From the ABC 7 Weather team

Archive for September 2011

Cloudy with a chance of something... weird, in Warrenton (PHOTO)

September 30, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Hey folks: Technically I'm on vacation, so I am putting the ball in your court today. ABC7 viewer Kathy sent this photo yesterday to senior meteorologist Bob Ryan, wondering what in tarnation it could be. She says:

I took this picture from my back porch in Warrenton, Va. [on Wednesday] about 7:00 p.m.... We did see some rotation in the clouds. There was rain and wind before we saw it, and then more rain and wind after. It was not raining when I took the pictures, but it was very windy and the clouds were moving very fast.

The weather guys here are on the case, but feel free to hop down to the comments section with your informed explanations, total shots in the dark or wacky UFO conspiracies. This column of air will not go unexamined! I will check back in on Monday. (And that's the Blue Ridge and Skyline Drive about 20 miles in the distance, if you were wondering.)

BOB RYAN ADDS: The picture was not taken by Dorothy and I don't think it is a tornado.  Here's the definition - according to the Glossary of Meteorology (AMS 2000), a tornado is "a violently rotating column of air, pendant from a cumuliform cloud or underneath a cumuliform cloud, and often (but not always) visible as a funnel cloud."  Well it sure looks like a tornado and Kathy did see some rotation but it was not "violently rotating".  A shower had just passed and if you look closely you can see some fog in the low spots and even a few plumes of fog that look like wisps of smoke.  The air was damp/humid with a relative humidity of almost 100% and so I think what we are seeing is an updraft or rising column of air creating the clouds above that is rotating a bit and enough to lower the air pressure and form what my colleague Doug Hill called a "moist updraft".  Updrafts that form those puffy cumulus clouds do have rotation as all air does on our rotating earth.  Remember seeing a hawk or eagle soaring in a circle in the air?  They are rising on a slowly rotating updraft.

I also sent the picture to a couple of friends at the local NWS forecast office, one of whom studied under my friend Howie Bluestein one of the great tornado researchers, and they don't think it really could be called a tornado either.  But it is something and a great photo. Maybe we just call it a scary moist updraft.  What do you think?

 

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Hurricane Ophelia expected to form today; Philippe abides

September 29, 2011 - 02:38 PM
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Crusty old sea captains take note: There are two big storms bedeviling the ocean blue this week. Neither poses a threat to the United States at the moment, though.

The first, Tropical Storm Ophelia, is the more formidable. Creeping northwest from Puerto Rico at a sprinter's speed, the tempest is spinning winds up to 70 m.p.h. and is expected to break into hurricane strength sometime today or Friday. As you can see from this NASA picture, the storm has developed into the classic comma shape and could even sprout an eye in the coming hours.

Ophelia's western side is expected to come very close to but not actually touch Bermuda, according to the National Hurricane Center. The predicted track of Ophelia takes it on a broad swoop far east of the U.S. until it gains footing over Newfoundland. (See below for a tracking map.) But that's all right, they're used to rain up there:

newfoundland hurricane ophelia

(Google result for "Newfoundland weather")

The second cyclone, Tropical Storm Philippe, is sort of underachieving out in the middle of the Atlantic. The winds around Philippe are blowing near 45 m.p.h. and are not believed to get any faster in the next two days. And it's got a rough time coming, because it is "forecast to be blasted by 30 kt of northerly shear on the west side of a deep longwave trough," which "should induce some weakening," says the NHC.

However! 

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WATCH: Blacktip reef sharks hunt fish in the Maldives

September 29, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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No real weather-related reason to post this, other than 1) If you plan on getting to the beach before it starts snowing, now is probably the time to go, and 2) It is utterly fascinating, like watching a magnet move through iron filings but with sharks.

This video was supposedly recorded by a couple on honeymoon in the Maldives' Lhaviyani atoll, off the southwest coast of India. It shows a group of blacktip reef sharks (not to be confused with the bigger, badder blacktip sharks) hunting a school of fish. At first the predators seem to be doing their best Keystone Kops impression, bumbling through the school while it makes a vacuum bubble around them. But then things get real, as the kids like to say. And, hilarious third-act appearance of the stork!

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Kickers: not just for winning football games (VIDEO)

September 28, 2011 - 05:56 PM
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My video blog explains what exactly is a "weather kicker".

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It's haboobening again: Another dust storm hits Arizona (VIDEO)

September 28, 2011 - 02:26 PM
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The Summer of Haboobs sure isn't shaping up to be as fun as the Summer of Love.

As yet another dust storm swept over Arizona yesterday, a dozen grit-lost automobiles met on an interstate in an ear-shattering mass collision. They then sat there smoking for hours with emergency officials on hold until the air stopped resembling the inside of a vacuum bag.

Haboobs are a regular feature of the Southwest Monsoon, a time of summer when high pressure gathering in the east Pacific Ocean directs waves of moist sea air northward. This year's crop is a bit rowdier than usual, though. Stretching up to nearly a mile in some cases, they are arriving with regularity: Two alone have struck in the past four days.

Yesterday's was the fourth really big dust storm in Arizona this summer. It's not uncommon for a handful to occur during an average year, but what is uncommon, as at least one meteorologist has noted, is the power of 2011's haboobs. They have knocked down power poles and P.O.'d countless car buffs by painting their rides with desert dirt. Chalk up the dustiness of these particular haboobs to abnormally dry conditions in Arizona – the rainfall around Phoenix since last October is more than three-and-a-half inches below average.

Want to know what to do when a haboob comes gusting at you?

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WATCH: Massive cutoff low spins over the Midwest

September 28, 2011 - 12:23 PM
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Want to know why D.C. had thunderstorms for breakfast (and could have more for dinner)? Here's a big reason: This Jurassic-sized vortex that's totally dominating the central part of the country.

The cyclone is known as a cutoff low because it is spinning independently of the main circulation of the jet stream. Cutoff lows can really bring down the weather mood of a nation; you can read more about their dampening effects in last week's video discussion by ABC7 meteorologist Devon Lucie. This cutoff low, which was accurately predicted by the National Weather Service more than a week ago, has been sitting in place and twiddling its thumbs, so to speak, for the last 96 hours. The result has been rain, rain, and BOOM! Thunder, as you might've heard this morning.

Thanks to the satellite tech of NOAA and NASA, the entirety of this dismal system's being can be visualized in the form of water-vapor imagery. Seen below is an animation of the low's movements from Sept. 23 to Sept. 27, a ceaseless churning as if nature is trying to make an whopping bowl of mayonnaise.

Want to know when it's going away? Some United States residents can expect the clouds to vanish as early as tomorrow, when the system should begin to decay. But the sun doesn't come out in the D.C. forecast until Friday.

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The 2011 Mid-Atlantic tornado outbreak: A cautious look back

September 28, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Damage in St. Mary's County sustained during the 2011 Mid-Atlantic tornado outbreak. (National Weather Service, Sterling, Va.)

The local office of the National Weather Service has released its summer newsletter, the Sterling Reporter. Can't fault its lateness what with Irene and Lee unloading an ocean of rain over the D.C. region; would you rather read about the heat index or an approaching hurricane? Anyway, the publication has an interesting little postmortem on the historic tornado outbreak that unleashed heck in the Mid-Atlantic in April, 2011.

As you may recall, the outbreak began late in the evening of April 27 and was still throwing out twisters and car-hood-denting hail by late morning the next day. (Photo gallery.) The storm system responsible for this havoc created a total of 19 tornadoes in Virginia and Maryland, the "most tornadoes ever recorded for a two day period in April," says the D.C. NWS. The weather office put 38 tornado warnings on the wire during the outbreak, an epic slew that is beaten only by the 43 warnings issued during Tropical Storm Ivan on Sept. 17, 2004.

Thirteen of April's tornadoes were of the weakest EF-0 variety, weak being pretty fearsome when you're in the middle of it. Five that broke into EF-1 strength damaged houses and plucked trees from the ground. And one ferocious EF-2 left a track measuring 33 miles late at night in the Shenandoah Valley, the longest twister ever recorded in the Mid-Atlantic. Here is how the NWS characterizes that beastly spinner:

With peak winds estimated at 130 mph and a width of 400 yards, this EF-2 tornado was on the ground for over 20 minutes from its initial touchdown near Fulks Run, VA before it dissipated over St. Luke, VA. Damage included destruction of a mobile home, a poultry facility (see photo previous page), and numerous sheds in a swath from Orkney Springs to Basye to Bryce Resort. In addition, numerous roofs were taken off and hundreds of trees uprooted.

Two people were injured during that twister's time on earth. For more on the outbreak, consult the Sterling Reporter starting on page five. A list of all 19 tornadoes by location, time and intensity follows the jump.

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Map of Japan's 2011 tsunami shows how high the waves reached

September 27, 2011 - 02:02 PM
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Where you lived along Japan's coastline when the tsunami hit on March 11, 2011, basically determined whether you lived or died. That much is evident in these new maps created by a group of scientists untangling the reason behind the disaster's catastrophic power.

Using the largest tsunami dataset in existence, which encompasses 5300 locations along 1,243 miles of coast, the researchers distinguished a clear "regional dependence" on the characteristics of the tsunami, according to a study published today in the Geophysical Research Letters. The punishing wave crested at its highest point inland about 31 to 124 miles north of Sendai, the result of narrow bays squeezing the water into towering walls. However, the tsunami also swelled to nightmarish inundation heights of nearly 64 feet on the Sendai Plain, where it spread more than 3 miles inland.

You can see how the geography of Japan's coast influenced the wave heights in these maps, which use meters instead of feet. The below map also shows in blue how far into Japan the tsunami reached. (Hat tip to Short Sharp Science for finding this study.)

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Landslide knocks truck off a cliff in Taiwan (VIDEO)

September 27, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Nature can be cruel.

Weather: Never above resorting to dirty tactics to win a fight over Humanity.

In this case, a driver rolls along a cliffside byway in June in Taiwan's Hsinchu County (supposedly! I haven't found confirmation on the details) when he or she notices a small pile of rubble lying on the side of the road. Distracted, the driver makes a small detour around the debris. A little too slowly, it turns out: The next second the mountain sends an ungodly wave of mud, dirt, rocks and trees rocketing down upon the road, sweeping the truck off the side of the gorge.

Weather wins by a knockout, with luck not a fatal one: The YouTube description includes this translation, allegedly from a CTV news report:

Hsinchu County Bureau of Sinpu team leader Gan Zhiming, driving a pickup truck on Friday intended to return Chienshih home, but suddenly encountered unexpected mountain walking*, so a huge piece of debris avalanche, Gan Zhiming even be overturned car with people fell to 200 meters deep in the hillside, and good scare, Gan Zhiming relying on willpower, climb thirty minutes before climbing out rescued from the debris pile.

* Love that term! For past bouts in Humanity v. Weather, here is the vault.

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WATCH: Pumpkin that weighs as much as a car grows in timelapse

September 26, 2011 - 03:11 PM
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This gourd took top prize at a Connecticut county fair.

So what if there's a pumpkin shortage this year. This seed-stuffed behemoth grown by Ken Desrosiers has enough meat on it to provide pumpkin pie for all.

Desrosiers, a humble Connecticut dirt farmer with a knack for creating monstrous squash, submitted his pumpkin this year to the Durham Fair and wound up taking first place. At 1,487.5 pounds, his entry set a new fair record for pumpkin weight; the previous fattest pumpkin weighed 40 pounds less. That's as heavy as some cars.

According to a news report, winners were paid about $1 per pound, so Desrosiers will have plenty of cash to spend on fertilizer for next year's crop, as well as pain pills, perhaps, for the back strain caused by rolling this titan of fruits out of the pumpkin patch. Fortunately for humanity, Desrosiers had the presence of mind to document his orange baby's massive growth spurt. Have a look at the time-lapse video after the jump.

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A new way to access forecast details straight from your TV (VIDEO)

September 26, 2011 - 08:43 AM
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Skip to the video below if you'd rather watch than read, otherwise...

During the morning news, I have very limited time to chat about the weather and prepare you for the days ahead. In turn, I am forced to exclude certain aspects of the forecast, so I've come up with a quick and easy way for you to obtain that information through the use of QR codes.

A QR code is essentially a modern day bar code, and it may look familiar from print advertisements and magazine articles. It's a unique code that anyone with a smart phone or tablet can scan using one of many free apps (search "QR code reader" in the app store). For example, scan this code with your smart phone or tablet, and it will take you directly to a blog I created earlier today, which explains our weather pattern in more detail than what I had time to show on-air:

 

 


QR Code - Scan it!

 

The QR codes can be scanned directly from your television (works best in HD) and will take you directly to a video, blog or website with weather information supplementing what you see on TV. I change the link daily, and if you notice a new color to the code throughout the day, it means I've directed it to new information.  The extra information isn't exclusive to the QR code as it can often be found on my facebook page, our website or through a youtube video, but the QR code makes it easy to find, so you can view the additional information as you step out the door. Watch this video to learn how to utilize this technology and to see it in action:

 

 

 

 

 

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An elegant stinkhorn grows in Arlington, Va. (PHOTOS)

September 26, 2011 - 07:00 AM
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Spotted these unfortunate-looking guys over the weekend sprouting in Lyon Park in Arlington. As red as scalded flesh with caps of oozing, brown slime, they were not the prettiest mushrooms I've seen growing up in Northern Virginia. It seems like the rain has been acting like Miracle-Gro for these things... I also spotted a few along Lee Highway in Lyon Village, and ABC7 meteorologist Steve Rudin caught a glimpse of others recently.

What are these terrible growths?

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Eleven days and counting, so when will this gray weather pattern shift?

September 26, 2011 - 05:33 AM
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It feels as though we've moved to Seattle or Portland with this stretch of gray and damp weather, but even they have seen a more sun than us lately. The last time we had a good deal of sunshine in the D.C. metro area was on Wednesday the 14th, so it has been eleven days (and counting) with at least seven tenths of our sky shrouded in clouds according to the observations at Reagan National Airport (DCA). In those eleven days, seven have contained at least a trace of rain with 1.25 inches measured at DCA and 0.86 inches at Dulles (IAD). You may have noticed a plethora of mushrooms sprouting in area yards, gardens and parks due to this weather pattern. Not to mention mold spores are in the high range as well. 

Our weather pattern is lodged in a holding pattern with an area of low pressure stuck in the Midwest and high pressure offshore in the Atlantic. This essentially wedges the D.C. are in between these two systems and within a moist wind out of the Gulf of Mexico due to the rotation around the two systems (see graphic). In turn, mostly cloudy skies, high humidity, and spotty showers will continue through the middle part of this week. As of now, it looks like changes are on the horizon as our weather pattern becomes progressive towards Thursday and Friday. At that point, a series of cold fronts are expected to move through and set the stage for widespread sunshine by Thursday, and fall-like temperatures (and humidity) into the weekend. 

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Location of fallen UARS satellite debris is still a mystery

September 26, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Everybody all right? Nobody walking around with a bus-sized satellite lodged in their head?

Good. NASA has confirmed that the defunct UARS satellite is no longer orbiting earth after spending 20 years up there monitoring the ever-interesting chemicals of the atmosphere. The satellite fell in an uncontrolled tumble sometime between 11:23 p.m. Friday and 1:09 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 24. The good news is that this clunker didn't squish a house or punch a hole through a skyscraper. The bad is that we may never know where the pieces of UARS landed.

Says NASA:

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WATCH: An unusual view of the Aurora Australis, from space

September 23, 2011 - 03:23 PM
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The StormWatch 7 blog has been on something of a International Space Station kick lately. Why stop now when the footage from the world's sickest ride is so consistently awesome?

Look below for proof: This weird, gripping shot of earth was recorded on Sept. 17, 2011, as a solar storm battered the atmosphere with ionizing particles. Waves of Ecto-Cooler-green luminescence shimmer over the surface of the planet like an iridescent oil slick. The video was shot while the Space Station passed south of Madagascar to north of Australia over the Indian Ocean, thus these lights are known as the Aurora Australis.

The sun has been frantically blatting with these plasma outbursts over the past 36 hours, an indication that it is ascending toward the peak of its 11-year solar cycle. Yesterday, the star unleashed one of the largest class of flares, an X-1, with a corresponding strong radio blackout. Here's what that looked like. NOAA's Space Weather Prediction agency is advising heavenly forecasters that more solar ejections could be in the forecast from the cursed Region 1302:

Activity from this location can also increase the population of energetic protons near Earth (NOAA Solar Radiation Storm Scale), but these enhancements would be slow rising. This region is just now rotating into view, so the potential for continued activity is certainly there. Stay tuned for updates.

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Why heavy rain is in the works (VIDEO)

September 23, 2011 - 06:15 AM
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2-3 inches is expected with isolated higher amounts especially along and east of I-95.  It won't rain everywhere all the time, but prepare for pockets of heavy rain and downpours, which could lead to flash flooding.  The National Weather Service has already posted the first warning of the day for Frederick County, MD and western Carroll County.  Spotty showers are anticipated into the weekend, but it shouldn't be as widespread or as heavy as today.  We'll keep you posted. 

 

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National Public Lands Day this Saturday: Things to do in D.C.

September 23, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Did you know Washington, D.C., has 22 national parks? Here's one of them.

This Saturday, Sept. 24, is National Public Lands Day, a countrywide celebration of national parks, exercise, killing weeds and other do-goodie things. It is also the World Wide Day of Play, and if you think these two events aren't coming together into one synergized megaday of celebration, well, you're just dead wrong. (Saturday furthermore is International Rabbit Day and National Cherries Jubilee Day, but as the schedule is already pretty crowded I'm going to pretend like they don't exist, because for all intensive purposes, they don't.)

Since its birth in 1994, NPLD has become popular enough that as of last year 170,000 volunteers were working at more than 2,080 sites around America, clearing 450 tons of trash and 20,000 pounds of invasive plants and planting 100,000 news trees, bushes and other vegetation. So if you have an active streak in you, or have done something bad recently that you'd like to karmically balance, here's how you can help out this weekend. (There's also nonhelpful, fun stuff.)

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Video blog: Timing when the heavy thunderstorms arrive in D.C.

September 22, 2011 - 09:37 PM
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At this point it's very hard to say whether storms arrive by the morning rush hour, or by mid-morning.

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Earth at night as seen from the Space Station, part 2 (VIDEO)

September 22, 2011 - 03:29 PM
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There is definitely life on that planet!

For people who didn't get enough enjoyment out of Monday's Space Station video over North and South America, here is the view from opposite side of the globe. Again, the movie is composed of hundreds of pictures from NASA's incredibly browse-worthy Gateway to Astronaut Photography. (Take a look at these Minnesota wildfires from earlier this August.) I'm not sure who put this sublime creation together, but glad they did it. From the YouTube description:

This pass begins over Mongolia, looking towards the Pacific Ocean, China, and Japan. As the video progresses, you can see major cities along the coast and the Japanese islands on the Philippine Sea. The island of Guam can be seen further down the pass into the Philippine Sea, and the pass ends just to the east of New Zealand. A lightning storm can be seen as light pulses near the end of the video.

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Winter 2011 forecast: It's way too early to do this, but....

September 22, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Predicting the 2011 winter's weather when the clock hasn't yet chimed on the fall equinox is a hard and sure a bit uncertain thing to attempt. But it's fun, so here goes!

The meteorologists over at WSI, the Weather Channel-owned company that I cited in yesterday's post about more Atlantic hurricanes, have released their outlook for the fall and winter months of 2011. They see the fall developing as slightly warmer than usual, but then temperatures plunging below average until the year ends.

The WSI people believe that across the U.S. the winter will start early, much like the winters of the past few years. They predict that temperatures chillier than the norm will be widespread across the northern U.S. by December. The outlook specifically states that in November the Northeast and Southeast will likely be colder than average (except for Maine), while the rest of the country could be warmer.

For December, the forecast has it that all of the nation will be shivering more than usual, save for the Southwest, Texas and Florida. Said WSI's chief meteorologist Todd Crawford: “The combination of the newly-emerging La Nina event and the continued trend towards North Atlantic atmospheric blocking support both support this hypothesis.”

Crawford et al.'s outlook is geared toward energy traders and others interested in the vagaries of the high-$$$ heating-fuel market, so one would expect the utmost care to be poured into it. But how does it stack up against the U.S. government's own winter forecast?

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