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!
Ever since the early 1980s when Luis and Walter Alvarez discovered that the Chicxulub Crater in the Yucatan and the extinction of the dinosaurs were caused by the same event, we’ve talked about the “asteroid” that killed the dinosaurs. Recently two Harvard researchers took a new look at the composition of Chicxulub rocks and the physics of comet behavior and revised that conclusion. It wasn’t an asteroid that killed the dinosaurs. It was a chunk of comet!
In winter when the moon is full and the sky is almost clear with a thin layer of cirrus clouds you may see a halo around the moon. The ring has a radius of 22o so it’s called a 22o halo, a moon ring, or a winter halo.
The conditions for a moon ring are relatively rare in Pittsburgh: a full moon + a clear sky + thin cirrus clouds whose ice crystals refract and reflect the moonlight. Seeing the halo is a matter of perspective based on where you stand and which ice crystals refract/reflect for you.
That’s why, like rainbows, halos around the sun – or moon – are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you.
On Wednesday night, 27 January, the nearly-full Wolf Moon rose before sunset hidden by Pittsburgh’s overcast sky. By 8pm the clouds were breaking up and made an iridescent halo around the moon. It was not a true 22o halo but it cast enough light to make shadows. All I have to show for it is this very blurry photo.
The next morning at 4:15am the sky was absolutely clear and the moon was shining brightly without a ring. I was disappointed because the clear sky was wasted on us while Pittsburgh slept. Three hours later the sun rose in an overcast sky.
Last night was the same — a nearly full moon and an absolutely clear sky. No moon ring.
The Wolf Moon is waning and winter will too. The next full moon on 27 February is our last chance at a Winter halo. The full moon after that — 28 March — will be in the Spring.
(photo at top from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original. blurry photo by Kate St. John)
During Pittsburgh’s overcast winters we grumble about clouds and pray for sunshine. On Saturday after blogging about last week’s clouds, I was outdoors with Liz Spence when the clouds broke at 1pm. “Look! We have shadows!”
For real excitement, though, check out these lenticular clouds over the Rincon Mountains in Tucson, Arizona, 18 January 2021. We never see this in Pittsburgh(*).
On overcast days it’s too easy to convince myself not to go outdoors but last week, when five of seven days were overcast, I forced myself to walk to Phipps to take photos of dawn redwoods. While there I looked through the garden gate — like a large keyhole.
On the 20th I promised myself to be at Schenley Park Overlook at noon for a big view of the sky, the city and the Cathedral of Learning (falcon home). On the way there I snapped a photo of Panther Hollow Lake, surprisingly shaped like a giant keyhole.
The day ended with a Gleam At Sunset, 10 minutes of happy sunshine before darkness. Below you can see the source of the gleam, a patch of clear sky in the lowest notch between the buildings.
Working backwards in time, 19 January provided a welcome respite with a panoply of blue sky and clouds. One cloud broke away from the pack.
January 16th was gloomy with freezing fog, light snow and mist but two merlins and The Gleam At Sunset made my late-day walk to Schenley Park worthwhile.
This morning is overcast with a 10oF wind chill. I plan to go outdoors … later.
Little did we know a year ago today when the first known case of COVID-19 was reported in the U.S. that we were heading for a year of recurring fear, illness, death, isolation, political unrest and economic hardship. By now almost everyone knows someone who tested positive. Too many know someone who died.
Yesterday the U.S. COVID-19 death toll reached 400,000. To put this in perspective, that’s the entire population of Tulsa, Oklahoma or Tampa, Florida or 1/3 of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.
For a year we have been grieving alone or in small groups. Yesterday for the first time we mourned as a nation for the lives lost to the coronavirus. A nurse from Livonia, Michigan who cares for COVID patients sang Amazing Grace as a tribute to those we’ve lost.
Michigan nurse Lori Marie Key, who went viral singing ‘Amazing Grace’ at work, reprises the song at the national COVID-19 memorial ceremony pic.twitter.com/8OtCaNU5mw