Archive for the 'Weather & Sky' Category

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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Jan 21 2015

Io! Did You Know… ?

Published by under Weather & Sky

Screenshot of Io video from

Continuing my Jovian January theme …

Yo! Did you know that Jupiter’s moon Io is the most volcanically active world in the solar system?

Io is the size of our Moon but a very inhospitable place.  It’s covered in sulfur which makes pretty shades of yellow but unbreathable air.

To make matters worse, Io is so small and Jupiter is so large that Jupiter’s gravity causes 100 meter land-tides on Io’s surface.  Yes, the land rises and falls 330 feet as Io orbits Jupiter.  No wonder Io has more than 400 active volcanoes!

In 2007 NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft took photos of a plume coming off the top of Io.  What was it?  A volcanic eruption rising 300 miles above Io’s surface!

Click on the screenshot above (or click here) to see a video of Io in action.

Yo, Io!


(video linked from

p.s. Scientists to Io: “Your volcanoes are in the wrong spot.”

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Jan 20 2015

Warmest Year Ever…

Published by under Weather & Sky

Land & Ocean Temperature Departure From Normal, 2014 (image from NOAA's National Climate Data Center)


Last week NOAA’s National Climate Data Center reported that 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded on earth.  Yes, there were undoubtedly warmer years before humans were around and perhaps some warm years before we bothered to write it down but for this century and in our lifetimes, it was hot.

Even after the coldest winter the east-central U.S. can remember, the average U.S. temperature was 0.5 degrees above normal.  (Ask Westerners how hot they were!)  Here’s a month-to-month video that shows that even the East was hot in December.

Climate scientists agree(*) that the warming is caused by humans and there will be sobering results.  We’ve caused it.  We record it.  We report on it.  But will the news change anything?

On a political and media level in the U.S. this news has generated interest and talk but no real action.  On the natural level — among the air, water, birds, plants, and animals that I care about — it is big news and they’re doing something about it.  The air is hotter, the ice is melting, the sea is rising, and the plants, animals and birds are moving north or uphill.

Humans are doing something too, even here in the U.S. where our society has not taken up the cause.

Humans are coping with droughts and building bigger dikes and seawalls.  We’re trying to prevent deaths from frequent heavy downpours.  We’re planting warm-season or drought-resistant flowers and crops.  We’re rewriting insurance policies to exclude disasters that are certain to happen. In some cases we’re already abandoning land that’s altered by flood or drought.

By the end of the century our world will look very different.  Right now the news is “hot.”

Read more here.


(map and video from NOAA’s National Climate Data Center)

(*) That number is “97% of scientists agree.”  Discussion of that number can be found here.  I am not going to discuss the number. Plenty of others have already done so.

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Jan 18 2015

Natural Ice Sculptures

Published by under Hiking,Weather & Sky

Icicles along the Butler-Freeport Trail near Monroe Road (photo by Kate St. John)

A week ago I found beautiful ice formations along the Butler-Freeport Trail at Monroe Road.

Water’s constant drip made a curling fountain.

And some of the icicles accumulated frosty teeth.

Frosty teeth on the icicles (photo by Kate St. John)


The weather was warming that day and part of this massive ice cliff …

Cliff lined with massive icicles (photo by Kate St. John)

… had crashed to the ground across the trail.

Icicles crashed to the ground (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s one of the smaller chunks near my boot.  I’m glad I wasn’t there when it fell.  Watch out below!

Chunk of fallen icicle for size comparison (photo by Kate St. John)


This weekend the weather has been unseasonably warm.

I wonder what the icicles look like now.


(photos by Kate St. John — taken with my cellphone because I forgot to bring my camera)


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Jan 17 2015

Ice Imitates Art

Ice flows off the Kamchatka coast (photo from the International Space Station via Wikimedia Commons)

Ice off Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula moves in circles shaped by wind, water and the coast.

Seen from the International Space Station, ice imitates art.


Click here to read more about this photo on Wikimedia Commons.

(photo from the International Space Station via Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

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Jan 15 2015

A Jovian January

Published by under Weather & Sky

Jupiter and its Galilean moons (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Jupiter has captured my imagination this month so on Throw Back Thursday (TBT) I’m pointing you to one of my favorite January topics:  The Moons of Jupiter.

It’s a Jovian January. 

Watch for another Jupiter post later this month.


(retouched photo of the moons of Jupiter by Don E. Stewart from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the photo to see the original.)

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Jan 13 2015

Me And My Shadow

Published by under Weather & Sky

Io with its shadow on Jupiter (image from Wikimedia Commons)

When the sky is clear on cold January nights, the planet Jupiter shines brighter than the stars.  Step outside with binoculars and you can see up to four of its moons.

These are the Galilean moons, named for Galileo because he was the first to report them in 1610. He used an improved 20-power telescope that wasn’t even as good as today’s birding scopes.  When the moons are in the right position you can see what Galileo saw — something like this.

However on the night of Friday January 23 you’ll need a real telescope to view them because three of the moons — Europa, Callisto and Io — will transit (pass across) the disk of Jupiter and cause eclipses on the planet.

Above, the Hubble Space Telescope captured Io playing “Me and My Shadow.”  At one point on January 23-24 all three moons will play this tune. calls it a triple shadow transit.    Click here for their drawing of what you’ll see in the telescope at 1:40am EST on January 24.

This is your last chance to witness Jupiter’s triple shadow transit until 2032, but it’ll take some preparation and luck to see it.  You’ll need a telescope and the sky has to be clear.

In Pittsburgh we’ll have to cross our fingers.  Our sky is usually overcast in winter.


(photo of Io and its shadow on Jupiter from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.  Click on the image to see the original)

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Jan 06 2015

What Are Clippers?

Published by under Weather & Sky

Clipper Ship at Cape Horn by James E. Butterworth (image from Wikimedia Commons)

A fast moving cold front crossed western Pennsylvania yesterday.  The wind roared and temperatures fell from 61 degrees F Sunday morning to 19 degrees yesterday afternoon.  The weather news called it a clipper.

Technically it’s an “Alberta clipper,described by Wikipedia as a fast moving low pressure area that typically affects the central provinces of Canada and parts of the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes.

Clippers start as warm moist wind from the Pacific that crosses the Rockies into Alberta.  When the wind hits cold air on the Canadian prairies it becomes a storm that rides the jet stream on a fast track east.  By the time clippers get to Pennsylvania, Alberta is rarely mentioned.

Though clippers sweep across the continent, they’re regional so if you live outside their zone — say in California, Colorado, or Florida — the word brings to mind the fast-moving sailing ships of the mid 19th century, famous for sailing through dangerous storms at Cape Horn (above).  The weather system is named for the ship.

Yesterday’s clipper left Pennsylvania but now we’re in for real winter — a low of 1 degree F Thursday morning.

Fill your bird feeders!  Birds need food to survive this cold.


(Clipper Ship at Cape Horn, painting by James E. Butterworth, public domain via Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

p.s.  Here’s what clippers look like on eBay.  😉

Andis hair clippers (for sale on eBay)

(click on the clippers to see the original eBay photo)


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