Warm and clear. Our most fog-free month. Our warmest month. Nothing in the yards and gardens wants to quit. The fauna, the flora, they just keep going as the light gets shorter, the dark gets longer, the world cools toward what even here we call winter.
Sunday afternoon activity: Sitting here wondering if it will really rain over the next couple of days, as the forecasts have suggested for a few days, or not. So far, we've had clouds and some drizzle. While I ponder the relatively unusual prospect of a late June rainfall in the Bay Area, I was looking at weather satellite pictures, and then at loops of satellite pictures made over the last few hours. I started to wonder whether I could find a full day's worth of those looped images, or maybe a week's or a month's. I still haven't found anything like that. But I did find plenty of versions of the the stock views from NOAA's GOES West (GOES stands for Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite). No matter how many times I see it, the view of the full disk of the Earth (above, taken this morning; click for a larger image) evokes wonder. Below (click for much larger image) is the West Coast in beautiful enhanced infrared color, complete with the weather systems that could bring us rain.
It rained last night in our part of the Bay Area. Not a lot--just enough to sort of wet everything down and leave water beaded everywhere on foliage this morning (like the neighbor's parking-strip apple tree). In most of the country, rain in May would not be news. Here it's rare, but not unheard of. As Jan Null, a local meteorologist who has pored over San Francisco's precipitation history, told his email list over the weekend:
Rain in San Francisco at some point during the Memorial Day* weekend has occured on 34 occasions (21% of the the time) in the 163 years since rainfall records began in San Francisco in 1850. Rain has fallen on Saturday 15 times (9%), Sunday 23 times (14%) and on Monday 16 times (10%).
The last time there was rain at any point on a Memorial Day weekend was Sat., May 28, 2011, when 0.28 inches fell. The last time rain fall on the Monday of Memorial Day weekend was in 1993 when 0.01 inches fell. And the last time there was rain on all three days of the weekend was in 1932 with 0,26, 0.18 and 0.10 for a total of 0,54 inches.
The rainiest Memorial Day weekend was 1906 with a total of 1.64 inches, and the rainiest single day of a Memorial Day weekend was Sunday, May 27, 1990 with 1.42 inches.
* Formerly known as Decoration Day dating back to the Civil War.
The late afternoon sun angles in and lights up a Valentine's bouquet, with some of the detritus of the modern dining-room table in the background.
Today was warm--a good day to reap the winter's bounteous harvest of weeds. And since we've only had about half an inch of rain since the first of the year (and none at all for the last three weeks), I watered today, too. The forecasters say their models show a storm moving down the coast on Tuesday, so maybe I was just priming the pump for some moisture from the skies.
(As to weather stats: Here's one meteorologist's day-by-day log of this season's rain--and the previous 52 seasons as well. The same forecaster, Jan Null, notes elsewhere on his site that since 1950, it's been the rule during Bay Area rainy season to have at least one prolonged dry spell in midwinter. The average he found was 19 days, with the shortest being eight and the longest--in the 2011-12 season--being 49. By Null's definition, our current dry spell has reached 24 days).
It's been an odd winter all around I guess, and maybe every winter is odd. I mean weather-wise. On the mild stretch of Pacific coast where I live, the rains came pretty much on schedule in the fall. At the end of November we had a very wet, very warm storm. The storms continued in December, though the weather cooled off. By Christmas, some locations had nearly double their average rainfall amounts for the date.
January arrived, and we moved into what's normally our rainiest time of year. But this time around, the storms started detouring north of California. Two or three little systems have brushed past. Until this week, the weather's been cold (by our standards) and clear. The past few days have been warm (by anyone's winter standards--temperatures in the upper 60s and 70s) and clear.
Overnight, the wind came up from the east and northeast. That means it's been flowing over the ranges of coast hills and mountains down to the bays and oceans. When that happens, the wind warms up (the apparent explanation: the air compresses and warms as it descends the faces of the hills Letting the dog out at 5:30 this morning, I stepped out into the backyard and felt how balmy the breeze felt, then went to check our thermometer. Sixty-one degrees.
Now the daylight is coming up. We've got an asteroid making a close pass later today. A meteorite came down someplace in Russia. Looks like a warm day ahead.
Looking for news about power restoration in New Jersey, I'm drawn to these tweets from a customer of Jersey Central Power and Light:
@brianaericson 1h Brian Anders Ericson @jcp_l 30 degrees in house. Can't stay warm. Still no power. Town comfort center closed. No one to stay with. I'm disappointed in jcp&l
@jcp_l also my fish are dead and there is a thin layer of ice at the top of their tank. I am officially angry.
Elsewhere, I note a picture of a cabin cruiser rather oddly (or humorously) named the Graf Spee--anyone recall how that ended up?--being hauled off a commuter rail line north of New York City, near our friends Jan and Christian's place in Hastings on Hudson.
And then there's the nor'easter that's on the way.
I'm an inveterate reader of National Weather Service arcana: forecast discussions, quantitative precipitation forecasts, river stage summaries, and special weather statements. I went looking for news of the approaching storm and found the following instead. It was issued earlier today (Monday, November 5, 2012) by the NWS office in New York City. It says so much without a single specific mention of meteorological phenomena.
SPECIAL WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NEW YORK NY
1101 AM EST MON NOV 5 2012
THE FOLLOWING MESSAGE IS TRANSMITTED AT THE REQUEST OF THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION (CDC):
IN THE WAKE OF SANDY...IT IS IMPORTANT FOR CITIZENS TO REMEMBER THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION TO PROTECT YOUR LIFE AND HEALTH AND THAT OF YOUR FAMILY:
* DRINK CLEAN...SAFE WATER AND EAT SAFE...UNCONTAMINATED FOOD
* KEEP GENERATORS OUTSIDE AT LEAST 25 FT FROM DOORS...WINDOWS AND VENTS
* DO NOT GRILL INSIDE YOUR HOME...THE FUMES CAN KILL
* NEVER TOUCH A DOWNED POWER LINE OR ANYTHING TOUCHING ONE
* USE 1 CUP OF BLEACH FOR EACH GALLON OF WATER TO REMOVE MOLD
* NEVER MIX BLEACH AND AMMONIA...THE FUMES CAN KILL
* WASHING YOUR HANDS PREVENTS ILLNESS
* SEEK HELP IF HAVING TROUBLE COPING
FOR MORE LIFE SAVING HEALTH RELATED INFORMATION CALL THE CDC AT
I was just visiting one of my favorite news picture sites, The Atlantic's In Focus blog, and came across this storm image. The caption reads: "This nighttime satellite image of Hurricane Sandy was acquired by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) on the Suomi NPP satellite around 2:42 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, on October 28, 2012. (Suomi NPP, NASA, NOAA)."
I never cease to wonder at the beauty of these images captured from space, even when they're images of a phenomenon that we experience as unimaginable power and violence when it comes ashore.
One of the Tweet-worthy current events items I've come across in the last couple of days is news that climate scientists say the Arctic ice pack has reached its lowest extent since the satellite records began in 1979. The National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado says the Arctic sea ice appears to have reached a season minimum this past Sunday, September 16, of 3.41 million square kilometers (1.32 million square miles). That's half the average seen in the years 1979-2000 (and above, that's a graphic from the NSIDC showing the sea ice extent for September 19).
What does it mean? Here's a decent summary of the basic thinking from today's PBS NewsHour:
The ice is younger and thinner than it was in the 1980s. Of the ice surveyed this summer, the majority was one to two years old and three to five feet thick on average. That's down from 10 to 13 feet thick in 1985.
Losing sea ice also has immediate impacts on Arctic wildlife. Walruses that normally rest on the ice while hunting ocean fish moved ashore by the thousands last year. Arctic seal populations have already declined as a result of disappearing ice. And a 2009 United States Geological Survey estimated that by 2050, the world could lose two-thirds of its polar bears as their ice-dwelling food sources disappear. The ice is also home to delicate microorganisms, which, if lost, could upset the entire Arctic food chain, Meier said.
Ted Scambos, senior research scientist at NSIDC, said that changes in the Arctic's ice and snow are making the Arctic warmer, which may mean major weather and climate changes for the rest of the planet. Sea ice reflects the sun's rays, which helps regulate the planet's temperatures, especially during the summer. Losing the reflective ice surface causes temperatures to rise. If the North Pole is not as cold as it used to be, that has the potential to change wind and weather patterns throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
"But a wider impact may come from the increased heat and moisture that the Arctic is adding to the climate system," Scambos said in a press release yesterday. "This will gradually affect climate in the areas where we live...We have a less polar pole--and so there will be more variations and extremes."
Having read some of the accounts of the sea ice retreat yesterday, I went looking for images of what the Arctic looks like. A favorite resource: NASA, which publishes a bunch of cool images of various Earth features every day. One of the services, called MODIS(MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), includes daily mosaics of the Arctic snapped by NASA satellites. Every time I see these images of Earth from space, the thought that seizes me--or maybe it's more of an emotion--is what an incredibly beautiful place this planet is.
Looking at the Arctic day to day, I wondered whether I could turn the images into a "movie." Well, I could, sort of. I downloaded 185 days worth--from March 20 through September 20--then turned them into a slideshow, saved that as a movie, and uploaded it to YouTube. Here it is:
I will say up front that while the view is breathtaking, the Arctic weather screens the view of precisely what's happening with the ice. It's not as stark as you might expect (and of course, this is just one season we're looking at; there's nothing here to give a comparison to how this scene unfolded 30 years ago).
One note of orientation and explanation: The North Pole is near dead center in the images. Greenland is clearly recognizable at the lower left; Iceland is at the lower center, and Scandinavia and the northern coast of Russia are at the lower right. Siberia dominates the right side of the map (these images show weeks of heavy smoke from fires there). At the top margin, the Bering Strait, where Siberia nearly meets Alaska, is just left of center. Alaska appears inverted at the left, with the Gulf of Alaska at the top left corner.
My brief stay in Chicago has included a couple of Summer of 2012 heat spikes, interspersed with less radical summer weather, as a frontal boundary oscillates across this part of the Midwest. Today's National Weather Service forecast map for the Chicago region is orange in every direction, indicating a heat advisory. Temperatures in the city are expected to hit 100. Outside the city, up to 105. (I note that the forecast high in San Francisco today is ... 63.)
Tom Skilling, the dean of Chicagoland TV weather forecasters, and a meteorologist who is unfailingly informative first and entertaining second, sums up today's torrid conditions on the WGN/Tribune Chicago Weather Center blog:
"The blisteringly hot air mass responsible for 100-degree or hotter temperatures across sections of 19 states Tuesday re-expands into the Chicago area Wednesday. It's on track to bring Chicago its fifth triple-digit high temperature of 2012---the most official 100+degree readings here of any year since 1988.
"Temperatures surge past 90-degrees for a 34th time this year at O'Hare and 35th time at Midway---extraordinary when you consider the average since weather records began in 1871 has been only 17 such days at O'Hare and 23 at Midway!
"...This summer's warmth has been nothing if not persistent. If you needed any additional evidence this weather pattern has been unusual, WGN weather producer Bill Snyder, in surveying the city's official temperature records, finds Chicago is to log an unprecedented 29th consecutive day of above normal temperatures---making this the most back-to-back days to post a surplus in the 5.5 years since a Dec. 10, 2006 through Jan. 14, 2007 mild spell in which above normal temperatures were recorded over 36 consecutive days."
It seems like just a couple weeks ago things were still a little damp from the last of our spring rains. I mowed the lawn one Sunday, then went away on a short trip. I came back to find the dry season had taken over. Our little patch of lawn in the backyard, so recently lush, was already starting to go brown. So after mowing last weekend, I broke out a sprinkler (for the back only; our scruffy front lawn is pretty much a weed patch fringed with some plantings; so much for curb appeal, but then that's the price for my guilty relationship with outdoor water use).
After I turned the sprinkler on, I went back in the house to start coffee preparations. Looking out the kitchen window, I saw a hummingbird hovering just above the spray over the lawn. Getting a sip of water, I guess.