What are the Dog Days of Summer?

The “Dog Days” of summer have arrived. This popular saying refers to what are traditionally the hottest and most oppressive days of the season.

Rooted in astronomy, the phrase is linked to Sirius, the brightest star seen from Earth. As part of the constellation Canis Major, it is known as the Dog Star.  During most of July and August, Sirius rises and sets with our Sun. Ancient Greeks and Romans believed it acted like a second Sun, adding extra heat to summer days. Today, we know that light from this distant star does not affect our weather, but the name has endured.

Varying by latitude around the globe, the so-called “Dog Days” of summer typically run from July 3 to August 11 in the United States.

Sirius, the “Dog Star”.  Credit: EarthSky/Tom Wildoner

Aphelion 2017: Earth Farthest from Sun Today

The Earth will reach its farthest point from the Sun today – an event known as the aphelion. It will officially take place at 20:11 UTC, which is 4:11 PM Eastern Daylight Time.

This annual event is a result of the elliptical shape of the Earth’s orbit and the slightly off-centered position of the Sun inside that path. The exact date of the Aphelion differs from year to year, but it’s usually in early July – summer in the northern hemisphere.

While the planet’s distance from the Sun is not responsible for the seasons, it does influence their length. As a function of gravity, the closer the planet is to the Sun, the faster it moves. Today, Earth is about 152 million kilometers (94 million miles) away from the Sun. That is approximately 5 million kilometers (3 million miles) further than during the perihelion in early January. That means the planet will move more slowly along its orbital path than at any other time of the year. As a result, summer is elongated by a few days in the northern hemisphere.

The word, aphelion, is Greek for “away from the sun”.

Earth is farthest from the Sun during summer in the northern hemisphere. Credit: TimeandDate.com

June 2017: A Temperature Roller Coaster in NYC

June 2017 felt like a temperature roller coaster in New York City. Highs ranged from an unseasonably cool 58°F to a balmy 94°F. June also brought the city its second heat wave of the year. In the end, however, the cold and warmth balanced each other out. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 72°F, which is only .06°F above average.

 

In terms of precipitation, the city was wetter than normal. Overall, 4.76 inches of rain was measured in Central Park. Of this total, 84% fell during three separate heavy rain events that each produced over an inch of rain. On average, the Big Apple gets 4.41 inches of rain for the entire month of June.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Hot Temperatures and Strong Winds Fuel Western Wildfires

Summer is wildfire season in the American West and this year it is off to an explosive start.

As of Wednesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, thirty large wildfires – defined as greater than 100 acres – are burning in ten western states.  These include Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

The largest is the Brian Head Fire in southern Utah. It has burned approximately 50,000 acres and forced the evacuation of nearly 1500 people. Ignited on June 17, the massive blaze is only 10% contained.

Another hard hit state is Arizona, where six large fires are currently burning. The governor, Doug Ducey, has declared a state of emergency in Yavapai County in response to the Goodwin Fire, which has burned more than 20,000 acres near the Prescott National Forest. Local officials have ordered the full evacuation of the town of Mayer, AZ.

These huge fires are being fueled by extremely hot and dry conditions that have left the region’s vegetation susceptible to any type of spark. Just a few days ago, excessive heat advisories were in effect for a large swath of the area as temperatures soared into the triple digits. Now, high winds are fanning the flames and helping the fires to spread.

Year to date, 2.7 million acres in the US have been charred. The country’s worst wildfire season on record was 2015 when more than ten million acres burned.

Brian Head Fire, UT. Credit: Desert News

Weather and Safety: Kids in Hot Cars

Summer has only just begun and it seems like every few days there is a report of a child dying from heatstroke in a hot car. These types of tragedies, however, are preventable.

Since 1998, according to kidsandcars.org, there has been an average of 37 hot car deaths in the US every year. That is one every nine days. This year, there have already been 15 deaths reported.

Credit: USA Today

On a sunny day, the interior temperature of a parked car can increase 19°F in just ten minutes. That means if the outside air temperature is a seemingly comfortable 70°F, the inside of the car can heat up to near 90°F in a very short span of time. The situation is even worse when the outside temperature is higher and the car sits in the sun longer.

According to the Mayo Clinic, if the human body reaches 104°F, organ damage and death become a real risk. Children are even more vulnerable because their smaller bodies can heat up between three to five times faster than an adult. Most hot car victims are under the age of three.

These dangerous situations develop in a number of different ways. Children can sometimes find their own way into a car while playing outside or a guardian leaves them alone in a vehicle for what seems like a quick errand. However, the majority of hot car deaths occur when a parent or caregiver gets distracted and simply forgets that a child is still in the back seat when they park their car.

To avoid a heartbreaking tragedy, remember to Look Before You Lock!

Credit: KidsandCars.org

Tropical Storm Cindy Batters Gulf Coast

Tropical Storm Cindy, the third named storm of the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season, made landfall between Cameron, LA and Port Arthur, TX early Thursday morning. It battered the area with heavy rain and winds measured up to 40 mph.

With rainbands spreading out across the Gulf Coast, flash floods were reported from New Orleans, LA to Pensacola, FL. The storm also downed trees and knocked out power to more than 32,000 customers across six states.

Moving inland, the storm was soon downgraded to a tropical depression. However, it still spawned a destructive tornado in Fairfield, AL. The NWS has given the twister a preliminary rating of EF-2.

The remnants of Cindy are expected to travel northeast over the next several days, unleashing even more torrential rain as it moves along.

Tropical Storm Cindy in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: NOAA/NWS

Summer Solstice 2017

Today is the June Solstice, the first day of summer in the northern hemisphere. The new season officially began at 04:24 UTC, which is 12:24 AM Eastern Daylight Time.

Our astronomical seasons are a product of the tilt of the Earth’s axis – a 23.5° angle – and the movement of the planet around the sun. During the summer months, the northern half of the Earth is tilted toward the sun. This position allows the northern hemisphere to receive the sun’s energy at a more direct angle and produces our warmest temperatures of the year.

Since the winter solstice in December, the arc of the sun’s apparent daily passage across the sky has been moving northward and daylight hours have been increasing. Today, it reached its northernmost position at the Tropic of Cancer (23.5° north latitude) marking the “longest day” of the year. This observable stop is where today’s event takes its name. Solstice is a word derived from Latin and means “the sun stands still”.

While today brings us the greatest number of daylight hours all year (15 hours and 5 minutes in NYC), it is not the warmest day of the year.  The hottest part of summer typically lags the solstice by a few weeks. This is because the oceans and continents need time to absorb the sun’s energy and warm up – a phenomenon known as seasonal temperature lag.

Earth’s solstices and equinoxes. Image Credit: NASA

Powerful Thunderstorm Lashes NYC

A violent thunderstorm lashed the New York City area on Monday afternoon. Strong winds and heavy rain were seen across the region.

After days of hot and humid conditions, a cold front moved in from the west and triggered these powerful storms. According to the NWS, 1.35 inches of rain was measured in Central Park and wind gusts reached 34 mph. Flash floods and downed trees were reported in Manhattan and the Bronx.

Below is a short video of the soaking rain seen near Madison Square Park in Manhattan.

Planet Posts Third Warmest May and Second Warmest Spring Period on Record

Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with May 2017 marking not only the third warmest May on record but also closing out the planet’s second warmest March to May period, known as meteorological spring in the northern hemisphere.

According to the State of the Climate report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for May – over both land and sea surfaces – was 60.09°F, which is 1.49°F above the 20th-century average. Only May 2015 and 2016 were warmer.

This May also marked the 389th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.

The three-month period of March, April, and May was also unusually warm. NOAA reports that Earth’s average temperature for the season was 1.66°F above the 20th century average of 56.7°F. That makes it the second warmest such period on record, trailing only the 2016 season.

While heat dominated most of the planet this spring, some places were particularly warm, including much of Europe and North America. Here in the contiguous US, it was our eighth warmest spring on record.

These soaring temperatures are largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. ENSO-neutral conditions prevailed in May, which means there was neither an El Niño nor a La Niña in the Pacific to influence global weather patterns.

Year to date, the first five months of 2017 were the second warmest such period of any year on record. Global temperature records date back to 1880.

Globally, March 2017 to May 2017 was the second warmest such period on record. Credit: NOAA

Severe Thunderstorms: Watches vs Warnings

A severe thunderstorm is forecast for the New York City area on Monday afternoon. In addition to lightning, it could bring strong winds, heavy rain, hail, and the possibility of a tornado. Simply put, this is the type of weather that can cause property damage and loss of life. Therefore, it is important to understand the difference between the various alerts issued by the National Weather Service. They include advisories, watches, and warnings.  All should be taken seriously.

  • Advisory: Issued when significant, but not necessarily hazardous, weather conditions are likely to occur. Residents should exercise caution.
  • Watch: Issued when dangerous weather conditions are possible over the next several hours.  They generally cover a large geographic area.  Residents should be prepared to take action.
  • Warning: Issued when dangerous weather is imminent or already occurring.  They cover a smaller, more specific geographic area.  Residents should take action immediately.