Last Saturday morning, April 20, the sky was dramatic outside my window.
Meanwhile Dave DiCello was taking photos from the West End. Click the links to see:
(photo by Kate St. John)
Spring is fire season in Pennsylvania. 85% of our wildfires occur in March, April and May.
There’s no drought in Pennsylvania right now, nor in most of the U.S. — as shown on the map below.
But you don’t need drought to have a fire. All you need are dry conditions, fuel, and a spark. In Pennsylvania we have all three in the spring: low humidity, gusty winds, and lots of old leaf litter drying out in the sun. The spark comes from people.
98% of Pennsylvania’s wildfires are caused by people and most of those are caused by people burning debris. On a sunny windy day those fires blow onto dry grass and escape to the wild. In April 2016 more than 10,000 acres burned in Pennsylvania.
Yesterday the fire danger was high in our state because the weather was so nice — warm and sunny with gusty winds. Across Pennsylvania people were out doing yard work. Some were probably burning piles of debris. I haven’t heard if there were any fires. (The fire danger is lower today, 4 April 2019, because the weather changed.)
If you live in a place that allows outdoor trash burning be careful out there! Spring is Pennsylvania fire season.
(photo of fire from Wikimedia Commons (actually a prescribed burn). Maps from US Drought Monitor and U.S. Forest Service Wildfire Danger Forecast; Click on the captions to see the originals)
Note: Allegheny County does not allow outdoor trash burning.
20 March 2019
Today is the astronomical First Day of Spring when the sun crosses the celestial equator at 5:58pm EDT. But is it Spring yet? It depends on where you live.
The USA National Phenology Network tracks spring across the continental U.S. based on first leaf out conditions for honeysuckle (Lonerica) and first bloom conditions for lilacs (Syringa vulgaris). The plants are non-native, and honeysuckle is invasive, but they make good indicators because they’re early responders to springtime warmth.
Monday’s animated Spring Leaf Index (18 March 2019) shows that leaf out was ahead of schedule through late February but fell behind in northern Virginia, the southern Great Plains, and the Pacific Northwest when cold weather hit in early March.
According to the model, spring hasn’t reached Pittsburgh yet but I’m conducting my own Leaf Out Survey in my neighborhood. I took the honeysuckle photos below on 11 March and 16 March 2019. Both were cold days after a spurt of exceptionally warm weather. The tiny leaves on the right show the effect of 77 degrees F on March 14!
Do you have leaves in your neighborhood yet? Is spring on time?
Follow spring’s progress at the USA National Phenology Network. For blooming times click here for the latest Spring Bloom map.
(animated map from the USA National Phenology Network. photos by Kate St. John)
We know our climate is changing compared to 30 years ago because we see obvious signs:
Science predicted this more than a generation ago, but most of us couldn’t imagine how it would feel. Now that we’ve seen 30 years of change and more is in store, we’re anxious to know what our climate will be like in the future.
Matt Fitzpatrick and his colleagues at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science have answered this question by visualizing the future on an interactive map. Their study analyzes 540 cities in the U.S. and Canada, mapping their predicted climate in the 2080s to an existing climate today.
I tried out the map for myself at https://tinyurl.com/urbanclimate. I looked up Pittsburgh, PA of course and got the answer shown in the screenshot below.
It shows that Pittsburgh’s 2080 climate will feel like Jonesboro, Arkansas does today. Jonesboro is 665 miles away from here, near Memphis, Tennessee. (Click on the image to see the website. Use website controls to see more complex answers.)
The map bubbles explain: Our winters will be 10.8F warmer and 46.8% wetter. Our summers will be 10F warmer and 17.6% drier.
Let’s compare current to future using graphs. Pittsburgh’s current climate averages are shown below from U.S. Climate Data.
Sixty years from now our average winter lows will barely reach freezing. July and August average highs will be 93+ degrees F but watch out for the highest highs. August record temperatures in Jonesboro are all above 103oF!
Our precipitation will be really different. We’ll go from a fairly steady 3 inches of rainfall per month to a rainy season in November-to-May and a dry season June-to-October. This might resemble California’s wet (flood) and dry (fire) seasons.
Try the app for yourself at https://tinyurl.com/urbanclimate.
We’re in for a wild ride.
For more information read about the study here at University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
(credits: Cloud photo from Flickr, Creative Commons license. Map screenshot from https://tinyurl.com/urbanclimate. Pittsburgh current climate graph from U.S. Climate Data. Graphs of Pittsburgh’s future temperature and rainfall by Kate St. John. Click on the captions to see the originals)
What is it like to get close to Jupiter?
In this NASA video a robotic spacecraft called Juno makes its sixteenth fly-by (Perijove) since arriving in mid-2016. Its closest approach is almost dizzying. I feel better when the spacecraft zooms away and we see the swirling clouds.
An article about ice on a very icy day, 8oF and falling.
Considering how often the temperature has fluctuated in Pittsburgh this winter I’m surprised we haven’t seen more glaze ice.
Glaze ice is the name for the icy coating caused by freezing rain or freezing drizzle. If the accumulation is small, the effect is beautiful and the electricity stays on. The photo above from Wikimedia Commons is more beautiful than my own below.
When glaze ice is 1/4 inch thick or more the Weather Service calls it an ice storm. A quarter of an inch doesn’t sound like much but it’s so heavy that it weighs down the trees and they fall on power lines, streets, parked cars and houses. Power lines and power towers can fall, too. According to Wikipedia, “just one quarter of an inch of ice accumulation can add about 500 pounds (230 kg) of weight per [power] line span.” No wonder things come crashing down.
In January 1998 I wasn’t in Maine for the Great Ice Storm but I remember its results quite vividly. We visited central Maine in September and there were still broken trees everywhere. Folks who lived through it said they were without power for weeks. Everyone was stuck near home — couldn’t drive anywhere — so the radio stations connected people by announcing supplies and requests for help. Everyone pulled together.
Pretty as glaze ice is, I’m glad to do without it.
(photo credits: Japanese maple glaze ice from Wikimedia Commons, glaze ice in Pittsburgh by Kate St. John, photos of the Great Ice Storm of 1998 from NOAA, 10th Anniversary. click on the captions to see the originals)
After a beautiful red sunrise the sky cleared enough to reveal thin, wavy clouds flowing overhead. The National Weather Service said these clouds were at 11,000 feet — “alto” height, not cirrus height — but they really looked like this cirrocumulus undulatus photo at the International Cloud Atlas. Notice the feathery details in the photos above. (The four slides show two in normal color and two enhanced for contrast).
Cirrus clouds indicate a change in the weather. So did the red sunrise, photographed by Dan Dasynich. “Red sky at morn, sailors forewarn.”
Almost clear on Tuesday we had rainy, foggy weather the next day. The clouds told us it was coming.
(slideshow photos by Kate St. John, sunrise by Dan Dasynich)
Remember how cold it was in January 2014? It’s been five years since we saw extremely cold weather but the jet stream is wobbling again and we’re going to see a smack of subzero temperatures this week. The maps show this week’s forecast lows described by the National Weather Service:
Bitter cold temperatures will give way to a potentially record breaking push of Arctic air this week. Wind chills as low as -40 or colder can be expected across the Northern Plains and Great Lakes. In addition, wide swaths of heavy snow can be expected across the area. This system will push east and south early this week with much below normal temperatures and wintry precipitation.National Weather Service, 27 Jan 2019, 5am
Crazy as it seems, extreme cold is a sign of climate change. Here’s an explanation from my Polar Vortex article of January 2014:
“In the good old days before climate change, the winter polar vortex in the northern hemisphere was generally well behaved. It was a persistent, strong, cold, low pressure zone surrounding the polar high at roughly the same latitude around the globe. The strong winds kept the jet stream in line. Nobody got too hot or too cold.
“But now as the Earth gets hotter hot air from the troposphere is forced into the stratosphere and disrupts the polar vortex. The vortex weakens, becomes disorganized, and can collapse into smaller pieces. Its winds weaken and the jet stream flaps like a flag in the breeze, as shown in (c) below.”
Get ready! Arctic air is on its way.
(forecast maps from the National Weather Service. jet stream diagram from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
Have you been appreciating clouds this week? It’s been hard to do because it’s been so overcast but …
On Throw Back Thursday, read about the cool clouds I saw on a single day in January 2012 in this blog post: Atmospheric Effects.
Learn more about clouds at the Cloud Appreciation Society.
(photo by Kate St. John)
The 100th Meridian West is an imaginary line on the map that happens to mark the climate divide between the humid east and arid west in North America. Or rather, it used to. The rainfall divide is moving east.
Extending from the North to South Poles, the 100th runs longitudinally in the U.S. from North Dakota through Texas.
Its coincidence with the rainfall divide was first documented in 1877 by John Wesley Powell who found during his explorations in the Great Plains that the 100th was a visible boundary. Locations to the east of the 100th received 20+ inches of annual rainfall, the west received less.
20 inches is a key number for agriculture and human population. It determines what you can grow, whether you have to irrigate and, thus, how many people can live there. Powell saw the line and told Congress it had implications for settlement of the western plains. Congress didn’t heed him but …
This 2014 map of U.S. Population by County shows that it played out as Powell expected. You can see the rainfall divide in population density. People choose to live where there’s water.
You can also see the line from outer space. I’ve marked the 100th (approximately) on this satellite photo of Nebraska. The landscape is deep green to the east though not uniform.
Nowadays the 100th is no longer the rainfall divide.
A study by Columbia University meteorologists found that the aridity line has shifted 140 miles east and is now statistically located at the 98th meridian. Climate change will move it even further as warming evaporates moisture in the northern plains and alters rainfall in the south.
In a hundred years the aridity mark may be firmly inside Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri. Aridity decreases the amount of agriculture and will probably change the population. People choose to live where there’s water.
John Wesley Powell’s “100th meridian” is moving east.
This article was inspired by Yale Climate Connections. Read more here in Yale Environment 360, 11 April 2018.
(photos from USDA, USFS and Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)