Archive for the 'Weather & Sky' Category

May 18 2014

Weather’s Wardrobe Challenge

Published by under Weather & Sky

What to wear. Weather's wardrobe challenge, May 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

The weather has been so up-and-down lately that it’s hard to dress for birding. At home my winter clothes are piled in stacks, waiting to be washed after I pulled out summer shirts for last week’s 87 degrees.

Now the summer clothes are in stacks and I’ve yanked sweaters out of the winter pile.  It’s 42 degrees this morning and will be 37 at dawn tomorrow.

What to wear for outdoor activities this month?  It’s a wardrobe challenge.

 

p.s.  It’s more than a wardrobe challenge for swallows, purple martins, chimney swifts and nighthawks.  It can be life-threatening.  These species eat flying insects which don’t fly when it’s cold.  Fortunately the next two days will be sunny with highs of 62 and 71 so the insects will be flying later in the day.  If you missed it, read here about purple martin landlords providing supplemental feedings in cold weather.

(photo by Kate St. John)

4 responses so far

May 17 2014

Rain, Rain, Here To Stay

Published by under Weather & Sky

Rain in Ukraine (photo by Pridatko Oleksandr via Creative Commons license Wikimedia Commons)

Thursday afternoon it rained like this for about an hour.  Additional rain fell all day giving us 1.10 inches, a new record for May 15 in Pittsburgh.

The rain messed up rush hour and now the Ohio River is close to flood stage, but this is minor compared to the April 29-30 rain event in Pensacola, Florida when they received an amazing 10-15 inches in 9 hours, a total of 22 to 26 inches for the period.

Precipitation in Pittsburgh feels abnormal this spring.  Aren’t we wetter than usual this year?  No.  The rain gauge is less than 1/2 inch above normal since January 1.  The real difference is that the rain falls all at once.

We’ll have to get used to frequent heavy downpours, a hallmark of climate change in the northeastern U.S.  Click here to read more.

 

(photo of rain in Ukraine by Pridatko Oleksandr via Creative Commons license Wikimedia Commons)

2 responses so far

Apr 15 2014

It Was Fun While It Lasted

Published by under Plants,Weather & Sky

Bloodroot blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 12 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

During the past three days we had a burst of blooms in Pittsburgh.  Between Saturday morning’s foggy low and Sunday’s high of 82F the landscape transformed from incipient buds to gorgeous flowers.  (Today will be different, but more on that later.)

On Saturday I found bloodroot at its peak at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County (above) as well as spring beauties…
Spring beauties (photo by Kate St. John)

trout lilies…
Trout Lily at Cedar Creek Park, 12 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

and hepatica.
Hepatica blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 12 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

This morning the temperature is dropping fast.  It was 65oF at 5:00am and has already fallen to 47oF as I write.

Tomorrow’s prediction: 21oF at dawn. This will surely ruin the flowers.

It was fun while it lasted.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Mar 19 2014

Frequent Heavy Downpours

Published by under Weather & Sky

Map predicting change in downpour frequency, 2040-2070 (map from NOAA Climate.gov).
Here’s something to look forward to … or not!

If you’ve been keeping track of intense downpour events for the past 50 years as NOAA has, you’ve noticed that they are more frequent in Pittsburgh than they used to be.  This will only get worse.

According to NOAA’s National Climate Assessment, by mid-century the frequency and intensity of heavy rain events will increase dramatically in some parts of the country, especially in Washington, Idaho and western Montana.  The bluest locations on the map will experience two or more additional days per year of record rainfall.

Pittsburgh is not exempt. We’ll see an increase in downpours and there will be an even higher frequency north and south of us.  Watch out, Cleveland and West Virginia!

For Allegheny County this map is particularly scary because of our old combined sewer infrastructure (sewage + storm water) that overflows into the rivers after as little as 1/10″ of rainfall.  If you visit our rivers you’ve seen the toilet paper.  The situation is so bad that Allegheny County is under a 2007 EPA consent decree to fix it.  We are not the only city with this problem!

Obviously, the time to fix our sewers is now and the solution has to handle more rain that we get today.

Click here to read more about downpours on NOAA’s website and here for information on Allegheny County’s wet weather problem.

 

(map from Climate.gov. Click on the image to see the original map and accompanying article)

p.s. 24 March 2014: Oh no! Rain is the culprit in the deadly mudslide in Washington State last weekend: http://m.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/climate-change-mudslide-washington-weather

2 responses so far

Mar 07 2014

Incredible Stormscapes

Published by under Weather & Sky

Stormscapes sky by Nicolaus Wegner)

This awesome video was featured by Russell McLendon on the Mother Nature Network last week.

It was created by Nicolaus Wegner who captured time-lapse photos of developing thunderstorms in Wyoming and South Dakota last summer, then wove them into a video named Stormscapes.  Click on the image to watch it on Vimeo.

After you see it you’ll wonder how he lived to tell the tale.  Learn more in this National Geographic interview.

 

(screenshot from Stormscapes by Nicolaus Wegner. Click on the image to watch the video)

One response so far

Mar 04 2014

Really Frozen

Published by under Weather & Sky

Great Lakes 88% frozen (Map by NOAA Climate.gov, based on data provided by the U.S. Naval Ice Center)

Having weathered another snowstorm and dipped back into the deep freeze we can take solace that winter will end this month.  At least we hope so.

Unfortunately if you live near one of the Great Lakes, winter will last longer than normal this year.

On February 24 Climate.gov reported that for the first time in 20 years the Great Lakes were more than 88% frozen with four lakes — Superior, Erie, Huron, and St. Clair — 90 to 100 percent ice covered.  As you can see, Lake Ontario’s and Michigan’s open water kept the percentage down, but some of their open water is due to Coast Guard ice-breakers.

When I flew to Duluth, Minnesota on February 13 (the date of this map) I saw the ice first hand.  As the map attests, the entire western end of Lake Erie was frozen solid from Sandusky to Point Pelee, so solid that there were snowmobile tracks from Port Clinton to Put-in-Bay and from Magee Marsh to Sister Island.

From the air I saw the southern patch of open water on Lake Michigan and the solid expanse of Lake Superior at Duluth where I later climbed the lake’s frozen heights.  I didn’t stay in Duluth long enough to make the popular cross-ice trek from Meyers Beach in Bayfield, Wisconsin to the beautiful ice caves at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.  Click here to see what I missed.

The very cold weather created the ice and ironically, the ice will delay the warmth of spring.  In an interview with AccuWeather, Associate Professor Jay Austin of the Large Lakes Observatory in Duluth said of Lake Superior, “With all of this ice, all the sunlight that hits the surface of the lake is going to get bounced back out into space, so it’s going to take longer to get warmer this spring and summer. The lake is going to just start warming this year when it will start cooling off for next year.”

Aaaarg!  A short summer?  That’s just what Minnesotans don’t want to hear!

 

(map by NOAA Climate.gov, based on data provided by the U.S. Naval Ice Center. Click on the image to see the original and read more about the frozen lakes.)

One response so far

Mar 02 2014

Wishing…

Aurora borealis over Bear Lake, Alaska (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

If only the sky would look like this …

… but it’s unlikely in Pittsburgh.  Not only are we too far south for most aurora borealis, but our skies are often overcast and city lights drown the spectacle.

This beautiful aurora was photographed over Bear Lake at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)

4 responses so far

Feb 23 2014

Light Pillars

Published by under Weather & Sky

Light pillars in Laramie, Wyoming (photo from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license)

Last weekend on PABIRDS, Bill Drolsbaugh reported seeing light pillars at night in Sharon, PA.

He wrote:

Around 3 a.m.there were ice columns or pillars suspended above strong lights in Sharon Pa Quaker Steak and lube parking lots to the East [and]  NLMK steel plant on the horizon about a mile away to the s.w.    They are vertical refractions that can be seen in very cold temps and suspended fine snow above lights and have tall vertical rainbow-like qualities.  One of them was floating in front of my window about 20 ft out suspended in mid air like a Winter Wraith.

I’ve never seen light pillars so I looked for photos online and found this one taken in Laramie, Wyoming.

In the photo, the pillars look as if they shine straight up from each streetlight but as Les Cowley explains on his Atmospheric Optics website, they’re caused by reflections from millions of flat plate-like ice crystals between the light source and the observer.  This explains why Bill saw one floating 20 feet outside his window.

Click on Les’ diagram below to see it full size and read more about this optical phenomenon.

Diagram of light pillars by Les Cowley, Atmospheric Optics

 

As winter gives way to spring there will be fewer opportunities to witness these icy phenomena.  Given the choice I think we’d rather have warm weather than light pillars.

(photo of light pillars from Wikimedia Commons. Diagram of light pillars by Les Cowley at Atmospheric Optics.  Click on the images to see the originals.)

One response so far

Feb 17 2014

Intrepid Minnesotan

Gray jay in Minnesota (photo by Jessica Botzan)

I’m back in the ‘Burgh with a fond look back at my time in Minnesota at the Sax Zim Bog Birding Festival.

Though I never found a great gray owl I saw seven Life Birds(*) and learned a lot about cold and snow.

Cold… was not a problem.  I didn’t have to cope with the worst of this winter in Minnesota but -13F was a typical morning in the bog.  Three to four layers of clothes are indispensable. Toe warmer heat packets inside Sorel boots are the key to warm feet.  I was never cold.

Snow… is a way of life.  If you’re afraid to drive in snow in Minnesota you’re homebound for half the year.  So you just do it.

Minnesota snowplows are awesome, huge, coordinated.  I arrived during a Winter Weather Advisory (4”-6”) and left during a Winter Storm Warning (5”-7”).  No problem.  All the roads and parking lots were plowed, not to bare pavement but quite passable.  The Duluth airport was plowed down to bare pavement.  My flight home was delayed only by de-icing.  Check out this video of clearing the runway.

Birds … are intrepid in Minnesota’s winters.  The easiest to find are ravens and black-capped chickadees.  The rarest are Carolina wrens and robins.  The gray jay is the cutest and the most intrepid.

Gray jays (Perisoreus canadensis) look like oversized chickadees but have the typical corvid attitude.  They’re bold and curious and willing to eat anything including berries, insects, fungi, other species’ nestlings and small mammals.

Jess Botzan saw this one at Sax Zim Bog during the coldest of the cold weather last month and the bird wasn’t phased by it. Gray jays are so intrepid that they lay eggs in March while temperatures are still below freezing and snow is on the ground.  They don’t even bother to nest again in May and June when the weather is easy.

Like everyone else in Minnesota, the gray jay is intrepid in snow and cold.

 

(photo by Jessica Botzan)

(*) Life Birds seen:  Pine grosbeak, black-billed magpie, boreal chickadee, gray jay, northern hawk owl, black-backed woodpecker, Bohemian waxwing.

One response so far

Feb 17 2014

I Climbed Lake Superior

Published by under Travel,Weather & Sky

Walking on Lake Superior, 16 Feb 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday’s Sax-Zim-Festival field trip to Duluth held an unexpected surprise.  Every year the birding trip stops at Stoney Point to observe gulls and waterfowl in the open water on Lake Superior.  But there is no open water.  The lake is 95% frozen.  Locals say this hasn’t happened for 20 years.

In the absence of birds we walked down to the lake, and then on it — a moonscape experience.

The inshore ice was flat and walkable but the pressure of offshore ice and wind had left a landscape of broken plates stacked in piles and covered in snow.

Ice chards at Lake Superior (photo by Kate St. John)

Each piece was thick and clear like a pane of glass.
Man holding ice chard from Lake Superior (photo by Kate St. John)

Fifty yards out the pressure was orogenic, so strong that it created a mountain ridge of bluish, broken ice more than 15 feet tall, so high we couldn’t see the lake beyond it.

Blue ice on Lake Superior, 16 Feb 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

In this video from my cell phone you can see how big and strange it is.

 

Inevitably, the ice mountain posed an irresistible challenge.  Two guys climbed it.  Eventually I climbed too.  Going up was like climbing a hill of shale but coming down was a butt-slide in an ice cube tray.

So now I have three “Life Lake” experiences:  I saw Lake Superior for the first time, I walked on it, and then I climbed it.

 

(photos and video by Kate St. John)

3 responses so far

Next »

Bird Stories from OnQ