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Question: I'm 13 years old and I'm petrified of tornadoes or any kind of storm or severe weather. Do you think we will get anything like that today? — Ashley

Answer: The pattern we've been in for a couple of days and will somewhat persist today is one that is not at all favorable for tornadoes, and only presents a slight chance for severe thunderstorms. There has been enough moisture and instability, however, for a few of the storms that form to produce brief rounds of very heavy rain and some small hail, and the heavy precipitation can also create strong drag-induced wind gusts. Most of these have been and will remain below severe levels, but some fairly isolated severe gusts (58 mph or higher) are still not entirely out of the question. It's a good idea as always with any thunderstorm to seek shelter indoors, where there's a very high chance you'll be just fine.
Sep. 5, 2014 | Tags: severe weather, thunderstorms, weather & health

Question: Is there suppose to be some type of lunar event tonight? On Facebook ,someone posted a once in a life time event was to occur . Something about Mars and the moon looking like they were side by side. — Charles Lett

Answer: We're past the date that you wrote in, but during the intervening time the only view of interest regarding the moon and Mars in our skies was a nice triangle pattern that the moon, Mars and Saturn made in the evening sky over the Labor Day weekend. However, we suspect you are referring to an old e-mail hoax about the appearance of Mars and the moon that has started floating around Facebook from time to time in August. The post gives the idea that the two of them will appear about the same size in the sky, which is simply an impossible situation. For more background on the hoax, and the corresponding reality, see these two blog posts -- www.wral.com/mars-will-not-be-as-big-as-the-moon/13921252/ and earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/double-moon-on-august-27.
Sep. 4, 2014 | Tags: astronomy, folklore

Question: My wife and I saw a very unusual light in the sky at about 5am (8/28/14). It was as small as a star to begin with and then grew larger within seconds. It grew to about the size of the sun and then disappeared into a cloud of what appeared to be smoke. Then all of a sudden, it happened again slightly below it but was behind trees that were located in our yard. They looked like they were very far away as if they were stars but were very bright and like they were closer than they were. I thought maybe it was a meteor but it wasn't streaming across they sky. Any explanation? — David

Answer: Yes, indeed. At 30 seconds past 5 AM that morning NASA launched a "Black Brant" sounding rocket from Wallops Island, VA. In addition to a couple of other purposes, the rocket was used to release some tracer materials (depending on time, altitude and purpose, some combination of one or more of trimethyl aluminum, lithium and/or barium) into the ionosphere. These are used periodically to study the motions at those very high altitude caused by winds and also by magnetic field influences on charged particles. You likely saw the flame of the rocket engine (the "star" part of your description) and then the expanding vapor clouds, prior to their dissipation. As you noted, the rocket did perform two separate tracer releases. There are some nice photos of the launch itself, and of the tracer clouds, posted by launch personnel, and by others in comment sections, at the Wallops Flight Facility's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/NASAWFF).

You can read more about the purpose for sounding rocket missions at www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sounding-rockets/tracers/#.VAXHoFcXNA5, and more about the tracer materials used at www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/sounding-rockets/tracers/chemicals.html#.VAXLsVcXNA4.
Sep. 3, 2014 | Tags: astronomy, atmospheric optics

Question: I saw a movie many years ago about a fictional outbreak of Tornadoes here in the USA. I can't remember the name, but I think I recall it starred John Schneider. In that movie, they were talking about the Tornadoes traveling in the opposite direction that a typical Tornado travels and also, their wind circulation was in the opposite direction of a normal tornado. Is this purely fiction, or does this type of thing really happen. — Gary

Answer: We think you're referring to a movie called "Night of the Tornadoes," which was apparently a fictional movie based on a real event, the Grand Island, NE tornado outbreak of June 3, 1980, in which seven tornadoes occurred within a powerful complex of thunderstorms in the vicinity of Grand Island over a three-hour period. This thunderstorm complex was quite unusual in its behavior. While there are a variety of possibilities that occasionally occur, most tornadoes in the U.S tend to travel along fairly straight lines, very often from southwest toward the northeast, and about 99 out of 100 have counterclockwise rotating winds, called "cyclonic" in the northern hemisphere. In the Grand Island outbreak, however, several tornadoes moved toward the west, northwest or southwest at times, a couple made sharp turns and one even made several loops along its path. In addition, of the seven tornadoes that evening, three were "anticyclonic" with winds that circled clockwise around the center. You can read a summary of this outbreak and see some tornado track maps and radar images at www.crh.noaa.gov/gid/?n=gi1980tornado. In this case, what sounds like a potentially far-fetched movie premise turns out to be based on a real-life storm outbreak that was "stranger than fiction."

Sep. 2, 2014 | Tags: cool sites, past weather, tornadoes

Question: What were the dates of the 2014 ice storms in Raleigh? — Margaret Brake

Answer: While there were several brushes with wintry weather during the first three months of 2014, the two events that produced notable glaze icing over parts of the Triangle occurred on February 12-13, with anywhere from about 1 to 3 tenths of an inch of ice reported, and then again on March 6-7, when areas from around Raleigh south and east received very little freezing rain, but parts of Durham and Orange counties got as much as one to three quarters of an inch, causing considerable damage to trees and power lines. You can find links to accumulation maps for these storms at www.erh.noaa.gov/rah/events/.
Sep. 1, 2014 | Tags: cool sites, past weather, winter weather

Question: What is the sunrise and sunset for today? — Kaitlyn Linzel

Answer: We're in a period now where the change in sunrise and sunset from day to day is approaching one of the two maxima of the year (the change is most rapid near the equinoxes). On our web page, you can find the sunsrise and sunset numbers for Raleigh both on our "Almanac" page, and also in the main forecast section. When you mouse over any time period there, you'll see the sunrise time on the "daytime" section for each day, while changing to the "overnight" tab will show the sunset time for that evening. In addition, on our Almanac page you will see a link labeled "U.S. Naval Observatory’s Sun and Moon Data" where you can obtain sunrise/sunset/moonrise/moonset/lunar phase data for any location and any date, should you need it for planning purposes or for reference regarding dates in the past.

Aug. 31, 2014 | Tags: astronomy, cool sites

Question: Does the Farmers Almanac have any science behind it? — David Copperwheat

Answer: It doesn't appear so, as they have not described the methods involved beyond what is written at farmersalmanac.com/farmers-almanac-forecasts/, which boils down to saying there is a secret formula developed in 1818 that only one person knows the details of. Several groups through the years have undertaken efforts to verify the accuracy of the forecasts, which can be difficult due to the lack of detail and the large geographic areas referenced by the outlooks, and generally found the forecasts verify about the same as if they were randomly generated, or based on typical variations around seasonal averages.

Aug. 30, 2014 | Tags: cool sites, folklore

Question: A quick question for your from a long-time fan and NC severe weather 'enthusiast'. Looking back at past tornado outbreaks in NC, I came across March 29, 1991. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find much if any information on the tornadoes that occurred that day. Nonetheless, searching on the tornado history project (THP) website, there are a number of tornadoes across the state, including 2 fairly long track F2s near the western part of WRAL viewing area. Now the really interesting part . . . When I was searching for info on the storms, I found a clip (youtu.be/v6VPW3ir5f0) from the WRAL News from that very evening (3/29/91) that featured your weather report. Although THP data reads that the two F2s hit around 2PM, there was no mention of the activity on your evening forecast/discussion! Were you unaware that the tornadoes had occurred, or am I off on dates/times, or something else? Would love to hear what you think! Thanks! — James Hathorn

Answer: Your date is indeed correct and there were ten tornadoes reported in NC that day, including the two F2 twisters you noted just west of the Triangle. One of those originated near Farmer in southwest Randolph County and ended up damaging or detroying some 68 homes in Asheboro and doing $600,000 damage. Luckily no deaths or injuries were reported. This tornado covered a 28 mile path, while another F2 twister that formed over Chatham County near Siler City and covered about a six mile path that extended a bit into Orange County, damaging 35 homes and destroying four mobile homes along the way, again with no deaths or injuries, but about $250,000 damage. An early evening F1 tornado later that day that moved through parts of Lenoir and Jones counties did result in a reported 33 injuries. A good place to look up some of these details is the National Climatic Data Center's "Storm Events Database" at www.ncdc.noaa.gov/stormevents/. The clips of the newscast you linked to were from the 11PM news, and it seems likely the information about the tornadoes was covered in some detail during parts of the newscast that were not included, and that's probably the the reason they weren't mentioned specifically in the weathercast that came later. Thanks for the "throwback" link!
Aug. 29, 2014 | Tags: cool sites, past weather, tornadoes

Question: Do Arizona's monsoon storms produce tornadoes, and when was the last time a tornado occurred in Yuma? — Chris Filiano

Answer: The monsoon in Arizona is a time of a general south to southeasterly low-level wind flow that occurs during the summer months, bringing relatively moist low to mid-level air into the region and helping to fuel occasional strong or severe thunderstorms, with almost all severe storm reports in the Yuma region tending to occur in the months of July to September. However, the broader environment that these storms form in usually lack the kind of vertical wind shear that supports the development of rotating storms that spawn tornadoes, so they are very rare there. In checking records for tornadic activity in Yuma County, for example, we found just eight reported since 1950 (compared to 35 in Wake County, which is less than 1/6 the area of Yuma). The most recent occurred on August 10, 2006, and was an F0 tornado with a path length of 10 miles and a width of approximately 50 yards, with no damage or injuries reported.
Aug. 28, 2014 | Tags: past weather, tornadoes

Question: You recently showed the view at the airport with the bright sky in the background, but the icon still showed rain and you explained the time delay was responsible. However, in Southern Pines that day, there was a brief, isolated rain shower around 5 p.m. when the sun was getting low. For a time, it was raining and at the same time the sun was shining and casting shadows on the ground as the drops fell. This happens often in the Sandhills area I've noticed. We've always called it a sunshower. Is there a technical term for this? It's also an old wives' tale that the devil is beating his wife. — Ann Hopkins

Answer: There really isn't any special technical word or phrase for this, as it is just a form of rain or a rain shower. However, the "sunshower" term you mentioned is pretty well known as an informal way to refer to such an event, and we've heard of the "Devil beating his wife" reference as well, although we've been unable to turn up where that idea may have originated. While precipitation with some direct sun can occur under a variety of circumstances, it's most common with scattered, fairly small convective cells that quickly grow and dissipate in unstable airmasses, allowing for gaps between the clouds. In addition, if the clouds have fairly high bases and there is some wind shear between the cloud and the ground, it can be raining at the surface with blue sky directly overhead. Finally, these situations can be good for seeing rainbows, provided the sun is low enough in the sky.
Aug. 27, 2014 | Tags: atmospheric optics, clouds, folklore, rain

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