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Posted at 11:34 AM ET, 05/11/2011

Our big beautiful block

The flow in the atmosphere at around 10,000 feet (or 700 mb) at 8:00 a.m. this morning (5/11/2011) (
What’s the cause of this lovely stretch of San Diego-like weather in Washington, D.C.? We can thank a atmospheric pattern known as an omega block. In this regime, a big fat “blocking” area of tranquil high pressure - currently influencing much of the East - sits between two areas of stormy low pressure. The resulting signature of such a feature on the weather map resembles the Greek letter omega, hence the name.

When a pattern or block like this sets up, if often stay in place for several days - creating a traffic jam in the atmosphere. The website Haby’s Hints explains:

The high pressure covers such a broad latitude that the west to east air flow has difficulty going around the high. The region under the omega block experiences dry weather and light wind for an extended period of time while rain and clouds are common in association with the two troughs on either side of the omega block. Omega blocks make forecasting easier since you can pinpoint areas that will be dominated by dry or rainy weather for several days.

In this particular circumstance, the D.C. metro region auspicously sits on the east side of the block where winds come from the north (as a result of the clockwise circulation from the high pressure center to the southwest). The north wind has kept it from getting too hot or humid. But on the west side of the block, there has been record heat in the Midwest due to opposite flow from the south.

Chicago set a record high of 90 yesterday, its earliest 90 degree reading in 31 years. On Monday, many heat records were set in Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Iowa. Wichita had its earliest 100 degree reading on record.

Satellite image of storm over the Atlantic ocean yesterday evening. (NASA)
The eastern half of the nation is fortunate to sit near or under the block. But to the west towards the western Great Plains (under the threat of severe thunderstorms) and Rockies and to the east over the Atlantic ocean, it’s been persisently stormy. The satellite image above from yesterday evening shows the beautiful structure of the storm downstream of the block over the Atlantic.

By  |  11:34 AM ET, 05/11/2011

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