October 9, 2011

Baltimore's earliest snows recalled


It’s Oct. 9, the date of Baltimore’s earliest recorded snowfall, in 1903. It was just a trace, but it still stands as a marker for local weather watchers, a milepost that says, “From here on, snow is possible in Baltimore.”  There’s no one around who can remember that day. But many will recall the snow on Oct. 10, 1979. Just 0.3 inch at BWI, it dropped more on Memorial Stadium, postponing the first game of the World Series between the O’s and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

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

August 19, 2011

So how small was Wednesday's storm, really?

We knew that Wednesday's downtown thunderstorm was small. The NWS weather station at the Maryland Science Center recorded three-quarters of an inch of rain in about a half hour. We had about the same at The Sun's station at Calvert and Centre streets.


But BWI, Martin State Airport, and even private rain gauges in North Baltimore showed no rain at all.

Bob Maloney, director of the Mayor's Office of Emrgency Management, has sent me this radar image of the storm, grabbed from his smart phone screen, it appears. And that storm was REALLY small. 

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

August 18, 2011

More late-afternoon storms for B'more suburbs

Late afternoon and we're looking at more showers and storms - some of them severe - for the Baltimore Area.

Like Wednesday's downpour in downtown Baltimore, these appear to be developing along the bay breeze front, where rising air over the land draws in cooler, wetter air from the bay, triggering localized thunderstorms.

There are Severe Thunderstorm and Flash Flood Warnings in effect until 6 p.m. for portions of northern Anne Arundel County. BWI Airport reported 1.4 inches in just the hour between 4 and 5 p.m.

Ditto for parts of eastern Baltimore and Harford counties. Large hail and damaging winds to 60 mph are possible.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:37 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Phenomena

July 11, 2011

"Derecho" winds not expected to reach Baltimore

Steve Zubrick, the science officer at the National Weather Service's forecast office in Sterling, Va., doesn't think the "derecho" winds that have caused damage in a swath across the Upper Midwest today will remain intact by the time they reach Maryland overnight tonight.

But lots of people are watching this unusual storm pattern, which has reportedly produced winds up to 85 mph and hundreds of reports of wind damage from Iowa to Ohio. More than 800,000 customers lost power in the Chicago area as a result of the storms.

Derechos occur when large clusters of thunderstorms produce a broad pattern of high-speed, straight-line winds along a curved front, called a "bow echo" because of their appearance on weather radar. Wind speeds can exceed 50 mph and sometimes reach hurricane force. The wind front can be tens of miles wide and continue for hundreds of miles.

Asked about Monday's storms, Zubrick said, "I'd call this more of an MCV [a mesoscale convective vortex] ...although technically it's pretty close to being a derecho ... Yes...we do get derechos here, but typically we don't. I'm pretty sure this line of storms ... is going weaken as it moves east after passing Western MD. We'll see."

Severe Thunderstorm Watches are posted for Allegany and Washington counties before 11 p.m. tonight. Large hail, damaging winds and heavy rain are possible, with up to three-quarters of an inch of rain.

The forecast for Central Maryland calls for a 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms after 3 a.m. Less than a tenth of an inch of rain is expected, with more in thunderstorms.

UPDATE, 7 p.m.: The NWS has issued a Severe Thunderstorm Watch until 11 p.m. for all of Maryland west of the Chesapeake Bay. Large hail, damaging winds and heavy rain are possible, along with as much as three-quarters of an inch of rain. Maybe this thing will make it to Baltimore after all.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:14 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Phenomena

Airplane contrails can reduce solar heating


jet contrailsA new study seems to confirm that airplane contrails can reflect sunlight into space, reducing daytime warming below. British researchers studied European weather data from stations below a huge flight of 700 Allied bombers and 500 fighter escorts on May 11, 1944. The vast cloud of contrails slowed morning temperature increases by 2 degrees compared with sites outside the contrail shadow. A similar, but reverse effect was found after U.S. air traffic was grounded on Sept. 11, 2001.

(SUN PHOTO: Jed Kirschbaum, 2008)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: From the Sun's print edition, Phenomena

July 9, 2011

Bay breeze caused Thursday storm to linger


Kary Anne Tamblyn, of Ellicott City, watched Thursday’s storms on radar and noted they seemed to move generally west to east. But those that hit Dundalk, Lansdowne and South Baltimore seemed to stall there. “Why didn’t the stationary storms follow the general west-to-east movement of the other storms?” Blame the bay breeze front.” Southeast winds off the bay collided with the storm, and the updraft caused it to continually “re-fire,” or redevelop over the same spot.

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

May 25, 2011

Queen Anne's twister began as waterspout


That funnel cloud reported last Thursday during a stormy afternoon in Queen Anne’s County has been confirmed as an EF-0 tornado. That brings the total for Maryland this spring to 20. The NWS forecast office in Mt. Holly, N.J. said the storm began as a waterspout in the Chester River around 12:15 p.m., then came ashore at Ralphs Wharf, moving northeast. It cut a 3-mile path, with top winds of 65 mph before lifting at 12:35 p.m. Damage was “minor,” most of it on Union Church Road.  


Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Phenomena

May 24, 2011

Fireball comet strikes Earth

A NASA fireball camera in Georgia has captured a fragment of a comet as it entered Earth's atmosphere last Friday at 10:47 p.m. It has been identified as a member of the Halley's Comet family of objects. It was about six feet wide when it hit the atmosphere, but it broke into at least four pieces as it plummeted through the air at 86,000 mph.

The fireball was the brightest seen in the three years the meteor network cameras have been operating.  Here's more from

And here's the video from the NASA camera, shown at 1/3 the actual speed.



Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:44 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Phenomena, Sky Notes

May 15, 2011

Brood XIX cicadas are back, but not here


17-year cicadaAs if floods and tornadoes weren’t enough, residents of Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas and parts of the Deep South are also dealing this spring with cicadas. It’s Brood XIX of the 13-year “periodical cicada.” The noisy little critters have emerged again to court, mate and die, leaving it to their offspring to do it all again in 2024. A few Brood XIX cicadas can turn up in extreme Southern Maryland. But it’s nothing like our big, 17-year, Brood X event. Those bugs are due back in 2021.

(SUN PHOTO: David Hobby, 2004)

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

March 9, 2011

Time change raises heart attack risk


Daylight Saving Time resumes next Sunday morning. We’ll all lose an hour’s sleep, but it could be worse. Scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say the time shift comes with a 10 percent increase in the risk of having a heart attack Monday or Tuesday. Blame lost sleep, and jolts to your “inner clock” and immune system.

They recommend waking 30 minutes earlier Saturday and Sunday than you must Monday to Friday; a good breakfast, sunshine and exercise.


Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:01 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Phenomena

February 18, 2011

They're baaaack...

Sure, you like the mild weather. But how are you liking the stink bugs? I think they're back. After sheltering from the cold all winter - in our homes - they seem to have begun to emerge for the spring booty call. And here's a reminder from the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville:

Don't send the little buggers down the garbage disposal. One of them dropped into our kitchen Stink bugsink last night as I was finishing up the dishes. He landed two inches from the disposal. So, naturally I disposed of him. I won't be doing that again. 

Eric the Red has a special dislike for the brown marmorated stink bug. Here's his latest communique on the topic:

"Bastards are coming out of hibernation in full force.  Had one land in our scrambled eggs (while cooking) a couple weekends ago.  Now, every time I come home with the boys... every 15-30 minutes I get a toddler scream of "BUUUUUUGGGG!!!" 

"I'm not sure what's worse... the bug, or having the crap scared out of me every time [one] of our little ones sees one of these things.  And now, every bug is a stink bug.  Including the somewhat scarier centipede that was running across their pillow pets, which they incorrectly identified as a stink bug. 

"Maybe with a little luck all the stink bugs will come out, and then we'll get a hard freeze and wipe out half of 15 million or so that have been hiding in our houses this winter."

Eric has also been looking at the wind forecasts for Saturday.

"The only other time I've seen a wind field like this in the models were last year's Feb blizzards and also with tropical storms. Things is gonna be a'blowin folks. Maybe it'll blow all the stink bugs into the Atlantic. One can only hope."

Anyone else had an early visit from a stink bug this week? 

(SUN PHOTO: Jed Kirschbaum, 2010)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:03 PM | | Comments (42)
Categories: Phenomena

January 7, 2011

A "smile in the sky" over Baltimore

This morning's email included a wonderful photo, and this note from Kirstie Schraffenberger:

"I was with some friends down at the Inner Harbor last Wednesday afternoon when my toddler daughter in her stroller spotted what I don't think anyone else in the city noticed since we never bother to look straight up: these back-to-back double rainbows directly overhead.

"I've never heard of this phenomenon, and it was a sunny day with no recent rain. I thought you'd like to see this, and if you have any explanation that you have the time to share, I'd love to hear it!  - Sincerely, Kirstie Schraffenberger"

You're right. Too many of us rarely if ever look up. And that means we miss many striking and memorable phenomena such as this one.

Circumzenithal arc BaltimoreThere appear to be two things going on in this photo. The first arc - the one that looks like (and is often called) a smile in the sky, is what meteorologists call a "circumzenithal arc."  The "circum" part means "around," and the "zenithal" part refers to the "zenith." That's the point in the sky directly overhead.

Circumzenithal arcs are caused by the refraction of sunlight by ice crystals in the sky. It's a bit like the refraction by raindrops that create rainbows. But these are caused by horizontally aligned ice crystals. They are rarely more than a quarter of a full circle, and the arc curves away from the sun. And, if it were a complete circle, the zenith would be at the center. They're not all that rare, apparently, but they are rarely noticed, for the reason you cite - few of us ever look straight up.

For circumzenithal arcs to appear, the sun needs to be lower than 32 degrees above the horizon. The afternoon sun in late December would probably be well within that range.

The other arc is probably what's called a "supralateral arc." The cause is the same - refraction and reflection of sunlight within the ice crystals. But the geometry is different. If you could extend the supralateral arc, it would form a circular halo or bow around the sun. It could also be part of what's called a 46-degree halo. Hard to tell them apart sometimes, apparently. 

Supralateral arcs come into contact with circumzenithal arcs when the sun is between 27 and 32 degrees above the horizon. 

That's my take on it, anyway. I'd welcome any other thoughts readers might have. Your picture is one of the best I've seen of this phenomenon. Thanks so much for sharing it. Here's more on the topic.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:53 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Phenomena

December 8, 2010

Keep your Christmas tree watered

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

Here's more from NIST:

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

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

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

November 9, 2010

Volcanic ash cuts short Obama visit

 Merapi ashfall

Worries that volcanic ash drifting across Indonesia might ground Air Force One have forced President Obama to cut short his visit to the Indonesian capital of Jakarta today. His departure was moved up by two hours.

Images of the ash leave no doubt that this is a serious eruption. It has killed 130 people and forced 300,000 more to flee. Airline schedules in the region have been disrupted by cancellations. Airborne ash sucked into jet engines can cause damage and shut them down.  

(PHOTOS: Reuters) 

Merapi ashfall

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:40 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Phenomena

Mystery missile launch off L.A.

There's no official word yet from the Pentagon, but people in L.A. are talking about what looked like an offshore missile launch - perhaps from a submerged submarine - Monday evening around sunset.

A show of force during President Obama's Asia trip, perhaps? Whatever it was, it made for some spectacular video:


Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:05 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Phenomena

November 8, 2010

UV reflectors seem to be cutting fatal bird strikes

The accumulation or avian carcasses this fall on The Baltimore Sun's pedestrian bridge over Centre Street seems to be way down.

Sun bridgeIn years past, as many as a dozen birds would die each autumn in collisions with the bridge's glass walls. Their feathery bodies would lie on the ledges for months until maintenance personnel could get out there to scoop them up. It made for a pretty ghastly stroll into work from the parking garage each morning

Some of the birds would not die right away, and we would watch as the stunned and broken songbirds slowly expired. It's likely more fell to the street and never got counted. Others may have been temporarily stunned, and eventually flew off. 

Apparently, the critters simply cannot see the glass. They see the bridge and its (interior) railings as a place to rest. Or, perhaps they see The Sun's grove of ginkgo trees through the glass and try to fly through for a rest in the branches. 

When the problem was brought to The Sun's managers, they responded by purchasing ultraviolet-reflective decals. When applied to the glass, the manufacturers said, the stickers would alert the birds to the presence of the glass, and they would veer away.Sapsucker fatality

So far, so good. Most of last year's fatal collisions occurred in October, during the fall migrations. By the end of that month, we were approaching 10, if I recall correctly. This year, through the first week of November, we can count only three fatal collisions. One actually occurred late in the summer - a white dove or pigeon with a blue band. A second - a sapsucker (photo), I suspect - died early in the autumn. A sparrow fell late in October.

But, so far at least, that's it. It seems as though the application of the UV decals has saved a few of the millions of birds that die in collisions with buildings each year. Our thanks to The Sun managers and maintenance employees who made it happen.

I'm told the Wisconsin Humane Society is selling window decals. You can even build your place with bird-safe glass, if you can afford it.

(SUN PHOTOS: Frank Roylance)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:26 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Phenomena

September 12, 2010

Wet stuff falls from the sky

Something woke me up just before 4 a.m. today, and while I was trying to fall back to sleep, I heard a pattering sound beginning outside our open windows. It got a little louder, and gradually became a steady "white" noise. Rain! 

This morning it's still raining, a nice, slow, steady rain that has already delivered more than a half-inch to the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville. BWI-Marshall reports 0.6 inch, and the forecast calls for scattered showers until 11 a.m., followed by drizzle and more isolated showers this afternoon.

Here are some more overnight accumulations from CoCoRaHS. It's not a drought-ender for Western Maryland or the Lower Eastern Shore. But it's sure welcome. And the 7-day forecast shows a chance for more wet stuff by the end of this week.

Down in the tropics, meanwhile, Igor has become a Cat. 1 hurricane, with top sustained winds of 80 mph. NHC/NOAAThe storm is located 1,200 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands, moving to the west at 18 mph.

Forecasters expect Igor will continue to strengthen and become a "major" Cat. 3 storm by Monday night.

UPDATE, 11:00 a.m.: Igor has been upgraded to a 105-mph, Cat. 2 hurricane

UPDATED UPDATE, 2 p.m.: Rapid intensification today has boosted Igor to a Cat. 4 hurricane with top sustained winds of 135 mph. 

Here is the latest advisory on Igor. Here is the forecast storm track. And here is the view from orbit.

The Hurricane Center also expects a second named storm to join Igor later today. It is just forming off the coast of West Africa. When it's named, it will be Tropical Storm Julia.

UPDATE, 11:00 a.m.: This storm has been upgraded to Tropical Depression 12. It is expected to become a tropical storm by tonight or early Monday.

And there's a 50 percent chance a third system will join the cast in the next 48 hours. It is now a stormy region in the central Caribbean. If these storms take shape in this order, the third one will be Karl, the 11 the named tropical cyclone of the Atlantic season.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 9:06 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Phenomena

Daylight dwindling as equinox nears


Sunrise MarylandNotice how dark it is when your morning alarm goes off? Or how dim the light is for your evening commute?

Daylight dwindles quickly at this time of year. We’ve lost nearly 2 1/2 hours since the summer solstice.

At the fall equinox (Sept. 22) in Baltimore the sun rises at 6:54 a.m. EDT, and sets at 7:04 p.m.

Day and night would be equal that day, except that rise-and-set times are pegged to the first and last view of the top of the sun’s disk, not the center. 

(SUN PHOTO: Andre Chung 2005)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Phenomena

August 26, 2010

Waterspout this morning off Hatteras

We've seen no video yet of this event, but the National Weather Service is reporting that the Hatteras-to-Ocracoke Ferry captain reported "a couple" of waterspouts at 10:14 a.m. today (Thursday) at the Hatteras inlet.

The waterspouts were apparently connected with thunderstorms in the area this morning. The advice from the NWS forecast office at Newport/Morehead City:


Obviously, if you're down there on vacation, and have stills or video, please email them to me at and we will post them. Here's a You Tube video of a waterspout oiff Kill Devil Hills in 2008.

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

July 30, 2010

99.8 degrees F ... in Moscow!

The Moscow Times is reporting a new all-time record high temperature today in downtown Moscow of 37.7 degrees Celsius. That's an astonishing 99 degrees Fahrenheit. It was 101 degrees F at the airport. One-hundred-thirty-year-old records are toppling across Russia amid a three-week heat wave. And Muscovites, unaccustomed to Record heat MoscowChesapeake-like summer temperatures, are suffering. The Times reports:

"The adverse effects of the severe heat, which has been menacing Muscovites since late June, are aggravated by heavy smog that has blanketed the city and is caused mostly by burning peat in forests surrounding Moscow.

"Russia's chief lung doctor, Alexander Chuchalin, warned on Wednesday that walking in the streets of Moscow is like smoking two packs of cigarettes every few hours because of the large concentration of toxins in the air."

Hundreds of Russians have drowned this summer while trying to cool off in local waters. Alcohol is said to have contributed to many of the drowning deaths. Heat and drought have killed crops and fueled forest fires that have destroyed whole villages.

(AP PHOTO/ Igor Yakunin)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:25 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Phenomena

July 27, 2010

Sunday's winds reached 80-90 mph in Mont. Co.

 Storm damageWinds that accompanied Sunday's frontal passage in Montgomery County reached hurricane force - as high as 80 to 90 mph in some narrowly focused locations, according to the National Weather Service. And the area sustained widespread wind speeds of 60 to 75 mph. 

The estimates came last night with a NWS report on some of the damage done in Montgomery County. The survey concluded that the damage was done by strong straight-line winds, and not a tornado. Here is a summary of the report:

(SUN PHOTO: Amy Davis)

Continue reading "Sunday's winds reached 80-90 mph in Mont. Co." »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:06 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Phenomena

July 11, 2010

Saturday storms dropped 7 inches on St. Michaels

Maryland rainfall

Saturday's rainstorms produced widespread street flooding in St. Michaels. I know because I had to detour through the village to get around the high water. So did plenty of other motorists. It took us a half hour to get through. Firefighters manned the intersections and roadblocks. Easy to see why folks there don't have basements.

But it wasn't until I checked the rainfall totals tonight that I finally understood what we had experienced. St. Michaels recorded 7.7 inches of rain in the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. Sunday. That's the equivalent of two month's rain in a day.

The heaviest rain seems to have been concentrated in a very small area of Talbot County. Here are more rain totals from CoCoRaHS.  Other spots in Talbot saw 3.5 inches or less, while the Baltimore region recorded only a quarter- to a half-inch. Amazing.

The rainfall map above reflects all rain for the week ending Sunday July 11. Orange indicates 4 inches or more. Red is 5 inches and up.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 8:34 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Phenomena

April 16, 2010

Iceland volcano's ash plume seen from space

Eyjafjallajokull ash plume 

The ash plume from the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajokull volcano (above, in AP Photo by Brynjar Gaudi) continues to drift across parts of Britain and Northern Europe today. The gritty, abrasive dust can damage aircraft engines and literally grind them to a halt, so the events in Iceland have been canceling airline flights across much of the continent.

Eyjafyallajokull volcanoThere are lots of fascinating images of the volcano and the ash plume on the Web. The best, I think, are the ones taken from the ground, or from aircraft flying upwind of the volcano, like the one above, and at left, by Fior Kjartannson (AFP/Getty Images).

But there have been many shots taken by orbiting satellites, including NASA's Aqua and Terras Earth Observing satellites. Here is a pair showing the huge steam plume that was sent up Wednesday as the volcano, erupting under a glacier, melted and boiled the glacier's ice.

The Aqua satellite, on Thursday, captured an image showing the brownish ash drifting downwind with the white clouds off the North Atlantic. Here is another.   

As spectacular as it is, the eruption does not yet appear big enough to cause regional or global effects on the amount of sunlight reaching the surface, with significant changes in the Earth's temperature.

Such things are possible. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, in the Philippines in 1991 had a chilling effect on global temperatures (about 0.7 degree F globally) and caused gaudy sunsets around the world. Eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815 caused catastrophic changes in the world's weather cycles, leading to what was called "The Year Without a Summer" in Europe and North America in 1816.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:34 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Phenomena

January 8, 2010

Why so cold? Blame the North Atlantic Oscillation

 Cold, snow in Baltimore

I received this question in a reader comment a little while ago. Seemed like a fair one:

"Why so cold this year Frank?  Jet stream - El nino?  Any indication that it will continue?  Wasn't planning a break but with these temps may break up the winter with a trip to the Keys."

Check before you fly off to the Keys. The forecast there for Sunday calls for a high of 57 degrees and a low of 46. I've been there in that kind of weather. It ain't no picnic.

As for why it's been so cold, I sent the question to Chris Strong, at the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Sterling. Here's his reply:

"The North Atlantic Oscillation is the reason for recent cold. It is a cycle that to a large extent governs how cold we are here at any given time.

"Unlike the El Nino/La Nina cycle which happens over years, the NAO cycles over weeks.  Here is a link to the recent trend on the Climate Prediction Center's webpage...

"However, I would caution that we are grading 'cold' on the skewed scale compared to our relative mild weather over the past several years. A few thoughts:

* November was over 4 degrees above normal (very mild), which will also alter people's impressions going into winter.

* Looking at Dec 1-Jan 7, we are 27th coldest in Baltimore's records with a 33.7 degree avg. 1876-7 was coldest at 26.0 degrees, but more recent colder were 1989-90 27.8 (#3) and 2000-01 at 29.5 (#5).

* December was a few degrees below normal, but was just our 36th coldest on record.

* The first week of Jan has been cold, but as the first week of January goes, it was just the 24th coldest on record.

* Another important temperature records have been broken this winter in Baltimore."

So, maybe it's not so cold, after all. And if it feels cold, just figure the NAO can change over a period of weeks. It can't last forever.

(AP PHOTO/Steve Ruark/Jan. 8, 2010)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:36 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Phenomena

December 11, 2009

Crows work together in winter scarcity

Cold weather brings scarcity for many, both human and avian. And we all need to look out for each other in hard times.

Crow roost BaltimoreA story I wrote for last Sunday's Sun, about a big crow roost near Loch Raven Boulevard and The Alameda (left), caught the attention of Sun reporter Fred Rasmussen. Fred spent some time this week watching a pair of crows working together to keep themselves fed for another day. Here's his tale:

"Frank: I loved your crow piece. While I was off earlier this week, I observed several crows who had found three ears of corn, tied together, that had been used as a fall door decoration.

"One crow kept dropping it in the street until its kernels started to pop off, which they ate with vigor. Then they separated the ears - so each crow could munch on their own ear. It was an incredible performance. Birdbrain? I don't think so. Cheers! Fred."

Anyone else have a good crow story?

(SUN PHOTO/Kim Hairston)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:59 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Phenomena

November 17, 2009

"Vomitoxin" disaster declared in 10 Md. counties

A fungal grain infestation caused by last spring's wet weather in Maryland was bad enough to earn a federal agricultural disaster declaration for 10 Maryland counties. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack approved the state's request for aid in a Nov. 13 letter to Gov. Martin O'Malley.

Wheat and barley crops planted here became infected with the Vomitoxin (deoxynivalenol toxin, or DON) during May and June. The toxin is produced by a fungus called "Fusarium head blight," and the contamination makes the grain unmarketable, and unusable as feed.

Maryland barleyThe North Dakota State University describes its impact this way: "Grain with DON would have to be ingested in very high amounts to pose a health risk to humans, but it can affect flavors in foods and processing performance. Human food products are restricted to a 1-ppm level established by the FDA. This level is considered safe for human consumption. The food industry often sets standards that are more restrictive. DON causes feed refusal and poor weight gain in some livestock if fed above the advisory levels."

Maryland Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance said, "Farmers in the disaster designation areas experienced market value losses ranging from 30 to 55 percent."

The federal disaster declaration makes farmers in the primary designation areas, and all adjoining counties, eligible for "consideration" for assistance from the USDA Farm Service Agency.

The primary counties in the disaster declaration are Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil, Harford, Howard, Kent, Montgomery, Queen Anne's, Talbot and Washington.

BWI Marshall Airport recorded more than 9 inches of surplus rain during April, May and June. Since then, more than 3.5 additional inches of surplus rain have been added.

(SUN PHOTO/Glenn Fawcett 2008)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:18 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Phenomena

Antarctic ozone hole shrinks, a little


The ozone "hole" over Antartica reached its southern springtime peak in September, according to researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Measurements there indicated the size of the gap in the layer of the planet's atmosphere that protects us from dangerous ultraviolet radiation was the 10th largest on record.

That sounds bad, but the data suggest that the hole has actually begun to shrink thanks to international restrictions in the early 1990s on the production and sale of products containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), mostly as propellants and refrigerants. The chemicals were discovered to be responsible for high-altitude chemical reactions in the coldest places on Earth that were destroying ozone molecules. Man-made ozone is a pollutant at ground level, but naturally occurring ozone high in the atmosphere acts as a shield against harmful solar radiation. NOAA

The other piece of the measurement is the amount of ozone in a vertical column of air over South Pole Station. That's measured in something called Dobson Units.

The least amount of protective ozone ever measured there was 89 Dobson Units, in 1993. This September, the lowest reading was 98 Dobson Units. That's the seventh lowest on record, but an improvement.

The chart at right shows the average Dobson readings for the last half of October each year. You can see that the depletion appears to have ended during the 1990s, and ozone readings have stabilized and perhaps ticked up a notch.

But the progress is painfully slow. At this rate, the ozone hole won't return to normal until the 2060s. By then, lots of us (including me) will be dead. But our children and grandchildren will be around, and I hope they throw a big party and thank their ancestors for thinking for the long-term (for a change).

You can read more about this year's measurements here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:02 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Phenomena

October 12, 2009

Two more birds strike Sun bridge

Bird strike 2Like many other glass structures in Baltimore and elsewhere, the Baltimore Sun's footbridge over Centre Street continues to be a fatal lure to migrating birds this autumn.

My guess is these birds may be flying into the bridge because it looks like an inviting place to roost. They simply can't see the glass.  

This is an annual phenomenon. There are estimates that tens of millions - perhaps even hundreds of millions of birds die this way every year in the U.S. And based on past experience here at The Baltimore Sun, we can expect more than a dozen birds to die on the bridge in the coming weeks. Sun management has been askedBirdy 6 to look into ways to minimize the hazard.

In addition to the four birds that have already collided with the bridge's glass windows and died. two more were on the ledges this morning. One (above) appeared to be another yellow-bellied sapsucker. It was still breathing when this photo was taken Monday morning, but was evidently paralyzed by the strike.

UPDATE: At 6 p.m., when I left the building, this bird was still alive (right), sitting upright and peeping. But he had not moved from the spot where I found him in the morning.

UPDATE: AT 10 a.m. Tuesday, this bird was still alive. Another - a very small black and white bird - had apparently hit the opposite window overnight and remained on the ledge, alert but evidently unable to fly off.

UPDATE: At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, as I left the building, I noted that the first bird had expired. The second, the small B&W bird, had disappeared. Hopefully, it was merely stunned and after a nice rest, flew off.

UPDATE: Noon Wednesday. The Sun has ordered UV decals that we hope will reduce the mortality on the bridge. No new strikes today.

The other (below) was a small brown bird, some sort of sparrow, I would guess, and very dead. I'll let the birders out there venture a species identification.Bird strike

(I also noticed a tiny skeleton, probably left over from last spring or autumn.)

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service says window glass collisions are rapidly becoming a significant contributor to the overall decline in bird populations. Here's more information from

Posted by Frank Roylance at 10:12 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Phenomena

October 8, 2009

Anyone remember this hailstorm?

 Hailstorm in Canberra, Australia

(No, not this one. It's a FLICKR PHOTO by marblegravy of the aftermath of a February 2007 hailstorm in Canberra, Australia.)  

But Samuel Cohen writes with a memory of one "hail-aceous" Maryland thunderstorm, one with hail so deep it's hardly believeable. Sam writes:

"I know that I did not imagine this, in the early 70's  1972-74 in July or August (I think it hit on a Wednesday or Thursday) we had a thunderstorm of which I have never seen before.  It hit right around 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m. and the sky was black as if it was midnight.   A deluge, in Patterson Park trees were knocked down and in the streets.  In Dundalk they had 12 inches of hail and had to bring in a snow plow to remove the hail..I read it in the papers experienced the storm and had a friend who saw the hail...Can you look this up and tell me I'm not crazy??  My friend who experienced the hail has since moved away and none of my other friends remember this storm....

To add to this at Fairmount Ave and Kenwood Aves (John's Bakery)  the cars were piled 3 cars high on each other and at the corner was Jerry Turner of WJZ with the film crew.  Every basement on Kenwood Ave was flooded and the city finally placed huge pipes there (it would always flood with any storm because of the hill coming down from St. Elizabeth's Church but this was the worse)  so it would never flood again...There were trees down everywhere on Baltimore Street..."

We're checking The Baltimore Sun's clip files. In the meantime, I forwarded Sam's question to Steve Zubrick, the science and operations officer out at the National Weather Service's Sterling forecast office. Here's his reply:

Continue reading "Anyone remember this hailstorm?" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:41 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Phenomena

July 15, 2009

Rainy spring brings "vomitoxin" to grain crops

wheat crop 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 13, 2009

Meteorite search focuses on Lancaster County

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Meteorite search focuses on Lancaster County" »

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

July 9, 2009

It's official: El Nino has begun

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can read more about this here.

(SUN PHOTO by Weyman Swagger 1983)

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

July 7, 2009

Meteorite hunter says: Check security camera tapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 6, 2009

A Mason-Dixon meteor?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a pretty good example on video.

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

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

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

July 1, 2009

Small tremor jiggles Delaware Bay

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

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

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


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

June 30, 2009

Russian eruption triggers volcanic sunsets

A tremendous eruption by Russia's Sarychev volcano, in the Kuril Islands, on June 12 is causing strange and beautiful violet and lavender sunsets around the northern hemisphere this week. The astronauits aboard the International Space Station shot some amazing video of the eruption as they flew over. 

The sunset colors occur when fine particles of ash and sulphur dioxide blasted into the stratosphere by the eruption begin to scatter blue light. Mixed with the reddish colors of a normal sunset, they produce the purplish hue.

Photographers in northern countries have been taking remarkable pictures of the sunsets. I'm not sure whether the particulates have made it as far south as Maryland, but it's worth watching the sunsets this week.

In addition to the unusual colors, some photos show high clouds, bright yellow bands called a "twilight arch," and tall crepuscular rays fanning out from the western horizon. Here is a gallery showing some of these phenomena.

The eruption on the remote island in the Kuril chain northeast of Japan smothered half the island in lava. Here (below) is a photo of the island, snapped today by NASA's Terra Earth-observing satellite. The gray color on the northwestern side is lava. The red in the false-color image is actually green vegetation. 

For a comparison shot, showing what the island looked like before the eruption, click here



Posted by Frank Roylance at 5:30 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Phenomena

June 18, 2009

Rain tops 5 inches at BWI for June ... so far

The thunderstorm that passed over Anne Arundel County after 7 a.m. Thursday dropped 1.72 inches of rain on the National Weather Service instruments at BWI. That brought the total June rainfall at the city's station of record to more than 5 inches by my reckoning.

Rain BaltimoreThe long-term average precipitation for June at the airport is 3.43 inches, so we have now drowned the June average. With more rain in the cards for the rest of the week, we are likely to go well beyond 5 inches before this month finally closes.

We may finally see some sunshine (ask your grandparents) early next week. More on that in a moment. For now, here's how we stack up so far against the rainiest Junes in Baltimore for the last 20 years:

June 2006:  7.32 inches

June 2003:  6.96 inches

June 1989:  5.98 inches

June 2000:  5.54 inches

June 2009:  5.09 inches*

* Through 11 a.m. June 18 (unofficial)

The heaviest rains yesterday, and into early this morning, were recorded to our west. Cresaptown, in Allegany County, saw 2.34 inches.  Accident, in Garrett County, reported 2 inches. 

Closer to home, Elkridge and Severn each reported more than 1.4 inches.  Totals were much smaller to the north. Long Green, in Baltimore County reported 0.86 inch. We had about a half-inch on the WeatherDeck in Cockeysville, while The Sun's station at Calvert & Centre streets recorded a little more than a half-inch. Here are more rain reports

(SUN PHOTO/Barbara Haddock Taylor/June 19, 2006)

Continue reading "Rain tops 5 inches at BWI for June ... so far" »

Posted by Frank Roylance at 11:26 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Phenomena

May 21, 2009

Drought, rain, now mosquitoes

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

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

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

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

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


While spring cleaning residents should:

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

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

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

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

•     Fix dripping outdoor faucets.

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

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


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

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

April 26, 2009

890 bird strikes reported in Maryland 1990-2007

In all the reporting in recent weeks about the bird strike data recently released by the Federal Aviation Administration, I never read anything specific to Maryland. But the report is now available online and it's available to anyone curious enough to plow through it.

It's fascinating reading, full of statistics and gory photos, including a shot of one expired bald eagle, snapped after he blasted through the windshield of a helicopter, knocking a passenger unconscious and forcing the pilot to land - safely, as it turned out.

If you never really realized that a fluffy, feathery bird could pose a mortal threat to big, aluminum airliners, get a load of the photos in this report. You'll be amazed by what happens to the leading edge of a Boeing 737's wing after being smacked by a blue heron.

The data include an accounting of reported wildlife strikes on aircraft, by state. It notes a total of 954 incidents in Maryland - not just BWI, one presumes - between 1990 and 2007. The tally includes 890 birds, 6 bats and 58 terrestrial mammals. Bambi strikes back!

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:13 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Phenomena

April 24, 2009

Tremors rattle Pa. town north of Baltimore

USGSThe U.S. Geological Survey is reporting two small earth tremors this morning centered near Franklintown, Pa., between York and Carlisle, about 60 miles north northwest of Baltimore.

The first, rated at a magnitude 2.9, occurred at 1:36 a.m. The second, rated at 2.4, was recorded at 6:26 a.m. Both were shallow quakes - barely a mile below the surface. They were centered very close together. The first was a mile south of Franklintown, the second 2 miles east northeast of the town.

Earthquakes of this magnitude would not be felt by most people. But if you live in the area, and you felt something this morning, please leave us a comment and describe what it was like. Be sure to include your location, the time, and a description of the tremor.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:21 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Phenomena

April 1, 2009

Scientists baffled by sun's deep quiet

Where have all the sunspots gone? Solar scientists thought 2008 was the quietest year for solar activity on record. But 2009 has started out even quieter. The percentage of days without any sunspots visible on the sun's disk has increased this year to 87 percent, up from 73 percent in 2008.

NASAThis now ranks as the quietest ebb in the sun's 11-year cycle of rising and falling activity in almost a century. Among the notable effects so far:

* a 50-year low in solar wind pressure, which is allowing more galactic cosmic rays to penetrate the solar system, endangering space-walking astronauts. Lower solar wind pressure also produces fewer auroras.

* a striking slump in solar irradiance, or brightness. It's only 0.02 percent in visible wavelengths, but 6 percent in the ultraviolet. It's cooled and shrunk the upper atmosphere, extending the orbital lifetimes of satellites and junk in low-Earth orbit.

* a 55-year low in solar radio emissions. Nobody seems to understand this one.

You can read more about this odd solar minimum here.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 1:04 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Phenomena

March 19, 2009

Pacific quake rocks water in Va. well

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

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


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

February 24, 2009

Northwest wind lowers bay water levels

Have you noticed unusually low water around the bay today? That would be the work of the gusty northwest winds, which have been pushing water down the bay. The effect is especially noticeable in the upper tidal Potomac and Baltimore Harbor, according to the National Weather Service.

Here's the water level forecast from NOAA, predicting water levels as much as 2 feet below predicted tidal levels (dark blue).

You can follow the tide gauges here; just click on the map for Maryland. The noon graphic is reproduced below.

Continue reading "Northwest wind lowers bay water levels" »

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

January 28, 2009

How bizarre is this: 64 degrees in Richmond

That's right. I couldn't believe it either. I just had email from Steve Zubrick, the science officer for the National Weather Service office in Sterling. He's down near Richmond and reported a temperature of 59 degrees.

Huh?! It's 34 here at The Sun, and it's been hovering near freezing most of the day. And it's 25 degrees warmer in Richmond? But I checked and it's true. Actually, at last check it was 64 degrees!! Thirty degrees warmer than Fredericksburg, just 53 miles away!

It's also 62 degrees this afternoon at Salisbury, on Maryland's Eastern Shore. And 51 at OC.

The warm air mass that has been pulled north off the ocean into the mid-Atlantic states by this big low has pushed hard into south-central Virginia. But it hasn't succeeded yet in displacing the cold, dense air in place at the surface just to the north of Richmond, or across most of Maryland. The snow and ice cover is helping to keep things cool at the surface. It's also cooling the warmer, wetter air aloft and condensing the moisture into fog.

Here are some current temperature readings along a line from Baltimore south:

Baltimore: 32 degrees

Washington National:  32 degrees

Fredericksburg, VA:  34 degrees 

Richmond, VA: 64 degrees

Williamston, N.C.:  72 degrees

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:05 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Phenomena

December 27, 2008

Did anyone feel the Pa. tremor?

There was a small earth tremor just after midnight this morning, centered only about 57 miles north of Baltimore, and I'm wondering if anyone in the area felt it.

The US Geological Survey pinpointed the center of the shake two miles north northeast of a place called Salunga-Landisville, Pa. I've never heard of the place, but it's a bit north and west of Lancaster. It struck at 12:04 a.m. EST and was rated at a mere 3.4 on the Richter scale. Not much, to be sure, but big enough to be felt. I' ve had one email from Bryan in Timonium telling me he felt it there.

USGSHere is a map of the area. The orange box shows the location of the tremor. And here's a link to more maps.

Small earthquakes in this part of the country are not common, but they are not unheard-of either.  Here is a map showing where similar small quakes have been located in recent years. Today's shake was the biggest in a series this fall in the same general area. Here's a link to a list.

The seismic hazard is pretty low around Baltimore, although we have had several in recent years - including one in the Dundalk area, and another in Lochearn. I don't have those stories at my fingertips. But here's a link to the Maryland Geological Survey, which has more details.

The risk of seismic activity increases as you go up the East Coast to the New York City area. Here's a hazard map.

If you felt this morning's tremor, leave us a comment and describe what you felt.

Posted by Frank Roylance at 7:28 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Phenomena

December 16, 2008

Tremor rattles Charleston

A small earthquake measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale rattled portions of eastern South Carolina at 7:42 this morning. The quake was centered 3 miles southeast of Goose Creek, and 6 miles north of North Charleston. Here's a local news report.

A little shake like this one would not normally get much attention. But there is a fairly serious history of earthquakes in Charleston. They're not common, but they have caused terrible destruction.

The most memorable was the quake in August 1886, which has since been estimated at between 6.6 and 7.3 on the Richter scale. It devastated Charleston, causing the destruction of a quarter of the valuation of the city's buildings and killing more than 60 people. Aftershocks continued for decades. Some even believe the more recent tremors in Charleston are in fact aftershocks from the 1886 quake. Here's more.

Most remarkably, that 1886 quake in Charleston was felt across a vast region - as far north as Boston, west to Chicago and south to Cuba. It was even felt far at sea - in Bermuda. Baltimoreans reported the shaking, too. 

Here is a map of the Zip codes of people who told the USGS they felt this morning's tremor:


Here is more on Maryland earthquakes.

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

December 10, 2008

Heater kicks in overnight

Temperatures hovered around 50 degrees as we turned in last night. That's pretty close to the normal high for this time of year at BWI. Maybe a bit mild. (The normal overnight LOW is 28 degrees.) Then, after midnight, warm air began arriving from the South, and the heater kicked in.

The mercury out at BWI jumped from 50 to 60 degrees between 1 and 2 a.m. Here at The Sun, it leapt from 50 to 59 degrees between 3:30 and 4:30 a.m. And it's been headed higher ever since - 63 at 11 a.m. The last time we broke 60 degrees at BWI was on Nov. 15.

Mild as it is, there's no record under threat today. The all-time high for Baltimore on a Dec . 10 is 72 degrees, set in 1966. The record low is 1 degree, set way back in 1876. The record high minimum is 49 degrees. So far, our low for the day is a shade warmer than that, at 50 degrees, but we can probably count on temperatures to fall late today, dipping well below 49 as a strong cold front drifts by and stalls to our south.

Sun Photo/Jed Kirschbaum 1994The forecasters out at Sterling are looking for a low tonight of 41 degrees. The front will go by late this evening, followed by more rain than we've seen so far (0.05 inch so far at The Sun), plus gusty winds. 

Thursday will bring more rain, a colder, heavier rain, with daytime highs only around 40 degrees. The driver is another low that's developing in the Gulf.  Here's the radar loop.

The storm is expected to move across the southeastern states and off the Virginia/Carolina coast. With the cold air moving in from the north and west, the low could generate mixed precipitation here early Thursday, especially north and west of the I-95 corridor, forecasters say. But it won't last long, turning to all rain in the lowlands, and an icy mix in the mountains to our west.

But as the storm pulls away early Friday, forecasters warn that the precip could switch back to snow or sleet west of I-95, at least briefly.

Behind all this soggy mess there's more high pressure on the way for the weekend. with sunny skies on tap Saturday through Monday, with highs rising through the 40s and into the low 50s by the start of the new workweek.

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

December 1, 2008

Invasion of the boxelder bugs

Photo by me 

About once a day for the past two weeks, my wife and I have been finding bugs in our house. No, not hidden microphones. Real bugs. They're small - about the size and shape of a lightning bug. They're mostly black, with red trim. Very spiffy.

They're also easy to catch. They seem to have no interest in flying. And while they're pretty active, they are easily out-maneuvered, crushed and disposed of.

I managed to snap some pictures with my new digital camera (above). A little blurry, but you can see what they look like. Then I consulted University of Maryland entomologist Mike Raupp's Bug of the Week Web site. Clicked on the BOW Archive, scrolled down to late November and spotted a likely match from 2005: the boxelder bug.

Here below is Mike's commentary on this late-autumn home invader. We have no boxelder trees I know of. Maybe they're also partial to Bradford pear trees. We do have one of those that's dumped a huge mess of grape-sized pears on our sidewalk. Ick.   

Mike thinks that's plausible: "I found one reference of these guys sucking on fruits of plum, cherry, apple, peach, and grape in addition to the usual maple and ash seeds. So, I feel safe in speculating that fruits of Bradford pear are fair game.

"Since Bradford pear is considered by many to be an invasive pest, perhaps our little black and red friends are providing good service by thwarting the spread of this tree."


Anyway, like our recent unlamented house mouse, these critters apparently are simply looking for a warm spot to spend the winter. Have you seen any of them in your house?

Now Mike Raupp, from his Web site:

"What’s this, another home invader? This one is dressed in red and black. Is there an uprising in the air, perhaps, the entomological equivalent of the French Revolution? No, these are boxelder bugs.

"Boxelder, also known as ash-leaved maple, is a rather homely native tree and one of the favorite foods of boxelder bugs. Like their other “true bug” relatives, boxelder bugs have a beak with sucking mouthparts used to remove plant sap and the contents of seeds. In early spring, nymphs of boxelder bugs hatched from eggs laid by mothers that survived the winter. During the growing season, boxelder bugs ate the sap and seeds of boxelder and other species of maples as well as ash, plum, cherry, and many other trees, shrubs, and vines. Boxelder bug nymphs have black legs and short wing pads. Their exposed abdomen is red. As the nymphs mature, the black wings grow longer and finally cover the abdomen as they molt to adulthood. During late spring and early summer, they move to the boxelder trees, especially to female trees. I’ll bet you didn’t know that in some species, trees are male or female and in other species, trees are both male and female. How strange is that? Female trees bear winged seeds and male trees do not.

"The largest bug populations tend to build up on female trees where they feed on seeds. In autumn, usually October in central Maryland, the red nymphs and the black adults collect in masses on trunks of boxelders. In the wild, adults fly to rock formations, fallen leaves, or crevices in trees to gain protection from the wicked winter. In cities, suburbs, and the country, our homes provide just the right protection from the cold. Swarms of bugs become a nuisance on sunny porches and siding and around windows and doors. They find their way into our homes through cracks in the foundation, gaps in siding around windows and vents, and beneath doors if sweeps are in poor repair or missing. On cold winter days they hide, but when temperatures warm they become active.

"Boxelder bugs are not harmful to humans or pets. They do not bite, sting, or reproduce indoors. However, if you squash them on your drapes or wall, then they will stain. To limit the number of boxelder bugs taking up residence in your residence eliminate hiding places such as piles of lumber, rocks, and branches close to the house. As with other home invaders like brown marmorated stinkbug and crickets, you should weatherproof your home to help solve the problem. Caulk and seal vents and openings where electrical and plumbing utilities enter and exit the house. Repair or replace doorsweeps and seal any openings around windows, doors, and foundation. This will help save energy and help reduce headaches when this diminutive army of red and black storms your barricades."

Posted by Frank Roylance at 3:42 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Phenomena
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This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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