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, 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)
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)
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.
|Pedestrians hit by trains
|Pedestrians hit by motor vehicles
|Motor vehicle deaths/injuries
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.
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)
Just a trace of rain (image from the National Weather Service / FAA)
The ground was parched and cracked in my backyard yesterday morning, so I looked forward to the thunderstorms predicted in the afternoon.
It rained north and west of here but only a trace in my backyard and at Pittsburgh International Airport.
The real rain missed us again.
(image composite from the National Weather Service /FAA)
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 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 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.
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.
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 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)
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)
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 PopTech.org)
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.)
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)