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

Love of Winter

Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday when images of cupid and 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 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 NYC that winter. He said, “There has been none of my favorite snow. I must paint the snow at least once a year.” Then, about a month later, his wish for snow was granted and this picture was created.

Love of Winter is part of the Friends of American Art Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.

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

Why Today is National Weatherperson’s Day

Today is National Weatherperson’s Day in the United States. While not an official federal holiday, it is a day to recognize the work of all individuals involved in the field of meteorology – not just prognosticating groundhogs.

According to the NWS, today’s designation honors the birthday of Dr. John Jeffries who was one of America’s first weather observers. Born in 1744, this Boston-based physician had a deep interest in weather and kept detailed records of daily conditions from 1774 to 1816. He also took the first known upper air observations from a hot air balloon in 1784.

Since the 18th century, the weather industry has grown by leaps and bounds. Utilizing radar, satellites, and computer models, meteorologists today provide forecasts and warnings to the public in an effort to protect lives and property. But in the end, weatherpersons, like Dr. Jeffries, are fascinated by weather and are always seeking to improve their understanding of its complex processes.

Dr. John Jeffries taking weather measurements from a hot air balloon. Source: Wonderful Balloon Ascents.

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

The Chances for a White Christmas

The Holiday Season is here and many people are dreaming of a White Christmas. The likelihood of seeing those dreams come true, however, are largely dependent on where you live.

According to NOAA, a White Christmas is defined as having at least one inch of snow on the ground on December 25th. In the US, the climatological probability of having snow for Christmas is greatest across the northern tier of the country. Moving south, average temperatures increase and the odds for snow steadily decreases.

Here in New York City, the historical chance of having a White Christmas is about 12%. This low probability is largely due to the city’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its moderating influence on temperature. This year, despite some chilly conditions and accumulating snow earlier in the month, NYC is expecting above average temperatures on the big day.  So, the city’s already minimal chance for a White Christmas has largely melted away.

Snow or no snow, The Weather Gamut wishes you a very Happy Holiday!

Source: NOAA

Source: NOAA

Weather and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is a long-standing holiday tradition in New York City.  For 90 years, it has marched rain or shine. Nevertheless, the weather has been a factor for the event several times over the years.

Famous for its giant character balloons, high winds are the main weather challenge for the parade. According to city guidelines, the multi-story balloons cannot fly if there are sustained winds in excess of 23 mph or gusts higher than 34 mph. These regulations were put in place following a 1997 incident where gusty winds sent the “Cat in the Hat” balloon careening into a light post, which caused debris to fall on spectators.

The only time the balloons were grounded for the entire parade was in 1971 when torrential rain swept across the city. In 1989, a snowstorm brought the Big Apple a white Thanksgiving with 4.7 inches of snow measured in Central Park. The parade marched on that year, but without the “Snoopy” and “Bugs Bunny” balloons as they were damaged by high winds earlier that morning.

This year, the wind is not expected to be a problem. Temperatures, however, are forecast to be a bit chilly – mostly in the mid-40s.  So, bundle up if you are planning to watch the parade in person.

Marching from West 77th Street to West 34th Street in Manhattan, the 90th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is scheduled to begin at 9 AM on Thursday morning.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Paddington Bear Balloon floats down 6th Ave in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.  Credit: Macy's

Paddington Bear Balloon floats down 6th Ave in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Credit: Macy’s

NYC Election Day Weather

Weather does not subscribe to any political party, but it can play a major role on Election Day. Studies show that it strongly influences how many people head out to the polls, especially if poor conditions are forecast.

Here in New York City, the weather is picture perfect this year. With blue skies and temperatures in the 60s, voter turnout is expected to be high.

The exact date of Election Day varies every year, but it is always the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. Below are some interesting local weather facts about the big day.

nyc_electionday

The exact date of Election Day varies every year, but it is always the Tuesday after the first Monday of November. Credit: The Weather Gamut.

National Weather Observer’s Day

Today is National Weather Observer’s Day in the US. While not an official federal holiday, it is a day to celebrate people who love to observe the weather.

Without a doubt, weather is a serious business. Professional meteorologists work around the clock to monitor conditions and create forecasts aimed at protecting life and property. But, there are also non-professionals who are awe-inspired by the show Mother Nature puts on everyday. These enthusiasts love to observe and talk about the weather. Some even volunteer as “spotters” for the NWS to provide ground truth observations that supplement radar data. Simply put, these are people who are interested in weather beyond the emoji on their smart phone app.

It is also important to remember that the science of meteorology began with the work of dedicated amateur observers like John Jeffries, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Luke Howard.  They were fascinated by weather and simply wanted to understand it better. As Henri Poincaré – the famous physicist and mathematician said,  “The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful.”

Earth Day 2016

Everyday 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 led to the creation of the EPA and the passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Forty-six years after the original, Earth Day celebrations are now held in nearly 200 countries. This year, the date is more significant than ever as hundreds of government officials from around the world gathered at the UN to sign the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Image Credit: William Anders/NASA

“Earth Rise” from 1968 highlighted how fragile and unique the Earth really is.                              Credit: William Anders/NASA

St Patrick’s Day Weather History in NYC

A longstanding tradition in New York City, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has marched in all types of weather without missing a beat. Below is a look at the weather history for March 17th in the Big Apple.

While the first parade is reported to have taken place in 1762, official weather records for Central Park only date back to 1876. Even without information on the earliest events, the 140 years of data that are available show that the city has experienced a wide range of weather conditions on St Patrick’s Day. But given that March is when the seasons transition from winter to spring, this is not that surprising.

Looking back, rain dampened the parade only 47 times over 140 years and snow was only noted at ten events. Temperatures were above average about 33% of the time, but the overall trend shows warming conditions through the years especially after the 1970s. The city’s average high temperature on St Patrick’s Day is 50°F and the average low is 35°F.

Below are some charts based on NWS data showing the daily records for March 17th and the temperature history for the date in NYC.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

StPatsNYC

Source: NOAA/NWS

StPats_TempHistory

Source: NOAA/NWS