Enter our Big Night Out giveaway to win gift cards to National Landing destinations

Enter our Big Night Out giveaway to win gift cards to National Landing destinations

Today may be rainy, but in general the weather is getting warmer, the cherry blossoms are in peak bloom, and it’s a great time to get out of the house.

But where to go to take in the cherry blossoms and enjoy a nice night out? There’s a strong case this year for staying right here in Arlington.

Specifically: National Landing.

Not only does National Landing have its own cherry trees that are in bloom, but in case you haven’t been paying attention to all of the changes, there is also a ton to do there.

So we decided to partner with the National Landing BID to get some cool prizes from local businesses for one lucky ARLnow reader.

The grand prize haul includes all of the following:

While you’re contemplating what food to get, shows to see, etc. with $500 in local gift cards, you can also mark your calendar for Pink in the Park, the new music-centric event hosted by Orlando Jones. It’s happening from 3-7 p.m. on Saturday, April 1 at Long Bridge Park.

Free tickets to this official National Cherry Blossom Festival Event, presented by Amazon, are available for free online.

In the meantime, use the form below to enter for a chance to win the Big Night Out prize package. Good luck!

If you’re not seeing the form above, use this link.

The drawing will take place on Friday, March 31 and the prize will be available for pickup at Pink in the Park on Saturday, April 1.

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Northern Lights make rare sighting in DC region

Northern Lights make rare sighting in DC region

A strong geomagnetic storm that could produce an aurora over parts of the country is currently underway. So what are the D.C. region’s chances of capturing a glimpse of the natural lights display?

The Northern Lights or Aurora are seen in the skies of Virginia on Thursday night.
(WTOP/Greg Redfern)

WTOP/Greg Redfern

The Northern Lights or Aurora are seen in the skies of Virginia on Thursday night.
(WTOP/Greg Redfern)

WTOP/Greg Redfern

The Northern Lights or Aurora are seen in the skies of Virginia on Thursday night.
(WTOP/Greg Redfern)

WTOP/Greg Redfern

The Northern Lights or Aurora are seen in the skies of Virginia on Thursday night.
(WTOP/Greg Redfern)

WTOP/Greg Redfern

Thursday night, Mother Nature delivered a rare sight in the skies of Virginia (and perhaps the whole D.C. region): the Northern Lights or Aurora.

Social media was posting pics from various locations around the world, including the U.S., and Virginia.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Space Weather Prediction Center issued alerts throughout the evening for ongoing G3 and G4 (Severe and highest level) Geomagnetic Storms. For the G4 Alert issued just after midnight, NOAA stated, “Aurora – Aurora may be seen as low as Alabama and northern California.”

I was able to photograph the Aurora from my backyard in Central Virginia using my iPhone Pro Max 13 in “Night Sky Mode.” I really couldn’t see the Aurora visually, but could using the iPhone.

It is possible the Aurora will be visible again Friday night, but the terrestrial weather and the D.C. area’s more southerly location isn’t very promising for clear skies .

This is the third time I have detected Aurora in Virginia over a span of 30 years – 2003, 2015, 2023. With the sun being so active during this solar cycle, we might just luck out again.

How to prepare

Our best bet is to once again monitor the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s resources and space-related social media sites, such EarthSky.org and space.com, for updates. If it appears, the aurora will be visible to adjacent northern states, it would be worth taking a look to the north from a dark sky site with a clear horizon.

You might be able to detect some color in the sky if aurora are present, but they would likely be low on the northern horizon. Wide field binoculars might help. Use a camera or smartphone that can take exposures of several seconds — including using “Night Sky” or “Low Light” settings if your camera offers them — of the northern horizon.

Aurora pictured over Virginia on Oct. 30, 2003. (WTOP/Greg Redfern)

Steady the camera, or use a tripod for best image results. If you’re lucky, the camera may capture aurora that your eyes can’t perceive.

With our terrestrial weather being such a factor in our daily lives, we are also directly affected by “space weather,” which can produce a variety of events, including Thursday’s geomagnetic storm and aurora.

Space weather, like our own terrestrial weather, is caused by Earth’s interaction with the sun. We know it will be there every new day and count on it for life-giving warmth and energy. We also have become accustomed to it being, typically, well-behaved. What many people may not know is that our sun undergoes an 11-year solar cycle that can affect space weather throughout our solar system.

Spaceweather.com has a daily snapshot of what the space weather in the solar system is going to be like, along with a current image of the sun.

Our sun is a 4.5-billion-year-old star that we have been monitoring since Galileo’s time. Today, humans have a fleet of spacecraft that monitor the sun and space weather round-the-clock.

The sun is currently in Solar Cycle 25 and is progressing toward Solar Maximum, which is predicted to occur July 2025. As the sun approaches Solar Maximum, it produces more sunspots, which in turn produce solar events like Thursday’s Level G3 geomagnetic storm.

The sun had an episode of disturbed behavior in 1859, which, if it were to occur today, could affect our technology and communications-dependent society if caught unprepared.

On Sep. 1, 1859, the sun experienced a solar eruption that was observed by English astronomer Richard Carrington and ended up bearing his name. The Carrington Event was a watershed event in solar astronomy, and also the sun’s ability to affect the Earth, as nothing like it has been seen since — and we’re lucky it hasn’t.

If a Carrington-level solar event were to happen today, the effect on modern infrastructure could be potentially catastrophic, especially the electrical grid on which we all depend. If you think this is unlikely or too sci-fi to be true, I suggest you read the report by the National Academies of Science, published in 2008.

Just recently, the sun had a very powerful space weather event on March 12, which, fortunately for us, occurred on the far side of the sun relative to Earth’s position in the solar system.

Follow my Twitter @SkyGuyinVA and daily blog to keep up with the latest news in astronomy and space exploration. You can email me at skyguyinva@gmail.com.

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After tea shop and ramen shop close, a vape shop is now coming to Cherrydale

After tea shop and ramen shop close, a vape shop is now coming to Cherrydale

“L.A. Leaf” coming to Cherrydale (staff photo)

Retail businesses have struggled to make a go of it at 3800 Langston Blvd, but another looks set to give it a try.

The condo building in Cherrydale has seen several homegrown businesses open on the ground floor and garner good reviews, only to close a few years later. Six years ago it was tea house and foot soaking “sanctuary” House of Steep. This past September it was Gaijin Ramen Shop.

But signs are up for a new store is up. “L.A. Leaf” will offer CBD and vape products, the signage suggests.

There’s no word yet on when the store might open. The interior still appears mostly bare and the shop’s website, listed on a sign, is not yet functional.

The shop will join an existing ATM-only Chase Bank vestibule, which remains open, in the building’s street-facing retail bays.

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Questions loom about Virginia health agency head, duties of interim leader

Questions loom about Virginia health agency head, duties of interim leader


Health board members expressed concerns Thursday about the timeline for hiring a physician to oversee Virginia’s health department, six weeks after lawmakers ousted the state health commissioner over concerns about his treatment of staff.

The public health agency’s 5,000 employees and contractors work on the front lines of everything from communicable diseases to gun violence, and under a political appointee selected by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who has been working to find a candidate who shares his views.

Officials have been interviewing people “for the past few weeks and expect to complete those later this week,” John Littel, secretary of health and human resources, said in a statement read aloud at the board of health meeting in Richmond. Littel hopes Youngkin will make a decision “shortly.”

In the interim, agency chief operating officer R. Christopher Lindsay, who is not a doctor, has been carrying out duties — such as issuing licenses for hospitals and health-care facilities — that the state code specifies must be performed by the commissioner, who must be a physician licensed to practice in Virginia.

State Sens. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton) and Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) raised the issue of Lindsay’s qualifications last month in a letter to Youngkin, citing the “grave concerns” of Health Department staff.

Lindsay, a political appointee with a background in business and medical administration whom Littel tapped in mid-February to run the sprawling health agency, said he is carrying out specific duties upon the advice of the office of the attorney general.

He told reporters at the board of health meeting that “I believe we’ve continued to thrive” in transition. “I’m there simply as the chief operating officer to continue to provide that day-to-day leadership for the agency in consultation with the secretary of health,” Lindsay said.

Questions about the next commissioner come at a critical time for public health workers in Virginia, some of whom emerged depleted from the pandemic but also determined to tackle the disparities the coronavirus highlighted only to find themselves at odds with an agency head who questioned structural racism.

Senate Democrats rejected the confirmation of Colin Greene, an Army veteran who during his year as commissioner questioned the state-recognized declaration that racism is a public health crisis; played down the role of racism in health disparities; and, shortly after a mass shooting, called the term “gun violence” a Democratic talking point.

Tension over role of racism in public health strains Va. agency under Youngkin

Lindsay has signed 55 licenses for nursing homes, hospice agencies and outpatient surgical centers as well as a certificate of public need for a 110-bed Inova hospital at Franconia-Springfield, according to a digest obtained under the state public records law.

Lindsay said he signed the licenses in verbal consultation with attorneys in the office of Attorney General Jason Miyares. Lindsay said state attorneys have not given him written guidance.

“I respect the Code of Virginia, of course, and I’ve continued to carry out duties as the chief operating officer, again in consultation with the AG’s office,” Lindsay said.

Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita said advice the office of the attorney general provides to state agencies, including the Health Department, is protected by attorney-client privilege.

Inova spokeswoman Tracy Connell said the health system is aware of code requirements for certificate-of-public-need approvals, “and we are discussing this question with the commonwealth.”

Asked to explain his vision for the agency and what informs his philosophy on public health, Lindsay, who is overseeing the agency’s $1.4 billion budget, referenced his private-sector experience as ethics and compliance officer for HCA Virginia Health System and administrator for operational departments of the Retreat Doctors’ Hospital campus.

Littel in a statement said the next commissioner should prioritize workforce, mental health, maternal and child health, the opioid crisis and fentanyl poisoning, as well as covid lessons learned.

Through Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter, the administration did not detail how many interviews have been conducted, say who is vetting the candidates or clarify whether the search is national. Porter did not say which code section gives Lindsay the authority to issue licenses for health-care facilities.

“In his role as chief operating officer, Christopher Lindsay is performing duties and delegated commissioner operational tasks on a case-by-case basis,” Porter said.

During the meeting, Wendy Klein, a physician and former director of the Health Brigade, a public health clinic in Richmond, said she was concerned about the amount of time it has taken to appoint a commissioner.

“In my short time here on the board we have lived through many crises — Zika, Ebola, mpox, covid, hepatitis A — so many things that require nuanced training, as it is indicated in the code of Virginia,” she said during the meeting.

Later, she called the apparent conflict between the code mandating that the commissioner sign licenses and Lindsay’s actions “nebulous.” She said there should be transparency in the attorney general’s advice to Lindsay about his duties.

Jim Schuler, executive director of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association in Blacksburg, said many board members want the new commissioner to have a strong background as a medical doctor and in public health.

He asked Lindsay how much of a priority gun safety is for the administration, but Lindsay said he couldn’t speak to administration priorities, referring questions to a staff expert.

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Fairfax County zoning revamp thrown out by Virginia Supreme Court, citing virtual meeting

Fairfax County zoning revamp thrown out by Virginia Supreme Court, citing virtual meeting

The Virginia Supreme Court has voided a massive zoning modernization plan approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2021 because the board’s approval occurred during a virtual meeting.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

The Virginia Supreme Court has voided a massive zoning modernization plan approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2021 because the board’s approval occurred during a virtual meeting.

The court’s ruling, issued Thursday, could call into question scores of routine decisions made by local governing bodies during the first 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of those bodies met virtually, rather than in person, as is required by Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.

Four Fairfax County residents — David Berry, Carol A. Hawn, Helen H. Webb and Adrienne A. Whyte — challenged the Board of Supervisors’ decision in March 2021 to update and modernize the county’s zoning ordinance, a process known as zMOD. The new ordinance, which replaced one that had been in place since 1978, became effective July 1 of that year.

However, in an opinion written by Justice Wesley G. Russell Jr., the Supreme Court ruled that the board did not have the authority to approve the zoning rewrite in a virtual meeting. The ruling overturned a decision of Fairfax Circuit Court Judge David A. Oblon that dismissed the residents’ complaint.

The Supreme Court ruled that Fairfax County’s “Continuity Ordinance,” adopted in the early days of the pandemic, did not authorize the board to consider and adopt a revised zoning ordinance in an electronic meeting. It also said that the General Assembly, which tried to address the issue and allow virtual meetings in its 2020 budget act, also did not provide enough leeway to supplant the state’s open meeting requirements and allow the board to adopt the zoning modification at meetings conducted by electronic means.

The Supreme Court therefore reversed the Circuit Court decision and declared the board’s approval of zMOD void.

“By failing to hold the meetings at which Z-Mod was considered and ultimately adopted in compliance with VFOIA’s [Virginia Freedom of Information Act] open meeting requirements, the Board’s actions prevented the public from participating in the manner required by VFOIA, and thus, potentially limited public participation and input into the process,” Russell wrote in the opinion.

He compared the case to one in which a local governing body fails to provide proper public notice of a zoning ordinance before approving it.

The budget amendment approved by the legislature in 2020 allowed local governing bodies to meet virtually, rather than in person, if the purpose of meeting was to discuss or transact the business statutorily required or necessary to continue operations of the public body and the discharge of its lawful purposes, duties and responsibilities.

The Supreme Court based its ruling on the use of the word “and” in that sentence. It noted rewriting a 40-year-old zoning ordinance was not “necessary to continue operations.”

“It is not a time-sensitive matter, and its adoption is not and was not necessary to allow the County to continue operations,” Russell wrote. “The phrase ‘necessary to continue operations’ in the budget language does not encompass all that the Board may lawfully do, and thus, the budget language cannot be construed as a wholesale license to ignore VFOIA’s open meeting requirements in conducting any and all business that the Board might wish to conduct.”

In 2021, the General Assembly enacted separate legislation that allowed for virtual meetings during the pandemic. It used essentially the same language as the budget amendment but changed the word “and” to “or.” That went into effect July 1, 2021, after the Fairfax zoning modernization was approved.

Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, said Thursday’s ruling could have major implications.

“If a locality had a continuity ordinance that was similar to Fairfax’s that limited actions to those that were somehow time-sensitive but they nonetheless voted on measures that were NOT time-sensitive in an all-electronic meeting during the period between the pandemic shut-down in March 2020 and the July 2021 legislation, there could be a massive reckoning,” she wrote in a newsletter.

Virginia Supreme Court ruling
The full Virginia Supreme Court ruling in Berry v. Board of Supervisors.

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April showers bring Arlington Players, who make a splash with local production of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

April showers bring Arlington Players, who make a splash with local production of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

The American Film Institute voted the 1952 film the greatest movie musical ever made — and I don’t disagree.

WTOP’s Jason Fraley previews ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ by the Arlington Players (Part 1)

The American Film Institute voted the 1952 film the greatest movie musical ever made — and I don’t disagree.

Now, a new generation makes a splash as the nonprofit Arlington Players stage “Singin’ in the Rain” from March 25 through April 8 at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre located at 125 S. Old Glebe Road.

Set in 1920s Hollywood, the story follows silent film stars Don Lockwood and Lena Lamont, who struggle with the industry’s sudden transition into talking pictures. Don hatches a plan with his old vaudeville pal Cosmo Brown and budding love interest Cathy Selden to turn their upcoming movie “The Dueling Cavalier” into a musical.

“I’m the kind of person who already sung and danced in the rain on a regular basis, so this felt like home to me,” actor Tim Lewis told WTOP. “It really is iconic. I’ve asked a lot of people in the last few months if they’ve seen the movie ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ Surprisingly, a lot of people have not seen it, but I haven’t met a single person who isn’t familiar with the image of Gene Kelly hanging on that lamp post in the rain with his suit on. It is just so classic.”

While Lewis fills Gene Kelly’s tap dancing shoes for the iconic title number, splashing in puddles and posing on a lamp post, Preston Meche tackles the zany, exhausting “Make ‘Em Laugh” made famous by Donald O’Connor.

“I’m not quite at the ‘American Ninja Warrior’ stage of flipping over the walls, but I do quite a bit that he did in the movie,” Meche said. “There is some riding of boards, some interactions with other cast members and high jinks ensue of course. It takes a lot out of me physically, but it is such a joyful number to perform. Even though I’m extremely out of breath by the time it’s over, it’s still really fun to do, knowing I’m having a good time with the audience.”

Filling in for Debbie Reynolds, Rachael Fine enjoys crooning “Good Morning” as a turning point in the show.

“It’s a thrill,” Fine said. “That song is more than just fun, it’s that pivotal moment where they have this idea. Don thinks his career is over and he’s done, then they just get an idea and they run with it and have a blast with it. It also establishes so many great relationships as well, where you really see Don and Cathy’s relationship step forward, their love relationship, and also getting to play with Preston and be buddy-buddy with him as Cosmo.”

Finally, Stacey Yvonne Clayton presents Lena as an antagonistic foil with nasally comic relief (“I can’t stain ’em!”).

“When I auditioned for this show, I didn’t anticipate being cast as Lena Lamont,” Clayton said. “When I got that phone call, I was laughing hysterically and also crying at the same time because it’s such a cool role. I’m just really excited to have the opportunity to bring her to life on stage. She’s such a hoot, she’s all over the place, she’s such a diva, she’s figuring out life now that talkies are here, she’s lost in love, she’s got a lot of different things going on.”

The Arlington Players have also had a lot going on in its nearly 75-year history in Northern Virginia.

“We are a completely volunteer-run organization, so everyone has separate lives outside of the theater and we all come together because it’s great fun and a great community-building opportunity,” Meche said. “With this group, the camaraderie that we have and the experience that we all have together, it really is a bonding experience.”

DISCLAIMER: WTOP’s Sandy Kozel is a member of the volunteer production for the nonprofit organization.

Find more information here.

WTOP’s Jason Fraley previews ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ by the Arlington Players (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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