This week my husband and I have been visiting family in Tidewater Virginia, our first long trip since the COVID-19 shutdown. Everyone’s vaccinated (& some had COVID last winter) so at last we’re making the “Real Hugs Tour.”
It is hot. 92 degrees F near the water, 100 degrees on the roads in the interior. Every morning I take a walk before it gets too unpleasant.
At the ocean I was pleased to see saltwater birds and southern songbird species. Favorite birds on the bay side of First Landing State Park were least, royal and sandwich terns plus a blue grosbeak (eBird checklist here).
I also encountered a lot of bug sounds …
… and a dragonfly that repeatedly perched on a twig in the stiff wind. Its behavior reminded me of a kestrel.
The landscape is beautiful and welcoming until you stand in the sun.
Blackberries ripen in the heat.
House finches are prolific breeders in the hanging baskets on my sisters porch. This brood froze as we peeked under the fern in one basket while another house finch couple was building a new nest in the next basket.
In Pittsburgh it is 10-15 degrees cooler but we will miss the sea breeze when we get home tomorrow.
At 3pm on Wednesday 7 Jul 2021 a heavy downpour in the Nine Mile Run watershed caused a flash flood recorded by Upstream Pittsburgh‘s stream cam (video below, blurry because it’s raining). The downpour was so localized to the East End that it did not register on Pittsburgh’s official weather gauges. Flood debris showed that if I’d been on the Nine Mile Run Trail the water would have been up to my ears! (photo at top taken at 40.4263341,-79.9068387).
On Thursday 8 July at 7pm a downpour over Pleasant Hills had devastating results as reported by CBS Pittsburgh.
And on Friday 9 July another localized thunderstorm let loose for half an hour in Squirrel Hill. I have no photos because I was driving down Braddock Avenue in the downpour, hoping the river on the road would not become a car-swallowing lake under the Parkway bridge. Fortunately the water ran off into Nine Mile Run. Another flash flood. I’m glad I was not on the trail.
We don’t need a particularly wet year for this to happen. Pittsburgh’s 2021 rainfall is actually 0.93 inches below normal as of today. The problem is that the rain falls all at once, especially in June and July.
Climate change is making the problem worse. A 2019 study found that extreme precipitation has increased 55% in the Northeastern US in my lifetime.
Brace yourself, Pittsburgh, for a lot of flash floods in the future. Sometimes every day.
About Nine Mile Run per Upstream Pgh (formerly Nine Mile Run Watershed Association): “Nine Mile Run is a small stream that flows through Pittsburgh’s East End, mostly underground. The 7 square mile Nine Mile Run watershed is home to the largest urban stream restoration in the United States, completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2006.” Upstream Pgh got its start with this project and now works throughout the region on community-oriented stormwater management projects, large and small, plus much more. Click here for their website.
At 6pm on Sunday evening a violent thunderstorm blew through Pittsburgh with powerful wind gusts, hail and heavy rain.
Dave DiCello photographed the storm from the West End as it approached Oakland. The VA Hospital and the Cathedral of Learning are to the right of the lightning bolt.
Watching that storm roll into #Pittsburgh today was incredible. A huge hail core, tons of lightning; looked like the apocalypse coming into town. Though this wasn't the largest bolt I captured tonight, it is my favorite image. An absolute monster of a cloud. Lots more to come. pic.twitter.com/b6aqMnbPNZ
Meanwhile my husband and I watched from our 6th floor apartment as a wind gust picked up the patio umbrella from the high-rise roof next door and blew it, Mary Poppins-like, until it crashed into our building. Then we saw no more as rain and hail battered our windows for half an hour, first from the north, then the east.
The tempest left behind flooding, downed trees, power outages, and a rainbow.
Yesterday morning I surveyed the damage after the cleanup had already begun. In a short walk I found trees down at Frick Fine Arts, Carnegie Library and Museum, and two small breaks on South Craig Street.
At Schenley Park the valley around Panther Hollow Lake was spared but the lake itself was full of flood water. This is by design. A flow control gate at the outlet holds back freshwater so that storms will not flood The Run.
This morning the power was still out in parts of Squirrel Hill as I drove home from the grocery store.
My husband and I were fortunate. Our power never failed and that flying umbrella hit the wall below us and caused no damage.
p.s. The young Pitt peregrines are flying so well that they are hard to find. I saw both adults plus two of four juveniles on my Monday morning walk.
All of them have flat bottoms at the same altitude because …
The flat bottom of cumulus clouds defines the exact height at which a critical combination of temperature and air pressure causes water vapor within the rising current to condense into a visible cloud.
A NOTE about the yellow field: Rapeseed (Brassica napus), in the mustard family, is grown for its oil-rich seeds. Cultivars with very low eruric acid become canola oil. “Rapeseed is the third-largest source of vegetable oil and second-largest source of protein meal in the world,” according to Wikipedia.
The State of the Air Report doesn’t even measure the rotten egg smell — hydrogen sulfide, H2S — that’s produced by U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works and Edgar Thompson Works in Braddock.
High concentrations of H2S (widely recognized by its foul, rotten-egg odor) are registered all too often in the Mon Valley. In fact, so far this year there have already been 21 exceedances of Pennsylvania’s 24-hour average H2S standard – 13 at the Liberty monitor and eight more at the North Braddock monitor.
Twelve days ago Saint Vincent’s La Soufrière volcano began erupting after four decades of silence. Since 9 April it has blanketed the island with thick ash, forced the evacuation of 20,000 people, and ruined fresh water, homes, and farms. It has also caused a deep humanitarian crisis (see 5-minute British Channel 4 video at bottom) and killed untold numbers of local plants, animals and birds.
The volcanic plume is also devastating the air, bad to breathe and dangerous for anything that flies. Saint Vincent’s airport closed when the eruption began while NOAA’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Center provides maps of Caribbean no-fly zones for pilots. The 10 April zones match the plume graph from NASA.
Though the disaster feels far from Pennsylvania it may affect our migratory birds that have not yet crossed the Caribbean from South America. Will the birds smell the plume and find a way to avoid it?
Airplanes will soon be cleared for take-off at Saint Vincents airport. I wonder if the birds will be, too.
This 8-minute video from Britain’s Channel 4 shows the devastation at Saint Vincents.
A shagbark hickory lives up to its name in bright sunlight.
American basswood now has bright red buds that are still cautious about opening.
Cultivated European white willows have bright yellow twigs in March.
Non-native crocuses are blooming so I hoped to see native snow trillium at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve on Friday, 12 March 2021. I did not find any, not even leaves. Was I too early or did the deer eat them?
However I was rewarded with the sound of frogs! Spring peepers and a few wood frogs called from the first vernal pool.
Wood frogs quacked in the second pool joined by a few solo peepers (hear that slow “creeeek” sound). In the video you can see the surface of the water moving with so many wood frogs.
Get outside while the sun’s shining. There’s more spring to come!