Friday, March 30, 2012

ATREX Mission Successfully Launched

NASA successfully launched five suborbital sounding rockets this morning from its Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia as part of a study of the upper level jet stream. The first rocket was launched at 4:58 a.m. EDT and each subsequent rocket was launched 80 seconds apart.

Launch of a sounding rocket Wallops Island, Virginia early in the morning of March 27. Credit: NASA/Wallops

Each rocket released a chemical tracer that created milky, white clouds at the edge of space. Tracking the way the clouds move can help scientists understand the movement of the winds some 65 miles up in the sky, which in turn will help create better models of the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage man-made satellites and disrupt communications systems.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Windiest Time of the Year

Spring always seemed like the time of the year to fly a kite when I was growing up.  I didn't know much about what it took to get a kite high off the ground, but fortunately I had an older brother who did.  I can remember times when we got a box kite up to about three hundred feet above the ground.

Across most of the country, spring is the windiest time of the year.  Wind speeds and wind power tend to be 3-5 times stronger in March and April than in July and August.  In the dust bowl days most of the dust storms were in late winter and spring.  That continues to be the case in the Plains today.

Gusts may come and go, but on average there’s more wind now than at any other time of the year. The chart below shows the amount of electricity that would be generated by a single 1.5 megawatt wind turbine, with each point representing a running nine-day average. Historically, March 21st is the windiest single day of the year.
Click here for an interactive chart that represents the same data, but you can hover over any point to get the relative wind power for any given day (again, based on a nine-day average). 

Daily wind power generated at a single turbine, 9-day average (Wind Power (x 1000 kWh)).  Image credit: Climate Central.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

So, When Is Spring?

Many use the calendar to determine when spring arrives while others use a rodent to tell them when spring will arrive.  The first uses an artifact of astronomy and the latter superstition.  Meteorologists use a different calendar for spring.  Records are not kept on weather and climate for periods of say March 20 to June 21 such as the calendar.  The records are neatly arranged as daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and annually.  Meteorologist arrange the seasons in three-month increments, i.e. spring is March 1 - May 31.

Incidently, the start of spring in astronomy is not always the same date and neither is the end date.  It depends on when the vertical rays of the sun are over the equator for the start.  This would greatly complicate record-keeping.

These are all artifacts of man and Mother Nature has her own ideas.  An index for the onset of spring was developed by Mark D. Schwartz (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and USA National Phenology Network colleagues.  This index, based on temperature variables measured at individual weather stations, estimates the first day that leaves appear on plants in a given state.

Image Credit: Climate Central.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Winter Was Warm, But March Is %#!@^

Winter was the fourth warmest on record for the U.S. according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC).  Here winter is defined as the months of December through February, also known as meteorological winter.  The map below shows that most of the warm weather was east of the Rockies with near normal conditions in the West.

Statewide rank of winter temperatures for 2011-2012.  Image Credit: NOAA/NCDC.

Enter March.  This supposed to be a time of change, a transition from winter to spring.  However, this month has simply been a continuation of the trends in winter and more so.  It has been unseasonably warm over all, but the west coast of the U.S.  In fact, temperatures have been averaging more than 10 degrees F above normal in the Midwest.

Mean temperature anomalies for the U.S. for March 1-16, 2012.  Image Credit: NOAA/CPC.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Jet Stream Study to Light Up the Sky

Update:  The mission was launched around 5 a.m. March 27.  Some photos are coming soon.

Little is known about the about the atmosphere above 50 miles, yet below where spacecraft orbit.  This is generally known as the Thermosphere above the Mesopause (See the graphic to the left, Image Credit: NASA).  The only way to study this region is with sounding rockets.  Some 35 to 40 feet long, sounding rockets shoot up into the sky for short journeys of eight to ten minutes, allowing scientists to probe difficult-to-reach layers of the atmosphere.

NASA will be conducting an experiment aimed at studying high-level winds near the edge of space at altitudes of 60 to 65 miles.  Winds at this altitude move at speeds of 200 to 300 miles per hour.  To study the winds NASA will release trimethyl aluminum which forms milky, white clouds that allow those on the ground to "see" the winds in space and track them with cameras.

Five sounding rockets will be launched in approximately five minutes to study these high-altitude winds and their intimate connection to the complicated electrical current patterns that surround Earth. First noticed in the 1960s, the winds in this jet stream shouldn't be confused with the lower jet stream located around 30,000 feet, through which passenger jets fly and which is reported in weather forecasts. This rocket experiment is designed to gain a better understanding of the high-altitude winds and help scientists better model the electromagnetic regions of space that can damage man-made satellites and disrupt communications systems. The experiment will also help explain how the effects of atmospheric disturbances in one part of the globe can be transported to other parts of the globe in a mere day or two.

The experiment is known as the Anomalous Transport Rocket Experiment (ATREX).  It is scheduled for 1:30 a.m. on March 15.  The backup dates are March 16 through April 3.  There will be a webcast of the mission beginning 2 1/2 hours prior to launch and can be viewed at:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Skywatch: A Celestial Show in March

For the past few weeks there have been two bright objects in the western sky after sunset.  These two bright stars are in fact planets; Venus and Jupiter.  Both planets appear to be close to each other even though they are hundreds of million miles apart.  The brighter of the two is Venus.

Venus and Jupiter form a spectacular pairing in the evening sky during mid-March. These scenes show the sky's appearance looking west about an hour after sunset. A third planet, Mercury, can be glimpsed just above the western horizon.  Image Credit: Sky and Telescope.

Friday, March 9, 2012

A Farewell To Scott Ryan

Scott Ryan.  Image Credit: WLTX-TV.

Almost 10 years ago Scott Ryan began broadcasting in Columbia.  During that time he became a fixture of the morning and noon shows.  His enthusiasm and colorful ties have gotten our viewers on their way each day.  Today, Friday, March 9, marks the end of Scott Ryan’s weathercasts at News19.

It is a bittersweet good-bye.  We hate to see him leave, but a wonderful opportunity awaits him.  Scott has accepted a position with WSI, which is the vendor we use to produce much of what you see on-the-air each day.  They were as impressed with Scott as we were and created a position for him.  His new duties will be to help their television clients get the most from their computers.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pigs Can't Fly, But Mobile Homes Can

This is a repost of a blog I did 4 years ago.  It is as important today as it was then and maybe more so.

Daniel Bonds is working on his master's degree and his thesis work involves mobile home parks and tornado safety.  His preliminary work shows that most do not have a safe place to go in the event of a tornado here in the Midlands.

Furthermore, many living in such places do not know the different between a tornado and a hurricane.  They believe that they can simply evacuate to the local school or some other shelter when a tornado approaches which is a mistake.  Experience and the science has confirmed that in a tornado situation a mobile home must be abandon even if it is tied down.  The risk of being killed in a mobile home is significantly higher than in a traditionally built home.

Mobile home lifted off its blocks (foreground) with what is left of the home up against the trees along with an overturned vehicle.  Image Credit: NOAA.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Goodbye Mr. Snowman

Image Credit: Climate Central.
Not a snowflake to be had this winter.  Even Jack Frost didn't show much over the winter.  There were cold snaps and hard freezes, but little precipitation.  In mid-February there was some sleet mixed with light rain, but this was the closest we came to wintry precipitation.

This was the 10th warmest winter on record and the 12th driest for the Columbia area.  It was the warmest winter in 40 years with records dating back to 1887.