From the ABC 7 Weather team

Archive for April 2013

Peduncle elongation: Washington D.C. cherry blossom peak bloom forecast

April 4, 2014 - 07:35 AM
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The peak bloom date is defined as the day in which 70% of the blossoms of the Yoshino Cherry trees are in full bloom. Obviously, this is weather dependent and can vary from year to year; however, the actual Cherry Blossom Festival dates are "set" based upon the average bloom date of April 4th. In fact, taking a look at the statistics, it appears that peak bloom has taken place in a very broad date range, occurring as early as March 15, 1990 and as late as April 18, 1958 (courtesy NPS).

While National Park Service Horticulturists issue several bloom forecasts, they clearly state that "it is nearly impossible to give an accurate forecast much more than 10 days." The forecast for this year's peak bloom is currently forecast for April 8 to April 12. The question on my mind: Will it need to be adjusted?

According to the Park Service, we just began "peduncle elongation" on April the 4th! (see explainer graphics below.)

The way the National Park Service tracks the progress of the trees is by monitoring the progress of the 5 steps of growth. By monitoring these processes the horticulturist can adjust and update the bloom forecast accordingly. Here are the 5 steps and the corresponding imagery. Take a look and then you will be able to better understand the process whether you head down to the basin or not.



1. Green Color in buds 2. Florets visible 3. Extension of florets 4. Peduncle elongation 5. Puffy white - Courtesy: National Park Service

Final thought...if you cannot or do not make it down to see the Yoshino Cherry trees you are not 100% out of luck. Kwanzan cherry blossoms are provide a vibrant bloom and generally emerge two weeks later than the predominant Yoshino trees along the Tidal Basin. To catch a glimpse of these trees one need only to head over to the East Potomac Park south of the George Mason Memorial.

*Special thanks to Adam Caskey for his collaboration with me on this blog.

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2013 cicadas in D.C. area - Update - Not that many expected in DC

May 13, 2013 - 10:50 AM
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UPDATE (May 10, 2013)

I have received many questions regarding the cicada emergence after my last blog post. I even chimed in on the online chat that was held in Fairfax County.

The main thing that came out of that chat was that "the emergence of cicadas in the D.C. area will be minimum and sparse through portions of Northern Virginia".

Wait, what? I thought they would be everywhere! While that is true in other locations around the region, it seems that they emergence of Brood II cicadas could be few and far between in the District itself. 

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According to Gary Hevel from the Department of Entomology at the Smithsonian, Brood II will contain three distinct species in this area.

"Oddly, Northern Virginia in 1996 (last year of Brood II) experienced large numbers of cicadas, while the District and Maryland had minimal numbers," he said. "Because emerging cicadas do not fly too far from their food sources (trees), this described pattern during this emergence will probably be quite similar.

"Exact numbers in the District would be impossible to predict, but D.C. residents can venture to northern Virginia to gain the unique experience of the cicada emergence."

Entomologist Michael Raupp from the University of Maryland agrees and shared with me his thoughts and thoughts from his colleague cicada guru John Zyla.

John produced a wonderful cicada map for our region that puts the nearest emergence of Brood II in Calvert, St. Mary’s, Fairfax, Fauquier, and Prince William Counties as seen below. Professor Raupp concurs with this distribution map; according to his website Bug Of The Week, "the blue/purple color 'II" are the locations that are mostly likely to be severely impacted by the cicadas this year"

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Although sightings have already been reported in portions of Fredericksburg and Alexandria, the soil temperatures at 8 inches below the surface has dropped back into the upper 50s as of May 13th, according to the sensor from the cicada tracker at Sutron in Reston, which is a good indication of soil temps through the DC area.



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And with a potential frost/freeze on the way for Monday and Tuesday morning, we could see the emergence of the Brood II cicada pushed back even more this month.

Original Post

Spring 1996: President Bill Clinton was about five months into his second term as president; Michael Jordan was back with the Chicago Bulls winning their 4th NBA Championship defeating the Seattle Supersonics, the average price of gas was $1.27 per gallon, Ted Kaczynski, suspected of being the Unabomber, was indicted on ten criminal counts, “The Nutty Professor" starring Eddie Murphy opens in theaters in the U.S. and Nintendo 64 goes on sale in Japan. There was also one other thing on the docket that spring that was plaguing the Mid Atlantic…..this:

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Remember that noisy, chirping ugly gigantic insect that died within several weeks after its appearance leaving a blanket of carcasses around just for you to sweep up? Well get ready—because swarmaggedon is upon us once again.

Now just to recap, there are several thousand different species of cicadas throughout the world. Hunkered down below the soil for much of their lifespan, they eventually penetrate our ground in cycles operating on a 13 – 17 year emergence. The species that will emerge this year has not been seen since 1996, or 17 years ago, and is known as the Magicicada Brood II. The majority of their lives are spent underground as immature nymphs, sucking sap from tree roots to survive. The nymphs shed their exoskeletons soon after emerging from the ground and form into full adulthood above ground to breed.

 

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These ugly (yes, I am totally judging) shrimp-size insects are known for their loud mating songs (7kHz), large transparent wings and their red beady eyes that are set wide apart. They will begin to carpet the Mid-Atlantic mostly likely in May this year and by the end of June should mostly be gone and not seen again (this particular species) for 17 years!

They are not harmful to humans and are even considered a delicacy by some people—(I’m talking to all you “high protein/low fat/no carb" dieters out there). Apparently their plant based diet gives them a “green, asparagus-like flavor when eaten raw or boiled” according to Gene Kritsky, a biologist and cicada expert from the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, OH. If you are really interested in trying them this year, check out these recipes, cooked up for you by Jenna Jadin, an Entomology major from the University of Maryland: Bug appetit to you brave souls.

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Not only will the DMV be affected by these nuisances of nature, but Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania get in on the fun as well. You may have already seen a few holes in the ground around your yard, however, cicadas will begin to emerge once the soil temperatures at about 8.00” (or 20 centimeters) in depth warm to about 63°/64° degrees F (18°C).
Right now, for most of the area, our soil temperature is anywhere from 50° - 55°. Their bodies have to warm to that temperature threshold (Thermal Synchronization of Emergence) before they begin their trek through the ground and out of the soil around twilight on emergence day.
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Cicada are cold blooded therefore they have to rely on warm air temperatures and/or direct sunlight to sing, mate and fly and their black skin color helps that process. The massive emergence by cicadas is based on their strategy of survival and is referred to as “predator satiation”. Pretty much, they reproduce by the millions in order to surprise and overwhelm their predators (birds, squirrels, snakes, lizards, raccoons, etc).

This ensures that enough survivors will be left behind to reproduce. If you dig in the right place, you can on average find about 30 to 50 nymphs in a hole about 1 square foot.
 


Now, even though cicadas are known to have zero defense mechanisms,
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they still cause issues from their smelly odor after they die off to the constant and loud piercing call. They also wreak havoc on young plants and trees because females lay eggs in the small areas of these plants causing them to split, wither and die or is referred to as “flagging”.
It is an interesting phenomenon, the female cicada egg laying device. The egg laying act by the female cicada is like a knife that cuts a slit right through the tree and/or plant and that slit is where she lays her eggs. Once the young tree or young plant starts to grow, that slit opens and the plant can die off.
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So beware: if you are planning ANY outdoor activities this spring: graduation, wedding ceremony, backyard BBQ, the Magicicada Brood II cicada will be an uninvited guest, unless you have them as part of your meal.

If you are interested in tracking them or helping scientists track the invasion, head on over to Radiolab. Plenty of DIY type of projects for adults and kids during the cicada season. Happy hunting!

 

 

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D.C. Pollen Count: Smut spores a dry air allergen and delicacy

May 1, 2013 - 04:30 AM
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This damp and dreary spate of weather has its benefits, and that is the fact that tree pollen is down! But it’s not just the trees that pollen experts monitor, as they also look at grasses, weeds and mold and one of our most unique named offenders: the smut spore!

Smut spores are a group of over 1200 species of serious pathogens on crops including grass and grain fields. According to Susan E Kosisky, BS, MHA Chief Microbiologist at the US Army Centralized Allergen Extract Lab it surges twice each year in the local area, both in the spring and in the fall. The early peak begins in April and then reemerges once again with a more dramatic rise in autumn especially in mid-October (60 spores/cubic meter of air for the daily average) with the decaying vegetation.

Locally it impacts cane crops like corn as well as on Bermuda grass and Johnson grass.

It’s termed “smut fungi” because they produce a mass of dark, mucus-like or rather gelatinous balls on the plants. Inside the ball are powdery spores that are most often released when the mass dries out, thus making it a dry day spore. (Many of us, including myself, often and mistakenly think of mold in regards to moist environments which smut is not.) The spores that are released can lead to respiratory issues and can be treated with allergy shots.

The term smut comes from the German word which means “dirty”. There are different types of smut including STINKING SMUT and LOOSE SMUT! Stinking is fairly obvious, while loose smut describes the characteristic symptoms of the diseased heads of grain. The kernels and glumes (chaff) are converted into black fungal spores which blow away, desecrating crops. In fact some farming areas that are unable to properly treat or prevent the pathogen on crops are sometimes driven to have to destroy entire crops.

However, it is not a total loss. In parts of Mexico huitlacoche, a certain smut that forms on the corn crops, is actually a delicacy and is usually sold at a cost higher than that of uninfected corn! Eaten before it has time to dry out the smut if often wrapped up in local favorites like tacos and quesadillas in a tradition dating back to the Native Americans.

Courtesy University of Minnesota

And more recent studies show some health benefits of eating the fungi as the smut actually takes on some of the health characteristics of the actual vegetable! So I guess it can be said that some smut may not be that bad for you!

 

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The "Pause" in Global Warming: What Does it Mean? 'Guest Blog'

April 30, 2013 - 02:00 AM
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Cliff Mass, a longtime friend and professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, writes a number of thoughtful, interesting stories and blogs.  

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This is a recent blog on the debate of fairly constant global temperatures over the last decade or so. Cliff raises some important points including that global climate change/warming is not a straight line and that climate models are not perfect and can be "tuned."

About 5 years ago, I wrote about a study that predicted an almost 50 percent increase in future warming by tuning what we have to estimate, namely the wildcard of particles and clouds in a future climate. I wrote in 2009:

Finally, a note on the results from an MIT study in Part 5 of my Global Warming/Change series:
The MIT Joint Program on Science and Policy of Global Change shows a 50 percent probability of a global temperature rise of about 10 degree with "no policy change" by 2100, which was quite a bit higher than their previous study and quite a bit higher than most other studies and projections.
Since this is so much higher than other estimates, I looked at the global climate model used as part of the study and found that the very important climate element of cloud was according to the MIT group atmospheric dynamics component. The atmospheric model's climate sensitivity can be changed by varying the cloud feedback.
Clouds and aerosols/haze/pollution are still a bit of a “wild card” in the model simulations. How and which (high, middle, low) clouds will change and increase or decrease in a warming climate is an area of research by many scientists.
Varying the cloud feedback of atmospheric models will certainly change model projection results so it would be very helpful for further discussion from the MIT group of how much they feel their results and projections are due to increasing CO2, and how much due to varying the cloud feedback.
Without knowing in detail how they treat the cloud feedback issue and how they treat the inherent uncertainty of the cloud-aerosol issue, I guess I would reserve judgement and acceptance of the results showing a 50 percent chance of global warming of +5 C. In any event changes in precipitation, ice and snow patterns may be more important than a focus on just global temperature. It's really about global change not just "warming" or "climate" alone.

Please read Cliff's important blog:

The media mentions it frequently and global warming skeptics talk of little else: the fact that global atmospheric temperatures have not gone up significantly during the past 10-15 years.

Does this disprove the idea that the planet will warm due to increased CO2 and other greenhouse gases? Are the global climate models mistaken? Who are telling the truth: the skeptics or climate scientists?

My take on all this is that a decade of near-constant temperature does not show a fatal flaw in climate science, but it does reveal poor communication and occasional overhyping by climate scientists. And some cynical games by skeptics.

So what is all the debate about? Here is a plot of global temperature from the NASA Goddard website, showing the annual mean and 5-year running mean temperatures from 1880 to now (actually it shows the difference...or anomaly...from the average for 1951 to 1980). Error bars indicated by the green brackets.

Global temperatures fell to about 1910, rose to roughly 1940, leveled off for forty years, rose rapidly from 1980 to roughly 2000 and then have been nearly constant for the past 15 years. The level period during recent years is the "pause" that everyone is debating about.

The fact that temperatures level off for a several years...even a decade or more...is not surprising or exceptional, even if the earth is generally warming due to greenhouse gas increases. The atmosphere/ocean/cryosphere (ice) system has a number of modes of natural variability--in other words temperatures will vary WITHOUT any "cause" or external forcing. One example you all know about: El Nino/La Nina, which causes variations over a period of typically about 7 years. But there are others. Over the Pacific basin, there is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, with a period of about 60 years, while the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) has a period of about 70 years. And there are others.

According to most estimates, the forcing (greenhouse gas warming) by humans on the radiation coming into and out of the planet only became appreciable around 1970, and even today natural variability is as large or larger than the human-caused warming signal. So when natural variability is pushing the atmosphere towards cooling, it can balance the global warming signal, resulting in little change. Or even temporary cooling.

There is another possible contributor to the recent leveling: the huge increase in particles (aerosols) in the atmosphere associated with the big increase in coal burning and petroleum usage in China. Such particles can cause cooling both directly (by reflecting solar radiation to space) and indirectly (by changing the number of cloud droplets).

Satellite measurement of particles in the atmosphere

Particles from China and other sources could result in cooling that can offset greenhouse-gas warming produced by CO2 from burning fossil fuels. But quite honestly, we don't have a good handle on the amount of such particles and their impacts, both direct and indirect. We have good reason to believe that such particles result in cooling though.

Some recent articles have speculated that some of the greenhouse gas warming is going into the deep oceans and thus unavailable to heat the atmosphere. A lot of uncertainty in that hypothesis.

Some of you might ask, quite reasonably, is it possible that some of the warming during the late 20th century was not due to anthropogenic (human-caused) greenhouse warming but was the result of natural variability? This is surely possible. In fact, a colleague of mine at the UW, K. K. Tung, and his associates have written a paper suggesting that some of the recent warming was due a natural mode of variability (the Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation, see graph below). And an increasing number of studies have suggested that part of the loss of Arctic sea ice was caused by changes in atmospheric circulation, not greenhouse gas warming. So folks, one really has to be careful here.

Research by Tung and Zhou suggest that the AMO internal variability (red line) could explain some of the rapid warm up in the late 20th century and the climate pause of the last decade. It also implies that warming could be delayed a few decades.

So it is quite possible that the recent pause in warming could be traced to some combination of natural variability and particles from China and elsewhere. And that some of the warming that led to the pause may have been of natural origin. You don't see this well covered in the popular media.

A pause in the warming is good, but there is no reason to expect it to last more than a few decades. Cooling from natural variability will be replaced by warming as the natural cycle moves to a warming phase. And China will eventually have to clean up its act as it has become clear that the smoke and particles are making life miserable and unhealthy for the Chinese. And just as important: mankind's forcing of global warming will increase as the levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere. And they will increase, particularly with all the cheap/abundant gas and oil from fracking (see graphic). Emissions and concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise during this century.

To put it another way, add a relatively constant level of natural variability to an increasing human-caused global warming signal, and eventually global warming will win.

Many skeptics refuse to acknowledge the basic ideas outlined above and are fixated on the "pause" or the origins of past temperature variations. That is not the real issue here. The issue is that human-caused global warming will eventually dominate....and that will happen during the second half of the century.

But, let's face it, some of those believing in the serious nature of global warming have also been confusing the public. How many times have you seen global warming advocates crow about a single record warm year, heat wave, or a season with less ice in the arctic as clear proof of global warming? Quite often. But such transient or brief events could well be mainly the result of natural variability.

Atmospheric scientists should know about natural variability and must be more careful in claiming that short-period extremes mean anything. And you can see the gamesmanship when they keep quiet about unusual cold periods.

Climate scientists are their own worst enemies when they show the average (or ensembles) of climate models (see below). Each climate model simulation HAS natural variability (see example below), but when you average them this variability is smoothed out, leaving a steady rise in temperature due to greenhouse gas forcing.

But such a steady rise will never occur in the real world, a real world in which lots of natural variability exists. So it looks like climate scientists have it all wrong when a period of no warming or cooling occurs for a short period. Talk about shooting oneself in the foot!

A collection of climate forecasts using global climate models are not identical due to differing natural variability in each.

And there is another issue. Most climate models have been "tuned" or calibrated to match the variations in 20th century climate.

All climate models have "knobs" or the ability to change key parameters that are not well understood (like the impacts of particles in the atmosphere), and these knobs are often adjusted to match the known variation and structures of the atmosphere during the historical period with observations.

The trouble is that one can overtune and actually degrade the model's ability to predict the future by doing this. For example, if a particular model did not get the cooling in the mid-20th century correctly, perhaps because it did not have the phasing of natural variability correct, a "tuning" to make it do better might change the model in a way the undermines its ability to forecast correctly in the 21st century.

Such matters need to be talked about more. Fortunately, as we learn more about the atmosphere, the need for tuning has declined, but it is still an issue.

Anyway, this climate business is complicated stuff with a lot of subtleties, and folks on both "sides" have been presenting material that could be deceiving.

But the bottom line is still clear: the human-induced warming signal will increase during this century to a point that its significance and importance will be undeniable. But the magnitude of this change is still uncertain.

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Afghanistan: Geological Hotspot for Destructive Earthquakes

April 29, 2013 - 12:08 PM
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Last Wednesday, right before 2PM local time (about 5:30 AM EST) an earthquake hit northeastern Afghanistan with a magnitude of 5.7 and a depth reported of 43 miles (or 70 kilometers) reported by the U.S. Geological Survey. The epicenter of the quake was about 15.5 miles (or 25 kilometers) northwest of the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad (near the Pakistani border) and Jalalabad is about 110 miles east of the Afghanistan Capital, Kabul (Fig. 1).

 Fig. 1:

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Considering last Wednesday brought heavy and steady rains to much of Afghanistan, hundreds of the mud-brick dwellings that many citizens lived in throughout the country collapsed. With over 70 injuries, at least 18 people were killed in adjacent Nangarhar and Kunar provinces-and that death toll could be many more.

This earthquake was not only felt in Afghanistan, but it was also felt as far away as the Indian capital of New Delhi. This just happened to be the latest quake amidst the bundle of earthquakes that have already affected parts of Asia over the last month. Just 2 weeks ago, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake killed around 200 people in southwest China and just a few days after that, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Iran killed 41 people in Pakistan near the Iranian border. There was also a 7.8 magnitude earthquake centered in Iran that affected thousands of people in remote southeastern Pakistan.

Two of the most deadly earthquakes in recent history were on October 8, 2005 and May 30th, 1998. On October 8th, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake killed more than 80,000 people and left about 4 million homeless, mainly in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir and parts of northwestern province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On May 30th, a quake that  measured 6.9 on the Richter scale struck Takhar and Badakhshan provinces in Afghanistan. Between 4,000 and 4,500 people died as a result of that earthquake and more than 16,000 houses/dwellings were destroyed or damaged.

Tremors and earthquakes are regular events throughout Afghanistan, and more commonly in northern Afghanistan around the Hindu Kush and Pamirs mountain ranges (Pic 1 - 3). The Pamir Mountain range has commonly been referred to over time as the "Roof of the World” and penetrates through Tajikistan, Afghanistan, China, and Kyrgyzstan. The   Hindu Kush Mountains are some 500 miles long and 150 miles wide, with an elevation of 24,850 feet at its highest peak. The Hindu Kush mountain range covers around 2/3 of Afghanistan, which lies near the collision of the Eurasian and Indian tectonic plates (in fact, the colliding of those two plates is exactly how these mountain ranges formed).

Pic 1: Hindu Kush Mountains

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Pic 2: Hindu Kush Mountains
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Pic 3: Pamir Mountains in Afghanistan

 

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In this geological hot spot, Afghan seismicity is driven by the relative northward movements of the Arabian plate past western Afghanistan at 1.29 in/yr and of the Indian plate past eastern Afghanistan at 1.53 in/yr. These both collide with the southern part of the Eurasian plate at the rate of about 1.7 inches per year. Most of these earthquake tend to be prone in the northeastern part of the country where the effects of the plate collision are more pronounced. Fig. 2 shows not only the plates surrounding Afghanistan but short blue and green lines with dots that represent local orientations of greatest horizontal compressive stress. Stress orientations were calculated from focal mechanisms of shallow earthquakes (depths 40 km or less).

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ZZZZZAfghanistan is laced with geological faults. (A fault is crack in the Earth's crust. Typically, faults are associated with, or form, the boundaries between Earth's tectonic plates). Below is a shuttle -radar topographic map of Afghanistan showing the locations of features thought to be probably or possible young faults. Chaman fault (Fig. 3 red and better shown in Fig. 4) and related faults, which extend from south-central Afghanistan to the northeastern corner, are the most active and hazardous faults. Colors: red = most hazardous, green: the least hazardous, blue: less active faults but still pose a hazard.

Fig. 3:

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Fig. 4 is a generalized seismic-hazard map of Afghanistan showing the level of shaking (or according to the USGS the peak ground acceleration measure as a percentage of the force of gravity) that is likely to occur with a 2-percent probability in the next 50 years. Warm colors show higher hazard and cool colors show lower hazard. The strongest expected shaking is concentrated on major active faults in eastern and northern Afghanistan.

Fig. 4:

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Although the north and eastern parts of Afghanistan are more prone to increased earthquake activity,  historical accounts do show that damaging earthquakes have occurred in seismically less active parts of the country.  Fig 5 shows the generalized boundary or the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates (yellow line) and locations of historical earthquakes. dates of selected significant earthquakes are showing in bold. The red arrow shows the general direction and rate of the Indian plate movement. Yellow arrows show left-lateral sense of motion on the western plate margin.

Fig 5:

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The long history of Earthquake throughout much of Afghanistan and Asia highlights the need to understand the level of hazard in various parts of the country. By combining data from the USGS, on the locations, sizes and frequencies of earthquakes with the locations and estimated activity rates of major faults, scientists can hopefully better forecast the probable levels of future ground shaking and earthquakes to eventually save lives and continue to lend to the growth of Afghanistan.

*most information (including the Figures) were generated from USGS publications.

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President Obama: Needed Weather Funding in Opening Bid

April 27, 2013 - 05:00 AM
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This is a "guest" blog we feature from time to time.  This is from George Leopold with the Policy Program of the American Meteorological Society.  All government functions and agencies, even those, such as the National Weather Service, whose critical mission is the protention of life and property are facing cutbacks and how to more effeciently use the monies we all "contribute".  The total budget for our nation's weather services and research is roughly 3¢ per person per day.  A pretty good deal for the value of a daily forecast and information we all depend on.  Read more - Bob Ryan

While it remains far from clear whether the Obama administration will gain final congressional approval, its fiscal 2014 budget request released earlier this month does contain small increases for improving weather forecasting and climate research. The White House budget request also reveals early attempts by science agencies to collaborate more closely in areas like Earth observation and climate research.

NOAA Blue Marble

Given the pervasive uncertainty over federal spending–for instance, across-the-board budget cuts known as “sequestration” began to bite this week with the furloughs of U.S. air traffic controllers–the administration’s proposed $200 million increase for NOAA and the National Weather Service is welcome. It also indicates that NOAA’s core functions remain a budget priority for federal bean counters.  If approved–and at this point that’s a big if–NOAA’s fiscal 2014 budget would top out at $5.45 billion. That’s about $200 million more than the amount approved for this year. If nothing else, the administration’s opening bid in negotiations over NOAA’s budget is higher than some stakeholders expected. 

Acting NOAA Administrator Kathryn Sullivan said in a statement that the agency’s FY14 budget request seeks to: “1) ensure the readiness, responsiveness, and resiliency of communities from coast to coast; 2) help protect lives and property; and, 3) support vibrant coastal communities and economies.”  Not surprisingly, Sullivan emphasized NOAA’s role last October in preparing for and responding to Hurricane Sandy.

We’ll be hearing a lot more in upcoming budget debates about the need to continue investing in core NOAA functions like environmental monitoring.  Indeed, the lion’s share of NOAA’s budget request for next year–about $2.2 billion–goes to its National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service, or NESDIS, which operates most U.S. weather satellites. A key issue is whether NESDIS can shorten an expected gap in the coverage of its polar-orbiting weather satellites. Even with a budget increase, however modest, it remains unclear whether the first Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS-1) can be launched in time to reduce a coverage gap that, according to recent estimates, could last up to 53 months.  The design lifetime of the current Suomi NPP weather satellite is expected to end in 2016. According to NESDIS officials, NOAA remains on track to launch JPSS-1 during the first quarter of 2018. Additional funding in fiscal 2014 could reportedly speed up the launch of JPSS-2 to 2021.

Another priority is beefing up the National Weather Service’s supercomputer and networking infrastructure to improve its weather forecasting models as well as its climate research. According to budget documents, funding for climate research would increase to $143 million, with the overall funding request for NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research increasing to about $390 million.

NOAA

Expect to also hear a lot more about collaboration as agencies like NOAA look to do more with less. To that end, NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems office is seeking an additional $2 million next year to acquire more low-mileage drones from the U.S. military “to accelerate next-generation weather observing platforms.”  Meanwhile, NASA’s fiscal 2014 budget request of $17.7 billion is $50 million below what the space agency received last year. Despite the reductions, the budget request does include $1.8 billion for Earth science programs such as Landsat and climate sensors for JPSS. NASA said its budget request also includes funding to take over from NOAA responsibility for “key observations of the Earth’s climate,” including atmospheric ozone, solar irradiance, and energy radiated into space. Under the budget plan, the space agency would also “steward” two Earth observation sensors on NOAA’s space weather mission, Deep Space Climate Observatory, currently scheduled for launch in 2014.

Agency heads will begin defending their fiscal 2014 budget requests this week. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is scheduled to testify on April 25 before the Senate Appropriations Committee panel overseeing space agency spending.  NOAA’s Sullivan is scheduled to appear before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee on April 23.

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Washington Moonrise: A Beautiful Timelapse

April 26, 2013 - 10:47 PM
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We set our camera to look over the National Mall, as the Full Pink Moon (OK, 1 day old) rose over Washington, D.C.  Watch the moon's reflection on the Potomac cross Memorial Bridge, also.  Enjoy!

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Dual-polarization radars now installed at every NWS doppler site

April 26, 2013 - 04:30 AM
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NOAA announced Thursday that all 122 National Weather Service (NWS) Doppler radars in the U.S. have completed their schedule dual-pol upgrades, and that the last installments should be completed in June to sites in Alaska. This new technology is anticipated to help with severe weather detection, differentiating precipitation types whether it may be rain, ice, or snow, and even precipitation estimates.

Dual-pol radar view of a tornadic storm that hit Hattiesburg, MS

SEE THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

Explaining why these upgrades are important, NOAA stated in the article,

"The dual-pol upgrade includes new software and a hardware attachment to the radar dish that sends and receives both horizontal and vertical pulses of energy, providing a much more informative two-dimensional picture. Conventional Doppler radars only send out a horizontal pulse of energy that gives forecasters a one-dimensional picture of whatever is in the air, precipitation or non-precipitation. It can see precipitation, but can’t tell the difference between rain, snow, or hail. Dual-pol radar helps forecasters clearly identify rain, hail, snow or ice pellets, and other flying objects, improving forecasts for all types of weather."

Additional learning material can be found online from the NWS's Warning Decision Training Branch or WDTB site which not only has online learning material for non-NWS meteorologists, but also learning for non-meteorologists that use the WSR-88D radar (at the bottom of the page).

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Rainbows and Double Rainbows! Oh My!

April 25, 2013 - 03:52 PM
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Yesterday afternoon, as a cold front pushed closer to the region, a few showers and thunderstorms popped up.  After they ended, the sun broke out again and gave way to some gorgeous rainbows.  A few viewers even spotted double rainbows.  A rainbow occurs when sunlight is spread through water droplets.  The spectrum of colors spread out and 'bow', as the light refracts from the water droplet.  

Dana Hillmoe - Hagerstown, MD

So how does a double rainbow occur?  The same process of sunlight passing through the water droplet occurs to create the first, or primary, rainbow.  In the event of a double rainbow, there is extra sun energy that does not get reflected from the water drop the first time around, so it is reflected again and another rainbow develops.  But look close!  Notice anything?  The secondary rainbow's colors are reversed!  This happens because the sun's rays exit at different angles.  Here's a great link with more on rainbows from UCAR.

Michael Hess - Stephens City, VA

 

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Awesome Timelapse of Clouds Clearing and Moon Setting

April 25, 2013 - 10:10 AM
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Check out this cool video of the sky clearing, moon setting and eventual sunshine!  All of this captured by our Weatherbug Network camera at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, MD.  Take a peek and I'm confident you will enjoy!

 

 

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Gardeners Go Ahead: Free of Frost?

April 24, 2013 - 07:38 AM
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Today is the day gardeners get the go ahead to plant their veggies in Northern Virginia. April 24th is the average last frost date in Dulles, VA.  We had a close call with frost over the weekend, but it appears that threat is now over.  Frost develops much like dew when the temperature is 32 degrees or below. The greater concern is for a hard freeze.  Here's a look at the Nation's average last freeze dates.  



Average last 28 degree day


A hard freeze is when the temperature drops to 28 degrees for a few hours, killing plants.  With warmer temps in the forecast, it appears the metro is safe.  Here is a great tool to calculate your average frost, freeze and hard freeze dates from the National Climatic Data Center.  Just find the state and then city closest to you.  As for what to plant, you might be able to sneak in some cool weather crops still like lettuce and sugar snap peas. But, you are now likely safe to go with other seasonal favorites like green beans and tomatoes.   The USDA has recently changed their planting zones to account for climate change. Here is an interactive map to calculate your planting hardiness zone.    Spring showers are in the forecast tonight. 



Futurecast This Evening

 
We could use the rain.  Check out how dry the region has been this spring.  



Percent of Average Spring Precipitation


We are roughly 60-80% of our normal spring precipitation. Unfortunately, we are only expecting about 1/10th to 1/4 of an inch tonight. This might have you wondering if you need to water  your lawn.  The Northeast Regional Climate Center has a great calculator to help you decide by entering in your zip code. Happy Gardening!

 

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Earth Day 2013!

April 22, 2013 - 05:43 PM
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This day, every year, we celebrate Earth day.  People from across the world take action and bring awareness to the Face of Climate Change

Check out this great video of the rotating Earth from space.  This is brought to us from SSEC (Space Science and Engineering Center).  The video quality is sort of low, but it's still neat.  Here's the link to the video from the SSEC page, check it out!  

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Tornado confirmed Friday evening in Fredericksburg

April 20, 2013 - 10:50 PM
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(Undated AP file photo of a tornado in Kansas.)

The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down in Fredericksburg Friday evening. Winds are estimated to have been around 90 miles per hour. The tornado cut a path nearly  three-quarters of mile long and 150 yards wide. A roof was ripped off an apartment complex on Cowan Boulevard and trees were uprooted. No injuries were reported.

At the time, a Tornado Watch had been issued for the area.

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Tornado Watch Friday

April 19, 2013 - 02:30 PM
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RADARHD CAMERAS | INTERACTIVE RADAR | WARNINGS

8:54pm:  The severe threat is over with all tornado watches canceled.  Light to moderate rain continues to fall across much of the region, but it will begin to taper off over the next few hours.  This is the last post of today's live blog.  Thanks for following our updates!

7:52pm:  Check out these wind gusts from earlier courtesy of our WeatherBug network. 70mph wind gust in Waldorf at Thomas Stone HS.  Over 50 mph gusts in Upper Marlboro, La Plata, and Huntingtown.  Still rather gusty over the next few hours, but nothing expected beyond severe limits (50mph).

7:31pm: The strongest storms are quickly exiting the region and some counties have been allowed to drop out of the Tornado Watch including Frederick in MD and Fairfax, Loudoun, Fauquier, Culpeper, Stafford, Orange and Spotsylvania in VA. 

7:30pm: Severe thunderstorm warnings canceled for the DC metro area; however, they remain in effect through 8pm for southern Maryland, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties.

6:33pm:  New severe thunderstorm warning for Fredericksburg, Culpeper, Fauquier, King George, Prince William, Spotslyvania, and Stafford counties in VA.  Also, Charles county in MD included in this warning in effect through 7:15pm. 

6:25pm:  Watching a very intense storm cell moving towards Fredericksburg.  This particular line has interesting characteristics, but definitely is producing blinding rain, possible hail, and likely damaging winds.  This line of storms is moving towards the northeast at 45mph.  Take shelter now if you are in the path of this storm.

6:00pm:   Latest StormScan really shows the intensifying line of storms stretching through central VA and NC. These storms will continue tracking ENE and will likely cause dangerous weather in DC within the next 1-2 hours. 

5:28pm:  New severe thunderstorm warnings for southwestern Orange, eastern Nelson, southeast Greene, Albemarle, and southern Madison counties until 6pm. 


 

5:12pm:  Line of heavy rain and gusty winds moving east towards the Blue Ridge.  No severe thunderstorm warnings associated with this line yet.


4:33pm: Severe Thunderstorm Warnings and Tornado Warnings are being seen across North Carolina and are beginning to extend into Southern Virginia. Stronger storms will get to the D.C. area closer to 6pm or later.

4:25pm:  The metro is still warm, muggy, breezy, and dry.  Rain and storms are moving into the viewing area now.  A line of strong thunderstorms rolling through western Maryland. 


3:19pm:  A lot of people get confused on the difference between a watch and warning.  The entire viewing area is under a Tornado Watch.  This means atmospheric conditions are conducive for the development of rotation/tornadoes.  A warning, on the other hand, means there is doppler indicated rotation or a tornado was spotted.  At this time, the area is under a watch.  Keep following our live blog, WJLA, NewsChannel8 and our social media accounts for any changes.

3:08pm: Checking or interactive radar, the line of heavier showers and storms are still out over the mountains and will move into the Shenandoah Valley over the next couple of hours.

2:55pm: Here is a look at the Tornado Watch from the Storm Prediction Center. Their team is thinking there is a moderate threat for tornadoes in the watch box but a low threat for strong tornadoes.

We think this is correct because as far as dynamics are concerned, there is plenty of shear in the atmosphere but not a lot of instability. This would be more conducive to isolated rotating storms ahead of the line and possibly more in the way of some rotating storms along a line of severe weather (something the us mets call a line echo wave pattern). There is also a moderate threat for damaging winds. 

2:06pm: The Storm Prediction Center has placed the D.C. area under a Tornado Watch until 10pm tonight. We will have more on this as we head through the afternoon but currently storms are developing over West Virginia and will move east into the D.C. area later this afternoon and evening. Stay right here for the latest updates.


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March temperatures 43rd coolest for U.S., 10th warmest for globe

April 19, 2013 - 04:00 AM
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One year after March 2012, which featured a temperature departure at DCA (Reagan National Airport) of +10 degrees, there was a stark contrast with not only D.C., but the majority of the United States experiencing below average temperatures. March 2013 featured temperatures of 0.9 degrees F below the 20th century average. This included a -3 degree F temperature departure locally at DCA. March across the U.S. was the coolest in over 10 years.

March U.S. Temperature Ranks

Global temperatures were a different story as they registered as the 10th warmest on record. Where was it warmer than average last month you ask? Take a look at the graphic below produced by NOAA's National Cimatic Data Center (NCDC).

March Temperature Anomalies (Credit: NOAA)

In North America, portions of eastern Canada to Greenland experienced much warmer than average temperatures due to the blocking pattern which kept the U.S. cool. Africa, the Middle East and most of Asia recorded warmer than average temperatures as well as Austrailia. Cooler than normal temperatures were in place across Siberia as well as the majority of Europe. 

Find the Full Global Analysis here

Find the Full U.S. Temperature and Precipitation Analysis here

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Lyrid Meteor Shower: Check It Out!

April 18, 2013 - 05:00 AM
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It's that time of year... the Lyrid meteor shower.  This meteor shower is active each year from April 16th through the 22nd.  It's the celestial form of April showers.  The Lyrids originate from the Lyra constellation and are a great sight to see in mid-April.

On the night of April 21, the 2012 Lyrid meteor shower peaked in the skies over Earth. While NASA allsky cameras were looking up at the night skies, astronaut Don Pettit aboard the International Space Station trained his video camera on Earth below. This image was taken on April 22, 2012. CREDIT: NASA/JSC/D. Pettit

Now this year, the waxing gibbous moon may interfere with ideal shower viewing, so the best time to catch the meteors is right before dawn.  Peak viewing will occur before dawn April 22nd (Sunday night into Monday morning) with between 10 to 20 meteors an hour!  Fortunately, weather conditions should be ideal for meteor viewing with clear skies and great visibility. 

If weather conditions permit, gaze the sky for possible Lyrid meteor sightings through the peak on the 22nd.   The Lyrid's are among the oldest known meteor showers with records dating back 2,700 years!  Happy meteor gazing!

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Washington, D.C. cherry blossoms in full bloom right NOW - yes, really! (PHOTO GALLERY)

April 17, 2013 - 02:30 PM
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Kwanzan cherry blossom (Photo: Adam Caskey)

Yes, most of the cherry trees in D.C. are past peak bloom and have dropped their pink and white blossoms.  However, it's not too late to see some spectacular blossoms as not all cherry trees are the same.  One variety in particular is blooming right now.  

The most common and predominant type of cherry tree is the Yoshino, which is what we in Washington are the most familiar with lining the Tidal Basin.  Of the 3770 total cherry trees on National Parks Service (NPS) land in D.C., 70% are Yoshino.  The next most prevalent type of cherry tree on NPS sites is the Kwanzan cherry tree, but it still only comprises 13% of all varieties.  The Kwanzan tree reaches peak bloom about two weeks after the popular Yoshino, and now is the right time to see them.

Personally, I think the Kwanzan variety is better looking because is has fuller, bigger blooms and are a richer color of pink.  According to the NPS, "The Kwanzan cherry tree, named after a mountain in Japan, is growing primarily in East Potomac Park. Coming into bloom two weeks later than the Yoshino, the upright Kwanzan branches bear heavy clusters of clear pink double blossoms."



East Potomac Park Kwanzan cherry tree (4/17/13)

414 Kwanzan cherry trees line East Potomac Park (Haine's Point), and the best viewing is directly across the river from Reagan National Airport.  If you can't make it down to see these full blooms, check out my pictures in the photo gallery from around sunrise this morning.  Not bad for an iphone - enjoy!

By the way, here's what's left of the Yoshino blossoms along the Tidal Basin:

 



Yoshino cherry tree

 

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Major meteorological training site in trouble due to budget cuts

April 17, 2013 - 04:00 AM
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An article was posted on the UCAR (University Corporation for Atmospheric Research) website Monday regarding the future need of donations for the COMET Program, which helps train over 275,000 meteorologists across the country and worldwide.

New area to donate on the MetEd Site

I originally found out about the needed donations through an email, as I have used this site many times to access the 100's of training modules and more than 700 hours of training on everything from meteorology and climate to oceanography and even emergency management. Here's what the short statement said,

"Greetings!  

The COMET Program staff would like to let you know in advance that in an effort to partially and proactively work to alleviate anticipated funding shortfalls we will be adding a voluntary and tax deductible “Donate” button to the MetEd website.

Thank you for your ongoing interest and support of MetEd. Look for the button and additional information about the donation process coming soon to the MetEd website."

I actually started using the program in college as a way to get extra help and training and continue to use it every year for "refresher" courses when heading into severe weather season, winter, or if I happen to want more in-depth information on a given topic. I also always make our interns sign up and use these modules, as it helps them advance their knowledge and will help them excel in their courses once they return to school.

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Watch Virginia Rocket Launch Wednesday

April 16, 2013 - 08:45 AM
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Space enthusiasts will get an eyeful Wednesday afternoon when an untested commercial rocket is launched from the Virginia Coast destined to the International Space Station.  And, you can view it here in Washington, D.C. That is, if the weather holds up.  The unmanned rocket Antares will be able to transport cargo supplies to the ISS. 



Antares Rocket

 It is scheduled to take off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia at 5p.m. EDT on Wednesday.



Google Map of NASA Wallops Flight Facility

 
Antares rocket was designed by Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, VA and it is advertised as providing  low-cost, reliable access to space. It is expected to pave the way for future unmanned cargo deliveries to the ISS.  SpaceX, another private company, has already completed two cargo delivery missions.  The rocket is currently on the launch pad and stands at 131 feet tall.  The two-stage vehicle will be launched toward the Southeast out over the Atlantic Ocean.  Low Clouds Wednesday afternoon could potentially hold up the lift off.  NASA officials say there is a 45% chance that lauch will take place as scheduled.  If the skies are clear enough, you will be able to see a bright light streaming into the sky.  Here is a map of the areas the rocket should be visible on a clear day. 



Antares Viewing Map

You can also view the launch live on NASA TV .Coverage on NASA TV starts at 4 p.m. EDT.  For more information on Antares, check out Orbital's fact sheet.  There is also more information on NASA's website.   

 

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Nuisance rain this week

April 15, 2013 - 07:25 AM
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An unsettled weather pattern will cause almost daily rain chances this week, but it won't be everywhere and won't amount to much, so don't expect a washout.  Since our region is not in any kind of drought, I consider it nuisance rain because it's not the kind to soak in and help the lawn, garden and reservoirs. Instead, it's the type of rain that's just enough to scare folks inside at times.  It'll mainly just be sprinkles and not much more than that until Friday night into early Saturday.  At that point, a cold front should cause a good soaking before plenty of sunshine and cooler temperatures into the weekend.

Here's Monday morning's 7 day forecast, and notice the numerous slight chances of rain.




However, look at NOAA's Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) from the Weather Prediction Center through Thursday morning as it indicates only 0.01" to 0.10" of rain possible in the D.C. metro area. 

 



QPF 12z Mon through 12z Thur

A strong cold front should hit Friday night, and this should bring more substantial and soaking rain.  Preliminarily, I'd say approximately 0.33" and 0.75" possible at that point.  It also looks like this front will drop high temperatures into the mid 60s for the weekend with sunshine.

No drought according to the U.S. Drought Monitor:



Drought Monitor


Drought Monitor

 

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