WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Out of this World Weather

Posted January 16, 2006

Specifically, a little tidbit about the weather on Mars, as observed by the Mars Exploration Rovers "Spirit" and "Opportunity," celebrating two earth-years of operation there this month. They were designed to operate for at least 90 Martian "sols," each of which is about 38 minutes longer than an earth day, so there is a lot to celebrate in the fact that these robot geologists are still exploring so long after they landed. I recently finished reading a very good book on the subject called "Roving Mars," kind of a combined project history/personal memoir by the Principal Investigator for the mission. The book ended in late 2004, so I was compelled after completing it to do a little checking via the web to see how the rovers had done since then, and if they were still "alive." Not only were they still in operation, but there were many fascinating images and mission reports available, and, for a weather guy, the piece de resistance, an animation showing 4 dust devils running through "Spirit's" field of view across the plains within Gusev crater. Click here to watch - you have to observe carefully to see all 4 whirlwinds! Lots more information about the missions, along with some very nice photo galleries and animations, is available from NASA and from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.

On a more terrestrial note, today's extended discussion from the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center makes mention of an interesting blip in the models later this week (roughly late Thursday into Saturday) involving low pressures and a possible warm-core circulation in the Carribean, drifting west across the northern Leeward Islands and into the vicinity of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. Models are in poor agreement, and this may turn into nothing. The strongest signal seems to come from the Canadian Global Model, and you can make out the feature in these two panels valid Friday Evening and Saturday Evening - it will be interesting to see if this fizzles, or if yet another off-season tropical cyclone might be in the making!

Finally, on a more local note, after a weekend of "normal" temperatures for this time of year, we're slipping right back into a mild pattern, and will have to watch again for the potential for brief heavy showers and possibly intense thunderstorms Tuesday night into early Wednesday with the passage of a fast moving cold front. Models indicate a rapid drop to "snow supporting" temperatures in the wake of the front, but also rapid drying aloft that will likely leave us with little but decreasing clouds and a few sprinkles Wednesday. We did manage some snow this past Saturday evening in the region, but not locally, as Kill Devil Hills, Manteo and Elizabeth City all reported a brief period of flurries around midnight into very early Sunday morning...
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