Category Archives: Weather & Sky

Seen This Week

Sunrise in Pittsburgh, 7 Feb 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

10 February 2024

Beautiful sunrises, calm reflections and high water at Duck Hollow were on tap this week in Pittsburgh.

Wind-less clear skies along the Monongahela River at Duck Hollow, 4 Feb 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
Pastel sunrise on 8 Feb 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

The week began as Winter but ended even warmer than early Spring. The tulips in my neighborhood are well above ground, fortunately without flower buds. One week from today, on 17 Feb, the weather forecast calls for temperatures as low as 19°F.

These tulips think it’s already spring, Pittsburgh, 7 Feb 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

The tulips survive in my too-many-deer neighborhood because they’re surrounded by buildings and tall fences with no obvious exit other than a narrow driveway.

I thought that the maze of buildings and driveways would protect these Japanese yews in front of Newell-Simon Hall at Carnegie Mellon, but deer found their way in and munched the bushes down to sticks. There’s a lot more to eat here. The deer will be back.

Deer damaged yews at Newell-Simon Hall, CMU, 7 Feb 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

Where Did the Sun Come Up Today?

Sunrise in Pittsburgh, 17 Jan 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

18 January 2024

Because the Earth’s axis doesn’t change how it tilts as it orbits the sun, the sun is higher in the summer sky and lower in winter. Meanwhile sunrise and sunset march north and south along the horizon from solstice to solstice.

You can see both effects in this composite photo by Tunç Tezel (The World At Night) showing the sun’s path at summer solstice, equinox and winter solstice in BursaTurkey, embedded from NASA APOD.

Sun’s path on Winter solstice, Equinox and Summer solstice in BursaTurkey (image by Tunç Tezel (TWAN) embedded from NASA’s Astronomy Photo Of the Day on 19 Sep 2023

In my own way I’ve kept track of the same thing. When we lived in Greenfield our house faced west so I noted where the sun set for both solstices and the equinox. Now we face east and I haven’t done that yet for sunrise, but I already have some markers.

Here’s my eastern view at sunrise yesterday morning. This can be a marker.

The eastern horizon at sunrise, 17 Jan 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

I also have four photos of sun pillars which are good sunrise markers.

Put together on an eastern view photo, it looks like this. You can already see the sun marching along.

Four sunrise points along my horizon (photo by Kate St. John with markup)

I did not add yesterday’s sunrise to the marker photo because it was too close to 11 January, but the sun did indeed move northward in 6 days. See composite photo below.

Comparison of sunrise location on 11 Jan and 17 Jan in Pittsburgh (photos by Kate St. John)

I’m well on my way toward completing the sunrise markers but it will take a year to do it. I need both solstices and the equinox.

Try it for yourself. Any horizon will do even if you’re in a valley. During one year take 3 to 12 photos, either just the solstices & equinox or one photo per month. Note the date and the sun’s location on the horizon. Put the markers on your horizon photo as I have done above.

So where did the sun come up today?

Ummm … Not today in Pittsburgh. It’s too cloudy to see the sun.

Seen This Week: Sky and Water

Sun pillar at sunrise, 11 January 2024, Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

13 January 2024

This week featured spectacular sun effects and high water.

On 11 January I captured this photo of a sun pillar at sunrise while Dave DiCello got an even better shot from the West End Bridge.

Friday’s sunrise was spectacular in a different way.

Spectacular sunrise on 12 January 2024, Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

Tuesday 9 January produced the classic Gleam at Sunset in which a day of thick cloud cover ended with a gap on the western horizon and 30 minutes of sun. Here’s what the gap looked like just after sunset from the roof deck of my building.

The Gleam at Sunset looking west, 9 January 2024, Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

Twenty minutes earlier I had viewed the gleam from below when it lit the tops of trees and buildings … like this.

The Gleam at Sunset lights a treetop, 9 January 2024, Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile we’re only 13 days into January and have already had 2.24 inches of precipitation — 1.06 inches above normal for the month. All that water ends up in the rivers so it’s no wonder that the Monongahela River was running high at Duck Hollow on 11 January.

Some trees are up to their ankles in water along the Monongahela River at Duck Hollow, 11 January 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)
High water on the Monongahela River at Duck Hollow, 11 January 2024 (photo by Kate St. John)

It was raining when I woke up this morning.

Will Pittsburgh Get Cold Enough for Rare Gulls Next Week?

Watching gulls at the Point, Pittsburgh, PA Jan 31, 2015 (photo by Tim Vechter)
Watching gulls at the Point, Pittsburgh, PA, 31 Jan 2015 (photo by Tim Vechter)

11 January 2024

Only a few days ago I was lamenting that we weren’t having a snowy winter, neither snow nor snowy owls. Well, be careful what you ask for! A few days of bitter cold are coming to Pittsburgh next week. If Lake Erie freezes, arctic gulls will fly south to find open water on the rivers. The photo above shows some cold and happy birders looking at rare gulls at the Point in January 2015.

So what are the chances this will happen next week?

As of this morning, the forecasted low temperature for dawn on Wednesday 17 January is 9°F. This map for next Monday sure looks like we’re in a “polar vortex.” Cold, right?

Low temperature forecast for Monday 15 January 2024 as of 11 Jan ( from the NWS)

But will it be cold long enough to freeze Lake Erie and send the gulls south? Probably not. The eastern Great Lakes ice map as of yesterday, 10 Jan 2024, shows nearly 100% open water (white).

Eastern Great Lakes Ice Chart as of 10 Jan 2024 (map from North American Ice Service)

There’s not even a hint of ice (blue) on most of Lake Erie and the Great Lakes ice-to-date graph for winter 2023-24 indicates that ice is at a near record low. There’s a lot of cooling off to do before the lakes will freeze.

So next week I’ll have to wear my Minnesota gear to go outdoors but it’s unlikely there will be any unusual birds out there. Will I want to go out in 9°F anyway? I’ll have to wait and see.

(credits are in the cations)

Aurora from Above

Aurora borealis (photo from Wikimedia Commons, originally taken by Marcelo Quinan on Flickr CC)

3 January 2024

As I mentioned last month, though winter is the best time of year to see the aurora borealis it is rare if not impossible to see it anywhere but in the far north. The photo at top was taken in Norway while the one below gives a different perspective from an airplane at 36,000 feet above Canada.

Aurora Borealis as seen from an airplace 36,000 ft above Canada, 22 January 2004 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In both cases the photos were taken inside our atmosphere below the aurora. What if you could see the aurora from above?

On 21 January 2016 NASA astronaut Scott Kelly took photos of the aurora from the International Space Station (ISS) as it traveled over Canada. Here’s what the aurora looks like from above in his series of photos.

Aurora borealis over Canada, seen from ISS on 21 Jan 2016 (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

The ISS also saw the aurora australis, the southern lights near the South Pole, in July 2012.

Aurora australis from ISS, 15 July 2012 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Want to know if there will be an aurora soon and where it will show up? Check here for NOAA’s Aurora Viewline predition for tonight and tomorrow.

If Only We Could See The Stars

How light pollution affects the dark night skies (image from Wikimedia Commons)

28 December 2023

We usually take for granted that even on a clear night there aren’t many stars to see. When the news reminds us to watch for an astronomical event such as the Geminid meteor shower on 13 December, we realize that most of us have to drive somewhere to find a dark sky. Even rural skies show fewer stars than a dark sky site, and Dark Sky locations are getting harder to find as light pollution proliferates.

Earth City Lights, 1994-1995 (image from Wikimedia Commons)

There’s a universe above us that most of us cannot see. Learn more in this vintage article:

It’s the Best Time of Year for the Northern Lights

Northern lights (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

22 December 2023

The short days of winter give us longer nights at the best time of year for viewing the northern lights.

Pittsburgh is generally too far south and always has too much light pollution from city lights for viewing the aurora borealis so let’s enjoy beautiful scenes from the arctic.

video embedded from Richard Sidey on YouTube

Wondering what areas are due to see the northern lights tonight or tomorrow? See NOAA’s 2-day aurora forecast maps or the 30-minute forecast for predictions of beauty in the sky.

Merlin at Schenley Park

Merlin at Schenley Park, 12 Dec 2023 (photo by Charity Kheshgi)

16 December 2023

Nearly every winter since the late 1990’s when Bill Hintze(*) first reported them, you can usually find a merlin or two at Schenley Park golf course at dusk. Charity Kheshgi and I went looking on 12 December and right on time a large merlin, probably female, arrived 20 minutes before sunset.

The temperature was relatively warm but it was very windy and felt quite cold. The merlin didn’t care. As the sun set she flew to the top of a pine tree across the road. (She’s in this photo as a dot.)

Sunset at Schenley Park’s golf course, 12 Dec 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Charity photographed her as a silhouette.

Merlin in Schenley Park after sunset, 12 Dec 2023

Interestingly she didn’t roost at the golf course. When it got darker she flew away to the south-southeast.

If you’d like to see a merlin, stop by the golf course about 40 minutes before sunset and walk around looking at the treetops. Parking is available at the First Tee parking lot.

(*) Bill Hintze and the merlins: I think Bill was the one who first found the merlins but I might be misremembering. If I’m wrong please leave a comment so I can correct the text.

Seen This Week

Sky reflected on Panther Hollow Lake, Schenley Park, 8 Dec 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

9 December 2023

There were just hints of ice floating on Panther Hollow Lake yesterday morning when the water reflected blue sky and whispy clouds.

Yesterday was unusually beautiful after the tumult of hail and thunder during the Steelers game last Sunday 3 December. After the storm a double rainbow glowed in the east.

Double rainbow on 3 Dec 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

The pot of gold seemed to be on Morewood Avenue.

The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is at Morewood Avenue, 3 Dec 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

If you look closely in the double rainbow photo you can see crows flying just above the trees.

Crows have become less reliable in my neighborhood since they moved the roost about a month ago. When they came through after the storm I went out to see them, counted 3,000 and recorded a video.

Crows flying toward the roost at dusk, 3 December 2023, Shadyside, Pittsburgh (video by Kate St .John)

Only 3 WEEKS until Pittsburgh’s Christmas Bird (Crow!) Count. The crows are getting tricky. Keep me posted! Thanks to Carol S for reporting them at North Shore last night.

p.s. If the reflection in the top photo is puzzling, here’s another perspective.

Sky and bridge reflected in Panther Hollow Lake, Schenley Park, 8 Dec 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Seen at Some Point

Sunrise seems to pierce Central Catholic’s steeple, 28 Nov 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

2 December 2023

Saturday blogs usually show what I’ve “Seen This Week” but I have only one worthy photo, shown above. For the rest I’ve chosen sights that are timely for the season and seen at some point.

This Wednesday the water was low in the Monongahela River at Duck Hollow, just as it is in this photo from Nov 2020. However the sky was not so blue and it was very cold!

Nine Mile Run outflow at Duck Hollow, 29 Nov 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wednesday’s low was 21°F but today will warm to nearly 60°F. No frost today like the bit shown below from Nov 2021.

Frost on the grass, 4 Nov 2021 (photo by Kate St. John)

The trees are bare now and showing off their silhouettes. Here are three typical sights on the cusp of December.

Bare trees at dusk, Schenley Park, 15 Nov 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

You can identify young American elm trees by their twig arrangement that look like fish skeletons.

Twigs on young American elms look like fish bones, 2 Dec 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

Black locust trees are always gnarly but this one was made worse when it was trimmed away from the utility wires in 2012.

Black locust tree looks twisted after powerline cutback, 28 Jan 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)