March: In Like a Lion and Out Like a 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, the average daily temperature increases 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 highest in the midnight sky, while Aries (ram) begins to rise toward the end of the month.

Credit: The New Yorker

Weather and Art: “Love of Winter”

Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday when chocolate treats and images hearts abound. But for me, it is George Bellows’ Love of Winter that always comes to mind as we mark the mid-point of what is usually New York City’s snowiest month of the year.

A longtime personal favorite, this 1914 painting captures the spirit of those who embrace the season. Filled with the blurred movement of skaters on a frozen pond and accented with spots of bright color that pop against the white snow, it conveys the joy of being out in nature on a cold winter day.

While Bellows is better known for depicting scenes of boxing matches and urban life, art historians say he enjoyed the challenge of painting the varied lighting conditions produced by a snow-covered landscape. In fact, he wrote a letter to a friend in January 1914 complaining about the lack of snow in the New York City area that winter. He said, “There has been none of my favorite snow. I must paint the snow at least once a year.” Then, on February 13, a blizzard hit the region. The wintry conditions inspired him to create this joyful painting.

Love of Winter is part of the Friends of American Art Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. Happy Valentine’s Day!

“Love of Winter”, 1914 by George Bellows. Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

Visualizing Wind Speed

From a light breeze to a strong gale, wind speed can be described in numerous ways. All of which are categorized on the Beaufort Wind Force Scale.

Developed in 1805 by Sir Francis Beaufort, an officer in the UK’s Royal Navy, the scale is an empirical measure of wind speed. It relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea and overland instead of using precise measurements. Simply put, it allows a person to estimate wind speed with visual clues.

Initially, it was only used at sea and was based on the effect the wind had on the sails of a frigate – the most common type of ship in the British Navy at the time. By the mid-1800s, the scale was adapted to also reflect a certain number of anemometer rotations – a device that measures wind speed.

In the early 20thcentury, most ships transitioned to steam power and the scale descriptions were changed to reflect the state of the sea instead of the sails. Around the same time, the scale was extended to land observations. For example, the amount of leaf, branch, or whole tree movement is a visual indicator of the force of the wind.

Today, the scale has 13 categories (0 -12), with 0 representing calm winds and 12 being hurricane force. It is in use in several countries around the globe.

In the US, when winds reach force 6 or higher, the NWS begins issuing advisories and warnings for different environments. For marine areas, force 6-7 winds would prompt a small craft advisory, force 8-9 would warrant a gale wind warning, and a wind reaching force 10-11 would call for a storm warning. Force 12 would constitute a hurricane-force wind warning. On land, winds expected to reach force 6 or higher would cause a high wind warning to be issued.

If the winds are connected to a tropical cyclone, they would be measured on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The same type of special circumstances would also hold for a tornado, which would be measured on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

Credit: Isle of Wight Weather Ctr

Groundhog Day 2020: Furry Forecasters Predict an Early Spring

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 try to predict future weather conditions goes back to ancient times. The particular custom that we are familiar with here in the United States grew out of old-world superstitions connected to the date of Candlemas, a Christian feast day, 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 gained national celebrity status after starring 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, both groundhogs are calling for an early spring.

That said, 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: National Today

Weather Lingo: Blue Norther

Autumn is a transitional season when the heat of summer fades away and the chill of winter gradually returns. But, sometimes winter can be aggressive and show up overnight.

When this type of rapid temperature change happens, it is often called a Blue Norther. This is a fast-moving cold front marked by a quick and dramatic drop in temperature. A fall of 20 to 30 degrees in just a few minutes is not uncommon. They also usher in a dark blue sky and strong northerly winds. Hence, the name.

Blue Northers are most common in the central US, where there are few natural barriers to slow or block arctic air masses from moving south. They can occur throughout the year, but are most common between November and March.

One of the most famous examples of this weather phenomenon was the “Great Blue Norther” of November 11, 1911. As the front passed through the southern plains, temperatures dropped from highs in the 70s and 80s to the teens in just ten hours. In Oklahoma City, for example, the temperature reached a record high of 83°F in the afternoon and then plummeted to a record low of 17°F by midnight. Both records, according to the NWS, are still in place.

Twenty-four temperature changes from The Great Blue Norther of 1911. Credit: FOX

“Warming Stripes”: The Colors of Climate Change

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. That is the case with “Warming Stripes”, a creative visualization of climate data by Ed Hawkins, a scientist at the UK’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science.

Painting a picture of our changing climate, each stripe represents a single year from 1850 through the present. With an aesthetic similar to color field paintings by artists such as Barnett Newman or Mark Rothko, the images use only color to communicate meaning. Simplifying a complex issue for maximum impact with the general public, they avoid distracting details and focus on the big picture.

In “Warming Stripes for the Globe” (see below), it is plain to see the shift from blue (cooler) on the left to red (warmer) on the right. While there were a few warm years here and there in the past, the overall trend clearly shows temperatures are getting warmer. It is also important to note that the red has been getting darker (hotter) in recent years.

To see how the warming trend is playing out on a more regional or local level in different parts of the world, visit www.showyourstripes.info

“Warming Stripes for Globe, 1850-2018”. Credit: Ed Hawkins

Weather History: Thomas Jefferson and the Temperature on July 4, 1776

As the main author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson is regarded as one of this country’s Founding Fathers. He was also an astute and systematic weather observer.

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale, 1805. Credit: NYHS

In the summer of 1776, Jefferson was in Philadelphia, PA attending the Second Continental Congress, which adopted the Declaration of Independence.  While there, he purchased a thermometer and a barometer – new and expensive weather equipment at that time. On July 4, Jefferson noted that the weather conditions in Philadelphia were cloudy with a high temperature of 76°F.

For the next 50 years, he kept a meticulous weather journal.  He recorded daily temperature data wherever he was – at home in Virginia or while traveling.

In an effort to understand the bigger picture of climate in America, Jefferson established a small network of fellow observers around Virginia as well as contacts in a few other states. According to records at Monticello, his estate in Virginia, he hoped to establish a national network for weather observations. While this plan did not come to fruition during his lifetime, today’s National Weather Service considers him the “father of weather observers.”

Happy Independence Day!

An excerpt from Thomas Jefferson’s Weather Journal, July 1776. Credit: NCDC

Why Earth Day Matters

Every day is Earth Day, as the saying goes. But, today marks the official celebration.

The first Earth Day – spearheaded by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin – was held on April 22, 1970.  An estimated 20 million people attended rallies across the US to protest against rampant industrial pollution and the deterioration of the nation’s natural environment. Raising public awareness and shifting the political tide, these events helped put environmental issues on the national agenda. They helped lead the government to create the EPA and the pass of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Today, forty-nine years after the original, Earth Day is celebrated in nearly 200 countries around the world. Some communities have even expanded the celebration into a series of events for Earth Week or Earth Month. These continuing efforts to raise environmental awareness are more important than ever as we face the global challenges of climate change.

The scale of the problems presented by our changing climate are massive and require a government level response. But, individual actions also add up and can collectively put pressure on elected officials to respond to the issue.  To learn more about the personal actions you can take to protect the environment, visit: https://www.earthday.org/take-action

Image Credit: William Anders/NASA

After Review Hurricane Michael Upgraded to Rare Category-5 Status

Hurricane Michael, which pummeled the Florida panhandle in October, has been upgraded from a category-4 to a category-5 storm, the strongest on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

According to a report by the National Hurricane Center, the storm’s winds reached 160mph when it made landfall near Mexico Beach, FL. That is a 5mph increase from the estimate used last autumn. The agency says the uptick was the result of a re-analysis of reams of data, including aircraft winds, surface winds, surface pressures, satellite intensity estimates, and Doppler radar velocities.  The review also took into account data that was not available in real time.

In the grand scheme of things, an increase of 5mph may not sounds like a lot, but it puts Michael in rare company. It now ranks as the fourth category-5 storm on record to make landfall in the US. The other three were the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, Hurricane Camille in 1969, and Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Michael is also the third cat-5 storm to hit the Sunshine state.

Regardless of the technical upgrade and historic statistics, Hurricane Michael was a devastating storm that will be long remembered by those it affected. The storm claimed the lives of 16 people and caused an estimated $25 billion in damage. More than six months after coming ashore, much of the area is still recovering.

Hurricane Michael making landfall as a Category 5 storm along the Florida Panhandle on October 10, 2018. Credit: NOAA

Flashback Facts: NYC’s Great Blizzard of 1888

On this day in 1888, one of the worst snowstorms on record hit New York City. Here is a look back at some of the facts from that historic storm.

Snow fills the street and sidewalk on Park Place in Brooklyn, after the Blizzard of 1888. Credit: NOAA.

  • 21 inches of snow was measured in Central Park, the 4th largest snowstorm on record for the city
  • Wind gusts reached 80mph, causing blizzard conditions
  • Snowdrifts reached as high as 30 feet in parts of the city.
  • The storm shut down transportation systems and left people confined to their homes for days.
  • It took NYC 14 days to fully recover from the storm.
  • As result of the paralyzing impacts of this blizzard, the city moved all overhead wires underground.

Source: NOAA