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.

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.

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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High and low temperature by year at Washington, D.C.

Ok, I am being unbalanced with D.C. climo of late. It’s a mindless task when bored, and I recently finished a compilation. Here’s a graph (to scale, if not clearly marked as such) of high and low temperatures by year in Washington, D.C. The change in highs has been quite minor though the range is equally small. Lows, however have seemingly continually pressed upwards throughout recorded history.

The 81-2010 average for the highest temperature of the year was 98.8, with the long-term average coming in at 98.3. The 81-2010 average lowest temperature was 9.9, while long-term is 7.3.

This post is part of a Washington, D.C. climatology series, both on and off site, that will be maintained at semi regular intervals.

100 degree days at Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Md. and Dulles, Va.: Averages, extremes and what to look for

This article has been updated to cover all 100F+ readings observed through August 1, 2011 when National Airport hit 100F and the other locations remained in the upper 90s.

While the Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Md. area averages about one 100-degree day each year, it is not a super common occurrence, and stretches of years without them are — or, someday, where? — to be expected. Yearly numbers and a few other facts for both Washington and Baltimore follow, as does a quick look at the atmospheric setup for the area’s most extreme of extreme heat.

Washington, D.C. averages 1.2 days of 100F+ or above as of the 1981-2010 climate period. The long-term average is less than one day per year, with 109 days (including five so far in 2011) at D.C. that have hit or topped 100F. The highest temperature ever at D.C. was 106F, and it was reached on August 6, 1918 and July 20, 1930. A breakdown of all days 100F+ at D.C. is heavily skewed toward the lowest numbers. 44% hit 100 on the nose, 22% made it to 101, 17% to 102, 7% to 103, %6 to 104 and 2% each to 105F and 106F. The most recent “super heat” temperature came on July 29, 2011 when D.C. reached 104F, the highest temperature observed there in over a decade and tied for 5th hottest all time.

July 19-22, 1930 make up the longest string of days 100F+ in Washington at four, also featuring the hottest temperature on record. Washington has dealt with three other 100F+ streaks of three days, most recently in 1993. The most 100-degree days in any year was 11 in 1930, when two major streaks of 100F+ lasted for the record four days and three days (with a two day break in between) each. For 10 years in a row, in 1888 through 1897, no 100 degree or higher readings were recorded at Washington. The longest streak of sub-100F years in recent times was the seven years from 1970 through 1976.

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Washington, D.C. thunderstorm days: Examining the last 30 years of data

In the July installment of a year-long series of D.C. climatology posts on Capital Weather Gang, I included a graphic showing the averages for thunderstorm days by month in Washington over the last 30 years. Why 30 years? That’s the National Climatic Data Center standard for climate normals, and they just released a new set. This information, however, comes from additional research through daily records posted on the Weather Underground.

Thus far, I have only looked at the last 30 years, but may build back as far as I can at some point. Either way, this post will be updated at least a bit with data already obtained, but see below for some of it for now:

D.C. averages 32.8 thunderstorm days per year. 18.8 occur during meteorological summer (June-August). July is barely the statistical winner, though for real purposes it is tied with June for the most thunderstorm days per year. The curve is almost surprisingly normal, with a quicker drop off in fall than rise in spring thanks to lacking upper-level cold air of the winter prior that gives spring an extra boost in both storms and severity of storms.

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Photos: 2011 Washington, D.C. fireworks from the bank of the Potomac River

Well, another one down — four years (see previous). When it comes to pictures, the Washington, D.C. fireworks show never fully disappoints. Of course, I’ve forced myself into some of the best (if known) locations available. As I found in 2010, reflections off the Potomac River really make the shots! Maybe next year I’ll watch from D.C. proper, but it’s tough with all the views Virginia has to offer. I uploaded a few shots to flickr and have created this year’s set which will eventually house more photos.

I was fortunate enough to have Kevin Ambrose along on the photo shoot again, so we got great side-by-side comparisons of our differing techniques for various scenes — with me it’s mostly hoping for the best. In addition to the flickr set, check out these posts (“Quick look” and “2011 fireworks“) on Capital Weather Gang, and see Kevin’s gallery of his shots and mine combined.

First of the show

Ground burst

Golden scenery

Updated July 6.

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Fourth of July fireworks in Washington, D.C.

The 4th of July is coming, and it’s perhaps the best time of year to be a D.C. resident. This will be my sixth Independence Day in the city — I’ve taken photos of the fireworks show the last three years. It looked like I might not make it out this year, but plans have shifted, so it seems I will indeed get to add to my photo collection. While I think about where to set up for 2011, I figured I might as well share some shots from 2008-2010 as well as links to fuller sets.

2008 – From the Marine Corps War Memorial

2009 – From the Netherlands Carillon

2010 – From the banks of the Potomac River

Sets on flickr: 2008 | 2009 | 2010
Photo posts on washingtonpost.com: 2008 | 2009 | 2010

Quick look at atmospheric conditions for a significant D.C. area tornado

A small composite mean sample of days with significant tornadoes in and around the Washington, D.C. area at various heights of the atmosphere is below. From low level (near surface — 850mb) to cloud  level (700 mb) and then into the mid-and-upper levels (500mb). These can be useful to compare a modeled setup to see if there is any extra risk of more than the garden variety activity.

Hopefully I’ll return to this in more depth as it’s something I’ve been meaning to do.

This post is part of a Washington, D.C. climatology series, both on and off site, that will be maintained at semi regular intervals.