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

A Look at Rainbows and their Legendary Pots of Gold on this St Patrick’s Day

According to Irish folklore, a pot of gold can be found at the end of a rainbow. In reality, however, it is impossible to locate the terminus of this optical phenomenon.

For a rainbow to form, rain has to be falling in one part of the sky while the sun is out in another. The water droplets in the air act like prisms that refract and reflect the sunlight, revealing the colors of the visible spectrum. Red is refracted the least and is always on the top of the bow while blue is on the bottom. Since we only see one color from each drop, it takes a countless number to produce a rainbow.

That said, these colorful arcs are not physical entities that can be approached. No matter how close they appear to be, they are always tantalizingly out of reach. Nevertheless, most people consider seeing one to be a treasure with no gold required.

With a little luck, you can spot a rainbow if you face a moisture source – rain or mist from a waterfall – while the sun is at your back.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Rainbow after a rainstorm in Bermuda. Credit: Melissa Fleming

The Folklore Behind Groundhog Day

Today is Groundhog Day, the midpoint of the winter season.

On this day, according to folklore, the weather conditions for the second half of winter can be predicted by the behavior of a prognosticating groundhog. If the groundhog sees its shadow after emerging from its burrow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, then spring will arrive early.

The practice of using animal behavior to predict future weather conditions goes back to ancient times. The particular custom that we are familiar with in the United States grew out of the old world tradition of Candlemas that German settlers brought to Pennsylvania in the 1880s. Today, many communities across the U.S. and Canada continue this age-old ritual with their own special groundhogs.

The most famous of these furry forecasters is Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania – he was portrayed in the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day”. Here in New York City, our local weather-groundhog is Charles G. Hogg. A resident of the Staten Island Zoo, he is more popularly known as “Staten Island Chuck”. This year, the two groundhogs had a difference of opinion. Phil predicts six more weeks of winter and Chuck is calling for an early spring.

Long-range forecasts can be a tricky business, so we will have to wait and see what actually happens. Either way, the spring equinox is 46 days away.

Credit: VillageGrocer

Groundhog Day 2016

Today is Groundhog Day, the midpoint of the winter season.

On this day, according to legend, the weather conditions for the second half of winter can be predicted by the behavior of a prognosticating groundhog. If the groundhog sees its shadow after emerging from its burrow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, then spring will arrive early.

The practice of using animal behavior to predict future weather conditions goes back to ancient times. The particular custom that we are familiar with in the United States grew out of the old world tradition of Candlemas that German settlers brought to Pennsylvania in the 1880s. Today, many communities across the U.S. and Canada continue this age-old ritual with their own special groundhogs.

The most famous of these furry forecasters is Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania – he was portrayed in the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day”. Here in New York City, our local weather-groundhog is Charles G. Hogg – more popularly known as “Staten Island Chuck”. This year, neither groundhog saw its shadow and both are predicting an early spring.

Long-range forecasts can be a tricky business, so we will have to wait and see what actually happens. Either way, the spring equinox is 47 days away.

Punxsutawney Phil held in the gloved hands of his handler at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, PA. Credit: Syracuse.com

Punxsutawney Phil held in the gloved hands of one of his handlers at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, PA. Credit: Syracuse.com/AP

Searching for the End of a Rainbow

At the end of a rainbow, according to Irish folklore, lies a leprechaun’s pot of gold. In reality, however, the true end of a rainbow is impossible to locate.

A rainbow is an optical phenomenon that forms when water droplets in the air both refract and reflect sunlight to reveal the colors of the visible spectrum in an arch formation. It is not a physical entity that can be touched or approached. To see them, the National Center for Atmospheric Research says you need to be both facing the source of moisture and be standing at a 42° angle to the sun’s rays.

This specific line of sight means that no two people will ever see the exact same rainbow. It also means that as you attempt to move closer to the rainbow, the further away it will appear. So, try as you might, you will never get close enough to see a rainbow’s true terminus.

In the end, rainbows are all about perception.  For many people, even without the promise of a pot of gold, the joy of sighting a beautiful rainbow is reward enough.  Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Rainbow appears to end in the Atlantic Ocean off Bermuda's coastline.  Image Credit: The Weather Gamut

A rainbow appears to end in the Atlantic Ocean off Bermuda’s coastline.                      Image Credit: The Weather Gamut.

Groundhog Day 2015

Today is Groundhog Day, the midpoint of the winter season.

On this day, according to legend, the weather conditions for the second half of winter can be predicted by the behavior of a prognosticating groundhog.  If the groundhog sees its shadow after emerging from its burrow, there will be six more weeks of winter.  If it does not see its shadow, then spring will arrive early.

The practice of using animal behavior to predict future weather conditions goes back to ancient times.  The particular custom that we are familiar with in the United States grew out of the old world tradition of Candlemas brought by German settlers to Pennsylvania in the 1880s. Today, many communities across the U.S. and Canada continue this age-old ritual with their own special groundhogs.

The most famous of these furry forecasters is Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania – he was portrayed in the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day”. This year, despite an overcast sky, Phil saw his shadow and is calling for six more weeks of wintry conditions.

In New York City, our local weather-groundhog is Charles G. Hogg – more popularly known as “Staten Island Chuck”.  Coming out of his burrow this morning, he did not see his shadow and is predicting an early spring for the Big Apple.

Long-range forecasts are a tricky business, so a difference of opinion is not that uncommon. Either way, the spring equinox is 46 days away.

Groundhog Day 2014

Today is Groundhog Day, the midway point of the winter season.

On this day, according to legend, the weather conditions for the second half of winter can be predicted by the behavior of a prognosticating groundhog.  If the groundhog sees its shadow after emerging from its burrow, there will be six more weeks of winter.  If it does not see its shadow, then spring will arrive early.

In New York City, our local weather-groundhog is Charles G. Hogg – more popularly known as “Staten Island Chuck”.  Earlier this morning, he saw his shadow and is predicting  another six weeks of wintry conditions for the Big Apple.

On the job since 1981, Staten Island Chuck’s “forecasts” have been correct about 82% of the time.

Staten Island Chuck, the resident weather groundhog at the Staten Island Zoo.  Image Credit: SILive

Charles G.Hogg, VII – the resident weather groundhog at the Staten Island Zoo in New York City.    Image Credit: SILive

March: Lion and Lamb

“March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb”.

This old proverb refers to March’s famously changeable weather.  As a month where we transition from winter to spring, March can often start off cold and blustery, but end warm and calm.  From the beginning to the end of the month, average daily temperatures typically increase by 10°F. Exact conditions, of course, vary from year to year.

Although the precise origins of this popular phrase are unknown, many believe it is based on the constellations.  At the beginning of March, Leo (lion) is prominent in the night sky, while Aries (sheep) begins to rise toward the end of the month.

Groundhog Day 2013

Today is Groundhog Day, the halfway point of the winter season.

According to folklore, on this particular date, the weather conditions of the second half of winter can be forecast by the shadow of a prognosticating groundhog.  Upon emerging from its burrow, if the groundhog sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.  If it does not see its shadow, then spring will arrive early.

In New York City, our local weather-groundhog is “Staten Island Chuck”. This year, he did not see his shadow and is predicting an early arrival of spring-like conditions for the city.

Staten Island Chuck, officially known as Charles G. Hogg VII

Staten Island Chuck, officially known as Charles G. Hogg VII

Image Credit: silive.com

Groundhog Day

Today is Groundhog Day, the midway point of the winter season.

According to folklore, on this particular date, the weather conditions of the second half of winter can be forecast by the shadow of a prognosticating groundhog.  Upon emerging from its burrow, if the groundhog sees its shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.  If it does not see its shadow, then spring will arrive early.

The practice of using animal behavior to predict future weather conditions goes back to ancient times.  The particular custom that we are familiar with in the United States began in 1886 with the old world traditions of German settlers in Pennsylvania. Today, many communities across the U.S. and Canada continue this age-old ritual with their own special groundhogs.

In New York City, our local weather-groundhog is Staten Island Chuck. His rival is the well-known Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania.  This year, Punxsutawney Phil predicts six more weeks of winter while Staten Island Chuck is calling for an early spring.  Given the spring-like conditions that have dominated this winter so far, who can blame them for a difference of opinion.