Archive for the 'Weather & Sky' Category

May 08 2015

Yes, It’s Hot!

E2 panting at the nest in the heat, 7 Mat 2015, 10:48am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

E2 panting as he shades the eggs (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

This week’s hot and sunny weather has been 14-16 degrees above normal  — so hot that peregrines are panting at their nest.

The official thermometer said our high was 85F yesterday but at the Cathedral of Learning peregrines’ nest it was probably in the high 90’s by late morning because the rocky surface faces south in full sun.

The peregrines adapted, switching from incubating the eggs (which adds heat) to merely shading them for air circulation.  But that meant Dorothy and E2 had to stand in full sun to create the shade.  No wonder E2 is panting, above, with his wings open.

During the worst of the heat the pair relieved each other more often.  Dorothy gave E2 a break just after noon and, with the eggs in shadow, she took the opportunity to sunbathe. The sun probably felt good because she’d spent the last two hours in the shade.

Dorothy sunbathing (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy sunbathing (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)[/em]

She raises her feathers and pants to keep cool while the heat works its way to her skin.

Dorothy panting in the heat (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Dorothy panting while the eggs are in the shade. (photo from the National Aviary snapshot cam at Univ of Pittsburgh)


Dorothy and E2 will be panting a lot in the next few days.  The forecast calls for sun with highs of 86-87F degrees.

Yes, it’s going to be hot.


(photos from the National Aviary snapshot camera at University of Pittsburgh)

p.s. On Friday, May 8 the high temperature in Pittsburgh was 19 degrees above normal.

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Apr 27 2015

Winter Leaves Its Mark On Spring

Published by under Plants,Weather & Sky

Forsythia is only blooming near the ground in Du Bois, PA, 23 April 2015 (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Forsythia is blooming only near the ground in Du Bois, PA, 23 April 2015 (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

What a slow spring!  Last week it snowed in western Pennsylvania.  With an inch on the ground in Du Bois, Marianne Atkinson noticed that the forsythia blossoms stood out but they looked very odd.

In her own yard the forsythia had flowered near the ground but the top looked dead. Did other shrubs have this problem?  As she traveled around town she took photos of other forsythia bushes and discovered that all of them looked like this.  The buds on top were winter-killed.

Tops of forsythia are dead in Du Bois PA, Spring 2015 (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Winter-killed forsythia in Du Bois, 23 April 2015 (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Why were the bottoms of the bushes OK?  With a little research Marianne found:

We had a second very cold winter in a row, with occasional temperatures in the well below 0 range.  We also had about 18 inches of snow cover for about 2 ½ months this winter. I thought that the snow cover may have acted as insulation for the lower forsythia flower buds and it is true! You can read about this phenomenon in the links below:

Cold Damage to Forsythia Flower Buds at Arnold Arboretum
Why are trees and shrubs so slow to leaf out this spring?

How cold was it?  Here’s a photo of last winter’s record in Marianne’s backyard.  -19 degrees Fahrenheit!

Record low at Marianne's home near Du Bois, PA, 16 Feb 2015, 7:18am (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Record low at Marianne Atkinson’s home near Du Bois, PA, 16 Feb 2015, 7:18am (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Last winter left its mark this spring.


(photos by Marianne Atkinson)

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Apr 03 2015

I See Change

Leaves unfurling weeks ahead of schedule, 25 March 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaves unfurling, 25 March 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

On a global scale, 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded but climate change is complicated on the local level.  In Pittsburgh we’ve changed into yo-yo extremes.

Pittsburgh’s last two winters were colder than normal but three years ago it was really hot.  Spring came six weeks late in 2014 and six weeks early in 2012.   This photo of leaves opening on March 25, 2012 is impossible during this year’s cold spring.

I noticed the changes in 2012 but wouldn’t have remembered them if I hadn’t taken a picture.  That’s the beauty of keeping a nature journal and it caught the attention of climate journalist Julia Kumari Drapkin.  She noticed that local experience of climate change is ahead of the science curve and often raises interesting questions so she decided to flip the typical reporting model and founded the iSeeChange crowd-sourced almanac.  Everyday observations and questions now become radio stories.

Fast forward to 2015 and iSeeChange has radio partners across the U.S. and in Africa.  The Allegheny Front joined last month so now western Pennsylvanians can record what we see and ask questions about what’s going on in our area.

Last month I signed up for iSeeChange as a quick way to record the signs of spring.  In Pittsburgh it’s been cold and variable (click here for the Allegheny Front’s story) but the weather’s different out West.  Colorado is hot and already has mosquitoes!

You can contribute, too.  As Julia says, “Everyone’s an expert in his own backyard.”  Click here to join the iSeeChange almanac.

Post your observations. Upload photos and sound clips. Ask about what puzzles you.

Outdoor changes are always interesting.  Maybe yours will be on the radio.


Listen to The Allegheny Front in Pittsburgh on WESA-FM 90.5 every Saturday at 7:30am and on other stations in Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia at the times listed here.  You can also listen any time online at The Allegheny Front.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Apr 01 2015

Corals Tell The Climate Story, April 16

Coral reef at Palmyra Atoll (photo by Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Coral reef at Palmyra Atoll (photo by Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Knowing the Earth’s past climate is key to understanding the future but our records of the past are sketchy.  Paleoclimatologists turn to fossils for help.  In cold and temperate areas they analyze ice cores and ancient tree rings.  In the tropics corals tell the climate’s tale.

Obtaining a record of the warm oceans’ history is important because so much of Earth’s weather is controlled by conditions in the Tropics.  Think El Niño and La Niña, for starters.

In the tropical Pacific Dr. Kim Cobb examines live and fossil corals to assemble a climate record that now spans 7,000+ years.  Thanks to the University Honors College she’s coming to Pittsburgh on April 16.  Through video and photos, she’ll take the audience to her field sites to hear the corals tell their climate story.

Dr. Kim Cobb
Corals as Climate Communicators
April 16, 2015, 4:00 PM

Charity Randall Theatre (in the Stephen Foster Memorial Building)
4301 Forbes Ave

Here’s a quick video of Kim Cobb discussing climatology.  She describes herself on  Twitter as “40% Climate Scientist, 40% Mom and 20% Indian Jones.”  Her lecture on corals will not be a dry subject!


This lecture is free and open to the public but space is limited. Click here to read more about this University of Pittsburgh Honors College event and reserve your seat.


(photo of coral reef at Palmyra Atoll (a location where Kim Cobb works on corals) by Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia Commons. Video of Dr. Kim Cobb via

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Mar 31 2015

More Deer, Less Moose

Moose and deer (both photos from Wikimedia Commons)

What happens when the interval between spring thaw and leaf out gets longer?  Fifty years of detailed observations in New Hampshire’s Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest tell the tale.

In New Hampshire, where snow covers the ground all winter, spring thaw is a welcome event that finally exposes the soil.  Weeks later after lots of warm air and sunshine the trees leaf out.  In between these two events the sun warms the soil, the plants emerge, and wildflowers bloom.

Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest has kept detailed records of temperature, precipitation, snowpack, plants, animals, birds and invertebrates for more than half a century. An analysis of the data, published in BioScience in 2012, showed that the forest is getting warmer and wetter and the interval between spring thaw and leaf out has increased by 8 days.  Climate change is separating spring’s above ground (air) responses from the soil responses.

In the post-thaw interval severe cold events freeze the exposed soil and kill plant buds and invertebrates. This threatens some deciduous trees (yellow birch and sugar maple in New Hampshire) and birds find fewer invertebrates when they return from migration.  The record shows the mix of plants and animals is changing.

There are even changes in large animals.  For the past 50 years the snowpack has declined, an outcome that favors deer over moose and that seems to be happening at Hubbard Brook.

More deer, less moose.  If you write it down now you can see the trend later.

Read more here in Science Daily, December 2012.


p.s. It should be “More Deer, Fewer Moose” but I am quoting one of the articles and happen to like the ungrammatical juxtaposition.

(photo of moose by Ronald L. Bell, USFWS via Wikimedia Commons.  Photo of deer by josephamaker2018 via Wikimedia Commons. Click these links to see the original images.)

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Mar 21 2015


Published by under Weather & Sky

Analemma photo taken 1998-99 ourside Bell Labs in NJ by Jack Fishburn (GNU free licensing, Wikipedia)

The word Analemma sounds like a girl’s name or perhaps an exotic fruit but in fact it’s the name for that figure 8 hanging in the sky above.  You won’t see it in Nature but you may have seen it as a symbol printed on an old-fashioned globe of the world.

Technically speaking an analemma is the location of one celestial body as viewed from another for one complete orbit.  Practically speaking it’s the Sun’s position throughout the year at the same location and time of day on Earth.   I was surprised to learn it’s a figure 8 but that’s because the Earth’s orbit is elliptical and tilted.

This photo took a whole year to create.  Every other week in 1998-1999, Jack Fishburn took a photograph of the sun’s position from his office window at Bell Labs.  He was careful to place the camera in the exact same position and snap the photo at the same time of day (correcting back to Standard Time during Daylight Savings).  After collecting a year of photographs he overlaid them to create the analemma.

Tunc Tezel did the same thing at Baku, Azerbaijan and made it a movie here.

You can create your own analemma if you’re persistent (one whole year) and precise (same camera location and time of day for every photo) and have access to Photoshop.

When you’re done you’ll know that the top of the 8 is the summer (northern) solstice, the bottom is the winter (southern) solstice, and the crossover point is both equinoxes.  Today, one day after the Northern Equinox, the sun is very near the center of the analemma.


(photo by Jack Fishburn via Wikipedia GNU Free License. Click on the image to see the original)

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Mar 02 2015

Heads Up!

Published by under Weather & Sky

Icy sidewalk,2 Mar 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Mountains in Alaska?  No, my icy sidewalk.

Yesterday more than three inches of wet snow fell across Pittsburgh.  Sometimes it changed to rain.  Overnight it froze.

Expecting dangerous footing, I put on my ice cleats and went out to see.

Stabilicer ice cleats (photo by Kate St. John)


Under light snow on the sidewalk … Viola, a glacier!

Icy sidewalk, 2 Mar 2015 (photo by Kate St. John

That’s not all.  Last night I noticed that my car, parked on the street, was standing in three inches of water because ice dams prevented the water from draining.  In the dark I heaved snow and water to the storm drain, hoping to prevent my tires from being locked in ice this morning.  What do you think? Am I stuck?

Tire in ice (photo by Kate St. John)

I spread salt and came indoors, feeling a little smug that my ice cleats worked so well.

But the ice has one more trick up its sleeve.

Warning sign, Montreal, falling snow and ice (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Heads up!


(all photos by Kate St. John, except the ice warning sign in Montreal is by Paul Joseph via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the sign to see its original)

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Feb 26 2015

Ice Jam Season

Published by under Weather & Sky

Ice and gulls on the Monongahela River, 25 Feb 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday morning the river at Duck Hollow was so icy that the gulls could walk across it.

With temperatures as much as 33 degrees below normal, western Pennsylvania is swamped in ice and long overdue for a warm spell.  When the weather breaks, so will the ice.

In some places we’ve already seen some flooding.  On Tuesday February 24 The Weather Channel wrote:

In western Pennsylvania, flood warnings have been issued for Armstrong and Clarion counties due to an ice jam that is blocking the Allegheny River, creating a backflow of water into Parker, according to an AP report. The warning is in effect until 7 a.m. Thursday. State Route 268 has been flooded and at least two people have been rescued from the floodwaters in Parker.

In February 2009 I was hiking at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve when the ice broke and jammed in front of me.  Click here or on the gray-brown ice photo for my in-person (Throw Back Thursday) report.

Ice jam on Raccoon Creek (photo by Kate St. John)


(photos by Kate St. John: Ice and gulls on the Monongahela River at Duck Hollow, 25 Feb 2015.  Ice on Raccoon Creek, 8 Feb 2009)

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Feb 20 2015


Published by under Weather & Sky

Most of us were asleep at 4:50am on Tuesday morning when a 500-pound space rock hurtled into Earth’s atmosphere.  It was on its way to Pittsburgh.

Fortunately the meteor’s aim was off a bit — just enough to miss all the populated areas and disintegrate east of Kittanning.

Considering its early morning arrival we wouldn’t know about it if a few people hadn’t been awake.  Eyewitnesses reported seeing and hearing it on the American Meteor Society (AMS) website and NASA’s camera at Allegheny Observatory recorded its arrival in the video above.

Using eyewitness reports AMS generated a map of its trajectory.  Scroll down to see what it was aiming for.  Yikes!

We were lucky.  In an uncanny space-time coincidence a very big meteor whooshed over Russia two years and two days before the Kittanning event.  It weighed 10,000 tons(*) and injured over 1,000 people.  February 15, 2013 in Russia.  February 17, 2015 in Pittsburgh.

…What is it about February?

I wish I had seen it.  I was awake but I wasn’t paying attention.


(YouTube video of the February 17 fireball from NASA’s Marshall Center)

(*) that’s 40,000 times heavier than the meteor at Kittanning.

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Feb 07 2015

Flying Saucer?

Published by under Weather & Sky

Lenticular cloud in Hawaii (photo from NASA via Wikimedia Commons)

Whoa!   Is this a flying saucer?

No, it’s a lenticular cloud over Mauna Kea, Hawaii.  This was the Astronomy Picture Of the Day on August 21, 2005.

Click on the image to read more about it.


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

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