From the ABC 7 Weather team

Archive for April 2011

Does climate change mean more extreme, deadly weather and tornado outbreaks?

April 30, 2011 - 10:02 PM
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tornadoes for 2011 thru April 30 SPC/NWS

If we keep getting "extreme" weather events with this frequency, we'll have to start calling them "routine." Take a look back at April: It set a preliminary record of more than 850 tornadoes, including the April 14-16  "outbreak" that killed 34 and the April 27 "super outbreak" that has taken more than 350 lives. With each episode, the question comes up, "What is causing this?"  Is the climate changing? Is the uptick in extreme weather a function of global warming?

Before I discuss these subjects, let’s take a look at the extent of the record "super outbreak" of April 27. There have been other super tornado outbreaks throughout history, such as the one in April 1974 that resulted in 335 fatalities.  But the death toll from the terrible EF 4 and 5 tornadoes that had paths close to 100 miles long is now more than 350.  This now makes April 27, 2011, the second-deadliest day for tornadoes in history for the United States.  Unfortunately, there will be more massively deadly tornado outbreaks in the future. With populations growing in tornado-prone areas, there is an increasing risk of future outbreaks causing loss of life. Even with all the radars, precise tracking and advance warning we have now, April 2011will be No. 1. as the month with the greatest loss of life from tornadoes.  Now over 400 fatalities.

As the tornadoes in mid-April were sweeping across the South, snow was spreading across the upper plains, Texas was/is suffering a prolonged drought and the last of some record snows were melting in northern New England after another brutal winter. What is going on with the weather? This must be because of climate change – correct?

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Deadly tornadoes can happen in the D.C. area too

April 29, 2011 - 04:16 PM
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With one of the largest outbreaks of tornadoes in recorded history hitting the United States this past week, pictures and videos of the storms and the devastation they left behind have continued to stream into the media outlets. The tragic loss of life from the storms as of Friday afternoon from AP stands at 318. This is on par with the number of deaths by the April 3-4, 1974 Super Outbreak, which claimed 335 lives.

 

SPC's Killer Tornado Events

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Why weren't this week's tornado deaths avoided?

April 29, 2011 - 03:30 PM
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A tornado touches down in Stafford County.

This week’s tragic tornado outbreak with the number of fatalities rising to over 300 will be one of the greatest losses of life from a tornado outbreak in U.S. history.

A chart of killer tornadoes. Click to view larger.

How could this happen with all the advances in meteorology, the vast network of Doppler radars, warning systems and preparedness? And is this outbreak something to do with climate change or global warming?

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Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Alabama in general tornado aftermath (VIDEOS)

April 28, 2011 - 03:30 PM
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This tornado outbreak? It's possibly the deadliest in almost four decades. CNN is reporting at least 272 fatalities spread out from Mississippi to Virginia. (The Super Outbreak of April 1974 killed about 330.) There could have been as many as 100 tornadoes involved. Here are media reports from some of the worst-hit areas yesterday:

Birmingham, Ala: At least 26 fatalities. A tremendous tornado gutted a vast tract of the city, raking neighborhoods still recovering from a twister on April 15. Skip to minute 5 in the above video to see it at its fiercest. The National Weather Service has a map of storm-damage reports. This aerial video shows nothing left standing in parts of central Alabama and has newscasters comparing the scene to post-tsunami Japan. Here's another awful news account of ripped-up Alabama.

Pratt City, Ala.: Six tornadoes last night caused a ghastly, Where’s Waldo-like mess of people and debris. These pictures are just unbelievable.

Tuscaloosa, Ala: Fifteen deaths, about 100 injured. Emergency officials are guessing that the death toll will rise as crews comb the city, looking for survivors buried under junk. The air stinks of natural gas leaking out of broken pipes and fountains of water spurt from the crushed remains of homes. Said local Pearline Hinton: “"I had been watching the news and I seen it coming, and I told my son to, 'Come on, let's get in the bathroom.' We got in there and everything just started crashing and breaking, chairs and everything were flying. I mean TV's and cars and everything."

Here's what the twister in Tuscaloosa looked like:

Smithville, Miss.: Thirteen fatalities reported. A tornado with power way disproportionate to Smithville’s population of 857 rearranged the town into a rubble-strewn moonscape. Witnesses said the twister could have been a mile wide.

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The Stafford County tornado from April 27 (VIDEOS)

April 28, 2011 - 12:50 PM
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Perhaps because NoVa and its surroundings are so unused to tornadoes (photo gallery), there's not a lot of great funnel-cloud footage floating around the net. The above is the best I could find of the Stafford County twister. More staggering is this tornado and supercell in Oilville, Va., just west of Richmond. The entire state of Virginia is under a state of emergency, with at least eight deaths reported in the state from last night's storm (and at least 247 from this storm in general):

And here is one in Danville, south of Roanoke on the North Carolina border:

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D.C. weather forecast: Tornado warnings, severe storms possible

April 28, 2011 - 04:44 AM
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A tornado watch issued for the entire Metro region has been extended until 3 p.m. Thursday after yesterday seemed to be the day that a tornado ate America. And this morning we could do it all over again… read on for more about that.

The D.C. region was visited by four reported twisters, more or less – meteorologists will head out today to confirm the number. One of these tornadoes apparently landed on the golf course of Andrews Air Force base, home of Air Force One. At the height of the storm, residents were seeing wall clouds of the magnitude Oklahoma farmers tremble at. Check out ABC7’s user-submitted photo gallery, or have a peek at this one created by a dude “chilling at Chipotle” in Clinton, Md. (Man loves him some burritos: “Yo Idk I was n Chipotle with 2 of my buddies and we saw that lol I was to hungry to leave lol.”)

But despite our rare tornadic weather, which arrived on the eve of the deadly 2002 La Plata tornado, in the wide view D.C. got off easy compared to the South. There were about 500 tornado, hail and wind reports nationwide as of 11 p.m. last night, a number that undoubtedly will go up. There was news of 53 deaths yesterday due to this storm. Just look at this funnel dominating Cullman, Ala., or this one tearing through Tuscaloosa, the latter growing to a mild-wide behemoth if witnesses are to be trusted. There were reports that one twister severed a power line at a nuclear plant, leaving much of the northern part of the state without power. (Which in turn blacked out a server that briefly disrupted our weather alerts in D.C.) And as per the Weather Channel, a 4 by 8-foot plywood board dropped from the sky in Gardendale, Ala., about 15 to 25 miles away from its suspected tornado overlord. Senior meteorologist Bob Ryan says that's totally possible.

This morning D.C. will face another round of brutal storms. A cold front trailing this system will move in and there could be more severe thunderstorm warnings or even tornado warnings in the mid-morning or early afternoon. Keep briefed with the latest ABC7 forecast and don't go out flying any kites.

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Tornadoes in D.C., Virginia and Maryland (PHOTO GALLERY)

April 27, 2011 - 08:52 PM
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A huge tornado outbreak that swept through the nation over the past several days dropped by the D.C. region long enough on Wednesday to surprise residents with – HOLY COW – tornadoes. Preliminary reports indicate there were at least three funnel clouds in the region (but no reports of widespread damage). Here are photos that ABC7 viewers sent in.

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Four tornados sighted in region; flash flood warning in effect

April 27, 2011 - 08:08 PM
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Funnel sighting in Stafford County. Photo by Mark Bautista.

4:40 a.:m. The entire Metro region is under a tornado watch until 8 a.m. Thursday after severe storms with powerful winds and rain pummeled our area overnight.

Four tornadoes reportedly struck near Stafford, Quantico, and Bristow in Virginia and Joint Base Andrews in Maryland Wednesday evening, and another round of severe weather is making its way across the D.C. region this morning.

10:40p: There's a new report of a tornado in Morningside, Prince George's County. It's the best radar signature indicating a possible tornado that our ABC7 meteorologists have seen all night. "That is a major hook," says Alan Auglis. Follow it on radar (unless you're nearby, in which case you should be hugging your basement boiler).

10:00: Check out the new photo gallery of tornadoes around town. Adding more wild photos to it as I write this.

8:00: The tornado warnings have been dropped, although a tornado watch stands until 2 a.m. And there are now flash flood warnings in effect for Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties. There were three reported tornadoes for our region in less than 3 hours, says ABC7's Doug Hill. That's pretty damn insane. It looks like Tornadogeddon 2011 has lived up to its name. You can see the storm move from space here.

The fun part? We could do this all over again in the morning, as another vast storm powers through the Mid-Atlantic. This system is to our west right now, and at one point today had 17 active tornado warnings. That is not to say the D.C. area will see more tornadoes in the morning. But we'll be monitoring it closely. Here's where you can find the latest forecasts.

7:45: This is just what you want to see coming over the horizon when you're stuck in traffic. This is a tornado on the ground in Dumfries, near Route 1 and 234, from earlier this evening (sent to ABC7; am hoping to have the photog's name soon):

tornado dumfries

7:40: Photographer Mark Bautista in Stafford is totally on the ball tonight. Here you go:

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Tornado Watch until 8 p.m., here's why and what you can expect

April 27, 2011 - 04:46 PM
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With such a severe outbreak occurring for the Deep South and Tennessee Valley yesterday and today, local residents are probably a bit on edge with the talk of a Tornado Watch for our area. Should this really be the case though?

As of 4 p.m. today, I see one storm that we should be concerned of moving just east of Charlottesville on our Doppler Radar. Otherwise, nothing else has popped up yet. A Tornado Watch has been placed in effect for our entire area until 8 p.m., and here's why.

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The deadly April 27 storm system, seen from space (VIDEO)

April 27, 2011 - 04:12 PM
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Greet the storm that's responsible for D.C.'s tornado watches. The video tracks the system's movements from April 25 to today and was compiled using images from the NOAA/NASA GOES satellite. After sowing death in Arkansas earlier this week, the storm reportedly caused seven more fatalities today, many involving people crushed by falling trees. In D.C., the storm will not be nearly as severe. There is already talk of ending the tornado watch early.

Here's what NASA has to say about this video:

It shows the clouds associated with the low pressure area and cold front moving through the Mississippi and Ohio Valleys into the Tennessee Valley and eastward. The animation of imagery shows clouds associated with lines of powerful thunderstorms on April 25 and 26. On the night of the 25, the infrared imagery in the animation revealed that the thunderstorms held together and severe weather occurred in the central and southern U.S. On the night of the 26, the line faded at night when the daytime heating no longer powered the convection (rapidly rising air that forms the thunderstorms).

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Chelydra s. serpentina found in Potomac waters (PHOTOS)

April 27, 2011 - 12:04 PM
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Strolling along the Georgetown waterfront yesterday, I noticed this scaly, slime-colored creature being tossed around by the swollen waters of the Potomac River:

eastern snapping turtle 1

It was paddling toward the boardwalk I stood on, and was having a rough time of it, too. But a few minutes later it was close enough to photograph its knobby, completely unlovable mug from up close:

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Washington D.C. weather forecast: End times for warm weather

April 27, 2011 - 04:19 AM
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Mutant tulip spotted near Key Bridge. (Photo: TBD Staff)

D.C.'s whirlwind tour through the sweaty jungles of summer is coming to a jarring end. A storm system of bad character is imposing itself on the region tonight. It's already killed people out west, but for us it will likely just make plenty of noise and maybe shake out some hail.

Warm air blowing up from the South will continue to support our thermally acceptable air mass – yesterday, record high minimum temperatures were recorded at both Dulles (67 degrees, above 61 in 1979) and BWI (68 is more than 1990's 66 degrees). The skies will be cloudier today, with chances of isolated thunderstorms in the afternoon. (Latest forecast.) Then, early Thursday morning, a cold front chucked by a Great Lakes low-pressure system is expected to arrive here, summoning the threat of severe weather.

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Washington D.C. trees blooming heavier in Northwest 'hoods

April 26, 2011 - 03:14 PM
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Courtesty of the Woods Hole Research Center's National Biomass and Carbon Dataset project

Feast your pollen-coated eyes at this leafy view of the United States. It's the most detailed map to date that shows of the height and extent of U.S. forests.

The map, created by the Woods Hole Research Center's National Biomass and Carbon Dataset project, is a visual representation of the nation’s “carbon stock.” That term describes the amount of carbon locked into trees, leaves and dead wood. Climate scientists find carbon stock intriguing, because the levels of carbon dioxide captured and released by plant material plays a role in global temperature trends. This map is based on tree data from 2000 to 20001 and will be useful as a baseline for climatologists.

What struck me immediately about it, though, was the inequality of trees in our backyard. Zoom into D.C. and you see this: 

d.c. tree canopy 

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Vilonia tornado kills 4; more severe weather in South tonight

April 26, 2011 - 01:56 PM
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A house lies destroyed in Vilonia, Ark., Tuesday, April 26, after a tornado hit the area late Monday. (Danny Johnston) (Photo: Associated Press)

The predictions for a Southern-style tornadogeddon this week are proving accurate as massive storms punched Arkansas last night. Now, the National Weather Service is warning the worst is still on tap for tonight.

Half a dozen twisters tore across the state Monday evening, some strong and long-lived. Want to know one way meteorologists detect these funnels of doom? Look at this radar image:

Vilonia debris ball

That pink-and-white area is what’s known as a “debris ball,” representing all the wood, glass, rubble and associated garbage picked up by a strong tornado. This debris ball happens to be from a huge twister that basically wiped part of the town of Vilonia from the map last night.

The community of roughly 3,800 people, located in Arkansas’ Faulkner County, lost at least four of its residents in the screaming storm. Spotters reported that the tornado was half-a-mile wide; it sent National Weather Service staffers in Little Rock fleeing for shelter and briefly leaving their operations suspended (the Memphis office took over warning-issuing duty).

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Man struck by lightning twice; walks away (VIDEO)

April 26, 2011 - 11:43 AM
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In this edition of Humanity v. Weather (changing the title of this series to be less sex-specific; women take on weather, too!), a lone contender grapples with the incapacitating force of not one, but two of Zeus' almighty lightning bolts. Look at those blast rings that appear on the pavement after each strike.

However, I am calling shenanigans on this impressive yet impossible-to-believe video. There is no way – NO WAY – that this person 1) was hit twice by lightning in the space of seconds 2) it was all caught on tape, and 3) there weren't serious injuries that were immediately apparent. The lack of identifying information to go along with the video adds to the evidence that it's a sham. If anybody knows otherwise, please drop a note. But for now I deem this video as dubious as this Birdemic-quality lightning-strike video.

In lightning news that doesn't smell, a gym teacher was blasted as he sat at his desk in Alabama last week. And this smoldering man, in one of the best deadpan weather interviews out there, says, "I’ve had enough. I’ve had enough lightning."

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More sweat-bath weather in D.C. Tuesday; small risk of storms

April 26, 2011 - 04:14 AM
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The sun will keep D.C. sweating Tuesday. (NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory)

Ugh. For some people, yesterday might've been a bit too much summer. A big, marble-like slab of antiperspirant to rub against – that would have been a nice household accessory as highs crept up to 86 degrees at Dulles, 83 at National.

D.C. will retain its soupy mouthfeel Tuesday and Wednesday, with temperatures forecasted in the 80s on both days. An enormous stationary front that previously stalled out over Pennsylvania is starting to move north, allowing the Mid-Atlantic to absorb tons of moist, squalid air. If you work hard labor outdoors, today will be a killer; in the office environment, prepare for clammy coworkers and shirts made awkwardly translucent with sweat. “It’ll be a little more humid,” says Doug Hill, ABC7 chief meteorologist. “It won’t take your breath away, but it’s the first real feel of summer.”

As of last evening, the rain predictions among ABC7's weather brain trust ran thus: 30 percent chance of rain Tuesday afternoon, 40 percent Wednesday and 70 percent Thursday. The biggest chance is actually Wednesday night into Thursday as a cold front chatters through D.C. That front is arriving with strong winds that will be conducive for severe thunderstorms, but the nightly timing and resulting lack of heat will work against this storm's big-shot ambitions.

Tired of this up-down-all-around weather pattern, where we're in the 80s one day and the 60s the next and constantly dodging thunderstorms? Well, things usually die down around mid-May, says Hill. That doesn't mean D.C. won't see a day in May when the high is only 60 degrees, he says – just that if it happens, it “would be the lead story” at this here news outlet.

N.B.: If you haven't been following the drastic flooding in the Midwest that's causing evacuations and pumping up the price of grain (barges can't handle the tumescent rivers), I'll be writing more about it tomorrow. But a factoid for now: The National Weather Service reports that Cincinnati might have its wettest April since record-keeping began, in 1835.

N.B. #2: A large tornado reportedly destroyed the town of Vilonia, Ark., last night, ripping pavement off the street and causing at least one fatality, according to preliminary news bulletins. People are guessing it might've been of the most powerful EF-5 variety. Check KUAR for the latest.

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PLEASE READ: ABC7 weather team has relocated to WJLA.com

April 25, 2011 - 05:00 PM
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At 5 p.m., TBD.com will go dark as our tech team prepares to launch WJLA.com in the morning. ABC7 weather forecasts and this blog will be moving over to WJLA. There will still be plenty of good weather stuff here and maybe some new weather writers as well in the months ahead. For more info on the move, read this.

In the meantime, tonight's forecasts and weather news will be posted on a temporary blog. Just hit up TBD.com and you should automatically be directed there.

See you in The Future!

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Tornado outbreak 2011: Is Tornadogeddon almost upon us? (VIDEO)

April 25, 2011 - 01:17 PM
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FULL DISCLOSURE: This blog post, ostensibly about the new tornado record for April and the twister threat for the next 3 days in the South, is a thinly veiled excuse to publish the above video, which has sent the bar for tornado freak-out videos flying to new heights. The footage is from a funnel cloud last Tuesday in Girard, Ill. There is bleeped-out profanity and uncensored knuckleheadedness as these clowns yell their heads off about a tornado while driving straight into it.

Tornadoes for Virginia; tornadoes for Maryland! Tornadoes for everyone! April has shattered prior records for most tornadoes – preliminary stats indicate 292 popped up across the U.S., a leap above the old record of 267 in April 1974. (The average for the month is 163.) And with still a few days to go before May, the country will likely see more tornadoes stacked atop that already towering record.

There’s a moderate risk of severe weather in the South during the next three days, according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center. Washington, D.C. is not in the SPC’s current assessment, although a cold front moving through Thursday could produce thunderstorms.

Here’s the SPC’s forecast for Wednesday (pardon the ALLCAPS and meteorology jargon):

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EF-4 tornado smashes St. Louis' Lambert airport (VIDEO)

April 25, 2011 - 07:00 AM
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Two tornadoes bum-rushed St. Louis during a foul-weather outbreak on Good Friday that rated as the city's worst storm in four decades. The meaner big brother of the pair, which wielded EF-4 strength, left a trail of ruination 22 miles long and about half-a-mile wide. Recent estimates show 2,700 buildings damaged or destroyed in north St. Louis.

The bigger twister made mincemeat of St. Louis-Lambert International Airport, ripping a hole in the ceiling, smashing all the windows in Concourse C and pushing parked planes around the tarmac. Security cameras caught the chaos from inside the airport. In the video above, you can see what look like blue-shirted TSA officers booking it into the bathroom while debris is violently sucked up a hallway as if someone had opened the airlock on the Space Station. Strangely, a man chatting on his cellphone doesn't seem to mind in the least. Must've been an important call.

For more security footage plus an account of the suddenly tornadic airport, follow the jump.

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D.C. weather forecast shows hot, humid temperatures next 3 days

April 25, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Not quite sous vide temperatures, but they'll do fine.

Could an Easter weekend be any nicer? Sure, there was a pesky tornado warning Sunday and Culpeper and Anne Arundel were pelted with hail, but D.C. proper defeated this foul onslaught like a bitey Caps' player fending off the New York Rangers. Under sun-splashed skies, anglers spider-webbed the Potomac with fishing line; the region's trails were teeming with bicyclists, their teeth gritty from newly arisen insect clouds. Just vegging out to sitcoms with the A/C cranked was scrumptious.

And this warm streak isn't over by damn sight. Temperatures are expected to surpass 80 degrees during each of the next three days. It might be a wet 80 degrees at times, either due to rainstorms or hot, soggy air that feels like dog breath. Expect meteorologists this week to be dusting off that summery term, “humidity.” Oh look – ABC7's Steve Rudin already has. “People will definitely notice a lot more humidity in the air. It will feel a lot more sticky,” he says.

A cold front is stalling over southern Pennsylvania, pushing warm air our way. Monday will likely be the crescendo in this mini heat wave, with high temperatures wavering between 82 to 87 degrees. If we hit that upper ceiling the heat will be 18 degrees above the average max. There's a chance that a thunderstorm could shadow the Shenandoah Valley but D.C. looks to avoid it at this point. (Latest forecast here.) The warmth loses some of its grip on the region Tuesday and Wednesday, but only by a few degrees. Then a cold front rushes through, probably on Thursday, a disharmonious chord that will dislodge the fevered temperatures and summon the threat of powerful thunderstorms.

So enjoy this weather while it lasts. If you're having any trouble doing that, perhaps this January post from Arlington's biking forums will make you appreciate what we got:

6.8°F at the house when I left this morning at 0545. Roughly 5.2°F out on the W&OD trail via. my Kestrel meter, and 12°F according to the bank clock in McLean at 0700. When I arrived, my helmet straps were ice, my facemask was white with ice, and for the first time ever, the INSIDE of my jacket was ice. That's right, my sweat froze to the inside of my jacket. Winter commuting is like a daily science experiment isn't it!

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