• Just how bad is the Texas drought? View San Antonio’s precipitation data from 1900 to 2011

    Texas Drought

    Local weather watchers have been dutifully documenting San Antonio’s temperature, precipitation, and other climate data for 140 years. If you’re curious how this year’s drought compares to past dry spells, meteorologist Robert Blaha with the National Weather Service has done you a huge favor.

    Blaha helped dig up old climate records and published monthly rainfall totals for San Antonio going back to 1871. I stumbled across this interesting piece of the city’s weather history while helping out with a story about the drought, and I made this interactive chart based on the data. (There are a few gaps in the rainfall totals in the 1800s, so the chart starts at a nice round number — the year 1900.)

    “We were able to find the records,” Blaha told me. “In the 1800s, they hand wrote (the climate data) in ink. It was in a paperback book. When I came here in 1975, they were in notebook format. In 2050, they’ll be in the format of that day.”

    Blaha said the rainfall gauge in San Antonio has changed locations over the years. In the early days it was at a co-op station and then moved to Fort Sam Houston. In 1891 it moved to a downtown office building. Somewhere along the line it was at Stinson Field. In the 1940s it moved to the San Antonio International Airport and stayed there ever since.

    All that work helps us compare this year’s drought to past dry spells. This year, we’ve received 5.6 inches of rain so far in San Antonio. That’s about half the total precipitation for the lowest year on record since 1900, when it rained 10 inches in 1917.

    In 2010 it looks like we got quite a bit of rain –37.4 inches. But click on the monthly figures for 2010 and 2011. The data show that September 2010 was our last significant taste of rain.

    In the nine months since then, we’ve barely gotten anything.

    (Photo credit: Terry Shuck on Flickr)

  • Video: Covering Hurricane Alex with no crazy media stunts

    What is it about hurricanes that prompt TV reporters to broadcast live in the wind and rain? It’s like there’s an unwritten rule that they have to make a spectacle of themselves. Wouldn’t it be nice if reporters didn’t become the center of the story, and simply show us what was going on when Hurricane Alex made landfall?

    Video Covering Hurricane Alex with no crazy media stunts John TedescoThankfully, this isn’t wishful thinking. Check out Express-News reporter Vianna Davila’s video showing the impact of Hurricane Alex in the Rio Grande Valley. Notice how this video is a mini-documentary — Vianna is simply an observer showing us the sights and sounds of a major storm.

    I’m a big fan of these kinds of online videos, where the reporter is unobtrusively giving viewers a sense of place. For some stories, like a hurricane making landfall, the news article and the news video can compliment each other nicely.

  • Daily Diversion: Chicago lightning storms

    Flying into Chicago two weeks ago, I encountered a crazy thunder storm that stranded my plane on the tarmac of O’Hare International Airport. Turns out, more storms pounded the city the week after I left, and the light show was captured by amazing videos and photographs.

    Daily Diversion  Chicago lightning storms   John TedescoThis is a cool time lapse video of lightning hitting the three tallest buildings in Chicago. A photographer for the Chicago Tribune captured the moment of lightning striking two buildings, which sparked an online debate about whether the photo was doctored. Kelly McBride at Poynter discussed how the photo was verified by crowdsourcing.

    Long story short: Lightning is cool, kids.