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    Updated: Aug. 25, 2013, 2 p.m. ET

    A firefighter clears brush while battling the Rim Fire on August 24, 2013 in Yosemite National Park. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    GROVELAND, Calif. (AP) - For 30 years, Ike Bunney has run a dude ranch amid the tall pines and steep canyons along the North Fork of the Tuolumne River in California's Sierra Nevada. Now his 15 horses are safe in distant pastures as wildfire on the northern edge of Yosemite National Park threatens his mountain community.

    "We've already evacuated the horses," said Bunney, who was maintaining vigil Sunday at his Slide Mountain Guest Ranch. "I think they're worried about the fire sparking over these hills."

    At the nearby Black Oak Casino in Tuolumne City, the slot machines were quiet as emergency workers took over nearly all of the resort's 148 hotel rooms.

    "The casino is empty," said casino employee Jessie Dean. "Technically, the casino is open but there's nobody there."

    As thick smoke portends the fire's fast approach, the area has been cleared of everyone but locals and emergency workers. Dean lives on the reservation of the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians and left her four children at relatives' homes in the Central Valley.

    With winds gusting to 50 mph on Sierra mountain ridges and flames jumping from treetop to treetop, hundreds of firefighters have been deployed to protect this and other communities in the path of the Rim Fire raging north of Yosemite National Park.

    Eight fire trucks and four bulldozers were deployed to work near Bunney's ranch on the west side of Mount Baldy.

    Overnight the fire grew 7 square miles as firefighters gained little ground in slowing the now 207 square-mile blaze, said Daniel Berlant of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

    "Today, unfortunately, we are expecting strong winds out of the south," he said. "It's going to allow the fire to advance to the northeast."

    Fire officials are using bulldozers to clear contingency lines on the Rim Fire's north side to protect the towns of Tuolumne City, Ponderosa Hills and Twain Hart. The lines are being cut a mile ahead of the fire in locations where fire officials hope they will help protect the communities should the fire jump containment lines.

    The high winds and movement of the fire from bone-dry brush on the ground to 100-foot oak and pine treetops have created dire conditions.

    "A crown fire is much more difficult to fight," Berlant told The Associated Press Sunday. "Our firefighters are on the ground having to spray up."

    Officials estimate containment at just 7 percent.

    The blaze sweeping across steep, rugged river canyons quickly has become one of the biggest in California history, thanks in part to extremely dry conditions caused by a lack of snow and rainfall this year. Investigators are trying to determine how it started Aug. 17, days before lightning storms swept through the region and sparked other, smaller blazes.

    The fire is the most critical of a dozen burning across California, officials say. More than 12 helicopters and a half-dozen fixed wing tankers are dropping water and retardant from the air and 2,800 firefighters are on the ground.

    "This fire has continued to pose every challenge that there can be on a fire: inaccessible terrain, strong winds, dry conditions. It's a very difficult firefight," Berlant said.

    Statewide, more than 8,300 firefighters are battling nearly 400 square miles of fires. Many air districts have issued health advisories as smoke settles over Northern California. On Saturday, organizers cancelled the 24th annual Lake in the Sky Air Show at Lake Tahoe because of poor visibility.

    The Rim Fire has threatened two groves of giant sequoias that are unique the region, prompting park employees to clear brush and setting sprinklers.

    The towering trees, which grow only on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada and are among the largest and oldest living things on earth, can resist fire. However, dry conditions and heavy brush are forcing park officials to take extra precautions in the Tuolumne and Merced groves.

    The U.S. Forest Service says about 4,500 structures are threatened by the Rim Fire. Berlant said 23 structures were destroyed, though officials have not determined whether they were homes or rural outbuildings.

    The tourist mecca of Yosemite Valley, the part of the park known around the world for such sights as the Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations and waterfalls, remained open, clear of smoke and free from other signs of the fire that remained about 20 miles away.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Must-See Photos From the Yosemite Rim Fire

     

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    August 25, 2013

    Though Ivo has weakened, it may still cause flooding in the Southwest. (NOAA)

    Moisture from Ivo will continue to stream into the Desert Southwest through early this week, helping to generate widespread drenching showers and thunderstorms.

    As Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski warned last week, "The weather pattern has the potential to bring drought-busting rain to some locations, but also packs the risk of urban flooding and a flash flooding disaster."

    Despite Ivo weakening, its moisture is still getting drawn northward into the Southwest.

    That moisture will continue to trigger flooding downpours across parts of Arizona, Utah, southeastern California and southern Nevada through Monday.

    A couple of inches of rain could fall over a few hours time frame, which is more than enough to cause dry stream beds to turn into raging rivers and overwhelm storm drains in towns and cities.

    Cities at risk for flash flooding include Phoenix, Flagstaff, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Tucson and Needles.

    AccuWeather.com meteorologists are concerned that there is the potential for widespread, major flooding problems along a corridor from St. George, Utah, through Las Vegas, Nev. and Phoenix, Ariz.

    RELATED:
    Southwest Regional Radar
    U.S. Watches & Warnings
    Latest Statistics on Ivo

    Motorists should be prepared for not only rapidly changing weather conditions, but also hazards on the roads. Downpours miles away can lead to rapid flooding and mudslides.

    While the rain and higher humidity will lower the risk of wildfires for a time in the Southwest, the bulk of the drenching rain is forecast to stop short of or diminish over the area where massive wildfires are burning in portions of Idaho, Oregon and northern California.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Aug. 25, 2013

    Neil Armstrong being fitted for a space suit, 1969. (AP)

    James Hansen, a history professor at Auburn University and the trusted biographer of Neil Armstrong in "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" (Simon & Schuster 2005) contributed this article to SPACE.com's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

    One year has passed since the death of Neil Armstrong on Aug. 25, 2012, and people are still struggling to explain the remarkably unique character of the extraordinarily private man who was the First Man on the Moon. A ghostly TV image in a clumsy spacesuit climbing down a ladder a quarter of a million miles away and becoming the first of our species to set foot on another heavenly body was virtually the sum total of who we knew as Neil Armstrong at the time of his historic Apollo 11 mission.

    That iconic astronaut frozen in time, July 20, 1969, remained the sole identity of Armstrong for most people right up to his death 43 years later. Fortunately, thanks to Neil's agreeing back in 2002 to my authoring of what he came to consider his definitive biography, I enjoyed the rare privilege of getting to know Neil Armstrong for who he truly was: a down-to-earth, yet deeply complex and brilliant, three-dimensional human being.

    Why Armstrong chose me, a university history professor, to write his life story is a question I never dared ask him; yet it's been one of the most asked questions of me ever since "First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong" came out in 2005. As to Neil's reasoning for deciding to participate actively in my project by giving me access to his papers, allowing me some 55 hours for tape-recorded interviews, and sending me more than 600 informative emails, I can only speculate: I came into his life at the right time.

    We were both Midwesterners, with ways of speaking and manners of socially interacting that were very familiar to one another. We were also both offspring of mothers and fathers whose families had made their livings by farming. Also, it seemed to me crucially important to Neil that I wasn't out to sensationalize his career or personal life and that I appreciated what engineers do (and how they do it) and the technical side of his lifelong -- not just his spaceflight -- achievements. It certainly didn't hurt that he believed he could trust me. The biggest compliment he gave me after the book came out was that I wrote exactly the type of book that I told him I would write. [Neil Armstrong: A Space Icon Remembered (Photos)]

    Getting to know Neil, I never forgot the heroic aspects of who he was and what he had achieved — how could I? But Neil was such a good and honorable person that the icon quickly retreated to the back of my mind, and I appreciated him, and the remarkable life he led, for so many other very good reasons, most of them related to his basic humanity.

    All his life, in whatever he did, Neil personified the essential qualities and core values of a superlative human being. Don't just ask his fellow astronauts; ask his naval aviator crewmates in Fighter Squadron 51, where as a young man barely 20 years old, he not only flew 78 combat missions over North Korea, but showed extraordinary levels of commitment, dedication, dependability, a thirst for knowledge, self-confidence, toughness, decisiveness, honesty, innovation, loyalty, positive attitude, self-respect, respect for others, integrity, self-reliance, prudence, judiciousness and much more.

    One story that Neil told me that he never told anyone else concerned a flight he took over North Korea while on a dawn combat patrol in 1951. Passing over a ridge of low mountains in his F9F Panther jet, Neil saw laid out before him rows and rows of North Korean soldiers, unarmed, doing their daily calisthenics outside their field barracks. He could have mowed them down with machine-gun fire, but he chose to take his finger off the trigger and fly on. As Neil told me, "It looked like they were having a rough enough time doing their morning exercises."

    No one else in his fighter squadron that I interviewed ever heard the story, because Neil never told it, but they accepted it without hesitation as true. They themselves would have all fired their guns, they admitted, but there was something too honorable in Neil for him to kill men who were in no position to defend themselves. Neil was quite adamant that he didn't want the story in his biography, and I tell it now, after his death, with some reluctance.

    As for the first moon landing 18 years later, no human being could have handled the bright glare of international fame or the instant transformation into a historic and cultural icon better than Neil. It was in Neil's mild and modest personality to avoid publicity and keep to the real business of the engineering and piloting profession he had chosen; he was simply not the sort of man ever to seek what he felt was undeserved profit from his name or reputation.

    Neil had been a foremost member of the team that achieved humankind's first forays into deep space -- and he always emphasized the teamwork of the 400,000 Americans instrumental to Apollo's success. He had been at the top of that pyramid, but there had been nothing foreordained in his becoming the commander of the first moon landing or becoming the first man out onto the lunar surface. As he always explained, that was mostly the luck of the draw, a series of contingent circumstances. Still, he had done what he had done, and he understood what great sacrifice, what awesome commitment, and what extraordinary human creativity it had taken to get it done. He was immensely proud of the role he had played in the first moon landing, but he would not allow it to turn into a circus performance for him or a money-making machine. [See Neil Armstrong's first footsteps on the moon (Video)]

    In major respects, Neil chose to leave that particular stage of his life to the history books. It was like the golfer Bobby Jones never playing competitive golf after winning the Grand Slam or Johnny Carson never again appearing on TV after leaving "The Tonight Show." Not that Neil lived the life of a recluse after Apollo 11 -- that is a myth created by journalists frustrated with not getting interviews with him. After the moon, Neil lived a very active life with many more accomplishments to his credit -- in teaching, in research, in business and industry, in exploration. And he lived it all with honor and integrity, just as the one with "The Real Right Stuff" should.

    In the extraordinarily modest, unassuming and private way he lived his life after Apollo 11, it was clear that Neil understood that this glorious feat that he helped achieve for the country back in the summer of 1969 -- glorious for the entire planet -- would inexorably be diminished by the blatant commercialism, redundant questions and noise of the modern world. The nobility of his character just would not let him take part in any of that. He was a man who could not be bought, at any price.

    He was never about himself, as the following personal anecdote shows. After word came out in 2002 that I was writing Armstrong's biography, actor/director Clint Eastwood hosted Neil and his wife Carol and me and my wife Peggy for a night's stay at his private golf club, Tehama, up in the hills above Carmel Bay in California; Clint was interested in making a Warner Brothers movie based on the book. The next morning, Eastwood invited Neil and me to play a round of golf with him. As I headed to the golf carts, I saw Neil taking his bag of clubs off of Clint's cart and putting my bag in its place. "What are you doing, Neil?" I said. "I figure Clint will have a lot more to talk to you about with the movie than he does with me," was Neil's reply. "I am sure that is not what Clint has in mind," I explained. "You need to be riding with Clint." Truth was, Neil could have cared less if a movie was ever made about his life. He knew that I cared and that's the only reason he had agreed to visit Eastwood. Not surprisingly, the two men didn't hit it off too well: Neil didn't like the violence in Clint's movies, and Clint apparently appreciated space cowboys more than he did real engineer-astronauts. (Eastwood gave up the film rights to Universal Studios, who last year also gave them up. Telling Neil's life story is just too nuanced for Hollywood, apparently.) Neil was also a man always true to his word. After "First Man" was published in 2005, the institution at which I taught, Auburn University in Alabama, tried very hard to persuade Neil to give our commencement address. Neil said he couldn't. A few years back, he had turned down an invitation from the Sisters of Mercy to give a graduation address at one of their schools in Ohio, telling them he was no longer giving commencement addresses. He couldn't betray the good sisters by speaking at Auburn.

    He was a very modest man, but in his modesty, he could be tremendously witty or insightful. Once at a pro-am golf tournament, a lady came up to Neil on the putting green and declared to him, "Aren't you somebody that I should know?" The First Man's ingenious and self-effacing answer was, "Probably not."

    For the opening epigram to "First Man," I selected what I felt was a profound sentence from the book, "On the Art of Living," written by American mythologist Joseph Campbell. The sentence read: "The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are."

    Neil enjoyed that privilege, and all of us should be delighted that it happened just that way for him -- and for us.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Epic Photos of Astronauts on the Moon
    Man on Moon

     

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    Sun., Aug. 25, 2013

    This week's heat wave will make beach-going in Chicago's Lake Michigan ideal. (Getty)

    Many areas from the Plains to the Ohio Valley will experience a long-duration and dangerous late-summer heat wave this week under blazing sunshine.

    The heat will be hitting at a time when many kids are heading back to school and football season is beginning. It will also offer opportunities to get in some late-season swimming.

    While lengthening nights during August will bring brief relief, heat can still build up to dangerous levels in urban areas during the afternoon and evening hours.

    Poor air quality will be a concern at times, especially in the larger cities. Folks with respiratory problems should avoid being outside of an air-conditioned environment for long periods of time during the heat wave.

    In some locations, temperatures will challenge daily record highs, many of which have been on the books since the late 1800s.

    RELATED:
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    Quick Transition to Winter Forecast in Midwest
    Ivo Brings Major Flash Flood Threat to Las Vegas, Phoenix


    Temperatures are forecast to reach the 90s over a broad area, including Denver, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Ark., Minneapolis, Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

    High temperatures are forecast to reach 90 degrees in Chicago on Sunday, when the Life Time Triathlon will be taking place.

    Temperatures could be reaching 100 degrees from parts of Nebraska and Kansas to Iowa and Missouri. Cities that will see temperatures rise close to the century mark on at least one day include St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, Neb., Dallas, Des Moines, Iowa, Pierre, S.D. and Bismarck, N.D.

    For many locations across the Plains, the heat could last right through the Labor Day weekend.

    The heat wave will bring some good and bad news for crops in the area, such as corn and soybeans.

    The higher temperatures this week will speed up maturity of the crops, which had been delayed by lower temperatures and abnormally wet conditions earlier this summer. The dry weather will also aid in harvesting of some crops.

    However in some cases, the heat may be so extreme that it stresses crops, especially in areas where there has been little or no rain in recent weeks.

    The area of abnormally dry to moderate drought was expanding during August in parts of eastern Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota and the Dakotas.

    Thunderstorms will fire on the rim of the massive area of heat across the Great Lakes. However, some of these storms could be severe with damaging winds and flash flooding.

    The circulation around the massive area of high pressure will also drive a great deal of moisture into the Southwestern states from the tropics. Both beneficial rain and disastrous flash flooding from Ivo will continue to stream into portions of Arizona, southeastern California, Utah and Nevada through Monday.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Tips for Surviving a Heat Wave

     

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    Sun., Aug. 25, 2013

    If the new Farmers' Almanac is right, we could be seeing scenes like this at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium during the Super Bowl in February. (AP)

    LEWISTON, Maine (AP) - The Farmers' Almanac is using words like "piercing cold," ''bitterly cold" and "biting cold" to describe the upcoming winter. And if its predictions are right, the first outdoor Super Bowl in years will be a messy "Storm Bowl."

    The 197-year-old publication that hits newsstands Monday predicts a winter storm will hit the Northeast around the time the Super Bowl is played at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It also predicts a colder-than-normal winter for two-thirds of the country and heavy snowfall in the Midwest, Great Lakes and New England.

    "We're using a very strong four-letter word to describe this winter, which is C-O-L-D. It's going to be very cold," said Sandi Duncan, managing editor.

    Based on planetary positions, sunspots and lunar cycles, the almanac's secret formula is largely unchanged since founder David Young published the first almanac in 1818.

    Modern scientists don't put much stock in sunspots or tidal action, but the almanac says its forecasts used by readers to plan weddings and plant gardens are correct about 80 percent of the time.

    Last year, the forecast called for cold weather for the eastern and central U.S. with milder temperatures west of the Great Lakes. It started just the opposite but ended up that way.

    Caleb Weatherbee, the publication's elusive prognosticator, said he was off by only a couple of days on two of the season's biggest storms: a February blizzard that paralyzed the Northeast with 3 feet of snow in some places and a sloppy storm the day before spring's arrival that buried parts of New England.

    Readers who put stock in the almanac's forecasts may do well to stock up on long johns, especially if they're lucky enough to get tickets to the Super Bowl on Feb. 2. The first Super Bowl held outdoors in a cold-weather environment could be both super cold and super messy, with a big storm due Feb. 1 to 3, the almanac says.

    Said Duncan: "It really looks like the Super Bowl may be the Storm Bowl."

    The Maine-based Farmers' Almanac, not to be confused with the New Hampshire-based Old Farmer's Almanac, which will be published next month, features a mix of corny jokes, gardening tips, nostalgia and home remedies, like feeding carrots to dogs to help with bad breath and using mashed bananas to soothe dry, cracked skin in the winter.

    Also in this year's edition, editor Peter Geiger is leading a campaign to get people to ditch the penny, like Canada is doing.

    Past campaigns have focused on moving Thanksgiving to harvest time in October, reconsidering "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem and changing the color of money. This time, Geiger thinks he has a winner.

    He wants people to donate pennies to charity and then lobby Congress to stop making them.

    "They don't get used very much. They get tossed. The only real use of a penny is if you save tens of thousands of them, then you can use them to help someone," he said. PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Updated: Sun., Aug. 25, 2013, 9:24 E.T.

    After keeping meteorologists guessing for a while, Fernand finally formed into a tropical storm late Sunday. (NOAA)

    VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) - Tropical Storm Fernand (fair-nahn) formed just off Mexico's Gulf coast Sunday, and heavy rains and strong winds caused some power failures and street flooding in the colonial city of Veracruz. The storm was expected to move ashore early Monday.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Sunday the storm had winds of at least 45 mph. Fernand was about 25 miles east of the Mexican state of Veracruz on Sunday night.

    A tropical storm warning was in effect on Mexico's coast from Veracruz north to Tampico.

    The government of Veracruz advised its 7.7 million residents to stay home, and Gov. Javier Duarte suspended classes in the whole state to protect children from venturing out into winds and rain.

    Blackouts hit parts of Veracruz city as skies turned gray and rain flooded major roads, causing cars to stall in the middle of the streets. Several trees were reported to have fallen.

    Forecasters said the storm could bring 4 to 8 inches of rain over parts of several states as it moved inland.

    In the eastern Pacific, former Tropical Storm Ivo weakened further from a tropical depression into a remnant low.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Aug. 26, 2013
    Farmer's Almanac Calls For a Snowy Super Bowl


    EWISTON, Maine (AP) - The Farmers' Almanac is using words like "piercing cold," ''bitterly cold" and "biting cold" to describe the upcoming winter. And if its predictions are right, the first outdoor Super Bowl in years will be a messy "Storm Bowl."

    The 197-year-old publication that hits newsstands Monday predicts a winter storm will hit the Northeast around the time the Super Bowl is played at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands in New Jersey. It also predicts a colder-than-normal winter for two-thirds of the country and heavy snowfall in the Midwest, Great Lakes and New England.

    "We're using a very strong four-letter word to describe this winter, which is C-O-L-D. It's going to be very cold," said Sandi Duncan, managing editor.

    Based on planetary positions, sunspots and lunar cycles, the almanac's secret formula is largely unchanged since founder David Young published the first almanac in 1818.

    Modern scientists don't put much stock in sunspots or tidal action, but the almanac says its forecasts used by readers to plan weddings and plant gardens are correct about 80 percent of the time.

    Last year, the forecast called for cold weather for the eastern and central U.S. with milder temperatures west of the Great Lakes. It started just the opposite but ended up that way.

    Caleb Weatherbee, the publication's elusive prognosticator, said he was off by only a couple of days on two of the season's biggest storms: a February blizzard that paralyzed the Northeast with 3 feet of snow in some places and a sloppy storm the day before spring's arrival that buried parts of New England.

    Readers who put stock in the almanac's forecasts may do well to stock up on long johns, especially if they're lucky enough to get tickets to the Super Bowl on Feb. 2. The first Super Bowl held outdoors in a cold-weather environment could be both super cold and super messy, with a big storm due Feb. 1 to 3, the almanac says.

    Said Duncan: "It really looks like the Super Bowl may be the Storm Bowl."

    The Maine-based Farmers' Almanac, not to be confused with the New Hampshire-based Old Farmer's Almanac, which will be published next month, features a mix of corny jokes, gardening tips, nostalgia and home remedies, like feeding carrots to dogs to help with bad breath and using mashed bananas to soothe dry, cracked skin in the winter.

    Also in this year's edition, editor Peter Geiger is leading a campaign to get people to ditch the penny, like Canada is doing.

    Past campaigns have focused on moving Thanksgiving to harvest time in October, reconsidering "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the national anthem and changing the color of money. This time, Geiger thinks he has a winner.

    He wants people to donate pennies to charity and then lobby Congress to stop making them.

    "They don't get used very much. They get tossed. The only real use of a penny is if you save tens of thousands of them, then you can use them to help someone," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Surprising Ways to Predict the Weather

     

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    Monday, Aug. 26, 2013

    Big Bear firefighter Jon Curtis keeps a close eye on a 'slop over' fire while fighting the Rim Fire, which continues to burn uncontrolled in the Stanislaus National Forest Saturday Aug. 24, 2013. (AP Photo/The Modesto Bee, Elias Funez)

    TUOLUMNE CITY, Calif. (AP) - Hundreds of firefighters were digging trenches, clearing brush and starting back blazes to keep a wildfire raging north of Yosemite National Park out of several mountain hamlets.

    Inaccessible terrain, strong winds and bone-dry conditions have hampered their efforts to contain the Rim Fire, which began Aug. 17 and has grown to become one of the biggest in California history.

    Firefighters were hoping to advance on the flames Monday but strong winds were threatening push the blaze closer to Tuolumne City and nearby communities.

    "This fire has continued to pose every challenge that there can be on a fire ...," said Daniel Berlant, a spokesman with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "It's a very difficult firefight."

    The fire has consumed nearly 225 square miles of picturesque forests. Officials estimate containment at just 7 percent.

    It continues burning in the remote wilderness area of Yosemite and is edging closer to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of San Francisco's famously pure drinking water, park spokesman Tom Medema said.

    Despite ash falling like snowflakes on the reservoir and a thick haze of smoke limiting visibility to 100 feet, the quality of the water piped to the city 150 miles away is still good, say officials with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

    The city's hydroelectric power generated by the system has been interrupted by the fire, forcing the utility to spend $600,000 buying power on the open market.

    Park employees are continuing their efforts to protect two groves of giant sequoias that are unique to the region by cutting brush and setting sprinklers, Medema said.

    On Sunday, crews worked furiously to hold a line near Ponderosa Hills and Twain Hart, miles ahead of the blaze. But officials warned that the fire was so hot it could send sparks more than a mile and a half out that could start new hot spots.

    "We're facing difficult conditions and extremely challenging weather," said Bjorn Frederickson, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service.

    The blaze sweeping across steep, rugged river canyons quickly has rapidly expanded, thanks in part to extremely dry conditions caused by a lack of snow and rainfall this year. Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the fire, which began days before lightning storms swept through the region and sparked other, smaller blazes.

    The fire is the most critical of a dozen burning across California, officials say. More than 12 helicopters and a half-dozen fixed wing tankers are dropping water and retardant from the air, and 2,800 firefighters are on the ground.

    Statewide, more than 8,300 firefighters are battling nearly 400 square miles of fires. Many air districts have issued health advisories as smoke settles over Northern California. While Yosemite Valley is clear, the Lake Tahoe basin is thick with smoke, and many outdoor activities have been canceled in Reno, Nev.

    The U.S. Forest Service says about 4,500 structures are threatened by the Rim Fire. Berlant said 23 structures were destroyed, though officials have not determined whether they were homes or rural outbuildings.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Must-See Photos From the Yosemite Rim Fire

     

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    (NOAA)

    VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) - Landslides triggered by torrential rains dumped by the remnants of Tropical Storm Fernand killed at least 13 people in Veracruz state, authorities said Monday as the storm weakened to a tropical depression and carried heavy rains inland over eastern Mexico.

    Nine people died in the town of Yecuatla, three in the port city of Tuxpan and one more in the town of Atzalan, Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte said.

    A landslide of rock and mud swept onto four homes in the village of Roca de Oro, which is part of the town of Yecuatla, killing nine people in their sleep before dawn Monday.

    Duarte advised resident to continue to take precautionary measures since the tropical depression continued to cause rain.

    "We will remain alert because of the rains" still falling, Duarte said

    At least 10 towns were isolated because 16 landslides blocked roads throughout the state, civil protection authorities said in a statement. They sa id more than 400 people were in shelters set up by the government.

    In the metropolitan area of Veracruz city and neighboring Boca del Rio, workers were restoring electricity to about 40 percent of the region's households.

    The government of Veracruz state advised its 7.7 million residents to stay home, and suspended classes in the state to protect children from venturing out into winds and rain.

    The system's maximum sustained winds late Monday afternoon had decreased to near 30 mph (45 kph), several hours after making landfall. Fernand was centered about 75 miles (125 kilometers) west-southwest of Tuxpan and moving to the west-northwest at about 9 mph (15 kph).

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

     

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    (AP Photo/Tom Stathis)

    Moisture from Ivo will continue to stream into the Desert Southwest through early this week, helping to generate widespread drenching showers and thunderstorms.

    As expert senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski warned last week, "The weather pattern has the potential to bring drought-busting rain to some locations, but also packs the risk of urban flooding and a flash flooding disaster."

    Despite Ivo weakening, its moisture is still getting drawn northward into the Southwest.

    That moisture will continue to trigger flooding downpours across parts of Arizona, Utah, southeastern California and southern Nevada through Monday.

    A couple of inches of rain could fall over a few hours time frame, which is more than enough to cause dry stream beds to turn into raging rivers and overwhelm storm drains in towns and cities.

    Cities at risk for flash flooding include Phoenix, Flagstaff, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, Tucson and Needles.

    AccuWeather.com meteorologists are concerned that there is the potential for widespread, major flooding problems along a corridor from St. George, Utah, through Las Vegas, Nev., and Phoenix, Ariz.

    Motorists should be prepared for not only rapidly changing weather conditions, but also hazards on the roads. Downpours miles away can lead to rapid flooding and mudslides.

    RELATED:
    Southwest Regional Radar
    U.S. Watches & Warnings
    AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center


    While the rain and higher humidity will lower the risk of wildfires for a time in the Southwest, the bulk of the drenching rain is forecast to stop short of or diminish over the area where massive wildfires are burning in portions of Idaho, Oregon and northern California.

    However, a stray shower or thunderstorm could reach Yosemite around midweek as lingering moisture from Ivo spreads northwestward.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

    Many areas from the Plains to the Ohio Valley will experience a long-duration and dangerous late-summer heat wave this week under blazing sunshine.

    The heat will be hitting at a time when many kids are heading back to school and football season is beginning. It will also offer opportunities to get in some late-season swimming.

    While lengthening nights during August will bring brief relief, heat can still build up to dangerous levels in urban areas during the afternoon and evening hours.

    Poor air quality will be a concern at times, especially in the larger cities. Folks with respiratory problems should avoid being outside of an air-conditioned environment for long periods of time during the heat wave.

    In some locations, temperatures will challenge daily record highs, many of which have been on the books since the late 1800s.


    Temperatures are forecast to reach the 90s over a broad area, including Denver, Oklahoma City, Little Rock, Ark., Minneapolis, Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati.

    High temperatures are forecast to reach 90 degrees in Chicago on Sunday, when the Life Time Triathlon will be taking place.

    Temperatures could be reaching 100 degrees from parts of Nebraska and Kansas to Iowa and Missouri. Cities that will see temperatures rise close to the century mark on at least one day include St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, Neb., Dallas, Des Moines, Iowa, Pierre, S.D., and Bismarck, N.D.

    For many locations across the Plains, the heat could last right through the Labor Day weekend.

    The heat wave will bring some good and bad news for crops in the area, such as corn and soybeans.

    The higher temperatures this week will speed up maturity of the crops, which had been delayed by lower temperatures and abnormally wet conditions earlier this summer. The dry weather will also aid in harvesting of some crops.

    RELATED:
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    Quick Transition to Winter Forecast in Midwest
    Ivo Brings Major Flash Flood Threat to Las Vegas, Phoenix


    However in some cases, the heat may be so extreme that it stresses crops, especially in areas where there has been little or no rain in recent weeks.

    The area of abnormally dry to moderate drought was expanding during August in parts of eastern Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Minnesota and the Dakotas.

    Thunderstorms will fire on the rim of the massive area of heat across the Great Lakes. However, some of these storms could be severe with damaging winds and flash flooding.

    The circulation around the massive area of high pressure will also drive a great deal of moisture into the Southwestern states from the tropics. Both beneficial rain and disastrous flash flooding from Ivo will continue to stream into portions of Arizona, southeastern California, Utah and Nevada through Monday.

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

     

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    Reece Riebel, 13, of Lewiston, Minn., swings on a rope swing over Airport Lake while swimming Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, in Winona, Minn. (AP Photo/Winona Daily News, Andrew Link)

    LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - An unusual, late-summer heat wave has enveloped much of the Midwest, putting schools and sports events on hold.

    Schools in Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, the Dakotas and Illinois let out early on Monday as temperatures crept toward the mid-90s - beyond, in some places. After-school sports practices and evening games were canceled in St. Paul, Minn., and misting stations kept people cool at the Minnesota State Fair, where about 90 fairgoers had been treated for heat-related illnesses over the weekend.

    The heat wave is supposed to last through much of the week, the National WeatherService said. Heat of this magnitude is unusual for this time of year, but not unprecedented. In Des Moines, Iowa, temperatures on Aug. 26 have reached 100 degrees at least six times since 1881. The weather service said South Dakota was experiencing its hottest final week of August on record.

    School districts took precautions to avoid putting students and teachers in sweaty - and possibly dangerous - situations.

    In central Iowa, Marshalltown Community School District administrators canceled afternoon preschool classes on Monday and Tuesday and were planning to release other students two hours early. Parts of all 10 of district buildings have air conditioning, but some rooms aren't connected.

    "The buildings can heat up pretty fast, especially when you have kids in there," district spokesman Jason Staker said. "It's not a good environment for students or teachers."

    Five elementary schools in Fargo, North Dakota, canceled classes through Wednesday because the buildings weren't fully air-conditioned. Temperatures inside them on Sunday ranged from 85 degrees to 90 degrees, Fargo Schools Superintendent Jeff Schatz said.

    In South Dakota, the Sioux Falls School District continued with classes as scheduled, but spokeswoman DeeAnn Konrad said teachers kept window blinds closed and turned off lights in classrooms. The district was also prepared to move students into cooler rooms at nearby churches and a Christian school, she said.

    School administrators in the western Nebraska town of Alliance decided to send students home early after local forecasters predicted temperatures in excess of 90 degrees. Some classes in the 1,600-student district are held on the third floor, and temperatures rise when students fill the room.

    "It can get uncomfortable even when the temperatures are in the upper 80s," superintendent Troy Unzicker said.

    Minneapolis students attended school all day, but administrators canceled after-school activities and distributed 750 cases of water to schools. Officials also sent industrial fans to the 18 buildings that lack air conditioning, district spokeswoman Rachel Hicks said. Parents were advised to dress their kids in light clothing, while staffers watched for symptoms of heat-related illnesses.

    With temperatures again forecast in the mid-90s in Minneapolis, classes Tuesday were going ahead as planned. The district said parents could keep their children at home if they felt it necessary.

    In Des Moines, organizers of a downtown farmers market set for Wednesday postponed the event out concern over the extreme heat

    The Iowa Department of Public Health issued a statewide advisory for vulnerable populations, including young children and the elderly. Sometimes our natural defense against extreme heat - sweat - won't suffice, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk said.

    "Especially when the humidity is high, sweat will not evaporate as quickly, preventing the body from releasing heat quickly," she said.

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

     

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    A firefighter stands on top of a fire truck at a campground destroyed by the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 26, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    TUOLUMNE CITY, California (AP) - Crews are finally making progress against a massive U.S. wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park, fire officials said, and fears that the inferno could disrupt water or power to the city of San Francisco diminished.

    While the fire continued to grow in size, containment numbers were up, Glen Stratton, an operations chief on the fire suppression team, said late Monday.

    The fire was 20 percent contained, up from 7 percent hours earlier.

    Flames have charred nearly 252 square miles (161,280 acres) of remote forest, and about 34 square miles (88 sq. kilometers) of that is inside the national park, one of the most popular in the country.

    Most of the park remained open to visitors.

    Flames lapped at the edge of the main reservoir that supplies San Francisco, but the ash that has been raining onto the reservoir has not sunk as far as the water supply intake valves.

    "It looks great out there. No concerns," Stratton said of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

    Nearly 3,700 firefighters battled the wildfire, the biggest on record in California's Sierra Nevada mountains.

    The U.S. Forest Service said the fire was threatening about 4,500 structures and destroyed at least 23.

    Heavy smoke settling low to the ground could limit visibility early Tuesday, but higher humidity was expected in the afternoon, which could help dampen the flames, said Matt Mehle, a National Weather Service meteorologist assigned to the fire.

    Rugged terrain, strong winds and dry conditions have hurt firefighters' efforts to contain the fire, which began Aug. 17. The cause has not been determined.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Must-See Photos From the Yosemite Rim Fire

     

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    : Wall of Dust in Phoenix Blown Hundreds of Feet Into Air


    PHOENIX (AP) - Another dust storm and thunderstorm blew through the Phoenix metropolitan area after heavy rain fell on many parts of western Arizona.

    Winds from an approaching storm system around sundown Monday pushed a hazy brown cloud over most of the Phoenix area. The dust storm brought winds gusts up to 60 mph as visibility dropped below a 1/4 mile in some areas. There were reports of some downed power lines and trees in Tempe, but no immediate reports of any injuries.

    Arizona's monsoon season begins in mid-June and runs through Sept. 30 and has produced massive dust storms called "haboobs" in recent years. Much of western Arizona was under a flash flood watch Monday.

    People across the region uploaded photos on the phenomenon to Twitter; click the link below to see some of the images.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Dust Storm Rolls Through Phoenix

     

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    In this file photo, a farmer chops corn in front of a hillside of color in Richmond, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot, File)

    MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Desert sands and spectacular gorges, sure. But fall foliage? In Arizona?

    That's what the state's tourism magazine claims in an October cover story that takes on the apex of Vermont's natural beauty, the reds, oranges and yellows of its spectacular fall foliage season. The headline reads, "Autumn in Arizona and why it's better than it is in Vermont."

    "Those are fighting words," said a chuckling Burr Morse, the proprietor of the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks just outside Vermont's capital of Montpelier. His 40-year-old family business gets about a third of its revenue during the foliage season from about mid-September to mid-October when more than a dozen tour buses a day bring people to learn about syrup production as an interlude to viewing the nearby hillsides.

    "There's no desert in the world that's going to compare with Vermont's foliage season," he added.

    In tiny Vermont, tourism has been one of the top ranked industries for generations. The cover of the 1947 premier issue of the state's own tourism magazine, Vermont Life, was of a woman painting colors onto the state's leaves. Now an estimated 3.5 million people visit the state during foliage season, spending an estimated $131 million.

    Arizona Highway Editor Robert Stieve said his magazine's story was designed to draw attention and dispel some of the stereotypes that Arizona is all desert and rattlesnakes.

    Attention it did draw. Vermont Life created a mock cover that claimed that a local attraction, the Quechee Gorge, is greater than the Grand Canyon.

    But Stieve acknowledges that Arizona's offerings probably don't compare to Vermont's.

    "The truth is, we set Vermont up as the gold standard for fall leaves," Stieve said.

    Arizona's foliage season does have one distinct advantage over Vermont: It can linger into December, when Vermont's trees are usually barren and cold weather has set in.

    Arizona's high country boasts changing colors starting in mid-September. The colors can be found in the big-tooth maple trees, scarlet sumac and golden aspens. Some of the best places to see them include the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, Flagstaff, Oak Creek Canyon in northern Arizona as well as the mountains around Tucson.

    "People who live in the metropolitan areas of the desert actually have to get in their cars and drive to it for the best stuff," Stieve said. "So part of our cover line was to inspire some of our own readers to get off the couch and get out and check things out."

    RELATED ON SKYE: America's Best Fall-Foliage Road Trips

     

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    Satellite view of Hurricane Irene after it made landfall in Cape Lookout, North Carolina, on Aug. 27, 2011. (Getty Images)

    Calls for an active 2013 Atlantic hurricane season, with six to nine hurricanes, have been met with silence by Mother Nature so far.

    Deadly typhoons pounded the Pacific Rim this month, but the Atlantic basin has been hurricane-free through late August. Six named tropical storms have appeared in the Atlantic since the beginning of hurricane season on June 1, but none have approached hurricane strength.

    Yet even though no hurricane has menaced the Atlantic, the 2013 hurricane season is on track for tropical storms. In an average year, the fifth named storm does not show up until Aug. 31, but it did so this year on Aug. 15 with Tropical Storm Erin, according to Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Tropical storms have wind speeds between 39 to 73 mph (62 to 117 km/h). Once the winds reach a sustained 74 mph (119 km/h), the storm is classified as a hurricane.

    Parched and pinched out

    Dry, dusty weather conditions in the Atlantic have crippled tropical depressions and storms trying to swirl up into stronger weather patterns, Feltgen said in an email interview. Budding tropical storms such as Chantal, Dorian and Erin dissipated when they ran into wind shear and dry air, Feltgen said. Their remnants never impacted the United States, but did cause flooding in Haiti and the Dominican Republic, along with other island nations.

    Tropical storms and hurricanes grow bigger by feeding off warm, rising, moist air. But the Atlantic's hurricane breeding ground has been dominated by dry, sinking air for much of the summer. Dust blowing west from the Sahara Desert may also have choked off storms forming offshore of Africa, though scientists debate the effects of the dusty air, called the Saharan Air Layer. NASA is currently studying the effects of the Saharan Air Layer on tropical storm formation with unmanned drones. [Storm Season! How, When & Where Hurricanes Form]

    But though this August has been a quiet month for storms compared with previous years, it may only be the calm before the storm.

    "It is a mistake to believe that this is the way the remainder of the season will play out," Feltgen told LiveScience. "We have more than half the season to go and are now entering the peak of the hurricane season (mid-August through late October). September will certainly be more active," he said. The Atlantic hurricane season officially lasts until Nov. 30, though storms have been known to form after that time, as well as before the official June 1 start date.

    By the numbers

    Feltgen said it's not unusual for the first hurricane of the season to arrive in late August. With records going back to 1851, there are 34 other years when the first hurricane materialized after Aug. 25. And in 25 of those years, it was on or after Sept. 1.

    The tardiest hurricane on record appeared on Oct. 8, 1905, hitting Haiti before weakening to a tropical storm and meandering north, offshore of the U.S. Atlantic Coast.

    More recently, Hurricane Chantal started the season off with a bang on Sept. 9, 2001, followed by 15 named storms, including nine hurricanes and four major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher).

    The official 2013 season forecast from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), updated Aug. 8, calls for an above-average hurricane season, with 13 to 29 named storms, a designation that includes tropical storms and hurricanes.

    But regardless of the exact number of storms that form and when, preparation is always key, Feltgen emphasized.

    "In terms of being prepared, the overall numbers do not matter," Feltgen said. "It only takes one storm hitting your community to make it a very bad year for you. No one should let their guard down."

    Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013

    In this Aug. 19, 2013 satellite image, African dust blows over the eastern Atlantic Ocean, approaching the Canary Islands. (AP Photo/NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team)

    HAVANA (AP) - Each summer, microscopic dust particles kicked up by African sandstorms blow thousands of miles across the Atlantic to arrive in the Caribbean, limiting airplane pilots' visibility to just a few miles and contributing to the suffering of asthmatics trying to draw breath.


    The phenomenon has been around as long as there's been sand in the Sahara Desert. But it's attracting ever more attention from regional scientists who say the clouds have grown, even if there's no global consensus on the issue.

    In recent days and weeks a particularly large cloud dusted eastern Caribbean islands, made for hazy skies and intense, tangerine-tinted sunsets off Havana, drifted over Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and was detected as far away as Wyoming. In satellite images provided by NASA, the enormous, smoky clouds can be seen wafting westward from Africa covering hundreds of square miles. From the ground, they can bring a faint haze.

    While the clouds have mostly been treated as a meteorological curiosity by TV newscasts, scientists say periodic masses of dust may have important climactic consequences, even hindering hurricane formation to some degree. NASA has been sending unmanned drones into tropical storms this year to study the phenomenon.

    Experts say particulate matter found in the clouds may also be cause for health concerns, and are calling for more study to understand their potential impact.

    "It is a matter of great magnitude, interest and importance for health," said Braulio Jimenez-Velez, a specialist in molecular and environmental toxicology at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, who is researching the issue.

    African dust has prompted two health alerts this year in Puerto Rico for asthma sufferers and people with allergies, and the Dominican Republic also issued a lower-level warning.

    Airborne particulate matter is connected to respiratory disease worldwide, usually among people with existing problems such as asthma. Parts of the Caribbean, such as Puerto Rico, have high asthma rates. However, no direct link between African dust and higher rates of asthma or lung cancer has been established.

    The phenomenon is similar to the giant dust storms that paint the skies yellow in Asian metropolises and can travel all the way to the U.S. West Coast - only the African clouds produce even more dust. A 2011 study in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics estimated that North Africa is behind more than 70 percent of global dust emissions.

    Charles Darwin may have suspected as much back in 1832, when he collected the grime that caked the HMS Beagle at the Cape Verde islands.

    "The dust falls in such quantities as to dirty everything on board. ... It has often fallen on ships when several 100, and even more than 1,000 miles from the coast of Africa," Darwin wrote. Analysis showed microorganisms and plant silica in his sample.

    Since then, increasing human activity has changed the composition of the clouds.

    Scientists say they contain trace amounts of things like metals, microorganisms, bacteria, spores, pesticides and fecal matter, though there's no evidence that the quantities are enough to pose a threat. Joseph M. Prospero, professor emeritus of marine and atmospheric chemistry at the University of Miami, said African dust sampled in Barbados also had elevated levels of arsenic and cadmium.

    "The specific impact on health is not known here or anywhere else. It has been extremely difficult to link specific particle composition to health effects," said Prospero, lead author of a paper on the dust to be published in September by the bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. "So it cannot be said what effect all this dust has, but there is reason for some concern."

    Eugenio Mojena of Cuba's Institute of Meteorology said the particles are believed to originate in the semi-arid Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert, where farmers raise livestock and employ chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

    "Today's dust is not the same as what Darwin studied," Mojena said. Before, "it didn't have pesticides or herbicides."

    Some experts worry iron in the clouds may pose a threat to coral by feeding populations of algae and spores that damage it, though it's still a subject of debate. The clouds can also complicate air traffic by reducing visibility to less than 3 miles, said Jason Dunion, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    On the flip side, the clouds may inhibit the formation of tropical cyclones in the Caribbean.

    Prospero said lower rainfall in West Africa presumably causes more dust, which reduces sunlight, lowers water temperatures and cuts evaporation, all factors in cyclonic formation.

    While experts disagree about the changes in the dust clouds over the decades, all agree this year's cloud was remarkable.

    Mojena said the dust arriving in Cuba has risen 10-fold in the last 30 years after severe droughts in northern Africa, though Omar Torres, a specialist in atmospheric physics at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said satellite studies since 1980 do not show increased Sahara dust emissions beyond normal seasonal variability.

    Even so, "this year's advancement all the way to Wyoming was totally unexpected," Torres said. "I never saw anything like that in recent years."

     

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