Tomorrow the Spring Equinox will occur at 5:24pm EDT. Some will mark the day by visiting a celestial calendar, a structure where sunrise lines up with particular stones. At Angor Wat, below, the sun rises behind the middle tower.
Tonight the Hike Inn is probably full to capacity with all 20 bunkrooms in use. Tomorrow everyone will be up and out before dawn to watch the sun rise.
Newcomers usually visit the Star Base beforehand so they know what to expect.
The next morning they watch from the cave.
The most famous aspect of the Hike Inn is not the Star Base but the fact that you have to hike 5 miles to get to it. No vehicle access. Check-in at the Amicalola Falls State Park Visitors Center, park your car at the trailhead and start your hike. The Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus at Springer Mountain is (relatively) nearby.
Earlier this month when I wrote about wind speed maps (How Fast Is The Wind Blowing?) Steve Thomas sent a link to the earth mapping website. I remembered green swirling maps on my own blog, Winds On Water, but seven years ago I didn’t look further than the default surface winds.
The earth website is, in their own words, “a visualization of global weather conditions forecast by supercomputers updated every three hours.” Their action maps include high altitude winds, ocean currents, temperatures, fires and more.
A green comet that last passed the sun 50,000 years ago set off a flurry of stargazing on the night of the new moon, 21-22 January. Even though Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass closest to earth on 2 February it is best to see it now before the moon waxes to full on 5 February.
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is so faint that it must be viewed in a dark sky and is best seen via binoculars, telescope, or camera with telephoto lens — for instance, birding equipment. The photo above was taken with a 300mm F/4 lens. Click here for information on where to look.
With magnification and a star map all you need is a dark sky, but finding one is increasingly difficult.
Previous studies used satellites to measure earth lights reaching outer space but they missed the effect of ground lights inside our atmosphere. So the problem is worse than we thought. For a video illustration, see the 2016 article below.
Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, we definitely have light pollution but our impossible hurdle is cloud cover. We have lots of clouds in the forecast for the next 10 days.
NOAA weather satellites don’t see the wind either but they can see the clouds moving in three layers.
High level clouds (cirrus) at 23,000 to 46,000 feet
Mid level clouds at a level of 10,000 to 23,000 feet
Low level clouds are below 10,000 feet
In their animations of satellite images we can almost see the wind but not its speed.
For instance, in this GOES East animation from last Thursday 12 January 2023 we can see the Atmospheric River pumping into California and a low pressure system moving up the Ohio Valley.
NOAA’s computers use the animated maps to calculate wind speed and direction. The result, called Derived Motion Winds, plots the wind height, direction and speed on a map.
Here’s the same timelapse with Derived Motion Winds. Notice that the layers often don’t move in the same direction or at the same speed. You’ve felt this in an airplane as a “bump” when the plane rises or descends between conflicting layers.
You can “see” the wind anywhere in the Americas by choosing a satellite to view (list on the left) at the NOAA GOES Imagery Satellite Maps. Click on Derived Motion Winds if available.
To view the current GOES East satellite, pictured above, visit these links:
Pittsburgh’s skies were oppressively gray on Saturday with thick Lake Effect Clouds but the forecast promised the clouds would break in early afternoon so I planned a walk in Schenley Park for 2:30pm. Hah!
By 3pm the clouds were still thick and gray and the revised forecast predicted they would break up in the 4 o’clock hour. Of course! We were about to get 15-30 minutes of full sun immediately followed by sunset at 5:15pm, a classic Gleam At Sunset. I timed my walk to arrive at Schenley’s golf course by 4:45pm.
My photos show what happened: the classic gleam, an unexpected sun pillar, and a beautiful red sky at sunset.
The clouds begin to break up, 4:41pm
The classic Gleam at Sunset, 4:56pm
Full sun at 5:00pm
Sun Pillar, 5:07pm
... sun is gone
If you’ve never heard of Lake Effect Clouds and the Gleam At Sunset, find out more in last month’s article:
The sunrise was gorgeous and cold last Wednesday when a group of us decided to walk at Jennings in Butler County. We saw few birds but there were ice heaves, buttress roots on an elm, and the seeds of old man’s beard (Clematis drummondii).
When old man’s beard is in bloom it’s called virgin’s bower, transforming it from a young woman to an old man in a matter of months.
My friends who live north of the city have not seen many dark-eyed juncos at their feeders this winter, but juncos are definitely present at the Frick Park Environmental Education Center. Charity Kheshgi posted photos of our recent trip to Frick.
Rain. Rain. Rain! For two days it’s been raining in Pittsburgh while the high temperature holds at 61oF. Total rainfall will be 1.4 inches, some of which splashed the Cathedral of Learning falconcam.
If the weather had been below freezing we’d be looking at 14 inches of snow! I’m glad it isn’t snowing but heavy rain in January got me thinking … Wasn’t the snow deeper when I was a kid?
I grew up in Pittsburgh so my memories of winter apply to where I live today, but are my memories distorted? Using Pittsburgh’s historical snowfall data I compared my 12 years of growing up in Pittsburgh(*) to the most recent 12 years.
The answer is mixed. There was more snow in winter when I was a kid (maximum winter total and highest minimum), but both the highest and lowest snowfall per month both occurred in the recent past — in fact in the same winter of 2020-21.
When I Was a Kid
The Last 12 Winters
Max Winter Total
Min Winter Total
Max Monthly Total
Min Monthly Total
Mar 2021 (same yr as max)
Snow in May?
Up to 3.1 inches
No snow sticks in May
The wild swings in snowfall nowadays mirror the wild swings in temperature.
Remember how bitter cold it was only 11 days ago? Look at the temperature swing then (Christmas Eve 2022) and now (3 January 2023)!
So the answer is Yes & No. Yes, there was more snow in Pittsburgh when I was a kid. But, No, the snow is deeper today on rare occasions.
The end of the year was a weather yo-yo from warm-ish winter to bone chilling cold to 60 degrees yesterday. Photos from the last two weeks span Pittsburgh and Virginia.
Above, a pastel sunrise on 14 December in Pittsburgh was followed by above freezing weather. It was so warm that by the 17th I found a bench gnome in Schenley Park and blooming trees at Carnegie Museum.
That evening it dipped below freezing and stayed cold through sunrise on the 21st. The blossoms did not survive.
And then it got Nasty cold.
To avoid the coming winter storm we drove to Virginia on Wednesday the 21st. On Thursday it poured, on Friday it turned sharply cold.
Finally on Saturday in Virginia Beach the temperature reached the mid 20s in the afternoon so I took a walk and found a young male common yellowthroat with bright yellow throat, olive back and shadow mask (sample photo at left). A warbler (!) had survived the coldest night of 13 degrees F and was gleaning dead insects from the sunlit grass. He was on the path in the photo at right, but of course we cannot see him.
Often in winter Pittsburgh has overcast skies all day and clear skies at night. When the transition happens at sunset we see clear sky approaching from the west but it arrives too late for us to enjoy the sun. We have 10 minutes of sunshine and then it’s dark. I call this The Gleam At Sunset.
Why does this happen so often? Does Ohio have lovely weather all day that only reaches us at night?
Pittsburgh is well known for overcast skies in winter but you may be surprised where the clouds come from.
Lake Erie plays an extensive role in our cloud cover and, as long as it isn’t frozen over during the winter, it serves as a local moisture source that plagues the region with clouds. … Most places have clear blue skies after a cold front passage, but when we have northerly flow off of the lake we have cloud cover.”
Buffalo, New York has Lake Effect Snow. I like to think that Pittsburgh has “Lake Effect Clouds.”
Mixing and the Boundary Layer
When the air is well mixed (wind and/or rising warm air, falling cold air) it creates a defined line between the clouds and the rest of us below. In winter and early spring this mixing happens while the air is heated during the day.
During the winter and early spring, often times we observe a well-mixed boundary layer (we call this boundary layer coupling). When the atmosphere is coupled/mixed, the top of that mixing height is where we observe a cloud base [i.e. the bottom of the overcast deck]. You may even feel gusty wind during the day that supports the notion of a mixed atmosphere, when strong wind aloft is transported to the surface through this means.
The cloud base remains well defined while the air is mixing. It falls apart when the mixing stops at sunset.
At night, wind gusts typically subside as the surface cools and the atmosphere becomes decoupled again in tandem with sunset / loss of daytime heating. At decoupling you may lose your mixing height and essentially dissolve your cloud cover.