Archive for the 'Weather & Sky' Category

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)

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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

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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)

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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.)

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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)

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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.)

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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.

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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)

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Jan 29 2014

It’s Warm Everywhere But Here

Published by under Weather & Sky

Land and ocean temperature anomalies, Dec 2013 (image from NOAA National Climatic Data Center)

I don’t know about you but I tend to think everyone’s having the same weather I’m having.  So everywhere on earth is colder than normal now, right?

Wrong!  Much of North America is colder, but most of the world is quite the opposite.  Last week NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center published temperature anomalies for 2013 and they’re surprising if you think everyone’s weather is the same as ours.

Above, a snapshot of December 2013 shows red for hotter and blue for colder than normal temperatures, the deeper the color the deeper the variance.  The darkest color means a 5+ degree Celsius difference (that’s 9+ degrees Fahrenheit).  For visual impact I removed the explanatory text, so be sure to click on the image to see the details!

Notice that except for North America and eastern Turkey, in December 2013 almost everywhere on Earth was hotter than usual, sometimes a lot hotter.

Twelve months ago the story was quite different.  In January 2013 we were warmer than normal and Russia was colder.  Click here for January 2013’s map.

So if you don’t like the weather right now, just wait.  Things will change!

 

(Global temperature anomalies, December 2013, from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center at Climate.gov. Click on the image to see the original)

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Jan 28 2014

Nature’s Snowballs

Published by under Weather & Sky

Large snow rollers, 27 Jan 2014, Dubois, PA (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

The weather was weird yesterday but it made something beautiful.

In Pennsylvania and Ohio people looked outdoors to find thousands of large snowballs dotting hillsides and open fields.  The snow rollers resembled hay bales, jellyrolls or the unstacked segments of snowmen and were so unusual that they became online sensations in social media.  They were made by the wind.

I didn’t know they’d happened until Marianne Atkinson sent me photos from her backyard in Clearfield County, PA.  I’d seen the wind make little snowballs in the Laurel Highlands so I thought I knew what she was talking about.  But no, these are special.  They’re a foot across!

Snow rollerabout a foot across (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Snow rollers are pretty rare but yesterday morning produced the perfect weather mix…

  • With an icy layer on top of snow or the ground that new snow can’t stick to…
  • Wet, loose snow fell on the icy layer.
  • The temperature was near the melting point and…
  • The wind blew at just the right speed to start the balls rolling without destroying them.
  • The rollers stopped when they became too heavy for the wind to move.  Even so they’re often hollow and too fragile to pick up.

A quick search of the Internet found photos and video at WPXI Pittsburgh, Newsnet5 in Cleveland and NBC4 Columbus.

Thankfully the wind wasn’t strong enough to stack them into snowmen!

 

(photos by Marianne Atkinson)

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