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    AccuWeather.com Meteorologist and Social Media Coordinator Jesse Ferrell writes in his blog: "When I saw this photo this morning on Social Media, I couldn't believe it was real."

    Ferrell has vetted the photo and says that it is one of dozens of photos of the photogenic waterspout that came on shore north of Tampa, Fla., Monday night (additional photos on Twitter and Facebook from Denis Philips (ABC) and Paul Dellegatto (FOX)). The photo (and video below) was taken by Joey Mole, of Safety Harbor, Fla.

    Joey says he had never seen a waterspout before, and neither had his neighbors, who had lived there for 40 years. It made landfall only 250 feet from Joey's dock and went over his neighbor's home, two houses down. Joey says minor damage occurred, including missing shingles and downed trees.

    For more about how Ferrell confirmed the photo's authenticity, read the WeatherMatrix Blog.

     

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    A stunning waterspout came ashore in Tampa Bay, Fla., Monday, July 8, and a number of people captured video of it. One video was taken by a kayaker in the water. According to reports, the waterspout caused minor damage but no injuries.

     

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    Bridge Collapses, Throwing Cars Into River in China
    BEIJING (AP) - Flooding in western China, the worst in 50 years for some areas, triggered a landslide that buried up to 40 people Wednesday and destroyed a high-profile memorial to a devastating 2008 earthquake.

    Meanwhile, to the northeast, at least 12 workers were killed when a violent rainstorm caused the collapse of an unfinished coal mine workshop they were building, said a statement from the city government of Jinzhong, where the accident occurred. The accident Tuesday night came amid heavy rain and high winds across a swath of northern China, including the capital, Beijing.

    (AP Photo)
    There was no immediate word on the chances of survival for the 30 to 40 people buried in the landslide in the city of Dujiangyan in Sichuan province, but rescue workers with search dogs rushed to the area, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

    Mudslides and flooding are common in China's mountainous areas, killing hundreds of people every year. Deforestation has led to soil erosion and made some parts of China prone to mudslides after strong rains.

    In nearby Beichuan county, flooding destroyed buildings and destroyed exhibits at a memorial for the earthquake five years ago that left 90,000 people dead or missing. The quake left the Beichuan county seat unlivable. The town was abandoned and 27 square kilometers (10 square miles) of ruins were turned into a memorial and museum.

    The flooding also caused the collapse of an almost 50-year-old bridge in a neighboring county, sending six vehicles into the raging waters and leaving 12 people missing.

    Since Sunday, flooding in Sichuan has affected 360,000 people, damaging or destroying 300 homes, and forcing at least 6,100 emergency evacuations, state media reported.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Updated Wednesday, July 10, 2013, 6:02 p.m. ET
    Tropical Storm Chantal
    A local resident drives a bike in a flooded street caused by tropical storm Chantal in Santo Domingo on July 10, 2013. (ERIKA SANTELICES/AFP/Getty Images)

    KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Tropical Storm Chantal was downgraded Wednesday to a tropical wave as its scattered clouds drifted quickly westward toward Jamaica. But heavy rains from the weakened system continued to drench parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and force the evacuation of flood-prone areas.

    One storm-related death was reported in the Dominican Republic: a firefighter swept away by floodwaters.

    What was once a fast-moving storm began degenerating late Wednesday afternoon about 230 miles (370 kilometers) east-southeast of the Jamaican capital of Kingston. Its remnants still packed maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph), but a reconnaissance plane found that Chantal lacked the closed circulation necessary to be classified as a storm.

    Tropical Storm ChantalThe U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the wave was expected to spread over Jamaica and eastern Cuba into Thursday. It was projected to move over or near the Florida peninsula by Friday, where heavy wind shear is expected to keep it from reforming as a storm.

    Jamaica's Meteorological Service said "the main threat at this time is for outbreaks of heavy showers and thunderstorms," starting over eastern parishes. It warned that flash flooding was possible and called for mariners to stay alert.

    As a storm earlier Wednesday, Chantal's center skirted the southern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola. But its heavy rains still posed a threat to some of the region's most vulnerable people, many of whom live in flimsy homes of plywood and corrugated steel.

    The only reported fatality was that of Juan Ramon Rodriguez, a 26-year-old Dominican firefighter, in the community of Maimon, about 50 miles (85 kilometers) north of the capital of Santo Domingo. Rodriguez was trying to clear a storm drain when rushing waters carried him away, said Luis Luna, director of the country's civil defense agency.

    Dominican authorities were evacuating thousands of people from communities considered at high risk for flooding as rivers near the capital and along the southern coast reached dangerously high levels from the heavy rains.

    "We're not in the clear yet," said Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the Emergency Operations Center.

    Even remnants of Chantal could create problems for the rural southern peninsula of Haiti and southwestern Dominican Republic. Tropical systems can trigger flooding and landslides on Hispaniola, and severe deforestation and makeshift housing make Haiti especially vulnerable.

    Haitian officials urged people to move away from ravines, secure important records and stock up on food and water.

    Farmers in southern Haiti, where mountainside crops are particularly vulnerable to strong winds, feared the worst as heavy rain fell. "I'm scared for the people," farmer Jean-Marc Tata said by telephone of his neighbors in Mapou, a village near the southeastern coast.

    All tropical storm warnings were cancelled late Wednesday afternoon. But people in Jamaica, eastern Cuba and the Bahamas were urged to monitor the wave's progress.

    American Airlines canceled flights to Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean, and cruise lines made numerous changes to their itineraries.

    Chantal raced through the eastern Caribbean early Tuesday, with officials in Dominica reporting that heavy winds ripped the roofs off over 15 homes and toppled power lines. No injuries were reported there or anywhere else in the small islands of the Eastern Caribbean.

    Overnight, the storm passed south of Puerto Rico, leaving about 7,000 people in the U.S. territory without power and more than 2,500 people without water. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla ordered public employees back to work on Wednesday.

    In northeast Jamaica, Fredericus Enneking took it easy as gray clouds began swirling overhead and the breeze picked up at his eco-resort on a one-acre seaside property.

    "You can feel something is in the air," said the Dutch-born Enneking, who uses the Rastafarian name of "Free-I." Of course, you can never know what Mother Nature will do, but I am waiting for the storms later in the season. They are typically the ones that do the damage."

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

     

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    A tow truck driver floats a car out of the Don Valley Parkway in Toronto on Monday, July 8, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)

    TORONTO (AP) - Toronto-area residents mopped up Tuesday after a record-breaking storm and driving wind caused flash floods which set cars afloat, stranded rail commuters and caused widespread power outages in Canada's largest city.

    "It is really, probably the most intense, wettest moment in Toronto's history," Environment Canada senior climatologist David Philips said.

    Phillips said two separate storm cells moved over the city at the same time, and then stalled over Toronto for hours.

    "It's almost like Toronto was a target with a bull's eye," he said.

    Photos: Toronto Storm Creates Chaos

    Pearson International Airport reported 4.96 inches of rain throughout Monday, breaking the previous single-day rainfall record for the city set back on Oct. 15, 1954, when Hurricane Hazel dumped 4.76 inches of rain.

    The downpour left several roads and underpasses under water, forcing some people to abandon their vehicles. Subway, bus and streetcar services were either halted or slowed to a crawl, creating chaos during the evening rush hour. Many finally arrived home hours late to deal with flooded basements and leaking windows in residences which had lost power.

    In one of the more serious incidents, 1,400 people were stranded on a northbound commuter train as murky water seeped into the cars. It took police and firefighters about seven hours to ferry everyone to dry ground aboard small inflatable boats.

    Toronto authorities warned it would take some time for everything to return to normal, but praised city crews for their work.

    "Toronto has persevered - we have weathered the storm," Mayor Rob Ford said at city hall. "At some points it was really scary out there. I saw a few people panicking."

    About 70,000 customers were without electricity Tuesday night, 25,000 due to rolling blackouts. About 300,000 customers had been left in the dark at the height of the outage Monday due to "significant flooding" at two transmission stations.

    One of the transmission stations remained under about 20 to 29.5 feet of water, said Toronto Hydro CEO Anthony Haines. He said the utility hoped to restore power by Wednesday morning.

    Toronto's flash flooding comes two weeks after extensive flooding in Calgary turned parts of the western Canadian city into a lake and forced up to 100,000 Albertans from their homes. Three bodies were recovered during the floods.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: Toronto Storm Creates Chaos

     

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    A Gilbert, Ariz. police officer salutes along with firefighters lining the route from Tim's Toyota Center, Tuesday, July 9, 2013, in Prescott, Ariz., as buses carrying family members of the fallen Granite Mountain Hotshots move past. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

    PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz. (AP) - On a day filled with speeches from dignitaries including the vice president, the words of the lone survivor of a fire crew overrun by flames resonated deepest in an arena packed with firefighters from around the nation.

    A stone-faced Brendan McDonough walked onto the stage at the end of the service and offered what's called "The Hot Shot's Prayer," calmly reciting the words: "For if this day on the line I should answer death's call, Lord, bless my Hotshot crew, my family, one and all."

    He concluded by telling the crowd: "Thank you. And I miss my brothers."

    McDonough spoke at a memorial for the 19 members of the Prescott-based Granite Mountain Hotshots who died June 30 when a wind-fueled, out-of-control fire overran them as they tried to protect a former gold-mining town from the inferno.

    Vice President Joe Biden called them "men of uncommon valor" while thanking God that one crew member survived.

    "There's an old saying: All men are created equal, and then a few became firefighters," Biden said. "Thank God for you all."

    The event was marked by an outpouring of support from several thousand firefighters from across the country, who traveled to the Prescott area to honor their fallen brethren.

    They talked about how firefighters are accustomed to answering the call of duty when the alarm sounds and sends them into harm's way, whether it's a fire in a forest or a home. And they noted that the same can be said when a fellow firefighter dies.

    "When you hear of a death, especially a group of firefighters, and there's 19 that we're here to mourn, there's no question that at the drop of a hat you do what you can to go and support the fire service and their families," said Capt. Steve Brown of the Rancho Cucamonga Fire Protection District, who brought 17 others in his department of 85 uniformed firefighters from California.

    The memorial in Prescott Valley began with a choir singing "On Eagle's Wings." Homeland Security Secretary and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano looked on, as did Sen. John McCain and his wife, Cindy, and other members of the state's congressional delegation.

    Biden talked about the 1972 death of his wife and young daughter in a traffic crash, and how firefighters freed his sons from the mangled wreckage.

    "I don't have the privilege of knowing any of these heroes personally, but I know them. I know them because they saved the lives of my two sons," Biden told the crowd. He also said firefighters rushed him to a hospital after he suffered an aneurysm in 1998. And he credited firefighters with saving his wife Jill after lightning once struck their home.

    Gov. Jan Brewer praised people around the country for responding as she hoped they would - with candlelight vigils, financial contributions, prayers, and flowers and notes placed at makeshift memorials.

    "Of course our hearts are filled with profound sadness today, but they're also filled with great pride," she said. "How wonderful is it to know that Arizona was home to 19 men like those we honor today."

    Outside the minor league hockey arena, each of the 19 firefighters was represented by a U.S. flag and a purple ribbon with his name. A granite marker read: "In honor and recognition of all wildland firefighters across this great nation. Duty - Respect - Integrity."

    Inside, 19 sets of firefighting gear lined the front of the stage, including commemorative Pulaski tools similar to the ones the elite crew uses to dig lines around fires.

    Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo gave the tools to the firefighters' families, along with flags that had been flown in the men's honor.

    Roughly 8,000 people attended the memorial, most inside, while several thousand watched it outside on jumbo screens. Alumni of the Granite Mountain Hotshots sat inside in the front rows.

    Darrell Willis, a Prescott Fire Department division chief, said he traveled with the crew a couple of years ago when they fought a fire in Colorado. On the way back, the unit stopped in Glenwood Springs and then climbed Storm King Mountain, where 14 firefighters died in 1994.

    "We spent the entire sunny summer afternoon evaluating, studying, talking about what happened there 19 years ago," Willis said. "They were truly committed to never letting something like this ever happen again. They were committed to returning to you after every assignment. But there was another plan."

    The highly specialized crew was part of a small community of Hotshots nationwide. There are only about 110 of the 20-person teams, mostly stationed west of the Mississippi River.

    McDonough was assigned to give a "heads-up on the hillside" for the unit on that fateful afternoon, Prescott Fire Department spokesman Wade Ward said. McDonough notified the crew of the rapidly changing weather that sent winds swirling erratically and caused the fire to cut off his team's escape route, then swiftly left his post for safety.

    Ward has said McDonough did "did exactly what he was supposed to."

    Tuesday's memorial was the last of a handful of vigils for the men before the first of 19 funerals begin later in the week.

    Two tolls of a bell rang out as each firefighter's name was called, and a member of his family stood up in the audience.

    An honor guard that included alumni of the Granite Mountain Hotshots carried the flags and Pulaski tools through the aisles, turning to face the family members who accepted the items on behalf of the firefighters.

    Some of the family members then hugged others next to them, as the men's pictures flashed on screens overhead and the choir began singing "You Raise Me Up."

    Other photos showed the men playing with their children, riding bikes, carrying crew members on their backs, hanging out at camp and in close encounters with fire.

    Biden offered the families some solace as he wrapped up his remarks.

    "As unbelievable as it is to even fathom ... the day will come when the memory of your husband, your son, or your dad or your brother will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye," he said. "My prayer for all of you is that that day will come sooner than later, but I promise you as unbelievable as it is, it will come."

    Biden met privately with family members after the memorial.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: Yarnell Hill Wildfire Claims Lives of 19 Firefighters

     

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    A family visiting the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area takes photos as smoke from the Carpenter 1 fire rises over Mount Charleston near Las Vegas on Tuesday, July 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Chase Stevens)

    LAS VEGAS (AP) - Fire crews burned forest undergrowth near homes in the mountains northwest of Las Vegas to protect them from one of two large Nevada wildfires while local casino owners offered rooms to evacuees.

    The wildfire burning northwest of Las Vegas was within a quarter-mile of homes Tuesday and had charred an area nearly the size of Manhattan, authorities said. Billowing smoke were visible from downtown and fine ash fell nearby.

    In northern Nevada, more than 1,060 firefighters worked to stem the spread of a bigger but more remote wildfire that grew Monday to 40 square miles in the Pine Nut Mountains southwest of Reno.

    Lyon County sheriff's deputies went door-to-door to ask people to evacuate Pipeline Canyon.

    No homes have been lost in either fire, but fire officials said containment may not come on either fire until next week.

    Fires were also burning across the West in California - where 100 mountain cabins were destroyed and 120 homes remained threatened in San Diego County - and in Alaska, Idaho and Arizona.

    In Arizona, a memorial service was held Tuesday in Prescott for 19 members of a Hotshot crew killed June 30 while fighting a wildfire near Yarnell north of Phoenix. Speakers included the lone surviving crew member and Vice President Joe Biden.

    In southern Nevada, no homes have been damaged and none of 800 firefighters has been injured battling the 31-square-mile Carpenter 1 fire on Mount Charleston, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Jay Nichols said. Officials said the fire was about 15 percent contained.

    One portion of the blaze "bumped" the edge of state Route 157, threatening to cut off the main highway in and out of the evacuated Kyle Canyon area some 25 miles outside Las Vegas. No homes were nearby, Nichols said.

    Smoke billowing from the lightning-sparked blaze was visible for an eighth day from Las Vegas, where brown haze stretched northeast of this city of 2 million residents and fine white ash fell in communities north and west of downtown. The Clark County Department of Air Quality issued a health advisory that officials said would remain in effect through Sunday.

    In northern Nevada, the 25,700-acre Bison Fire straddled the Douglas and Lyon county lines near Gardnerville and Carson City. It doubled in size Monday, but stabilized Tuesday after charring an area about two-thirds the size of Washington, D.C. Containment was reported at 25 percent.

    One of 720 firefighters suffered a knee injury as crews battled gusty winds, low humidity and temperatures in the 90s, fire spokeswoman Lisa Ross said.

    Douglas County commissioners declared a state of emergency to enable the county to seek more state and federal assistance.

    Ross put the cost of battling the fire since it was sparked by lightning July 4 at about $3.5 million.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency has promised to reimburse Nevada for 75 percent of the cost of fire suppression on the nearly 20,000-acre Carpenter 1 fire near Las Vegas.

    Federal Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Hillerie Patton said Tuesday that the cost was approaching $5 million.

    Officials say more than 500 residents have been unable to return to homes in Trout, Kyle, Lee, Harris Springs and Lovell canyons since the weekend. Another 98 teenagers remain evacuated from a Clark County youth correctional camp.

    Several local casino companies teamed with the American Red Cross of Southern Nevada to provide hotel rooms to evacuees, and the Nevada Restaurant Association worked with the Red Cross to provide meals for firefighters working to protect about 400 mountain homes.

    Cannery Casino Resorts executive Xavier Walsh said his company was willing to provide up to 40 rooms for the 10 days that fire managers say families may be displaced.

    In other wildfires burning in the West:

    - In Arizona, residents were allowed to return Tuesday to about 100 of the 200 homes evacuated due to a wildfire in Kearny, located 73 miles southeast of Phoenix. The fire burned has burned about 300 acres of dense vegetation and one house since Monday. It was 5 percent contained.

    -In Northern California, more than 800 firefighters battled a 160-acre blaze near Kyburz, west of South Lake Tahoe. The El Dorado National Forest wildfire hadn't damaged any homes or required evacuations. Containment was about 40 percent Tuesday.

    - In Southern California, a wildfire burned more than 100 cabins at a Shriner's International mountain camp near Julian, 60 miles east of San Diego in the Cleveland National Forest. The 7.3-square-mile fire was 15 percent contained, but threatens evacuated campgrounds and about 120 homes, mostly vacation cabins, officials said Tuesday.

    -In southern Colorado, the East Peak Fire was declared 100 percent contained Tuesday. The lightning-sparked fire burned 13 homes.

     

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    Drink mixers Udi Shakya, left, and Paul Stauros, right, serve drinks to customers at the Minus 5 ice bar, on Monday, July 8, 2013, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

    NEW YORK (AP) - In the sweltering summer heat, New Yorkers are ready for the big chill - in midtown Manhattan.

    The city's first ice bar is now open at the New York Hilton Midtown on Sixth Avenue. The $20 admission includes Eskimo-style gloves and a parka for the privilege of drinking cocktails in the freezing Minus5 Ice Bar.

    The entire bar is made of ice.

    "The walls, everything," manager Chris Eldridge said. "The chairs you're sitting on, the glass you're drinking out of, even the light above your head is made of ice."

    Promoters say it's all carved out of "100 percent Canadian ice."

    The truth is, it's special, extra-clear "carvers" ice - some from Canada, the rest from Philadelphia, Las Vegas and Minneapolis.

    About 350 blocks of it, each weighing up to 100 pounds, was used to create the cool surroundings that are meant to feel good on a Manhattan afternoon when temperatures soared into the 90s. Guests are accompanied to the meat locker-type bar door by "party starters" - hostesses clad in bustiers who don't venture into the cold.

    The temperature inside? A soothing 23 degrees Fahrenheit.

    That translates to minus-5 degrees on the Celsius scale - hence, the name.

    Any heat-emitting devices that could melt the Arctic freeze - like cellphones - must be deposited in temperature-proof lockers at the door.

    There are already two Minus5 bars in Las Vegas.

    "An experience that will chill you to your bones!" says the website of the company whose concept was created in New Zealand by Craig Ling, then tested as a pop-up igloo at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Ling is now a partner in the New York venture.

    An ice carver will change the bar and sculptures every few months, with creations reflecting the season, location, wildlife, or even corporate logos and products for private functions.

    The only concessions to warm comfort are some couches covered in faux deerskin.

    Drinks reflect the icy clarity: mostly vodka-based cocktails in custom-designed glasses made from artesian water.

    Bartender Paul Stavros was decked out for his eight-hour shift. He wore thermal underwear and snow boots, "just like winter in New York," the 27-year-old Stavros said.

    A photographer roams the bar, producing images that guests can retrieve later to show family and friends.

    The bar has a double personality. From 2 p.m., when it opens daily, to 7 p.m., children and families are welcome. After that, the establishment caters to a New York nightclub crowd.

    In the heat of summer, it's the coolest experience in New York City - literally.

    And it's a multimillion dollar endeavor. It cost over $5 million to build the Manhattan bar - "bricks, mortar, ice and all," said Noel Bowman, Minus5's director of operations.

    "The timing couldn't have been better for us to open here, with temperatures in the 90s," Bowman said.

    He expects the novelty to draw winter guests too, as do the Las Vegas bars.

    All of them are built with a cost-saving factor.

    For the drinks, "we don't have to use ice," deadpanned Eldridge.

    Just don't put your glass on any surface, "or it'll slide off!"

    Customer Kevin Parker, 36, a real estate broker, paid a little extra to wear a white faux-fur coat as he clutched the bar's "Big Apple" cocktail that includes Midori and lemon liqueur.

    "It's like New York: sweet and tart."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Tips for Surviving a Heat Wave
    Smart ways to beat the summer heat

     

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    A primeval underwater forest has been unearthed just a few miles off the coast of Alabama. Here, a sonar map reveals its extent. (Credit: Grant Harley, Kristine DeLong)


    Scuba divers have discovered a primeval underwater forest off the coast of Alabama.

    The Bald Cypress forest was buried under ocean sediments, protected in an oxygen-free environment for more than 50,000 years, but was likely uncovered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Ben Raines, one of the first divers to explore the underwater forest and the executive director of the nonprofit Weeks Bay Foundation, which researches estuaries.

    The forest contains trees so well-preserved that when they are cut, they still smell like fresh Cypress sap, Raines said.

    The stumps of the Cypress trees span an area of at least 0.5 square miles (1.3 square kilometers), several miles from the coast of Mobile, Ala., and sit about 60 feet (18 meters) below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

    Despite its discovery only recently, the underwater landscape has just a few years to be explored, before wood-burrowing marine animals destroy the ancient forest. [8 of the World's Most Endangered Places]

    Closely guarded secret

    Raines was talking with a friend who owned a dive shop about a year after Hurricane Katrina. The dive shop owner confided that a local fisherman had found a site teeming with fish and wildlife and suspected that something big was hidden below. The diver went down to explore and found a forest of trees, then told Raines about his stunning find.

    But because scuba divers often take artifacts from shipwrecks and other sites, the dive shop owner refused to disclose the location for many years, Raines said.

    In 2012, the owner finally revealed the site's location after swearing Raines to secrecy. Raines then did his own dive and discovered a primeval Cypress swamp in pristine condition. The forest had become an artificial reef, attracting fish, crustaceans, sea anemones and other underwater life burrowing between the roots of dislodged stumps. [Images: Mysterious Underwater Stone Structure]

    Some of the trees were truly massive, and many logs had fallen over before being covered by ocean sediment. Raines swam the length of the logs.

    "Swimming around amidst these stumps and logs, you just feel like you're in this fairy world," Raines told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

    Primeval forest

    Raines reached out to several scientists to learn more about the forest. One of those scientists was Grant Harley, a dendrochronologist (someone who studies tree rings) at the University of Southern Mississippi.

    Harley was intrigued, and together with geographer Kristine DeLong of Louisiana State University, set out to discover the site's secrets.

    The research team created a sonar map of the area and analyzed two samples Raines took from trees. DeLong is planning her own dive at the site later this year. Because of the forest depth, scuba divers can only stay below for about 40 minutes before coming up.

    Carbon isotopes (atoms of the same element that have different molecular weights) revealed that the trees were about 52,000 years old.

    The trees' growth rings could reveal secrets about the climate of the Gulf of Mexico thousands of years ago, during a period known as the Wisconsin Glacial period, when sea levels were much lower than they are today. [World's Weirdest Geological Formations]

    In addition, because Bald Cypress trees can live a thousand years, and there are so many of them, the trees could contain thousands of years of climate history for the region, Harley said.

    "These stumps are so big, they're upwards of two meters in diameter - the size of trucks," Harley told OurAmazingPlanet. "They probably contain thousands of growth rings."

    The team, which has not yet published their results in a peer-reviewed journal, is currently applying for grants to explore the site more thoroughly.

    Harley estimates they have just two years.

    "The longer this wood sits on the bottom of the ocean, the more marine organisms burrow into the wood, which can create hurdles when we are trying to get radiocarbon dates," Harley said. "It can really make the sample undatable, unusable."

    Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct the metric conversion of the area the forest spans. It is 1.3 square kilometers, not 0.8 kilometers.

    Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, Facebook and Google+. Original article at LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

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

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

     

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    (iStockphoto)

    Summer means lots of out-of-doors time. Whether at beaches, barbecues, hanging out in the park or at the pool, most people catch more sun rays this season than other times of the year. In the process, some will get a suntan while others, unfortunately, will experience the painful redness, peeling and blistering that can occur with a bad sunburn.

    So what is the skin up to when it starts soaking up sunlight and changing its hue this summer? Essentially, a suntan results from the body's natural defense mechanism kicking in against damaging ultraviolet sun rays. When the defenses are overwhelmed, a toxic reaction occurs, resulting in sunburn.

    The defense mechanism is a pigment called melanin, which is produced by cells in our skin called melanocytes. Melanin absorbs ultraviolet light and dissipates it as heat.

    "Melanin is a natural sunscreen," said Gary Chuang, an assistant professor of dermatology at Tufts University School of Medicine. "When your body senses sun damage, what it does is it starts sending out melanin into surrounding cells and tries to protect them and shield them from getting more damage." [7 Common Summer Health Concerns]

    Everyone has about the same number of melanocytes, Chuang said, but people vary in how much and what colors of melanin they produce. Darker skinned people have more natural sunscreen at their disposal. Even when getting a boost from artificial sunblock creams and the like, though, people are all ultimately vulnerable to the sun's ultraviolet wrath.

    "It doesn't matter how much sunscreen you have on - if you are lying there forever and ever, some of the radiation will definitely penetrate through," said Chuang. "Even if you have a tan you can get a sunburn, and people with dark skin types can get a sunburn if out long enough."

    DNA buster

    Invisible ultraviolet light carries more energy than the light visible to humans, and this energy packs a tiny punch.

    When a UV photon strikes the skin, it can damage the DNA in the body's cells. It does this by breaking the orderly bonds between the four nucleotides, adenosine, thymine and guanine. So-called thymine dimers form when two thymine nucleotides bind together, throwing the whole shape of the DNA molecule out of whack.

    The cell with the messed-up DNA usually then commits suicide, a process called apoptosis. "The cells receive so much radiation that they undergo apoptosis," said Chuang.

    Crimson carnage

    The body senses this destruction and over the course of several hours starts flooding the area with blood to help with the healing process. Painful inflammation occurs as well. Usually within half a day of overindulging in the sun, the characteristic steamed-lobster look of a sunburn begins to make itself known, and felt.

    With very bad sunburns, thermal damage in the manner of second-degree burns not unlike that caused from being too close to a fire can set in. The skin blisters as a result, with liquid-filled, protective bubbles forming over areas of tissue damage.

    Several days after the initial sun-wrought carnage, dead skin cells in the blasted region will start to peel off. "The cell signals the body that it has received enough radiation and has a chance of becoming mutated, so [the cell says] 'Now you need to die off before it becomes problematic,' and you get that sloughing of the skin," said Chuang.

    Sometimes the cells with sun-caused mutated DNA do turn into problem cells, however, that do not call it quits and keep proliferating as cancers. "The UV light causes random damages in the DNA and DNA repair process such that cells acquire the ability to avoid dying," said Chuang.

    Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. People who allow themselves to get sunburnt repeatedly are at much higher risk. The risk for the deadliest form of skin cancer, called melanoma, doubles for someone who has received five or more sunburns, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

    Beating back the sun

    To avoid skin cancer, as well as the painful nuisance of a sunburn, Chuang advises people to cover up and apply sunscreen liberally.

    "The sunscreens I like are physical blockers," Chuang said. In sunblock formulas, look for the ingredients of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, because they "reflect off UV radiation," he said. [Infographic: How to Read Sunscreen Labels]

    Chuang is also is a big fan of hats. "Wear hats," he said. "People think hats are going out of fashion, but they are a very basic physical blocker of the sun."

    Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article 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: 10 Commandments for Healthy Skin
    Skincare

     

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    July 10, 2013
    Pine Island Glacier, PIG, Antarctica
    The calving front of the Pine Island Glacier seen on Oct. 26, 2012, from NASA's Landsat 7 satellite. (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

    A massive iceberg, larger than the city of Chicago, broke off of Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier on Monday (July 8), and is now floating freely in the Amundsen Sea, according to a team of German scientists.

    The newborn iceberg measures about 278 square miles (720 square kilometers), and was seen by TerraSAR-X, an earth-observing satellite operated by the German Space Agency (DLR). Scientists with NASA's Operation IceBridgefirst discovered a giant crack in the Pine Island Glacier in October 2011, as they were flying over and surveying the sprawling ice sheet.

    Pine Island Glacier, PIG, Antarctica

    At that time, the fissure spanned about 15 miles (24 km) in length and 164 feet (50 meters) in width, according to researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany. In May 2012, satellite images revealed a second rift had formed near the northern side of the first crack.

    "As a result of these cracks, one giant iceberg broke away from the glacier tongue," Angelika Humbert, a glaciologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute, said in a statement. [Photo Gallery: Antarctica - Pine Island Glacier Cracks]

    Humbert and her colleagues studied high resolution radar images taken by the TerraSAR-X satellite to track the changes in the two cracks, and to observe the processes behind glacier movements.

    "Using the images we have been able to follow how the larger crack on the Pine Island Glacier extended initially to a length of 28 kilometers [17 miles]," Nina Wilkens, one of the team researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institute, said in a statement. "Shortly before the 'birth' of the iceberg, the gap then widened bit by bit so that it measured around 540 meters [1,770 feet] at its widest point."

    As the Pine Island Glacier retreats and flows out to sea, it develops and drops icebergs as part of a natural and cyclical process, Humbert said. But, the way the ice breaks, or "calves," is still somewhat mysterious.

    Pine Island Glacier, PIG, Antarctica"Glaciers are constantly in motion," she said. "They have their very own flow dynamics. Their ice is exposed to permanent tensions and the calving of icebergs is still largely unresearched."

    The Pine Island Glacier ice shelf, the part of the glacier that extends out into the water, last produced large icebergs in 2001 and 2007.

    The glacier is the longest and fastest-changing on the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. While Humbert and her colleagues did not draw direct connections between this week's calving event and climate change, other scientists, including marine geologists at the British Antarctic Survey, are investigating whether global warming is thinning Antarctica's ice sheets and speeding up the glacier's retreat.

    Yet, the flow of the Pine Island Glacier may be driven by other factors, Humbert said. The glacier flows to the Amundsen Sea at a rate of about 2.5 miles (4 km) per year. She says whether the flow speeds up or slows down is based more on changing wind directions in the Amundsen Sea, and less by rising air temperatures.

    "The wind now brings warm sea water beneath the shelf ice," Humbert said. "Over time, this process means that the shelf ice melts from below, primarily at the so-called grounding line, the critical transition to the land ice."

    Still, if the glacier's flow speeds up, it could have serious consequences, the researchers said. The Pine Island Glacier currently acts as a plug, holding back part of the immense West Antarctic Ice Sheet whose melting ice contributes to rising sea levels.

    Follow Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, Facebook and Google+. Original article at LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

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

     

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    Wednesday, July 10, 2013

    Death Valley National Park (Getty)

    Death Valley's record temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit (56.7 degrees Celsius) - the hottest ever measured on Earth - was set exactly 100 years ago today. But the tale of how the rocky expanse of California desert came to be known as the world's hottest place involves a lengthy stretch in the number two slot, a mission to set the record straight, and a scientist who disappeared amid a revolution.

    For decades, scientists debated whether El Azizia, Libya or the eastern California desert expanse had the definitive claim to the hottest temperature ever recorded on the planet. An international meteorology committee was tasked with investigating the competing claims, made decades earlier, but their efforts were disrupted by a revolution in Libya.

    In 2011, at the height of Libya's revolution, Libyan scientist and committee member Kahlid Ibrahim El Fadli was searching for the handwritten records in the Middle Eastern country when he disappeared for several months.

    "I didn't know if he was alive for eight months, and then I got a short email from him saying he and his family escaped from Tripoli," Randy Cerveny, a climatologist from Arizona State University, told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

    "He was part of the revolution, and he was holding the same position as before, but with the revolutionary government."

    Incredibly, the Libyan records also survived the chaos. They also put to rest, once and for all, which site can claim the title of hottest place. In looking at the original records, El Fadli, director of the climate division of the Libya National Weather Service, discovered the Libyan measurement of 136.4 F (58 C) was way off from surrounding weather stations. A faulty reading of the thermometer is now primarily blamed for the discrepancy, which was enough evidence for the World Meteorological Organization to overturn the record.

    This secured Death Valley as the hottest-known place on Earth, with the record-setting temperature marked on July 10, 1913. The park plans a 100th anniversary celebration on July 10 that will feature talks from scientists as well as an invitation for delegates to watch the usual temperature observation. [8 Hottest Places on Earth]

    So what makes Death Valley such an oven? A unique set of environmental factors send temperatures soaring in the desert region, forcing adaptations among the plants and animals that live there.

    A sun-scorched environment

    The biggest factor behind Death Valley's extreme heat is its elevation. Parts of it are below sea level, even though the area is 250 miles (400 kilometers) inland from any major body of water. Also, a major set of mountains (the Sierra Nevada) block moisture from the Pacific from reaching the basin.

    That geological combination makes it possible for summer temperatures to reach 125 F (51.6 C), or even higher, as happened in late June. (The temperature in Death Valley on June 29, 2013, was 129 F (54 C), making it the hottest June day on record for the United States.)

    "That really allows for the solar radiation to heat up the air, and really dry it out, and make it an incredibly hot environment," Cerveny said.

    Other factors conspire to keep air from moving around in the basin, said Christopher Stachelski, a forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Las Vegas. The valley is narrow, trapping any air from circulating in or out. There's also little vegetation to absorb the sun's rays, and there's a desert nearby. Winter temperatures, however, can actually get quite cold because the desert does not retain heat when the surrounding air cools off.

    "There are seasons to Death Valley," Stachelski said. "It can get warm in the winter on certain days, but there are days in the winter that can get to freezing. Most days in the winter have 60s for a high."

    Nevertheless, plants and animals in this location require both behavioral and physiological adaptations to survive.

    Slow growth and slow movements

    There are animals in Death Valley, but they tend to be in low densities. Amphibians stick close to any water they can find. Large mammals rest in the shade. Cave bats remain underground until night falls, and birds fly away or to higher elevations. [Hell on Earth: Tour Death Valley]

    The lack of water also forces physiological adaptations, as seen in the notable example of tortoises.

    "What's cool about tortoises is the ability to concentrate their urine. They can go a year without drinking," said Linda Manning, a wildlife biologist for Death Valley National Park. "Apparently, when they let it go, it's really stinky."

    Plant adaptations include small leaves, extremely deep roots, long-lived seeds and also more desert-friendly features such as waxy cuticles and spines. The most important feature, however, is their extremely slow growth, said Jane Cipra, a botanist at Death Valley National Park.

    "Shrubs like creosote and blackbrush may not look like much, but they can be hundreds and sometimes thousands of years old," she wrote in an email.

    "Blackbrush is largely dormant most of the time and only puts energy into growth and reproduction in really good years."

    Even a century after the hottest recorded temperature, these adaptations are still crucial to allowing animals and plants to survive. The late June temperatures in Death Valley were so hot this year that media and scientists speculated the all-time record was in danger of being broken just after it regained its rightful place.

    Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace. Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, Facebook and Google+. Original article at LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

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

     

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    Tennessee Storm
    Jim Cantore tweeted this photo at 8:28 p.m. on July 10 and wrote, "Water covered roads in E. Nashville along Shelby Ave. pic.twitter.com/C5qnFFqNG5 via @NashSevereWx. BIG WIND over Franklin, TN NOW !! #tnwx"

    Severe thunderstorms packing damaging wind gusts, hail and torrential downpours were pushing eastward late Wednesday, aiming for the central and northern Appalachians.

    The storms pose a significant risk to lives and property. A few of the strongest storms could also bring a tornado.

    Some communities can be hit with power outages and road closures with wind gusts in excess of 60 mph and 2 inches of rain in an hour's time.

    States impacted by the storms into Wednesday night include, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia and Tennessee.

    RELATED:
    Northeast, Ohio Valley Severe Storm, Flooding Risk Wednesday
    Photos: Flash Flooding Slams Pittsburgh, More Possible
    Humidity to Drop for Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis


    UPDATES: (All times are listed in EDT)

    8:50 p.m. EDT Wednesday:


    8:40 p.m. EDT Wednesday:
    Heavy rain and thunderstorms created flash flooding in State College, Pa. The 911 call center reported Thompson Run Creek out of its banks and East College Avenue flooded.

    8:20 p.m. EDT Wednesday: "The main threat with the storms are drenching downpours and locally damaging wind gusts," said AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Erik Pindrock. The line of showers and gusty thunderstorms extend from south-central New York through central Pennsylvania and down into West Virginia. "Storms will sag southward through the evening but gradually weaken as they approach the megalopolis of the I-95 corridor late tonight," said Pindrock.

    7:35 p.m. EDT Wednesday: In Punxsutawney, Pa., two inches of rain fell in just one hour, reported trained spotter.

    7:20 p.m. EDT Wednesday:
    Severe Storms, Ohio

    6:55 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Emergency management reported a house surrounded by water due to flash flooding. A water rescue took place north of Pittsburgh, Pa., in Aliquippa.

    6:00 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Landslide due to flash flooding on Douglas Road just south of Pittsburgh, Pa., in Elizabeth, reported emergency management.

    5:45 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Numerous roads closed and cars stranded due to flash flooding in New Castle, Pa., reported by emergency manager.

    5:16 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Excessive flight delays reported at Port Columbus International airport due to thunderstorms and heavy rain. Cleveland Hopkins International Airport cancelled 23 arrival flights and delayed 82. The airport also cancelled 27 departure flights and delayed another 110.

    4:40 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Tornado confirmed by trained spotter south of New Castle in Lawrence County, Pa.

    4:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Killbuck Creek flooded along Route 302 in Wooster, Ohio. Water was as deep as the guard rails on the highway.

    4:25 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Police spotted a funnel cloud over North Beaver, Pa., south of New Castle.

    4:16 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Wind gusted to 71 mph at Port Columbus Airport, Ohio, recorded by NWS.

    4:10 p.m. EDT Wednesday: A train was derailed by thunderstorm winds in Melbern, Ohio, southwest of Toledo, reported by emergency manager. Multiple power lines and trees also downed.

    3:46 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Mesonet recorded a thunderstorm wind gust of 86 mph, northwest of Columbus, Ohio, in St. Marys.

    2:35 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Possible tornado developing near Cleveland, Ohio.

    2:19 p.m. EDT Wednesday: Trained spotter reported rotating wall cloud in Bedford Heights, Ohio.

     

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    Arizona Haboob, Dust Storm
    (Mike Olbinski)

    A massive dust storm rolled through parts of southwestern and central Arizona Wednesday, July 10, and photographer Mike Olbinski captured this image and posted it to Twitter.

    The National Weather Service issued a blowing dust advisory for Pinal County and Maricopa County.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Photos of Dust Storms

     

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    Updated Thursday, July 11, 2013, 3:51 p.m. ET

    Dave Bondy Tweeted this photo of Baldwin, Pa., on Wednesday and wrote, "Flooding is horrible in Baldwin on Streets Run Rd. pic.twitter.com/woqSC2E3JG"

    Part of the I-95 corridor will continue to receive drenching downpours, gusty thunderstorms and the potential for flash flooding Thursday afternoon and evening.

    Cities that should be on the lookout for weather-related travel problems from the drenching storms include Norfolk, Va., Raleigh and Charlotte, N.C., Columbia and Greenville, S.C., Atlanta, Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans, La.

    A front slowly approaching the area will focus the activity in a swath from southeastern Virginia to North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

    RELATED:
    Current Watches and Warnings
    Chantal Aims for Southeast
    Reports from Wednesday's Storms

    The main threat on Thursday will be the potential for flash, urban and small stream flooding associated with downpours from these storms.

    Moisture coming up from the Gulf of Mexico this July has already brought an excess of rain to much of the mid-Atlantic. The heavy storms Thursday will re-aggravate the flooding problems from earlier in the month.

    Virginia Flash Flood

    The strongest storms have the potential to bring isolated wind gusts to 60 mph, which are strong enough to down large tree limbs and cause sporadic power outages.

    Since the front focusing the rainfall Thursday will stall and reverse its motion from earlier in the week, look for showers, thunderstorms and the risk of flooding to expand westward once again to the central and southern Appalachians into the weekend.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Chantal Dominican Republic
    Residents watch from their homes as floodwaters run down a street in the Cristo Redentor, or Christ Redeemer, neighborhood in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Wednesday, July 10, 2013. (AP Photo)

    KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Tropical Storm Chantal was downgraded Wednesday to a tropical wave as its scattered clouds drifted quickly westward toward Jamaica. But heavy rains from the weakened system continued to drench parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and force the evacuation of thousands from flood-prone areas.

    One storm-related death was reported in the Dominican Republic: a firefighter swept away by floodwaters.

    What was once a fast-moving storm began degenerating late Wednesday afternoon about 230 miles (370 kilometers) east-southeast of the Jamaican capital of Kingston. Its remnants still packed maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph), but a reconnaissance plane found that Chantal lacked the closed circulation necessary to be classified as a storm.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the wave was expected to spread over Jamaica and eastern Cuba into Thursday. It was projected to move over or near the Florida peninsula by Friday, where heavy wind shear is expected to keep it from reforming as a storm.

    Jamaica's Meteorological Service said "the main threat at this time is for outbreaks of heavy showers and thunderstorms," starting over eastern parishes. It warned that flash flooding was possible and called for mariners to stay alert.

    As a storm earlier Wednesday, Chantal's center skirted the southern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola. But its heavy rains still posed a threat to some of the region's most vulnerable people, many of whom live in flimsy homes of plywood and corrugated steel.

    The only reported fatality was that of Juan Ramon Rodriguez, a 26-year-old Dominican firefighter, in the community of Maimon, about 50 miles (85 kilometers) north of the capital of Santo Domingo. Rodriguez was trying to clear a storm drain when rushing waters carried him away, said Luis Luna, director of the country's civil defense agency.

    Dominican authorities were evacuating thousands of people from communities considered at high risk for flooding as rivers near the capital and along the southern coast reached dangerously high levels from the heavy rains. Authorities said more than 6,500 people had been evacuated by Wednesday night.

    "We're not in the clear yet," said Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the Emergency Operations Center.

    Even remnants of Chantal could create problems for the rural southern peninsula of Haiti and southwestern Dominican Republic. Tropical systems can trigger flooding and landslides on Hispaniola, and severe deforestation and makeshift housing make Haiti especially vulnerable.

    Haitian officials urged people to move away from ravines, secure important records and stock up on food and water.

    Farmers in southern Haiti, where mountainside crops are particularly vulnerable to strong winds, feared the worst as heavy rain fell. "I'm scared for the people," farmer Jean-Marc Tata said by telephone of his neighbors in Mapou, a village near the southeastern coast.

    All tropical storm warnings were cancelled late Wednesday afternoon. But people in Jamaica, eastern Cuba and the Bahamas were urged to monitor the wave's progress.

    American Airlines canceled flights to Haiti and elsewhere in the Caribbean, and cruise lines made numerous changes to their itineraries.

    Chantal raced through the eastern Caribbean early Tuesday, with officials in Dominica reporting that heavy winds ripped the roofs off over 15 homes and toppled power lines. No injuries were reported there or anywhere else in the small islands of the Eastern Caribbean.

    Overnight, the storm passed south of Puerto Rico, leaving about 7,000 people in the U.S. territory without power and more than 2,500 people without water. Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla ordered public employees back to work on Wednesday.

    In northeast Jamaica, Fredericus Enneking took it easy as gray clouds began swirling overhead and the breeze picked up at his eco-resort on a one-acre seaside property.

    "You can feel something is in the air," said the Holland-born Enneking, who uses the Rastafarian name of "Free-I." Of course, you can never know what Mother Nature will do, but I am waiting for the storms later in the season. They are typically the ones that do the damage."

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

     

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    Rescue workers head to the site of a massive landslide on Wuxiangang Hill of Sanxi village in Dujiangyan city in southwestern China's Sichuan province Wednesday, July 10, 2013. (AP Photo)

    BEIJING (AP) - Floodwaters surging through Himalayan foothills in western China have swept bridges, houses and hillsides into roiling brown torrents, leaving at least 31 people dead and 166 missing Thursday, as heavy rains buffeted many parts of the country.

    Flooding in the western province of Sichuan was the worst in 50 years for some areas, with more than 220,000 people forced to evacuate.

    Nationwide, at least 46 people have died due to the violent weather since Sunday, according to figures from the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the official Xinhua News Agency. Thousands of homes have been destroyed or damaged and transportation has come to a virtual standstill in hard-hit areas.

    Many of the casualties in Sichuan were from a massive landslide that struck a scenic resort outside the city of Dujiangyan, killing 18 people and leaving 107 missing. An entire hillside collapsed onto clusters of holiday cottages where city dwellers escape summer heat, a survivor told Xinhua.

    "The noise was like thunder and went on for two or three minutes. My first thought was that I too would be buried," Gao Quanshi, 47, was quoted as saying. Phone lines were cut, so villagers had to trek to nearby government offices to call for help, he said.

    Images from the scene showed a valley filled with mud and rocks, with only the tops of trees sticking through. Drenched rescuers wearing helmets and life jackets worked mostly with hand tools to prevent harming any survivors still trapped beneath.

    A total of 352 tourists had been rescued from the area as of Wednesday night, Xinhua said. Overall in Sichuan, there were at least 31 people dead and 166 missing, said the provincial department of civil affairs.

    A mudslide in Sichuan's Aba prefecture left three people dead and 12 others missing, Xinhua said.

    Mudslides and flooding are common in China's mountainous areas, killing hundreds of people every year, but in some areas the current floods are already the worst in half a century. Reports said the 94 centimeters (37 inches) of rainfall that fell on Dujiangyan over 40 hours beginning Monday was the heaviest since records began being kept in 1954.

    Also in the west, more than 2,000 people were rescued after being trapped for several hours Wednesday in a highway tunnel between Dujiangyan and Wenchuan - the epicenter of the Sichuan earthquake five years ago that left 90,000 people dead or missing.

    Bridges have been closed and train service suspended in some parts of the province.

    In nearby Beichuan county, flooding destroyed buildings and wrecked exhibits at a memorial for earthquake victims.

    The flooding also caused the collapse of an almost 50-year-old bridge in a neighboring county, sending six vehicles into the raging waters and leaving 12 people missing.

    The region lies in the foothills of the Tibetan Plateau, where mountains rise sharply from the densely populated Sichuan basin. Fast-running rivers quickly overflowed their banks, flooding scores of towns and parts of the provincial capital of Chengdu, where the waters rose to the second floor and covered the tops of cars.

    In Chengdu, stone bridges and brick houses along river banks were swept away, including one in which the residents were taking shelter, while others crumbled into the saturated earth already rent with fissures from the magnitude-8.9 2008 earthquake.

    In the northern province of Shanxi, at least 12 workers were killed Tuesday when a violent rainstorm caused the collapse of an unfinished coal mine workshop they were building.

    Another three people were drowned in a car in Hebei province outside the capital, while an additional 11 people were reported dead or missing in Yunnan province, Beijing, Inner Mongolia and Gansu province.

     

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    A building weather pattern in the West will bring needed rainfall, but also the risk of flooding, dust storms and wildfires to some locations.

    The developing pattern over the western United States favors the expanse of an annual phenomenon known to locals as the "Monsoon."

    The monsoon favors thunderstorms that bring localized torrential rainfall and also those without much rain, but deliver frequent lightning strikes.

    Increasing humidity levels have and will continue to result in an uptick in the number and expanse of thunderstorms.

    While the storms bring life-giving rainfall to normally arid areas of the region, they also bring the risk of flash flooding and the ignition of new wildfires.

    Monsoon Outlook

    According to Paul Pastelok, head of the AccuWeather.com long-range forecast team, "Initially the thunderstorms will focus over the Four Corners states but will expand outward to the West, this week into next week."

    At the local level, it is impossible to say which areas will be hit by rainfall sufficient enough to cause flooding and which places could be facing dry lightning and new wildfires.

    "The area from northern California to eastern Oregon, eastern Washington and much of Idaho will remain relatively free of storms over the next couple of weeks," Pastelok said.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Summer Forecast
    Southwest Regional Radar
    Rough Wildfire Season

    A disturbance is forecast to drift westward this weekend (July 13-14) into the following week.

    "The disturbance is likely to enhance the thunderstorm activity within the monsoon pattern from West Texas to New Mexico, Arizona, southern Nevada and part of Southern California," Pastelok added.

    Similar setups in the past have resulted in torrential rainfall and flooding.

    However, even before that disturbance arrives, some downpours will reach these areas.

    According to Western Weather Expert Ken Clark, "We expect thunderstorms to reach Phoenix and Las Vegas this week, as well as some of the desert areas in California."

    While the storms bring a risk of starting new fires, the high humidity works as an aid to firefighters. The higher moisture makes the brush more moist. The more moist brush make it a bit more difficult for existing fires to spread rapidly and lowers the chance of a lightning strike starting a new fire.

    Sporadic downpours may also serve as a natural firebreak.

    Isolated torrential rainfall caused by the storms can also be very dangerous. A storm miles away can lead to a flash flood hours later downstream. Dry stream beds in the region, called Arroyos, can rapidly fill with water, sweeping away unsuspecting motorists and children playing in the vicinity.

    Some of the storms that bring little or no rainfall can also kick up a considerable amount of dust, which can pose another sudden problem for travelers in the region.

    For much of the Southwest, the monsoon-driven thunderstorms represent the bulk of the moisture received on an annual basis. Few winter storms release as much moisture as a single, drenching thunderstorm. Much of that winter moisture falls in the form of snow over the mountains.

    Wildfire Outlook

    According to the National Interagency Fire Center, during 2012 there were 67,774 wildland fires across the nation, which burned 9.3 million acres. As of July 8, for the year so far, there have been nearly 25,000 wildland fires, which have burned 1.9 million acres.

    "The prime fire season for the West in general spans August to October," Clark stated. "During September and October, Santa Ana winds and hot weather are a particular problem in Southern California."

    By the late summer and early autumn, vegetation has had all summer to dry out.

    Last year, drought over the Plains, Midwest and in parts of the East and South during the winter, spring and early summer contributed to a high number of fires early on. This year so far much of the same area has been abnormally wet, which has contributed to a lower number of fires nationally.

    While conditions are likely to stay wet in much of the Eastern and Central states into the summer, the national number of wildland fires, driven by conditions in the West will tend to catch up to last year's levels.

     

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    Car Swept Away by Flash Floods in Colorado

    MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - A thunderstorm in Colorado sent rocks, mud, debris and running water rushing down part of a canyon in Manitou Springs, leaving some vehicles covered or stuck in mud.

    The rockslide closed a four-mile stretch of U.S. 24 Wednesday afternoon. El Paso County sheriff's officials say there was no immediate report of injuries.

    The American Red Cross opened a shelter for people seeking higher ground.

    The National Weather Service had issued flash flood warnings for areas scarred by the Waldo Canyon Fire last year and the Black Forest Fire this year, since soil and vegetation that normally would absorb rainfall there has been burned away.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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