Video: The science of sunsets

Pleased to join some of my meteorologist friends for a Weather Channel/Google+ Hangout on Sept. 9.

The video is now on The Weather Channel’s YouTube page, and below.

Tim Ballisty, Brad Panovich, Jacob Wycoff, Maria LaRosa, Mike Bettes, Jonathan Erdman, Tim Brice and I discussed the “The Meteorology Behind Sunsets”, including the age-old question, “why is the sky blue?”

Our Hangout On-Air was ahead of The Weather Channel’s “Sunset Day” on Sept. 19.

Also fun to share some of my favorite recent sunset photos! -mp

Amazing “superior mirage” causes homes to look like condo towers

(Adapted from my post at on June 22, 2013.)

A phenomenon sometimes seen on the waters of Puget Sound was photographed by Greg Johnson of Saturday afternoon and emailed to me.

“These are 1 and 2 story homes about 7 miles away,” he writes.

Shooting from near Hansville on the northern tip of the Kitsap Peninsula looking northeast to Mutiny Bay on Whidbey Island, Greg captured a superior mirage.


How does this happen?

Superior mirage on Whidbey Island, WA (Photo: Greg Johnson/

With a warm afternoon, light wind and a chilly body of water, a shallow layer of cool air will actually ride on top of the water with warmer air above.

This “inversion” layer of cool air actually causes a bending of light rays, just as rays of light are bent by glass when entering a large camera lens.   The light reflected by a life-size object is bent at such an angle as to be detected by a small frame or sensor in the camera.

Our eyes have lenses and work the same way.

In a superior mirage, the much more subtle bending of light by the dense cold layer of air atop the water causes objects to appear “stretched” vertically.

Last year, Greg produced this amazing daylong video which illustrates the formation and evolution of a superior mirage in the same location as Saturday’s.

As subtle air currents change the depth of the cold air layer lying atop the water, the mirage changes noticably.

Another great example of nature’s beauty (and strangeness) in the Northwest!

Three decades of urban growth and planetary change in three seconds

Dual-photo composite of changes in Seattle as seen on Time Magazine's Timelapse.

Dual-photo composite of changes in Seattle as seen on Time Magazine’s Timelapse.

(Adapted from an article I published at

We use satellite imagery every day to view weather systems from space, but when the clouds clear, many satellites scan the earth photographing the amazing diversity of live on earth.

Many of the changes to the planet take thousands or millions of years, but not where humans are active.

Time Magazine has launched Timelapse powered by Google, a searchable and navigable timelapse of Landsat imagery across the globe from 1984 to 2002.

While our typical weather satellite imagery you see on television is viewed from geosynchronous orbit at around 22,000 miles above the earth, Landsat land imaging satellites orbit from pole-to-pole many times per day at an altitude of a bit more than 400 miles — about double the orbital altitude of the International Space Station.

A straight flight of 400 miles from Seattle would put you in northern California, but Landsat’s 400-plus mile high cameras are powerful enough to see large buildings, stadiums, highways and the growth of an urban area.

How to Use Timelapse

Head to the Timelapse website at .

Under the header, you’ll see some suggestions like Dubai, the Columbia Glacier, the Amazon and Las Vegas.

Select one of these, or “Explore the World.”

Under “Explore the World,” enter in any location just as you might on any online map site (e.g. Seattle, WA).

The timelapse will load, with a time slider at the bottom and a zoom in and out feature at top left.

Have fun! – MP

HOW TO: Download your entire history on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

6611841875_e2e938198bLeaving 2012 and entering 2013 gives a good opportunity to close the book on one year, and start fresh.

It’s also a time when I start new photo albums.

Over the past few days, I also thought it high time to download and send to the archive in the cloud my entire history from Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

My history on these services go back two, three, and four years, respectively.


So, here’s how to download a .zip file with your entire Facebook history of status updates and photos.

Yes, it will serve up everything you’ve ever posted on your wall and comments by others, plus messages.

The standard archive does not include, however, comments you’ve made on others’ material.

Be aware, the .zip archive file could be pretty huge.  I’ve been on Facebook since July 2008 and the download file was about 250 megabytes.

1. From any Facebook page (so long as you’re logged in), click on the “gear” icon at the top left of the screen.


2. Then, “Account Settings” -> “Download a copy of your Facebook data.” (left)

3. You’ll need to enter your Facebook password and after a little while, you’ll see a link in the email inbox associated with your account.  Mine took about 15 minutes to arrive.

4. Download the .zip file and click to unpack into its own folder (mine was neatly named “Facebook”).

Within the unpacked file folder, select “index.html”.   You’ll then have a simplified looking home page with your Wall, your photos, your private messages, etc. from the beginning of Facebook time.


Twitter makes it even easier to download every tweet, ever.

Update: As of this writing, the feature has not been rolled out to all accounts, yet.    

1. Just like on Facebook, once signed into Twitter, click the “gear” icon at the top right of the page.

2. Select “Settings” then -> scroll down to “Your Twitter Archive.”

download_twIt too will soon be available and a link sent to the email address on record.

(Example left)

Once you’ve downloaded and extracted the archive file into a folder, you’ll once again open an “index.html” file.

Tweets are neatly organized with a monthly calendar, so if you’re like me, you don’t have to scroll through 25,000 tweets!


Instagram doesn’t allow a direct download from their website, but I used the Instaport service instead.  It worked great!

That took a little while, but once the file was delivered and the .zip file unpacked/extracted, all the photos will then reside in a folder of your choosing.

Happy archiving, and happy new year!


Spooky sunrise over Seattle (HD video)

I captured a very spooky sunrise over Seattle on Wednesday morning.

The camera is atop the KIRO 7 transmitter tower atop Queen Anne in Seattle.  Dark clouds from a brief, yet intense squall are passing to the east of the city just as day is breaking.

(To see the video in high definition, click this link or the “gear” at bottom right of the video and select 720p.)

This video was originally posted to my blog at