2020 Australian wildfires reveal significant hole in our understanding of ozone

2020 Australian wildfires reveal significant hole in our understanding of ozone

Source: NIWA – National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Smoke from the devastating Australian wildfires impacted the atmosphere in a way that’s never been seen before.

Scientists at NASA and New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) have been studying the effects from the wildfire’s smoke on our ozone. They have detected unprecedented chemical changes in the stratosphere, roughly 16-20 km above the Earth’s surface, which is where one third of our protective ozone layer resides.

The changes involved several chlorine-containing gases, which usually do not change much in this region. The main differences involved hydrogen chloride (HCl) – a gas that can be converted into a reactive form that destroys ozone. In the months following the bushfires, NASA’s Aura satellite observed that HCl levels had dropped by about half. There were also increases in chlorine monoxide (ClO).

The changes occurred gradually over a four- to five-month period after the fires, before reversing over another four months.

Study lead Dr Susan Strahan is a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the NASA Goddard Flight Center. She says that this discovery revealed an important gap in our understanding of ozone chemistry.

“We were unable to replicate what we were seeing in any models, meaning that the reactions taking place in the stratosphere on these smoke aerosols are unknown. We don’t know what they are, and we can’t calculate their effects on ozone.

“This is worrying because anything that messes with the chlorine family of gases – like HCl – has the potential to harm the ozone. Just one atom of chlorine can destroy over 100,000 ozone molecules before it is removed from the atmosphere. From the observations of elevated chlorine monoxide (ClO), we think that ozone in the mid latitudes experienced some depletion following the 2020 fires,” said Dr Strahan.

Further measurements were taken by NIWA’s Atmospheric Research Station at Lauder in Central Otago, located on New Zealand’s South Island. The station was perfectly placed to make the observations – New Zealand experienced apocalyptic orange skies and brown snow-peaked mountains as the smoke blew over the country, located some 2,000km away from the fires.

NIWA Researcher Dan Smale is based at Lauder. He says that the smoke offered a great chance to study the impact of massive wildfire events on the atmosphere.

“Nothing like this has ever been seen in the Lauder data record before. Like volcanic eruptions, mega wildfires release millions of tons of smoke particles high into the air. The Australian bushfires were the biggest and most destructive ever recorded and seem to have caused unknown reactions affecting ozone chemistry, which is both tantalising from a science point of view and worrying from an environmental point of view.”

“Our findings identify a knowledge gap in the processes that control ozone. With wildfires predicted to become more frequent and intense as the planet warms, the likelihood of ozone depletion is increased. Laboratory studies on the chemical reactivity of wildfire smoke particles are urgently needed.”

Infamously known as “Black Summer”, the 2020 Australian wildfires burnt approximately 14.3 million hectares of land, destroying 3,000 homes, and killing at least 34 people and up to 3 billion animals.

The paper is published in Geophysical Research Letters.

ESR launches interactive COVID-19 wastewater dashboard to better track the virus’s progress

Source: ESR

ESR launches interactive COVID-19 wastewater dashboard to better track the virus’s progress

ESR has launched an interactive COVID-19 wastewater dashboard to better share how COVID-19 is tracking across Aotearoa New Zealand.

The dashboard enables users to check the quantity of COVID-19 in wastewater in locations across New Zealand, compare the volumes in wastewater with reported cases, and see if levels are increasing or decreasing over time.

The dashboard’s easy-to-digest data visualisations are optimised for desktop and mobile use and can be accessed from the COVID-19 Wastewater Dashboard(external link).

(external link)

The dashboard allows users to:

  • View national trends
  • View regional trends
  • Search results using a summary or map tab
  • Compare results across different time periods

About wastewater testing results

ESR conducts testing of samples collected from locations around Aoteaora New Zealand. When there are known cases of COVID-19 in the community ESR may increase the number of tests being undertaken, or reduce the number of sites being sampled when the risk is considered to be lower.

The preferred option for wastewater sampling is called the ‘automatic composite sample’. This is where a pump automatically collects a small volume of wastewater every 15 minutes over 24 hours. These are available in some wastewater treatment plants. When composite samples are not available, ‘grab sampling’ may be used which can range from a sample taken at a single point in time, to 3 samples taken over 30 minutes, to samples collected over a day.

The frequency of sampling will vary depending on the local population, access to wastewater collection points and risk factors.

Each week the results of wastewater samples collected by the Saturday of each week are presented from throughout Aotearoa New Zealand.

2022 off to a searing start

2022 off to a searing start

Source: NIWA – National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

New Zealand’s weather is proving no exception to the record-breaking extremes occurring around the globe.

Analysis undertaken by NIWA meteorologists revealed that the first six months of 2022 have been Aotearoa New Zealand’s 2nd warmest on record.

With an average national temperature of 15˚C, the period of January – June was 1.2˚C above the long-term 1981-2010 normal, according to NIWA’s Seven Station Temperature Series that began in 1909.

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Relative to their respective monthly averages, May was the warmest month and February the coolest month.

Of the 10 warmest January-Junes on record, 5 have now occurred since 2016, with 2016 being the warmest (1.4˚C above average).

The first six months of 2021 were the 9th warmest on record, but the heat of the final half of the year made 2021 New Zealand’s warmest year on record.

Rainfall has also been a story of extremes. For Southland, southern Otago, and Stewart Island/Rakiura, abnormally dry or drought conditions developed during summer. The dryness persisted and became more widespread during autumn, resulting in MPI’s classification of a medium scale adverse event for Southland, Clutha, and Queenstown-Lakes. Abnormal autumn dryness in Waikato and South Auckland led to a medium scale adverse event classification in May.

The impact of ex-tropical cyclones and abundant moisture caused a very wet start to the year across Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne.

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What’s in store for the rest of the year?

Despite a wet and stormy start to July, temperatures for the majority of the country remain above average for the time of year. NIWA meteorologist Ben Noll said that the continued influence of La Niña on New Zealand’s climate should continue to keep temperatures on the warmer side for the remainder of 2022.

“It’s probably going to be another hot year when all is said and done. We will likely get occasional plumes of tropical moisture approaching from the north, the latter influenced by a negative Indian Ocean Dipole event. The prospect for more easterly-quarter winds could see western areas of both islands turn drier during spring, which will need to be monitored, particularly as summer approaches,” said Mr Noll.

“Later in the year, New Zealand’s coastal sea temperatures could again heat up following a record marine heatwave earlier in the year – this would see the odds for another warmer than average summer increase.”

Tonga volcano “afterglow” causes dazzling skies in Antarctica

Tonga volcano “afterglow” causes dazzling skies in Antarctica

Source: NIWA – National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Antarctica is experiencing stunning skyscapes like those recently seen in New Zealand, thanks to the afterglow effect from the Tongan volcano.

Scientists working in Antarctica have captured breath-taking photos of the skies above the icy continent, including these mesmerising shots taken by Antarctica New Zealand science technician Stuart Shaw, who is stationed at Scott Base for the winter.

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“Usually in mid-winter, Antarctica is nearly continuously dark, except for a slight ‘nautical twilight’ at around midday which means the horizon is faintly visible in good conditions. But this year, we were presented with quite a show, which had most of the station personnel grabbing jackets and running outside with their cameras to look at the awesome colours. Believe it or not, I haven’t edited these shots either, they are pretty much as we saw it. It’s incredible,” said Mr Shaw.

He was prompted to share the images after seeing a story from NIWA about unusually pink skies in New Zealand, caused by remnant aerosols in the stratosphere from January’s Tongan volcanic eruption, which made him realise that he was seeing the same effect at the bottom of the world.

NIWA forecaster Nava Fedaeff says that satellite lidar (laser radar) data shows an abundance of aerosols in the stratosphere between 15 – 24km above Antarctica, which weren’t present before the eruption.

“Stratospheric aerosols can circulate the globe for months after a volcanic eruption, scattering and bending light as the sun dips or rises below the horizon, creating a glow in the sky with hues of pink, blue, purple, and violet. These volcanic twilights are known as “afterglows”, with the colour and intensity dependent on the amount of haze and cloudiness along the path of light reaching the stratosphere,” said Ms Fedaeff.

The aerosols are mostly sulphate particles, but as this was an undersea eruption, water vapour droplets as well as sea salt are also likely to be in the mix.

“Nature never fails to put on a show in Antarctica, and it can be beautiful or destructive”, says Antarctica New Zealand’s Chief Science Advisor Jordy Hendrikx.

“These photographs capture the awe it inspires, and how connected our planet is. Antarctica is some 5000km from New Zealand, some 7000km from Tonga, but we share our skies.”

“What happens in Antarctica affects us at home, and the other way around too. Much of the science that we support aims to understand those dynamics in the atmosphere, oceans, and ecosystems, and to help better understand the connectivity between Antarctica, New Zealand, and the wider world.”

Inaugural co-directors appointed to Aotearoa’s Infectious Diseases Research Platform

Source: ESR

E ara, e ara taku toi Kahurangi
E ara, e ara taku whare makatea
Nau mai e hine!
Nau mai e tama!
Tēnei te kaupapa ka whakapiki
Tēnei te kaupapa ka whakakake

A key initiative aimed at boosting Aotearoa New Zealand’s COVID-19 response and preparing for future disease outbreaks has taken a significant step forward with the appointment of co-directors to the newly formed Infectious Disease Research Platform (IDRP).

The Platform, co-hosted by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) and the University of Otago, is to be led by Hauora Māori leader Te Pora Thompson (Ngati Hauā) and Massey University’s Distinguished Professor and expert in infectious disease epidemiology and public health, Professor Nigel French.

The development of the IDRP arose from the Government’s announcement of a $36 million research fund last year, with ESR and the University of Otago later appointed as joint hosts of the platform.

Drawing from the experiences of the past two years and expertise from around Aotearoa, the IDRP aims to strengthen the infectious disease research capability in Aotearoa, ensure our country is best prepared for emerging infectious disease threats, fulfil the aims of Pae Ora (the Government’s vision for Māori health) and links with international research.

The University of Otago’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Richard Blaikie says the IDRP will help build New Zealand’s research excellence and capability.

“The platform will engage communities and researchers through a nationwide network,” Professor Blaikie explains.

“We are excited to be able to appoint high calibre co-directors in both Te Pora and Nigel to lead the way in development of the platform which will help ensure Aotearoa is better prepared for known and emerging infectious disease threats, including future pandemics.”

Ms Thompson has a wealth of experience in local, regional and national Māori advisory positions, including previous roles as Chair of the Iwi Māori Council and as a member of the Commissioner Group for Waikato District Health Board.  She is currently one of five Maangai Maaori (voice of Māori) to Hamilton City Council for Iwi and Mana Whenua, a co-lead for research projects with national organisation Te Rau Ora and serves as hauora leadership to Waikato-Tainui.

Professor French has been working on the epidemiology, prevention and control of infectious diseases for more than 25 years and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in recognition of his leadership of research programmes that contributed to reducing the burden of infectious disease in New Zealand.  He is Chief Scientist of the New Zealand Food Safety Science and Research Centre, co-director of One Health Aotearoa and has contributed to the COVID-19 response as an epidemiologist and member of the Ministry of Health’s Technical Advisory Group.

The opportunity to lead a programme of work that builds on the experience of the past is critically important, says Ms Thompson, who found herself bridging civil defence, Iwi, local government and DHB responses during the 2020 COVID-19 outbreak.

“We have learned a lot over the past years. For severe disease outbreak, we have strengthened our relationships for greater partnerships to uplift our communities at risk and built capacity. Together, we have a much clearer view of the challenges we face immediately and in the future so that the wellbeing of our people remains paramount.”

Professor French agrees, describing the platform as “the best opportunity available to make the greatest difference in an area that has impacted us all”.

“The ability to move forward in a true spirit of partnership to address inequities is very exciting.”

ESR’s General Manager Māori Impact Jymal Morgan says the platform will engage communities and researchers nationwide and will leverage its international networks in the pursuit of research excellence, equity of health outcomes, equity of opportunity and upholding Te Tiriti o Waitangi and its obligations.

“We will enable Māori knowledge, ways of working and frameworks, consistent with Māori aspirations and New Zealand Health Strategies and Action Plans. The outcome will be that Aotearoa’s research effort is co-ordinated and well prepared to meet the challenges of future threats from infectious diseases.”

Te Pora Thompson (Ngati Hauā)

Professor Nigel French

What will be the impact of rising temperatures on child health?

Source: ESR

A team of researchers investigating the impact of rising temperatures on child health has received one of 53 grants from the Health Research Council of New Zealand. The funding is part of a $78.92 million allocation for new and innovative research into some of New Zealand’s most pressing health concerns.

The project – ‘Climate change, heat exposure and child health’ – will be led by the University of Auckland’s Dr Hakkan Lai. Health and environment senior scientist at ESR, Dr Annette Bolton, is part of the research team.

The team will be looking at the impacts of temperature increases on child health outcomes, such as the numbers of visits to A&E, as well as factors that might increase heat exposure, and the potential burden of disease caused by climate change temperature increase scenarios.

It’s already well known that exposure to hot temperatures, even in cooler climates, can lead to significant adverse health outcomes. An estimated 37% of recent heat-related deaths globally have been attributed to human-induced climate change.

The effects of climate change in New Zealand haven’t been studied in detail, but based on overseas evidence the number of heat-related deaths and illness in New Zealand children is likely to be substantial and inequitably distributed. One of the project outcomes will be to suggest policy measures to reduce the health impacts of rising temperatures on vulnerable sub-populations.

Groundbreaking drug detection service co-designed by ESR and New Zealand Police rolls out around New Zealand

Source: ESR

ESR welcomes today’s announcement that new technology allowing front-line police officers to rapidly identify illicit drugs using their mobile phone is to be rolled out across all police districts around New Zealand.

The Lumi™ Drug Scan service, which was co designed by ESR and New Zealand Police, means frontline officers can reliably get an indication as to whether an item contains methamphetamine (P), cocaine, or MDMA (ecstasy).

Using Lumi™ is as straightforward as placing a suspected illicit drug item on the handheld device, which pairs via Bluetooth to the Lumi™ App on the officer’s mobile phone. Results are generated within seconds and displayed within the Lumi™ app.

Access to the real-time results generated by Lumi™ supports frontline staff to make evidence-informed decisions when dealing with suspected illicit drugs.

Lumi™ Drug Scan is the result of a unique partnership between New Zealand Police and ESR, centred around co-design methodology. “What makes Lumi™ different is that it was designed by frontline police staff working with frontline forensic experts here in New Zealand. This partnership is unique, and means Lumi™ has simplicity and reliability in its DNA. Thanks again to all Police and ESR staff who have made this project a reality,” says ESR Forensic Research and Development Manager Dion Sheppard.

Today’s announcement of the national rollout follows an initial pilot programme that saw frontline officers in Auckland, Manawatū, and Canterbury trialling the service in 2020. When the pilot concluded in January 2021, an exhaustive evaluation phase followed, capturing insights from those officers who had used Lumi™ during the trial. Feedback from frontline staff indicated they had ‘high confidence’ in Lumi™, and the ESR team behind Lumi™ has taken this feedback into account to refine further.

Dion says Lumi™’s speed and sensitivity has applications beyond frontline law enforcement, where real-time results can support decision making for others including frontline medical settings. At its core, Lumi™ has been developed to enhance the safety of the public as well as officers on the frontline, achieved though the rapidness of Lumi™’s results as well as its capability to scan through plastic.

Behind the scenes, Lumi™ harnesses unique algorithms that are trained to ‘recognise’ features of interest from infrared signature in drugs. These algorithms have been developed by ESR’s data scientists from an extensive library of data that comprises over 500,000 scans of illicit drugs, analysed in ESR’s forensic laboratories.

“At over 95 per cent accuracy at the forensic testing level, Lumi™ is very effective. It’s part of the suite of complementary tools and techniques that ESR’s scientists have refined, which mean when police find larger quantities of suspected drugs, they can send the substance to ESR’s forensic chemistry laboratory for comprehensive evidential analysis,” says Dion.

The insights and data obtained from each sample scanned by frontline staff is also captured in one of the key distinguishing features of Lumi™ Drug Scan – the Lumi™ Analytics Dashboard. This gives unprecedented and near-real time information to law enforcement leaders about drug use at macro and local levels, helping ensure resources can be directed to where they are needed.

Further development of the Lumi™ Drug Scan service is underway to increase the detection capabilities of Lumi™ to include other controlled substances, ensuring it can continue to respond to the frontline needs of police.

Notes to editors

ESR expert on discovery of microplastics in Antarctic snow

Source: ESR

ESR Senior Scientist Dr Olga Pantos gives expert reaction to research showing the presence of microplastics in fresh Antarctic snow(external link).

“Microplastics are being found in every environment, every ecosystem, and every species so far tested. This includes in some of the most remote and uninhabited places on earth. So this study, sadly, confirms what we expected.

“It really is impossible for any organism to now avoid the impacts of human activity, similar to the way that all environments and organisms are impacted by human-driven climate change. Plastic pollution (of all sizes) not only is an impact on the scale of climate change, but also is intimately entwined with it – from the extraction of fossil fuels for plastic production to the recently-identified role atmospheric microplastic particles play in the reflection and trapping of heat.

“While research around the impacts of nano- and microplastics is still in its infancy, they are being seen to affect organisms and ecosystems in a variety of ways. It is therefore of concern that yet another remote ecosystem is exposed to more impacts resulting from human activity.

“Until some significant steps are taken to reduce the use and management of plastics, the levels of plastic pollution in the environment is going to continue to rise, and the levels of nano- and microplastics will continue to rise for a significant period, as all the plastic already out there continues to fragment, but doesn’t really go away completely.

“This highlights the need for the UN’s global treaty to ban plastic pollution. Treaties, policies, and regulations each take time, but we can all do a lot of things today that change and reduce the pressure of plastic pollution upon the environment – of which we are a part,” says Olga.

Olga has been on several research expeditions seeking to understand the prevalence of microplastic pollution in Aotearoa coastal waters:

CALDERA workshop call – 23/06/2022

Source: GNS Science

Caldera volcanoes produce Earth’s largest explosive eruptions, experience earthquakes, host mineral and geothermal resources, and support a largely unexplored biosphere. The volcanic, tectonic, hydrologic and biologic processes in calderas are intimately connected, yet poorly understood, and require subsurface observations.

The project “Connections Among Life, geo-Dynamics and Eruptions in a Rifting Arc caldera (CALDERA)” aims to obtain drill cores, downhole measurements and monitoring data from the Okataina Volcanic Centre (OVC), one of two giant active calderas in the Taupō Volcanic Zone, Aotearoa New Zealand. Members of the international scientific community are invited to attend a scientific drilling workshop in Tauranga, New Zealand, on January 24-27th 2023 in preparation for a future Full ICDP Drilling Proposal.

The CALDERA workshop call is online on the ICDP website here. Application deadline is 17th August to caldera.drill@gns.cri.nz.

The Workshop will directly precede the IAVCEI Scientific Assembly at nearby Rotorua.

Matariki viewing prospects

Matariki viewing prospects

Source: NIWA – National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research

Matariki hunga nui

The many people of Matariki.

This whakataukī speaks to how Matariki calls people to gather together to remember and honour those we have lost since the last rising of Matariki.

NIWA meteorologists say people living in the lower North Island and eastern South Island are likely to get the best views of the Matariki star cluster during the upcoming weekend.

The early morning mid-winter appearance of Matariki, also known as Pleiades, heralds the start of the Māori New Year.

Cloud cover allowing, Matariki comes into view shortly before sunrise as a small pulsating collection of stars just above the north eastern horizon.

The NIWA weather team have prepared forecasts for early morning cloud cover later this week so whānau around the country can plan their best chances of seeing Matariki rise.

Forecaster Nava Fedaeff says conditions vary around Aotearoa New Zealand but the best viewing looks to be in “the lower North Island and eastern South Island, especially on Friday and Saturday mornings”.

“On Sunday morning, more widespread cloud cover will make Matariki viewing difficult across most of Aotearoa New Zealand.”

Regional forecasts are available at Matariki Viewing Conditions and will be updated daily.

NIWA’s Bream Bay live weather camera will also be pointing in the direction of Matariki for the next nine days, hoping to capture its early morning rising. 

Mānawatia a Matariki.

2022 Matariki Weekend Forecast

Upper North Island (including Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Coromandel Peninsula)

  • Friday: Scattered clear breaks possible prior to sunrise. Increasing cloud cover with a chance for isolated showers by late afternoon. Maximum temperature in the mid-teens.
  • Saturday: Isolated clear breaks possible prior to sunrise. Becoming mostly cloudy with a chance for scattered showers in the afternoon. Maximum temperature in the mid-teens.
  • Sunday: Mostly cloudy to overcast with showers and isolated thunderstorms possible. Maximum temperature in the mid-teens.

East Coast (including Gisborne, Napier, Wairarapa)

  • Friday: Partly to mostly clear skies prior to sunrise. Chilly, with morning temperatures in the lower single numbers. Partly cloudy thereafter. Maximum temperature 11-13 degrees.
  • Saturday: Clear breaks possible prior to sunrise. Chilly, with morning temperatures in the lower single numbers. Increasing cloud cover with an isolated shower possible late in the day. Maximum temperature in the mid-teens.
  • Sunday: Mostly cloudy to overcast with isolated showers possible. Maximum temperature in the mid-teens.

Western North Island (including New Plymouth, Whanganui)

  • Friday: Partly to mostly clear skies prior to sunrise. Partly cloudy thereafter. Maximum temperature 12-13 degrees.
  • Saturday: Isolated clear breaks possible prior to sunrise. Increasing cloud cover with showers possible in the afternoon. Maximum temperature 13-14 degrees.
  • Sunday: Mostly cloudy to overcast with rain and isolated thunderstorms developing. Maximum temperature in the mid-teens.

Lower North Island (including Wellington)

  • Friday: Mostly clear skies prior to sunrise. Chilly, with morning temperatures near zero degrees. Mostly sunny thereafter. Maximum temperature in the lower double digits.
  • Saturday: Isolated clear breaks possible prior to sunrise. Increasing cloud cover with isolated showers developing late in the day. Gusty in the afternoon. Maximum temperature 12-13 degrees.
  • Sunday: Mostly cloudy to overcast with showers and isolated thunderstorms developing. Maximum temperature 12-13 degrees.

Upper South Island (including Nelson, Blenheim)

  • Friday: Partly to mostly cloudy skies prior to sunrise. Chilly, with morning temperatures in the lower single numbers. Increasing cloud with isolated afternoon showers possible. Maximum temperature in the lower double digits.
  • Saturday: Overcast with showers or rain. Gusty winds possible. Maximum temperature 12-13 degrees.
  • Sunday: Overcast with showers or rain and an isolated thunderstorm possible. Maximum temperature in the mid-teens.

Eastern South Island (including Christchurch, Timaru)

  • Friday: Mostly clear skies prior to sunrise. Cold, with morning temperatures below zero. Increasing cloud in the afternoon. Maximum temperature in the lower double digits.
  • Saturday: Mostly cloudy with an isolated shower possible before sunrise. Thereafter mostly cloudy to overcast. Maximum temperature in the lower double digits.
  • Sunday: Mostly cloudy to overcast with showers possible. Maximum temperature in the early teens.

Lower South Island (including Dunedin, Invercargill)

  • Friday: Mostly clear skies prior to sunrise. Cold, with temperatures below zero. Increasing cloud in the afternoon. Maximum temperature near 10 degrees.
  • Saturday: Mostly cloudy. Maximum temperature in the upper single numbers.
  • Sunday: Chance for early morning showers or rain, with increasing sunshine in the afternoon. Maximum temperature near 10 degrees.

Lakes Region (including Queenstown, Wanaka)

  • Friday: Partly clear skies prior to sunrise. Cold, with temperatures below zero. Increasing cloud in the afternoon. Maximum temperature in the upper single numbers.
  • Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a chance for isolated showers. Maximum temperature near 10 degrees.
  • Sunday: Chance for early morning showers or rain, with increasing sunshine in the afternoon. Maximum temperature in the upper single numbers.

West Coast (including Greymouth, Hokitika)

  • Friday: Mostly cloudy to overcast skies prior to sunrise. Morning showers becoming afternoon rain. Maximum temperature in the lower double digits.
  • Saturday: Cloudy with rain likely. Rain may be heavy at times. Gusty winds possible. Maximum temperature 11-12 degrees.
  • Sunday: Morning rain possible, tapering to showers in the afternoon. Maximum temperature 12-13 degrees.