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.
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)
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…
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.
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)