Vitamin D and Sunblock

     I recently read an article in the July/August 2020 Reader’s Digest. It was written by a dermatologist who had the view that getting natural Vitamin D is more important than worrying about skin cancer. According to the author, skin cancers from solar exposure are highly treatable. This sounded counterintuitive so I decided to look into it.

     Vitamin D is essential for immune function, elevated mood, muscle and tendon health, and strong bones. However, it is not found in sufficient concentrations in many foods. Due to the lack of exposure to direct sunlight, many people still aren’t getting enough vitamin D, and that deficiency is a worldwide problem.

     The benefits of having sufficient vitamin D are numerous. Studies suggest that vitamin D may prevent certain cancers[1], it may have a role in cognitive function[2], reduce the risk of developing multiple sclerosis[3], and could treat psoriasis[4]. Insufficient vitamin D is also connected to osteoporosis and some types of cancer. Low blood levels are also linked to increased risks of dying prematurely from cardiovascular disease. About 40% of Americans are deficient with vitamin D. Rates are higher for blacks 80%, and Hispanics at 70%, due to darker skin pigmentation[5].

    Vitamin D deficiency can be caused by specific medical conditions. These include cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, weight loss surgeries, obesity, kidney and liver diseases. Some medications can cause vitamin D deficiency as well. These include laxatives, steroids (such as prednisone), cholesterol-lowering drugs, and seizure control drugs, [10].

     The best way to get enough vitamin D is from direct sunlight[6]. However, there is no clinical evidence that sunblocks inhibit vitamin D production[7]. The use of sunblocks is still recommended to prevent certain cancers. Getting 15-20 minutes of sunlight on your face, arms, back, or legs without sunscreen a few times a week is enough to generate your body’s vitamin D needs for a week[8][10] This is especially true in the winter months. There is no set standard for sufficient exposure times, but it is not necessary to get a tan.

     Diet is usually recommended by nutritionists to be the best way to obtain supplemental vitamin D. However, most foods lack sufficient amounts of vitamin D, but it may be obtained from fortified milk, fortified cereal, and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines[8]. Taken in appropriate doses, vitamin D supplements are generally considered safe. However, taking too much vitamin D can be harmful. Children age 9 years and older, adults, and pregnant and breast-feeding women who take more than 4,000 IU a day of vitamin D might experience adverse effects[8].

     There remain concerns about skin cancers, the most common form of cancer in The United States. Overexposure to sunlight should be avoided, especially when at a young age since the damage is accumulative over time. UV light from tanning beds is just as harmful. 

     Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are less serious types and makeup 95% of all skin cancers. Also referred to as non-melanoma skin cancers, they are highly curable when treated early. Melanoma, made up of abnormal skin pigment cells called melanocytes, is the most serious form of skin cancer and causes 75% of all skin cancer deaths. Left untreated, it can spread to other organs and is difficult to control[9].

     If you suspect you have a vitamin D deficiency, you can find out from your doctor or at-home test kits are available. Considering the cost of a kit ($35 – $80), the co-pay amount for a doctor’s visit, or whether you’re insured, should be taken into account. It’s up to you to verify the efficacy and laboratory standards of the manufacturer. 

      Vitamin D is key to the prevention of many illnesses, including hypertension. Sunblock still should be used during periods of high UV exposure. Exposure to direct sunlight, using sunblock, for 15-minutes, at least 3 times per week should be made to obtain enough vitamin D. This may be supplemented through diet and the judicious use of supplements. 


  1. National Cancer Institute (NIH) – Vitamin D and Cancer Prevention
  2. Soni et al, 2012, Vitamin D and Cognitive Function, Scand J Clin Lab Invest Suppl. 2012;243:79-82
  3. Multiple sclerosis: Vitamin D deficiency may predict onset – Medical News Today
  4. Association between Vitamin D deficiency and psoriasis: An exploratory study – International Journal of Health Sciences
  5. Forrest and Stulhdreher, 2011, Prevalence and Correlates of Vitamin D Deficiency in US Adults, Nutr Res.:31(1):48-54
  6. 3 Best Ways To Get Vitamin D This Winter – Medical News Bulletin,fish%20%28e.g.%20…%203%20Take%20vitamin%20D%20supplements
  7. Sun Protection and Vitamin D – Skin Cancer Foundation
  8. Vitamin D – The Mayo Clinic
  9. Sun Exposure & Skin Cancer – The Cleveland Clinic–skin-cancer
  10. Vitamin D Deficiency – The Cleveland Clinic–vitamin-d-deficiency

July 2020 Weather Summary

July was 3.8 deg F above normal for temperature. The high for the month was 95.1 deg. F recorded on July 18. The low for the month was 54.7 deg F, recorded on July 14. There were 12 days at or above 90 deg F. There were 13 heating degree days and 334 cooling degree days.

July was a below normal month for precipitation with 1.19 inches of rainfall recorded, which was 2.27 inches below normal. The maximum rainfall in a single day was 0.33 inches recorded on July 31. There were 9 days of rain >.01 in, 4 >.10 in and 0 >1 in.

High wind speed of 29 mph on July 19.

July 2020 Data

Outlook for August 2020.

My First Images of Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3)

On July 13, 2020, I assembled my equipment to see if I could get images of Comet NEOWISE (C/2020 F3). I used my sturdiest tripod, remote shutter release, DSLR camera and binoculars. I set up on my deck, behind our house, which faces to the northwest. At about 8:45 PM EDT, I started by observation session.

Conditions were a little less than ideal. The sky along the horizon looked hazy and it was still twilight. The stars were not visible, which made it hard to find the comet without any points of reference. I scanned the skies with my binoculars to try to find it. Around 9:45 PM EDT, I thought it was a bust and began to break the equipment down for the night. I thought that it had already set behind Bald Eagle Ridge. However, I decided to scan the sky one last time. That’s when I spotted NEOWISE with my binoculars. I quickly set up again, pointed the camera in the general area, at 100 mm focal length, and got the following image.

2 sec exposure, f/4.7, ISO 1600, Focal Length 103

I centered the image in the viewfinder, zoomed in to 200 mm focal length, and took several more images before the comet faded in the haze and set behind the tree. The following images were the two best results.

2 sec exposure, f/5.6, ISO 1600, Focal Length 200
2 sec exposure, f/5.6, ISO 1600, Focal Length 200

The following night, I was able to take this image.

2 sec exposure, f/5.6, ISO 1600, Focal Length 200

Comet Neowise (C/2020 F3)

Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE (Neowise, for short) is the third comet this year to be discovered by astronomers. It may become a bright, naked eye object, beginning July 11, if it survives its closest approach to The Sun. Some comets either breakup or fall into The Sun at perihelion.

Neowise has already made an appearance in the early morning hours, and some have taken photographs.

Neowise over Toronto

The comet will make its closest approach to Earth on July 23, which may make for a spectacular viewing opportunity if it holds together. Neowise will also be a bit higher in the sky on July 24 and 25.

There hasn’t been a bright comet since Hale-Bopp in 1997. However, comets are notoriously unpredictable, and this one could break up and burn out at any time. 

Here’s where you can spot the comet beginning Sunday, July 11. Online resources like TheSkyLive also offer similar night sky maps. 

June 2020 Weather Summary

June was 0.1 deg F above normal for temperature. The high for the month was 88 deg. F recorded on June 9. The low for the month was 41 deg F, recorded on June 1. There were 71 heating degree days and 168 cooling degree days.

June was an above normal month for precipitation with 4.80 inches of rainfall recorded, which was 0.94 inches above normal. The maximum rainfall in a single day was 1.56 inches recorded on June 4. There were 8 days of rain >.01 in, 7 >.10 in and 1 >1 in.

High wind speed of 32 mph on June 3.

June 2020 Data

Outlook for July 2020

Field Day 2020

Field Day 2020

The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) Field Day is the most popular on-the-air event held each year, on the fourth weekend in June, in The United States and Canada. More than 40000 radio amateurs gather to operate from remote locations. It is a time where many aspects of amateur radio come together to highlight its many roles. It is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate its emergency capabilities to organizations and the general public. Despite the development of modern communications systems, they can fail. When they do, amateur radio can provide communications support during emergencies and post-disaster situations.

This year was different due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Instead of gathering and setting up at public locations, amateur radio operators (hams) were encouraged to operate from home. In addition, one rule was waived to allow those operating on commercial power to contact other stations that were also operating on commercial power. All other rules applied. Some hams operated on power provided by batteries, generators, solar panels, or other means not using commercial power.

Hams across North America communicated using voice, morse code (carrier wave or CW), and many digital modes. They operated to make as many contacts as possible from 2 PM EDT on Saturday until 2 PM EDT on Sunday. According to the rules, those that waited until 2 PM Saturday to set up their stations were permitted to operate until 8 PM on Sunday.

As for myself, I made 28 contacts on the 20 and 40-meter bands using the digital phase shift keying 31 baud mode (PSK31). Each contact sent digitally is worth 2 points each. Since I used only 50 watts of power, I qualified for a multiplier of 2, so my score was 112 points. I also sent 10 formal radiograms (100 points), including one to the ARRL Western Pennsylvania Section Manager (another 100 points). Finally, I submitted my Field Day entry electronically (another 50 points). My preliminary total was 462 points. I made contacts in Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Ontario.

Summary of Spring 2020

Meteorological Spring is officially over. Here is a brief summary of March 1 – May 31, 2020 in Stormstown, PA:  

Number of Days Max T <= 32 F: 0  
Number of Days Min T <= 32 F: 30    
Max T: 85.9 F – May 26, 2020  
Min T: 22.1 F – March 1, 2020  

Mar Dep from Normal: 6.6 F  
Apr Dep from Normal: -3.1 F  
May Dep from Normal: -1.8 F
Heating Degree Days: 1505
Cooling Degree Days: 56

Mar Precip: 5.26″, 1.71″ above normal  
Apr Precip: 5.06″, 1.67″ above normal  
May Precip: 1.72″, 1.51″ below normal      

The outlook for Summer 2020:

May 2020 Weather Summary

May was 1.8 deg F below normal for temperature. The high for the month was 8r6 F, recorded on May 26. The low for the month was 27.2 deg F, recorded on May 9. There were 3 days at or below 32 F. There were 291 heating degree days and 54 cooling degree days.

May was a below-normal month for precipitation with 1.72 inches of rainfall recorded, which was 1.51 inches below normal. The maximum rainfall in a single day was 0.43 inches recorded on May 6. There were 11 days of rain >.01 in, 4 >.10 in and 0 > 1 in.

High wind speed of 38 mph on May 9.

May 2020 Data

Outlook for June 2020

April 2020 Weather Summary

April was 3.1 deg F below normal for temperature. The high for the month was 69.8 F, recorded on April 8. The low for the month was 24.2 deg F, recorded on April 17. There were 7 days at or below 32 F. There were 557 heating degree days and 1 cooling degree day.

April was an above-normal month for precipitation with 5.06 inches of rainfall recorded, which was 1.67 inches above normal. The maximum rainfall in a single day was 1.34 inches recorded on April 30. There were 15 days of rain >.01 in, 10 >.10 in and 1 > 1 in.

It snowed two inches on April 18, which had all but melted by the end of the following day.

High wind speed of 42 mph on April 10.

One kind reader remarked that this April seemed to be windier than usual. Here are the wind data for April during the past 5 years (2016-2020):

Year Wind Run (mi) Avg (mph) High (mph)
2016 2850 4.0 43
2017 3200 4.4 38
2018 3500 4.8 53
2019 3050 4.2 45
2020 3350 4.7 42

Wind run is the total distance of the traveled wind over a period of time.

April Wind RunBy any measure, April 2018 was the windiest during the past 5 years.

April 2020 Data

Outlook for May 2020

2020 Spring SET

Today was the 2020 Spring Simulated Emergency Test (SET) amateur radio network in western Pennsylvania. The SET is a training exercise involving the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) and the National Traffic System (NTS), a message-handling service of amateur radio.  Its primary purposes are to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in emergency preparedness and communications and to demonstrate amateur radio to the public.

My simulated position was at The Grays Woods Elementary School Emergency Shelter. However, I was actually operating from my home VHF/UHF and HF base stations. We were all sheltering in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was mainly operating on 75 meters using the Olivia digital mode.

We were sending formal formatted messages to net control. I sent three pieces of traffic containing shelter status. However, it got a bit silly at the end of the exercise. There was a message announcing the touch down of a tornado west of Pine Grove Mills in The PSU Ag fields. Then there was a voice message concerning a hungry elephant found in a closet at Juniper Village.