From the ABC 7 Weather team

Archive for July 2011

Code Red air quality - a quick explainer

July 22, 2011 - 10:01 AM
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I'm writing this quick blog for a few reasons. One, I teach environmental science and many of my students ask why code red days occur and why they occur most often in the summer months, and two, I saw a large number of people exercising (running and biking) last evening, presumably to avoid the excessive heat that has engulfed our region. Lets start with the first point.

Poor air quality days, like today, occur because of the emission of certain chemical compounds into the atmosphere that often times react with light from the sun to produce pollutants. The emission of these chemical compounds, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels for electricity production (coal) and for transportation (gasoline and diesel) couple with other pollutants to give us bad air to breath. The two most prevalent pollutants that give us poor air quality in the D.C region are ground-level ozone and incredibly tiny particles of materials like dust and carbon (among other things).

The reason for more poor air quality days in the summer, like today, has to do with several factors:

1. Ground-level ozone, the bad ozone, forms when our power plants and cars emit a chemical compounds called nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compunds that react with sunlinght to produce this form of unhealthy ozone. We use more electricity right now to power more air conditioning systems, that allows for more emmisions of these aforementioned chemicals into the atmosphere, that increases ground-level ozone concentrations and degrades the air.

2. Our summer months have days that are filled with much more light from the sun and it is this sunlight that works in tandem with the chemical compounds we emit from fossil fuel use (again electricity production and transportation) to create more atmospheric pollutants than at any other time of the year.

3. From a weather standpoint in the summer much of the North American continent is heated up in an almost semi-uniform manner and thus we often do not get very strong frontal systems (like cold fronts) to pass by and deliver big changes in air. These frontal systems are often accompanied by strong winds, think of the winds our region gets in the fall, winter, and spring, and because of the lack of strong winds over a large geographic area during the summer months the air in our atmosphere can stick around for days and become stagnant. We keep emitting pollutants into our atmosphere in the summertime and without strong winds to move these pollutants away from our region they accumulate more and more into the air we breath and degrade the air quality.

Now to my second point about the people exercising last evening outside.

Out of our two primary pollutants that cause bad air quality, ground-level ozone and particle matter, its ground-level ozone that accumulates and can be very detrimental to our health. Remember, it takes sunlight to make ground-level ozone, and we are getting sunlight all day long that works to form this harmful air pollutant, so it is the afternoon and evening that has the largest amount of ground-level ozone present in the atmosphere (with the highest concentrations). So exercising in the evening will expose you to more harmful pollution that at most other times of the day. Don't do it. Exercise in the morning or inside at a gym on these poor air quality days.

Monitor our air quality be visiting this web site from the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

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Three near-earth objects buzz our planet this weekend

July 22, 2011 - 07:00 AM
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Near-earth object 243 Ida; not on track to buzz Earth. (NASA)

Deploy shields!

Wait, we don't have shields? Eh, no worries, this probably isn't a big deal.

From Friday to Saturday, a trio of space rocks will whiz close to the Earth. In this case, "close" means the nearest asteroid will miss the planet by about 3.6 million kilometers. Still, fireball fanatics are on the alert. The good folks over at Lunar Meteorite Hunters posted recently:

Projected NEO [Near-Earth Object] debris activity associated with potential Earth meteor encounters. I expect that we will see possible increased bolide /fireball /meteor activity from 20JULY ~ 26JUL2011 just prior to or just after closer encounters with NEOs (2007 RQ17) and (2007 DD). At time of this post there will still be more NEOs discovered so updates are expected. Cameras ready!

So what exactly are these flying balls of space junk? Here's the lineup, courtesy of NASA's Near-Earth Object Program website:

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D.C. weather forecast Friday: Just don't go outside today

July 22, 2011 - 04:49 AM
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Thinking of going outside today? Don't. Seriously, just draw the curtains, crank the A/C and chalk this day off as a loss.

Isn't there something at home you've been meaning to do? Sort through old receipts, plane an uneven bathroom door? Either of those things would be intensely pleasurable compared to stepping outside, where the actual temperatures are expected to top out at 103 degrees and the heat index feels like 110. This is looking like the absolute worst heat day of 2011.

I bet there's a big wad of hair in your shower drain that needs removing. Or what's going on with that spider-generating area behind the couch that hasn't been dusted since Judge Ito was on TV? What, you don't have a broom? Nevermind, then. Just make yourself a big sandwich and think about what you'll be doing next week when it'll be slightly cooler, because you sure as heck aren't going outside today.

Listen to what the pros are saying. The National Weather Service recommends that people stay in air-conditioned rooms today, away from the sun, calling relatives and neighbors in case medical problems arise. That's not paranoia speaking; by official reckoning, 22 people have perished under this “heat dome” perched over more than two-dozen states. The sun is literally cooking turkeys alive in Minnesota. In D.C., there's an excessive heat warning until 10 p.m. – best to stay inside.

Want to know why reacquainting yourself with Balki today is a better idea than venturing out for ice cream and juice? Here's why:

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Delmarva Beach forecast for Friday through Sunday, July 22-24

July 21, 2011 - 03:20 PM
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It's that time again and it couldn't have gotten here any faster. With temperatures hanging around the 100 degree mark in town, what will the forecast be for the beaches this weekend? Well I have the answers for you right here, as always, every Thursday and Friday. Just think, as it sits at 97 degrees this afternoon in the D.C. area, it is currently 79 at the beaches. Wouldn't that be nice? Here's the forecast for Friday and the weekend.

Friday

Mostly Sunny, HOT and Humid

Highs: Mid to upper 90s

Friday will finally bring warmer temperatures to the beaches as winds swing around to the southwest. Highs should reach the mid to upper 90s under mostly sunny skies. Heat index values will be as high as 110 degrees. This is one of those days you'll want to hit the water early and often. Be sure to wear shoes or sandals on the beach as a few people reported 1st and 2nd degree burns on their feet last weekend.

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Lightning demolishes two sheds, car in St. Mary's County

July 21, 2011 - 07:00 AM
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Lightning spruces up a forest fire. (National Weather Service / Phoenix Gazette)

Though people who live close to D.C. might not have known it, weather was happening in a big way Tuesday night in the 'burbs. Flicking tongues of electricity licked St. Mary's County all over, setting at least two house fires and taking out a car.

The flames first began to crackle around 9 p.m. from a shed on Three Notch Road. A passerby noticed the grievously wounded structure and called it in, eliciting a response from 20 firefighters who got the blaze under control in 15 minutes. There was no sprinkler system, according to Maryland's fire marshal's office, and the homeowner incurred damage of about $5,000 as the shed and its contents burned to the ground.

Its death-lust for sheds all stirred up, the storm launched a second barrage at tiny Grayhound Lane at 9:32 p.m. Another spray of lightning went out and another shed burst into flames. "The shed, all of the contents and a vehicle were destroyed as a result of the fire," says the fire marshal's report.

So it's established: Lightning hates sheds. What else did D.C. proper miss out on Tuesday night?

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Geyser of rainwater lifts Montreal car into the air (VIDEO)

July 21, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Think D.C.'s exploding manholes are bad? Say hello to the Kraken blowholes that are Montreal's manholes.

On Monday, a distended storm system unloaded nearly a foot of rain in less than an hour over downtown Montreal. The massive influx of runoff had to go somewhere and, unfortunately for one driver, most of it seemed to explode directly underneath the silver car shown in the video below.

The gushing from the manhole starts off slow but eventually builds up a head worthy of Old Faithful, rocketing off the screen and at one point holding the vehicle aloft on its front wheels for a good five seconds. The car hops and drops so much it would gather cheers at a Detroit low-rider contest. By the time the Kraken's blowhole stops squirting, the auto's sodden rear end is going to need a miracle of a repair job.

This same low-pressure system was also responsible for dropping a potent downburst onto Ottawa's Bluesfest late on Sunday, crumpling a stage and sending the members of Cheap Trick scrambling for their lives. In this bout of Humanity v. Weather, weather clearly emerged laughing and holding the title belt.

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Thinking of flying in this heat? You might want to pack lighter!

July 20, 2011 - 07:15 PM
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We all know it’s been extremely hot over much of the Central U.S. this past week, and it’s going to be very hot in D.C. over the next few days. But did you know that this extreme combination of heat and humidity is taking a toll not only on us but the airline industry?

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Record highs challenged with the heat wave through Sunday

July 20, 2011 - 03:54 PM
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With temperatures skyrocketing into the 100s over the next couple of days, the D.C. area will be close to breaking some records. Oddly enough, there doesn't appear to be any clear-cut record breaking highs looming besides at Dulles, as their climate record is a lot shorter than BWI Marshall and Reagan National.

July 22 and 23 appear to be the days with the highest likelihood of broken records. With highs expected to reach the 100 degree mark Thursday through Saturday, that should be enough to at least tie a few area records. The oldest records are on July 22, with Reagan's set in 1926 and BWI's set in 1957. The newest records are from just last year at each airport on the 24th which would be Sunday if the heat holds that long.

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Nearly mile-high haboob (dust storm) hits Phoenix, Ariz. (VIDEO)

July 20, 2011 - 02:40 PM
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Habooooooob!

Hikers in Arizona this Monday attempting to breathe in nice, fresh desert air got instead lungfuls of desiccated topsoil and spores of the fungus Coccidioides immitis, which can cause a dangerous condition called Valley Fever that involves lung abscesses.

Yes, it's haboobs again. The Southwest weather phenomenon, also seen in the arid Middle East, last made headlines on July 5 when a towering one perhaps more powerful than any in the last three decades thoroughly powdered Phoenix. (Haboob photo gallery.) On Monday afternoon, three more dust storms rolled over Arizona with cloud tops approaching 4,000 feet. They grounded airplanes, knocked out power to a couple thousand people and gave a little more credence to those who believe climate change is increasing the world's yearly diet of haboob.

This trio of sandstorms arrived in the midst of a particularly dry North American monsoon season, a climate pattern that brings moist Pacific and Gulf of California air over the United States' intermountain region plus a good portion of Mexico. The dusky, ochre-colored dust reduced visibility in some cities to a squinty 60 feet and compounded the day's utter misery by adding stinging particles on top of 112-degree heat.

Oh, and by adding those deleterious fungal spores, which live in the first few inches of desert topsoil and are drawn aloft by haboobs such as this. Certain doctors believe these cacti-rustling weather monsters are jacking up the incidence of Valley Fever in 2011, not a great thing when you read about the three forms of fever described by the National Institutes of Health:

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'Worker window art': Summer beach sprouts in D.C. office window

July 20, 2011 - 12:38 PM
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For D.C. folks, there's a few good ways to tell when summer has really arrived in the city. A sickly hot swelling of air that somehow persists past midnight is one way. The emergence of something called the "heat index" is another. And a beach appearing in Suann Hecht's downtown office window is one more.

If you've ever walked by the D.C. Public Defender Service on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Archives metro, chances are you've noticed Hecht's colorful dioramas. She makes them for Christmas, Emancipation Day, inaugurals and, as you can see in these photos, for the arrival of summer. (And yes, she does have permission to do this.) When I interviewed Hecht about her "worker window art," as a friend of hers dubbed it, she explained it was meant for the kids who strolled by from neighboring daycare centers. But some of it is undoubtedly for Hecht's amusement, too. She said:

“I don’t see myself as an artist, but I have this creative streak in me,” says Hecht. That streak tells her to collect geegaws and arrange them throughout her immediate surroundings. “I even interior decorate when I’m in a hotel,” she says. “I get a jar of something. I always have flowers. I have shells.”

You can read more about Hecht's strange journey from drawing nudes to plotting to seize her coworkers' windows for guerrilla art here. Below you'll see what's currently on display at D.C.'s littlest museum.

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Hiking in Shenandoah National Park

July 20, 2011 - 04:09 AM
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So while the weather was still just about perfect with temperatures in the 80s and dew points in the 50s to near 60, I decided to head to the mountains for an early morning hike on Saturday. As I planned this on Wednesday, I really had no idea where we were going until the last second Friday afternoon.

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Heat-related deaths start to rack up in U.S., abroad

July 19, 2011 - 02:38 PM
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Have you noticed that it's hot? (NOAA)

The D.C. fire and emergency department is reporting a "moderate to heavy" call volume for mostly heat-related medical issues, and the real heat hasn't even gotten here yet. So what's it like in places of the U.S. that are really boiling today?

Pretty bad, it seems. The National Weather Service stated yesterday that 13 deaths this past week in the Midwest can be tied to the heat wave traveling at this moment toward the East Coast. But the real number is probably higher. In Kansas City alone, health officials have logged 10 suspected heat-related deaths. In Witchita, Kan., a 65-year-old man died while mowing his lawn; his internal body temperature was 107 degrees.

It's not just the U.S. that's sweating, either; in Japan, some people are blaming a blossoming of 35 heat deaths since June to the government's polite request that people use their ACs less to conserve power. (After the Fukushima disaster, about a third of Japan's nuke plants are not running.) The number of Japanese traveling to hospitals for heatstroke is triple the amount of June 2010

In other heat-misery news, CNN reports that Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay had to leave yesterday's ballgame in Chicago during the fifth inning with "his face beet-red and his jersey soaked" (the heat index was above 100 degrees):

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Watch the heat wave spread over the U.S., East Coast (VIDEO)

July 19, 2011 - 12:00 PM
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Heat! It's parboiling the pavement, turning the Potomac to bathwater and making the morning hot coffee so unbearable (but screw ordering iced... that's, like, 75 cents extra). But because heat is basically a bunch of agitated molecules bumping into each other, humankind can never see the visage of this summertime enemy causing so much torment. OR CAN WE?

Proving that nothing is too ephemeral to resist being turned into an animation, the folks at NOAA's Environmental Visualization Laboratory have just released a catchy model of the ferocious heat wave that is coasting over the United States at this very moment. See the below video, which shows the eastward movement of a strong, heat-generating "shroud" of high pressure. The model is based on high temperatures from July 13 to July 21 as predicted by the North American Model, one of the most widely used computer simulations for weather forecasting.

In D.C., the heat index is on track to knock against 100 degrees tomorrow. (Forecast.) But that's just an amuse-bouche for the steaming slab of hot weather that Ma Nature is about to serve up. The local National Weather Service office has put the District under an Excessive Heat Watch for Thursday afternoon, when the heat index is expected to float between 105 and 110 degrees. Actual temperatures after Thursday could hover around 100 until Saturday. And the Pittsburgh NWS office adds this dismal footnote

NOTE THE APPARENT TEMPERATURE ONLY ACCOUNTS FOR THE EFFECT OF TEMPERATURE AND DEW POINT, BUT DOES NOT ACCOUNT FOR THE EXTRA HEATING EFFECT OF DIRECT SUNSHINE, WHICH CAN ADD ANOTHER 15 DEGREES TO THE APPARENT TEMPERATURE.

The average high temperature for this time of year in D.C.? That would be 89 degrees.

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Satellite sees Tropical Storm Bret forming in Bahamas (VIDEO)

July 19, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Twin tropical storms are making a weather sandwich of North America, with Dora whipping up waves south of Guatemala and Bret playing in the surf off the Bahamas. The crew aboard a Hurricane Hunter airplane dispatched from the U.S. recently noted increasing winds within Bret's tumultuous center, and it is possible the storm could balloon into a hurricane early on Tuesday. The expected track of Bret steers it away from the East Coast this week.

Bret began its life Sunday as Tropical Depression 2, a moist dimple in the air over the northern Bahamas' Abaco Islands, but quickly raged up into storm strength by the time folks in D.C. were grabbing their morning coffee yesterday. Thanks to the unblinking eye of NOAA's GOES-13 satellite, you can see this all unfolding in the below time-lapse video recorded from July 16 to July 18. Just look at that atmosphere bubble.

Bret is only the second tropical storm to form in the Atlantic in a hurricane season that runs until the end of November. As mentioned before, NOAA is calling for a very busy Atlantic season with 12 to 18 named storms predicted to become 6 to 10 hurricanes. (The yearly average is 11 named storms and six hurricanes.)

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Typhoon Ma-on punking out near Japan (PHOTO)

July 18, 2011 - 02:35 PM
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What is behind the once-so-promising Typhoon Ma-on's recent weakening? According to the U.S. Navy's Joint Typhoon Warning Center, the whirling weathermaker's gigantic scale is hobbling its efforts to strengthen, as is an "eyewall replacement cycle that turned out to be slow and inefficient." Those things have allowed the typhoon's ragged eye to rip apart and allow in masses of clouds.

Even though Ma-on (uh, "be on" in Filipino?) isn't the slashing typhoon it could have been, it's still in the heavyweight category. In the NOAA image above from today, the sluggish system is seen beating the coast of Kyushu with gale-force winds extending about 200 miles from the typhoon center. In the U.S., it would be considered a Category 2-strength hurricane. Ma-on's expected track still takes it all along the southeast coast of Honshu this week; view it here.

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Monday forecast: Hot, nasty, wretched weather this week in D.C.

July 18, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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A pork cracklin' will have nothing on your exposed skin this week in D.C. (Photo courtesy of Jack W. Reid)

This weekend marked the average time of the year in D.C. when the heat hits the highest registers. It wasn't so hot. But just give it a couple days.

"People who think or actually have a hot body and dress skimpy all the time will actually look cool by the end of the week," forebodes ABC7 meteorologist Steve Rudin. So dig around in the bottom of your dressers, because you're going to need the skimpiest, most Victoria-Secret-looking wardrobe to survive this incoming flood of heat.

A Bermuda High directing streams of moist, steamy air will gradually inflate the District this week with air more commonly seen in an unventilated Chinese fanny-pack-cobbling factory. (Extended forecast.) Because of the choking atmosphere, a Code Orange air-quality alert stands for Monday for D.C. and the suburbs. Temperatures are expected to stretch up to the mid-90s with armpit-soaking dew points around 70.

Make it to Tuesday and there's a chance for cooling thunderstorms as a cold front moves through, but any respite from the broiling will be brief. The heat index late this week still looks on track to touch 105 degrees or above.

Says Rudin: "Remember this during the heat wave: 'No shirt, no shoes, no service' at McDonald's. So if you want one of those tasty new frozen lemonade drinks, you had better dress right or use the drive-through."

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Blasted heat returning to D.C. with a vengeance next week

July 15, 2011 - 03:00 PM
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Arm yourself with Super Soakers and water balloons, D.C.; the forces of summer are regrouping.

While this weekend should be pleasant enough with no repeat of last year's 90-degree-plus days, courtesy of a mass of high pressure wafting cool Quebecois air down to the Mid-Atlantic, a Jurassic-sized ridge in the jet stream* is looming on weather models for next week. The ridge pushes up in the middle of the country and then barges eastward, bringing stinging waves of heat back to D.C. It's likely to be steamy each day next week with temperatures in the mid-to-upper 90s, but of course with the heat index it'll feel hotter.

How hot? Judging by these daily maximum heat-index forecasts from the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center, the likelihood of forehead-wiping temperatures really starts ratcheting up on Thursday, with a 70 percent chance of heat that feels in excess of 100 degrees. On Friday, it's nearly 90 percent certain that the heat index will burn through the 100-degree ceiling in the District. The same day, parts of southern Virginia and both Carolinas are expected to blow past 105 feels-like heat. In more dismal news, ABC7's Bob Ryan says that "right now the last two weeks of July look like mid-to-high 90s every day here."

If you've been delaying turning on the A/C by taking cold showers before bed and sleeping in front of fans, 1) please e-mail me to describe how painful it's been, and 2) next week might finally be the time to bite the bullet and start racking up the electric bill with cooling, soothing artificial air.

* In the initial post I spelled this "scream," I guess because that's what the forecast makes we want to do?

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U.S. lightning deaths up to 10; Dad, son killed 48 years apart

July 15, 2011 - 01:22 PM
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A Boy Scout killed by a bolt Wednesday in Utah brought the year's count of known lightning fatalities to 10, or nine males and one female. The average year sees 55 deaths, according to NOAA, so this is probably just the beginning of a grim and predictable tally. (If you don't clamber for shelter when the sky starts to crackle, perhaps these lightning-strike survivor stories will help convince you.)

July is historically the most active month for lightning injuries, and 2011 isn't bucking that trend. Halfway into the month there have already been four deaths, whereas June had five total. The latest occurred when a hailstorm overtook a scout troop camping in Utah's Scofield State Park. Troop leaders saw a bolt score a direct lethal hit on a 12-year-old boy and, unbeknownst to them at first, a glancing blow to another scout who later had to be taken to the hospital with burns. (Depending on soil type, lightning can arc up to 60 feet from the point of ground contact.) This is Utah's second fatal lightning strike this year; on July 11, a man was blasted while hiking in the open desert.

The eighth fatality this year was a weird one. On July 3, Stephen Rooney was lunching at a family picnic in Hammonton, N.J., when he wandered off to light a cigar. Then,

The party host, Rooney's cousin and next door neighbor, Funzi Digerolamo, says a giant bolt shook the yard.
"Hit the tree, went up the tree. It electrified all through the root system of the tree at that time so he was standing right in the electric field," Digerolamo said.
Digerolamo's son Scott was blown right off a bench, but survived.

Rooney wasn't so lucky; he died five days afterward. According to friends his last statement was something about lightning not striking two people in the same family. Rooney's father, it turns out, had been killed by lightning 48 years ago.

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Delmarva beach forecast for this weekend July 16-17

July 15, 2011 - 08:26 AM
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How about those conditions yesterday? Talk about nice! We can expect another one of those perfect summer days today with highs in the mid 80s around town. What should you expect at the beaches?  If you are heading out there today, highs should be around 80 under sunny skies. As always, we have the beach outlook here every Thursday and Friday for the weekend ahead. Check our Delmarva Beach Resource Guide for more information.

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A rare 'moonbow' and a Full Thunder Moon (VIDEO)

July 15, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Miss last night's Full Thunder Moon? Will you be satisfied with a warmed-over Thunder Moon from years past? In this case the answer has got to be yes, because this Thunder Moon footage includes a freakin' moonbow.

That's right: There doesn't need to be a blazing sun in the sky or even rain to create rainbows. (Read about how double rainbows are formed here.) A full moon and a mechanism to create floating spray – say, a geyser or waterfall – is sufficient to paint the sky with a Crayola pack of colors. And that's what happens each year if the weather elements align right in Yosemite National Park, where waterfalls swollen with runoff project ghostly moonbows through the wee hours of the night.

If you are heading to Yosemite this year, this website has a calendar of predicted moonbow times and locations. You might also try making a poor man's moonbow in your backyard with a flashlight and hose, although it might cause the neighbors to look at you funny. (More moonbow photos here, here and here.)

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