From the ABC 7 Weather team

Archive for September 2011

Northern Virginia is 6th smoggiest place in the U.S.: Report

September 21, 2011 - 02:11 PM
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Denizens of pretty-much-perfect Northern Virginia might be alarmed to hear that their wonderland of neatly trimmed lawns and cupcake-slinging food trucks lies under a pall of nastiness. Thanks in large part to all the drivers on the Beltway, above D.C. hovers a thick, choking layer of smog that made nearly a month's worth of days this summer hazardous to breathe in.

That's according to a new report by Environment Virginia, whose members had a sit down in Arlington today to share their findings with Congressman Jim Moran and Virginia Delegate Patrick Hope. The report puts U.S. cities in order of how many poor air-quality days they had in 2010 and 2011, and Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria and other Virginia burbs (along with D.C.... and Baltimore!) are right up there with top smog offenders like Los Angeles and Atlanta.

The environmental group uses a slightly unorthodox methodology. While the EPA's smog standards state that ozone levels are potentially dangerous when they exceed 75 parts per billion, Environment Virginia counted days when the levels ranged above 60 ppb, because that's "a level that scientists agree is more protective of public health," the group says. Using that definition, the group found that D.C.-area residents breathed in dangerous amounts of pollution on 33 days last year and 28 days this summer. (The heat wave was a particularly polluted time.) That's not great because, as the EPA says:

 

Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and congestion. It can worsen bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. "Bad" ozone also can reduce lung function and inflame the linings of the lungs. Repeated exposure may permanently scar lung tissue.

Children and the elderly are particularly affected by smog. Because many of these days fell just below the EPA's current 75 ppb standard, sensitive people would not have known about the foulness in the air from the standard National Weather Service alerts. The report comes just weeks after President Obama decided to delay tightening the nation's smog standards in light of stiff Republican opposition. Here are some specific findings:

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Falling UARS satellite: Is it happening already?

September 21, 2011 - 12:24 PM
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Think hiding in your home until the UARS satellite falls later this week will save you? Think again!

Debbie Payne, a resident of Petaluma, Calif., was milling around the house earlier this month when she heard a "huge crash and the whole house shook," according to the below news report. When she went outside she noticed a new hole in the eave of her house, just a few feet from where her son puts his head at night.

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Expect 4 more Atlantic hurricanes in 2011, says new forecast

September 21, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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A private weather company says we should brace for at least two major hurricanes in the coming months, like 2004's Hurricane Ivan, pictured above. (NOAA)

Jeebers, as if Irene wasn't enough excitement for the year, a private forecasting company is warning to expect a whole barrel load of hurricane activity before the season ends on Nov. 30.

In an update to its 2011 Atlantic hurricane outlook, Weather Services International predicts that the U.S. will be menaced by four more hurricanes in the next couple months. (This is after NOAA also beefed up its outlook.) WSI thinks that two of these cyclones will be of the "major" variety, rating at Category 3 or above on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. That's powerful enough to create a "high risk of injury or death to people, livestock, and pets due to flying and falling debris" and to destroy nearly all mobile homes built before 1994, according to the National Hurricane Center. Hurricane Ivan was a Category 3 when it hit the Gulf Coast in 2004, and look how that played out

WSI has also bumped up the total number of named storms it expects to materialize in the Atlantic basin. The old forecast had 18 named storms, but with the number already at 14 the company believes America should now prepare for 21. Lucky 21! More storms than that and we'd have to start employing the Greek alphabet for names.

But enough scary talk. No hurricane forecaster can predict whether tempests weeks in the future will touch the United States' hallowed ground. It could be none of them, given how these one-eyed monsters have tended to veer away from the East Coast this year. There were a ton of named storms in 2010 (meaning 19) thanks to La Niña, but no hurricanes actually made landfall. Here's an explanation of why that was, if you're curious.

What had the WSI meteorologists scurrying to their keyboards for a rewrite? It's the nature of the tropics in 2011: They've been extremely productive at churning out cyclone after cyclone. According to the Weather Channel, which owns the forecasting company:

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Closed lows can bring weather woes

September 20, 2011 - 09:22 PM
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A closed low that will affect the D.C. region through next week

Remember the flash floods that started off September? I'm sure you do. That was all courtesy of a fairly infrequent weather occurrence: a combination of a former tropical system, tropical moisture, and a stagnant weather flow. This time around it's a similarly stagnant weather flow, but instead of the leftovers from a tropical system, it's the evolution of a regular ol' storm system that gets cut off from the rest of the general weather flow and becomes a "cutoff low."

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Bye bye, cold: D.C. weather is warming up this week

September 20, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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Cram those fleeces back into the closet! This week brings a cheery surprise in the form of a steamy serving of hot temperatures.

Advanced weather tech from ABC7 has opened a rift in time and sampled the weather of the not-so-distant future. A Bermuda High is encamping off the East Coast, pumping reservoirs of moist, pecan-scented Southern air up to Washington, D.C. Temperatures will ascend today into the mid-70s, making Monday’s 70-degree high at Reagan a pathetic memory. The gusty influx will carry a chance of showers, particularly north of the city in the morning and in the mountains later in the day.

Peering farther into the future-mists, this warming trend appears to continue into Wednesday, with a bump near 79 degrees. It finally reaches a climax on Thursday with a potential high of 81 degrees. Cloud cover looks thick and foreboding throughout this time period, helping the temperatures stay fixed in this pleasant place on the thermometer. For folks willing to travel for their calefaction, like snakes seeking a hot rock, the shores of the Chesapeake Bay should be among the sultriest places in the region.

The time/weather continuum begins to develop uncertainty after Thursday, however, with the gloomy incursion of another cold front possible by the weekend. Still, don’t expect any wild swings in temperature like D.C. got last week. Everything appears to be happening in moderation for now.

That’s not typical of the nation as a whole, which has experienced recent weather extremes. On Sept. 15, it snowed on top of Mauna Kea, Hawaii’s venerated volcano. Boaters in Alaska yesterday faced down hurricane-force winds of 65 knots near the Barren Islands, home of tube-nosed birds. And in South Dakota, firefighters are on heightened alert for grassland wildfires that could “spread quickly becoming erratic with extreme behavioral characteristics,” according to a National Weather Service alert for “extreme fire danger.”

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More hurricanes ahead? Signs of a tropical cyclone in Atlantic

September 19, 2011 - 03:00 PM
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With two and a half months still ahead in the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, the number of big storms that have risen from the ocean and hurtled toward the U.S. East Coast is already above average. There have been 14 named tropical storms this year, whereas the average year incurs 11 named storms.

The weather has been on par or underwhelming in other respects. Only two hurricanes, Katia and Irene, obtained Category 3 strength, which would make this an average year for major hurricanes if no more appear. (Fingers crossed.) There have been three Atlantic hurricanes, total, which is far below the huge outbreak of seven to 10 hurricanes that government forecasters had predicted earlier this year.

But that could certainly change as the season grinds toward its end on Nov. 30. Here's one system that the old salts at the National Hurricane Center are monitoring. Located about 1,450 miles east of the Windward Islands of the West Indies, this wet spot of showers and thunderstorms is showing signs that it could swell into something more spectacular very soon. The NHC gives it a "high chance" of becoming a tropical depression in the next two days, and from there on the system could grow into Tropical Storm Ophelia.

It is too early to predict where the storm could head if it starts to bulk up. Tropical storms this year have tended, as they often do, to shy away from the East Coast. Take a glimpse of this 2011 storm-track map (blues are weaker systems, yellows and oranges stronger ones; here is a full key):

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Take a joy ride over Earth inside the Space Station (VIDEO)

September 19, 2011 - 01:45 PM
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UPDATE 2:25 p.m.: I thought as astounding as this video was, it needed a soundtrack.

ORIGINAL: I've been beaten to posting this by the tireless Jason Samenow over at Capital Weather Gang, but it's too good a find to let fall into the cuttings pile. Remember that photo gallery of cities as seen at night from the International Space Station? Well, now there's a video that shows what astronauts see as they cruise over the darkened planet, and it is fantastic.

Science educator James Drake created the short movie by stitching together hundreds of still shots from NASA's Gateway to Astronaut Photograph of Earth, a pretty cool place to kill a few minutes in its own right. Here's a key to what you're seeing: The video begins with the spacecraft gliding above the Pacific Ocean and then buzzing both North and South America, with lightning seen crackling within a dozen storm systems. The sunrise at the end occurs as the ISS nears Antarctica. Drake says that visible landmarks, in order, are:

Vancouver Island, Victoria, Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Fransisco, Los Angeles. Phoenix. Multiple cities in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. Mexico City, the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, Lightning in the Pacific Ocean, Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and the Amazon. Also visible is the Earths ionosphere (thin yellow line) and the stars of our galaxy.

For more killer shots from, and of, space, head on over to Drake's Tumblr, Infinity Imagined.

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WATCH: A wormy rope tornado wriggles in Oklahoma

September 19, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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No sir, Mr. Grant County: I ain't applying for your immediate job opening for a heavy-duty-equipment operator. I heard about the kind of tornadoes you got yourself in Oklahoma, and I don't want none of it.

Exhibit A: This armpit hair from hell that stretched out over the prairie near Wakita (a town featured in Twister!) on Saturday. What in the name of Scott Momaday is this thing?

The description on the Weather Channel calls it an "elephant-trunk tornado," though it doesn't jibe with the descriptions of elephant-trunk twisters floating around on the net. That flavor of funnel seems to be a tapered, swaying beast that resembles more the shape of a classic tornado. More likely that the WC was referring to a twister that developed at an earlier point that day, as seen in the entire video filmed by Norman City chaser Ben Holcomb.

(Not enough elephant trunk for ya? Here's a pachydermal tornado from the Storm Chasers. It is three miles long and is "one of the most sought-after shot for chasers," according to the guys beholding it.)

So what is this tapeworm in the sky? Tornadoes come in all shapes and styles, from stovepipe and wedge to multivortex and sidewinder, but this feller is probably a rope tornado, one of the final stages that many twisters go through before dying. A rope tornado sticks its immense proboscis into the ground sometimes from a height of miles, spinning away into the narrowest penstroke in the sky. Nevertheless, their thin build can be deceptive as circulation is often still going strong. According to Chase Day:

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Lightning kills construction worker at casino in Atlantic City

September 16, 2011 - 03:31 PM
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Atlantic City as seen from the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Lightning killed one construction worker there on Thursday. By Tony the Misfit.

Nature has been busy with its dreadful business in the past few weeks. The last time the StormWatch 7 blog checked on the national lightning-death count, in mid-August, it was at 19 following an electrical barrage at SeaWorld. The list has since grown to 25 fatalities, with the most recent being a construction worker who was blitzed while erecting a casino in Atlantic City.

The 40-year-old man was on the seventh floor of the 48-story, $2.4 billion Revel resort complex, the tallest building in A.C. that is scheduled to open next spring, when a quick-moving storm unleashed tongues of flame onto his group that somehow found their way into the building. (This was right around the time a waterspout developed in Ocean City.) The electricity traveled from a container used to move concrete to hit three people nearby, including the doomed worker, Bryan Bradley, who died of his injuries at the hospital. Another man suffered burns to his hands, and a third was seemingly doing OK with minor injuries. It's been deemed a "freak incident" by a local TV station.

Since Aug. 18, four men and one woman have also succumbed to bolts from the sky. They are: Volker Kunz, a German tourist who was struck while sheltering under a pine tree in Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park; Kirk Snyder, killed while setting up camp in Westcliffe, Colo.; Justin Inversso, a lifeguard who got hit while evacuating an water slide at a Tampa theme park (this one was particularly terrible; said his father: "It's a victory for him, in the sense he got to go to heaven as a birthday gift"). There was also Patty Gilliam, a Kansas teacher who was riding her bike when violent storms descended. The local news says, "Gilliam turned around and was heading home when she was hit by lightning."

This year, Utah and Missouri have logged the most lightning deaths with three each. An average year sees 55 lightning fatalities, so no doubt there will be more grim news in the months ahead.

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Friday weather roundup: Yawning chasm swallows puppy, etc.

September 16, 2011 - 01:28 PM
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Good afternoon! Welcome to the Friday weather roundup, fortified with the precious cries of a puppy in distress. This week:

Hurricane Maria has started to enter her "extratropical transition," a very special stage that about 45 percent of Atlantic hurricanes go through once they move north of the East Coast. During ET, a hurricane often gains a lot of forward momentum and can intensify greatly, putting landlubbers at risk. A hurricane's warm, tropical core will eventually be replaced by a core of pure coldness, and the system will join up with other Arctic storms and air currents.

Maria is racing northward over Newfoundland with such power that it is beating out the usual weakening forces of ultra-cold water. It is one of only a dozen hurricanes to make landfall in Newfoundland. Still, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center expect the storm to be absorbed within a frontal system within the next 24 hours. Read the forecast discussion here. This is a good, current satellite image of Maria, courtesy of MODIS.

• As prophesied in the Nerd Scrolls, scientists from NASA have found a planet that resembles Tatooine, treasured home of Duke Skywalker. (Ha, just testing you there!) According to the Star Wars fan version of Wikipedia, Wookiepedia, Tatooine "orbited two suns, Tatoo I and Tatoo II and was covered in deserts and rock formations, so the days were extremely arid and bright, especially during double noon.... The average humidity level was 5.4%." (It's the details that count.)

Well, this new Saturn-sized planet spotted by the Kepler space telescope also has two suns, though it's far from being a desert world. Kepler-16b is thought to be composed of half rock, half gas and is not conducive to any known form of life. That would make it pretty hard for Tatooine's hardscrabble moisture farmers to eke out a living there. Still, a representative from Lucasfilm Ltd. took the opportunity to announce the discovery with NASA: "There is no doubt these discoveries influence and inspire storytellers. Their very existence serves as cause to dream bigger and open our minds to new possibilities beyond what we think we 'know.'"

bantha tatooine nasa kepler suns

A bantha from Tatooine, courtesy of Wookiepedia

PUPPY ALERT! Over in Garland, Texas, the drought-ravaged ground is so dry that giant cracks are appearing. One of those cracks just caught a puppy. It took animal-extraction experts some 40 minutes to get the chasm to release its death grip on the one-month-old dog, which kind of squeaks like a guinea pig. Enjoy the adorable video after the jump.

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Segway guy's new wonder invention: Inflatable wind turbines

September 16, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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An inflatable wind turbine, similar to the one Dean Kamen has filed a patent for. (Courtesy of WinFlex)

Dean Kamen, the guy who gave us the Segway scooter, has a new world-altering invention: Windmills that blow up like party balloons.

You can read all about it in the Sept. 8 application he filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a rather extensive document rife with mentions of "light emitting diodes" and "inflate and deflate commands," as well as a described mechanism to prevent "popping."

Don't giggle! This idea has actually "passed the laugh test," according to Forbes magazine. Here's why.

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Tornado (or waterspout) strikes in Ocean City, Md.! (VIDEO)

September 15, 2011 - 05:45 PM
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Today at 3:43 p.m., as storms moved across the Maryland coastline, a strong pillar of whirling air appeared over the raging surf in Ocean City, Md.

Onlookers unfazed by the prospect of facefuls of driving sand, rusty fishing hooks and driftwood captured the weak tornado, or waterspout, on video ("Holy crow!") The twister appeared to split at one point, then dissipated just as quickly as it had formed.

The National Weather Service reported about a half hour after this sighting that there was a line of thunderstorms moving near Mobjack Bay, about 180 miles southwest of Ocean City, capable of producing waterspouts and winds up to 40 knots. The agency is "looking into reports" of a possible tornado in O.C., said the Associated Press:

Rick Curry, NWS observation program leader in Wakefield, Va., says there have been unconfirmed reports of a tornado and wind damage near 75th Street on Thursday afternoon.... Fire department spokesman Ryan Whittington says buildings and multiple vehicles were damaged in the 75th Street area, but no major injuries were reported.

Here's another picture of the sea funnel posted by a man in Ocean City. And here's a photo of a dog with goggles riding in a motorcycle that he posted right after that... how quickly we feel comfortable again.

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Strong cold front will bring a chill to the D.C. area

September 15, 2011 - 05:25 PM
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A few showers will continue to push through the D.C. area this evening as a cold front passes overhead. As of 4pm, the 24 hour temperature change was down 17 degrees at Reagan National from 4pm yesterday, down 24 degrees at Dulles Airport, and down 26 degrees in Frederick. This is the first strong fall cold front of the season and it should bring in the coldest temperatures since early May.

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Calling Verizon's 202-936-1212 still tells you the D.C. weather

September 15, 2011 - 01:31 PM
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UPDATE 4:45 p.m.: Verizon spokeswoman Sandra Arnette has called back with the 411. She says that the reason the time/weather numbers are still operating is that somebody... or something... (she was quite vague) has expressed an interest in taking them off of Verizon's hands. Negotiations are ongoing, and Verizon will decide what to do with the numbers when they conclude, whenever that might be.

Interestingly, Arnette said that a similar offer had been extended by the Washington Post earlier this year. "They were interested in taking it over, but for whatever reason that changed," she says. Which kind of sucks...  I think it'd be kind of neat to have a telephonic Fuego/Frio weather report in the morning. Definitely more bracing than coffee.

ORIGINAL: That's what time it is.

Earlier this year, D.C.-area folks who treasured the old and sacred were dismayed to hear that Verizon was discontinuing its cherished time and weather numbers. During my childhood in the '80s, calling these free services at 202-936-1212 (for weather) and 202-844-1212 (for time) was the quickest way of comprehending my precise status in the universe; the automated voices of Philadelphia meteorologist Neal Pizzano and chrononatrix Jane Barbe conveyed the soul-warming news that a snowstorm had canceled school and that time had not, in fact, stopped.

But we live in a different era nowadays, one where everything arrives via tubes. These telephone numbers are obsolete, explained a Verizon spokeswoman, because "people can get time and weather information from radio, TV weather channels, online sites, wireless phones, PDAs and many landline phones.” Verizon vowed to cut the services on June 1.

Thus commenced a wailing and gnashing of teeth. John Kelly of the Washington Post quoted one customer who didn't seem to know what to do with the news:

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NASA corn mazes celebrate 50 years of space flight (PHOTOS)

September 15, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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This fall, NASA is teaming up with seven farms (including one in Fredericksburg, Va.) to build giant corn mazes that honor major achievements in the U.S. space program. It's called the Space Farm 7 mission, and it is not a delusion in your head. Here are computer models of the NASA mazes that will debut later this month and in October, created by the world's largest corn-maze company, Utah's The Maize Inc.

Visit the Space Farm 7 website for a chance to enjoy dinner with an astronaut. Again, this is not a joke. Seriously. (CLICK HERE TO VISIT THE PHOTO GALLERY.)

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Chesapeake Bay choked with mud, sewage after recent floods (MAP)

September 14, 2011 - 01:56 PM
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Over at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Adam Wickline has posted an icky first-hand description of the newly fetid waters moating D.C. and beyond. The waterfall-like downpour of last week's major storms created so much runoff that it appears a Grand Canyon's worth of sediment, not to mention random items like beach balls and auto tires, is currently suspended in the Bay.

Says Wickline of the "brown, milky mess":

The water resembled chocolate milk. Logs, presumably from Pennsylvania, drifted by on this blue-sky day. As the Marguerite went further out into the Bay, the story did not change. Mats of debris, trash, and even what appeared to be a bowling ball floated all around. Tiffany Granberg, one of CBF’s educators, described the scene as a “cesspool.”

Where is Baltimore's famed floating "trash mill" when you need it?

So, I dunno about that magic floating bowling ball,* but what isn't in dispute is the Bay's dangerous levels of sediment. Well, dangerous if you're an oyster getting the life choked out of you by mounds of moving sludge. Or other forms of seafloor life that will be deprived of sunlight and oxygen due to the odious mocha cloud of mud, silt and fertilizer. Or swimmers or watermen who contract a disease from the estimated 700 million gallons of sewage that escaped into the Bay. Steamed crabs with toilet paper, anybody?

Look at how long the sediment plume extends into the main water body:

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Great weather to take your pet bird out for a walk

September 14, 2011 - 12:18 PM
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The D.C. region is looking down the barrel of two encroaching cold fronts (latest forecast), but there's still time to get outside today and do your thing. For one woman at a Rosslyn Starbucks, that meant airing out her pet parrot, or parakeet, or cockatoo, or whatever this raggedy, punk-pigeon-looking thing is. The lady was having quite the conversation with herself, so I didn't get around to asking. This almost rivals the time in the mid-'90s when I saw a shirtless dude sidle into the Cherrydale 7-Eleven with a boa constrictor wrapped around his shoulders... almost.

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Break out the long sleeves (VIDEO)

September 14, 2011 - 05:42 AM
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From shorts weather today to pants and long sleeves by Friday and the weekend.  Wednesday's iForecask details what you can expect as the core of the cool air settles into the Washington region. 

 

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That's hot: 2011 had the second warmest summer in U.S. history

September 14, 2011 - 05:00 AM
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This summer was hot. How hot? So hot we're going to have to dig into the Dan Rather country-folk-sayins' chum bucket for journalistic analogies. Brace yourself!

This summer was hotter than a Times Square Rolex! It was more fiery than the devil's anvil! It was as hot and squalid as a New York elevator in August, hot enough to peel house paint and hot as a Laredo parking lot!

Actually, scratch that last one. The Laredo asphalt on average was definitely hotter.

Texas, in particular, suffered hard through this infernal season, which amounted to the second hottest summer on record in the United States. Check out this map of cities with days at or above 100 degrees from June 1 to Aug. 31, the time frame of "meteorological summer" (larger):

record hot summer 2011

Note that Laredo, Texas, was the leader of the pack with a brow-weeping 90 of 92 days above the Benjamin mark. That is warm enough to burn your biscuits, singe the tail of a hog and cause corn to pop on the stalk. (Somebody's got to fill the folky-wisdom vacuum left by Rather's departure.)

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WATCH: Katia causes roof to collapse in England, crushing cars

September 13, 2011 - 01:53 PM
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Crikey, that's going to be an extensive insurance report.

In the latest twist in the no-holds-barred street brawl between Humanity v. Weather, what's left of Hurricane Katia takes out 15 cars in one decisive swoop by collapsing a parking-garage roof in the U.K.

The accident happened yesterday in a "baker's carpark," according to the below report, which I guess is the parking lot of a bakery. No employees were injured but their automobiles weren't so lucky; that row of parked cars was transformed into crumpets in the blink of an eye. The winds at the time of the collapse were screaming along at more than 80 m.p.h. Here's another report showing the aftermath of the damage. As a commenter rightly notes, "that bloke standing with his hands on his head is classic."

The storm formerly known as Katia has also caused roofs to act like sieves. It is no longer a bother to the United States, but was strong enough to cover most of the U.K. in a boiling white toilet-flush of swirly clouds. The above image from NOAA was taken yesterday around the time of the garage collapse. Satellite imagery from the British Met Office shows that the skies have cleared a great deal since then.

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