI has ended the long stretch of dry weather there at 24 days. The last time the airport received any measurable precipitation was on Sept. 14-15, when 0.12 inch fell. Twenty-four days is not a record. The longest span of rainless weather on record for Baltimore is 32 days, ending on Halloween 1941.

Only 0.35 inch of rain fell at BWI during all of September. Baltimore has received just 1.1 inch of rain since Aug. 22. There's not much in the forecast - just a "slight" chance of showers tonight, then clear, sunny weather through the middle of next week. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:32 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 8, 2007

Mini-quake taps Arbutus

Maybe it was my mother falling out of bed. The US Geological Survey is reporting a very mild earthquake at 8:28 a.m. today, centered 3 miles below the surface, just a mile west-northwest of Arbutus. The USGS put the epicenter just west of the UMBC campus. Here's the seismic record from the Maryland Geological Survey (red squiggles, right center of the chart.)

The tremor measured 1.3 on the Richter Scale, not even enough to be felt unless you're a seismometer. The last time we registered a quake you could feel was on Feb. 23, 2005. That tremor, centered near Dundalk, registered a whopping 2.1 on the the Richter Scale and was felt, or heard in several spots around the city.

There are thousands of these "micro-quakes" each day around the world. If you did happen to feel, or hear this one, or if your dogs went crazy ... leave us a comment.

Here's the report from the USGS on this event. And here are some links to data on Maryland's earthquake history.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:45 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

September 19, 2007

A TV treat for stargazers tonight

Stargazers! Sure, there's plenty to see in the night sky tonight. But take a break and don't miss "Seeing in the Dark," a beautiful and very mellow PBS exploration of the joys of backyard astronomy. It was written and produced by science writer Timoth Ferris, who wrote the delightful book of the same name, which explored Ferris' own youthful discovery of the night sky.

I got a preview copy of the special, and it's terrific. Accompanied by music from Mark Knopfler and Guy Fletcher, this special is beautifully photographed and paced - like a night out under the stars.

It focuses on amateurs, and the astonishing images and discoveries that have become possible for them thanks to a new generation of (more or less) affordable telescopes, laptop computers and image-processing software. I own a small telescope, and I enjoy poking around among the stars and planets I've learned to identify. I will never own the kind of equipment these folks work with, and I will never get into the hobby as deeply as they have. But I know enough to appreciate their skill and passion. Some are making serious contributions to science.

Mostly, though, I just share their amazement as they gather under a dark sky and marvel at the stars. 

The film airs at 8 p.m. tonight, Wednesday Sept. 19, on PBS, Channels 22 and 26 in Baltimore. Enjoy.

Continue reading "A TV treat for stargazers tonight" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:20 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

September 13, 2007

Northwest Passage open for business

Arctic ice this week - NSIDC 

The Northwest Passage - a ship route across northern Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific - is now ice-free as the 2007 summer meltdown of the Arctic ice cap continues to set new records. Here's the latest report from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. The melting season is about over, and the region will soon begin to ice over again for the winter.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:01 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events

September 12, 2007

Amazing: Indonesia quake rattles fish tank, Va. well

The power of the Richter 7.9 earthquake today in Indonesia has been captured on a video of a fishtank  500 miles away in Singapore, and in a groundwater monitoring well  9,000 miles away in Christianburg, Va.

Here's more on the quake from the US Geological Survey. And from

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

September 11, 2007

Wet stuff falls from the sky

Something wet and slippery dripped out of the sky over Maryland late last night and early today. Oldtimers called it rain, the first measureable amounts that have fallen at BWI since Aug. 25, a dry spell of 17 days.

Could this really have been responsible for the terrible traffic backups this morning? Was it really slippery out there because there's been so little rain to wash away the accumulated oils on the road surfaces? Or are we becoming more and more like Los Angelenos, who panic at the sight of rain much as Baltimoreans panic at a whisper of snow? Perhaps...

Anyway, the rain began here at Calvert & Centre streets at about 11:30 last night, according to our rain gauge data. We got a quick 0.2 of an inch, followed by off-and-on drizzle ever since. In all, we've measured just over a quarter-inch (0.27) beside the Sun's executive parking area - the Bigshot Lot.

Out at BWI they've had 0.15 of an inch.

Here's is the rainfall accumulation loop for the event. Here's how the numbers look. Here's a mapped view.

We're still more than an inch short of rain for September. This comes after a very dry summer, with rainfall shortages every month. We haven't had a month with surplus moisture since April, and we're more than 6 inches short for the year. And with a La Nina coming this fall, we're likely to see a continued scarcity of rain for the forseeable future. A brush with a passing tropical storm would be welcome.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:27 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

August 27, 2007

Greece on fire

Deadly wildfires have killed dozens of people in the southern Peloponnesus region of Greece in recent days. Greek authorities suspect arson on many of the fires. Here's more from CNN, and the BBC. And here is a remarkable satellite image of the fires and smoke.
Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:35 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 16, 2007

Peru quake shakes Va. well

Christianburg, Va. well response

Last night's 8.0 earthquake southeast of Lima, Peru, sent the water level in the USGS groundwater monitoring well near Christianburg, Va. surging. A second, slightly less sensitive well in Augusta County also felt the tremor from 3,400 miles away. Hydrologist David Nelms writes:

"The water level started oscillating about 15 minutes after the quake.  The total oscillation was 0.50 feet and lasted for nearly 3 hours.  The long period of oscillation is mainly due to the magnitude and close proximity of the M7.9 and the numerous M5+ aftershocks.

"The Augusta County well also saw a response.  Again the water level started oscillating about 15 minutes after the quake.  The response in this well is normally more subdued as evidenced by the smaller oscillation of 0.09 feet and shorter period of just over 30 minutes." 

Here's the tracing from the Christianburg well. Here's another view of the well's response. And here's the USGS report on the Peru quake. At this writing, the USGS has reported 14 aftershocks since the initial quake last night. Two of them have been 6.0 quakes or stronger.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 10, 2007

Indonesian quake rattles Va. well

Wednesday's big (7.5 on the Richter scale) earthquake off the coast of Indonesia near Jakarta sent seismic signals around the globe. When they reached the US Geological Survey's monitoring well near Christianburg, Va., they produced a noticeable fluctuation in water levels in the well.

As incredible as it seems, it's not unusual. The Christianburg well's sensitivity to major seismic events is well-known and long-watched by geologists and hydrologists. The well also shows regular rises and falls in response to the Earth's tidal movements. These are movements in the Earth's crust due to the gravitational pull of the sun and moon. They're the same forces that create ocean tides, except they're seen in the rock. And those movements cause the well water to rise and fall like water in a sponge.

Here is the data on the Indonesian quake, which occured at 1:04 p.m. EDT. And here is how the Christianburg well responded.

This is a longer look at how the well's water level responds to the regular pulse of Earth tides. You can also see that water levels in the well are falling this summer. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 9, 2007

Storm cools the air, wets the dust

Temperatures have dropped 29 degrees from where they stood yesterday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It was a record-setting 102 degrees at BWI yesterday afternoon. After today's thunderstorm passed by, the thermometer dropped from a high of 93 degrees to 73 between 1 and 2 p.m. Just before 4 p.m., with the sun back out, it has crept back up to 81.

Some locations saw more than an inch of rain, but most had less. Here's a sampling. And here's the cumulative rainfall map for the storm. It was the most rain BWI has seen in one day since July 10.

The rain hasn't ended the drought, but it has helped a bit. Here are some rainfall numbers, and temperature-drop readings for today from around the area:

BWI:  0.43 inch   93 to 73 degrees.

Dulles:  0 rain  96 to 81 degrees.

Reagan National:  0.02 inch  94 to 79 degrees.

Maryland Science Center:  0.31 inch   96 to 77 degrees.

Frederick:  1.17 inches  90 to 70 degrees.

The Sun:  0.21 inch   91 to 77 degrees. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:49 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 7, 2007

Utah mine collapse on seismographs

The mine collapse that has trapped six Utah coal miners a quarter of a mile beneath the surface of the Earth was detected on seismographs in Utah and reported initially as a minor (3.9) earthquake. Here is that early quake report. A University of Utah scientist says there have been about 20 mining-related quakes recorded since 1978.

Shallow quakes in Utah are not unusual. Here's a map of recent tremors.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

July 10, 2007

Surprise storm pummels Baltimore

With no more than a few minutes warning, a large thunderstorm popped up southwest of Baltimore shortly after 1 p.m. this afternoon. Heavy rains and hail the size of pennies and pingpong balls dropped on downtown streets and parking lots as the storm tracked north and east. Here's the radar loop.

The storm dropped temperatures at The Sun by 16 degrees - from 94 degrees to 78 degrees in less than 30 minutes.

The storm arrived just  minutes after the National Weather Service issued a "severe storm warning" for Anne Arundel County at 1:25 p.m. That warning was later extended to include the city and Baltimore County.

Rain fell, briefly, at a rate of more than 7 inches an hour at The Sun. In 15 minutes, more than a third of an inch had passed through the rain gauge.

Readers? Let's hear from you. Leave a comment and describe what you're seeing out there.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:52 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Events

July 5, 2007

Twisters menace 4th; more storms today

A report of a tornado touchdown in East Columbia, and a funnel cloud hear Centreville yesterday, prompted authorities to clear the National Mall yesterday afternoon. But there has been no confirmation that any twisters actually touched the ground. Here is a rundown on are storm and damage reports yesterday afternoon, including the reported funnel clouds, lots of hail, some tree and cable damage.

The National Weather Service forecast office in Sterling, Va. has not yet decided whether the reports warrant sending a team out to inspect any damage and verify whether a tornado touched down.

Sun photo - Mauricio RubioThe thunderstorms that swept the Baltimore region last evening dropped widely variable amounts of water. The downpour was torrential, but brief in downtown Baltimore, and the fireworks went off despite a lingering drizzle. Other stations recorded little or no precipitation. Here's The Sun's story on the festivities and the storms.

And here are some rain totals, through midnight, from around the region:

BWI: 0.58 inches

Science Center, Baltimore: 0.86 inches

The Sun: 0.14 inches

Washington National: 0.03 inches

Dulles Int'l: 0.74 inches

Hagerstown: Trace

Martinsburg, W. Va.: 0.02 inches

Recent rains, especially in western Maryland, appear to have eased the dry conditions that have been worsening in recent weeks. The western counties have dropped out of the "moderate drought" category on this week's Drought Monitor maps, although 97 percent of the state is now considered "abnormally dry" - up a tad from last week. The maps reflect conditions on Tuesday of each week, so last night's rain has not yet been taken into account.

There may be more storms, and just plain rain in store for us this afternoon and evening as a cold front approaches and shoves off the coast. Here is the forecast. The threat will vanish by the weekend, and strong sunshine will boost temperatures into the 90s well into next week.

Headed for the beach? Here's the forecast.



Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 29, 2007

Cooler, but scant rain

The promised cold front is upon us, but all the excitement yesterday about an approaching line of thunderstorms - including severe storm watches across the state - appears to have come to very little in terms of severe weather and much-needed rainfall. What has fallen has been spotty at best. We had nothing on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville until about 8 a.m. today.

The instruments at BWI-Marshall have recorded just 0.17 inch of precipitation from this frontal passage. Our weather station here at Calvert & Centre streets checked in with 0.27 inch. There's still time to wring more moisture from this front. Here's the radar loop.

But here's the rundown as of about 10 a.m.:

BWI:  0.17 inch

The Sun:  0.27

Frederick: 0.07

Martinsburg: 0.02

DC Reagan: 0.04

Dulles Int'l: 0.62

MD Beaches: 0.10

We still need rain. Western Maryland remains in moderate drought, according to the latest Drought Monitor maps. Nearly the entire balance of the state is rated "abnormally dry."

At BWI, we have measured 2.19 inches of rain in June through Thursday. That's the driest June at BWI since 1999, when just 2.04 inches fell. (The average is 3.43 inches.)

We'll likely end the month nearly an inch below the 30-year averages for June. And that follows May's 3-inch deficit. The bottom line is that we are about 4 inches short of normal rainfall since mid-April.

The weather ahead? Looks very pleasant into next week, but not much rain in the cards.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 26, 2007

Small, isolated T-storm hits NW Baltimore

The National Weather Service has issued flash flood warnings for Baltimore and Baltimore County as a small, stationary thunderstorm dropped heavy amounts of rain at mid-afternoon on northwest portions of the city, Pikesville and adjacent county. The radar estimates suggest more than 2 inches in some very localized spots.

Here's the radar loop. Check out Pikesville rain totals.  This storm is mostly stationary, so it is capable of dumping lots of rain on a small area before it's drained. Ocean City is seeing a very similar storm at this time. See radar loop link above.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:19 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

June 21, 2007

Summer Solstice arrives

At 2:11 p.m. EDT this afternoon the sun will reach its northernmost point for the year above the celestial equator - the plane of the Earth's equator extended outward into space. The moment of the Summer Solstice also marks the traditional beginning of summer for the Northern Hemisphere (and winter in the Southern).

In some cultures, of course, today marks not the start of summer, but mid-summer, and tonight is Midsummer's Night, when the sun never sets above the Arctic Circle. And for meteorologists, the statistical summer actually began on June 1, and runs through Aug. 31.

While the sunrises have been getting later since the 15th, our sunsets will continue to creep later in the evening until June 27. The real import of the solstice, however, is that from today onward until Dec. 22, the days will gradually grow shorter, and the nights longer. We have begun the inexorable slide toward winter, and into darkness, and cold.

But what am I saying? Forget about all that. The hottest days of summer still lie ahead, in mid-July on average, thanks to the air and oceans, which are slower to heat up under the high summer sun. The garden is growing and the living is easy. And the solstice is as good an excuse as any to celebrate the sunshine and raise a glass to life and warmth. Skol!


Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:19 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 8, 2007

Hot town, schools stay open

So here we are, at the end of the school year, and temperatures are headed into the 90s this afternoon. Naturally, that has the kids talking on the playground. "Will they close schools early today because of the heat?"

Fay Chen writes from Baltimore County: "The playground gossip states that there's a formula the schools to use to determine whether or not to close for heat. Some say if it's 80 degrees by 10 a.m., or 90 degrees by 11 a.m. the decision is made automatically. I've searched Baltimore County's website though, and can't find a reference to an official determination schedule. Do you know if one exists, or is it just a myth? Thank you!"

The gossip is half right. Baltimore CITY schools have a policy that states they will close schools two and a half hours early on days when the heat INDEX reaches 90 degrees at the Inner Harbor by 11 a.m. In the COUNTY, however, there is no such policy. School officials there take hot days on a case-by-case basis, taking the duration of the hot spell and the conditions of the schools into consideration.

At 11 a.m. this morning, the temperature at the Inner Harbor was 92 degrees, with a dewpoint of 68. That made the heat index 98 degrees. But city school officials nevertheless decided not to close. Schools spokeswoman Edie House said the facilities folks calculated the heat index at 87 degrees. She had no information on how they reached that number. Sorry kids.

By 1 p.m., the temperature at the Inner Harbor was 95 degrees, with a dewpoint of 71 degrees. That made the heat Index 104 degrees. Twelve city schools have closed today due to power outages, according to their website.

Usually, school buildings don't heat up to unbearable temperatures until the warm weather has persisted for several days. This looks like a one-day heat wave. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:21 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Events

May 22, 2007

Atlantans choke on smoke

Those fires in southeast Georgia and northern Florida are still generating a pall of smoke across the Southeast, and the plume finally reached Atlanta this morning. It blocked the sun and filled the air with the acrid smell of burning brush. Here's a look at what it was like

Blame the high-pressure system that is bringing us our fine spring weather this week. The clockwise circulation around the high swept up the smoke and blew it northwest to Atlanta. It's dissipated some since this morning, but it's still looking a bit hazy down there. Here's the weather cam. The plume is still visible from orbit, too. Here's how it looked Tuesday from NASA's Terra Earth-observing satellite.  

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May 16, 2007

Quick hit

The front has gone by, but not before dropping temperatures here at Calvert & Centre streets by 12 degrees in about 15 minutes - between 4:30 and 5 p.m. We recorded .34 inch of rain, most of it between 4:30 and 5.  Winds peaked at 19 mph. BWI data is running late.

Here are some other rainfall totals for the region. Here's some streamflow data. (SLide your cursor over the dots and click for details. Not much to cluck about there. Not enough rain to fill most of the creeks, which have been relatively low thanks to a month of dry weather. Herring Run up in Idlewylde, on the city-county line, appears to be running highest relative to long-term averages for the date.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 30, 2007

Zowie! 87 at The Sun

So who knew it would get this hot today? It's 87 degrees at Calvert & Centre at 2 p.m., with a couple more hours of solar heating ahead of us. It's 83 degrees out at BWI. That's already 14 degrees above the normal high for an April 30 at the airport. The record for the date is 92 degrees, set in 1910.

The heat cranked up after that little disturbance swept through with some sprinkles this morning. Skies cleared quickly after that and temps shot up - from 61 degrees at 7 a.m. to 79 down here in Newspaper Gulch just four hours later.

The two Washington airports are both reporting 85 degrees and sunny. And I'm stuck here in the newsroom, where it's a steady 75. And gray. Dang.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 3, 2007

Marine layer brings fog

Driving down the JFX this morning you couldn't help but notice it. We cruised south under sunny, blue skies and mild temperatures. But as we neared downtown, the air grew suddenly colder, and the blue sky became obscured by low clouds and fog. That's the "marine layer" - a chilly layer of air, a few hundred to a few thousand feet thick, cooled and moistened by the ocean. It runs up onto the land, bringing a chill fog. Marinelayer Above and beyond the marine air, however, the sun is shining and temperatures are dramatically warmer. Here is what is looks like this morning from orbit. You can see the cloudy marine layer retreating across Delmarva.

At left is a nice photo of the cold, marine-layer fog from the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. And if it felt like San Francisco downtown this morning, it's no accident. The West Coast is frequently assaulted by a cool, foggy marine layer blown ashore by westerly winds. It usually retreats, or dissipates as the morning wears on. And the sky does appear to be brightening over The Sun building as I write.

Temperatures at Calvert & Centre streets fell from 70 degrees at 11 last night, to 61 degrees by 5 a.m. Then the marine layer shoved its way ashore, and the mercury dropped to 51 degrees at 8 a.m. Two hours later it's still only 53, but climbing. Deeper in the marine layer, Ocean City remains gray and 46 degrees.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:28 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 27, 2007

Flash! Boom! Summer's gone

So much for the 80-degree weather for this week. That little thunderstorm this evening dropped temperatures here at The Sun from 81 degrees at 6:30 p.m. to 71 degrees at 7 p.m. We clocked just .15 inch of rain, but it sure fell in a hurry, peaking briefly at a rate of more than 3 inches an hour.

Our high at Calvert & Centre streets was 83 degrees. The airport saw a high today of 81 degrees The rest of the week will be cooler.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:29 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

March 16, 2007

Small brain warnings

OK. Somebody please tell me why the good folks who operate the Solomons Island Sailing Club down in Calvert County had a dozen young sailors - inexperienced boaters in their teens - out on the Chesapeake yesterday afternoon in "daysailors."

In case you hadn't heard, five of the six boats capsized in strong winds at around 4:30 p.m., pitching the kids into the frigid water. All were saved, thanks to life vests, wet suits and quick action by rescuers. But everybody was danged lucky.

In The Sun's story today, the youth sailing organizer for the Southern Maryland Sailing Association described the boats as "small dinghies ... they capsize all the time."

That's fine in the summer. With life jackets on, a little dunking when the boat goes over is fine. Fun, even. A learning experience.

But the water temperatures in the bay are still in the 40s.

And more to the point, the National Weather Service had posted small craft advisories for the Chesapeake at 11:10 a.m. There was a strong cold front surging across the region during the afternoon, forecast to shift the winds from south to north, and increase their speeds to 15 to 20 knots or higher. (That's 17 to 23 mph.)

At the Patuxent Naval Air Station, just across the river from Solomons, weather data show that the winds shifted from south to north between 4 and 5 p.m., and jumped from 9 mph to 25 mph, with gusts to 35 mph. Just about the time the boats keeled over.

So why would any (presumably) adult send student sailors onto the bay - in "dinghies" - under small craft advisories? Sure, it was balmy through the noon hour yesterday. But wasn't anyone watching the forecast? Checking the watches and warnings?  Someone needs to go back to sailing school.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:01 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Events

March 14, 2007

Spring peepers are back

The spring peepers - the tiny frogs that emerge from the muck in early spring to peep their way to love and Peeper procreation - are back. Or at least tonight was the first night of the season that I've heard them from the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. Anybody else hear them? It's always a welcome sound after a long winter, and a good indication that somebody's wetlands are still healthy enough to support the little amphibians.

Here's what they look like. Be sure to click on the "Listen" button for some recordings of their songs. A breath of spring.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:40 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Events

February 13, 2007

Heavy rain, freezing temps

That's a bad combination, but it's the fate in store for us this afternoon and evening. How's this for weird: Surface temperatures, now in the upper 20s, are going to fall this afternoon, but the light snow we're getting now will change over to moderate to heavy rain tonight as warmer air moves in thousands of feet over our heads.

Icycommute The result? Accumulating ice. Here's the latest from Sterling:







See a good weather scene? Snow? Ice in the trees? Pets? Kids? Falling limbs? Snap it! And then log in to the Readers Photos gallery at and upload it so we can all see.

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

December 14, 2006


"The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on."

Poet Carl Sandburg knew what he was talking about. This fog seemed to appear out of nowhere last night. It socked us in overnight, and is taking its sweet time burning off this morning. It has affected much of the Southeast, forcing ground stops at airports across the region, including BWI, while air traffic controllers wait for the visibility to improve. School systems on the Eastern Shore delayed their openings this morning. Dense fog advisories remain in effect west of the Chesapeake Bay.

National Weather Service meteorologist Luis Rosa, out at the Sterling forecast office, explained that yesterday's rain contributed a lot of moisture to the atmosphere. More humidity moved into the region on southeast breezes from the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

After the cold front passed by, skies cleared and, as night fell, radiational cooling brought air temperatures down to the dew point - saturation. That's when the water vapor in the air began to condense, forming droplets and - fog. As I look at our weather instruments here at The Sun in downtown Baltimore, the temperature (at 10:25 a.m.) is 43, and the dew point is 43. So the humidity is 100 percent. And it's still quite foggy around the Maryland Penitentiary.

What we need now is solar heating. As temperatures warm, the fog droplets will begin to vaporize, and the fog banks will "burn off." That should leave us with a sunny, mild day, and a fine weekend. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:34 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

December 8, 2006

Rocket launches galore

UPDATE at 9:00 p.m. Saturday: The shuttle Discovery launched on time tonight, apparently without a hitch. That clears the way for the launch of TacSat2 Monday morning from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The weather there looks good for liftoff at 7 a.m. Earlier post follows.

I don't think I've ever had to tell readers about TWO rocket launches that might be visible from Maryland. But that's what we're looking at here over the next few days.

The launch of space shuttle Discovery, with Baltimore-born astronaut Robert Curbeam aboard, is now scheduled for 8:47 p.m. Saturday night, after its planned Thursday night launch was postponed.

Whenever it lifts off the pad, we can expect to see it crossing our sky - very low on the eastern horizon - about six minutes later. You can follow launch developments on NASA TV, which is available on some cable systems, and on the Web. There's also a Launch Blog here.

Assuming the Discovery launch goes off on schedule, we can expect the launch of a four-stage Minotaur rocket from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility sometime after 7 a.m. Monday morning. Watch for a story in The Sun Sunday morning. The Minotaur, carrying two government satellites into orbit, should be visible for hundreds of miles in all directions. Joe Rao, a columnist with, estimates that people as far as 800 miles from Wallops Island may be able to see it, weather permitting. Download rao.minotaur.txt .

Baltimore is 115 miles northwest of Wallops. Rao thinks people from Maine to Florida, and as far west as Kentucky might get a look. We'll see.

Here again, you'll need a clear view of the southeastern horizon. Check Wallops' website for news of flight delays.

Any delay in the Discovery launch Saturday would probably force delays in the Minotaur launch Monday, to allow Wallops personnel to shift gears and help NASA track the shuttle up the coast. Here's the forecast for Cape Canaveral, and for Wallops.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:07 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

December 5, 2006

A rare Egyptian tornado

Tornadoes are rare in Egypt. The last one was in 1981. But when astronomer Aymen Ibrahem dashed outside the Bibliotheca Alexandrina yesterday hoping to snap a picture of a rainbow, he instead encountered a rare funnel cloud dangling over the library. (Click to enlarge) The twister apparently never touched the ground.


Here in the United States, tornadoes are uncomfortably common. In fact, we are the tornado capital of the world, as you can see in this global map of tornado activity between 1930 and 1985.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:25 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

December 4, 2006

"It Could be Worse" Dept.

So it's cold. At least the sun is shining. So cheer up. A quick scan of the weather news should persuade you that things most certainly could be worse.

You could live in Buffalo.

Or Vietnam.

Or the Philippines.

Or Pakistan.

Or California, or Missouri.

Or Scotland. Or just about anywhere else in the British Isles.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:43 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

December 1, 2006

Record December heat

Strong southerly wind has pushed this afternoon's temperature at BWI to 75 degrees. That's 2 degrees above the previous record for a Dec. 1 at the airport, set just five years ago, in 2001.

The barometer here on the WeatherDeck has fallen to 29.47, where it has remained since 2 p.m., so the front has not yet  passed through the area, despite clearing skies. The temperature here is 74, but I expect to see it begin to drop shortly - headed for the 30s tonight.

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

November 16, 2006

Cats and dogs

Whooo dogies, is it ever raining. Flash flood warnings are up for Baltimore City and county.

We're looking at rain rates as high as 5 inches an hour on the instruments here at The Sun just before 3 p.m.. We've clocked over an inch already, most of that in the last half hour. Wind gusts to 27 mph. The good news is that the barometer appears to have bottomed out at 29.45 inches. It's all uphill from here.

We welcome your reports. Just leave a comment.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

November 15, 2006

Whole lotta shakin'

That was one powerful earthquake this morning in the Kuril Islands north of Japan, complete with tsunami watches and warnings all around much of the Pacific basin. Many of those were later canceled, including those for Alaska, British Columbia and the state of Washington. The tsunami wave heights in the Far East turned out to be pretty small. Here's our story.

Here is the USGS report on the magnitude 8.3 main quake and the subsequent large tremors.

Here is a list of the largest quakes of 2006. It lists today's Kuril Islands quake at 7.8 on the Richter Scale. That has since been revised upwards to 8.3, making this one a "Great" quake, and certainly the biggest of the year to date.

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

November 8, 2006

Rain held off

There was some light rain late in the voting yesterday, but not enough, it seems, to dampen turnout. But it picked up nicely overnight, after the polls closed.

They've recorded 1.49 inches at BWI-Marshall so far. We had over 1.5 inches on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville by the time I left for work. The gauge here at The Sun appears to be clogged with ginkgo leaves, or something. Not a drop registered. Now I get to go out on a ladder, in the rain, to scoop them out.

Anyway, the rain is slated to continue into this evening. Here's AccuWeather's take on it. Here's the NWS forecast.

Speaking of ginkgoes, The Sun's ginkgo grove, on Calvert and Centre streets, is reaching its full golden autumn glory this week. If you're downtown, take a drive by. It won't last long. (That last link isn't a photo of our trees, just a hint at what we're seeing outside our office windows.)

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

November 7, 2006

Pineapple Express soaks NW

Have you been reading about all the heavy  rain and flooding out in the Pacific Northwest? Several people in the U.S. and Canada have perished in the high water, and the bad weather and flooded roads may well affect voter turnout there today.

The torrential rains are a phenomenon that folks out in that part of the country are familiar with, and they call it the "Pineapple Express." Meteorologists call it the Madden-Julian Oscillation, and it's especially active during a weak El Nino cycle such as the one we're currently experiencing. (El Nino is a warming of the surface waters of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, which can have impacts on weather around the world.)

During an MJO event, high pressure over the Pacific Northwest, which tends to block storms from the Pacific, shifts toward the west. That opens the door for a low-pressure system to replace it. At the same time, heavy rainfall in the eastern Pacific begins to migrate eastward. It passes across the Hawaiian Islands (where the "pineapple" part of the name comes from) and sloshes on toward the northwest coast of North America, where the low invites it right in.

As this moisture-laden tropical air strikes the mountainous coast, it is lifted up and cooled, and relieved of its moisture. The result is torrential rain, terrible flooding, landslides and plenty of hardship for residents of the region.

Here is an extended explanation of the Pineapple Express phenomenon.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

November 2, 2006

Quake rattles SW Virginia

The U.S. Geological Survey today is reporting a "minor" earthquake, registering 3.2 on the Richter scale, in southwestern Virginia. The tremor occurred at 12:53 p.m., about 7 miles north northwest of Raven, Va., near Richlands.  It was centered a little more than 7 miles below the Earth's surface, making it a relatively shallow quake.

Here's a grab bag of facts and figures about earthquakes in the U.S. And here's more on Virginia quakes.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:09 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 26, 2006

News from above the weather

The sky today is placid and blue - not much to write about. So here are some tidbits from far above the weather.

First, NASA's twin STEREO spacecraft were successfully launched last night from Cape Canaveral, placing two Maryland-built (Johns Hopkins' Applied Physics Lab) experiments into space to- eventually - provide scientists with a stereoscopic view of events on the sun. The "space weather" data they return should give us some deeper insights into the physics of the solar storms that cause not only beautiful auroral displays, but also radio interference, satellite damage and geomagnetic storms on Earth.

Here is a film clip of last night's launch.

Also, one of NASA's extraordinary twin Mars rovers - Spirit - is marking its 1,000th day on the Red Planet - far longer than anyone expected these craft to survive. To note the occasion, the space agency has posted a very nice panoramic postcard from the Martian surface. You can find it here.

Finally, astronomers say Comet SWAN, which is currently in the evening sky, has had an outburst of dust and gas that has boosted its visibility from binoculars-or-telescopes-only to naked-eye brightness. I can't vouch for it because I haven't looked in a couple of weeks. (When I tried to find it early this month with binocs, I managed to spot a faint blur that was probably the comet, but it was pretty underwhelming.) Anyway, if you want to try to find it tonight, the forecast for stargazing is terrific. Here's more on the comet's exploits and how to find it.

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

October 18, 2006

Tennessee pounded by storm

We write a lot about hurricanes, but you don't always need a hurricane to produce hurricane-scale wind and rain. Just ask the folks down in Texas, Louisiana and Tennessee. They took it on the chin yesterday, but they won't get hurricane-scale media coverage.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:42 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 17, 2006

Rain tops an inch

This all-day rain has now topped an inch here at The Sun. Our gauge reads 1.04 inch at 5 p.m. Out at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport they've recorded just under an inch. And radar suggests we're largely done with this system.

The total brings BWI to more than 3 inches for the month, with two weeks yet to go. Normal October rainfall at the airport is 3.16 inches, so we appear to be headed for a second wet month in a row. September saw more than 7 inches.

Here is a sampling of rainfall from across the region. You can ignore the Caroline Street gauge in Fells Point, which may be located beneath a beer tap.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:15 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 15, 2006

Shakeup in Paradise

There are plenty of frayed nerves and some considerable disruption and damage out on the islands of Hawaii today after an earthquake in excess of 6.0 on the Richter Scale, and plenty of aftershocks.

Here is the story currently running on

Here is a link to the US Geological Survey's earthquake information center. Here are some maps and lists of the quakes today in Hawaii and elsewhere around the world. And here's some earthquake history to chew on.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 9, 2006

Korean blast a 4.2 on Richter scale

Seismographs around the world have recorded the impact of the North Korean underground nuclear test last night. It registered a 4.2 (light) on the Richter scale of earthquake severity. Here are the details from the U.S. Geological Survey. Here is how the explosion stacked up against recent earthquakes around the world. And here is the story from today's Sun. The political aftershocks, of course, are continuing.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 5, 2006

Interesting discussion on GW

There is an interesting on-line discussion underway about global warming. It's sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The "speakers" are Michael Oppenheimer, the Millbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs at Princeton University, and Daniel Schrag, professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard.

You can drop in on the chat by clicking here. I'll try to update the link after the session ends.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

September 29, 2006

NWS to survey storm damage

The National Weather Service is sending a storm-damage assessment team to Anne Arundel County this morning to survey wind damage. They will determine whether it was, indeed, a tornado that tore through the area last evening, and if so, how powerful it was. Here's The Sun's story. Here's this morning's NWS statement:



The WeatherBlog will post the statement when it becomes available. We're also happy to have readers upload any photos they have of the storm damage. Just go to our Reader's Photos page, at the bottom of the main page, register and follow the directions for uploading your images. We've made it a bit easier than it used to be. Try it.

In the meantime, here is a rundown on some of the damage reports received by the NWS at Sterling.

Here at The Sun, our new weather station recorded 0.94 inch of rain from about 6 p.m. until 11 p.m. The temperature dropped 15 degrees in an hour with the frontal passage - from 75 degrees at 6 p.m., to 60 degrees an hour later. (The overnight low was 56.) The barometer bottomed out at 29.65 inches at 5 p.m., then began a swift climb to 29.90 inches - and still rising - at 11 a.m.

Here are some rainfall tallies:

Annapolis:  1.11 inches

Reagan National: 1.04

BWI: 1.03

Science Ctr.: 0.83

Dulles Int'l.: 0.67

Philadelphia: 0.27

Hagerstown: 0.19

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

September 5, 2006

September is a gusher

The rain that began this morning in Baltimore continues to fall, and forecasters are warning of the possibility for localized urban flooding. More rain is on tap for tomorrow. But once we get through tomorrow, skies clear and the temperatures warm into the 80s. Clear sailing ahead. But meanwhile...

The instruments at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall (pause for breath) Airport have clocked almost 1.7 inches already today. That comes on top of the 3.63 inches that fell as the remnants of Tropical Storm Ernesto blew through. Do the math, and it comes to 5.32 inches for the very young month so far. The average September at BWI produces 3.98 inches. The accumulation so far makes this the wettest since September 2003, when Tropical Storm Isabel (and another heavy rainfall a few days later) came through town, leaving 7.47 inches of rainwater behind.

Even more impressive, the rain that fell  with Ernesto alone (3.63 inches) was more than the airport received during all of July and August (3.31 inches) combined. The tropical torrents that fell in the final week of June, and the heavy rain we got from Ernesto, stand together as very wet bookends for a very dry summer in Baltimore.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 17, 2006

Conservation saved millions in heat wave

The PJM Interconnection - the outfit up in Valley Forge, Pa. that manages the generation and distribution of electrical power for 12 states (including Maryland) and the District of Columbia, says consumers heeded their call to conserve power during the recent heat wave, and collectively saved wholesale customers more than $650 million.

Power consumption during the hot weather peaked at a record 144,796 megawatts on Aug. 2. On that day, PJM officials report, voluntary reductions in power usage led allowed utilities to avoid switching on their most expensive generators. That enabled price cuts on the spot market totaling more than $230 million. The benefit fell mostly to big wholesale consumers, such as BGE, in the form of direct payments for the power they saved.

One hopes that retail buyers - like you and me - will enjoy some trickle-down effects in the form of lower monthly bills in the short term, and lower rates in the long term.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:39 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

August 16, 2006

Insurors to storm victims: get a mop

Hurricane Katrina victims who argued that the storm surge that ruined their home was caused by storm winds have been dealt a setback by a federal judge in Mississippi. He ruled that their homeowners' policy covered wind damage, but not water damage caused by a storm surge driven by the wind. It's a cruel twist in the insurance biz that Tropical Storm isabel's victims know well. Here's the story.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:47 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 8, 2006

Heat stroke: from the cutting room floor

Sometimes newspaper stories are the product of a collaboration of reporters. One will take the lead reporting and writing role, while others pursue other components of the story. At some point during the afternoon, the contributors file their "inserts" or "feeds" to the lead reporter, who assembles it all into a (hopefully) coherent whole. If the contribution is substantial, they'll get a "shared" byline with the lead writer (whose name goes first at the top of the story). If it's less substantial, the contributor will get a "contributor line" - a mention, at the bottom of the story.

And sometimes the contributing reporter files so much material that much, or most of it never makes it into the story, and it dies on "the cutting room floor," or in our case, in the computer system, to be purged a few days later and sent into digital oblivion.

Today's P. 1 story by Julie Scharper, on the heat-related death of a Baltimore man, is a case in point. My job was to find out why people die from heat exposure, and how it's diagnosed. Tight space, and the fact that I habitually report and write too much, led most of what I came up with yesterday to be cut from the final version of Julie's story. That's fine. It happens a lot.

But since it's weather-related, and may help readers understand why it's so important to check on the elderly and other vulnerable individuals during extreme hot weather (and because I took a great deal of time from Dr. Thomas Kirsch, the director of operations at Johns Hopkins Emergency Medicine to gather the information), I thought I'd resurrect the cuts and offer them here:

Humans have evolved a variety of mechanisms to cool things down if we can’t escape our overheated environment.

The tiny capillaries in our skin open up, bringing more blood to the surface, where it can radiate and dissipate body heat into the air. But the most efficient mechanism is the evaporation of sweat.

As temperatures rise, our sweat glands start moving water — and heat — to the surface. It evaporates, and the body cools.

High relative humidities – above about 75 percent — can make that evaporation impossible.

Healthy people who engage in strenuous activity in the extreme heat and humidity may also drive up their body temperature faster than their bodies cool off.

But the most vulnerable are the very young, the elderly, the sick, the obese and people on certain medications, Kirsch said. Abnormal skin, or medicine that inhibits sweating can get people into trouble. So can certain heart medications.

The increased blood volume that must flow to the skin to cool the body puts a big extra load on a weakened heart. And some cardiac drugs may make it even harder for the heart to keep up.

If the body generates heat faster that it can shed it, the core body temperature slowly rises. Normal metabolic processes quit working, and organs begin to fail.

One of the key danger signs is a change in a victim’s mental status – lethargy, confusion or coma, Kirsch said. "Anyone who comes in [to the ER] during a heat wave acting confused, a diagnosis of acute hyperthermia is way up on our list."

That, plus high body core temperatures trigger immediate intervention.

"Cooling, as fast as possible," Kirsch said. That can mean cooling blankets, or ice packs in the armpits or groin.

"But evaporation is still the best way to conduct heat away from the body," he said. "We strip them down, put fans in the room and have people continually spray water over them … just a cleaning bottle with water."

It’s often not enough, he said. Studies have found that one in five patients who arrive at the ER with body core temperatures of 104 or higher will die. And some of those who survive leave with permanent brain damage, or in a coma.

The lessons are clear, Kirsch said. "When the [outside] temperature goes up like that you have got to get out of the heat."

"If anyone has an elderly relative, they should clearly, during a heat wave, check on them, and try their best to get them out of the hot environment. And if there are any signs of confusion, they need to call 911."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:07 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

August 3, 2006

Mercury hits 102 downtown

The thermometer at the Maryland Science Center reached 102 degrees at 2:18 p.m. today. It was the third day in a row of 100-plus temperatures there. (It was 101 on Tuesday and Wednesday.) The heat index was a stifling 112 degrees.

Out at BWI, it was 100 degrees at 3:48 p.m. That tied the record for the date, set in 1931. It was the second 100-degree day at BWI in the last three. (It was "only" 99 there on Wednesday.)

The National Weather Service said the last time temperatures reached 100 degrees on three consecutive days in Baltimore was on July 2,3 and 4, 1966. That was at BWI, however, so this week's triple play at the Inner Harbor isn't a match.

Friday's record is 100 degrees, so we're not expecting any threat to that mark from the waning heat wave. Highs are expected to hold in the low 90s as cooler air moves in from the Great Lakes. Eighties resume for the weekend, the first days that cool since July 26.

Living in Baltimore this week has been like walking around and breathing inside somebody else's bed. Happy to see the end of it. You?

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:09 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Events

August 2, 2006

A record at BWI

My bad. The instruments at BWI clocked a new record high temperature yesterday, and I missed it. The heat topped out at 100 degrees, breaking the previous record of 99 degrees for an Aug. 1, set back in 1933. I had been monitoring the hourly readings from BWI-Marshall, which plateaued at 98. What I failed to notice was that it had hopped to 100 degrees and back between the top-of-the-hour observations.  We have corrected our on-line story, and will make reference to the new record in tomorrow morning's dead-tree editions.

The record high for today - Aug. 2 - is also in peril. The high mark is 100 degrees, set in 1955.

The high at the Maryland Science Center yesterday, meanwhile, also twitched higher than the 100 degrees we reported in today's story. It actually made it to 101 degrees. The Weather Page, at least, got it right.

Rumors are flying, as well, that July 2006 may have been the hottest on record for the continental United States, busting the record set in 1936. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is crunching the numbers and is expected to announce the results in two days.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:20 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 1, 2006

Inner Harbor hits 100

The 4 p.m. reading at the Maryland Science Center, along Baltimore's Inner Harbor promenade, reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit just before 4 p.m. today.  It's the first time the mercury has hit 100 at the harbor since July 23, 2002. However, it was 99 degrees twice last month - on July 17 and yesterday - the 31st.

The official high for Baltimore, meanwhile, was 98 degrees, at BWI Airport. That was NOT a record. The official record for Baltimore for Aug. 1 is 99 degrees, set at the Customs House downtown in 1933. The station of record for Baltimore was moved in 1950 from the Customs House to what was then Friendship Airport. 

Unfortunately, it's no longer possible to establish downtown records. For starters, the downtown instruments were moved on April 29, 1998 from the roof of the Customs House, which was judged to be inaccurate due to rooftop heating, to the Lawn of the Maryland Science Center. So we would be comparing apples and oranges (although we do that anyway by using pre-1950 data from downtown AND post-1950 data from the airport as if it were a continuous record.)

But beyond that, the Science Center instruments do not provide a reliable, comprehensive weather record, and they are not maintained as well by the weather service. As a consequence, there are gaps in the data, sometimes extending for many days. 

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

July 27, 2006

Heat kills

There is just an amazing amount of bad heat-wave news out there today. California, St. Louis, England, France ... it goes on and on. People are overheating, even catching fire. What's it all mean? Maybe nothing. But lots of people are wondering.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:55 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Events

July 25, 2006

Heat, outages coast to coast

Hot weather, combined with massive strains on the power infrastructure have caused outages and worse on both coasts and in the heartland this week. Here's a sampling from New York City, St. Louis and California. So say a little word of thanks when that AC clicks on today. It's not to be taken for granted these days.

It could also be raining way too much, as it has been in typhoon-weary South China, and Houston, where a tropical disturbance has sloshed ashore.

So we'll be seeing our temperatures break 90 in the next few days, with higher humidities. Hardly seems worth fussing about in light of the suffering elsewhere. Just unfurl the Slip 'n Slide and enjoy our good fortune.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:04 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events

July 24, 2006

California in the broiler

Now it's the Left Coast's turn to broil in the summer sun. Temperatures in the Pacific Coast states in recent days have soared toward the 100-degree mark in places that don't often get that hot. The power grid is struggling, and not always successfully, to keep up with demand for cooling energy. Better to hop in the surf. Here's a clip.

And here are the forecasts and conditions for San Diego, Sacramento, Portland, OR, and Spokane, WA.  You could go to Las Vegas, instead. But you'd better stay indoors. Here's the forecast.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:04 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

July 12, 2006

New Yorkers await celestial event

If skies are clear, New Yorkers who find themselves on the streets of Manhattan at around 8:27 this evening will be treated to an annual celestial event that evokes thoughts of Stonehenge - the great stone markers in England that served the ancients as a celestial calendar.

New Yorkers will have to make-do with their skyscrapers and east-west street grid, but the effect could be almost as dramatic as the setting sun throws its light directly down all the island's cross-town streets. It only occurs twice each year at sunset, today and May 28. Read more here.

In the meantime, we have an extremely hazy day today in Maryland. Not much of a sunset visible this evening, I'd guess. Here's how it looked yesterday from space.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:07 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 30, 2006

Teeny ants invade

I don't know if it's the current weather, the mild winter we had this year, or the alignment of the planets. But my house is being invaded by the smallest ants I've ever seen. They're trouping in along a trail that leads from under the shed, across the heat pump pad to the patio door, then up the frame to the top, where the endless marching hoards vanish into the house.

They emerge in the kitchen, where - until we blasted them with ant spray - they fanned out across the floor, up the wall and across the counters.

I was talking yesterday with University of Maryland entomologist Entomologist Mike Raupp, whom you may remember from our stories about the Brood X cicadas two years back. I was interviewing him for an upcoming Sunday story about mosquitoes. But before I let him go, I asked him about these little ants.

He said he's been battling them too (as have any number of the people my wife has mentioned the problem to). Mike confesses he doesn't know, either, what's brought them on so strong. But he says they're probably Tapinoma sessile, also known as the "odorous house ant."  I haven't tried this, but Mike says if you crush one, it smells like coconut. I'll take his word for it.

Anyway, Mike wrote about these critters last winter for his on-line Bug of the Week column. You can learn a lot about them, and how to get rid of them, by clicking here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:16 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Events

June 20, 2006

Waterspout today in O.C.

WJZ Television is reporting a waterspout during bad weather today in Ocean City. The O.C. Airport reported a thunderstorm in the area at the time.

The station, without attribution, says the twister swiped the (closed) beach at 14th street just after noon and tossed a lifeguard chair some 20 feet.

If you saw it, or better yet if you got a photo of it, leave a comment here or email me at and upload your picture to the "Readers Photos" feature at the bottom of the webpage. Thanks.

Waterspouts are akin to tornadoes, but they form under different conditions. To read more, click here. And here's a photo gallery. Waterspouts can even form on lakes, such as Lake Tahoe, in California's Sierras. Here's an amazing gallery of Tahoe spouts.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:51 PM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

Nice rain. Send more

Yesterday's storms and this morning's showers have done a nice job of watering the garden. Some locations received well over an inch of rain, along with some storm damage. But we're still in the hole on precipitation. A few streams in Central and Western Maryland are flowing at record lows (the bright red dots). And portions of the state remain in abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions. The forecast , for now, looks pretty dry through tomorrow. Then rain chances climb again late Thursday, rising to 50 percent by Saturday.

Here's a beautiful shot of the storm front as it pushed across Maryland yesterday. It was taken by NASA's Aqua Earth-observing satellite. Click on it, then click on the enlargement box.

The heaviest rains fell on instruments in Fells Point, and the Hillsmere and Owings Beach sections of Anne Arundel County. Parts of Prince George's also saw more than an inch. Officially, the storms delivered less than a quarter inch - the 0.22 inch recorded at BWI-Marshall Airport. I had just 0.12 inch on the WeatherDeck in my back yard in Cockeysville.

But Howard County - at least where the rain is measured - was largely skipped over. Seneca Creek, in Dawsonville, Montgomery County, is continuing to run at a record low flow for the date this morning.

Among those flowing at very low rates, but not at record levels, are the Cranberry Branch, in Westminster; the Monocacy River at Jug Bridge near Frederick; and the Potomac at Point of Rocks, in Frederick County.

The new Drought Monitor map will be out Thursday morning. But the old one, dated June 13, still shows moderate drought in portions of the state.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:34 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

June 19, 2006

A rainfall lottery

This afternoon's shower brought more than inch of rain to one recording station in Baltimore. But it was a hit or miss event. Here's the data. The "Caroline" rain gauge - located at the foot of Caroline Street in Fells Point - recorded 1.26 inches of rain during the storm, which produced heavy rain but only briefly. Other stations around the region saw far less - from zero to three-quarters of an inch. On radar, it looked like the heaviest rain was directly over downtown Baltimore and Washington.

Officially, the NWS rain gauge at BWI-Marshall, at last check, saw just 0.16 inch. For an update, click here.

The weather service is reporting a 63-mph wind gust at Andrews Air Force Base, in Prince George's County just before 5 p.m.  Forecasters also have backpedaled on the rain chances for the week. Tuesday now looks rain-free.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 18, 2006

Space junk smacks car in Poland

Rain, sleet, snow, hail ... we can handle it all. But when chunks of spacecraft fall from the sky, it's another matter. Residents of Poland heard a whizzing sound in the sky just before (what was identified as) space junk crashed into some poor guy's car. Here are pictures of the results. If anyone out there can translate the Polish text, please post it here as a comment.

But tell me, how bad does your luck have to be to have your car - of all the square footage on the planet - become the bulls-eye for falling space debris?  And how lucky do you have to be to be somewhere else when it strikes?

UPDATE: A member of the Polish Fireball Network has reported to the "Meteorobs" message group that the "space junk" was not space junk, but part of an old Russian Katyusha ground-to-ground rocket. Somebody must have been playing with a souvenir from the old days. Never mind.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:31 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 13, 2006

London broils in June heat

Londoners have been basking in record-breaking summer heat of late. It was 87 degrees yesterday - a scorcher by UK standards, and the hottest June 12 since 1897. News reports have the sweltering Brits clearing the shelves of barbecue staples, beer and ice cream as they cool off and enjoy the unusual weather. And there was a lot of "suncream" spread on that pasty English skin.

Cooler weather is due today.

Meantime, those of us here on Thames Street and out in Westminster are enjoying unusually cool June weather. We're running at an average of 69 degrees so far this month - almost 3 degrees below average for June.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:54 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 12, 2006

Merrill sailed into stiff breezes

We may never know precisely what caused Capital-Gazette Publisher Phil Merrill's disappearance from his sailboat during his solo outing on Saturday. But weather data technology can help fill in some of the blanks. The Thomas Point Light weather buoy, located just south of the mouth of the Severn River, recorded the winds, air temperature and water temperature in the area.

Merrill, an experienced sailor, reportedly left his private dock on the Severn, in Arnold, around 2 p.m. He was alone, and sailed despite a small craft advisory issued at 4:22 p.m. Friday, and in effect throughout the day Saturday. The advisory meant boaters could expect sustained winds of 18 to 33 knots (20 to 38 mph) and 4-foot seas. While Merrill's sailboat was 41 feet long, there is no legal definition for "small craft" targeted by small craft advisories.

The data suggest that Merrill sailed into the windiest part of the day, but wind conditions - at least at the weather buoy's location - never reached small-craft advisory criteria. After a morning with sustained winds between 5 and 10 mph, the breezes picked up around noon, and blew between 10 and 13 mph throughout the afternoon and into the evening. Instruments atop the buoy recorded gusts as high as 14 mph around 5 p.m.

The weather station does not record wave heights.

Whether he became ill, stumbled and fell, or was knocked into the water by a swinging boom, Merrill evidently found himself in the water. The weather buoy recorded the air temperatures Saturday afternoon between 62 and 66 degrees. The water was actually warmer - between 69 and 71 degrees. But it's not likely Merrill, 72, could have survived for many hours treading water in the bay before hypothermia and exhaustion would have claimed him. Friends reported that Merrill did not customarily wear a life vest while sailing.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 7, 2006

Haboob sweeps Phoenix

Haboob?  OK, it was a new one on me, too. But it's apparently a familiar term in Arizona. Haboob is an Arabic word for sandstorm, and that's what swept through Phoenix yesterday as a wind front swept up desert dust and pushed it across the region. It darkened skies and stung anyone caught outside. 

CNN today ran some very cool footage on the storm. On the main CNN web page, look for the "Watch free video" feature, then click on the "more most watched video" link, and scroll down to "Miles of a Cloud of dust." If you can't find it, try one of the other pages (there are four; just click on the number "2" above the list). Arizona TV station KPNX also had video on their website. If you can get it to download, you're way ahead of me.

The pictures reminded me of black and white images of dust storms during the Dust Bowl days on the Great Plains.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:05 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 2, 2006

Caribbean eruption continues

The eruption of the Soufriere Hills volcano on the Caribbean island of Monserrat continues, and NASA's Earth-observing Terra satellite today captured the ash plume rising from the crater.

Vacationers rarely think of the Islands as hot-spots of volcanic and seismic activity, but they are. They're perched along the boundary of two of the Earth's crustal plates, much like the "Ring of Fire" that surrounds the Pacific Basin. Eruption of Mt. Pelee on the French island of Martinique killed something like 28,000 people in 1902. Only two are known to have survived. And quake-driven tsunamis have struck Puerto Rico (1918) and the Virgin Islands in 1867.

Small quakes have rattled Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Virgin Islands 14 times in the past three days.

So go easy on the rum punch. You never know when you'll have to get up and run for your life.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:39 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 1, 2006

No hurricane, but Texas floods

A slow-moving storm system that briefly showed some signs of developing tropical characteristics has instead dropped as much as a foot of rain on parts of coastal Texas. There are reports of flash flooding near Corpus Christi. Here's the 24-hour rainfall accumulation map. Wow. Here's the satellite loop showing the Gulf as the system finally began to break up.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May 23, 2006

Overnight low close to record

The mercury sank to a chilly 42 degrees overnight at BWI-Marshall Airport. That was just 3 degrees warmer than the record low of 39 degrees, set for this date in 1961. Tomorrow's record low is 41 degrees, set back in 1963, so we were clearly flirting in record territory.

Allegany County has freeze warnings out again tonight. The low was 38 last night, with a forecast low of 31 tonight.

Fortunately, the trend is toward warmer days (and nights) ahead. We'll likely see the 80s at BWI by Thursday or Friday. The warm-up comes with a threat, albeit slight, of showers. But the lineup for the long Memorial Day weekend looks great. The threat of showers should end by Saturday, forecasters are saying, clearing the decks for sunny, mild weather (in the 70s) for the balance of the holiday.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:49 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

May 15, 2006

Man the life boats

Pity poor New Hampshire. They usually go four years without making much news. But a persistent onshore flow of wet Atlantic air has plunged them prematurely into the headlines. Just look at the rainfall recorded at Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, on the coast. Between an inch and two inches every 6 hours since at least Saturday. Here's a link to Channel 9 in Manchester, with a selection of free video and pictures.

Blame the same stalled low-pressure center still spinning to our west. Somehow we managed to get through the Mothers Day weekend without much rain. The horses even ran on a fast track at Pimlico on Mother's Day. (Mom won. I lost.) But that low keeps turning counterclockwise, drawing air in off the ocean like a sump pump and dumping it all onto many parts of New England. Streams and rivers are filled to overflowing. Check out the pictures from Peabody, Mass.

There's still plenty of water in our future, too. Here's the forecast. Thursday looks like a break for anyone who's been waiting to cut the grass. But don't wait. The "chance of showers" mantra keeps repeating into the weekend.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:19 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (3)
Categories: Events

May 12, 2006

Weather satellite $7b over budget

House Democrats are squawking over delays and cost overruns on a new fleet of weather forecasting satellites being developed by the National Oceanic and Atmopsheric Administration. Here's the Democrats' beef.

Here's more on the new system from NOAA.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May 11, 2006

Tornado warning for Central Va.

The National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for locations in Central Virginia where thunderstorms appear to have the capacity to generate a twister. There are tornado watches posted for much of Virginia, but Maryland is out of the cross hairs for now.

The rain that began as a light mist just before noon in Baltimore is picking up, already topping 0.13 inch at BWI-Marshall, and considerably more in places. The NWS is expecting heavy rain as the day turns to night. Accumulations are building across the region.  It's already the biggest rain event in three weeks - since April 21-23 - when 1.56 inches fell at the airport. The forecast, of course, is dismal, unless you're a plant.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:26 PM | | Comments (2) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

May 9, 2006

Smoke gets in our air

When we think about weather, we usually think about clouds, rain, snow, winds and sunshine. But smoke and dust can also be significant components of our atmosphere. The fires can be caused naturally, by lightning, or by human activities. Dust storms can be seasonal events, aggravated by drought and destructive land use practices.

Springtime is a particularly smoky, dusty time for our planet, as people burn off winter debris, clear fields for planting, or throw cigarettes from the car and ignite dry leaf litter. The resulting smoke and dust can obscure the sun, and cause health problems for people on the ground who have to breathe the stuff.

Here are just a few of the smoke clouds visible this week from space. The one making the most news is the result of wildfires in Florida, especially near New Smyrna. There are also vast clouds of dust over China, more smoke over the Norwegian Sea caused by fires in western Russian, and still more smoke over the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. And that's just a sampling. For more on current fire hazards affecting the Earth's atmosphere, click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:36 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Events

April 28, 2006

"Blossom devil" strikes golf club

Alert weather observer Jane Gilbert, of Bel Air sent us word Thursday of a new (to me) weather phenomenon that tore things up a bit at a golf course in Havre de Grace - the much-feared "blossom devil." Read on:

"I just had to share with you the coolest weather phenomena I’ve ever seen close up! At about 3:15 p.m. today I was at the Swan Creek golf course in Havre de Grace. It was bright and sunny in the low 70s without a cloud in the sky and no wind. Several of us are standing in the pro shop harassing the pro as best we could, when all of the sudden one of my friends points out the window and says, "Check out the wind!"

"We all looked outside, and all hell was breaking loose. There were so many blossoms in the air that it looked like it (was) snowing. We all ran outside and realized what we were seeing was a big dust devil without the dust. (A blossom devil?)

"It moved across the blacktop over some golf carts and popped the windshield out of one and sent it flying about 30 feet. It then moved toward the grill room where it went up on the back patio and flipped over tables and gave one of the big table umbrellas a good toss in the air and over the side.

"I apparently was so mesmerized by the thing that I was following it. (One of the guys that works there accused me of hoping to see a flying cow.) Anyway, after wreaking havoc on the patio, it just disappeared. All was calm again, and we were all just standing there in total shock.

"Now I’ve seen the little dust devils blowing dirt and leaves around, but NEVER anything this big with the power it had. I’ll be doing some Googling trying to learn more about these things, but if you can shed any local light on them (if there is any), I’m all ears. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen!"

Jane:  I suspect that the killer Swan Creek Blossom Devil of 2006 was, as you suggest, a dust devil. Nothing more. Nothing less. We tend to think of dust devils as curious, but gentle summer phenomena that stir up the dust on a parking lot or out on a farmer's field, and disappear. In truth, and up close, they can actually be pretty big and boisterous. Here are some photographs of dust devils in Australia. They won't toss a cow into the next county, but heave a patio umbrella over the hedge? Sure. The fact that this one stirred up tree blossoms is simply an artifact of where it popped up, and what sort of debris was at hand to spin into the sky.

Check out this wild video of a dust devil that sprang up during a soccer game in Japan. Wow! (And thanks to Jane for sending it to the WeatherBlogger.) Update, 5/9/06: Here's a dust devil story worthy of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.

Dust devils occur when the air near the ground is heated by solar energy and, being lighter than the cold air above it, begins to rise. As it rises, under the right conditions, the column of air begins to spin. And as long as there is more warm air around to feed the little devil, it keeps on spinning, and drifting with the prevailing breezes, tossing whatever is handy to be tossed.

What's really fascinating about them is that they also occur on Mars. NASA's Mars-orbiting satellites began spotting their trails years ago - streaks in the Martian dust. Then they photographed the spinning columns of dust themselves, and the shadows they cast across the surface.

When the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed in 2004, they began capturing the dust devils on camera as they danced in front of them across the Martian desert. Click here for more on dust devils, and some NASA movies of the phenomenon on Mars.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:45 AM | | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (5)
Categories: Events

April 26, 2006

Open House at Sterling

So, you've been hearing and reading about the National Weather Service forecast office at Sterling, Va. for years - ever since they closed the office at BWI and replaced our Baltimore-savvy meteorologists with machines. Now you have a chance to actually visit and tour the office that took over our forecasting responsibilities, meet the people who work there and learn from them about the region's weather.

The Sterling office is holding an Open House on Saturday and Sunday - this weekend. Why not take a drive out there?  You can combine it with a trip to the National Air & Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Museum near Dulles Airport. There's an amazing display of historic aircraft, including an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:06 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 24, 2006

Welcome rains

While they didn't erase the deficit we've accumulated since February, the weekend rains really helped put some moisture back into the soil, which should help improve the drought index, and into the area's depleted streams. The Gunpowder was running strong and brown yesterday, and the amorous spring peepers were taking advantage of the flooded wetlands along the NCR mike trail to raise a huge racket, in hopes of raising families there.

Rainfall at Baltimore-Washington International/Thurgood Marshall Airport totaled 1.56 inches over the three days from April 21 to 23. That puts us over the top for April. Normal rainfall at BWI is 3.0 inches. We now have 3.19 on the books, with a week to go. That knocked almost an inch off the deficit we'd accumulated since Feb. 1. But we're still 3.5 inches in the hole.

At least there's more rain in the forecast. The prognosticators at Sterling say there's a 70 percent chance of thunderstorms tomorrow and tomorrow evening, with as much as a half-inch of rain possible. Beyond that, the forecast for the week looks sunny and pleasant, if a tad cool - in the 60s by day, the 40s overnight. Great for getting that new grass to grow.

The weekend rains were highly variable across the region. While the airport saw just 1.56 inches, other locations saw more than 2 inches. We had 2.37 inches in all on the back deck in Cockeysville, from Friday through Sunday . That brought our total for the month to just over 4 inches. Dulles Airport, in Virginia, recorded 3.19 inches over the three-day period.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:14 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 22, 2006

Cats and dogs

As forecast, it's raining cats and dogs this evening in Cockeysville. The weather instruments on the back deck clocked the rainfall rate at 3.5 to nearly 4 inches of rain per hour between 6 and 7 p.m.  It's slowed some since then, to about 0.4 inches  to 0.6 inches an hour. The total accumulation for this storm - since yesterday - is 1.31 inches here. Western Run is rising, though not yet in flood. And the sump pump is running like crazy.

Any observations of your own?  Leave a comment. Any photos? Post them to our Reader's Photos.

For the official data from BWI, click here. Here's the radar.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:26 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

April 20, 2006

China dust plumes tracked

Choking dust storms off the Gobi desert, once relatively rare events, are occurring with greater frequency now.  Some of that dust is now circling the globe, and the folks at the University of Maryland Baltimore County believe they have detected it over their campus southwest of Baltimore. Atmospheric scientists at UMBC and elsewhere have been using satellite data and "lidar" (for "light detection and ranging") to measure altitude, composition and particle size over time.

The latest blast of dust and industrial smoke from China is now headed east over the North Pacific Ocean. An earlier plume was detected over Canada. And even though our skies have seemed beautifully clear in recent days, UMBC observers believe they are seeing the effects of the dust in the way sunlight is being scattered at sunset in Baltimore.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:01 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

April 18, 2006

Chinese dust tracked to U.S.

Atmospheric scientists have been puzzling out the origins of a haze of dust that was spotted by satellites a few days ago as it crossed the Middle Atlantic states and swept out to sea. By calculating the trajectory of atmospheric winds in reverse, they have tracked the dust back to the Pacific Ocean. Spectroscopy also suggests the stuff is a silicate - sand. That has led to the suspicion that the dust originated in Northern China, which has been plagued recently by dust and sand storms. The Chinese capital is once again in a cloud of dust, (click "cancel" when asked to install language characters, unless you read Chinese) and scientists plan to track the pall as it moves across the Pacific toward the North American continent. Our weather is truly global. 

Update, April 18: Here's the latest dust cloud, passing over Japan. Next stop: North America.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:36 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

April 3, 2006

Rain, hail, high winds

The cold front has finally arrived, with hail, high winds and more rain than we've seen in a month. If you see damage (after the storm passes and it's safe to go out), take pictures and upload them to our Readers Photos page. Just register if you haven't already, log in, follow the instructions and file your pictures. And send us your storm reports as comments here.

There's a downpour downtown, I can tell you that. And a few peals of thunder, too.

You can watch the creeks rise here. Area rainfall totals are here. The Sterling radar loop is here. Looks like the Baltimore area is getting the worst of the rain. (These sites can take some time to catch up with real-time events.)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 31, 2006

Time to change the clocks

Spring forward. Fall Back. Or is it fall forward and ...   No, that's not right. Just kidding. Remember to turn your clocks ahead Saturday night (or Sunday morning if you don't have to be anywhere on time early Sunday) for the start of Daylight Saving Time.

I'm always amazed at how many time pieces we have these days. The bedside and kitchen clocks are standard equipment. But now the stove and the microwave have their own. Our thermostats each have clocks. So does the VCR, two of the TVs, both cars (those are really a pain to change, especially on the Beltway). The cell phones have clocks, but thankfully they change themselves. So does the computer. And still my daughter is 20 minutes late. (Sorry, kid.)

Now I have a clock radio and a wristwatch that are controlled, via radio signal, by the atomic clocks at the National Institute for Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colo. Those adjust themselves every night, and they also do the Daylight Saving Time switch automatically. They're always accurate to the second, so I can get all the other clocks in sync again when I push them ahead this weekend.

As it happens, this is the last year we'll be changing our clocks by the old rules. Next year we'll start Daylight Time two weeks earlier, and end it two weeks later. It's Congress's way of saving energy, and if it works out, it will become permanent. Here's a rundown on the changes.

This is also the first year that all the Indiana counties in the Eastern time zone will join the rest of us switching to Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). But Arizona, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa and Guam will continue to eschew the change.   

The coolest thing about these time changes is that in the spring, there is no 2 o'clock and no 2 o'clock hour when the clocks change. The official timekeepers go from 1:59:59 a.m. to 3:00:00 a.m.  So unless you're trying to dump the poor sap, don't make any late dates for 2:30 a.m. They will never happen.  And in the fall, we do the 2 o'clock hour twice. So be sure you specify which 2:15 a.m. you mean, or you'll have a 50 percent chance of showing up alone.

The worst thing is that it will be pretty dark again for a while when the alarm goes off in the morning. Sunrise over Baltimore this morning was at 5:53 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, and it got mighty light well before that.

But on Monday morning, sunrise will occur at 6:48 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time - nearly 7 a.m. That will mean rousting ourselves out of bed into a much darker room. The days will get longer again day by day after that. But It will be May 15 before the sun is up as early as 5:53 a.m. (EDT) again.

Remember: spring back ... No, fall ...   Wait ...

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 24, 2006

Salamanders return to Beekman Road

In a sign of spring as certain as the swallows' return to the mission San Juan Capistrano, in California, or the buzzards' arrival in Hinckley, Ohio each March 15, the spotted salamanders have returned to Beekman Road, in East Brunswick, N.J., according to news reports. All's right with the world.

Does anyone know of any similar wildlife events in Maryland that seem to be keyed to Mar. 15, or around the time of the Vernal Equinox?  I've already mentioned the overture for this year's chorus of spring peepers, but that's not unique to Maryland. The peepers are peeping in East Brunswick, too. Help me out here, and maybe we can gin up a story for print.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:33 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 22, 2006

Longest flight in a tornado

A Fordland, Mo. man has survived the longest recorded flight by a human swept up by a tornado. Matt Suter, 19, was hurled 1,307 feet - nearly a quarter of a mile - when a 150-mph twister demolished his grandmother's trailer on Sunday. He landed in a grassy field with little more than a gash on his head. The National Weather Service confirmed the measurement with global positioning system equipment. Read more.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:05 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

March 16, 2006

Wildfires continue

Wind and dry weather continue to threaten the region with an increased risk of wildfires. Public safety officials in Anne Arundel are battling a big blaze. Read more here. And here's the Sun's story today on the big, wind-whipped fire yesterday in Solomons.

The danger today is diminished from yesterday's Red Flag conditions. Here's the current advisory.

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

March 14, 2006

Peepers say it's spring

I heard them first on Saturday night, up near a friend's place in northern Baltimore County. Now they're singing in my own neighborhood. The spring peepers are out, and they're looking for action. The tiny frogs - less than an inch and a half long - emerge from their winter hibernation in March, with the first mild weather and warm rains. And the males begin calling for females. The breeding season is here and they're open for business.

These critters, formally Pseudacris crucifer, are nearly impossible to find, they're so wary and well camouflaged. But you can sure hear them. Each frog inflates its throat and emits a brief, one-note "peep."  But in an evening chorus of hundreds, they make a terrific noise that many have likened to jingle bells. The sound carries well away from the woody wetlands into adjoining neighborhoods, and for many people it's the first, most thrilling signal that spring has finally arrived. Forget the calendar, or the equinox. It's the peepers that mark the end of winter.

For me, they have also been a reassurance that our little corner of the county - and the wetlands behind our development - remain friendly to frogs and toads. Amphibian habitats are under assault almost everywhere.  And even our slice of wetlands - part of the Loch Raven Reservoir watershed - has long been targeted by road builders who want to construct a shortcut across it to speed commuters to their jobs. The peepers tell me each spring that the road builders haven't won yet.

If you'd like to get involved in helping to study and save the peepers and other frogs, consider Frogwatch USA.  If you just love looking at these guys, and listening to their calls, click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:16 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 8, 2006

Chicago runway too slick

The runway at Chicago's Midway airport was more slippery than tower controllers described to pilots Dec. 8 as a Southwest Airlines flight from Baltimore was landing in heavy snow, according to a USA Today inquiry. The airliner skidded off the end of the landing strip, careened into a city street, crushing a car and killing a 6-year-old boy inside.  Here's the story.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:16 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

February 20, 2006

Landslides a familiar hazard in Philippines

Torrential tropical rainstorms and unstable geology, coupled with deforestation and seismic activity, make parts of the Philippines vulnerable to disastrous landslides. It's happened before, sometimes with even more calamitous results than Friday's disaster in Leyte. A slide in typhoon season in 1991 killed 5,000 in Leyte.

Here's an accounting of recent slides, from the Associated Press. Parts of the islands can exceed 200 inches of rain in a year. Much of it falls in summer typhoon season, but not always. The Pacific trade winds soak portions of the country at this time of year, too.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

February 15, 2006

Gurgle: 58 degrees at BWI

Just three days out from one of the coldest days of the winter - and certainly the snowiest - Baltimore enjoyed an afternoon high today of 58 degrees. You can hear the snow gurgling down the gutters and drains all across the region. It was no threat to the records. It was 76 degrees on this date in 1954.

The next two days should be just as mild as today. It could even burst into the 60s on Friday. And it's all good. The more snow and ice we get rid of now, the less there will be to refreeze this weekend and on Presidents' Day next week, when we're likely to see temperatures as much as 10 degrees below normal for this time of year. The coldest air of the winter is en route from the arctic. The transition will be sharp and quick enough to crack your teeth.

Not really.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:21 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

February 9, 2006

Frozen puppies

Temperatures in Baltimore dropped into the mid-20s Tuesday night, more than cold enough to freeze six pit bull puppies that someone left outdoors overnight in the 3000 block of Spaulding Ave., in Park Heights near Pimlico Racecourse.

A city animal control officer called to the scene found them in a red plastic storage container that had been set outside the front door of an apartment building. "They couldn't have been more than a couple of weeks old," said Robert Anderson, director of the city health department's Bureau of Animal Control. "They were frozen solid."

He said the litter included three brown puppies and three that were darker, almost black.

"This was deliberate," Anderson said. "They left them outside just to get rid of them."

It also appears, based on reporting Thursday by The Sun's Nicole Fuller, (click here for her Friday story) that someone did call Animal Control, asking them to pick up the puppies Tuesday night. But the agency did not record the call as one needing immediate attention, and the officer didn't show up until morning. Why anyone would think it a good idea to leave the puppies outdoors in 20-degree weather to wait for Animal Control, and who was responsible for that decision, remains a mystery.

The bureau's investigation elicited no useful information from neighbors. "They're not talking. Nobody will point fingers at anybody," Anderson said. "We're hoping the reward will loosen some lips."

Humane organizations have come up with $1,500 to offer anyone who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person who set the puppies outside that night. Intentional animal cruelty can be prosecuted as a felony, with a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

But given the confusion about the call at Animal Control, it seems unlikely the dogs' owner, if found, will face that kind of punishment. There was an effort, however ill-considered, to do the right thing.

Any informants "don't have to leave their real names," Anderson said. "They can say they're King Kong."  And if the information leads to a conviction, they'll collect the reward without ever having to provide their real name.

Anyone in Baltimore with an animal they don't want can simply call the city's 311 non-emergency number, and the Bureau of Animal Control will come by and take it.

"During the winter, we get a lot of frozen or dying dogs," Anderson said. "But usually they don't leave puppies out."

Anyone with information about these puppies is asked to call 410 396-4698 and ask for the Animal Control Supervisor on duty. If you want to donate money to support reward offers for the arrest of animal abusers, make checks or money orders payable to Director of Finance, Baltimore City, and mail them to Director of Animal Control, Municipal Animal Shelter, 301 Stockholm Street, Baltimore, MD 21230

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:49 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Events

February 6, 2006

"It-Could-Be-Worse" Dept.

In case you were tempted to complain about the cold and wind today, the WeatherBlog offers these weather consolations:

From Colorado: High winds and flying plywood. Click here.

From Seattle: High winds, rough "seas" on Lake Washington, and more. Click here.

From Fiji: Heavy rain and landslides torment island paradise. Click here.

From Florida:  And you thought deer were a road hazard. Thunderstorms bring out the worst from Florida's swamps. Click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:33 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Events

February 2, 2006

Happy Imbolg

Or, if you prefer, Happy Groundhog Day, Happy Candlemas, Happy Cross-Quarter Day, Happy First-day-of-Spring.  "What on Earth is he talking about?" you may ask....

In fact, today is all of those things, or at least has been over the long reach of time since the Celts. Today is the half-way point in the astronomical calendar between the Winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox.  Our observance of Groundhog Day is a silly and feeble remnant of what was once a very important day for the ancestors of many European-Americans. Other peoples had parallel traditions.

This was a time of year when the days were growing rapidly longer. There was a growing confidence that the warmth of the sun would return, green and growing things would come back to life, and flocks would soon increase. It was a time of portents and anticipation.

To read more about the ancient traditions that have trickled down to us as Groundhog Day, click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

February 1, 2006

Ashfall advisory for Clam Gulch

I just had to write that headline. Imagine living in a place like Clam Gulch, Alaska, where such weather warnings really mattered. The fact is the Mt. Augustine volcano, on an uninhabited island in Cook Inlet southwest of Anchorage, is in almost continuous eruption now. Volcanic ash is falling on parts of the surrounding countryside, and on the Kenai peninsula. Here's what residents up there are hearing from the National Weather Service. Otherwise, the weather looks fine in Kenai.

Here's a map showing the island and its surroundings. And here is what the volcano looked like a few days ago. The ash cloud has limited air travel, which is critical in a place like Alaska. The volcanic grit can damage and choke engines in flight.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:04 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Events

January 26, 2006

N.C. winds top 200 mph

No fooling. The weather system that's been pestering us with gusts over 30 mph pushed winds to triple digits yesterday at Grandfather Mountain in western North Carolina. The almost-4,000-foot peak is the tallest in the Blue Ridge. The wind damaged a visitor's center, toppled a 300-pound boulder and pushed a wind gauge past its 200 mph red line. The blast broke the mountain's previous record wind of 195 mph. Read on. 

The official wind speed record in the U.S. is 231 mph, recorded at the top of Mt. Washington, in New Hampshire's Presidential Range. Here's a link the the Mt. Washington observatory.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

January 24, 2006

Yes, that was thunder

We heard it up here in Cockeysville, too - about a half-dozen thunderclaps just before 10 p.m. tonight as the cold front pushed through with a line of showers and gusty winds. Instruments at BWI recorded a gust to nearly 50 mph with rain and thunder around 10 p.m. as the squall line passed.

The anemometer on our backyard weather station is too sheltered by the house for accurate wind speed readings. But it recorded the frontal passage as the wind direction flipped from east to northwest.  I didn't notice any lightning, but there's no thunder without it. (We also recorded 0.06 inch of rain, pushing us past 3 inches for the month so far.)

There was almost no warning from the National Weather Service that we might get a thunderstorm in the region tonight. It's JANUARY, for crying out loud ! The NWS forecasters at Sterling had mentioned a slight possibility of showers, but there was no mention of thunderstorms until they issued a SPECIAL MARINE WARNING at 9:45 p.m. It advised of "a line of strong thunderstorms from 19 miles northwest of Aberdeen to 15 miles west of Washington DC, moving southeast at 35 mph."

That was followed by a "Nowcast" at 9:51 p.m. - about the same time we were hearing the thunderclaps in Cockeysville:


The NWS forecast office at State College, Pa., noted a "snow squall with thunder" moving through south-central PA at 9:23 p.m.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:33 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2)
Categories: Events

January 23, 2006

Texas gets rain; NE sees snow

Parts of Texas yesterday got their first rain since before Christmas. The moisture won't end the drought, but it's a relief to people in the region, and especially to fire fighters who are still working to douse stubborn brush fires that have burned homes and damaged property.

They're happy with the rain in Arkansas, too. But Arizona residents are still looking for theirs. It hasn't rained in Phoenix since Oct. 18. That's the second-longest dry spell on record there, and if it lasts through Saturday, it will set a new record.

Meanwhile, the same storm system that soaked us this morning is dropping plenty of snow on interior New England.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:51 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

January 18, 2006

Clearing skies, falling thermometer

This morning's rainstorm dropped almost eight tenths of an inch of water at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It also marked the passage of a cold front that will clear the air and bring out the stars tonight. Here's what the weather map looks like. You can see the mild winds from the south ahead of the front, and the cold, dry winds from the north and west behind it. New England will get the worst of this storm.

Temperatures were climbing ahead of the front. It was 61 degrees at BWI just before 2 a.m. this morning. And it was still 57 degrees on my car's thermometer when I left home for the gym this morning. It was also raining pretty hard. But by the time I left for work two hours later, the thermometer had fallen to 47 degrees. And the rain stopped soon after.

At 10:45 a.m. you could see, on radar, the rain moving away to the east of Baltimore. Here's the latest radar image. It may have cleared completely by the time you get a look at it.

Some area streams were at record or near-record flow rates for the date this morning. Among them were White Marsh Run, in, well, White Marsh; the North Branch of the Patapsco at Cedarhurst; the Gwynns Falls at Villa Nova in western Baltimore County, and the Patuxent near Unity in Howard County.

The forecast calls for a windy day with clearing skies as the cold, dry air rushes in. Winds gusted to 32 mph around midnight at BWI, and they've been as high as 30 mph in the hours since. They'll blow between 23 and 28 mph this afternoon before slowing tonight. They were gusting to 37 mph at last check, and there are gale warnings on the bay.

"Hold on to the hats," said NWS meteorologist Andy Woodcock, in this morning's forecast discussion from Sterling. But clearer skies are on the way. "I expect to see plenty of stars in the sky when I drive in for the midnight shift."

The week ahead promises to remain mild, with highs in the 50s to 61 degrees by Friday. The lows will hold at around 40 - close to the normal highs for this time of year.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:29 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

January 17, 2006

High winds delay Pluto launch

Update at 3:30 p.m.: Winds gusting in excess of the 40-mph safety limit at the launch pad have delayed liftoff of NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto. The scrub came less than 3 minutes before a launch. Controllers had held the countdown for two hours in hopes the winds would die down. All other technical issues impeding the launch had been resolved. But the winds persisted.

The new launch window opens at 1:16 p.m. Wednesday. The earlier post follows:

NASA officials have stopped the countdown at T minus 4 minutes for the launch of the New Horizons mission to Pluto due to high winds above the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Scientists and engineers from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory are waiting to launch mankind's first mission to the planet Pluto. Liftoff was originally set for 1:24 p.m. The new target is 3:23 p.m. _ the last opportunity in today's 2-hour launch "window."

A new issue arose shortly after 2 p.m., when a tracking station on the island of Antigua, in the Caribbean, reported its "command transmitter" had failed.  That was later resolved, as was a transient problem with NASA's Deep Space Network tracking radars. Now it's just winds.

Winds at the Cape are blowing at 25 knots (28 mph) and gusting to 35 knots (40 mph). The Atlas Launch Control commentator on NASA TV said, "We are continuing  to monitor the winds. There is some hopefulness the winds will stay under the limits - the established red lines." The limit is 33 knots (40 mph).

More high winds are forecast for tomorrow. If there's a delay, NASA could launch any day for the next four weeks. But postponement beyond Feb. 2 would cost the mission a gravity boost it's seeking from a Jupiter flyby next year. That could extend the mission by as much as five years. A launch in the next few days would get the probe to Pluto by 2015. But a delay that pushes arrival at Pluto to 2020 would reduce the chances for scientists to observe Pluto's thin atmosphere, which is expected to freeze and fall onto the planet's icy surface like snow after that date.

Here's the weather in Cocoa Beach, just south of the launch pad. Here's one for the NASA shuttle landing strip at the Cape. And here's a link to NASA TV.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:21 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

January 13, 2006

Alaska volcano erupts

The Mt. Augustine volcano, on an island in the mouth of Cook Inlet southwest of Anchorage, Alaska, has erupted. Weather forecasters report a tower of ash rising 30,000 feet into the air and pyroclastic flows on the mountain's flanks. The eruption follows months of increasing earthquake activity beneath the peak.

The ash is reported to be drifting eastward. A volcanic ash advisory has been issued for the Kenai Peninsula and other locations east of the inlet. (There's another bit of weather news we don't have to worry about here.)

Here's the Kenai radar image. That's Augustine Island in the inlet just southeast of Iliamna. But here's a better view, on the Kenai radar loop. It clearly shows the ash squirting out of the island volcano and drifting off to the east. Not sure how long this time sequence will remain on the loop. If you miss it, my apologies.

Update at 2:20 p.m. Jan. 17:  More ash from the volcano is visible on the loop. This time it's blowing northwest, right over Iliamna.

To read more, click here.  Here's another view of the ash cloud.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:27 PM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

January 10, 2006

Good news! This ain't Seattle!

Seattle may get better press than Baltimore, but I wouldn't trade the winter we're having for the one they're having for all the java on Puget Sound. Even Seattleites - Seattlepolitans?  Seattlepudlians? - are grumping after 22 straight days of measurable rain. The best they can do is spin their endless bad weather into a run for a new record. Read more about it here.  And get a load of their forecast. Here's ours.

So, we're the fittest city in America. And they're the wettest. Hah!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:09 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events

January 9, 2006

Lightning and the Sago Mine

WeatherBug is reporting new evidence that might support speculation that last week's coal mine disaster was triggered by a bolt of lightning. Lightning detectors suggest that an especially large bolt - some 35,000 amps - struck near the mine entrance just 2 seconds before a seismic shake that may have been a consequence of the mine explosion and rock fall. For more, click here.

Mine experts I interviewed last week conceded such a scenario was possible. Electric surges could have been carried into the mine along pipes or wires, resulting in arcing that ignited accumulations of methane in the mine's shafts. But these sources deemed it a highly unlikely explanation for the Jan. 2 explosion.  All the same, if the seismic tracing really was caused by the blast, it's hard to dismiss the two events -lightning in the area and the explosion - coming just two seconds apart. The investigation continues.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

January 6, 2006

They're freezing in India

Seriously. Temperatures in portions of northern India have plummeted to near-freezing in recent days, and at least 110 people have lost their lives. The cold has also generated foggy conditions that have disrupted travel. Read about it here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:37 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
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November 16, 2005

The Storms of November

Today's frontal passage, which is powered by a deep storm center over Eastern Canada, is a reminder of the severe November storms that can make the Great Lakes a lethal region for shipping.

Scientists at the University of Wisconsin have recreated, in a computer simulation, the famed 1975 storm that sank the Great Lakes ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald, with a loss of 29 lives. The wreck was later immortalized in a song by Gordon Lightfoot. Here is an account of the UW study, from Science Daily. And here is how the accident played out, according to a case study by UW professor Steve Ackerman and Lightfoot's ballad.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

November 10, 2005

A change in the weather

The well-predicted frontal passage blew through right on schedule overnight, and it sure had the leaves and trash swirling this morning.

The change in the weather was marked on my backyard weather station in Cockeysville around midnight by an abrupt shift in the prevailing winds from southwest to north and northwest. Velocities peaked at 12 mph around sunrise. That's high for my sheltered deck, but far lower than the actual speeds. BWI clocked gusts to 36 mph around the same time.

The high winds tore up some tarps and construction materials on the Key Bridge in Baltimore, closing the bridge in both directions for a time during morning rush hour. Lanes were gradually reopening during the morning.

Here are some hourly observations around the region.

My thermometer peaked at 66 degrees around midnight (it was 70 at the airport), then headed down toward the low 50s by morning. It's not likely to get much higher than that today before turning colder overnight tonight. Lows will reach the mid-30s for the next two nights, according to the NWS. But daytime highs will rebound to the 60s with plenty of sunshine.

The barometer went the other way, turning from a low of 29.60 inches at midnight and heading higher all morning.

The National Weather Service instruments at Baltimore-Washington International Airport showed the same pattern. Click here for a look. 

The forecast calls for high winds all day, diminishing around sunset. The next few days will be clear as high pressure builds in from the west. Look for cold temperatures at night, with a risk of frost east of the mountains. Rain becomes a possibility again by late Sunday.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:03 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

November 9, 2005

Cold front has blustery history

The powerful cold front bearing down on Maryland tonight has already left a wake of high winds, rain storms, downed trees and power outages in its path. Here's a sampling:

From Flint, Mich.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Duluth, Minn.; Lansing, Mich.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:24 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 12, 2005

Storms pound Britain

Remember Hurricane Vince?  He's the Atlantic storm that turned and went ashore in Spain yesterday - the first ever known to make landfall there. Well, the tropical depression that was Vince is causing havoc in Britain, with heavy rains and flooding. Here's a taste of it from the BBC. And more from the Daily Mail.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

Tropical firehose soaks NY, NJ, NE

An offshore storm system packing near-tropical-storm-force winds and lots of water is training its fury on portions of New York, New Jersey and New England today. Parts of the region have already received more than 6 inches of rain and plenty of beach erosion. It's not a tropical storm because there's no cyclonic circulation. But the system is pumping warm air and tropical moisture off the Atlantic and clear into New England. Check out the radar loop.

Flash flood watches are posted throughout the region. I'm sure we'll be seeing the effects on TV tonight.

Check out these rainfall accumulations from AccuWeather, and be glad you live where you do.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 9, 2005

Saturday was wettest Oct. day in 83 years

As promised, the weekend's rainfall was a whopper. Precipitation totals at Baltimore-Washington
International Airport doubled the monthly norm, and broke the station's daily records for both dates.

Friday, Oct. 7: 2.28 inches. Old record: 1.48 inch, set in 1949
Saturday, Oct. 8: 4.37 inches. Old record: 1.33 inch, set in 1996.
Total for the two-day storm: 6.65 inches
Total for October: 6.72 inches
Average for October: 3.16 inches

In fact, Saturday narrowly missed becoming the wettest October day since record-keeping in
Baltimore began in 1871. The total was just 0.01 inch short of the record 4.38 inches of rain recorded
on Oct. 10, 1922. So, we'll call Saturday the wettest October day in 83 years.

The deluge has ended our drought worries for now. It has also - just 9 days into the month - made
October 2005 the wettest October in 29 years (since 1976), when 8.09 inches fell.

Some parts of Baltimore COunty recorded more than 8 or 9 inches of rain. A spotter in Fallston reported
over a foot of rain. I had more than 7 inches on the instruments on my deck in Cockeysville. Here
are some totals from other stations across the region:




CUMBERLAND 2.02 700 AM 10/9 COOP

JESSUP 6.59 1035 PM 10/8 SPOTTER
BOWIE 4.57 700 AM 10/9 SPOTTER

DELIGHT 9.07 815 PM 10/8 SPOTTER

MILLERS 7.79 600 PM 10/8 COOP
WESTMINSTER 6.20 700 AM 10/9 COOP 1 N


WOLFSVILLE 5.50 700 AM 10/9 COOP
FREDERICK 4.71 700 AM 10/9 COOP

FALLSTON 12.02 700 AM 10/9 COOP
FALLSTON 9.66 1150 PM 10/8 SPOTTER
WHITEFORD 9.38 800 AM 10/9 SPOTTER 2 S
STREET 9.18 600 AM 10/9 SPOTTER
STREET 8.99 700 AM 10/9 COOP
BELCAMP 5.63 830 PM 10/8 SPOTTER

COLUMBIA 8.87 700 PM 10/8 NWS EMPLOYEE 1 W RT 29
COLUMBIA 7.99 800 PM 10/8 IFLOWS
ELKRIDGE 7.24 800 PM 10/8 IFLOWS

DAMASCUS 6.15 700 AM 10/9 COOP
BETHESDA 5.52 1100 AM 10/8 SPOTTER
BRIGHTON DAM 5.40 600 PM 10/8 COOP

LAUREL 7.60 1100 PM 10/8 SPOTTER

SHARPSBURG 3.81 700 AM 10/8 COOP
SMITHSBURG 3.47 700 AM 10/9 COOP

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:32 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 7, 2005

Heaviest rain to our west

National Weather Service forecasters are sticking to their predictions of as much as 3 to 5 inches of rain as this rainy weekend gets underway. But most of it, as they expected, has been falling to our west. East of the Blue Ridge, they're looking for 1 to 4 inches. Baltimore has clocked less than a tenth of an inch at this writing. But Frederick Airport has measured 2.24 inches. Martinsburg has seen 1.11 inch and Winchester, Va., has recorded 1.25 inch.

There's more to come. Here's the radar. Here's the forecast discussion from the Sterling Forecast Office. They're even beginning to talk about some minor river flooding.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:12 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

No rain gauge? Try this

Curious about how much rain your community has received? Here's a Website where you can watch as rain accumulates in gauges across the region. Click here.

You can also watch the neighborhood creeks rise without ever getting your feet wet. Click here. Place your cursor over the colored dot that designates your creek, and you will get some basic data. Click on it and you will see detailed information about the stream and gauge site, as well as graphs of streamflow changes over time.

Fortunately, the month-long drought has lowered streamflows, providing plenty of room to handle expected rainfall this weekend. While the creeks may get high, and we may see some localized and urban flooding, major flooding on main-stem rivers is not anticipated.

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

October 5, 2005

Why we don't live in Montana

Get a load of this report out of the High Plains by the AP, via the Durham, N.C. Herald Sun.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

October 3, 2005

First pix of today's eclipse

There was an eclipse of the sun today. Don't fret if you missed it. It occurred before the sun rose over the United States and it was never visible here. But it was visible, at least as a partial eclipse, across all of Europe - at least where skies were clear. And it was a total "annular" eclipse along a narrow corridor from Spain to North Africa and east to Somalia.

An annular eclipse occurs when the moon, orbiting Earth in its slightly elliptical path, happens to be too far from the Earth to appear large enough to completely cover the sun's disk. The result at totality is a brilliant ring of solar "fire" as the moon leaves the outer rim of the sun's light uncovered. For a complete explanation of this annular eclipse, click here.

Here is a gallery of the first images taken by those privileged to watch the event today.

And with skies clear here, keep an eye out, tonight or tomorrow night, for the first sliver of the crescent moon as it appears in the western sky, right after sunset. The evening crescent moon appears each month after the "New Moon."  It's always a beautiful sight, especially when, as now, the planet Venus is in the same part of the sky.

The "New Moon" occurs each month as the moon passes between the Earth and the sun. Because all the sun's light is shining on moon's the "back" side, it cannot be seen from here. But new moons only produce solar eclipses when the moon passes exactly in front of the sun, obscuring it. Most months it passes just above or below the sun.

The next total eclipse of the sun will occur on March 29, 2006. But you'll have to go to Africa , Turkey or Central Asia to see it. (To enlarge this eclipse map, move your cursor over it, then click on the box that appears at lower right.) The next total eclipse of the sun over the continental U.S. will be in August 2017. Be there.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:35 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

Rain, floods, rescues, evacuations - in Kansas

With all the flood news out of the Gulf Coast, we might have missed the flooding in Kansas. It all seems very familiar. Have a look at the Wichita Eagle's report.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:52 AM | | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1)
Categories: Events

September 30, 2005

Flooded manhole swallows rickshaw driver

Here's a new twist on "Turn Around. Don't Drown" - the National Weather Service's admonition against driving through flooded roadways. It's an item from a newspaper in Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, where torrential monsoon rains today dumped up to 90 mm of rain (that's 3.5 inches). Click here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 2:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

September 26, 2005


Umbrellas sprouted today in downtown Baltimore as a light rain scattered sprinkles across the region. It is the first rain we've seen, officially, since Sept. 15. And it's only the third day of rain this month.

None of it has yet registered, as of this writing, on the National Weather Service web page. But it's looking plenty wet out the window. Puddles, raindrops, the works. More serious rainfall may be in the wings, as the National Weather Service warns in this hazardous weather advisory, issued earlier today. An approaching cold front could spark some gusty winds and thunderstorms overnight.

Motorists would be wise to slow down. After 11 rainless days, the roads are no doubt slick with a thin sheen of oil. Driving will be hazardous until the rain and traffic can scrub it away.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:57 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 25, 2005

Mars hoax, redux

We are still getting phone calls asking about Internet reports and rumors of a sudden and extraordinary appearance by the planet Mars tomorrow (Aug. 27). Faithful blog readers already know the Mars hubbub is a hoax, or at least a weird disortion of two-year-old news. We wrote about it here on Aug. 2.

The great rumor-killing Website has written about it, too. To read it, click here.

But since the rumors are still floating around out there, here's a repeat of our Aug. 2 posting.

Aug. 2, 2005: Stories and emails - as breathless as they are wrong - are zipping through cyberspace this month shouting that Mars is about to make an historic appearance in the night sky. Depending on the version you receive, they say Mars (on or about Aug. 27) will be closer than ever in recorded history, brighter than it will be again for hundreds of years, and bigger and brighter in the sky than the full moon.

I've received an email from a close friend alerting me to this spectacular event. It appeared in a newsletter published by my community association. And it surfaced again this morning in a phone call from a Sun reader who said he'd heard it from two friends. He couldn't figure out how Mars could EVER appear larger than the full moon.

Good for him. It can't. But, like many rumors accelerated and inflated by the re-telling across the Internet, there is a grain of truth here.

First, the very real event that appears to have been the genesis of this goofy Internet rumor occurred two years ago this month. If you weren't paying attention then, you missed it. It's over.

That was an historic "opposition" of Mars. Mars oppositions repeat about every 2.2 years, when Mars, from our vantage point on Earth, is on the "opposite" side of the sky from the sun. As the sun sets in the west, Mars at opposition rises in the east.

Think of it this way (and here I will plagiarize my own story from two years ago): "Earth is the third planet from the sun. Mars is the fourth. "Close" approaches like this one occur when the Earth, circling the sun on an "inside" track, passes directly between the sun and slower-moving Mars."

Oppositions are also the moment when Mars is closest to Earth, because Earth and Mars are briefly on the same side of the solar system. So, as seen from Earth, the red planet looks especially big and bright and, well, red.

Some oppositions are more impressive than others. That's because Mars' orbit around the sun is more elliptical than Earth's. So there are oppositions when Mars is closer than it is for other oppositions. The distances can range from less than 35 million miles to a maximum of about 65 million miles. For the rest of the year, of course, we're much farther apart than that, averaging something like 140 million miles.

In the historic August 2003 Mars opposition, the two planets were a "mere" 34.7 million miles apart. Computer runs at the time suggested that hadn't occurred for nearly 60 thousand years. And it would be 284 more years before anyone saw anything like it again. It was big news at the time.

But that was two years ago. This year, Mars will be at opposition again. But it doesn't occur until Nov. 7 (2.2 years after the 2003 event), and Mars won't be as close as it was in 2003 - about 43.1 million miles this time around.

Of course, that's still pretty darn close as these things go. If skies are clear (this is how I justify this sort of entry in a "weather" blog) it will be a great time to look at Mars through a telescope. Even a decent backyard 'scope should reveal surface markings on the planet and maybe polar ice.

In fact, it's already a good time to see Mars. It's getting bigger and brighter as it moves (or more accurately WE move) toward opposition in November. Mars is rising in the east late in the evening, and popping up earlier each night. By the end of the month it will be rising at 10:30 p.m. EDT.

Update, Aug. 25: Best time to look now may be in the hour before dawn. Mars is almost directly overhead. Look for a bright reddish "star," easily the brightest thing up there at that hour. But don't worry if you miss it. Mars will be an increasingly bright and beautiful presence in the night sky for months to come, and best in late October and early November.

For those who missed it, here is the article we ran TWO YEARS AGO about the 2003 opposition of Mars:

Continue reading "Mars hoax, redux" »

Posted by Admin at 5:56 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 24, 2005

European rain, floods strike Romania

The heavy rains and flooding that have been plaguing Switzerland and Austria in recent days have now spread into Romania. Here's a news story from the Associated Press, via

Posted by Admin at 1:38 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 22, 2005

Fire and rain in Europe

Heavy rains in Switzerland and Austria have caused fatal landslides in recent days. In southwestern Europe, meanwhile, the problem is still drought and resulting wildfires. And ice, or its disappearance, is an issue in Greenland, where a well-known glacier is withering away as arctic warming continues.

Posted by Admin at 11:53 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 19, 2005

Smoke blots out sky in Alaska

Smoke from dozens of wildfires has blotted out the sky across nearly all of interior Alaska. Here's a pair of pictures showing what the view of Denali (Mt. McKinley) is supposed to look like, and how the smoke has obscured the view. And here's how the state looks from NASA's Terra Earth-observing satellite.

Posted by Admin at 5:06 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 18, 2005

Weather Service reviews role in harbor tragedy

The National Weather Service has released its "service assessment" on the March 2004 water taxi accident in Baltimore. Five tourists died that day when the Lady D capsized in a gusty thunderstorm.

The report reviews the performance of the forecast office in Sterling, Va. on that weekend, and finds room for improvement. Some issues have already been addressed by the weather service. Here is The Sun's Aug. 18 story on the service assessment. And here is the full report.

Posted by Admin at 12:27 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 17, 2005

Heat, drought and fires in Portugal

The historic drought and heat that has scorched southwestern Europe this summer is still contributing to raging wildfires in Portugal. Several mountain villages have been evacuated. Here's more.

Posted by Admin at 12:22 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 11, 2005

Weather trouble around the globe

Malaysia is struggling with dense smoke that has drifted in from fires in Indonesia. The fires are the result of illegal land-clearing and dry weather conditions.

Meanwhile, 20,000 people in the Central African Republic have been made homeless as a result of heavy seasonal rains and flooding.

Posted by Admin at 11:36 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 10, 2005

Iraq dust storm seen from space

The dust storm that struck Iraq on Monday halted debate on the nation's new constitution and sent hundreds of people to the hospital with respiratory problems. These storms are typical of the region in July and August. And, they are clearly visible to weather satellites in space. Here's how this week's storm looked from orbit.

Posted by Admin at 10:39 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 2, 2005

Old news from Mars

Stories and emails - as breathless as they are wrong - are zipping through cyberspace this month shouting that Mars is about to make an historic appearance in the night sky. Depending on the version you receive, they say Mars (on or about Aug. 27) will be closer than ever in recorded history, brighter than it will be again for hundreds of years, and bigger and brighter in the the sky than the full moon.

I've received an email from a close friend alerting me to this spectacular event. It appeared in a newsletter published by my community association. And it surfaced again this morning in a phone call from a Sun reader who said he'd heard it from two friends. He couldn't figure out how Mars could EVER appear larger than the full moon.

Good for him. It can't. But, like many rumors accelerated and inflated by the re-telling across the Internet, there is a grain of truth here.

First, the very real event that appears to have been the genesis of this goofy Internet rumor occurred two years ago this month. If you weren't paying attention then, you missed it. It's over.

That was an historic "opposition" of Mars. Mars oppositions repeat about every 2.2 years, when Mars, from our vantage point on Earth, is on the "opposite" side of the sky from the sun. As the sun sets in the west, Mars at opposition rises in the east.

Think of it this way (and here I will plagiarize my own story from two years ago): "Earth is the third planet from the sun. Mars is the fourth. "Close" approaches like this one occur when the Earth, circling the sun on an "inside" track, passes directly between the sun and slower-moving Mars."

Oppositions are also the moment when Mars is closest to Earth, because Earth and Mars are briefly on the same side of the solar system. So, as seen from Earth, the red planet looks especially big and bright and, well, red.

Some oppositions are more impressive than others. That's because Mars' orbit around the sun is more elliptical than Earth's. So there are oppositions when Mars is closer than it is for other oppositions. The distances can range from less than 35 million miles to a maximum of about 65 million miles. For the rest of the year, of course, we're much farther apart than that, averaging something like 140 million miles.

In the historic August 2003 Mars opposition, the two planets were a "mere" 34.7 million miles apart. Computer runs at the time suggested that hadn't occurred for nearly 60 thousand years. And it would be 284 more years before anyone saw anything like it again. It was big news at the time.

But that was two years ago. This year, Mars will be at opposition again. But it doesn't occur until Nov. 7 (2.2 years after the 2003 event), and Mars won't be as close as it was in 2003 - about 43.1 million miles this time around.

Of course, that's still pretty darn close as these things go. If skies are clear (this is how I justify this sort of entry in a "weather" blog) it will be a great time to look at Mars through a telescope. Even a decent backyard 'scope should reveal surface markings on the planet and maybe polar ice.

In fact, it's already a good time to see Mars. It's getting bigger and brighter as it moves (or more accurately WE move) toward opposition in November. Mars is rising in the east late in the evening, and popping up earlier each night. By the end of the month it will be rising at 10:30 p.m. EDT.

For those who missed it, here is the article we ran TWO YEARS AGO about the last opposition of Mars:

Continue reading "Old news from Mars" »

Posted by Admin at 11:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

August 1, 2005

How many planets?

Caltech astronomers are reporting the discovery of a 10th planet in our solar system. At least it's a planet if you consider Pluto a planet, which is the subject of a long-running debate. This new one is much farther away than Pluto, but it's also much bigger. Read more here.

Posted by Admin at 11:38 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

July 27, 2005

37 inches of rain in 24 hours

That's nearly a year's worth of rain for Baltimore, and it all fell on Mumbai (Bombay), India in just 24 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday. Ninety-nine people have been killed, buildings have collapsed and landslides have been reported. The historic rains - the heaviest ever recorded for India - have flooded streets waist-high and done significant damage to livestock and other property.

July 28: The news from Mumbai only gets worse. Here is an updated news story.

It may not be a symptom of global warming. After all, records are made to be broken eventually. But it sure is consistent with predictions for more extreme weather events around the world, such as the record drought and heat now scorching parts of Western Europe (see earlier posts), and melting arctic ice. Anyone have any thoughts about the significance, if any, of such events?

Posted by Admin at 5:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 22, 2005

Monsoon arrives late in Bangladesh

It's finally raining in Bangladesh. But the annual monsoons arrived later than anytime in at least the last 33 years, officials say. They have so far brought unusually little rain, and they've followed the shortest winter in a decade in the region. Meteorologists in the country are blaming global warming. What do you think?

Posted by Admin at 4:34 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

"New Madrid" fault shakes Kentucky

California isn't the only place experiencing a recent flurry of earthquakes. Western Kentucky has been shaken by at least five small tremors since February. Two struck yesterday.

The first, rated 3.9 on the Richter scale, struck 10 miles from Cairo, Ill., at about 7:21 a.m. It was also felt in parts of Kentucky, Arkansas, Missouri and Tennessee. Geologists said it originated 21 kilometers beneath the surface of the Earth.

The second, rated 2.7, struck at 9 p.m. last night in nearly the same location. This one occurred 15.6 kilometers down.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported today that the morning quake was the fourth since February with a magnitude close to 4.0. On average, the region feels a quake of that magnitude once every 5 to 8 years, according to experts cited by the paper.

The region is part of the New Madrid fault zone, which extends from Cairo, Ill. into Arkansas, and includes the town of New Madrid, Mo. The fault was the source of a series of powerful quakes, with magnitudes estimated as high as 8.0, that struck in 1811 and 1812.

Those quakes shook the ground, created new lakes and briefly reversed the course of the Mississippi River. They were felt as far away as Boston, where the shaking rattled steeples and rang church bells.

The increase in quake frequency in the region has prompted a series of public meeting called to calm residents, according to the Commercial Appeal. One of the meetings, in Dyersburg, Tenn., was held Monday evening, two hours before the 9 p.m. tremor.

Posted by Admin at 3:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 15, 2005

Baltimore: America's 55th-sweatiest city

Mobtown has been ranked again on another list of dubious value. In a bare-faced bid to win publicity, Old Spice - makers of everyone's Dad's after-shave (and antiperspirants) - has published its 4th Annual Top 100 Sweatiest Cities list.

Phoeniz, Ariz. won the dampest spot. San Francisco, which inspired Mark Twain (I think) to state that the coldest winter he ever endured was summer in San Fran, was ranked No. 100.

Old Spice claims it assembled the list by concocting a formula that considers average heights and weights for men and women in the city, as well as average temperatures in Summer 2004. Somehow, they also figure in the amount of sweat one would produce after walking for an hour. The person responsible for this bit of junk science appears to be Paul Ruscher, a Florida State associate professor of meteorology who should know better.

Anyway, Baltimore was ranked as just a tad sweatier than Evansville, Ind., but drier than Omaha, Neb. We probably would have done worse had last summer not been relatively mild.

Continue reading "Baltimore: America's 55th-sweatiest city" »

Posted by Admin at 4:23 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 7, 2005

A wild and crazy night

Charcoal skies, streaks of lightning across the heavens and a night of thunder. Was that cool, or what? The summer season's (okay, so it's not quite summer yet) first big thunderstorm left quite an impression and nearly an inch and a half of rain at BWI. There was plenty of wind damage, too. Trees down, power outages. Here's a partial list.

At BWI, the early-afternoon high temperature of 90 degrees was knocked down to 67 degrees by early evening. It fell from 83 to 70 in less than an hour, between 6 and 7 p.m. La Plata, down in Charles County, reported hail .88 inch in diameter. More than 30,000 BGE customers lost power; all but 6,000 were back on line at 2 p.m. today.

The forecast is for sunny skies today and tomorrow, and only a slight risk of thunderstorms through Friday. The weekend looks dry, with highs in the 80s. Perfect for cleaning up all those twigs and other storm debris and cutting the well-watered grass.

Posted by Admin at 2:53 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

June 1, 2005

Small quake jiggles upstate New York

Residents living near Massena and Plattsburgh in far northern New York State were rattled by a small (magnitude 2.9) earthquake at about 9:49 a.m. yesterday. Such quakes are not uncommon in the St. Lawrence River region. Some have been attributed to the "rebound" of the Earth's crust, which was pushed down by the weight of glaciers during the last Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago. The ice has long-since melted away, but the land is still rising.

Posted by Admin at 4:58 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May 27, 2005

Spring comes to Hudson's Bay

And you thought it was a cold May here... For folks living around Hudson's Bay, in northern Quebec, May means the breakup of the winter ice on the Bay. The link will take you there. Count your blessings.

Posted by Admin at 11:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May 23, 2005

Sterling radar down; parts en route

The big Doppler radar at the National Weather Service's Sterling, Va. forecast station went dark around 2 a.m. Sunday, and was still down at mid afternoon today (Monday). Meteorologist-in-charge Jim Lee reports the problem was a communications circuit board in one of the computers at the base of the radar tower.

"We're doing the best we can," he said. The part was not one that can be expected to fail from time to time, so it had to be ordered from Norman, Oklahoma, and flown to National Airport. It was due to arrive there at 2 p.m. In the meantime, technicians were called in on the midnight shift last night to begin troubleshooting and preparing to get the site up and running again as soon as the part arrives by courier from the airport. (Such midnight shifts for techies is "highly unusual," he said, but in this case "it's warranted."
Officials were hoping to get the radar up and running again by 5 p.m.

In the meantime, there are some thunderstorms crossing western Maryland. Forecasters, and people in their path, can follow them with the radar image from the dish in Pittsburgh.

Posted by Admin at 2:44 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May 21, 2005

Friday's rain broke a record

Friday's rainstorm in Baltimore broke a 65-year-old rainfall record for the date, according to the National Weather Service. The 1.97 inches recorded at Baltimore-Washington International airport snapped the 1.40 inch mark established in downtown Baltimore on May 20, 1940 (before the airport became the station of record).

It was the second weather record reached so far this month. The first was the 34-degree low on May 3. That tied the record low for the date.
It's also worth noting that Friday's high of just 55 degrees at BWI was only 2 degrees warmer than the normal low for the date.

The heavy rain also brought the month's precipitation to 2.18 inches, but that's still .30 inch short of normal for the date.

Posted by Admin at 12:19 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May 20, 2005

High water, fallen trees in storm's wake

Forecasters are warning of high water in creeks and streams, and tides up to 2 feet above normal due to strong onshore winds this evening. The storm is moving off now after dropping more than 2 inches of rain at BWI, and more elsewhere. That takes care of the rainfall deficit for the month.

The high temperatures for the day occurred just after midnight, and they've been 20 degrees below normal all day.

Winds gusted today as high as 40 mph at the airport, bringing down numerous trees and limbs and power lines throughout the region. Rain chances will persist through Monday night.

Posted by Admin at 5:25 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

A Bradford Pear storm

I figure every good storm should have a name. At our house, this morning's rain and wind will live in our memory for - gosh - weeks as The Great Bradford Pear Storm of 2005.

Stepped out the door around 7:30 today and found that about a third of the pear tree in our front yard had split from the main trunk and fallen onto the neighbor's steps. I grabbed a saw, but quickly discovered the truism that Bradford pears are fragile trees. Both broken branches snapped off cleanly.

So I dragged the limbs off the neighbors' property and left the mess 'til later. Driving to work, I saw several other ornamental trees that fared badly during the night. We had allowed our pear tree to grow top-heavy. I liked the way it grew so tall, so fast after the place was built in 1997. It threw more and more shade across the sunny side of the house in summer, so I let it grow, against my wife's objections. But with a heavy load of leaves and branch wood, more than a half-inch of rain during the night on our rain gauge, and gusts (at least at BWI) to 32 mph, it was all too much for the young tree.

The surviving branches still look full enough to justify preserving the tree, though my wife is already suggesting that we have the Bradford removed and replaced with a nice little weeping cherry or some such fussy tree. My sympathies are with our scarred survivor.

The storm, meanwhile, continues to blow. The airport had recorded more than an inch of badly needed rain by 9 a.m., and stiff gusts. Forecasters said the rain had fallen during the night at up to 0.8 inch an hour in some of the heavier rain bands. The creeks are rising, and on the roads, visibility was down, and ponding was contributing to numerous minor accidents, including a tow truck - directly in front of me this morning, that - following too close for conditions - skidded into the rear of a passenger car on York Road in Lutherville. No one was hurt.

So now I'm looking at a wet weekend in which I will have to drag these heavy limbs into the woods. Or, maybe I'll go out and rent a chain saw and cut them up first. A weekend that includes a chain saw is always well-spent.

Posted by Admin at 10:30 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Events

May 16, 2005

Space weather spectacular

A major eruption on the sun on Friday produced some spectacular displays of the aurora borealis - Northern Lights - over the weekend. I haven't seen any reports from Maryland yet, but here are some terrific photos from other parts of the country.

And here's a shot of the solar flare and coronal mass ejection on Friday that caused all the excitement, shot by NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

Posted by Admin at 10:36 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May 13, 2005

Friday the 13th; so far, so good

Aside from waking up with windows open, 41 degrees at the weather station outside, and heat pump cranking futilely to warm the place up inside, this Friday the 13th has gone OK so far.

Cheer up: It's the only Friday the 13th on tap in 2005. That happens 42 or 44 times per century, according to Guy Ottewell's Astronomical Calendar. Most of the rest of the time there are two. But there can be three Fridays the 13th in non-Leap-Years that begin on a Thursday. That happens 14 or 15 times per century, the next in 2009. When Leap Years start on a Sunday, there are also three Fridays the 13th. That happens next in 2012.

The Friday the 13th that falls in April 2029, may be especially scary, as an asteroid makes what scientists say will be an extraordinarily close - but safe - pass by the Earth. Check it out.

Whatever happens today, there is no avoiding the date. Ottewell says Friday falls on the 13th more often than any other day. So, all you paraskevidekatriaphobics: Be careful out there.

Posted by Admin at 11:26 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

May 10, 2005

One amazing, slender moon

I hope plenty of evening commuters last night got a look at that VERY young crescent moon hanging in the blue western sky at dusk. It was about as slender a slice of moon as you'll ever see, and the clear skies made it all the more dramatic.

The moon was new - directly between the sun and the Earth - at 4:48 a.m. EDT Sunday morning. That means the crescent we saw last evening was barely 40 hours old - shifted eastward in its orbit around the Earth just enough to reveal a sliver of its sunlit side to observers on Earth. Here's an amazing photo of the crescent, as it was being crossed by an airliner.

If skies stay clear this afternoon and evening, we'll have another chance to see a slightly fatter sunlit crescent, just one day older. As darkness grows, look for "Earthshine" on the "dark" side of the moon, which is facing the Earth. Earthshine is the term for sunlight that has bounced off the other side of our plkanet and fallen across the moon, providing a faint illumination that makes the darkened moon faintly visible. It was Leonardo Da Vinci who first explained the phenomenon.

The moon sets tonight in Baltimore at 9:58 p.m.

Posted by Admin at 3:11 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

April 29, 2005

Big sunspot, if we could see the sun

Looks like we're in for a couple of rainy days, so we won't see much of the sun. But by Sunday, skies should clear up a bit, and we should get a good view (with proper safety glasses, please!) of one of the biggest sunspots to cross the sun's face in months. It's five times bigger in diameter than the Earth, and easy to see (with eclipse glasses or No. 14 welder's glass) without magnification.

DON'T try to observe the sun directly without a proper solar safety filter. Even a quick glimpse could cause temporary or permanent blindness. Projection devices can provide a safe, indirect view, too. Here's how to make one.

Posted by Admin at 6:33 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 28, 2005

Hurricane Hunters fly in to Martin State Airport

Think of the bumpiest airplane ride you've ever suffered through, and multiply it by 10. That's what the crews of NOAA's famed Hurricane Hunter airplanes do for a living. They fly their P-3 Orion aircraft into the teeth of the big storms to take meteorlogical measurements, helping to fine-tune the forecasts, watches and warnings issued by the National Hurricane Center.

One of those planes will be coming to Martin State Airport next week. It will be open to the public on Tuesday afternoon, May 3. For details, click here.

Posted by Admin at 2:46 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 26, 2005

Heavy rain, floods in Romania

Heavy spring rains in Romania have caused serious flooding, damaging more than 100 towns and thousands of acres of cropland. For more, click here.

Posted by Admin at 4:16 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 25, 2005

Snow dusts parts of W. Maryland

The same big low-pressure system that dumped as much as a foot of unwelcome April snow on parts of Michigan and Ohio over the weekend, left a dusting in far western Maryland and nearby West Virginia, too. Here are some reported accumulations from the National Weather Service.

The Pittsburgh forecast office reported snow in Garrett County, too. There were reports of 2 inches in McHenry and at the Savage River Dam, and an inch at Accident.

The weekend storm left a third of an inch of precipitation at BWI. That brought us close to normal for the month so far. And despite the chill in the air for the past few days, we are still running 2.8 degrees above normal for the month. We can thank that beautiful stretch of weather that graced the middle of the month.

Sunday's low was 40 degrees. That's 8 degrees above the record low for the date, set just two years ago. But, coupled with an anemic high of just 49 degrees, it dragged the day's average temperature to 45 degrees - or 11 degrees below normal for the date.

The airport reached 40 degrees again this morning, 10 degrees short of the record low for the 25th, set in 1956.

If only we could save some of this up for the days in mid-July when we're looking for a merciful break from the heat and humidity.

Posted by Admin at 11:04 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 21, 2005

Ahhhh ... rain at last

After 12 dry days in a row, they're reporting light rain out at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. It's the first precip. there since Friday, April 8. Here's the local radar loop (which will become dated pretty quickly this afternoon).

Posted by Admin at 1:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 14, 2005

Space station, Soyuz may be visible Sat. A.M.

If all goes well with tonight's planned launch of a Russian Soyuz spacecraft toward its rendezvous with the International Space Station, Marylanders could get a nice look at the two spaceships early Saturday morning as they fly over the Eastern U.S.

The Soyuz, with a Russian, an American and an Italian on board, is scheduled for liftoff at 8:46 p.m. tonight (Thursday) from Russians' Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. This is the Expedition 11 crew, which has trained to greet the shuttle Discovery when it arrives in May or June. One of their jobs will be to do a visual and photographic inspection, and scan the shuttle for any damage that might have occurred during launch.

If Soyuz is launched on time, the crew plans to dock with the ISS at 10:19 p.m. EDT Saturday night. Between launch and docking, the Soyuz will be flying in the space station's orbit, racing to catch up.

With luck, observers on the ground in Maryland should be able to see the two craft flying overhead just before dawn Saturday, one trailing behind the other.

I've watched once before as the Space Shuttle approached the station, and it's very cool to see them go by, one after the other. That was an evening pass. This one, unfortunately, will be before dawn. I don't usually ask people to get up early to see this sort of event, because if they don't see it, they'll be pretty grumpy for the rest of the day. I'm not much of a morning person myself. But trust me; this will be well worth getting up early to see. And the weather forecast , except for the freeze watch, looks very good. Clear skies all weekend.

Of course, everything depends on tonight's Soyuz launch. I'm not entirely sure how close the two craft will be to each other by Saturday morning. And NASA folks couldn't tell me right away either. They did say the space station will be the one in front. Here is when to look for the International Space Station. Soyuz will follow at some distance behind it.

First, make sure you'll have a clear view of the northern horizon. This will be a decidedly northerly pass from our vantage point, and not very high above the horizon. For observers close to Baltimore, the ISS will first appear at 5:13 a.m. (sorry) about 27 degrees above the west-northwest horizon. (Straight overhead is 90 degrees.)

It will look like a fairly bright star, moving briskly toward the northeast. At 5:14 a.m. it will be 36 degrees above the northwest horizon - about a third of the way up the sky. That's the highest point of this flyby. And it will disappear at 5:16 a.m. just above the northeastern horizon.

Soyuz, of course, will follow along soon after. It might be close enough to see before the space station disappears. It's smaller, and so it reflects less sunlight and therefore should appear slightly dimmer than the station. I've also noticed that the space station, thanks to its copper-colored solar panels, can reflect a slightly yellowish color.

For more precise predictions for your location, go to Heavens Above, follow the directions and enter your observing location. When the predictions come up, click on the "16 Apr" prediction link and it will give you a star map, showing the precise path of the two spacecraft across the pre-dawn sky. The course takes them right across the Big Dipper from our perspective in Baltimore.

There's also a ground-track map available, showing the path of the space station over the Eastern U.S. It will be flying northeastward, over the Texas Gulf Coast toward the southern shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario, and then on toward northern New England. If you're going to be in any of those locations, the spacecraft will appear to fly directly overhead. For us, they will cross our northern skies.

So, set those alarms and good luck. Drop a comment here afterwards and let us know how you fared. I won't be able to post them until Sunday, but I'll look forward to hearing how it went.

Posted by Admin at 4:33 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Events

April 12, 2005

Quakes, tsunami, an eruption, and another

As if the people living on the Indonesian island of Sumatra hadn't suffered enough from a series of huge earthquakes and December's horrifying tsunami, now one of the island's volcanoes has burst into action, forcing thousands to flee. Here's the story. And today (Wednesday) there is news of a second volcano coming to life.

Posted by Admin at 6:41 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

April 10, 2005

Solar eclipse wows many; don't miss Jupiter

Friday's rare "hybrid" solar eclipse in parts of Central and South America was a memorable thrill for some, or a disappointment where clouds moved in and blocked the view. For observers in the United States, it was a not-so-noticeable partial eclipse across the Southern states. Barely one percent of the sun's disk was obscured as seen from Baltimore, where skies cleared in time for the event. Here's a gallery of eclipse images.

All things considered, for those of us unable to travel to South America, these last few days of clear weather have been best for viewing the stars, Saturn, and especially brilliant Jupiter. I was outside last night with my 10 X 50 binoculars and had a clear view of the King of Planets - now the brightest object in the evening sky.

Even at 400 million-plus miles, the planet's disk was clearly visible in the glasses - no mere pinpoint of light at this time of year, close to Earth's nearest approach to Jupiter. Better still, at least two of Jupiter's largest moons were clearly visible lined up to one side of the planet.

I'm guessing, based on a chart of Jovian lunar predictions for the night, that I was seeing Ganymede and Europa. But based on the chart it appears that Europa and Callisto were very close together, and it's possible they merged as a single dot of light. My binocs were simply too weak to separate them. (And I was too lazy to haul out the telescope.) The tiny, volcanic moon Io would have been very close to, or behind Jupiter last night, and out of view.

The skies over Central Maryland should be clear again tonight, and prime for more planetary observations. Saturn is high overhead at 9 or 10 p.m. Binoculars won't resolve its majestic rings, but if you can find one of Baltimore's streetcorner astronomers (at Fells Point, or the Inner Harbor), it's well worth a look. No one ever forgets his or her first "live" view of Saturn and its rings. And don't forget to drop a donation in their hats. They're performing a valuable service to public education.

Posted by Admin at 10:39 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 23, 2005

Two inches of rain swells streams

Today's rainstorm has dropped well over 2 inches of rain across much of the Baltimore region, effectively erasing the rainfall deficit for 2005. Creeks and rivers are on the rise, in some cases to record levels for the date. Check our White Marsh Run.
Here are some rainfall readings for the metropolitan counties.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood statement for all of Central Maryland, warning residents to avoid high water.

Snap any good high-water photos? Post them to Readers' Photos. Click here, register and follow instructions for uploading your images to the site.

Posted by Admin at 4:36 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

Drenching rains across the region

But then you already knew that. The rains began at BWI after midnight. And by 10 a.m. the rain gauges there had clocked in more than 1.5 inches.

By 11 a.m., accumulations in parts of Baltimore were approaching 2 inches.

It was falling as hard as .44 inch an hour on my rain gauge in Cockeysville, although most of the time it was closer to a quarter-inch an hour in the early morning hours.

And the creeks are rising. White Marsh Run, in White Marsh, rose nearly 4 feet this morning, swelling from about 6 cubic feet per second to more than 2,000 cf/s. That set a new record for the date.

The Gwynns Falls was also setting records. It was flowing at more than 900 cf/s at Villa Nova, in Baltimore County, up from 25 cf/s before the rains came.

We'll get a break tomorrow, but there's a threat of rain in the forecast for Friday and through the weekend.

Posted by Admin at 11:12 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 21, 2005

Floods threaten Hungary, Central Europe

Melting snows in Central Europe are posing flood threats to Budapest, Hungary, and along more than 500 miles of the Danube. Here's the story.

Posted by Admin at 7:01 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

Killer tornadoes rake Bangladesh

Just as the United States enters its spring tornado season, there's a reminder from Bangladesh of just how devastating these twisters can be. Here's the story.

There were severe thunderstorm warnings posted today in north-central and northeast Texas. And while Maryland is far from the midwestern Tornado Alley, we are no strangers to these terrifying storms. torms. College Park, in Prince George's County, and LaPlata, in Charles County, are all too familiar with the death and destruction they can bring. Here is a shot of the LaPlata storm after it moved out over the Chesapeake Bay.

Posted by Admin at 10:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 17, 2005

Killer storm strikes Philippines

The unusual typhoon struck during the islands' dry season. Hurricane-force winds capsized a ferry and toppled trees. Here's more.

Posted by Admin at 11:07 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 15, 2005

Sunrise, sunset, 12 hours apart Wednesday

No, the Vernal Equinox doesn't occur for a few more days - at 7:33 a.m. on Sunday, the 20th. But, officially at least, day and night will each last almost exactly 12 hours on Wednesday.

The official sunrise for Baltimore will be at 6:16 a.m., and sunset will occur at 6:15 p.m. From here on out, until Sept. 25, the days will be longer than the nights.

These dates don't match the dates of the equinoxes because of the way official sunrise and sunset times are calculated. For a full explanation, visit Sky & Telescope's website.

Posted by Admin at 6:02 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events

March 10, 2005

Calling all weather buffs

Now is your chance to become an official, though volunteer, weather spotter for the National Weather Service's SKYWARN network. The service is recruiting new members. Sorry, no secret decoder rings involved. But you'll attend a basic-training "boot camp," and learn how to provide valuable and timely weather data to the forecasters in Sterling, Va. who issue all the weather alerts, warnings and forecasts for Central Maryland.

For more information on what's involved and how to register, click here.

Posted by Admin at 12:50 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Events