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    Strong Storms Target Plains
    Another round of severe weather is in store for the second half of Father's Day weekend from South Dakota through Oklahoma.

    Storms will begin to develop in South Dakota and Nebraska Sunday afternoon and will move southeastward throughout the evening and into the night.

    These storms will be capable of producing small hail and damaging wind gusts up to 75 mph.



    In addition to hail and damaging winds, heavy downpours from these storms can lead to localized flash flooding.

    Although the storms will span across much of the Plains, the main focus will be from North Platte, Neb., to Oklahoma City, Okla.

    RELATED ON ACCUWEATHER:


    Rain from these storms will help areas of western Kansas and Oklahoma that are currently in a severe drought. However, these quick, heavy downpours do not help battle drought the same way that long duration rainfalls do.

    Because the ground is abnormally dry in these areas, rain from heavy downpours will run off more easily rather than soaking into the ground. During a longer duration rainfall, rain water has more time to soak into the ground, further aiding drought conditions.



    The risk for severe weather and flash flooding will shift into Missouri and Arkansas early next week as the disturbance responsible for the storms tracks east.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    A satellite image of Hurricane Sandy damage in Midland Beach, New York, United States collected on November 4, 2012. (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Police have increased their presence in New York City neighborhoods still struggling with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

    The Staten Island Advance says break-ins left some residents on the island so frustrated and angry that they'd talked of setting booby traps and administering vigilante justice.

    In at least eight houses, thieves cut out recently-installed copper piping. That caused flooding in homes that were just a few weeks away from becoming habitable again.

    Police made several quick arrests. But they're not taking any chances.

    Ten patrol cars are being dedicated around the borough's east shore.

    Deputy Inspector Joseph Veneziano says the patrols will focus on areas where some houses still remain vacant. They include Ocean Breeze, Midland Beach and part of Oakwood.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    House Swept Away by Floods in India
    LUCKNOW, India (AP) - Torrential rain and floods washed away buildings and roads, killing at least 23 people in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, officials said Monday.

    More than a dozen people died in the state's Rudraprayag district alone, while another 50 people were missing, said Amit Negi, an official in Uttarakhand.

    A landslide triggered by the monsoon rains buried a bus, killing three people in Almora district.

    At least three other people were washed away when a three-story apartment building toppled into a river and was carried away by the swift-moving current, said Amit Chandola, a government spokesman.

    More than 10,000 pilgrims stranded along a mountain pass leading to a Hindu religious site were being evacuated by helicopter after roads to the pilgrimage spot were blocked by landslides.

    Army and paramilitary troops were leading efforts to rescue scores of people from the rooftops of their flooded homes. The state government was readying food parcels and drinking water pouches to be air dropped to villages cut off after roads were washed away.

    The River Ganges and its tributaries are flowing above the danger mark in several areas in the Himalayan state.

    "The situation is very grim. The meteorological office has predicted that the rain will continue for another three days at least," said Chandola.

    State authorities were preparing to evacuate people from the worst-hit districts to relief camps, he said.

    A high alert and flood warnings have been issued across Udhampur district and in the Hindu holy city of Haridwar as rivers breached their banks,

    Flooding is an annual occurrence in India, which depends on monsoon rains for agriculture. The heavy downpours often cause loss of life and property.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    People line Old Ranch Road to cheer for the firefighters returning from a shift of fighting the Black Forest Fire Sunday morning, June 16, 2013, outside the fire camp at Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

    COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Firefighters are getting a better handle on the most destructive wildfire ever in Colorado, but they're still struggling against hot spots that could threaten homes that have been spared by the massive blaze.

    Teams got help Sunday from the weather as steady rain moved through the densely wooded Black Forest near Colorado Springs in the afternoon.

    "Every bit of rain helps the crews mop up. It's just adding another nail in the coffin," fire spokesman Brandon Hampton said.

    Nearly 500 homes have been burned by the 22-square-mile fire, which is 65 percent contained. Crews hope to have it fully under control by Thursday.

    With evacuees anxious to return, crews are digging up and extinguishing hot spots, labor-intensive work that's needed because extremely dry grass and trees could quickly ignite.

    Even though the fire was no longer active enough on Sunday to produce a large smoke plume, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said it wasn't safe for people to return home until roads and downed power lines were repaired.

    Additionally, the death of two unidentified people trying to flee the fire was still being investigated. Maketa said he was in no rush to have people return to an area that, at least for now, was still being considered a crime scene.

    "I'm not going to compromise the evidence by allowing people in too soon," he said.

    Some evacuees outside the burn area have been allowed back home. Those with property in the burn area have returned with escorts to check on their property or to pick up items, but Maketa said some were then refusing to leave once they were done. He urged fire victims to cooperate or risk being arrested.

    Trudy Dawson, 59, was at work when the fire broke out Tuesday and quickly spread in record-breaking heat and strong winds. Her 25-year-old daughter, Jordan, who was on her way from Denver to visit, spotted the smoke, called her mother and went to the house.

    With only 30 minutes to evacuate, she only had time to find a family cat and to open a corral gate so the horses could flee.

    Jordan and two adult siblings went to the property the next day with a sheriff's escort and found the horses, unhurt, standing in their corral.

    "It was just skeletons of vehicles and ash everywhere. It's haunting. It looks like it's right out of a horror movie," Jordan Dawson said.

    It's unknown what sparked the blaze, but investigators believe it was human-caused and have asked for help from the state and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as they sift through the ash.

    It's only a few miles away from the state's second most destructive wildfire, the Waldo Canyon Fire, which burned last summer.

    The memory of that fire may have made residents especially appreciative of firefighters. About 1,000 people turned out to line the road and cheer firefighters as they returned from lines Saturday night, fire spokesman Brandon Hampton said.

    Some of the aircraft used to fight the Black Forest Fire and other Front Range fires have been moved to fight a nearly 500-acre wildfire near Rifle Falls State Park in western Colorado. That fire erupted Friday from a smoldering lightning strike the day before, spokesman Pat Thrasher said. The residents of 12 homes were ordered to leave along with campers in the park as well as Rifle Mountain Park and the nearby White River National Forest.

    Crews were closer to containing other wildfires that broke out around the same time as Black Forest. In Canon City, 50 miles to the southwest, a fire that destroyed 48 buildings at Royal Gorge Bridge & Park was 85 percent contained and the park's scenic railroad was running again. A lightning-sparked fire in Rocky Mountain National Park had burned nearly 500 acres and was 60 percent contained.

    In New Mexico, crews were trying to protect homes in a historic mining town from a 35-square mile wildfire that had prompted 26 people to leave their homes.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    (Photo DigitalGlobe via Getty Images)

    Dangerous thunderstorms will threaten areas from southeast Oklahoma to southwest Kentucky on Monday. Farther east, widespread thunderstorms will produce flooding downpours across parts of the Southeast.

    A vigorous storm moving out of the central Plains will team up with heat and humidity to spark severe thunderstorms on Monday that will threaten Dallas, Texas, Little Rock, Ark., and Memphis, Tenn.

    "A surge of heat and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico will help fuel thunderstorm development on Monday," AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Steve D. Travis said. "The greatest threat is damaging wind gusts and large hail from eastern Oklahoma to southwest Kentucky."

    According to Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski, "During Sunday night, a complex of thunderstorms organized into a squall line, which proceeded to move quickly southeastward across Oklahoma and northern Texas."



    Widespread heat and humidity in combination with an old frontal boundary will bring widespread downpours and thunderstorms farther east into the Carolinas.

    Torrential downpours could produce flash flooding as well from northern Texas and eastern Oklahoma to Georgia and South Carolina. The storms were hitting the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex during the morning rush hour.

    Birmingham, Ala., to Nashville, Tenn., to Atlanta and Columbia, S.C., will face the risk of flash flooding in persistent thunderstorms.

    RELATED:
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    AccuWeather.com Severe Weather Center
    Severe Storms Threaten Nebraska to Oklahoma Sunday


    On Saturday, a stubborn thunderstorm unleashed nearly 10 inches of rain in only a few hours to the southern suburbs of Springfield, Tenn. Nearly 4 feet of water inundated some roadways and water rescues were needed.

    Such extreme flooding cannot be ruled across parts of the Southeast on Monday, but it would be a rare instance. However, motorists should not attempt to cross any water covered roadways and are urged to turn around.

    By early Monday night, the heightened risk for severe weather along with flooding will focus on an area from central Tennessee to northern Mississippi and northern Louisiana. On Tuesday, similar risks of severe weather and torrential downpours will move into the southern mid-Atlantic and Deep South.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    A tropical disturbance moving from the western Caribbean toward southeastern Mexico has become Tropical Depression Two.

    The system will unleash torrential rainfall and the potential for flooding and mudslides in the region.

    Tropical downpours from northern Nicaragua and northern Honduras and Belize to southeastern Mexico can easily produce several inches of rain in a short amount of time.

    Two-day rainfall, as of Monday morning, in Honduras includes 5.64 inches in La Ceiba and 4.26 inches in Trujillo.

    Proximity to land (less than 60 miles) is expected to limit much development before it reaches Belize Monday afternoon. Though plenty of warm water on either side of the Peninsula is available to the system and may sustain it somewhat after making landfall.

    RELATED:
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    Hurricane Satellite Maps
    2013 AccuWeather.com Hurricane Forecast


    The system is forecast return to warm water Tuesday into Wednesday, as it drifts over part of the southwestern Gulf of Mexico. As a result, the potential for development will increase, prior to a second landfall over the Mexico mainland.

    The second name on the list of tropical storms in the Atlantic Basin for 2013 is Barry.

    Beyond Wednesday, most tropical rains should move inland (westward) over Mexico.

    There is a chance that some of the moisture from the system is funneled into part of south and west Texas late in the week after the second landfall.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    (Credit: NOAA)

    Drought has beset the Earth since before farming began. In developing nations, it brings suffering and death. In wealthier countries like the United States, it brings economic devastation when crops wither and die, and forests burn.

    The United States continues to feel the aftereffects of the 2012 drought , the most severe and extensive in nearly half a century, during the hottest year on record. It affected about 80 percent of the nation's farmland, making it more widespread than any drought since the 1950s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

    The drought destroyed or damaged portions of major field crops in the Midwest - particularly, field corn and soybeans - causing hikes in farm prices and leading to other shortages in animal feed, including hay and grasses. Those price spikes, in turn, are prompting increases in the retail prices of beef, pork, poultry and dairy products.

    More importantly, the threat posed by drought could become even greater as the planet heats up, especially in parts of the United States - and the world - that already are dry.

    "Droughts are a normal part of the climate cycle that we should expect and plan for, but there will be more stress under increased temperatures,'' said Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "The roller-coaster ride will just get rockier. Climate change will put some more double loops into that roller-coaster ride.''

    Places with a wet season and a dry season generally will become wetter in the wet season and drier in the dry season, and areas that now tend to be dry most of the year likely will suffer more intense drought. This also will result in less water for drinking, less water for agriculture and less water for recreation.

    Drought typically afflicts a third of the nation's counties each year, according to the USDA. In recent history, the United States has experienced a number of persistent droughts, including the notoriously famous Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The Southern Plains and the Southwest endured a serious drought in the 1950s, as did the entire West from 1998 until summer 2004. A merciless drought began in Texas in October 2010, continued throughout 2011 and still affects parts of the state.

    To be sure, the 2012 drought was due, in part, to natural climate variability - in this case, the La Niña event that began in fall 2010. La Niña conditions change weather patterns over the Pacific Ocean and North America, steering storms north of where they usually occur, depriving the already-arid Southwest of much-needed rainfall. But the unrelenting hot temperatures made things worse.

    "This drought wasn't unusually long, but it was unusually hot,'' said Jonathan Overpeck, co-director of the Institute of the Environment at the University of Arizona. "That's what makes this a global-warming-style drought. It has much bigger impacts because it is a hot drought.''

    The natural cycle of La Niña is occurring against a background of a climate that is warming. This pattern "always increases moisture in the atmosphere, which takes moisture out of the soil," said Richard Seager, research professor at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York. "When you have these endless El Niños and La Niñas against this background, droughts will tend to get worse.''

    Michael Mann, professor and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, agrees. "What produces drought isn't just the absence of rainfall,'' he said. "Warmer soils evaporate moisture into the atmosphere more rapidly. Even in regions that get more rainfall in the summer, drought actually worsens because any increase in rainfall is offset by these evaporative losses.''

    Globally, more intense and longer droughts have occurred over wider areas since the 1970s, particularly in the tropics and subtropics. "Increased drying due to higher temperatures and decreased precipitation have contributed to these changes, with the latter the dominant factor,'' said Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist in the climate-analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).

    For the United States, the Southwest will take the brunt of a future warming climate in terms of drought, experts say. Warming in the Southwest "is larger than just about anywhere else in the United States, outside of Alaska,'' Overpeck said. "The whole of the Southwest is heating up, which is causing snowpack to recede into the winter and melt earlier, and that is affecting water resources.''

    A hot mega-drought in the future "will affect water resources dramatically, and we probably would have a major shortage on the Colorado River and the Rio Grande, and other rivers upon which we depend for water supplies,'' he added. "We will also see devastating impacts in our landscapes.''

    Last year in the Southwest, the drought killed trees and desert plants, and spawned unprecedented wildfires, all "related to a drought that wasn't as bad compared to what we could get," Overpeck said, adding, "I worry that we could get one of these really long precipitation-deficit droughts, coupled with the warming temperatures. That would be a devastating climate emergency.''

    However, changes in soil conservation and land-use practices - as well as crop and livestock management that minimize soil erosion - could prevent the damaging dust storms that characterized the 1930s Dust Bowl years. But the prospect of such a drought remains a disturbing possibility.

    Michael Wehner, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, conducted a study that used the Palmer Drought Severity Index to project future drought conditions in the United States. The Palmer index is one of several tools used to measure drought.

    The findings indicated that "normal conditions in the United States by the end of the century would be the same as the 1930s Dust Bowl,'' Wehner said. "The risk of a Dust Bowl has increased, and will continue to increase, quite a bit over the course of the 21st century.''

    Read Cimons' most recent Op-Ed, Deadly Heat Waves Intensify as Summers Sizzle (Op-Ed), and additional contributions on her profile page.

    The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on LiveScience.com .

    Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    Popocatépetl, the sometimes threatening volcano 43 miles southeast of Mexico City, exploded on June 17, 2013, spewing ash up to 2.5 miles into the air. A well-placed webcam captured this amazing footage.

    Authorities monitor the volcano closely. As Latin Times pointed out, "In May, activity on Popocatépetl was enough to force authorities to announce evacuation plans to nearby residents and instruct them to remain vigilant."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Breathtaking Volcanic Eruptions Seen from Space
    Volcano, Eruption, Space

     

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    The risk of flash flooding will expand from the South into the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday, threatening Atlanta, Ga., Raleigh, N.C., and Philadelphia, Pa.

    An area of low pressure moving from the Tennessee Valley toward the Chesapeake Bay will pull warm, moisture-rich air from the South, providing fuel for heavy thunderstorms on Tuesday and into Tuesday night.

    This is the same system that spread flooding thunderstorms across the South on Monday, causing rivers and creeks to jump their banks and roads to close due to high water.

    While the threat for flash flooding is widespread, the heaviest rain will be centered from southern Virginia to central North Carolina. In this area, thunderstorms may produce 1-3 inches of rainfall.

    Although the highest rainfall totals will be focused on this area, heavy thunderstorms elsewhere can still easily produce over an inch of rain in less than an hour, leading to flash flooding.

    RELATED:
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    AccuWeather.com Severe Weather Center
    India Floods Strike Himalaya Foothills

    Many areas in the eastern United States have already received well above their normal amount of precipitation for the month of June.

    Some cities that have already topped their monthly average include Atlanta, Ga., Charlotte, N.C., Richmond, Va. and Philadelphia, Pa.

    With so many areas well above their normal rainfall for the month, flash flooding can occur rather quickly. With the ground already saturated with water, heavy rainfall will easily runoff into creeks and rivers, causing them to rise rapidly.

    Small creeks can quickly turn into dangerous, fast flowing bodies of water. Caution should be used when approaching these creeks as well as roadways that are covered with water.


    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    MIAMI (AP) - Forecasters say a tropical depression is expected to bring at least three to five inches of rain to parts of Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and southern Mexico.

    The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the Atlantic season's second tropical depression formed Monday off Belize and was moving early Tuesday over parts of Belize and northern Guatemala. At 5 a.m. EDT Tuesday, it was about 30 miles east-northeast of Tikal, Guatemala.

    The depression has maximum sustained winds of 30 mph and is traveling west-northwest at 8 mph. The center said the depression, once it crosses land in southern Mexico, could strengthen Wednesday nearing Mexico's Bay of Campeche.

    Forecasters say heavy rains could cause flash flooding, but no coastal watches or warnings were issued.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 30 Stunning Photos Revealing the Power of Hurricanes

     

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    A woman carrying a red umbrella walks across Westminster Bridge, with the Palace of Westminster in the background as it begins to snow in London, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

    LONDON (AP) - Come rain, wind or sunshine, the weather has long been one of Britain's main topics of conversation. Now it has also become a mystery.

    Meteorologists and climate scientists are meeting Tuesday to discuss why this country has recently experienced icy winters, washed-out summers and the coldest spring in half a century.

    Scientist Stephen Belcher, who's chairing the workshop, says its goal is to look at whether the weird weather is the result of "a run of natural variability," or the product of human-driven climate change.

    He says one theory is a link between declining Arctic sea ice and the European climate, but it is unclear how important that factor might be.

    The one-day meeting is intended to identify avenues for further study.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Surprising Ways to Predict the Weather

     

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    Firefighter Brandie Smith from Salida, Colo., walks past a burned out structure on the Black Forest wildfire north of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Monday, June 17, 2013. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

    COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - Rain helped firefighters douse Colorado's most destructive wildfire in state history, while a new wind-whipped blaze in California forced evacuations and threatened homes Monday near Yosemite National Park.

    Investigators believed Colorado's Black Forest Fire was human-caused, and were going through the charred remains of luxury homes destroyed and damaged in it last week. Even though the fire was mostly contained and more evacuation orders were being lifted Monday night, officials were not letting victims back into the most developed area where there was concentrated devastation from the fire because the area was being treated as a possible crime scene.

    Residents have been anxious to return but investigators want to preserve evidence, and firefighters also are working to make sure the interior of the burn area is safe, by putting out hot spots and removing trees in danger of falling.

    "We're not ignoring you and we're with you," El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said.

    In some cases, residents who were escorted back for emergency situations have refused to leave again.

    Sheriff's officials said Monday that 502 homes have been lost in the 22-square-mile fire near Colorado Springs, which is 75 percent contained. Two unidentified people who were trying to flee were found dead in the rubble.

    Wildfires were also burning in other parts of Colorado as well as California, where more than 700 firefighters battled the Carstens Fire. That fire near the main route into Yosemite National Park in the Central Sierra foothills began Sunday afternoon and has burned about 1 1/2 square miles or 900 acres, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

    With more than 140 engines and two helicopters on the scene, the crews have contained about 15 percent of the blaze so far.

    "The strong winds and dry conditions have been major factors. The fire moved quickly," said Berlant, adding that Monday's weather forecasts estimate gusts of up to 20 miles per hour.

    No structures have been burned as the exact cause of the fire has yet to be determined, Berlant said.

    In New Mexico, crews have contained the majority of the 94 square miles of wildfires raging throughout the state. The largest fire, the 37-square-mile Thompson Ridge Fire, was 80 percent contained.

    Near Colorado Springs, there were no lightning strikes when the fire broke out last Tuesday amid record-breaking heat so it's believed the fire must have been caused by a person or a machine. Maketa said Monday that local, state and federal investigators are "zeroing in on the point of origin" of the fire and that should help allow residents of the areas hit hardest to temporarily return home. He said crews were working to bring in some heavy equipment to help that work.

    He said residents could be temporarily allowed back Tuesday or Wednesday, promising authorities would work with whatever their needs were. He said he understood that some people might want to go back for just a short time as part of their grieving process while others might want to stay for several hours and start cleaning up.

    Mike Turner surveyed the rubble of his mother's home Monday but had nothing but praise for firefighters who battled the erratic blaze in tinder box conditions.

    "What I've seen from firefighters so far is an organized assault on insanity," he said, echoing the gratitude shared by many residents in rural, heavily wooded Black Forest.

    The fire is only a few miles away from the state's second-most destructive wildfire, the Waldo Canyon Fire, which started nearly a year ago. The cause of that fire still hasn't been determined.

    The memory of that fire might have made residents especially appreciative of firefighters. Large crowds have been turning out to line the road and cheer crews as they return from the lines. Incident commander Rich Harvey said that support has helped firefighters get through methodical but not very exciting mop up work needed to get residents back to their homes.

    "When it gets down to the grind, it's hard to stay motivated," he said.

    In Canon City, 50 miles to the southwest, a wildfire that destroyed 48 buildings at the Royal Gorge Bridge & Park is fully contained. A lightning-sparked fire in Rocky Mountain National Park has burned about 600 acres and was 95 percent contained.

    In western Colorado, a roughly 500-acre wildfire burning north of Rifle is 85 percent contained. It was started Friday by a smoldering lightning strike.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    In this photo made Saturday, June 15, 2013, French underwater archaeologist Olivia Hulot jots notes while inspecting a timber jutting from the bottom of northern Lake Michigan that experts believe could be part of the long-lost ship the Griffin. (AP Photo/Chris Doyal, Great Lakes Exploration Group.)

    FAIRPORT, Mich. (AP) - Commercial fisherman Larry Barbeau's comings and goings usually don't create much of a stir in this wind-swept Lake Michigan outpost, but in the past few days, his phone jangles the minute he arrives home.

    Barbeau's 46-foot boat is the offshore nerve center for an expedition seeking the underwater grave of the Griffin, the first ship of European design to traverse the upper Great Lakes. Built on orders of legendary French explorer Rene Robert Cavelier de la Salle, it ventured from Niagara Falls to Lake Michigan's Green Bay but disappeared during its return in 1679.

    Divers this weekend opened a pit at the base of a wooden beam that juts nearly 11 feet from the lake bottom, believing it could be a section of the vessel, the rest presumably entombed in mud. They picked up the pace Monday with more powerful equipment after a weekend of probing showed that whatever is buried is deeper than sonar readings indicated.

    U.S. and French experts insist it is too early to say whether there's a shipwreck - let alone the Griffin. But anticipation is building at the prospect of solving a maritime puzzle that's more than three centuries old.

    "After we get done for the day, everybody calls or comes to the house and they're like, 'What did you find? What did you see? Can you tell me anything?' " Barbeau said in a Sunday interview aboard his ship, the Viking, which holds crucial expedition equipment, including "umbilical" cables that supply oxygen to divers. "People are really interested and they're excited to see what it is."

    His neighbors aren't the only curious ones. The roughly 40-member expedition team consists of archaeologists, historians, boat pilots, divers, an underwater salvage crew and assorted helpers. When not on the water, they stay in cottages and tents by the lake in the unincorporated village of Fairport, in one of the most remote corners of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

    Some are relatives or longtime friends of mission chief Steve Libert, who has sought the ship for three decades. While researching the Griffin long ago, Libert ran across Mike Behrens, a Milwaukee sheet-metal worker whose grandfather had searched the lake for chests of gold that legend says smugglers lost during the Civil War.

    "I came up here one year to witness what Steve was doing, and I asked if I could dive with him," said Behrens, 54. "Been doing it ever since. ... I've never met anyone as good at research as him, and he's a very ethical guy. If he says it's the Griffin, I absolutely believe him."

    Others have come aboard more recently, including three archaeologists from France who arrived over the weekend.

    The hands-on excavation work is being handled by a three-man crew from Great Lakes Diving and Salvage, a Michigan company that ordinarily deals with mundane tasks: repairing pumps or scraping zebra mussels off intake pipes.

    "We're basically underwater janitors," said Tom Gouin, vice president of operations. The Griffin, he said, is "like a play job for us. We're loving it."

    The team has had to adjust its strategy, as the excavation is proving to be a bigger-than-expected challenge.

    Sonar scans in years past had suggested that an object similar to the Griffin's reputed size rested about 2 feet beneath the lake floor. But commercial divers on Friday found the bottom caked with a thick layer of invasive, fingernail-size quagga mussel shells.

    After tunneling through mussels, the divers began sucking away gravel and sediments, never hitting anything solid. By Sunday night, the hole reached about 8 feet below the lake bed and it wasn't clear how far down the wooden beam extended or what it might be attached to, said Ken Vrana, the project manager.

    But as more is exposed, the post appears increasingly likely to be part of a ship, said Michel L'Hour, director of France's Department of Underwater Archaeological Research.

    "We never saw a timber standing like this one," he said. "So it's impossible to imagine it otherwise, so one can expect that there is a hull."

    Archaeologists Rob Reedy, of Morehead City, N.C., and Misty Jackson, of Leslie, Mich., sit on the Viking and sift through material that was found in the sediment, watching for artifacts, from bronze cannons to axes or knives - "anything man-made" that would help identify a ship, Reedy said. Thus far, the only candidate has been a slab of blackened wood about 15 inches long with characteristics suggesting it might have been fashioned by human hands. Its origin remains unknown.

    Visitors inspired by the long-lost ship have drifted into the area during the search, including a 9-year-old who wrote a school paper about the Griffin and men in period costumes and handmade canoes who in 1976 re-enacted la Salle's journey across the Great Lakes and down the Mississippi River.

    Carl Behrend, a folk singer and self-described "pretty-soon major movie star" who lives 90 minutes north on Lake Superior, performed an impromptu concert outside the food tent Sunday night. He said he's composing a song about the Griffin.

    "It's rattling around in my head," he said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Kristen Lessard of Lifetime Adventures locks up rental kayaks on the gravel beach of Eklutna Lake on Tuesday, June 11, 2013, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

    Some of the warmest weather of the year arrived in Alaska over the weekend and will continue through the first part of the week. The heat is also raising the risk of wildfires.

    Folks heading to The Last Frontier should be prepared for hot weather and possibly smoky conditions.

    Heat challenged records in Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska's two most populated cities, over the weekend. The high in Fairbanks on Sunday reached 88 degrees, falling just a degree shy of their daily record.

    Talkeetna was the hot spot in Alaska on Monday, climbing to a scorching 96 degrees.

    Temperatures are forecast to continue to challenge, and possibly break, records again on Tuesday across parts of interior Alaska.

    Temperatures will climb into the upper 80s and lower 90s through Wednesday with the highest temperatures being focused in southwestern Alaska. Meanwhile, cold ocean waters will limit temperatures along the coast to the mid-50s.

    In addition to the heat, the weather pattern is also raising the risk of wildfires across the state.

    According to the Alaska Interagency Coordination Center, there are currently 29 active wildfires across the state. With the weather pattern not forecast to move much over the next few days, the wildfire threat will remain elevated.

    These record-challenging temperatures are due to a northward bulge in winds high in the atmosphere that developed over central Alaska over the past weekend. The strong upper-level winds are known as the jet stream.

    This particular jet stream pattern will hold its ground through the first part of the week, allowing the above-normal temperatures to continue.

    Temperatures will start to ease a bit during the second half of the week as the jet stream shifts southward.

    This warm air will start to make up for the chilly spring that Alaska has had this year.

    April was a particularly cold month, especially for the city of Fairbanks. In April, there was only one day where the city had temperatures that were above normal. When all was said and done, the month of April averaged 14 degrees below normal in Fairbanks.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Off-the-Charts Hottest and Coldest Places on Earth

     

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    Tuesday, June 18, 2013

    Ancient water has been discovered deep below the Earth in Ontario, Canada. (Photo: J Telling)

    Last month, we reported that researchers exploring mines about two miles below Earth's surface discovered pockets of water up to 2.6 billion years old. Trapped between rocks under Ontario, Canada, the undisturbed fluids were the oldest ever found on Earth - by far.

    "It was absolutely mind-blowing," geoscientist Barbara Sherwood Lollar said. "These weren't tens of millions of years old like we might have expected, or even hundreds of millions of years old. They were billions of years old."

    So what, you might ask, does billion-year-old water taste like?

    Sherwood Lollar admitted to sampling it.


    "It tastes terrible," she told the Los Angeles Times. "It is much saltier than seawater. You would definitely not want to drink this stuff."

    Oddly, she said, "It is more viscous than tap water. It has the consistency of a very light maple syrup."

    It makes tap water sound downright delicious.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Breathtaking Images of Rivers, Islands and Seas from Space

     

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    Tuesday, June 18, 2013

    New York City skyline. (Thinkstock)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Nearly 3 million New Yorkers' homes are now in evacuation zones that cover more than a third of the city's population, under new maps released Tuesday.

    In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, officials said last month, the number of zones would double and encompass about 600,000 more residents. Few storms are likely to require evacuating all six new zones, and the scheme is designed both to give officials more flexibility in ordering evacuations and give residents a better picture of their flooding risk.

    "The new zones incorporate the best available data and will help the city to more effectively communicate to those most at risk depending on the characteristics of a particular storm," Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said in a statement.

    There have been only two mandatory evacuation orders in the city's history: for Sandy and 2011's Irene.

    Despite televised urgings from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, text message alerts and police cars spreading the word with bullhorns in some neighborhoods, nearly two-thirds of residents stayed put after being ordered to leave for Sandy, according to a city-commissioned survey of 509 residents.

    The storm ultimately killed more than 40 people in the city, almost all of them in areas under evacuation orders. The Oct. 29 storm also inundated some areas where residents hadn't been ordered to leave.

    The new zones reflect a new understanding of flooding hazards from updated weather models and topographic data, and they assume that storm surge will coincide with high tide.

    None lines up exactly with any of the prior three zones. But taken together, the new zones extend farther inland into some places, including lower Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn and the southeastern Bronx.

    Also, some areas shift from a lower-risk designation into the zone most likely to be evacuated, although it doesn't include all the neighborhoods formerly in the highest-risk zone. A few are now in the next-highest zone.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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