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)
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.
Each piece was thick and clear like a pane of glass.
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.
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.
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)
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 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.
Here’s some old news to some of you… but new to me.
Launched in 2002, the twin Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites have collected data for 12 years and are already in a decaying orbit that will suck them down to Earth in 2015 or 2016. During their run they’ve carefully measured Earth’s gravitational pull and contributed to our knowledge of aquifers, ice sheets, magma and earthquakes — all because of gravity.
Did you know that gravity is uneven around the world and can vary in the same location during the year? Interestingly, water has a lot to do with it. Gravity is determined by mass so an increase in groundwater causes a higher gravitational pull. Since the GRACE satellites measure gravity, they find groundwater. It’s as if they were dowsing (finding water using a forked stick).
Here’s how it works. Skimming like hockey pucks in their pole-to-pole orbit, the GRACE satellites maintain a 140-mile distance between each other which they measure constantly. Their microwave ranging system is so accurate it can record a 10 micrometre change in separation (1/10 the width of a human hair)! When the lead satellite first encounters a stronger gravitational pull, gravity makes it speed ahead, increasing the distance between them. When the second satellite encounters the same “bump” it speeds up too and their separation decreases. When they’ve both passed the “bump” they both slow down.
Round and round since 2002 they measure the distance between themselves and report back to Earth. NASA’s computers crunch the ebb and flow of gravity and create gravitational anomaly maps. Click here to see a selection of them.
The maps help scientists understand changes in aquifers and improve groundwater management. You can see the greatest anomalies in the tropics where there are dramatic wet and dry seasons. On this map the Amazon basin is routinely blue (decreasing gravitational pull) in October at the end of the dry season and routinely red (higher gravity) in April at the end of the rainy season. Bangladesh’s color cycle is the opposite because its wet-dry cycle occurs during the other half of the year.
Until gravity pulls them down and ends their mission the GRACE satellites travel above us, dowsing from outer space.
(image of the GRACE satellites and photo of George Casely dowsing on his farm from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)