Here's a video detailing rainfall totals since our unsettled weather pattern began Tuesday evening and a look ahead to when the sun will shine again.
Archive for October 2011
Lake Erie is looking eerier than usual these days thanks to an uncontrolled outbreak of snotlike, toxic slime.
Consult the above NASA photo from Oct. 9: White-blue swirls in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron mark where the recent Midwest cutoff low stirred up particles of quartz and silt. But then there are bile-green drifts of ooze discoloring a huge part of western Lake Erie and most likely the entirety of Lake Huron's Saginaw Bay. (Large photo.) It's so thick in places that it's almost like an automotive floor mat. The Creature from the Black Lagoon would leap with both webbed feet at the chance to own beachfront property in Ohio right now:
Algae in Lake Erie's Maumee Bay. (Photo courtesy of NWF / S. Bihn, Lake Erie Waterkeeper)
What's behind this liquidy feculence, which rates as the worst Great Lakes algal bloom since the 1960s? We are, it seems.
It's always interesting to see how outsiders judge the "best" things to do in Washington, D.C. In this case, I think that MapQuest did a decent job in putting together this short and sweet 2011 guide to leaf-peeping in the District.
The three local spots that MapQuest highlights are part of the company's sprawling ode to the annual death of U.S. chlorophyll, called LeafQuest. (Curious as to where Navy SEALS ogle the pretty plants? Chuck Pfarrer's got you covered in northern Michigan.) With 150 choices in every state but Hawaii, the guide blows away the notion that the prime destinations for observing glorious reds, rusts and golds are solely in the Northeast.
Here's MapQuest's choices for D.C.:
Do you enjoy digging in the ground? Or perhaps just digging for excuses to take off of work? Then grab your Mighty Jacks and pin vises and get yourself to the worldwide opening of National Fossil Day, a celebration of dead and buried stuff that kicks off this morning on the National Mall.
The child-oriented activities run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and include everything from lessons on how to become a junior paleontologist, a tour of a "virtual museum" featuring (yeah!) dinosaurs, a presentation by PBS' Dinosaur Train that includes the chance to record your own T-Rex roars, and the wanton swapping of fossil trading cards. The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History (featured species yesterday: Pilobolus, the dung cannon) will be running the show locally, helping kids sift through North Carolina sediment to recover small fossils and showcasing fossilized critters that were found in the D.C. region. Kids are encouraged to bring their own fossils for identification and to ask paleontologists and geologists about the tremendous spiders and terrifying hell pigs of yesteryear.
Fossil Day events are occurring throughout the states and internationally, including a fossilfest at the Virginia Museum of Natural History in Martinsville, Va. The event is part of Earth Science Week, an international tribute to the geosciences that runs until Saturday, Oct. 15 and is being promoted by the American Geosciences Institute and the National Park Service. Find more about what's going on for Earth Science Week here, and check the Fossil Day website for what's going on today on the Mall. Rest assured that Buddy Bison, the mascot of the National Park Trust, will be in full effect.
UPDATE: The moon ring has caught the attention Devon Lucie, meteorologist for WJLA, who thinks it might not be the more common 22-degree halo discussed below. "I think it was the extremely rare 46-degree halo last night because it was HUGE!" Lucie says.
The larger 46-degree halos are created by the same process of reflected sunlight filtering through ice crystals, but with slight differences in the structure of the ice crystals. How rare are they? After studying the skies for 10 years, the German Halo Research Group concluded that 22-degree halos occur an average of 100 days each year, while 46-degree halos materialize only about four days a year. So if you saw this thing last night, consider yourself lucky.
ORIGINAL: The D.C. skies have rewarded night owls lately. First, there was the immense fogbank hovering over the Potomac on Thursday – a dreamlike phenomenon that reappeared last night, turning Key Bridge into a brume-washed set piece from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
And then there's this colossal sky doughnut that swelled around the nearly full Hunter's Moon on Monday night. The refulgent ring was in full effect at 11:30 p.m., casting a perfect circle around the moon that looked like it must've been hundreds of thousands of miles in diameter. WJLA's James Joslyn caught it as it loomed over downtown D.C., as you can see above.
These "lunar rings," quite different from luna rings, actually have their beginnings more than 93 million miles away, on the sun's boiling surface.
After six straight days of sunny and rain-free weather, you will notice the shift in our weather pattern. This has been the longest stretch of dry weather since late July and early August when D.C. had eight consecutive rain-free days. The first sign of our changing weather pattern was the added, thin cloud cover/filtered sunshine yesterday, but get ready for more significant changes.
Our sunny high pressure system is moving out of town and is being replaced by an active low pressure system moving up the east coast. This low is tapping into moisture from all the way down in the Caribbean, and this will translate into moderate rainfall Tuesday night through Wednesday. As this low has abundant moisture to work with, one to two inches of rain is expected by Wednesday evening. The heaviest rain will likely be in the Shenandoah Valley and Potomac Highlands far west of D.C. where they should see nearly two inches of rain. Meanwhile, closer to an inch is anticipated around the metro area. Here's the rainfall forecast from the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center:
- HPC rainfall forecast
The first few drops are expected this afternoon as some stray showers are possible, but they will be widely separated. We are expecting everyone to get rain tonight while we sleep with off & on showers most of the day Wednesday, so expect a soggy morning commute tomorrow with the rain coming to an end around the evening drive home. Another round of showers are anticipated Thursday night with sunshine in store for the weekend.
The so-called Hunter's Moon that rises over D.C. tonight will actually be lousy for hunting. It is the smallest full moon of the year, a lunar lardon in the swirling astral chowder, and will not illuminate any wild animal smaller than a musk ox. So hunters: Pack shotguns, and don't forget extra batteries for the light cannon.
The moon looks so puny because it is nearing its apogee, the farthest point it strays from earth each month. This year, the apogee is fixed 252,546 miles away from the mother planet. The situation is an exact reversal of the ballyhooed March 2011 Extreme Supermoon, when the lunar body achieved fullness at its closest point to earth (perigree) and supposedly triggered the Japanese earthquake through some gravitational magic, but not really. Nobody is making a fuss over tonight's Mildest Wimpymoon, oddly enough, despite the bonds of gravity between it and earth being stretched like taffy.
I guess if I was an astrologer, I might warn of super-stable grounds this evening. It will be a good time to play Jenga, perhaps.
The Hunter's Moon has a history that is still revered by many people, from a death-metal rock band out of "Hellbourne," Australia to Indiana reenactors celebrating the coming-together of Native Americans, French settlers and fur pelts. It has also inspired at least one face-punchingly awesome I.T. logo that involves a wolf.
Goodbye, sun. This week, Florida will be sending all its miserable weather up to us.
A large low-pressure system that has swamped the Meth State, allowing baby catfish to glide through flooded streets like they own them, is tracking northward and should arrive in D.C. sometime late Tuesday, probably around dark. When the clouds open up, 1 to 2 inches of rain could pour onto the D.C. region through Wednesday evening. The biggest downpour is expected to occur around the Blue Ridge, and there's a small chance for echoing thunder. There's even a possibility of minor coastal flooding around D.C. and Maryland's western shore. Happily enough, temperatures on Tuesday afternoon will still be bathwater warm in the mid-to-low 70s. (Latest forecast.)
Then on Thursday, another dimple of low pressure over the Midwest could toss more showers at the Mid-Atlantic. The chances of rain are greatest Thursday night, so keep one eye on the radar if you're planning on going out then.
This year, North Americans have been bookended by two overachieving oceans pumping out giant storm after giant storm. The Atlantic is already above average for storm activity with 16 tropical storms and three major hurricanes (11 and two are average), and there's still about seven weeks left before the 2011 hurricane season ends. The Pacific season, which begins a little earlier on May 15 but ends at the same time on Nov. 30, is also high with five major hurricanes (the norm is four), at about average with nine hurricanes, and under par with 10 named storms (15 to 16 is the historical average).
But while the Atlantic seems to be catching its breath, supporting only a bit of low pressure over Florida, the Pacific is playing catch-up with three noteworthy storms.
The first is a small but fierce roarer called Hurricane Jova, a Category 3 storm that's prompted hurricane warnings from Baha's Punta San Telmo to Cabo Corrientes. Jova is sporting an unblinking eye 20 miles wide and has shrouded itself with screaming winds rushing as fast as 110 knots, a tick below Category 4 power. Littler hurricanes can change intensities on a dime, and the National Hurricane Center has thrown out the option of Jova lurching into Category 4 gear sometime today. Whatever happens, it's expected to be a major hurricane when it hits land, with the attendant risks of torrential rain and coastal flooding.
Different weather models are suggesting alternate paths for the hurricane, one that takes it north off the coastline and another that brings it over the heads of Mexicans inland. So the NHC has basically squished the extreme alternatives together and come up with this Jova track forecast:
- With not a cloud in the sky, you've probably kept the aviators close by all weekend. (Photo: Flickr)
It's not often that we have total sunshine without even a cloud in the sky, and before this recent stretch of sunny weather, the last time we pulled it off was November 2010. The official amount of sunshine on a given day is measured in tenths of cloud cover, so zero tenths (0/10) is considered completely cloud-free. Sky cover from zero tenths to three tenths (3/10) is considered "clear" according to the National Weather Service's preliminary monthly climate data.
The maximum cloud cover on any given day from last Wednesday through Saturday was 1/10 with Wednesday and Saturday being completely clear featuring 0/10 cloud cover. For the record, Sunday was considered 4/10 cloud cover at Reagan National Airport (DCA) as we had some cirrus clouds in the sky. The last time we had total sunshine, or 0/10 cloud cover, was November 11th, 2010, so D.C. went almost a year without a completely cloud free day.
Today will be another beautiful day featuring a lot of sunshine, but you will notice some high, thin clouds streaming overhead as our weather pattern begins to shift. The clouds will increase considerably on Tuesday with widespread rain expected by Wednesday.
So this is why they call it Foggy Bottom! Here is the view from K Street NW at Whitehurst Freeway late last Thursday night, when temperatures shot down precipitously and condensation made every surface clammy. A white wall of shuddersome fog higher than Key Bridge arose from the Potomac, staying neatly between its shores and stretching all the way from Southwest to Georgetown and northward. That's Rossyln in the background.
Was D.C. built on an Indian burial ground? Or was it the Mist? Both are intriguing possibilities, but ABC7 meteorologist Steve Rudin has a better explanation. Here's what Rudin has to say:
On Sept. 29, a slowly rotating, wormlike cloud drifted out of the skies to alarm a few locals near Warrenton, Va. One ABC7 viewer captured it in mid-descent as it was doing its best tornado impression but, as Doug Hill and Bob Ryan decided afterward, it was probably not an actual twister. It was more likely a wet updraft, or as Ryan alarmingly dubbed it, a "scary moist updraft."
Now the National Weather Service has offered its two cents. Christopher Strong, who works out of the department's Sterling office, passed the photograph among his colleagues and found what might as well be the Warrenton worm's long-lost twin. This photo came from the La Crosse, Wisc., branch of the NWS:
Strong calls the two photos "eerily similar," noting the "same ill-defined/ragged edges of the cloud." The above photo was apparently used to train budding meteorologists on what a tornado did not look like, so think of this cloud as more of a nornado. (The caption indicates the cloud formed in Guttenberg, Iowa, which is within the purview of the La Crosse NWS.)
For true weather geeks out there, Strong also forwarded the radar capture around the time of the above cloud formed. He says it resembles the radar from Warrenton on Sept. 29:
The time of year is approaching when it's dark outside when you leave for work and arrive home in the afternoon. The nights are quickly getting longer as darkness out weighs daylight, and we are quickly losing our daylight. Here's a breakdown of the details and what it means to our weather.
With a sunrise shortly after 7am and sunset at 6:42pm, D.C. has 11 hours and 33 minutes of daylight today, but that drops more than an hour to 10 hours and 20 minutes by this time next month. Compare that to our "shortest days," which are December 21st and 22nd when we have only 9 hours and 26 minutes of daylight.
Longer nights and shorter days in the fall generally leads to cool mornings but comfortable, and sometimes warm afternoons. For example, lows this morning are mostly in the 40s across the abc7 viewing area, but afternoon highs will reach into the lower 70s. This is about a 30 degree temperature change, so you'll want a light jacket in the morning then short sleeves into the afternoon. As for the weekend, it'll be slightly warmer but with a big temperature gap as morning lows drop into the 50s and afternoon highs climb into the lower 80s by Sunday.
- How the Machines see our planet. (NOAA/NASA)
Woop, woop! Topper Shutt in the house! DingDingDing... Veronica Johnson alarm going off! But first....
As you may have heard, the U.S. government will soon be adding another line of weather-observing satellites to supplement the Aura, Terra and Aqua spacecraft that patrol the atmospheric comings and goings of the planet. The goal is to beef up NASA's fleet of older satellites with young robot blood, as well as broaden the scope of the government's environmental duties: These next-gen probes will help with both daily weather forecasting as well as monitoring the effects of climate change.
The first satellite, called the NPP, or NPOESS Preparatory Project, NPOESS standing for National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System, which is now referred to as the Joint Polar Satellite System, or JPSS... OK, I'll just stop now, and you can decide whether you want to read more about the labyrinthian organizational structure of this program. Anyway, this first "test" satellite has a tentative launch date in late October. The StormWatch 7 blog will be revisiting this wondrous machinery in detail when it gets closer to liftoff time, but for now here's an opportunity to learn why these new satellites are so important. (Important, but over budget and expensive, and some people aren't happy about that.)
A big chunk of their worth is because they'll deploy an advanced observational system known as the Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite that provides significant advantages over the old warhorse, MODIS, that allowed anyone in the world to get instant access to near real-time space views of their 'hoods. (Check it out.) What, exactly, is VIIRS? Why, it's an ozone-hole-studying, temperature-taking, moisture-sensing, reflective-energy-judging miracle device that would have Al Gore crumping with joy! But I'll let the experts do the talking.
Below, find a short NASA movie that runs down the purpose of these upgraded sensors. Then continue on for another video with a few of D.C.'s TV meteorologists giving their take on the satellites of the future. Bob and Doug, are you in the sequel?
As of this afternoon, the newly formed Hurricane Philippe was... well, not exactly "roaring" out of the Atlantic, but it was definitely there, doing something. Spinning around sadly. This hurricane, which is stuck with a name suggesting it should be wearing a beret while digging into a big wheel of Camembert, has had a difficult time of it lately.
The last time StormWatch 7 checked in with Philippe, the sad sack of a tropical storm was on the verge of getting nailed in the face by "30 kt of northerly shear." But the system absorbed that blow and, full of righteous nerd rage, began shedding thousands of tons of freshwater tears. Look at the rainfall inside Philippe when it was still a tropical storm yesterday, Oct. 5, as measured by NASA and JAXA's TRMM satellite:
The National Geographic Channel is a totally different animal from the nature-focused National Geographic magazine that many of us grew up with. Among other things you can watch nowadays on NatGeo: Crafty Alabamians determining if it's possible to shoot down an asteroid using a beer-keg trebuchet ("Rocket City Rednecks"); corrections officers waiting for contraband-swallowing prisoners to unload the evidence ("Hard Time: Defecation Watch"); and now, a group of geeks building the fantastical floating house from the Pixar animation, Up.
In an episode of "How Hard Can It Be?" that aired on Sunday, the NatGeo team hammered together an ultralight house that could actually be lifted into the air, with two navigators aboard, using heavy-duty weather balloons. The magic number of balloons required for takeoff? About three hundred, it turns out. The airhouse floated 10,000 feet above the California desert before one of the navigators, who was using the shower at the time, broke through the floorboards and plunged to his death onto the scalding sand below.
Kidding! These guys made it out alive, although if you missed the show this Sunday the below video won't give you much of an idea how. You can catch a reairing of the episode, titled "Flying House," next Wednesday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m. ET. In the meantime, enjoy this little taste of balloon magic.
The National Weather Service of Tucson, Ariz., is considering issuing a "blowing dust advisory" for Thursday as a low-pressure system digs in north of the region. Why's that? It's just some harmless dust, right?
Not when you're driving. That much was evident yesterday on Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix, where drivers braving a dust storm wound up in three separate pileups. Six people were critically injured and one elderly man was killed, according to the Arizona Republic. The hurt had to be driven to hospitals because Medivac helicopters couldn't see jack. A video of the automotive mayhem follows the jump.
If you ever find yourself behind the wheel in a dust storm (not too likely in Washington, D.C., although it has happened before), here's what the Arizona Department of Public Safety advises you to do:
When Doug Urquhart goes camping, stashing a camera is just as crucial as water and a tent. The guy has a preternatural eye for the splendor of the wild and a burning desire to capture it all on film. Lucky for us, he also likes to share.
Here is Urquhart's incredible time-lapse video of a recent journey from Hawaii's Big Island to Maui, which will make your vacation footage look like vomit. From the establishing shots of beaches that seem to breathe, to clouds that boil away in the sky like liquid nitrogen, you know this isn't going to be the ordinary trip log. Urquhart keeps the camera rolling as he ascends Mauna Kea to a bird's-nest view of distant Maui. Those familiar with Hawaii's geography might also recognize Mauna Loa and the littler islands of Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe.
The crowning jewels are the shots he stole of the Milky Way, our doomed home galaxy, while bedding down at Papakolea Beach near the southernmost point of the United States. You'll notice a glowing oddity in the skies that may seem alien in nature, the Zodiacal light aka "false dawn." As Urquhart explains:
The Zodiacal light is visible near the end of several easterly facing star-lapse sequences. This is caused by sunlight reflecting off of dust particles in space in the final hours of darkness proceeding sunrise. Normally this is masked by light pollution.
We haven't seen rain-free weather like this since late July. A shift in our weather pattern is leading to a long stretch of dry and sunny weather. Actually, At Reagan National Airport (DCA), today will be the first day so far this month without at least a trace of rain, and the longest stretch of dry weather in September only lasted three consecutive days. What we call an "Omega Block" is setting up in the atmosphere as the jet stream takes the shape of the greek letter Omega. The D.C. area will be on the dry side of this new pattern, so today will mark the start of many sunny days in a row.
This shift in our weather pattern gives us high confidence in rain-free days and nothing but sunshine today through at least early next week. The last time we experienced weather like this was in late July and early August when DCA had eight dry days in a row (July 26-Aug. 2). Our region was also dealing with a bit of a drought back then, but all drought concerns were wiped away in late August. As a matter of fact, if we can make it through next Thursday without even a trace of rain at DCA, it will be the longest stretch of dry weather since February, when there were nine consecutive precipitation-free days.
At DCA, July ended 0.63 inches below average for rainfall, but August was 5.99 inches above average and September 5.12 inches above average. So far for this month, the D.C. area has experienced record cold and 0.47 inches of rain.
- Ready for the clouds and gloom to disappaear? Sunshine will rule the day on Wednesday. (Photo: TBD Staff)
With the sluggish progression of the recent streak of cold, wet weather, you can't help but feel that Washington, D.C., has earned this lovely plunge back into warmth. Make sure to bask outdoors today, toss around a Frisbee or something, because Wednesday looks like the finest weather day until the weekend.
A meddlesome low-pressure system that's been responsible for all the garbage weather of late in the Mid-Atlantic is grumbling northward. High pressure is surging into the hole it has left, allowing the sun to do its thing. Today will be breezy and you should be able to count the clouds in the sky on one hand. High temperatures will hover in the mid-70s.
ABC7 senior meteorologist Bob Ryan is so sure this nice patch of temperate weather will stick around for a while that he's marking a 9 out of 10 on the RCF, aka Ryan Confidence Factor, with 10 being a "guarantee." The National Weather Service agrees on the positive outlook. Here was the local NWS forecast last night:
If you are the Ned Flanders type who likes to take stock of how lucky we are for good weather, here's some perspective on what's happening elsewhere: Deadly tornadoes are striking in South Africa, floodwater is swelling up to the tops of cars in Peabody, Mass., and Texas is still on fire. (Somebody put that state out!) Plus, winter is looming right around the corner. Here's a recent forecast from NOAA showing the probability of more than 4 inches of snow accumulation from Thursday to Friday:
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