Friday, January 6, 2012

The Epiphany Sunrise

One of several red sky photos in Maryland on 1/6/2012 as posted
by readers and forecasters in the Central Maryland Foot's Forecast page.
11:30 AM EST 1/6/12 | Now THAT was a sunrise! | Our Maryland Team could not let this one get away. A rainbow-like mosaic of colors graced the early morning sky over Central Maryland on this Day of Epiphany. 

After our first post at 7:30 AM, we did some fact checking on this holiday recognized by some religions, as well as a deeper scientific investigation of the red sky phenomenon.  It turns out that in the original Greek, "Ephipany" means "striking appearance" or "illuminating discovery" of the "essential nature of something." The historical origins of this Earth-Sun dance in the atmosphere may have begun with whom some call "the first forecaster" as recorded 2,000 years ago in the Bible. Details in this brief article by the Online Lbrary of Congress.
From a scientific perspective, this event is one example of how seemingly disparate natural factors can align to create a thing of beauty. 

Refraction of the sun's light, influenced by curvature of the Earth, particulates present in the troposphere at the time, and boundary layer winds, can produce an unusual red sky at morning or the more well-known red sky at night (NOAA links) 

So should sailors (and the rest of us) "take warning" ? A sky such as this should suggest storm weather ahead, correct? Not always so. Advisor and Meteorologist Mike Mogil of How The Weatherworks explored the science of this phenomenon earlier in an article when influence from Tropical Storm Lee on south Florida's weather gave rise to the noticeable "red sky" on a different occasion but under similar west wind conditions.  

"Typically, in a tropical easterly wind regime, the expression would portend nice weather (clouds and rain moving off to the west).  But, thanks to Tropical Storm Lee’s circulation, we are really embedded in a more middle-latitude, west wind pattern.  So, “red sky in the morning, sailor (and others) take warning,” is our watchword."

In Maryland and across much of the Eastern United States, a westerly wind regime is observed today courtesy of return flow on backside of the high pressure system as noted on this NOAA Surface Analysis map.  A warm front is also edging across the I-95 corridor. As noted by the hourly observations record at Baltimore-Washington Airport, it is possible the combination of early morning west-southwest winds at the surface and residual moisture enhanced by passage of an upper level shortwave gave rise to the storm-free red sky. After all, the next hint of storminess for this region may not come until the middle of next week. 

So on this Happy Friday, we thought it was essential to share this moment when nature is her most beautiful, and the science behind it most intriguing. Enjoy, and feel welcome post your captures of the Epiphany Sunrise, or any other sunrise you have relished, in our comment section for all to see. Enjoy! 

(First posted at 7:30 AM, updated 11:30 AM. Contributors: Advisors Mr. Foot, Mr. Mogil, Mr. Lear and Lead Forecaster Connor M. ) 

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