Readers’ wildlife photos

December 26, 2020 • 8:00 am

Again I appeal to readers to send in their good wildlife photos. I can go about ten days, but then will run out.

For Boxing Day we have some cloud and weather photos from Phil Loubere; one has a rainbow that I declare is our symbol of hope for 2021. Phil’s captions is indented; click on the photos to enlarge them.

Attached are some weather photos. They were all taken from my home outside of Nashville during our torrid summers, when towering thunderstorm clouds are common, and close to sunset when the light effects can be spectacular.  The rainbow photo has a near-full moon in the background.

Hurricane Dorian from space

September 1, 2019 • 12:21 pm

Here’s an almost real-time view of Hurricane Dorian (just an hour from before I posted this) from the International Space Station. The storm, now a Category 5, is battering the hell out of the Bahamas. It looks peaceful from up there, but on the ground the winds are fierce. Here’s part of the YouTube summary of the NASA video:

Cameras outside the International Space Station captured views September 1 of Hurricane Dorian from 260 miles in altitude at 12:16 p.m. Eastern time as it churned over the Atlantic Ocean over the northern Bahamas. The storm, which is moving in a westerly direction with sustained winds of 180 miles an hour, is a dangerous Category 5 hurricane, carrying the strongest winds in recorded history for the northwestern Bahamas.


h/t: Michael

Hurricane Florence

September 10, 2018 • 1:00 pm

by Grania

If this is likely to be in your path, please do everything you can to get to safety. It’s estimated it could make U.S. landfall late Thursday or early Friday, but might in the Carolinas as early as Wednesday night.

Multitasking to the max: Weather reporter solves Rubik’s cube while giving the forecast

June 14, 2018 • 2:00 pm
This woman has got it going on. Look how well she delivers the weather report while solving a Rubik’s cube. I am sure that even if I could solve the puzzle (and I haven’t tried), I couldn’t do it while delivering a coherent report. The YouTube notes say this:
Reporter Lauren Olesky with Florida news station WPEC proved she can multi-task like few others, delivering her Friday weather report while also solving a Rubik’s Cube.

Sundogs and halos!

December 10, 2017 • 2:30 pm

Here’s a lovely Sun halo from December 1 sent to me by Matthew Cobb (be sure to click on the arrow to see the video). You can see why such phenomena were once taken to be evidence for God or the supernatural.

What causes these things? Wikipedia says this:

The ice crystals responsible for halos are typically suspended in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds high (5–10 km, or 3–6 miles) in the upper troposphere, but in cold weather they can also float near the ground, in which case they are referred to as diamond dust. The particular shape and orientation of the crystals are responsible for the type of halo observed. Light is reflected and refracted by the ice crystals and may split up into colors because of dispersion. The crystals behave like prisms and mirrors, refracting and reflecting light between their faces, sending shafts of light in particular directions.

And here’s a 22-degree halo seen from Annapurna Base Camp. I’d love to see something like this:

Wikipedia‘s explanation:

Among the best-known halos is the 22° halo, often just called “halo”, which appears as a large ring around the Sun or Moon with a radius of about 22° (roughly the width of an outstretched hand at arm’s length).

But what’s really amazing is this from EarthSky (my emphasis):

These clouds contain millions of tiny ice crystals. The halos you see are caused by both refraction, or splitting of light, and also by reflection, or glints of light from these ice crystals. The crystals have to be oriented and positioned just so with respect to your eye, in order for the halo to appear.

That’s why, like rainbows, halos around the sun – or moon – are personal. Everyone sees their own particular halo, made by their own particular ice crystals, which are different from the ice crystals making the halo of the person standing next to you.

Here’s a longer video of the event at the top, courtesy of reader Vera:

Readers’ wildlife photos

October 17, 2017 • 8:00 am

We have a two-part post today. The first is not about wildlife, but about Hurricane Ophelia that is besieging the west coast of Ireland. Its effects are being felt all over the UK, though. Matthew reported that the skies in Manchester were dark and the sun looked red.  Here’s a report from London by reader Mark Jones, whose words are indented.

I thought you might like these. Yesterday Hurricane Ophelia dragged some Saharan dust up across the UK, giving some typical London scenes an eerie orange glow. I was visiting Hampstead in N London expecting the forecasted blue skies. Everyone was discombobulated!

This is Hampstead Heath (home of a great pub, the Spaniards Inn):

The stately home is Kenwood House on the north side of Hampstead Heath, dating originally from the early 17th century.

The Hampstead street is Streatley Place.

And Stephen Barnard of Idaho sent some “funny photos”. The descriptions are his:

1. Going green. [He apparently bought a Tesla.]

2. Experimenting with fish-eye photography. Spot the net.

3. Great Blue Heron [Ardea herodias] caught a vole. Natural selection.

4. Hitch with crazy eyes, mid shake after cooling off in the creek.

5. Check out this move, ladies! Sandhill cranes [Antigone canadensis]:

More sprites, as well as blue jets and elves

October 10, 2017 • 5:31 pm

This lovely four-minute video was posted by NASA just today, and was found by reader Vera. It shows not only the red sprites described in the previous post, but also “blue jets” and “elves’. These “transient luminous events”, or TLEs, appear to be a mystery. They’re defined by as given below; they’re clearly very short electromagnetic events that are hard to study since they’re so quick:

Red sprites appear high in the atmosphere, usually 25 to 55 miles above thunderstorms, with tendril-like structures that extend downward as far as 25 miles. They usually are associated with positively charged cloud-to-ground lightning strikes.

Atmospheric researchers have discovered that sprites are common above the decaying portion of large mesoscale convective systems but are rare above supercell thunderstorms.

Sprites are thought to occur due to ionization of the upper atmosphere above terrestrial lightning strikes. When a positively charged lightning bolt strikes the ground, it leaves the top of the thunderstorm negatively charged. When enough electric potential builds up, a discharge results in the form of a red sprite.

It is possible to see red sprites with the naked eye, but special video and photography equipment, coupled with elevated observation stations, increase the likelihood of observing the beautiful scarlet flashes.

Blue jets are a visual phenomenon that propel upward from active thunderstorms. They can extend up to 12 miles from the top of the thundercloud, though they are not necessarily associated with a specific cloud-to-ground lightning strike. Atmospheric research indicates that blue jets only last one-tenth of a second, making them difficult to see with the naked eye. Scientists are still unsure as to what causes blue jets and how they form.

Elves are electromagnetic pulses generated by lightning strikes. Elves is an acronym for Emission of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations Due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources. They look like doughnut-shaped flashes that spread laterally up to 186 miles. Atmospheric research indicates the brightness of elves is closely related to the peak current in a return lightning stroke (the movement of charges from the ground to the cloud), and that elves may be the most dominant type of TLEs in the atmosphere.

Clearly there are a number of mysteries about what’s going on, even in our own atmosphere, but what fun would science be if we understood everything?

Red sprites!

October 10, 2017 • 1:00 pm

A red sprite is a type of lightning that’s produced very high in the atmosphere, and very different from “hot” lightning. I’ve never been lucky enough to see one, but here’s a photo sent by reader Hempenstein from FB. The caption was with the original photograph:

Photo by Emily Sutton:   This is incredible. Check out this rare photo by Dramatic sky photography by Paul Smith of red sprites above the line of storms Friday night, near Canton Lake. Red sprites are thought to be caused by a rare and intense type of lighting (positive lightning). KFOR-TV

Here’s what Wikipedia says about sprites:

Sprites are large-scale electrical discharges that occur high above thunderstorm clouds, or cumulonimbus, giving rise to a quite varied range of visual shapes flickering in the night sky. They are triggered by the discharges of positive lightning between an underlying thundercloud and the ground.

Sprites appear as luminous reddish-orange flashes. They often occur in clusters above the troposphere at an altitude range of 50–90 km (31–56 mi). Sporadic visual reports of sprites go back at least to 1886, but they were first photographed on July 6, 1989 by scientists from the University of Minnesota and have subsequently been captured in video recordings many thousands of times.

Sprites are sometimes inaccurately called upper-atmospheric lightning. However, sprites are cold plasma phenomena that lack the hot channel temperatures of tropospheric lightning, so they are more akin to fluorescent tube discharges than to lightning discharges.

Here’s a video of sprites in both real time and slow motion by Scott McPartland, who gives this information:

On May 16th, 2016 I captured multiple, vivid Red Sprites while filming a cluster of supercell thunderstorms off to my northeast. This alternate edit shows these sprites in realtime, and then replayed in slow motion at 1/10th the speed for easier viewing. Camera used was a Sony A7S II with a Zeiss f1.4 lens wide open. ISO of 32000/51000.


A few more photos. First, an altitudinal description showing how high these discharges take place (50-100 km) compared to “real” lightning:

And a bit more information:

Sprites are colored reddish-orange in their upper regions, with bluish hanging tendrils below, and can be preceded by a reddish halo. They last longer than normal lower stratospheric discharges, which last typically a few milliseconds, and are triggered by the discharges of positive lightning between the thundercloud and the ground. They often occur in clusters of two or more, and typically span the altitude range 50 to 90 kilometres (31 to 56 mi), with what appear to be tendrils hanging below, and branches reaching above.

Optical imaging using a 10,000 frame-per-second high speed camera shows that sprites are actually clusters of small, decameter-sized (10–100 m or 33–328 ft) balls of ionization that are launched at an altitude of about 80 km (50 mi) and then move downward at speeds of up to ten percent the speed of light, followed a few milliseconds later by a separate set of upward moving balls of ionization. Sprites may be horizontally displaced by up to 50 km (31 mi) from the location of the underlying lightning strike, with a time delay following the lightning that is typically a few milliseconds, but on rare occasions may be up to 100 milliseconds.

In order to film sprites from Earth, special conditions must be present: 150–500 km (93–311 mi) of clear view to a powerful thunderstorm with positive lightning between cloud and ground, red-sensitive recording equipment, and a black unlit sky.

This is a picture of a sprite taken from the International Space station (the sprite is the very faint red bit above the flash).

A sprite seen from the International Space Station (top right, faint red above the lightning).

And an enlargement of the above photo:

Has anybody seen one of these? Now it’s become one of the two meteorological phenomena on my bucket list, along with the Aurora Borealis.

More snow in Chicago

December 12, 2016 • 8:10 am

It snowed till late evening here last night, though we don’t have the ten inches originally predicted. There is enough, though, to cause cancellation of flights at O’Hare and Midway. And enough for students at my University to make a cool snowman (snowperson?). The mohawk hairdo is made from coffee stirrers purloined from the dining hall. I love the leafy necklace:


And here’s a mystery: footprints in ice. Can you explain this? Remember, it snowed twice in the past two days, with nearly a day’s break between.




Snow in Chicago!

December 11, 2016 • 8:00 am

The weather people report that it snowed about six inches here last night, and it’s started again. We didn’t get that much in Hyde Park, being next to Lake Michigan, but it’s still enough to beautify the campus.

Before. This is the arch that connects my building with the Anatomy Building (home of Neil Shubin and others). Incoming students are told that the three gargoyles ascending the arch represent the first three years of college (freshman, sophomore, junior), while the gargoyle at the summit are successfully graduating seniors. This was taken when the sky began getting overcast yesterday afternoon.


After: this morning. The gargoyles are cold.