Orbit: Episode Two

    The second instalment of the series follows the Earth's journey from the start of January to the Spring Equinox in March. Available on iplayer. What did you think?

    Kate begins the film on a day with a very significant point in our Earth's journey - Perihelion. Kate climbs Aonach Mor mountain, one of the highest mountains in Scotland, which brings her as close to the Sun as she'll ever be for the entire year.

    This however is not because of where she is but because of the point the Earth has reached in its orbit around the Sun. In fact we kick started our blog on this day just over a year ago, when we explored the elliptical shape of our planet's orbit and how significant this was to our understanding of Earth's climate.

    Later in the film Helen explains how the proximity of the Earth to the Sun doesn't guarantee warmth - which brings us to the tilt of the Earth (23.4 degrees) - a theme we explore in further detail in episode three.

    Throughout this episode Kate and Helen explore the increase in solar radiation and how land and ocean respond to it.

    Kate drives over a frozen lake in Canada with an ice road trucker in one of the coldest places in that region and learns how important this ice formation is to connecting communities.

    In this film we also tackle ice ages and how over time, as Earth has repeated it's annual journey, it's climate has changed.

    Helen dives under water in Belize to discover how sea levels have risen and fallen over time due to ice age - and explores the three cycles that need to be right in order for another ice age to exist.

    What did you think of episode two?

    (There are a total of three episodes in this series)

    Day 339: UK severe weather

    Distance travelled ~ 871'482'400 km

    Following the news that this Autumn was the 2nd warmest on record, last week saw a return to more normal conditions for the time of year.

    It was a very windy, rainy week with heavy rain and gales every day somewhere in the UK. Tuesday saw gusts of up to 76 knots and 65mm of rain in 24 hours in Glasgow, causing major flooding and the closure of some roads. There were also reports of tornadoes in Stockport. On Wednesday the wind and rain continued with a gust of 97 knots recorded in Cairngorm and surface water flooding in Cornwall.

    Temperatures were closer to normal than of late, dipping to a low of - 5.4  °C at Altnahara on Friday night. Showers turned wintry on higher ground throughout the week in Scotland, and parts of Northern England and Northern Ireland. On Sunday, several inches of snow fell on higher routes in Scotland, and there was a covering of snow as far south as Edinburgh.

    Day 332 Severe weather watch: deep depressions

    Distance travelled ~ 853'365'600 km

    UK and World weather report:

    The UK's recent quiet weather took a dramatic turn last week as fog gave way to gales and heavy rain. The foggy start to the week, with visibility down to below 50m in places in the south and east on Monday and Tuesday.

    Despite a colder night on Tuesday, with a minimum of - 2.3 °C and widespread ground frost across England and Wales, temperatures remained a little above normal throughout the week, with a high of 15.9 °C at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire on Saturday.

    On Thursday, a rapidly deepening area of low pressure moved past the north west of the UK, bringing severe gales over the far north west as well as persistent and increasingly heavy rain that continued into Friday and over the weekend.

    storm force winds thurso, scotland

    Storm force winds hit Scotland over the weekend. Image captured by Debbie Bozkurt Sunday 27 November

    Cassley in Sutherland recorded 66.6mm of rain in 12 hours, gales affected northern Scotland, peaking with a gust of 90mph at Fair Isle on Sunday morning. The storms left about 400 homes without power in Orkney, caused landslides, and A cargo ship sunk after reportedly being rolled over by a wave and breaking in two in the Irish Sea.

    Elsewhere in the world, heavy rain is continuing to cause problems. In the Philippines, six people were killed in flash floods after continuous rains in the area caused local rivers to overflow. In Australia, floods have left thousands cut off in the town of Wee Waa in New South Wales. The town will only be accessible by boat and helicopter for at least a week.

    Meanwhile, Mexico is suffering its worst drought in 70 years. Due to the lack of rainfall the government has forced been to supply water to nearly 2.5 million people across eight states.

    The week ahead


    • A very unsettled week for the whole country, with several deep depressions moving in off the Atlantic.

    uk infrared satellite image


    Latest infrared satellite image of British Isles

    uk forecast rainfall


    • Periods of heavy rain, especially in the west of Scotland, could cause some flooding problems. Also windy at times, with a continued risk of gales. There is risk of snow over the higher ground of northern Britain at times.


    Across the North America:

    • A deep depression is moving eastward across Canada, bringing strong winds and snow to many areas.

    satellite image canada

    GOES-EAST/WEST infrared satellite image 14:45 UTC. Data courtesy of NOAA.

    By Tuesday, it is expected to lie over the Hudson Bay, with particularly windy conditions on its southern flank possibly affecting coastal Ontario, Manitoba and Quebec.

    • Another depression, moving northwards towards the Great Lakes from the Gulf of Mexico over the next few days, will also bring heavy rain to places in between as it passes.

    Across Africa:

    • Cooler than average conditions extending from Saudi Arabia across Sudan, Chad and perhaps even reaching northern Nigeria. Conversely, warmer than average across much of Madagascar.

    Across Asia:

    • A spell of wet weather is expected for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the northern Gulf on Monday and Tuesday. Rainfall totals of 40-60 mm are likely, with flash flooding a possibility. This is the first significant rainfall since the spring in this area. It is also unseasonably cold, both in this region and more widely across the Middle East.

    • Some rather windy conditions likely for Oman, especially coastal regions and particularly later in the week, in association with a deep depression. This is also likely to impact on coastal parts of Karnataka, Kerala and Goa in India for the next day or two.

    Across Australasia:

    • Some large temperature variations across southern Australia this week, with south western parts going from cool to warm and south eastern areas swinging from warm to cool.

    • Heavy rainfall is set to continue in Australia and Asia due to a La Nina pattern in the Pacific Ocean.

    Day 325: This week's extreme weather watch

    Distance travelled ~ 835'409'600 km

    It was another mild week across the UK, with maximum temperature reaching the mid teens every day and a high of 16.2 °C recorded at Gravesend on Thursday.

    Provisional figures show that November so far has been very mild across the UK. The UK average temperature for 1-15 November was 9.4 °C, 3.5 °C higher than the long term average.

    We would normally expect the first half of November to be warmer than the second as we transition towards winter (which, meteorologically speaking, starts in December). However, even bearing this in mind, the temperatures seen in the first half of this month have been much warmer than normal.

    Some areas did see lower temperatures overnight, leading to air and ground frost in parts, particularly in the north west. A minimum temperature of -3.6 C was recorded at Drumnadrochit, on Loch Ness, on Wednesday.

    The weekend saw extensive fog form in eastern areas. On Saturday this was very slow to clear parts of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and the East Midlands. While on Sunday areas from the Vale of York through the East Midlands to southern England saw dense patches of fog with visibility of around 50 metres in places. Fog thinned or lifted into low cloud in many places, however for parts of the Vale of York, Lincolnshire, East Anglia and the London area, it stuck around all day causing some flights to be cancelled at Heathrow Airport.

    It's been a relatively quiet week of weather for the rest of the world. In Bolivia, a rare tornado damaged parts of the city of Cochabamba on Wednesday.

    Thunderstorms moving through the region produced the tornado which reportedly damaged dozens of buildings.

    There's been heavy rain in Taiwan, with some parts of the country seeing over 400mm of rain this week.

    Heavy snowfalls affected parts of the Upper Midwest in the USA where a foot of snow fell on parts of South Dakota. A thick fog in Germany may have been a factor in a 52 vehicle pile up on the Autobahn near Muenster. Three people were killed in the crash and another 35 were injured.

    The week ahead

    The UK:

    • A gradual transition to temperatures closer to average by the end of the week, when windy conditions will dominate with heavy rain at times in the northwest of the UK.

    Across Europe:

    • Temperatures in Turkey and the eastern Mediterranean continue to be cold for the time of year, with hill snow expected at times.

    Across the Americas:


    tropical storm kenneth


    Tropical storm Kenneth is currently 500 Miles SSW of Manzanillo, Mexico, but is expected to move in a westward direction, away from land. This is the latest in the season that a tropical storm has formed in the eastern north Pacific basin since Hurricane Winnie formed on 4 December 1983.

    • The unusually cold conditions are set to continue across Alaska and NW Canada over the next few days, spreading into northern areas of the USA such as North Dakota and Minnesota. Temperatures are 10 Celsius colder than average, remaining well below zero in many places throughout the day. By Tuesday temperatures should rise to nearer normal as low pressure pushes in from the south.

    Across Australasia:

    • New Zealand's South Island may see 250 mm of rain during the early part of the week in parts of Westland and Buller.

    It's been a very strange year for the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season

    Distance travelled ~ 771'143'200 km

    (Here Dr. Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology, wunderground.com explores 2011's Atlantic Hurricane season. His previous post for 23 Degrees provided us with a detailed roundup of Maria, Nate and Katia's developments.)

    The Atlantic hurricane season of 2011 is nearing its end, with Tropical Storm Rina, near Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, likely to be one of last storms of the season. Atlantic hurricane activity peaks near September 10, and drops dramatically during the last half of October. It's been a very strange year for hurricanes in the Atlantic. There have been a near-record number of named storms--seventeen--making 2011 the 7th busiest year for tropical storms since record keeping began in 1851. However, only six of those storms--35%--have intensified to hurricane strength. In a typical year, 55 - 60% of all tropical storms make it to hurricane strength. A rare combination of near-record warm ocean temperatures but unusually dry, stable air over the Atlantic is no doubt partially responsible for this very unusual occurrence. Another unusual feature of this hurricane season is that relatively few storms hit the U.S. During the 15-year active hurricane period from 1995 - 2009, 33% of all named storms in the Atlantic hit the U.S., and 30% of all Atlantic hurricanes hit the U.S. at hurricane strength. Based on 1995 - 2009 levels of activity, the U.S. should been hit by six named storms, four of those being hurricanes, and two being intense hurricanes. So far, 2011 has seen less than half that level of landfall activity. Two tropical storms and one hurricane have hit the U.S. this year: Tropical Storm Don, which hit Texas with 50 mph winds, Tropical Storm Lee, which hit Louisiana with 60 mph winds, and Hurricane Irene, which hit North Carolina with 80 mph winds. This is the second consecutive year that the U.S. has benefited from favorable steering currents that have steered most of the storms out to sea. During 2010, only one tropical storm hit the U.S., despite a season with the 3rd highest number of named storms, nineteen. If 2011 finishes without a major Category 3 or stronger hurricane hitting the U.S.--which is likely--it will mark the first six-year period without a major hurricane strike on the U.S. since record keeping began in 1851. The last major hurricane to hit the U.S. was Category 3 Hurricane Wilma of October 2005.


    tracks of atlantic storms 2011

    Figure 1. Tracks and intensities of the seventeen named Atlantic storms of 2011

    The strongest hurricane of 2011 was Hurricane Ophelia, which peaked as a Category 4 hurricane with 140 mph winds and a central pressure of 940 mb on October 2 just northeast of Bermuda. Ophelia hit Southeast Newfoundland as a tropical storm with 70 mph winds on October 3, but caused little damage. The longest-lived storm was Hurricane Philippe, which lasted 15 days from September 24 to October 8. The most damaging was Hurricane Irene, which caused at least $7 billion in damage from North Carolina to New England. Irene was also the deadliest storm of 2011, with 55 deaths in the Caribbean and U.S. being blamed on the storm.

    hurricane irene as seen by nasa

    Figure 2. Hurricane Irene as seen by NASA's Aqua satellite at 18:15 UTC on August 24, 2011. At the time, Irene was a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds over the Turks and Caicos Islands.


    two new channels carved by hurricane irene

    Image credit Western Carolina University

    Figure 3. Hurricane Irene's storm surge and winds carved two new channels through Pea Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks. This cut, near the town of Rodanthe, is the smaller of the two cuts, and severed Highway 12 connecting the Outer Banks to the mainland.

    What do you think of this year's season?



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