A new camera and one of my most photographed structures

Considering it’s off the beaten path, I’ve probably taken more photos of the National Cathedral than just about any other structure in D.C., with perhaps something like the Lincoln Memorial or Washington Monument ranking just above. Both of the neighborhoods I’ve lived in the last few years — Glover Park and Cleveland Park — are relatively close to this Gothic beauty. All the more fitting for me to wander toward the Cathedral to break in a new camera, just as I did the last time I upgraded.

One of the biggest changes camera to camera is the megapixels. The new 5D Mark II weighs in with 21.1 compared to the 40D’s 10.1. When viewing on a website, this might not always mean much, but I am shooting more and more with print sales in mind and this jump alleviates any concerns I had with the lower megapixel numbers on the 40D.

DSLR capability has been very good to excellent for several years now. The upgrades these days are comparatively small compared to the first period of consumer technology offerings prior. I’d been waiting, for about a year, for the Mark II to get replaced before making the leap. Since one does not appear on the doorstep —  in the next few months at least — I decided to stop waiting. The camera has always received rave reviews both in still and video (something else to learn now!) quality.

The first set of images I took were pretty “snapshotty.” Truth be told, I was walking the dog at the time. But even in this quick test, I am excited at the prospects ahead with the camera. The re-size to Web presentation does little justice to the significant detail increase when comparing cameras. Not to mention the full frame sensor. It will be fun re-learning how to use my lenses after spending the last 8 years on a 1.6x crop factor body.

One thing to see going forward is how much I miss the extra speed of photo bursts. By today’s high-level camera standards the Mark II is somewhat slow at 3.9 frames per second (actually a modest step backward from the 40D). But, that’s because it’s a field camera more than a studio or sports/wildlife camera. Seeing as most of my photography is outdoors, this was a decision I made with full knowledge of any limitations. There are, of course, instances where taking a speedy burst of shots is important. For me, I’m hoping they will be few enough not to notice.

Print still matters…

I’m someone who is almost (maybe a topic for later) completely unconcerned with the move toward online mediums for news and information. It’s how I grew up for the most part.

Even though I take random leaves of absences here (sorry, will really try not to!), I have become somewhat of a prolific spewer-of-words over recent years thanks in large part to my connection with the Capital Weather Gang. Outside my fortune of having several op-eds in the New York Times, both co-authored by my boss and myself, and one on my own, the majority of my thoughts are housed online only.  As a writer, it doesn’t bother me. I know that more and more people get their primary information through the Web. It is what it is.

But there is still something about buying a paper and opening it up and seeing/understanding the work that goes into it all. A blog post can be put together and published in no time (sometimes it’s apparent the author should have spent more time!). But the daily paper — even if it contains old news — is a truly complete and thought-provoking product that online outlets have yet to be able to fully copy.

After plenty of recent complaining about how social media is ruining the world for “real” photographers, I spent the last week buying a new camera and then this weekend finally getting out to take some photos following an extended break.

It was my “last” (not really, but perhaps in full) photo shoot with the Canon 40D. It was sentimental. I made a blog post. Then an editor for the Post decided it would make a good piece for print (at least sans 20 pictures!).

Either way, there it was when I opened the paper today. My little story about how Washington can feel quaint and outdoorsy — all book-ended by two of the photos I took. A nice spread too, lots of page! By late in the day, I received an e-mail from a happy father who just watched his daughter get married this weekend. He saw the photos in the paper and wanted to send one of his own cherished memories over. It had beautiful orange trees behind the blissful couple.  A weekend to remember for sure… we’re already reminiscing just a few days later.

Yeah, print still matters.

Sixteen superb supercell thunderstorm time lapse videos

After going to the Plains this spring I’ve managed to spend many waking hours thinking about going back. It’s the tornado itself that gets much of the glory, but the supercell thunderstorm is perhaps one of nature’s finest masterpieces. The videos I’ve compiled here, after hours of sorting through examples on the Web, are all about structure. You won’t find any tornadoes in the bunch — there is a funnel cloud or two though! Even without the raw violence of a twister, the enormous power of these storms in evident throughout. Each is beautiful in its own way.

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July 13, 2009 AMAZING Supercell Time Lapse from hillnado57.

Having made our “catch” of the chase 2011 in the area this was taken, the terrain has a special place in my heart. SD/NE is perhaps some of the prettiest of the Plains. First, there’s lots of bubbling and boiling clouds as the storm matures, and by 1:30 in we’re off to the races on superb structure. Multiple striations and a big fat inflow tail. After 2:45 it’s just insane inflow. What a storm…

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Visible satellite loop of Hurricane Irene impacting the D.C. area while spinning off the mid-Atlantic Coast

Hurricane Irene caused extensive damage (amounting to perhaps around $10 billion) and loss of life (in the tens of people) after making landfall in North Carolina on August 27 as a category 1 storm. Though much discussion is already underway about whether or not Irene was “overhyped,” particularly in the New York City area, there is little denying this was a rare event for much of the coast north of North Carolina. In D.C., the effects were relatively minor, though still rather significant for a tropical system in this area. National Airport recorded a gust to 60 mph and had one hourly observation of sustained winds to tropical storm force. The daily rainfall in D.C. on the 27th was the highest August daily total in 4o years (since the similarly tracked Tropical Storm Doria) and the 3.83″ total helped boost D.C. to its wettest August in a long while. At its peak, several hundred thousand locally (and north of 5 million on the East Coast) were left without power after a number of trees (among other items) fell and toppled power lines.

The Great Washington, D.C. Earthquake of 2011

Dupont Circle packed around 2:00 p.m. this afternoon in the period following a magnitude 5.8 earthquake that rocked D.C.

The earthquake (and a sizable aftershock while writing this) has shaken me out of my posting slumber. Your grand-kids may never hear about it, but that won’t change the fact that we lived it. It was not a D.C.-only earthquake, or even centered right on the doorstep. But, D.C. is the closest big city to the epicenter other than (much smaller) Richmond. And Virginia (the town of Mineral to be exact) is, at the very least, in Washington’s backyard.

Weighing in at 5.8 on the moment magnitude scale, this earthquake is believed to be the second strongest on record in Virginia, the strongest in the zone it occurred, and the strongest in the area in well over 100 years. Out on the West Coast people might not even notice shaking of this level, right? Well, not we should not go that far. But, it probably would not make the news it does around here.

While taking quite a shake, Washington has come off largely unscathed. Still, a somewhat surprising (should not be considering un-reinforced brick buildings are a norm) number of damage reports continue to trickle in, including a number within the District itself. Scattered wall, roofing and chimney collapses, interior objects falling, and the occasional crack or two appear to be the norm.

Yet, some well-known landmarks in the city took either a slight hit or faced at least brief scares. Several of the higher spires on towers at the National Cathedral fell off in the shaking, and some concern briefly focused on the Washington Monument which seems to have sustained some cracks. The underground Metro remained open, but track speeds were reduced to 15 mph until the full system could be inspected. By the time I hit the station around 5:30, incoming volume was extraordinarily low for a weekday even though platforms were relatively crowded. I got the first train I saw.

Perhaps the weirdest part of this earthquake for someone who has been through large earthquakes — Northridge (1994) and Landers/Big Bear (1992) as examples — was seeing D.C.’s streets fill with people. It might be that I’ve just not been in a big city for a moderate to large quake — those noted above were felt in the rural high desert after being shaken from bed at night.

With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 around the corner, it was interesting to hear many folks (especially those who had not felt an earthquake before) in and around the area first imagined “was that a bomb?” as the shaking got underway. Of course, as those first queasy moments turned into many seconds ultimately followed by stronger surface waves and creaking of buildings, those thoughts were often replaced with new ones. Then there was the frustration of a mobile network brought to its knees (hopefully we never really need it at a critical time).

People always asked what I thought about earthquakes when they learned I grew up in southern California. Even though they were perhaps my first real interest in science, I have not missed them at all. Feeling a “small” earthquake of note in a region with older buildings and lesser building codes than much of the West Coast is enough reminder, even if I end up having to wait 100 years for another one like it.

I have not spontaneously combusted

Fear not. It’s just been a busy week or so. I was off resolving the debt ceiling debate (yeah right, like that’s fixed!). Just because I didn’t post doesn’t mean nothing happened. Our quarterly New York Times op-chart on the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan hit the shelves last Friday and July finished just as terribly hot as it began.  August is off to the same, at least thus far…

August 4 update: I have refreshed all the Washington Climatology posts here that needed it. Too much heat after I made them!

More soon.

2011 American Weather Conference presentations

The first American Weather Conference was held at BWI this weekend. Though it was the first American Weather Conference, it was the 7th we have put on. The prior six were known as the “Eastern U.S. Weather Conference.”

The conference is both a gathering for people who love weather to hang out with each other, and a learning experience for many involved. Over the years we have been fortunate enough to consistently line up the top professionals in the business. This year was no exception.

Following a Friday of workshops by Wes Junker and Will Schwartz (that I unfortunately missed due to work), the main event of Saturday provided quite the show. Featured speakers (in order of appearance) included Bill Read, the director of the National Hurricane Center; Brian LaSorsa of NWS Baltimore/Washington; Brad Panovich of WCNC-TV; Mike Smith of WeatherData; and a conference regular, winter weather expert Paul Kocin.

Below are videos of the presentations. They are not close to fancy, and I originally shot in HD but lowered way down to cut upload time. As far as I can tell though, they work!

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The highest low temperatures in Washington, D.C.: A look at 80F+ overnight readings

This post has been updated to cover all 80-degree or higher lows in Washington through early August 2011. Graphs will be updated to include this year once it is apparent there is no risk of further 80-degree lows.

The once rare 80F+ low has been appearing more often of late. 2011 has easily turned into the leader of the pack on consecutive days and overall totals.  Prior to 2011, there have never been more than two 80 degree or higher low temperature days back-to-back at Washington. A previous record streak of two days happened most recently in 2010, when DCA recorded 80F for a low on the 7th and 8th of July.

From July 21-24, 2011 D.C. recorded its warmest stretch of lows ever, with four days in a row 80F+. Temperatures actually spent about 128 hours above 80F, from 7:52 a.m. on July 20 through just after 4:00 p.m. on July 25. In the climate records, this will be counted as a four-day stretch — even though the hours match up to five days — due to the 80F morning low  of the 25th not standing through midnight. As an encore performance, 80-degree plus lows returned for the final three days of July 2011, bringing the record total to seven for the month and year.

The warmest low on record at D.C. is 84F and it occurred on July 23rd and July 24th, 2011 as well as on the 16th of July in 1983. There have been 42 days (including the seven in 2011) 80F+ lows going back to when daily records I have access to begin in 1872. Before 1930, there were only 3, and they all happened in 1876. The sample and averages are still quite small, with a 1930-2010 average of 0.4 days per year and a 30-year average of 0.7. But looking at the graph, and now considering 2011, one gets the sense these high-end low temperatures are becoming more of a norm, if also still erratic.

The trends do continue, and in some ways are more apparent thanks to increased data samples, into categories such as 75F+ lows and similar. In an urban environment like D.C. the question arises whether the increased frequency of such lows points to larger climate change or, more simply, a growing urban heat island effect. It is worth at least noting that Baltimore’s climate record includes much more numerous 80F+ readings during the earlier history where D.C. lacks them. In part, this may be due to the Baltimore station initially being in the city prior to moving to a more rural setting at BWI.

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