Category Archives: Weather & Sky

Evacuate!

Southeast U.S. radar image, 15 Sept 2018, 5:08 EDT (image from National Weather Service)

Birds can sense when bad weather is coming. If it’s going to be dangerous and they have some lead time they get out of the way.  Hurricane Florence gave them plenty of time to prepare.

Weather radar shows us where it’s raining by detecting objects in the sky.  When masses of birds are on the move they show up on radar, though less intense than steady rain. Flocks of birds look green on radar and are only detected when near radar stations.  Since most birds migrate at night, that’s when to watch.

This radar image from 5:08am on Saturday September 15 shows the rain bands of Hurricane Florence swirling over the Carolinas. Notice that there’s no rain for miles surrounding the circle of the storm but there are intense green blobs southwest of Florence over the Florida panhandle.

Thousands of birds! They’ve heard the news and they’re leaving the area.  Evacuate!

p.s. Read more about birds on radar here and an article about birds escaping storms by flying hundreds of miles out of their way 

(image from National Weather Service)

Rain, Rain Go Away!

In case you haven’t heard, it’s been raining here in Pittsburgh.  A lot! 

This is mostly from the remnant of Tropical Storm Gordon that came ashore in Mississippi on September 4 and arrived here September 8.  We were in a drought but now it’s been raining for three days.

Yesterday set a record of 3.73 inches at the National Weather Service in Moon Township but it’s rained even more in the South Hills. Since Friday morning 7.5 inches have fallen at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin (as of 10 Sept 2018, 7:53a). And it’s still raining!

Basements are flooded and roads are closed.  Two screenshots from PennDOT traffic cameras show:

  • On the left, the 10th Street Bypass is flooded and closed (hard to see through the rain-splashed cam).
  • On the right, the I-376 “bathtub” at Stanwix Street hasn’t filled yet but it’s going to, so it’s closed.
screenshots from PennDOT traffic cams at 511pa.com

And the rivers are rising.  Here’s the National Weather Service’s Ohio River prediction for Pittsburgh.  Uh oh!

Ohio River gauge from the NWS Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service

Fortunately our house and street are fine (photo at top) but I feel bad for those who live in the valleys.

Rain, Rain Go Away!

(photo by Kate St. John, PennDOT traffic camera screenshots, Ohio River gauge from the NWS Advanced Hydrological Prediction Service)

Watching The Clouds

Thunderhead forming, Aug 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Pittsburgh’s weather had a tropical flavor this month with a chance of thunderstorms predicted every afternoon.

On clear days I could see individual thunderheads form and sometimes hear them rumble in the distance.  This late morning cloud on August 13 had some interesting features. Was it going to rain or thunder?

Two parts to this cloud: cumulo top, nimbus bottom

It was already a two-part cloud: Cumulus is the bright white top, nimbus is the darker lower section.

Cumulus congestus stage

While I watched, two updrafts rapidly pushed moisture higher in the sky. If I’d made a video you would see both columns expanding upward and growing fast. The small cloud on the left dissolved moments after I took this photo. The big one kept growing.

photo retouched to highlight lumpy nimbus area

The nimbus section looked threatening with dark lumpy areas (photo retouched to add contrast).  I’m not sure what the lumps mean but they probably weren’t good.

I watched this cloud as I walked home and, sure enough, it thundered after I took the photo.  Fortunately I was indoors before it rained.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Hurricane Chris In Newfoundland

Hurricane Chris at Branch, Newfoundland (screenshot from video by Chris Mooney)
Hurricane Chris at Branch, Newfoundland (screenshot from video by Chris Mooney)

What happens when a hurricane hits Newfoundland?  I found out last week when Hurricane Chris came to eastern Newfoundland while I was there on a birding trip.

The cold waters of the North Atlantic usually take the fangs out of hurricanes before they hit Atlantic Canada and so it was with Hurricane Chris.  Before the storm we asked some Newfoundlanders about it and they said it wouldn’t be bad. “We won’t even take in the lawn furniture for this one.”

By Thursday morning, 12 July 2018, Chris was downgraded from hurricane strength to a post-tropical cyclone — from winds greater than 74 mph (119 kph) to winds less than 40 mph (64 kph).

Nonetheless, it was forecast to hit Cape Race around 8pm on Thursday with sustained winds of 35 mph (56 kph) while dumping 3-4 inches of rain (75-100 mm) near Terra Nova National Park.  The map below shows both locations with purple pins:  “Cape Race, Day 4” on the south shore and “Terra Nova, Day 6” in the north.

Our birding schedule meshed perfectly with the hurricane’s timing.  We left Trepassey near Cape Race on Thursday morning and were sleeping in Clarenville by the time bad weather hit the Avalon Peninsula Thursday night.

Along the way we experienced the calm before the storm — hot and windless.  On the Maine coast I’ve heard this called The Hurricane’s Breath because it is so unusual.

When the post-tropical cyclone crossed Cape Race Thursday night its maximum sustained winds were 40 miles per hour (67 km/h) with gusts up to 54 mph (87 km/h).  Meanwhile about 3 inches (76 mm) of rain fell near Terra Nova.

So what did it look like on the south coast of Newfoundland when the storm was at its peak?  Chris Mooney, a park interpretation technician at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, took these videos from his home in Branch, NL on Thursday evening.

Posted by Chris Mooney from the town of Branch, 7/12/2018 at 9:02pm. (Click the speaker icon to turn on the sound.)

… and posted at 9:24pm

Chris remarked that salt spray had already coated his windows so much that he couldn’t see out of them.

And what about the nesting birds on the rock? “We’ll lose a few chicks for sure.”

Fortunately the remnant of Hurricane Chris was a relatively mild storm.  When a real hurricane hits Newfoundland it’s devastating.  Click here to read about Hurricane Igor in September 2010, the strongest hurricane ever to hit the island.

 

(videos and screenshot by Chris Mooney via Facebook)

20 Years Ago: A Tornado Came To Town

Damage from 2 June 1998 tornado on Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, PA (photos from National Service)
Damage from 2 June 1998 tornado on Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, PA (photos from National Weather Service)

Saturday is the 20th anniversary of the 2 June 1998 tornado that hit the City of Pittsburgh.  Before that event many of us thought it was impossible for a tornado to touch down in the city limits.  Hah!

Everyone who saw it has a story.

That day I was still at my desk around 6pm, gazing out the window as I talked on the phone with someone in Indianapolis.  Though my office was more than three miles from the tornado I could see the storm’s approach as the sky got dark and the wind increased. I saw a crow fly into the wind but as hard as he flapped he went backwards. Uh oh!

I told the person on the phone, “I think a tornado is coming.”  He said, “Don’t tell me about it. We have too many of those,” and he kept talking.  Since the City of Pittsburgh had never had a tornado I figured it was OK to stay in my office but I dragged myself and the phone under my desk to continue the conversation.

Meanwhile, bad things were happening on Mt. Washington as Chuck and Joan Tague drove home across the Liberty Bridge.  The worst of the storm missed their Chatham Village neighborhood but the roads were so blocked with fallen trees that they parked far away and walked home.  The power was out for a very long time.

Chuck’s story is impressive! Click here or his photo below to read it.

Damage from 2 June 1998 tornado at Chatham Viilage on Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, PA (photo by Chuck Tague)
Damage from 2 June 1998 tornado at Chatham Viilage on Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, PA (photo by Chuck Tague)

We think of it as “the Mt. Washington tornado” but it also touched down in Carnegie and Hazelwood and traveled 32 miles before it dissipated.  It was one of nine(*) tornadoes that hit our region that evening.

Damage from 2 June 1998 tornado on Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, PA (photos from National Weather Service)
Damage from 2 June 1998 tornado on Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh, PA (photos from National Weather Service)

Read more about the Tornado Outbreak of June 2, 1998 here on the National Weather Service website, and in the Post-Gazette When Tornadoes Tormented the Pittsburgh Region. (* NWS confirmed 9 tornadoes; the P-G says there were 14!)

Do you have a memory from that day?  Leave a comment with your story.

 

(small photos from the National Weather Service report on the June 2, 1998 tornado outbreak. Photo of tornado-downed tree in Chatham Village by Chuck Tague)

Predict A Great Birding Day

Central Great Lakes weather radar, 6 May 2018, 3:58 EDT (screenshot from weather.gov)
Central Great Lakes weather radar, 6 May 2018, 3:58 EDT (screenshot from weather.gov)

6 May 2018:

How to predict a great birding day in early May?  Find out last night’s weather.

At this time of year migrating songbirds spend the day eating and resting, then fly north overnight.  Their decision to move depends on the weather.  Here’s what they like best:

  • New leaves on the trees at their destination. (The Leaves! article explains why.)
  • A south wind, preferably a light one.
  • No rain, no storms.  If they’re flying north and encounter bad weather, they land right there!
  • Pent up desire: If they’ve had to wait for good weather, the first favorable night will see huge movements of birds — thousands and thousands.

Weather radar is sensitive enough to show rain and snow.  Did you know it also shows migrating birds?

The screenshot above shows the central Great Lakes weather radar at 4am, 6 May 2018.  Yellow, orange and red indicate rain of increasing intensity.  Green and blue are either light precipitation or birds.  Green circles with blue edges are birds.  Birds show up as circles because the detection limit of each radar installation is circular.

So what does this radar plot mean for Pittsburgh?  Here’s a marked up version.

Annotated Great Lakes weather radar, 6 May 2018, 3:58 EDT (screenshot from weather.gov)
Annotated Great Lakes weather radar, 6 May 2018, 3:58 EDT (screenshot from weather.gov)

The red circle shows an area of bad weather.  (Heavier rain is yellow and a hint of orange.) The red line marks the northern limit of the bad weather.  Notice that there are no green circles north of the red areas.  The birds stopped south of there.

Bad weather stopped the birds last night.  Will we see the same birds in Pittsburgh today as we did yesterday?  And in the same places?

Let me know what you find out.

 

p.s. Click on the radar images above to see the current Central Great Lakes radar map at weather.gov.

(screenshots of Central Great Lakes weather radar, 6 May 2018, 3:58 EDT from weather.gov)

When Pittsburgh’s Air Smells Bad

Smelly air in Pittsburgh is marked on the map, 2 May 2018 (screenshot from Smell PGH)
Pittsburgh’s smelly air is on the map, 2 May 2018 (screenshot from Smell PGH)

For more than a century Pittsburgh was The Smoky City with air so bad we were called hell with the lid off.  After World War II we transformed ourselves with clean air laws enforced by the Allegheny County Health Department.  The smoke is gone and we’re looking good, but Pittsburgh is still one of the top 10 most polluted places in the U.S.

You can’t see our bad air anymore but some days you can smell it.  Yesterday was one of those days.

The Smell PGH map above (May 2) has a colored triangle for every air quality report made on the crowd-sourced app. The darker red the triangle, the worse the air smelled to the person who made the report to the Allegheny County Health Department.  At the bottom right, May 2 has a black square above it (bad air!).  So do May 1 and April 27.  You can see our smelly days.

The reports are easy to make.  I downloaded the app and followed the directions at the Smell PGH website:

  1. Rate the air with a color
  2. Describe it. For instance: industrial, rotten eggs, etc
  3. If you have symptoms from the air, describe them
  4. Click [Smell Report]
Smell PGH reporting panel (screenshot from Smell PGH website)
Smell PGH reporting panel (screenshot from Smell PGH website)

As soon as you press [Smell Report] your colored triangle sends a message to the Allegheny County Health Department and the app shows you the current map.  Don’t forget to enter your name and email address under Settings for more impact.

I used to think I was alone when I noticed bad air days.  The app has changed my outlook. Find out more at the Smell PGH website.

 

p.s. The weather changed.  Today, May 3, 2018, is much better.

(screenshots from the Smell PGH website)

Lots Of Water This Week

Waterfall in Schenley Park, 20180223_122714

Last week heavy rain swelled this waterfall in Schenley Park.  Again!

I filmed this video after heavy rainfall in February but the waterfall looked the same this week after record snow on April 2 (2.8″) and heavy downpours on April 4 and 5.

So far we’ve had more than 16 inches of precipitation in 2018. That’s almost 7.5 inches above normal in only 14 weeks.

Lots of water!

 

p.s. We have a dusting of snow this morning in Pittsburgh.  Will it ever end?!?

(video by Kate St. John)

How Early Is Spring This Year?

Snow this morning in Pittsburgh, 2 April 2018, 7:30am (photo by Kate St. John)
Snow this morning in Pittsburgh, 2 April 2018, 7:30am (photo by Kate St. John)

How early is Spring this year? That’s a hard question to answer.

This morning we have snow again in Pittsburgh and heavy snow-cloud skies. Spring feels late and yet it was early at first.

The animated map below from the National Phenology Network (NPN) shows the emergence of leaves across the Lower 48 States. NPN uses honeysuckle leaves as their marker plant and so do I.  The blue color shows late emergence, red means early.  Our leaves were 20 days early in Pittsburgh.

USA National Phenology Network Spring Leaf Anomaly, 30 March 2018 (from usanpn.org)
USA National Phenology Network Spring Leaf Anomaly, 30 March 2018 (from usanpn.org)

Here’s proof from February 20, 2018.

Honeysuckle leaves open in the heat, 20 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Honeysuckle leaves open in the heat, 20 Feb 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)

Since then Nature did a 180-degree turn and handed us a series of cold snaps capped by snow.  Our wildflowers have not bloomed yet.  Last year they were two to three weeks early and had gone to seed by the end of March.

Fortunately NPN tracks first blooms as well, using lilacs as the marker plant.(*)  On the map below you can see the Southeast bloomed 20 days early.

USA NPN Spring Bloom Anomaly, March 30, 2018 (from usanpn.org)
USA NPN Spring Bloom Anomaly, March 30, 2018 (from usanpn.org)

But we aren’t on the bloom map yet.

When will our wildflowers bloom?  We’ll have to wait and see.

 

(photo by Kate St. John. Animated maps from usanpn.org)

* From the USA NPN website: These models were constructed using historical observations of the timing of first leaf and first bloom in a cloned lilac cultivar (Syringa x chinensis’Red Rothomagensis’) and two cloned honeysuckle cultivars (Lonicera tatarica ‘Arnold Red’ and L. korolkowii ‘Zabelii’).