Clouds back, but only for a day

It's a good thing they're not trying to launch the Hubble repair mission today from Baltimore. We're looking at cloudy skies for the day, with a 40 percent chance for rain along the way. And there's more of the same expected this evening.

Down at Cape Canaveral, however, the forecast calls for mostly sunny skies, with a high near 89 degrees this afternoon.

The shuttle Atlantis and its crew of seven are set for blast off at 2:01 p.m. Looks like today will be the best opportunity for a clean launch of the three days in this week's launch window. Atlantis is headed for a week of repairs and upgrades to the Hubble Space Telescope (photo below).

UPDATE: Atlantis has launched on schedule and is now chasing Hubble. The repairs begin Thursday.

Tuesday's forecast at the Cape includes a 20 percent chance for afternoon showers and thunderstorms. Wednesday looks about the same.

The Hubble photo at left is the last we'll see from Hubble's workhorse Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, which will be removed and replaced on this mission with the Wide Field Camera 3. The image shows a "planetary nebula" - remnants of an exploding star - called Kohoutek 4-55. It is named for its discoverer, Czech astronomer Lubos Kohoutek, who also discovered the much ballyhooed Comet Kohoutek in 1973, which failed famously to live up to its media hype. Here's more on this final WFPC2 image from Hubble.

You can follow events at the Cape live today on NASA TV. Last time I looked, the crew was preparing to enter the shuttle. Three hours to liftoff if all goes smoothly.

Back here in Baltimore, we're looking at a 40 percent chance of rain after a beautiful weekend and the first relief in more than a week from the persistent clouds and showers that marked the start of May.

We ended up with nine straight days of rain - 3.9 inches in all, although Friday's count at BWI amounted to only a trace. Sunday was the first rainless day at BWI since April 30. Here's the box score:

May 1:  0.02 inch

May 2:  0.01 inch

May 3:  0.82 inch

May 4:  0.84 inch

May 5:  0.42 inch

May 6:  1.21 inches

May 7:  0.56 inch

May 8:  Trace

May 9:  0.02 inch

Happily, most of the week after today looks pretty pleasant, with a few intervals of rain to water the plants. After today's clouds and light showers - spillover from a low-pressure system to our south - pass by, sunshine returns for Tuesday and Wednesday, with highs in the low 70s, as high pressure returns from the north and west.

There is a 40 percent chance of rain again for Thursday as a new cold front presses in. Then, sunny skies resume behind the front on Friday and Saturday - highs again in the low 70s. Sunday brings another cold front and another chance for showers or thunderstorms.

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