November 24, 2007
"It's hot today. Not a cloud in the sky. Really beautiful."
"What do you expect," I mutter. "It's Florida." Just because it's pleasant doesn't mean it's not hell.
I mention these always-sunny-in-Florida reports to my sister, who lives in New Hampshire's Mt. Washington Valley, where she's learned to live with demanding bears and snow in June. She gets it.
Today, I was able to return the favor to my parents.
I was walking the dog about 8 a.m. when I realized that a giant maple tree on the corner was shedding its leaves so hard and fast you could hear it -- like summer rain on a tin roof. Giant pinwheeling leaves the color of corn were carpeting the tops of cars underneath. It looked like time-lapse photography.
So I called Florida to report on the weather.
"Dad, you don't get to see this anymore," I began, and went on how the yellow maples were shedding their cover so fast they'd be bare by the time I came back from the walk with the dog.
As I was giving the sort of eye-witness report cell phones allow, I saw a person down the street taking pictures in front of her house. That maple, too, was in fast-forward.
"Have you ever heard fall before?" I shouted, and like a schoolgirl she replied, "I know! I know!"
Farther down the street yet another yellow maple was in free fall. I know so little about biology, and what makes them going into action all at once. The cold? The calendar? They must have all gotten the memo.
February 01, 2007
It is good to know that Punxsutawney Phil and his shadow will be carefully watched tomorrow from across the ocean. Again this year, already staking out strategic positions to record the meteorologically gifted groundhog's behavior are a German radio station a German television. More are expected. Phil and his shadow for some reason are big in the Fatherland.
I know the Germans have always had a thing for the American West, from the Karl May novels (think: the Zane Grey of Saxony) to an empathy for the story of the American Indian. Once I approached the shores of the Oder River near the Polish border to find hundreds of teepees fanning across the horizon. The Germans were painstakingly re-enacting the lives of Sioux, Blackfoot etc... and the former DDR residents told how they, in particular, grew up identifying with the struggle of the noble native.
I did not know they identified with an Eastern whistlepig as well.
In addition to the charter jets of Germans who come here for Punxsutawney Phil (the German marketing team of PA Tourism got a travel tour operator in Deutschland to create a special hotel and flight package for the event), the groundhog has a considerable following online.
The curious might want to poke around MyVideo.de or Clipfish.de, SevenLoad.de or HiClip.de. (try this.)
These are mostly links to http://www.groundhogcrossing.com/ - the latest campaign by the PA tourism people to garner interest in Phil. Past years have presented Phil as a character in The Shining. This year is equally shiny, with text messaging and voice mail, more videos. The theme is a travelogue/detective story -- Phil is missing, tired of the guessing game.
The viral marketers have arranged it so if you can't watch Phil live, starting at 7 a.m. Friday, you can sign up at http://groundhog.visitpa.com for emails and cell phone messages about whether or not he's predicting another six weeks of winter.
Last year, the webcast was followed in 100 countries, viewed more than 70,000 times over three days, according to Natalie DiPasquale, who is handling Phil's stateside press.
The news of the groundhog is being covered this way in Germany:
Wie lange dauert der Winter noch? Diese Frage beantwortet alljährlich am 2. Februar das Murmeltier Phil (Groundhog Phil). Der Ort des Geschehens: Eine Stadt mit dem schwer aussprechbaren Namen Punxsutawney (etwa: Panxetoni) im US-Bundesstaat Pennsylvania, rund 130 Kilometer nordöstlich von Pittsburgh. Pünktlich zum Sonnenaufgang holen die Herren des Inner Circle, die offiziell für Phils Wohlergehen und die Organisation des Murmeltier-Events verantwortlich sind, das Tier aus dem Baumstamm, in dem es seinen Winterschlaf hält. Das Objekt der Begierde ist der Schatten, den das Murmeltier bei seinem ersten Blick aus der Behausung wirft – oder eben nicht: Sieht man bei klaren Witterungsverhältnissen einen Schatten, wird es in der Region noch für mindestens sechs Wochen Winter bleiben. Ist aufgrund einer bewölkten Wetterlage kein dunkler Fleck zu erkennen, so naht der Frühling.
All you really need to know is that over there, they call him Murmeltier Phil.
Meike Pezl, works at Noble Kommunukation in Neu-Isenburg, Germany. It is a stretch to say she is Phil's German representative, but she is heading up the PR campaign. Pezl says by email that for four years German media have come to Pennsylvania to cover the groundhog.
She has a couple ideas why this has caught on (other than it's a day that doesn't float in the calendar, so the travel/tourism people can better plan around Feb. 2 each year.)
"Germans regularly watch weather forecasts and there are several unusual ways of presenting it on television. A most unusual one is Phil -- a cute animal. Germans also love animals," she adds.
And yes, it's not just the Buddhist who love watching Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray movie, each year.
She thinks there might be precedent for animal weather foretellers -- "it is said that the tradition goes back to German with originally a hedgehog."
Horst the Hedgehog. (I have made that part up.)
October 21, 2006
Philadelphia Weather.net's annual Snowfall Challenge.
This is the exercise where the weather blogger separates the real TV forecasters from the hypsters, the storm mongerers and mere prognosticators.
Last year weather blogger Tom Thunstrom tracked the calls all winter, publishing his ranking of the four major local television stations against his own forecasts.
How'd everyone do?
Fox29 ruled. That's Rob Guarino and Sue Serio pictured in the positions of honor. David Aldrich, too.
CBS3 did second-best.
Then Thunstrom, himself.
This year he'll rank the National Weather Service as well.
Again, he'll count accumulation at the airport. He'll consider the latest forecast - as long as it's more than 12 hours before the snow begins to fall. The season starts Nov. 1.
But there are other changes. A forecast will be punished if it offers too wide a range of accumulation -- 1 inch to one foot covers one's posterior, but isn't quite fair, he says.
July 30, 2006
If anyone you know is suffering from the weather, which is expected to feel like 100 degrees for a few days, tell them about the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging's heatline. It's 215-765-9040, and was activated Saturday at 2 p.m. The heatline will stay staffed until Wednesday, or until the National Weather Service calls off its excessive heat warning.
The heatline is a counseling service. City Health Department nurses take the calls. They're able to dispatch mobile relief teams and notify 911 for emergencies. It's not a number to call for fans or air conditioners.
I learned of the site while house-sitting for a neighbor Saturday. Linda Riley works for the PCA, and I should have known she was sensitive to the heat, when she sat me down in a wicker chair on the corner of her porch and handed me an ice tea. Decaf.
"No sodas with caffeine, no alcohol," she began. It got worse. "A fan is not your friend in this weather if you're in a closed room."
"If it's only blowing hot air, it's dehydrating you. It takes away your sweat, which is a natural coolant, and makes you sweat some more."
Linda gave a few cheap and easy suggestions for how to beat the heat if you have no air conditioning. Get on a Septa bus. Bring an ID, and it's free for seniors, off-peak. Or go to a movie. If you're house-bound, plop your feet in a bucket of cold water. Place a cold towel or an ice pack on the back of your neck.
"Water's the best thing," she said. "Take a shower or a cool bath. Drink lots of water. No mint juleps. Sorry."
And tell grandma to stay out of that fountain.
July 22, 2006
Nice Day If It Don't Rain
Blogger Tom Thunstrom at Philadelphia Weather writes:
We're still under a slight risk for severe weather today in the Delaware Valley with the main threats being tornadic supercells and wind damage from severe thunderstorms. Like last night and like we predicted here, training of storms is possible again today. Given how there are clouds and showers around this morning, there may be just enough water thrown on the instability fire to prevent a severe weather episode today. However, if enough sun can peek through the clouds today we could see the fireworks explode in the sky.
Temp in the 80s. Chance of thunderstorm. Humidity thick as patchoulie oil.
July 17, 2006
If Philadelphia Weather were a betting blogger, and he is, he'd put his money on 99 degrees today.
Burn Out Bob's blaming Mayor Street.
Suburban Guerrilla is blaming George Bush. Well, maybe not explicitly.
June 29, 2006
That's from Main Street in Manayunk, photographed yesterday afternoon by Matt at the Tattered Coat, in a post he calls Down in the Flood - one of a torrent of citizen journalist takes on the damage done by days of pounding rains.
He dashed in to file this before heading back out:
Listen closely, and you can almost hear ticks of the teletype machine in the background, and a furnace-faced city editor screaming "Make it sing, kid!"
Just pics here, in a flickr set titled River Junk, which embeds bits of copy when you roll you mouse over the flotsam and jetsam, which may or may not include a bowling ball and a dwarf lighthouse. The shooter, NoOneOther, has a nice array of shots here as well.
Pesky'Apostrophe introduced the news and the mood in a musically titled, mid-day post that noted the city (except Manayunk) tends to avoid the worst of local flooding:
The Schuylkill could get to the highest level in 125 years by tomorrow. The Broad Street subway line must be flooded, because shuttle buses are carrying passengers in spots. The R2 train is down and R5 has limited service. Coincidentally, Governor Ed Rendell declared a state of emergency in 46 Pennsylvania counties on account of flooding, Philadelphia included. Go figure. For all this, you’d think we’d all be in a panic ‘round these parts. Not so much, though. It’s sunny outside. People are going about their business. Eh.
This thread of photos on PhillyBlog suggest anyone heading for the Hot Rocks concert scheduled for Pennypack Park in the Northeast Tuesday night might be seeing soggy stones instead.
How high was the Schuylkill River? Rolland in Fairmount dug up this statistical look on Phillyblog: For those of you who like numbers...USGS Real TIme water data shows the S. River reached nearly 70000 cubic feet per second today, compared to a daily median of 1070 cfs!
The flood got Stephanie's Blog grokking the stuff that washes up on her South Philly steps and then wondering about all those neighbors who wash their sidewalks:
I was just outside, sweeping up in front of our house. It has been raining here so much that I haven't done it in a while and it really needed it. There was alot of big pieces of bark from an old, huge tree across the street, half a popscicle wrapper, lots of leaves, someones old piece of tin foil and a silk flower from the pathetic arrangement of cheap, fake flowers stuck in a pot from the old couple next door. (another weird South Philly thing) I always feel like the neighbors are watching me every time I sweep out there, like I'm crazy for taking the time to do it, crazy for sweeping the street in front of our sidewalks and even crazier for actually picking up what I sweep and putting it in a bag and throwing it away. Something that I will never understand for as long as I live here is how people spray their sidewalks with their hose, instead of just getting a broom and doing it. Then they'll spray the street in front of their sidewalks and flood the stuff so it ends up streaming down the street, into a big pile of junk at the end of the street, where it definitely isn't going to get cleaned up. If there is a rare occasion of someone actually sweeping, they never pick the debris up. They sweep it into the street. Don't they know it's just going to blow right back on their sidewalks if they don't bag it and throw it away? Mostly though, my neighbors don't clean up anything and alot of them cause the garbage blowing through the street, that always seems to end up right on our sidewalks. There is one old lady that always has a scarf on her head, who always sweeps. One day I was sweeping and she walked by and told me that more people should do it. Yeah, they should do alot of things, sweeping up and not throwing papers on the ground are two of them, but they don't. Oh well, it just makes our house look nicer. I really do hate sweeping though.
As Suzanne at Metroblogging prepared to haul her kayak out of the basement so she could pick up a restorative donut at the Wawa, she was moved to share some lyrics:
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream.
As we join the round, let's end it with Philadelphia Weather, where Tom Thunstrom lives for these sorts of events:
Just when we get a break in the rain, here comes another round of severe weather. The Storm Prediction Center has us in a Slight Risk for severe weather for Thursday in the Delaware Valley. A frontal boundary will be moving into the region and this boundary will act as a focal point to fire off scattered lines of strong to possibly severe thunderstorms in the Delaware Valley after 1 PM.
Anyone want to help build an ark?
PhillyFuture is collecting words and photos from the storm here, including this shot (right) of a citizen journo of sorts taken by Fen Branklin.
May 04, 2006
We're No. 137!
More variable than New York's or Washington, D.C.'s, by God.
We can't beat Springfield, Mo., which comes in first in this listing that is based on temperature range, total precipitation, snow, wind, humidity, fog, thunderstorm, hail,
frogs, etc... We come in at No. 137 out of 277, which we should probably spin into a municipal ad campaign.
He's also found some competition - a citizen-meteorologist site started by two Penn students whose Weather Market site seeks to put the weather "back into the hands of the people. Anyone can join the website and make weather forecasts." Points will go to the most accurate forecasters, and their calls will influence the site's future forecasts. Sounds like a system.
Wesley and Brandon Rosenblum cooked up the site as their senior project at Penn.
April 05, 2006
Slug it "Horizontal"
Where's the Philadelphia Forecast Challenge when we need it?
Did my kids go to school in shorts today?
How are my tulips? Where are my mukluks?
March 23, 2006
Who Called The Storms?
Tom Thunstrom called his little experiment the 2005-2006 Forecast Challenge, actually, but same difference. He measured two sorts of accuracy - when a storm would start and how much snow would fall. There wasn't that much to work with, he concedes: 19.4 inches of snow hit the Delaware Valley officially, thanks mostly to the Feb. 11th and 12th event - I love that word. Official means measured at Philadelphia International Airport.
Ok, drum roll, please.
In last place, our weather partner, NBC10. Thunstrom used a measure where the most points meant the most misses. NBC10 had 28. It never recovered from missing the timing of the Monday Night Football snowfall.
Action News comes in third place with 17 points - most of them for sensing just how much snow would fall.
Second place? CBS3. They racked up 14 points. They knew when the storms would start.
And the winner, Fox29 with 7 points, a balance of calling the time and the amount.
Philadelphia Weather calls Fox29 the only TV outlet in Philadelphia to correctly forecast accumulations and timing of February's 12-incher.
Thunstrom, as we've written before, is a hobbyist - a nonprofit-organization manager who was bitten by the weather bug at age 10 in Minnesota, when a tornado roared over his house. Differential equations and calculus knocked him out of professional meteorology in college. In July, the upper Montgomery County man launched the blog that allows full expression of his inner weather weenie. He writes:
In analyzing the first year of the Philadelphia Weather Forecast Challenge, I saw a few things that worked really well and a few things that I may adjust. I like the idea of comparing the media outlets against each other. Considering the claims you see on TV saying one channel is better than the other, there was not a grading system that compares the weight of their work. Since snowfall is something that impacts us more directly than say, being off by 3 degrees on a forecasted high, comparing their snowfall forecasts is one measure of seeing just how accurate a forecasting outlet (TV or government) really is. I would tend to argue that many of us do not care if a forecasted high of 75 is 3 degrees too high or low but do care if no snow was forecasted and 6" shows up on one's front door.
Would love to hear from any of the weather professionals at the stations. Is this contest fair? Write in, folks.