Archive for the 'Weather & Sky' Category

Jan 09 2016


Flowering cherry tree in snow, 4 Jan 2016 at Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

Flowering cherry tree in snow, 4 January 2016 in Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

After a month of warm weather, these cherry trees were fooled into blooming in early January at Carnegie Museum.

Then last Monday the temperature dropped into the single digits and hit everything that couldn’t get out of its way.  Nothing could protect those delicate pink flowers.

Unlike plants, birds can get out of the way and some of them decided to leave this week.  In my neighborhood, there were many American robins in December but most of them have left since the cold snap.  Did your robins leave, too?

Meanwhile, don’t be fooled by today’s warmth.  Here’s a graph of Pittsburgh’s actual and predicted morning low temperatures for the first two weeks of January.

Graph of morning low temperatures in Pittsburgh, PA, actual+forecast for January 1-14, 2016 as of 1/9/2016 (graph uses NWS data)

Actual+forecast morning low temperatures in Pittsburgh, PA, January 1-14, 2016 (graph uses National Weather Service data as of 1/9/16)

It’s a yo-yo.


(photos by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Jan 05 2016

Ice Is Way Cool

Published by under Weather & Sky

This morning it’s 8o F and we certainly have ice in Pittsburgh!

Did you ever think about how unusual and important it is that ice floats?

Watch the video above to learn how it happens.

Ice is way cool!


(video from Naked Science Scrapbook on YouTube)

p.s. I’ve been waiting since November to write about ice. December was mostly ice-free and often quite warm. What a winter!

2 responses so far

Jan 02 2016

December Rose

Published by under Plants,Weather & Sky

A rose in Pittsburgh, 30 Dec 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Rose blooming in Pittsburgh, 30 Dec 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week I found several roses in bloom in my neighborhood.

Roses blooming at the end of December?  In Pittsburgh?

Last month there were only two nights below freezing at the airport (Dec 18-20, 29 to 30oF), but it probably didn’t drop below freezing in my city neighborhood.  This coming Monday night, January 4, the low is predicted to be 12oF.

That’s what a crazy winter it’s been!


(photo by Kate St. John)

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Dec 30 2015

Drunk On Climate Change

Ornamental fruit in December after a couple of frosts (photo by Kate St.John)

Ornamental fruit in December, after a couple of frosts (photo by Kate St.John)

Freeze. Thaw. Freeze. Thaw.  In this non-winter of 2015 we’ve had days and weeks of warmth punctuated by occasional frosts.  Eventually the freeze-thaw cycle produces fermented fruit and that leads to drunken birds.

Fruit ferments outdoors when freezing temperatures break down the hard starches into sugars and then a thaw allows yeast to get into the softened fruit and begin the fermentation process.

The sweet, soft fruit is particularly tempting to birds.  After a good frost the ornamental trees in my neighborhood, like the one above, are swamped with hungry starlings and robins.  When they swallow a fermented berry it has a fizzy zing, but so what?  It tastes good.

But some birds don’t know when to stop.  They eat so much fermented fruit that they walk with a wobble and can’t fly straight.  When they’re falling-down drunk, they end up in “detox” at a wildlife center until they sleep it off.  Bohemian waxwings are famous for this.

Back in 2014 National Geographic reported on an incident in Whitehorse, Yukon when a bumper crop of fermented rowan (mountain ash) berries were the waxwings’ undoing.  The birds were in such bad shape that they ended up in Meghan Larivee’s “drunk tank” at Environment Yukon.

It turns out climate change is increasing the likelihood of these episodes up north.  National Geographic explains:

Larivee’s recent waxwing patients were admitted to her Yukon animal unit following several frosts and thaws due to warmer temperatures. … While fermentation is most pronounced in winter, “we also likely have longer autumns, which gives more time for berries to ferment, but still have early frost that allow sugars to be produced in berries early in the fall,” she said.

The waxwings were drunk on climate change.


Read more here in National Geographic.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Dec 24 2015

Dreaming of a White Christmas

Published by under Weather & Sky

Snowy winter scene in western Pennsylvania (photo by Steve Gosser)

Snowy winter scene in western Pennsylvania (photo by Steve Gosser)

This year’s El Niño has made it too warm for snow on Christmas.  Way too warm!

Today’s forecast high of 65o F is almost 30 degrees above normal.

In Pittsburgh it’s going to feel like Christmas in Florida without the palm trees. Florida will be hotter than normal, too.


High Temperatures Forecast for contiguous U.S., 24 Dec 2015 (map from National Weather Service)

Daytime High Forecast, 24 Dec 2015 (map from National Weather Service)

No snow, no skiing east of the Mississippi.

We’ll just have to dream …


(photo by Steve Gosser)

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Dec 20 2015

Solstice Soon

Published by under Weather & Sky

Winter solstice sunset at Kolkata (Calcutta), 22 Dec 2011 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Winter Solstice sunset at Kolkata, India, 22 Dec 2011 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Now matter where you are on Tuesday December 22 at 4:48 am UTC — in Calcutta, India (above) or the frozen Yukon — you’ll experience the northern solstice.   (NOTE that December 22, 4:48am is Universal Time!  In Pittsburgh the solstice is at 11:48pm on Monday December 21.)

Here at latitude 40o North we think the solstice is a northern daylight event but it’s actually an astronomical event that happens everywhere on Earth at the same moment.  At the North Pole there’s nothing to see; it’s been dark for a long time.  In Australia they’re having their longest summer day.

In Pittsburgh we reached our shortest number of (rounded) minutes on December 17 — 9 hours and 17 minutes — and we’ll stay there, gaining only seconds per day, until December 26.  Then on the last day of the year we’ll begin to gain a minute a day.  At last!

Here’s good news for people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD):  We’re going to turn the corner soon.


(photo by Biswarup Ganguly via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)


3 responses so far

Nov 21 2015

Violets In November

Published by under Plants,Weather & Sky

Violets blooming on November 13 in Pittsburgh (photo by Fran Bungert)

Violets blooming on 13 November 2015 in Pittsburgh (photo by Fran Bungert)

Just over a week ago Fran Bungert was walking in South Park with her husband and dogs when she came upon some violets in bloom and sent me this picture from her cellphone.

November is a very odd time for violets (Viola sororia sororia).  They normally bloom from April to June.

Are they confused by our warm El Niño autumn?  Or have some violets always bloomed in November and I’ve just not paid attention?

What do you think?


(photo by Fran Bungert)

6 responses so far

Aug 12 2015

Localized Drought

Published by under Weather & Sky

Woodland boneset leaves wilting in dry weather, Pittsburgh, 9 August 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaves wilting in my dry backyard, 9 August 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Ever since May’s dry weather, Marianne Atkinson and I have kept up a lively email conversation about drought and rain in our respective hometowns, Dubois and Pittsburgh.

Dubois has been short-changed on rainfall this year despite June’s excessive wet weather.  Most months have been so dry that June’s 3.36″ above normal could not overcome the drought.

Even their “good” rainfall statistics are misleading because most of it falls in a single heavy downpour event.  As of today, Dubois received 1.3 inches of rain in August but 98% of it fell in one 24 hour period — August 10-11.

We shouldn’t be surprised.  Climatologists predict that as the climate heats up western Pennsylvania’s weather will change from gentle rains to frequent heavy downpours.

Meanwhile Marianne watches the weather radar closely.  When rain is predicted will her garden get any of it?  No. As the storm clouds approach they usually part north and south, missing Dubois completely.  She sent me this screenshot of a recent “rainy” day from Accuweather.

Rain misses Dubois (radar screenshot from Marianne Atkinson)

Rain misses Dubois, August 2015 (Accuweather screenshot captured by Marianne Atkinson)

I’ve seen this phenomenon, too.  On Monday night Pittsburgh got a trace while Youngstown and West Virginia were slammed.

It's raining everwhere but here (Radar image from National Weather Service, Pittsburgh)

It’s raining everwhere but here (Radar image from National Weather Service, Pittsburgh)

Is your town suffering from localized drought?  Have you noticed this parting-of-the-clouds phenomenon?

It reminds me of Arizona’s monsoon.


(photo by Kate St. John)

5 responses so far

Jul 16 2015

TBT: Lightning

Published by under Weather & Sky

Thunderhead with lightning (photo by jcpjr from Shutterstock)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

If you’ve seen me outdoors when a thunderstorm’s approaching you know that I take lightning safety so seriously that I go inside before everyone else.  I like to think it’s because I know too much.

Some of that knowledge was collected in 2011 when I researched the facts for this article on Lightning.  Once you start looking there are plenty of harrowing stories.

U.S. lightning safety has changed since 2011.  Back then I wrote about the Lightning Crouch but it’s been discredited unless you’re stuck outdoors very far from shelter.  The new motto says run for shelter: When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors.

Yet I wonder … is my level of concern about lightning borne out by statistics?  It depends on what’s about to hit you.  Here are some death/injury facts from 2012 when the U.S. population was 314,100,000 (314.1 million puts the numbers in perspective).

Cause, 2012 in U.S. Dead Injured
Lightning 28 212
Pedestrians hit by trains 442 405
Pedestrians hit by motor vehicles 4,743 76,000
Motor vehicle deaths/injuries 33,561 2,360,000

Clearly lightning is much less likely to kill you than a motor vehicle.  On the other hand, there are far more vehicles than there are lightning bolts and far more hours spent in vehicles than outdoors during storms.

So drive safely, don’t drink and drive (alcohol accounts for 1/3 of the deaths), look both ways when you cross the street, and … when thunder roars I’m still going indoors.


(Thunderhead with lightning, photo by jcpjr from Shutterstock)

p.s. I’ve included trains in the list because Westinghouse Bridge peregrine fans are no longer allowed near the railroad tracks.  Trains are the most deadly of all the dangers. 

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Jun 24 2015

Wet Weather Brings …

Tuliptree with anthracnose, Schenley Park, 22 June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Tuliptree with anthracnose, Schenley Park, 22 June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

At the end of May I lamented that my backyard was dry and cracked while 27 counties in Pennsylvania were under a Drought Watch.

Conditions have changed significantly.

From a May rain deficit of 1.23 inches, Pittsburgh now has a surplus of 2.00″ in the first 23 days of June. (Normal in Pittsburgh is 3.95″ for May and 3.30″ to the 23rd of June.)  Yes it’s wet!

Around western Pennsylvania it’s wet elsewhere, too.  New Castle got 2.32″ in yesterday’s storms alone!  Johnstown is 6.5″ above normal for the month (300% of normal) and Dubois stands at 1.85″ above normal for June 23.

The wet weather has caused flash floods, flooded basements and another more subtle problem:  fungus.

On Monday I noticed that the tulip trees in Schenley Park and at Phipps’s outdoor garden have brown curled leaves at the top.  Worried that we had another forest pest on our hands I emailed this photo to Phil Gruszka, my favorite tree expert at the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy.  He says its anthracnose.

Anthacnose is a group of fungi that infect shade trees, usually browning their leaves but sometimes infecting their twigs, bark and fruit.  Each tree species has its own specific fungus pest.  The one that infects tulip trees attacks the leaves.

In large stands of trees there’s no practical treatment for anthracnose.  Though it may weaken the trees it doesn’t kill them outright and they get a respite if the weather changes.  The fungi go away when it’s dry.

When will it be dry?  … Do we dare ask that question?


p.s. Libby in New Castle, Marianne in Dubois area, and Marcy in Indiana County, how’s the weather out there?

(photo by Kate St. John)

3 responses so far

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