Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mystery deepens: Radar captures mysterious turbulence over Beebe, Ark. as doomed birds take flight

By: Mark Johnson

CLEVELAND - They looked like newly developing thunderstorms, but they were not. Storms were well east of the Little Rock, Arkansas radar when the mysterious anomalies began to appear. Four times between 9pm, December 31st and 1am on January 1, these circular radar echoes popped up on NEXRAD Doppler radar, expanding outward and then fading away. All in about 15 to 20 minutes. What's more, each time, these anomalies developed in the exact same spot: over Beebe, Arkansas.

At about 11:30pm, on New Years Eve, thousands of red-winged blackbirds began falling from the sky over Beebe. Beebe is located just under 30 miles form the Little Rock radar sight. That's close enough for any high-powered doppler radar to detect plumes of smoke, large colonies of insects...and large flocks of birds. In fact, its very common to see birds and insects taking flight on radar. it shows up as a large circular echo that gradually expands outward before disappearing a few minutes later.

If you talk to residents of Beebe, Arkansas, they'll tell you millions of birds fly over the area and roost nearby during this time of year. Its a popular bird route north and southward between the Ozark Plateau and the Mississippi River to the east.

The first radar image here shows the mysterious circular echo developing at 10:26pm, December 31st right over Beebe. Note the brighter colors in the center of the echo. That's a large concentration of...something...rising into the air. A few scans later, the echo fades, only to appear again just after midnight in the same spot.

Was it birds? No large fires were reported in Beebe from 9pm through 1am that night. So we can rule out the smoke theory. The fireworks theory may have spooked the birds, but fireworks would be too small to show up on radar. Besides, there were not 4 separate fireworks shows in the same location lasting 20 minutes each in Beebe, Arkansas on New Years Eve.

We are reasonably certain that these strange radar "plumes" are birds. So, what made them fall from the sky? The first reports of dead birds came in to Beebe authorities right around 11:30pm on New Years Eve. The first bird flights that appeared on radar took place just after 9pm. No bird deaths from those first take-offs.

Our first clue may be found on on the second image posted here. This is an image of "spectrum width" or "turbulence" taken at 10:21 pm on December 31, 2010. Spectrum width is a measure of the differences in object speeds within each pixel on the radar. In other words, as birds dart back and forth in different directions from each other, radar would show a high Spectrum Width in that area. In the second 3D doppler image, the orange and red areas are areas where the birds are taking flight in the air, moving at variables speeds, and directions near each other. Black birds don't like to fly very high. The flying flock is located below 2,500 hundred feet in the image. But, now notice the orange bullseye of turbulence just above the main flock between about 7,000 and 12,000 feet. this is the only image that contains this "plume" so high up in the atmosphere.

CONCLUSION: Remember, red-winged blackbirds have poor eyesight. They don't fly at night. If the birds were startled by loud noises, such as celebratory New Years Eve fireworks in Beebe, they would have left their earthly roost to take flight. What if some of the birds became disoriented from stress and darkness and actually flew straight up, high in the sky as our turbulence image suggests? Those birds may have literally "passed out" due to lower oxygen levels and then fell to the ground. Just after this spectrum width image appeared on radar, residents began seeing birds fall from the sky. Hmmm...

What do you think? Leave me you comments below.

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