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    Workers load sacks of salt that will be used for cloud seeding to induce rain to battle forest fire into an Indonesian Air Force cargo plane at Roesmin Nurjadin airbase in Pekanbaru, Riau province, June 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Rony Muharrman)

    A U.S. study is under way to evaluate several possible ways to limit climate change including solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal.

    The study will primarily be an analysis of peer-reviewed literature, and will not involve any substantial new research, experimentation, or development of new geoengineering technology, spokeswoman Lauren Rugani of the National Academy of Sciences said.

    "The project's main goal is to provide a technical evaluation of proposed geoengineering techniques such as carbon dioxide removal and solar radiation management, to determine what we know and don't know about their physical capabilities, technical feasibilities, known risks, and intended or unintended consequences," Rugani said.

    The evaluation would include general comments on how using such technology may impact the environment, economy and national security. The study committee includes experts in oceanography, earth sciences, environmental sciences, remote sensing, global ecology, marine chemistry and geochemistry, public policy, history of science, atmospheric and climate science and national security, Rugani said.

    Most of the proposed geoengineering techniques for solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal being discussed have global implications and are generally discussed in a global context, Rugani said.

    "The study may discuss what is known about regional effects from various proposed techniques, but that will depend what peer-reviewed literature is available on those effects," she said.

    The project is supported by the Academy, the U.S. intelligence community, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

    Changing the Weather

    Attempts to change the weather have taken on various forms for about 70 years.

    Agencies have used cloud seeding to bring rain and snow to parched areas of the western United States. The U.S. government tried to research and modify hurricanes from the early 1960s to the mid-80s, an effort that was unsuccessful.

    Indonesia used cloud seeding in June to help douse forest fires. The Chinese government used its weather modification branch to work on a rain-free Beijing Olympics in 2008.

    Frequency of Storms in Atlantic to Surge
    Raging Southern California Wildfire Threatens Life, Property
    2012 Broke Climate Records, New Report Says

    So what's next for weather modification?

    "In its report, the committee may briefly discuss weather modification as a historical example and draw on 'lessons learned,'" Rugani said.

    Weather modification is the process of modifying the weather to enhance rainfall and/or suppress hail with the use of glaciogenic (silver iodide) and/or hygroscopic (calcium chloride) material, Project Meteorologist Jonathan Jennings of the West Texas Weather Modification Association said.

    Aircraft or ground base generators are used to deliver the materials into the clouds, he said.

    "In Texas, our operations are conducted by seeding at the base of a convective thunderstorm with an aircraft. Our pilots and meteorologists (on the ground) work together via radio contact to identify target clouds and areas of inflow," Jennings said.

    "We rely on the inflow to transport our material into the areas of the cloud that the material is expected to impact. The meteorologists are licensed by the state of Texas to perform these operations. The main tools used are satellite imagery and radar via a program called TITAN (Thunderstorm Identification, Tracking, Analysis and Nowcasting) supported by the National Center for Atmospheric Research."

    Safeguards are in place to curtail or stop cloud-seeding programs on predetermined criteria.

    "For example, on our program in North Dakota we do not seed storms that are producing a funnel cloud or tornado, and we also suspend operations during flash flooding situations. Winter programs generally have snowpack criteria by which seeding may be suspended, based on the percentage of normal precipitation and how far along they are in the snow season," said Darin Langerud, director of the North Dakota Atmospheric Resource Board, who is part of the North American Weather Modification Council.

    Cloud seeding produces no significant environmental effacers but does enhance precipitation by 5 to 15 percent and can reduce crop-hail damage by 40 to 45 percent, Langerud said.

    "The economic benefits of increasing precipitation and reducing hail damage are too numerous to list, but in general, the benefits of extra water in the form of rain and snow and reduced crop-hail damage produced from cloud seeding far outweigh the costs," he said. "Water produced from cloud seeding can cost as little as a few dollars per acre-foot. Desalination, for example, produces an acre-foot of water for roughly between $500 to $2,000 per acre-foot."

    Besides the United States, forty-two other nations have weather modification programs, according to a report released in July by the Expert Team on Weather Modification Research of the World Meteorological Organization.

    Weather warfare is banned under a 1980 treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory, but the U.S. intelligence community definitely has an interest in such technologies, said John E. Pike, director of, a security think tank in Alexandria, Va.

    "Because global warming may impact the security of other countries and create problems for the U.S. government," Pike said. One national security benefit would be to prevent state failure in Africa, particularly in a nation such as Somalia, which has suffered through famine and a long-term civil war.

    It also would be perfectly ethical for the U.S. government to use weather modification to save lives and money, Pile said.

    The U.S. study is expected to be finished in the fall of 2014.


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    Monday, Aug. 12, 2013

    A Filipino man rides his bicycle as thick clouds form in Navotas, north of Manila, Philippines on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) - A powerful typhoon battered the northern Philippines on Monday, toppling power lines and dumping heavy rain across cities and food-growing plains. The storm left at least two people dead and 44 missing.

    Typhoon Utor, described as the strongest globally this year, slammed ashore in mountainous eastern Aurora province with sustained winds of 109 miles per hour and gusts of up to 130 mph.

    Footage from ABS-CBN TV network showed a woman swept away by a raging river in neighboring Isabela province. The woman waved her hands for help as she struggled to hang on to debris while being buffeted by huge waves in the muddy waters. It was not known what happened to her.

    "She has not been found, so she is missing," said Norma Talosig, a regional civil defense director. She said the woman lived alone in a low-lying area and had refused to be evacuated.

    Talosig said that in northern Nueva Vizcaya province, a 53-year-old farmer drowned while trying to rescue his water buffalo from a swift-moving flood. The animal survived.

    In mountainous Benguet province, a 22-year-old man died on the way to a hospital after he was pulled from a landslide that hit a canal he was clearing, said regional civil defense official Andrew Alex Uy.

    The typhoon triggered waves of up to eight feet and left scores of fishermen missing.
    In northern Pangasinan province, 25 fishermen on three boats failed to return home, said provincial police spokesman Senior Inspector Ryan Manongdo.

    Eighteen other fishermen from the eastern provinces of Catanduanes and Camarines Norte also were unaccounted for. Authorities were hoping they took shelter in coves and nearby islands, said Office of Civil Defense regional director Bernardo Alejandro IV.

    "I hope they're just waiting for the typhoon to pass and will show up as soon as the weather clears," he said. A higher number of missing had been reported earlier, but some of the fishermen have returned home.

    As of late Monday, Utor picked up speed as it continued to move away from the country. Government forecaster Joey Figuracion said the typhoon was 230 kilometers (140 miles) northwest of northern Ilocos Sur province's coast, and moving to the northwest.

    It was forecast to reach southern China on Wednesday.

    Office of Civil Defense Administrator Eduardo del Rosario said 1,895 people from three regions had to be evacuated to shelters, with 673 houses damaged.

    Utor, the Marshellese word for a squall line, was the 12th of about 20 storms and typhoons expected to lash the Philippines this year.


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    Monday, Aug. 12, 2013
    Pop Art Satellite

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - If aliens ever target Earth, Jon Gibson and Amanda White are counting on them having an appreciation for pop art and a sense of humor.

    The two artists have created an elaborate, Andy Warhol-like design that has been etched into a satellite's panel, transforming it into a replica of an oversized electrical charging device.

    Gibson jokes that any would-be space invader who sees it might be charmed by Earth's sense of humor and not attack.

    At the very least, the alien would have an opportunity to observe Earthling pop art.

    Craig Clark, CEO of Scotland-based Clyde Space, asked the two owners of LA's iam8bit gallery to decorate his satellite. He's decided it's time that spacecraft be both functional and aesthetic, and he hopes to start a trend.


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    Monday, Aug. 12, 2013
    Silent Lightening Strikes in Lithuania

    A strange lightning storm in Kaunas, Lithuania, last week spurred Romas Gaucas to grab his camera and begin filming. Bolts of electricity flashed across the sky, but instead of the normal accompanying crack of thunder, there was silence. Gaucas described it as "something I have never seen...extraordinary." The storm continued for several hours at least.

    Silent lightning, also called heat lightning, occurs for several reasons. In most cases, a viewer is simply too far from lightning to hear thunder. The sound of thunder travels only up to about 10 miles whereas lightning can be seen from much further away. Haze can reflect the light from thunderstorms into the night sky causing flashes of lightning to be seen from as far as 100 miles away.

    Air temperature also affects the sound of thunder. Differing densities of air can cause sound waves to refract or bend. Occasionally a viewer will see nearby lightning, but a change in air density overhead will refract the sound in another direction. Other times, airborne matter, such as heavy snow or dust and sand can silence thunder.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Lightning Strikes Across the World


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    Monday Aug. 12, 2013
    Usain Bolt Lightning
    Jamaica's Usain Bolt wins the100 meter final at the 2013 IAAF World Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on Aug. 11, 2013, while a lightning strikes in the sky. (OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)

    French photographer Olivier Morin snapped a perfectly-timed photo at the 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow on Aug. 11, 2013. The image shows lightning striking over the Luzhniki stadium as Jamaica's Usain Bolt wins the 100 meter final.

    Media outlets around the world shared the unforgettable photo almost immediately, making it an instantly iconic shot.

    According to Morin, "the stormy sky had been rumbling for 20 minutes and all of us photographers were trying to capture a lightning bolt." In a post for AFP's Correspondant blog, he explains:

    This was, I think, a once-in-a-lifetime moment. In my 25 years as a photographer I've never had an uncontrollable external element make a photo like this, and I imagine if I tried again for a similar result for the next 50 years, it wouldn't happen again. So, I only really give myself credit for one percent of this picture!

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Lightning Strikes Across the World


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    Monday, Aug. 12, 2013

    Released by Tesla Motors, this is a conceptual design rendering of the Hyperloop passenger transport capsule. (AP Photo/Tesla Motors)

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - Imagine strapping into a car-sized capsule and hurtling through a tube at more than 700 mph - not for the thrill of it, but to get where you need to go.

    On Monday, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled a transportation concept that he said could whisk passengers the nearly 400 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes - half the time it takes an airplane.

    If it's ever built.

    His "Hyperloop" system for travel between major cities is akin to the pneumatic tubes that transport capsules stuffed with paperwork in older buildings.

    In this case, the cargo would be people, reclining for the ride.

    The system would feature a large, nearly air-free tube. Inside, capsules would be pulled down the line by magnetic attraction.

    Capsules would float on a cushion of air they create - like an air hockey table in which the puck produces the air instead of the surface. To minimize friction from what air is in the tube, a powerful fan at the front of each capsule would suck air from the front to the rear.

    "Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this), the only option for super fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment," Musk wrote in his proposal, posted online.

    On a conference call Monday, Musk said that if all goes right, it could take seven to 10 years for the first passengers to make the journey between California's two biggest metro areas. He put the price tag at around $6 billion - pointedly mentioning that would be about one-tenth the projected cost of a high-speed rail system that California has been planning to build.

    Like that bullet train, the Hyperloop didn't take long to attract skepticism.

    Citing barriers such as mountains and cost, one transportation expert said that while Musk's idea is novel, it's not a breakthrough.

    "I don't think it will provide the alternative that he's looking for," said James E. Moore II, director of the transportation engineering program at the University of Southern California.

    Monday's unveiling lived up to the hype part of its name.

    Musk has been dropping hints about his system for more than a year during public events, mentioning that it could never crash and would be immune to weather.

    Coming from almost anyone else, the hyperbole would be hard to take seriously. But Musk has a track record of success. He co-founded online payment service PayPal, electric luxury carmaker Tesla Motors Inc. and the rocket-building company SpaceX.

    Musk has said he is too focused on other projects to consider actually building the Hyperloop, and instead would publish an open-source design that anyone can use or modify.

    That's still the case, he said Monday, but added that if no one else steps forward he might build a working prototype. That would take three or four years, he said.


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    (Getty Images)

    Tropical development will become more likely in the Atlantic toward the end of the week.

    An area of concern will be in the southwestern Caribbean where an area of low pressure and tropical wave will merge for the middle of the week. There is still much uncertainty with the path this system will take, but one possibility is migration north into the Gulf of Mexico.

    If this storm is allowed to drift northward, the area could become an organized system in the Gulf near the end of the week.

    However, most scenarios have a front moving off the coast of the United States later in the week, that could force the system into Central America.

    Even if no system becomes organized in the Gulf, some of the moisture could sneak up into the southeastern United States for the weekend.

    "All that tropical moisture could go up into the Southeast, bringing a flash flooding event," Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity warned.

    "That's the danger in these kinds of patterns, especially with the wet pattern that we've been in all summer," Margusity said.

    Even more of a concern will be out in the Atlantic later this week.

    In the middle of the Atlantic early this week, two tropical waves were moving through the dry environment created by dust moving off the coast of northern Africa. With this setup, the storms have a very low chance to develop.

    But late in the week, another tropical wave will move off the African coast into a less-hostile environment.

    As we get later into the hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin, conditions are becoming more favorable for tropical development.

    The massive plume of Saharan dust pushing off the coast of Africa will begin to dissipate, allowing for the moist environment necessary for systems to strengthen.

    Northeast Regional Radar
    Severe Weather Center
    Viewing Conditions for the Perseids Meteor Shower

    This is also the time of year that shredding winds will back off, letting tropical systems have the time to develop.

    "We are expecting these negative factors to weaken later in the week and into the weekend," said Expert Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos


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    (Getty Images)

    Thunderstorms capable of producing flooding downpours and/or gusty winds are set to return to New England and the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday.

    As of 7:30 a.m. EDT, this storm system has already brought flooding to roads and homes from Kentucky through Ohio and West Virginia. Emergency managers in Ritchie County, W. Va., reported multiple water rescues and said a camper park has been isolated by flood water. Kingswood, Pa., has seen 1.96 inches of rain in the last 24 hours.

    Travel delays, spoiled outdoor plans and property damage are problems residents from Portland to New York City to Richmond, Va. to Raleigh, N.C., could face on Tuesday.

    Flooding downpours will be the main concern in this entire corridor. Low-lying and poor drainage areas will be most susceptible to flooding.

    There is a risk for gusty winds as well with the most intense thunderstorms, but it will be highest in the mid-Atlantic region. This includes Washington D.C., Richmond, Va. and Raleigh, N.C.

    It will become active this morning and right into this afternoon.

    Drenching thunderstorms could also create hazards to motorists by reducing visibility and heightening the risk of vehicles hydroplaning at highway speeds.

    While not every thunderstorm will trigger flooding or strong winds, all should prompt residents and visitors to move inside. Remember as soon as thunder is heard, you are close enough to get struck by lightning.

    The culprit behind the drenching and gusty thunderstorms across New England and the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday is a cold front that will first drop through the Great Lakes on Monday.

    In the wake of the front, drier and less humid air will pour across the Northeast for Wednesday and Thursday and once again suppress any summer heat that was attempting to surge northward.

    Northeast Regional Radar
    Severe Weather Center
    Viewing Conditions for the Perseids Meteor Shower

    Wednesday may actually feel cool to some in the St. Lawrence Valley and eastern Great Lakes where highs will be held to around 70 degrees.

    The front, however, will struggle to make much more southward progress after reaching North Carolina, keeping the chance of thunderstorms in the forecast for Richmond and surrounding areas for the remainder of the week.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos


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    Mont Blanc (Getty Images)

    PARIS (AP) - An avalanche in the French Alps killed two Italian mountain climbers and injured another on Tuesday, rescue officials said.

    The accident occurred at 4 a.m. on Mont Blanc du Tacul, a 14,000-foot peak that is one of the most popular routes to the summit of Mont Blanc, western Europe's highest peak at 15,782 feet.

    The injured climber, an Italian mountain guide, was evacuated to a hospital in nearby Annecy, 25 miles south of Geneva, Switzerland. The search and rescue operation was finished by midday, according to the Chamonix search and rescue service.

    Rescuers said that bad weather prevented them initially from using helicopters to reach the site of the accident. Eventually more than 60 search and rescue crew took part in the operation along with two helicopters and two sniffer dog teams.

    Police have begun an investigation into the deaths, the search and rescue office said. The Italian consulate was notified and the climbers' families were being contacted, the search office said. The climbers' identities were not disclosed.

    Stuart Macdonald, a British mountain guide and director of the Avalanche Academy in Chamonix, said the slope where the accident occurred is prone to avalanches owing to its steep 30- to 40-degree inclination, and it has a reputation as a place to be avoided after heavy snow.

    About a week had passed since the last heavy snowfall in the area, which is generally enough time to permit a resumption of climbing, Macdonald said.

    The route "can be very crowded" this time of year, Macdonald said, with between 30 and 50 climbers on the slope at the time the accident occurred.

    Two more climbers were found dead Tuesday morning by rescuers in an Alpine area about 80 miles (130 kilometers) southwest of the accident on Mont Blanc, said Capt. Laurent Jaunatre, who is with a division of the Alpine police based in Grenoble.

    He said the French man and woman, both in their 50s, set off early Monday morning up the Roche de la Muzelle mountain. They were last spotted at noon that day when they were beginning their descent, and an alert was sent out when they did not return in the evening.

    Rescue teams began a ground search that night and found the couple early Tuesday with the use of a helicopter. It is unclear how they died.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Survival Stories from Mount Everest


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    A fire burns on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 20 north of Mountain Home, Idaho on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013. (AP Photo/John Miller)

    PINE, Idaho (AP) - Firefighters were kept on high alert with a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast Tuesday that could pose problems as crews fight a fast-moving wildfire near a remote Idaho hamlet where residents have been evacuated ahead of a big blaze.

    Electricity storms already sparked dozens of wildfires across the West in recent days, sending fire crews scrambling, threatening communities and impairing air quality in some areas.

    Near the central Idaho community of Pine, the lightning-sparked Elk Complex Fire had burned 141 square miles of sage brush, grass and pine trees in rugged, mountainous terrain by Monday.

    A few miles to the south, another big fire, the Pony Complex, had burned nearly 225 square miles of ground amid escalating winds and temperatures. Though it's now about a third contained, downed power lines complicated efforts by firefighters to corral the flames.

    Pine and neighboring Featherville were under mandatory evacuation orders Monday, a day after Elmore County sheriff's deputies went from house to house, knocking on doors to alert residents to clear out of the area.

    But some people, including Pine resident Butch Glinesky, opted to stay and watch over their property in this rustic vacation area some 50 miles east of Boise.

    "As much as they say we need to be out, I think we can always offer something," Glinesky said, watching as a crew from Colorado set up structure protection in his yard. "It's just, you know the area."

    Residents' insistence on staying wasn't generally welcomed by federal officials, who expressed concerns about added traffic on the roads.

    "People have a false sense of security," Boise National Forest District Ranger Stephaney Church told The Associated Press. "We can't do our job when they refuse to leave and we're diverting resources" to get them out of their houses.

    Last year, the Trinity Ridge Fire burned several miles away, blackening nearly 228 miles and forcing hundreds to temporarily evacuate Featherville.

    This year, fire officials say the Elk Complex has moved much faster, dipping in and out of ravines and torching ponderosa pine trees on ridge tops visible as bright orange smudges through the smoke cloaking the valley floor.

    "Everything is behaving like it has no moisture at all," Church said.

    The fire has destroyed several homes, fire officials said, though exactly how many had not yet been determined Monday.

    Jeff Day, a game warden with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said he toured a small settlement on the north side of a reservoir popular among boaters and anglers, called Fall Creek. There, he said, he'd seen several cabins burned to the ground, though the Fall Creek Resort was still intact.

    Day said he believed all the people from Fall Creek had left by the time the flames arrived.

    National Interagency Fire Center spokeswoman Madonna Lengerich said the road below the charred hillside was too dangerous to allow reporters; an assessment team was in the area, counting lost buildings, she said.

    In north-central Washington state, a lightning-sparked wildfire grew to more than 9 square miles of dry grass and shrubs. Fire managers said the Milepost 10 Fire was 70 percent contained, and evacuated residents of 78 homes were allowed to return home late Monday. The fire was burning about eight miles south of Wenatchee, overlooking the Columbia River.

    Meanwhile, mudslides were posing problems just south of the fire, where thunderstorms have dropped heavy rain at the site of another recent blaze. Three homes may have been pushed off their foundations, Chelan County, Wash. emergency officials said.

    Mudslides also closed Highway 20 east of Rainy Pass on Washington's scenic North Cascades Highway.

    In Utah, firefighters worked to contain several lightning-caused fires, including one near the Goshute Indian Reservation in Skull Valley that was threatening more than 20 structures and estimated at 10.5 square miles.

    Most of Monday's fire growth was contained atop the Stansbury Mountains, away from homes, but crews feared overnight winds could push the blaze toward threatened properties, fire information officer Joanna Wilson said.

    Idaho's fires, sparked by lightning last week, have led to the closure of more than 1,200 square miles of Boise National Forest land.

    Firefighters helped residents near the community of Pine clear brush around their homes and filled large plastic "pumpkins," or pools, with thousands of gallons of water to spray from sprinklers to protect property.

    Firefighters hope the Elk Complex Fire will be pushed by the wind toward the area charred by the Trinity Ridge Fire that moved so close to town a year ago; if that happens, there will be less dry fuel, given so much already burned a year ago.

    For some residents, the fire activity this season seems more imposing than the flames of the Trinity Ridge Fire.

    "It burned differently," said Kylie Rivera, who works in the kitchen at the Pine Resort and was taking pictures of a helicopter ferrying water between the reservoir and the flames.

    "Last year, there were clouds, the fire didn't move so quickly," Rivera added. "This year, it's so clear and hot, they say the fire is creating its own weather. It's hard to control."

    Along with Rivera, other employees who had opted to stay had their vehicles parked nearby, just in case they needed to make a break quickly, said Pine Resort owner Allen Kiester.

    "All the help's got their trucks ready," Kiester said. "Their precious things are in their vehicles."

    Out front, two fire engines stood ready to help if needed.

    Kiester pointed to the tin roof of the resort, noting it won't burn, but conceded that having a wildfire in the neighborhood for the second straight year is bothersome.

    "We don't need no more of this," Kiester said.


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    In this Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 file photo, a man wears a mask on Tiananmen Square in thick haze in Beijing. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

    BEIJING (AP) - China, one of the most visited countries in the world, has seen sharply fewer tourists this year - with worsening air pollution partly to blame.

    Numbers of foreign visitors have declined following January's "Airpocalypse," when already eye-searing levels of smog soared to new highs.

    Tourists have been put off by news about smog and other problems, said Frano Ilic of travel agency Studiosus in Munich, Germany. He said the number of people booking trips to China through his company has fallen 16 percent this year.

    "You are reading about smog. You are reading about political things," said Ilic. "All the news which is coming from China concerning the non-touristic things are bad, frankly speaking,"

    China is the world's No. 3 destination for international travel after France and the United States. Weakness in visitor numbers could hurt government efforts to reduce reliance on trade-driven manufacturing by promoting cleaner service industries such as tourism. Foreign visitors are outnumbered by Chinese tourists but spend more.

    The decline could be long-term if Beijing fails to make visible progress in combatting pollution, experts say.

    That China's air and water are badly polluted following three decades of breakneck growth is not news. But January's record-setting bout of smog got worldwide news coverage and was so bad some longtime foreign residents left the country.

    From January to June, the total number of foreign visitors, including business travelers and residents, entering China declined by 5 percent to just under 13 million compared with the same period last year, according to the China National Tourism Administration. Overall, visitors from Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas all declined.

    In Beijing, with major attractions including the Great Wall and the Imperial Palace, the drop is even more striking. The number of foreign tourists visiting the Chinese capital fell by 15 percent in the first six months of the year to 1.9 million, according to the Beijing Tourism Administration.

    The China National Tourism Administration acknowledges a decline in foreign tourists to China as a whole, and in cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Xiamen, a prosperous port city in the southeast.

    It blames the global economic slowdown and a stronger Chinese currency and says China's tourism image has been hurt by the emergence of H7N9 bird flu, air pollution and dead pigs found floating in Shanghai's main river.

    The city of Awara in central Japan canceled a student exchange trip due to bad air. Eighteen Japanese students were due to visit the eastern coastal city of Shaoxing under an annual exchange program that goes back 30 years.

    Such trips might resume next year if conditions improve, said an employee of Awara's city hall, Toshihiro Nukami.

    Beijing's official air quality reports show improvement over recent years.

    But Steven Andrews, an environmental and legal consultant, said other data show a decline.

    An analysis of U.S. Embassy readings of smaller, more harmful airborne particles, show this year's pollution is significantly worse than in the past three years, Andrews said.

    Beijing's city government only started publicly releasing air quality data in January 2012 that measured PM2.5, or fine particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. They can enter deep into the lungs and can cause more damage. They are considered a more accurate reflection of air quality than other pollutants.

    According to Andrews' calculations, the average PM2.5 reading in the first half of 2013 was about 118 micrograms per cubic meter, compared with 95 last year and 89 in 2011. "In other words, so far this year the air pollution is about 25 percent worse than the first half of last year," he said.

    Total numbers of foreigners to Beijing rose in January by 13 percent compared with a year earlier. But following news reports of January's smog, they dropped in February by 37 percent compared with February 2012.

    In June, the number of foreigners to the Chinese capital was down by about 19 percent from a year ago, according to the Beijing Tourism Administration.

    The biggest drop was among Japanese visitors - 55 percent fewer came to the capital in the first six months. The number of Americans, the biggest single group of foreign visitors, declined 4 percent to just under 370,000.

    How long the tourist decline lasts is linked to how quickly the smog clears, economists suggest.

    Air and water pollution from factories and cars is the outcome of successful economic development and "difficult to control because it is difficult or politically infeasible to identify responsible parties," said Tim Tyrrell, former director of the Center for Sustainable Tourism at Arizona State University.

    "Thus the air pollution trends in China will be difficult to reverse and their impacts will be significantly negative on the tourism industry," he said. These impacts could be reversed if "the government can make significant improvements in air quality and enthusiastically convey these improvements to international travelers."

    Other economists in the U.S. are studying data from 18 Chinese provinces from 1999 to 2010 that suggest air pollution hurts levels of foreign visitors.

    A master's degree thesis by Chinese student Cong Huang at the University of San Francisco was the starting point. She estimated that a 1 percent rise in air pollution will lower the number of foreign tourist arrivals by about 1.2 percent.

    The Chinese government has announced ambitious new anti-pollution measures but people whose jobs depend on foreign tourists aren't hopeful.

    The sales manager of the Cuiming Garden Hotel, near Tiananmen Square in central Beijing, said guest numbers are down. She said the next three months usually are a busy period but if the slump continues, the hotel might cut prices.

    "We're still not very much confident about having many inbound tourists next year," said the manager, who would give only her surname, Wang.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Breathtaking Photos of Antarctica


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    A portion of a building rests in a sinkhole Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 in Clermont, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

    ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Sections of a building at a resort near Orlando's theme park district collapsed into a sinkhole late Sunday, forcing the evacuation of 105 guests in the structure and also dozens of visitors staying in two adjacent three-story buildings.

    Sinkholes are as much a part of the Florida landscape as palm trees and alligators. Florida has more of them than any state in the nation. Earlier this year, a man near Tampa died when a sinkhole opened up underneath his bedroom.

    Experts say sinkholes aren't occurring at a greater rate than usual but that the high-profile nature of recent one in populated areas has drawn attention to them. There also has been a rise in sinkhole claims in Florida, but insurance officials believe some of those claims are questionable. Here are some answers about why sinkholes form and their costs.


    Florida's peninsula is made up of porous carbonate rocks such as limestone that store and help move groundwater. Dirt, sand and clay sit on top of the carbonate rock. Over time, these rocks can dissolve from an acid created from oxygen in water, creating a void underneath the limestone roof. When the dirt, clay or sand gets too heavy for the limestone roof, it can collapse and form a sinkhole. Sinkholes are caused naturally but they can be triggered by outside events.


    Although sinkholes are formed naturally, they can be triggered by heavy rainfall, drought followed by heavy rainfall, tropical storms and human activity. The most common actions by humans that cause sinkholes are heavy pumping of groundwater to spray on oranges and strawberries during freezes to keep them from being damaged, well drilling, excavating, creating landfills, leaking broken water lines and pounding or blasting from construction.


    Three counties in the Tampa region are known as "sinkhole alley." Two-thirds of thesinkhole damage claims reported to the state Office of Insurance Regulation from 2006 to 2010 came from Hernando, Hillsborough and Pasco counties. Sinkholes are less common in South Florida, home to the state's two most populous counties - Broward and Miami-Dade.


    The state Office of Insurance Regulation says reported claims from sinkholes have risen in recent years. More than 2,300 claims were reported in Florida in 2006 but that figure jumped to almost 6,700 claims in 2010. There is no geological explanation for the rise and state insurance officials believe many claims are questionable. There must be structural damage to a home for a policyholder to claim a loss from a sinkhole, but insurance officials say claims are often paid without that proof.


    The state Office of Insurance Regulation says sinkhole claims in Florida cost insurers $1.4 billion from 2006 to 2010.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: Astonishing Sinkholes Around the World


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    Typhoon Utor continues to churn the water across the South China Sea Tuesday night, local time, as it heads toward southeast China.

    Utor slammed into the Philippines near the Casapsapan Bay early on Monday morning local time (Sunday afternoon EDT) as a powerful typhoon.

    Utor was upgraded to a super typhoon on Sunday night local time when a distinctive eye developed on satellite imagery. Prior to Utor making landfall, meteorologists concluded that Utor had undergone some weakening and lost its super typhoon status.

    The system weakened somewhat as it moved over the high terrain of western Luzon, but satellite imagery showed the storm becoming somewhat better organized on Monday afternoon as it emerged off the coast and back into open water.

    At least four people have died and more remain missing across the northern Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Utor, according to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The deaths included a man who was buried by a mudslide, a man who was trying to rescue his livestock from flood waters and two people that drown in flash flooding.

    Manila escaped the worst of Utor but did see some wind and rain from the storm.

    The brunt of the storm was focused farther north as the cities of Dagupan and Baguio recorded over 7.5 inches (190 mm).

    Utor will continue to move across the South China Sea toward southeastern China, with a second landfall expected Wednesday afternoon.

    RELATED: Hurricane Center
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    Frequency of Storms in Atlantic to Surge Expert Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls cautions, "These areas were hit hard by Mangkhut last week and Jebi the week prior. Another round of nasty weather from Utor is on the table."

    With Utor, mudslides can occur with the heavy rainfall, strong wind gusts can damage infrastructure, and large waves are likely as the storm moves onshore a second time. Some parts of southern China into Vietnam have seen over a foot of rain the past two weeks from other tropical systems, so this will only act to increase the flooding threat.


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    Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013

    Lightning struck a moving train in Tokyo yesterday. You can see the dramatic moment - and the ensuing sparks - 13 seconds into this video, followed by slow-motion replays. According to at least one account, no passengers were injured in the incident.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Lightning Strikes Across the World


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    Updated Wednesday, Aug. 14, 10:18 a.m. ET
    Typhoon Utor Hits China

    BEIJING (AP) - Tens of thousands of people were evacuated as a powerful typhoon thundered into southern China on Wednesday after shutting down the bustling Asian financial center of Hong Kong and sinking a cargo ship.

    Packing high winds and torrential rain, Typhoon Utor forced the closure of schools, offices, shopping centers and construction sites in cities along its path northwest across Guangdong province.

    More than 60,000 people were evacuated in the city of Maoming alone, while another 98,000 were moved to safety to the south on the island province of Hainan, where 26,000 fishing boats were also ordered to shelter in harbors. Flights and ferry services were suspended on the island, stranding thousands of travelers.

    There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries on the mainland due to the storm, which was packing sustained gale force winds of 90 miles per hour.

    In Hong Kong, offices, schools and courts were shut and the stock market halted trading, bringing an eerie calm to the normally busy southern Chinese commercial hub. More than 350 flights were canceled or delayed and bus and commuter ferry services were curtailed.

    Helicopter search and rescue teams from Hong Kong and Guangdong province rescued 21 crew members from the "Trans Summer," a bulk carrier, after it started listing in waters southwest of Hong Kong, local broadcaster RTHK said. China's official Xinhua News Agency said it was carrying 57,000 tons of nickel ore.

    Six people in Hong Kong were reported injured. Strong winds blew down 21 trees, but otherwise the city emerged largely unscathed.

    Utor was the world's strongest typhoon of the year before it crossed the Philippines earlier this week, leaving at least seven people dead and four missing. One woman in northeastern Isabela province was seen on camera being swept away by a raging river. Her body was found later.

    Dozens of fishermen were missing after the storm, but most have since returned home, officials said.

    Rescuers were still struggling to reach at least three isolated towns in the hardest-hit Aurora province, where the typhoon slammed ashore.

    "As of now, we don't have communication (with the three towns) and the roads are not passable, even to motorcycles, due to landslides, rockslides and uprooted trees," said Rey Balido, spokesman for the national disaster agency. He said authorities were taking alternate routes and that the Philippine air force would deliver relief goods.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: Typhoon Utor Batters China


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    Updated Wednesday, Aug. 14, 11:05 a.m. ET

    Debris burns as a UPS cargo plane lies on a hill at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport after crashing on approach, Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013, in Birmingham, Ala. (AP Photo/Hal Yeager)

    BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - A UPS cargo plane crashed Wednesday morning as it approached an Alabama airport, killing two crew members on board and scattering boxes and charred debris across the grassy field where it made impact, officials said.

    The pilot and co-pilot of the jet were pronounced dead at the scene, said Birmingham Fire Chief Ivor Brooks. The crash site had been burning, but the blaze was extinguished by late morning, Brooks said.

    The plane crashed in an open field on the outskirts of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, said Toni Herrera-Bast, a spokeswoman for the city's airport authority. The crash had not affected airport operations, though it did appear to topple a tree and a utility pole.

    The top was broken out of the tree and there are pieces of a utility pole and limbs in the road. Nearby, grass was blackened near the bottom of a hill. A piece of the fuselage and an engine are visible on the crest of the hill. White smoke was pouring from the other side of the hill.

    It was not immediately known what the plane was carrying; UPS spokesman Jeff Wafford said only that the plane was carrying a variety of cargo.

    Sharon Wilson, who lives near the airport, said she was in bed before dawn when she heard what sounded like engines sputtering as the plane went over her house.

    "It sounded like an airplane had given out of fuel. We thought it was trying to make it to the airport. But a few minutes later we heard a loud 'boom,'" she said.

    Another resident, Jerome Sanders, lives directly across from the runway. He said he heard a plane just before dawn and could see flames seconds before it crashed.

    "It was on fire before it hit," Sanders said.

    At 7 a.m. Wednesday, conditions in the area were rainy with low clouds. About 45 minutes later, smoke was still rising from the scene, where a piece of the plane's white fuselage lay near a blackened area on the ground.

    "The plane is in several sections," said Birmingham Mayor William Bell, who was briefed on the situation by the city's fire chief. "There were two to three small explosions, but we think that was related to the aviation fuel."

    "As we work through this difficult situation, we ask for your patience, and that you keep those involved in your thoughts and prayers," Atlanta-based UPS said in a statement.

    Previously, a UPS cargo plane crashed on Sept. 3, 2010, in the United Arab Emirates, just outside Dubai. Both pilots were killed. Authorities there blamed the crash on its load of between 80,000 to 90,000 lithium batteries, which are sensitive to temperature. Investigators found that a fire on board likely began in the cargocontaining the batteries.

    The Airbus A300 that had taken off from Louisville, Ky., crashed around 5 a.m. CDT about a half-mile from the runway, said Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said.

    Airbus said in a news release that the plane was built in 2003 and had logged about 11,000 flight hours over 6,800 flights.

    The A300 was Airbus' first plane, and the type first flew in 1972. American Airlines retired its last A300 in 2009, and no U.S. passenger airlines have flown it since then. Airbus quit building them in 2007 after making a total of 816 A300 and A310s.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Terrifying Airports


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    Cooler-than-average temperatures have settled over much of the Midwest and Northeast for part of the summer.

    However, a stretch of warmer temperatures will be on the way next week, finally bringing things back up to normal for the latter half of August.

    Temperatures will be settling in the mid- to upper 80s from Minnesota to Missouri, then eastward to the mid-Atlantic by the middle of next week. Some afternoon highs could sneak into the 90s for some places, especially towards the center of the country.

    The weather pattern looks to change across the Northeast and Midwest, becoming warmer next week.

    The high pressure bringing these warmer days will have high temperatures jumping as much as 10 degrees within a week in cities such as Chicago and Pittsburgh.

    Along the I-95 corridor, the rise in temperatures will not seem quite as drastic. However, a stream of moisture will move up the coast, allowing higher humidity to add to the warming temperatures.

    This is a warm-up that will follow an extended period of lower temperatures.

    A summer-starting heat wave moved across the northern portion of the country through the first part of July. However, once a final cold front pushed through, temperatures dropped below normal, especially from July 24 to the middle of August.

    In that time frame, Binghamton, N.Y., has not seen an 80-degree day.

    A few reasons have contributed to the lower temperatures across the area; one of which is excessive rain. Philadelphia has already broken the old summer rainfall record.

    Furthermore, since July 24, a total of 12.02 inches of rain was reported in Philly. This is 9.35 inches more than the average over this time period.

    The other major factor has been the particular weather pattern that has brought rounds of cool, Canadian air for the second half of the summer.

    However, when including the heat wave of early July and the rest of early summer, most places average out to near-normal temperatures.

    There's hope that the warm-up could bring some help to summertime businesses one last time.

    Usually, August is notorious for those last-minute trips to the pool before the start of the school year, but the cooler weather has hindered some of those plans.

    Northeast Regional Radar
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    However, many water parks and pools have already cut back their summer hours to weekends only, closing during the week despite the continuation of summer.

    Benita London, a recreational guide at the Hazelwood Community Center outside of St. Louis, said that many calls will come in asking if the pools will open on the more dreary days.

    However, if the temperature doesn't reach 75 degrees by noon, the pools usually remain closed. Because of this, London commented that she noticed less people than normal at the pools this summer.

    "We've lost a lot of pool time because of the weather," London said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos


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