From the ABC 7 Weather team

Archive for October 2011

Doug Hill's 2011-2012 winter weather forecast for D.C., Md., Va.

October 31, 2011 - 06:00 PM

This year, the La Niña phenomenon will bring unusually cool ocean water temperatures in the tropical Pacific. As a result, the D.C. region will see the opposite of the 2009-2010 Snowmageddon winter, when unusually warm ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific brought a record 56 inches of snow.

“This winter is more likely to be more like last winter was in regards to forcing from La Niña, so I would expect heavier snowfall totals to be north of the D.C. area, possibly even north of Philly and New York,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the Climate Prediction Center at NOAA.

In the Mid-Atlantic, the changing locations of high and low pressure centers over the Arctic and North Atlantic play the biggest role in what kind of winter we'll have.

Those pressure changes determine if cold air gets trapped in the polar regions or moves into the mid-latitudes where we'd be more likely to get a significant snowfall -- that's called the negative phase of the Arctic Oscillation.

“Last winter we saw the negative phase for the first six to eight weeks. February was much different than the early part of the winter... just today we can't forecast what to expect this winter with that particular phenomenon,” Halpert said.

Based on current conditions, my winter forecast has temperatures near to slightly below average and between 10 and 15 inches of snow.

The memory of snow shoveling still seems fresh in the mind of viewers. Asked on the WJLA Facebook page how many inches of snow they thought likely, many estimated totals even higher than last year's.

Closest to the sweet spot came Mamchi Jarady, who estimated 15 inches of snow, and Dianne Eposi, who went for ‎12 inches. A special mention for most specific prediction goes to David Hallock, who wrote "on or about January 12, we will get 14 inches! the most snow for the year. School will be out for ten days..." he mused.

A near-average winter snowfall is expected this year

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See the Moon's major landmarks in spooky detail (VIDEO)

October 31, 2011 - 02:38 PM

The moon may be a mere sliver in the sky tonight, but there's still a way to enjoy this eerie illuminator of black cats, tombstones and unhappy children in ladybug costumes. Mark off a few minutes this Halloween to enjoy the below NASA video showing the moon in superb detail, using a vantage point that swings to and fro like an unshaded lightbulb jostled by something that just went bump in the night.

The dynamite animation employs elevation data and images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, a space probe launched in 2009 packing loads of hi-tech instruments with Tim Burtonesque names, like the CRaTER (Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation) and the LAMP (Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project). Footage from Japan's Kaguya mission and coloring from NASA and the U.S. defense department's Clementine project also finds a way into the video, which is the work of the space agency's stellar Scientific Visualization Studio.

One of the notable geologic and human-made landmarks you'll see on this spectral tour is Mare Orientale, a lava-flooded basin stuck way out on the far-west edge of lunar body that is hard to see from earth. Orientale was formed when something huge smacked it about 3 billion years, rippling the crust around the point of impact like a bowling ball falling into wet cement. Ecce, scholars of classical language – according to NASA, "Though it may seem a little ironic to denizens of the space age who recognize the Moon as a dry and airless world, a dark, smooth lunar region is called a mare (plural maria), Latin for sea, because astronomers once thought such regions might actually be seas."

Other roadside attractions include the South Pole-Aitken Basin, a "megasmudge" that at about 7.5 miles deep and 1,550 miles wide ranks as one of the largest craters in the solar system. (Its dark color might be due to iron in the surrounding rock.) The fresh Tycho crater is seen ringed with a spray of ejecta thrown out when a space rock dinged the Moon perhaps 108 million years ago. The strange prominence in Tycho's center is probably material compressed by the asteroid blow that immediately rebounded back up. The impact that created Tycho imparted so much energy to the Moon that it liquefied the ground, possibly creating streams of molden glass.

Then there's the Aristarchus Plateau, an island-like structure floating in the barren Ocean of Storms where astronauts landed during 1969's Apollo 12 mission. The riverlike formation nearby is likely due to red-hot lava flowing in the Moon's early years. And don't miss the trashed moon buggy from Apollo 17 and the ever-creeping terminator, the great word that describes the line of shadow that separates lunar day from night. (Hi-res versions of the video below are available here.)

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Rare October snowstorm cripples the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast

October 31, 2011 - 01:02 PM

It was hard for this meteorologist to utter the word “snowstorm” before we had even handed out any candy or carved a pumpkin. But alas, last week it had to be done.

While the District officially recorded a trace of snowfall at Reagan National, you did not have to go far north and west to find measurable heavy wet snow. (For the latest, full list of snowfall accumulations, scroll to the bottom of this post.) What made the difference with this storm was not just location but also, and just as critical, elevation. Every hundred feet you went upward became more critical in determining how long it rained before the changeover to snow occurred. More simply put, the higher you were in elevation the more snow you received. Check out this preliminary snowfall map provided by the National Weather Service and you can easily see what I am talking about.

For example, Braddock Heights in Frederick County, Md., had 6 inches of snow while Frederick, located not that far away but lower in elevation, received only 2 inches of heavy, wet snow. Even in Page County, a difference can be seen between Luray (elevation 900 feet) with 3 inches of reported snow and Big Meadows (elevation 3,000-plus feet) stacked up 8 inches of snow.

The rare October snowstorm set records from Virginia to Maine. You can see the swath of snowy misery this system left in its path in the image below.

Snowfall totals for Oct. 29, 2011 (NOAA)

The amount of snow that fell in places like Peru, Mass., and Jeffery, N.H., where people were walloped with 32.0 inches and 31.4 inches of snow, respectively, are particularly impressive. This storm was especially crippling because it was a very heavy/wet snow, and because trees had not yet shed their foliage. This damaging duo left nearly a million homes without power and caused at least 1,000 flight cancellations. This storm is one that will no doubt go down in the record books and is proof that Mother Nature always has some tricks up her sleeve.

Preliminary snowfall totals from the NWS:

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Snow in the D.C. forecast: How much could fall, and where?

October 28, 2011 - 04:20 PM
A file photo of snow in D.C.

UPDATE 4:20: I posted an updated snowfall accumulation map below. It shows 1 to 2 inches right around D.C. which may be "sloppy and at the tail end" of Saturday's "historic" storm, according to ABC7 senior meteorologist Bob Ryan. However, the thinking here is that what will fall in D.C. will be mostly rain, with just some slushy stuff on the ground by nightfall.

Meanwhile, Ryan's latest forecast has it that "areas above 500 feet in northern Montgomery County to western Fauquier Counties are likely to see a steady wet snow by mid-morning until late afternoon with 3-6" or more possible." Wow. Keep tuned for updates.

ORIGINAL: Hurry, there's still time to switch your Halloween costume to the Abominable Snowman! A Nor'easter moving up the East Coast this weekend is expected to unleash tons of the white stuff from Virginia up to New England, lending a credible backdrop to all faux yetis, snowman and Santa Claus outfits. (Latest ABC7 forecast, radar, weather alerts.)

This storm is nothing to scoff at: Snow is forecasted along the I-95 corridor, and everyone knows how drivers here like to freak out about that. And it may be time to check your candle supply. Says NOAA: "Heavy, wet snow combined with nearly fully-leafed trees could lead to extensive downed trees and power outages in a region extending from the borders of Virginia and West Virginia northeastward through the mid-Atlantic states and into southern New England." The Pepco PR machine is no doubt being oiled and warmed up this very moment.

The weekend forecast makes D.C.'s snow day practice run seem more important.

“We've been training year round for this, we're getting ready, today we're going to show we're ready,” said snow coordinator Robert Marsili.

D.C. crews expect the roads to stay warm enough that potential snow will not stick but say they'll be ready with plows and salt regardless.

About 250 vehicles were checked and sent out on what will be their snow clearing routes come winter. Some crews may be on the streets as early as Saturday.

In Prince George's county, plow drivers conducted an early-morning exercise. This year they will be using dash cameras to transmit live video of their snow clearing efforts to the county's command center.

The surface low that will be bringing the nasty weather is creeping up from the Gulf and should be whirling around near North Carolina beaches by Saturday morning. Winter Storm Warnings are in effect from tonight to Saturday evening for Loudoun, north Fauquier, and many other nearby counties; check the National Weather Service for a full list. Meanwhile, a fat line of Winter Storm Watches (for those who need to dust off their NWS terminology from last winter, watches are one degree of seriousness below warnings) runs from western Virginia all the way to Maine. Take a peek at this river of watches:

winter storm watch mid-atlantic east coast snow october 28 29 2011

So, who gets to debut their shiny new snow boots on Saturday? And who will likely be left with a mere dusting of powder on the ground?

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Nor’easter to cap off D.C.'s October weather; here comes winter

October 28, 2011 - 02:03 PM

Nor'easters can blanket major cities with heavy snow in the winter, producing the most accumulation out of any type of East Coast storm. This year, Mother Nature is not wasting any time. A Nor'easter will be moving up the coast this weekend, even before Halloween.

Let’s first talk about how these storms form. A powerful jet stream roars into the West Coast or screams southward from western Canada and eventually meets up with the southern jet stream that moves west to east across the U.S.’s lower tier. The northern part typically reaches the southern jet stream (a process called phasing of the jet streams) and forms an explosive low along the Gulf Coast or in the Southeast. The upper-level flow pattern becomes elongated south to north or “deepens,” allowing the surface low to move northeast up the East Coast.

With the northern branch transporting cold air south and the counterclockwise circulation around the low pressure streaming in moisture from the Atlantic, a swath of snow forms just to the north and west of the surface low’s track. The track of the low is crucial in identifying where the rain/snow line will be located and where the heaviest swath of accumulation will fall.


Average annual snowfall across the Washington, D.C. region. Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service, Sterling, Va.

In this weekend’s storm, the northern branch of the jet stream is dominating the flow and the surface low looks to form just to the southeast of the Metro area and slide northeast, quickly deepening or becoming stronger. This will allow the precipitation duration to be a bit shorter than a typical Nor’easter that really gets going along the Gulf Coast and explodes off the North Carolina or Mid-Atlantic coast.

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Explainer: Weather models, and what they mean in forecasting

October 28, 2011 - 05:00 AM

We’ve all heard it from meteorologists on the evening news: “Here is what the models say.” Or perhaps, “The models are predicting....”

What models, you might think? What are they talking about? Is it the kind of model pictured above? Or when I was very young, I thought about becoming an architect and building models like this:

weather model numerical prediction

Well, maybe not that good, which is probably why I became a meteorologist. But no, we are referring to a totally different thing: weather models. These are basically computer programs that can help predict what the weather will be in the future, be it tomorrow, three days out or even next season. Modern meteorology and forecasting is to a large extent based on what is called numerical weather prediction, which depends greatly on these models. NOAA has a fantastic wrap-up about the history of NWP.

How do weather models work?

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Here is your horrifying, world-record Zombie Pumpkin (VIDEO)

October 27, 2011 - 02:00 PM

Ever wonder what happens to the world's largest pumpkins?

It ain't pretty. This past weekend, the season's crop of prize-winning, morbidly obese squashes were taken out to the New York Botanical Garden and carved to bits for showpieces in a "haunted" pumpkin patch. These were some truly unattractive jack-o'-lanterns. Take a look:

villafane zombie pumpkin

Urrrkkk... brains!!! (Photo courtesy of the Ivo M. Vermeulen of the New York Botanical Garden)

This total hottie was carved by Arizona native Ray Villafane, the Picasso of pumpkins, if Picasso had grown up in a dark carnival and was troubled by apocalyptic dreams of blood-drenched demons and the fiery demise of humanity. Villafane used two pumpkins for his gruesome masterwork, a 1,693-pound one to create the zombies and another 1,815.5-pounder for the vessel from which they are springing forth. He got the effect of pumpkin pulp flying through the air by mounting chunks on stiff wires.

The whole thing took the artist 15 grim hours to carve, a process you can see in slideshow and time-lapse forms. Here's a close-up video showing the sculpture in all its repulsive glory, if you can stand it:

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Hurricane Rina track: Where is the storm headed next? (GALLERY)

October 27, 2011 - 05:00 AM

Hurricane Rina zoomed into formation this weekend with lightning-quick speed (not to mention plain ol' lightning). The storm is bringing the lash to Cancun, Cozumel and other Mexican resort towns on the Yucatan Peninsula. But where will Rina wander next?

Some weather models have the hurricane lunging toward Florida. Yet others think it will beat a path to west Cuba, and then turn south. See where the tempest is right now in these satellite photos and where it's likely to head according to NOAA forecast maps. Info was captured late Wednesday evening; check with the National Hurricane Center for updates. (LINK TO PHOTO GALLERY.)

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Mid-Atlantic fall foliage from above (PHOTOS)

October 26, 2011 - 07:32 PM
Blue Ridge Fall Colors

The mix of colors from the turning leaves (red, orange, & bark) opposite the still active green grass on lawns and fields made for a beautiful stark image from the sky! 

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Fake tornado warnings today for the D.C., Va., Md. region

October 26, 2011 - 03:26 PM
This is not happening today anywhere near Washington, D.C.

UPDATE 9:15 p.m.: No hacking! Here's Strong from the NWS in another email:

Earlier today, test weather warnings that were labeled as tests, but improperly coded as active warnings, were inadvertently distributed to subscribers of the weather wire and emergency management news wire. Though the messages were clearly labeled as a test, they should not have been distributed outside the agency.

We regret any confusion this has caused and assure our customers that we will do all we can to prevent this from happening in the future.

ORIGINAL: If you've received news of impending tornadoes around D.C. this afternoon, don't panic... anymore. The tornado warnings sent out by the local branch of the National Weather Service are all false.

Here's what spokesman Christopher Strong e-mailed to media outlets a few minutes ago:

As we currently know, at least 3 tornado warnings have been issued outside of the office for the mid Atlantic region. We are working furiously at the highest levels of our agency to find the source of these invalid alerts and stop them immediately. Please disregard any tornado warnings today in the mid Atlantic region. We will let you know the resolution of this as soon as possible.

And on the website of the NWS, there's this:


So, feel free to stop cowering and return to your business. In other news, this tornado is also fake. So is this firenado.

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Solar-powered Eco-Shock Force Van spotted in Arlington (PHOTOS)

October 26, 2011 - 02:37 PM
Photovoltaic cells and what appears to be a mini wind turbine top this impressive van in Arlington, Va. (Photo: TBD Staff)

Biking through North Arlington recently, I spotted this incredible ride and was all but knocked senseless by its Eco Power. That is not one, but apparently three or more solar panels riveted to its roof. And it looks like a miniature windmill is stuck on there, too.

Naturally, my first reaction was to yell, "Transformers, roll out!" My second was to contact the owner of these green wheels and find out how he came to possess them, what kind of panel-drag he experiences while cruising at 65 m.p.h. down I-66, what hail insurance he has, whether his wind turbine is powering a little millstone that grinds coffee beans inside the car, if he's ever wound up back home with no solar panels left on the van, only to recall passing underneath a low-clearance bridge earlier that day, and so on.

Well, I have an e-mail out to the man. For now, there's good info on the meaning and logistics of this "fully functional hands-on renewable energy mobile classroom" on the website of the company that operates it. According to the Stella Group Ltd.:

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WATCH: Dust storm strongly objects to Arizona couple's wedding

October 26, 2011 - 12:03 PM

Wedding days: On these (fingers crossed!) once-in-a-lifetime occasions, you really want to create some special memories. In the case of groom Gus Luna, his memory was this:

God. We’re eating a mouthful of dirt and everything.

That's what Luna told ABC News after he and bride, Jennifer Luna, nearly got blown away from their outdoor ceremony by a dust storm. The video of their sandblasted wedding on Sept. 10 in Florence, Ariz., featuring the Lunas grimacing through their vows as hard grains of silicate sprayed their faces, quickly went viral. Perhaps that's because it looks like they're in Iraq under the furiously beating blades of a Black Hawk helicopter, or maybe because they're also trying to perform a "sand ceremony," a cute rite involving the pouring of colored sands into one jar.

Anyway, the look on the new husband's face at the end like he just competed an Ironman triathlon, is pure comedy gold. Thanks, Arizona Wedding Video! Now, who wants a slice of grit cake?

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Irish shopping mall floods after record-setting rains (VIDEO)

October 26, 2011 - 05:00 AM

Pardon, could you direct me to the swimwear?

Flippers and nose clips were definitely needed Monday night to browse for bargains at Dundrum Town Centre, a shopping mall located in the southern part of Dublin. The flooding of "Ireland's premiere fashion, leisure and retail destination" occurred right around the time the mall was being cleared for an extraordinarily heavy rainstorm. (Scroll to the bottom for videos.) Reports the Irish Times:

The centre was evacuated shortly before 8pm when the nearby river Slang burst its banks and created a surge of water that flowed into the mall through doors beside the Butler’s chocolate shop located in the middle of the ground floor. The water then spread throughout the ground floor and affected most of the stores.

The gushing storm shut down roads, businesses and the court system. Three people died in Ireland and the U.K during the deluge, including an off-duty Irish police officer trying to prevent drivers from crossing an unsafe bridge. By the time the rain ended, a new record had been set in the greater Dublin area. A gauge at a military base just west of the city received 82.2 mm (3.24 inches) of rain, the most to ever fall there on an October day since records began in 1954. The site's biggest-ever rainfall was 108.6 mm, or 4.28 inches, on June 11, 1993.

Ireland's meteorological office, the Tá Mo Bhríste Trí Thine... wait, no, it's called the Met Éireann noted that this kind of rain wallop happens only about once every 80 years. To put it in perspective, the met office cites some similarly gargantuan dousings of yesteryear:

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Amazing aurora borealis photos from Oct. 24, 2011 (GALLERY)

October 25, 2011 - 02:24 PM

In the wee hours of Monday, Oct. 24, 2011, a geomagnetic storm started slamming earth's atmosphere with waves of charged particles. From the ground, it almost looked like immense fireworks were going off in the sky. The aurora borealis was so intense that residents of the Deep South even got a peek. Here's are photos of what the storm looked like at its peak, courtesy of Lake Superior Photo. Check out Lake Superior Photo on Facebook for more. (LINK TO PHOTO GALLERY.)

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Quickcast Update for Tuesday at 10 a.m.

October 25, 2011 - 10:00 AM

We just wanted to be sure to get a video update out to everyone as our Quickcast has been down. We have been working on it and are sure it will be up soon! Have an awesome day, we're looking at perfect weather conditions.

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Earth is burning! A decade of wildfires, mapped (VIDEO)

October 25, 2011 - 05:00 AM
Africa: Stop, drop and roll! (NASA)

Did you know that Texas, Georgia and Minnesota are on fire? Or that so much of Australia is burning that drivers have to watch out for livestock straying onto smoke-cloaked roads?

NASA knows. In fact, the MODIS instruments aboard its Aqua and Terra satellites are so sensitive that they can detect even small wildfires that carbonize the earth's surface. The two spacecraft, launched in 1999 and 2002, respectively, have been logging the location of every fire to spring up across the world as a service to fire-management professionals and to scientists studying how climate change affects wildfire development. Now, thanks to the whiz kids at the NASA Goddard Scientific Visualization Studio, you can ingest the fruits of the space agency's labor in this slice of moving, blazing history.

The below video shows every fire that MODIS has detected from 2002 until July 2011, beginning from a vantage point over Australia and ending in North America. NASA has also chosen to include vegetation and ice changes in its animation to show how fires respond to the changes of the seasons.

The bulk of the video settles in Africa, where furious rivers of fire chew at the country year 'round. The continent is the cradle to more than 70 percent of the fires on earth, according to NASA's data. The blazes are created by farmers to maintain crop and grazing land, as well as to keep pesky, plant-eating animals away. Mother Nature also strikes a few matches: The region has more lightning strikes than anywhere else on earth. The African fires move north and south with the rainy and dry seasons, creating the impression that this titanic belt of Hades is breathing.

The flavors of flame are as diverse as the samples at Baskin-Robbins: There are cooler waves of fire rippling in central Australia's grasslands, and hotter (and minty-scented) fires rising from the continent's northern Eucalyptus forests. Agricultural fires dominate in Asia, while the tactics of slash-and-burn farmers are evident in the Amazon. Infernos ravish drought-plagued Texas and the American West, although North American fires add up to a paltry 2 percent of the worldwide charred acreage. As far as I know, NASA has ignored fires caused by the burning of crocodile carcasses, a shocking omission.

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Hurricane Rina expected to intensify, move north (PHOTOS)

October 24, 2011 - 02:06 PM

A storm that just a day ago looked like a disorganized tangle of cotton fluff (from space, anyway) has pumped itself up into the sixth hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season. Say hola! to Hurricane Rina, a god-sized wheel of rain and thunder cycling near southern Mexico and Belize:

hurricane rina satellite

Rina formed in leaps and bounds, intensifying from a stirred-up area of low pressure to a tropical depression to a named storm all in the span of this weekend. You can see its tumultuous birth occurring in time lapse in this wonderful time-lapse movie from NASA and NOAA. The system went full hurricane around 2 p.m. today, according to the latest assessment from the National Hurricane Center. It rates a Category 1 on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale but won't remain weak for long; the NHC sees Rina becoming a major hurricane of Category-3-or-above strength by Tuesday evening.

The hurricane is topped with staggeringly tall cloud columns as chilly as -63 degrees Fahrenheit, an indicator of the storm's magnitude. Down at sea level, ocean waters as warm as a tepid bowl of menudo are feeding Rina's hunger for energy, and low wind sheer is allowing it to swell and move northward toward the Gulf of Mexico. However, right now Rina is not expected to make it to the Gulf. The way the winds are moving seem to confine the tempest to the northwest Caribbean.

Here's the latest track forecast for Hurricane Rina:

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My favorite foliage photos so far and how to submit your pics

October 24, 2011 - 06:25 AM

You can submit your photos by email to or contact me via social media such as Facebook or Twitter. Thanks to all who have sent photos as it's much appreciated! Enjoy these shots... 

Shenandoah Valley and Massanutten Mountain Oct. 22nd. Courtesy: Mike & Barbara Pocalyko

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Brave (or dumb) driver floats through Russian floods (VIDEO)

October 24, 2011 - 05:00 AM

Hmm. Road's flooded. Better turn around.

OR: I could take this ratty length of rope in my trunk, and tie it to the bumper of the next truck that passes by. Cars float, right?

This footage from earlier this month shows miserable road conditions in Sochi, a Russian resort city on the coast of the Black Sea and host to the XXII Olympic Winter Games. Sochi has a flooding problem, as evident in this other video in which cars also honk constantly. The dude in the below video wasn't going to let that prevent him from getting to the hospital for his wife's delivery. I'm just guessing it was an emergency situation like that and not that the bar was closing in 15 minutes.

At one point, he seems to be paddling with his hand. Then he gets out of the window and climbs on top of the car, revealing that he is not wearing pants. This incident represents all kinds of win for Weather against Humanity. It's especially great how toward the end of the video Huckleberry Finnovsky berates the driver of the truck, as if this somehow was his idea.

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Friday weather roundup: Climate skeptics, penguins in sweaters

October 21, 2011 - 03:58 PM
A New Zealand yard shop has put out a call for penguin sweaters after a cargo ship spilled oil off the coast of Tauranga. (Charlie / Skeinz)

Welcome to the Oct. 21, 2011, edition of the Friday weather-news roundup:

• Tropical storms: They're still around? Perhaps! Meteorologists at the National Hurricane Center are monitoring a suspicious area of storminess in the western Caribbean, where there's a "likelihood that a tropical depression will form during the weekend" as the system moves northward. They give a 60 percent chance that the low-pressure whirlpool will develop into the year's 17th named tropical storm. Could Hurricane Rina be far behind?

• The worst flooding in Thailand in more than 50 years shows no signs of letting up, with at least 320 dead and thousands in shelters. The citizens of Bangkok, which so far has escaped the floods, are freaking out as the city ponders opening its flood gates and triggering a possible "overflow." Elsewhere, needlefish swim in houses and people are on high alert for urban crocodiles after a number of the beasts escaped from illegal croc farms. The photos are depressing.

• Richard Muller, a physicist who criticized the famous "hockey-stick graph" showing warming global temperatures as well as testified before Congress about his doubt that there was any significant warming during the last century, has now concluded that there is warming, coming into line with the larger body of thought. Read more about the new findings of the professor's Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature team at New Scientist.

• Winter beckons in D.C. from its mountainous lair. The local National Weather Service has put parts of southwest Virginia and southeast West Virginia under a Freeze Warning tonight for "widespread frost" that could maim or kill any outside crops. Bring in your plants tonight, mountain folk!

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