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    Aug. 27, 2013

    This video shot from the cockpit of a California Air National Guard plane reveals stunning views of the Rim Fire raging near Yosemite National Park. The planes fighting the wildfire are C-130J military aircraft equipped with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System (MAFF); they make daily runs to drop water and retardant on the flames. The video was taken on Thursday, Aug. 22.

    According to the Facebook page for the 2013 MAFFS mission, the landing gear alerts heard in the video "are normal due to the low levels MAFFS aircraft have maintain when making drops." The automatic warnings are reportedly difficult to disable in the high-technology aircraft.

    Remarked the Facebook user who posted the video, "Gives you a lot of respect for these aviators and their flying abilities. They do a very dangerous job and do it very well indeed!"

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Rim Fire Rages in and Around Yosemite
    Yosemite Rim Fire, California


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    (Getty Images)

    A heat wave in the Plains and parts of the Midwest will affect millions of people through this week and into the beginning of the Labor Day weekend.

    This heat will impact many major cities in the country's midsection, including St. Louis, Mo., Omaha, Neb., Sioux Falls, S.D., Des Moines, Iowa, and Minneapolis, Minn.

    Additionally, thunderstorms riding along the northern edge of this dome of heat will bring the threat of stronger storms to parts of the Great Lakes and the Northeast.

    Temperatures approaching the 100-degree mark will force residents of the Plains and Midwest to take action to avoid some of the dangers that this heat wave will bring.

    The most dangerous time of day during a heat wave is the afternoon when temperatures are the hottest and when sunshine is most intense.

    If you plan on being outside during the heat of the afternoon, there are several precautions that you can take to minimize the chance of heat-related injuries. Wearing light-colored clothing, drinking plenty of water and avoiding strenuous activity are just a few ways to stay safe from the heat.

    Spending long periods of time out in the heat without taking the proper precautions may lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

    While temperatures will climb to near or above the 100-degree mark, several other factors can make it feel even hotter.

    High humidity, blazing sunshine and other components of the weather will make RealFeel(R) climb as high as 110 degrees in some areas.

    This extreme heat has already caused disruptions across the Plains and Midwest for many and will continue to do so through the week.

    With the last week of August being the first week back at school for many students, school districts have been forced to take action.

    To help kids avoid the intense heat, some schools have ended the school day early, well before the extreme afternoon heat; while others have canceled school all together.

    High school sports teams have also been forced to take action, canceling practices for the safety of the players.

    Storms to Rim Heat From Minneapolis to Detroit, NYC
    National Temperature Map
    Blog: Upper-Level Ridge Will Determine Who Gets the Heat

    While some may find the heat unwelcome, others are finding it to be providing favorable conditions for some late-season swimming.

    This heat wave is expected to last though the week across the Midwest and the Plains with highs in the upper 90s and lower 100s each day.

    With temperatures running as much as 20 degrees above average, many daily record temperatures will be challenged.

    These temperatures will also carry into the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, but will slowly ease as the weekend progresses.

    A look at the weather forecast for the northern Plains.

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


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    Updated Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 4:00 p.m. ET

    There is a chance that not one, but two systems may develop in the tropical Atlantic next week, during the early days of September.

    While the Atlantic Basin still has a way to go for being considered busy from the standpoint of active tropical systems, there is already a trend toward more disturbances, stronger disturbances and less extensive dry air.

    According to Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski, "With the changing atmospheric conditions over the entire basin now, we could have at least two systems organizing this weekend spanning the area from just off the coast of Africa to the Caribbean and the eastern Gulf of Mexico."

    "We are noticing a more moist and unstable environment taking shape over the tropical Atlantic this week, and we have indication now that multiple systems could develop at the same time during the first week of September," Kottlowski added.

    Development of these systems is one thing; making a forecast track beyond several days until they become better organized is another.

    RELATED: Hurricane Center
    Atlantic Satellite Loop
    Multiple September Hurricanes Possible

    Two systems being watched over the Atlantic will move along in a general westward motion through this week.

    "If a large area of high pressure over the central Atlantic remains strong, it will continue to guide the system already over the eastern Atlantic water farther west, into the Caribbean later this weekend," Kottlowski said. "If the high weakens, it could allow that feature to turn northward and miss the Caribbean."

    Gauging intensity of these systems this far out is challenging. However, if either of the two systems were move into a zone with without disruptive winds, development from a disturbance to a depression, tropical storm or hurricane could occur quickly.

    The water over much of the basin is warm enough to sustain tropical systems.

    "There is also a chance something crops up in the Gulf or western Caribbean with a couple of weak disturbances currently hovering nearby," Kottlowski added.

    As far as considering travel in the Caribbean or to beach destinations in the coastal U.S., this is not the time to change any plans, but instead monitor the tropics.

    The six weeks from September to early October is traditionally the busiest part of the hurricane season.

    According to Sr. Vice President Joseph P. Sobel, Ph.D., "It is highly unlikely that we will not have a hurricane somewhere over the Atlantic during the first 15 days of September."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space


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    In this Aug. 22, 2013, photo, Cheryl Harvey of Harvey's Plumbing and Excavating takes notes on a house to be demolished in Pittsfield, Vt. (AP Photo/Toby Talbot)

    WALLINGFORD, Vt. (AP) - Two years after Tropical Storm Irene washed 10 acres of crops and an entire field of top soil down a valley between the Vermont mountains, Evening Song Farm is distributing produce again. But it will be years, if ever, before the ground is productive again.

    Kara Fitzgerald and Ryan Wood-Beauchamp now grow their crops on a hillside about a mile away. The soil there is damp and not as good as the bottom land along the river, but with careful attention, over time, it can get better.

    Like thousands of Vermonters whose lives were forever changed by Irene, the 28-year-old vegetable farmers picked themselves up with help from strangers, a small amount of government assistance and a series of loans.

    And work. Hard, never-ending work.

    "In some ways, we feel like the storm was yesterday. Our recovery is still full-on," Fitzgerald said one recent morning as she took a break from picking carrots. "It was a real good opportunity to throw in the towel."

    Two summers after Irene dropped up to 11 inches of rain on parts of the Green Mountains, the state is nearing the end of its official recovery. The state and federal governments have spent more than $565 million to help Vermont recover - not including private donations and money people spent on their own - and the final bill is nowhere near ready to be counted.

    There are still hundreds of people and businesses whose recovery is still in progress and some are still looking for permanent homes. Nevertheless, a series of celebrations and commemorations are planned for next week, starting on Wednesday's anniversary.

    "It doesn't mean there isn't more work to do," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, who will visit the hard-hit community of Wilmington on Wednesday and eat chili at Dot's, an iconic local restaurant all but destroyed by the storm but now a potent symbol of the town's resilience. "We're going to make sure everybody gets the help they need and they will."

    When Irene roared up the coast, it killed at least 46 people in 13 states with a handful more in the Caribbean. Many in the Northeast breathed a sigh of relief when the New York City area was largely spared.

    But then the storm settled over the Green Mountains, and Irene became the biggest natural disaster to hit Vermont since an epic 1927 flood.

    Irene killed six in Vermont, left thousands homeless and damaged or destroyed more than 200 bridges and 500 miles of highway. Of the state's 251 towns, 225 had infrastructure damage.

    Thirteen communities were cut off from the outside world after flooding washed out roads, electricity and telephone communication. National Guard helicopters spent days ferrying supplies to stranded residents.

    When the waters receded at last, the state created a cabinet-level position to focus on recovery and opened nine long-term offices to help residents. More than 150 cases remain open.

    Shumlin will stop in Waterbury on Thursday to talk about the state office complex, most of which was abandoned after the storm overflowed the Winooski River. The state has a $124 million plan for the complex that is waiting for funding.

    Once housed in a leased building on the edge of the complex, the Hunger Mountain Children's Center is getting ready to start its third school year in a church that was supposed to be a temporary space. Although the day care's previous home only had water in the basement, the building remains empty, caught up in planning.

    The center hopes to buy their old building and another next door so it can expand from its current enrollment of about 35 children, said business manager Amanda Olney.

    "As devastating as it was to have to move all of our stuff out of that building and into the church and transition there, if it works and we are able to go back and expand, it really has worked out for us," Olney said.

    Evening Song Farm was in just its first season when Irene hit, forcing Fitzgerald and Wood-Beauchamp to evacuate. When they returned the next day, their house and barn were fine but a summer's worth of crops was gone.

    "We lost everything down there. We had taken out a lot of loans to start the first farm. All our financial ability was now down the river," Fitzgerald said.

    Within days they'd plowed up a fresh half-acre to plant garlic before the season ended and borrowed land to plant fast-growing greens for their customers.

    "No one expected anything, but it was mostly for us to feel like we were still alive," Fitzgerald said.

    Fitzgerald and Wood-Beauchamp have since bought a neighboring plot. They're building a house, improving drainage and adding nutrients to the soil in hopes of better yields in future years.

    The field that was washed away has been partly restored, thanks to 40 tractor-trailer loads of recycled paper, sand and fertilizer. Perhaps one day it will produce hay or be a horse or cattle pasture, Fitzgerald said.

    But their recovery, despite being an inspiration for many neighbors, remains daunting.

    "We're sad, we're exhausted, we don't feel whole," Fitzgerald said. "I'm looking forward to the day when I'm farming and not recovering from Irene."

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


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    The Rim Fire burns through trees near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    GROVELAND, California (AP) - The giant wildfire burning at the edge of Yosemite National Park is 20 percent contained, U.S. fire officials said.

    The fire had burned through 280 square miles in northern California, destroyed 111 structures and threatened water supplies, hydroelectric power and giant sequoia trees - a state icon - as of late Tuesday. Some 4,500 structures remained threatened.

    The fire, one of the largest in state history, has caused air pollution problems in California cities far from the scene.

    Forestry experts said unnaturally long intervals between wildfires and years of drought primed the Sierra Nevada mountains for the explosive fire in the rugged landscape.

    Federal forest ecologists said historic policies of fire suppression to protect timber interests left a century's worth of fuel in the fire's path.

    Two years of drought and a constant slow warming across the Sierra Nevada also worked to turn the Rim Fire into an inferno.

    For years, forest ecologists have warned that Western wildfires will only get worse.

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


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    In this photograph provided Monday, Aug. 26, 2013, by NOAA, an undersea diver lights the paddlewheel from the ship USCS Robert J. Walker, which sank June 21, 1860. ( AP Photo/NOAA)

    The hulking wreck has been a regular destination for divers but a riddle to historians: What ship came to rest in 85 feet of water 10 miles off New Jersey's coastline?

    Now, federal officials have an answer.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday that it has confirmed that the ship is the Robert J. Walker, an iron-hulled steamer doing mapping work for the U.S. Coast Survey that sank 153 years ago after a violent collision with a 250-ton schooner.

    Twenty sailors aboard the Walker died, making it the worst accident in the history of the U.S. Coast Survey or its successor, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    The wreck was discovered by fishermen in the 1970s but its identity was a mystery until June when a NOAA ship conducting surveys for navigation safety in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy made a positive identification. Retired NOAA Capt. Albert Theberge and Joyce Steinmetz, a Ph.D. candidate in maritime archaeology at East Carolina University, provided impetus for the project.

    "It's estimated there are 3 million shipwrecks in the waters of the world," said James Delgado, director of maritime heritage for NOAA's office of national marine sanctuaries. "You can't go out and look for every one, but sometimes the situation arises when you have an opportunity to do that. This was a perfect convergence of opportunity."

    Delgado said the Walker could be one of the last remaining shipwrecks to be identified off the New Jersey coast. According to NOAA, the ship's unique engines and rectangular portholes were key identifying features. It was still pointed toward Absecon lighthouse, where it likely was trying to head before it sank.

    Built in 1847, the Walker did survey work charting the waters of the southern United States and contributed to the opening up of many ports on the Gulf Coast to increased commerce, according to NOAA. Its work also helped chart harbors that would become strategically important for the Union Navy in the looming Civil War.

    On the night of June 21, 1860, the Walker was heading north to New York when it collided with the schooner Fanny, headed from Philadelphia to Boston. In a newspaper interview, the ship's quartermaster described the scene as the steamer sank within about 30 minutes.

    "The men stayed by the steamer until she was sinking, and then, without confusion, such of them as could took to the boats," Charles Clifford told the New York Herald. "Many of the crew went down with the steamer, however, clinging to the spars and portions of the wreck. ... The captain stayed on board until the steamer went down, and just before she disappeared from sight, jumped into the water, and was picked up by one of the boats."

    Perhaps due to the approaching Civil War, the U.S. Coast Survey didn't conduct an inquiry into the cause of the collision or assign responsibility, NOAA notes.

    Delgado said the wreck won't be raised, and said he hopes it can be used as a tool for educating the public on shipwrecks and creating interest in diving.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos


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    Aug. 28, 2013
    Nike Weatherman Pack

    We've always loved the look of Doppler radar, with its colorful, Jackson Pollackesque splotches. Of course, we never imagined wearing it. But now, incredibly, Nike has made a trio of sneakers, aptly called the Weatherman Pack, featuring Doppler-like designs across their sides. The kicks are perfect for the weather-obsessed -- or anyone who just happens to love the look of weather graphics.

    Nike Weatherman Pack

    Both the Nike Air Foamposite One "Weatherman" high top (center) and the low-rise Nike Air Force 1 Low (right) have lines superimposed over the weather visualizations. The linear patterns imitate isobars, lines of equal atmospheric pressure on a map.

    Nike Weatherman Pack

    According to Nike, "The blue colorway demonstrates a quick transformation from calm to intense, while the red represents the constant pounding of a soaking thunderstorm."

    The shoes go on sale at "select retailers" on Aug. 30, 2013. Nike Blog, a fan site, expects they'll sell out quickly.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Hurricane Images from Space
    Hurricane from Space


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    Aug. 28, 2013
    Tropical Storm Juliette

    MIAMI (AP) - Forecasters say the center of Tropical Storm Juliette is approaching Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and warnings are out for the coast of Baja, California.

    The National Hurricane Center says storm had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph) Wednesday evening and was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southeast of Cabo San Lucas.

    The storm is moving quickly, about 25 mph (40 kph), and is expected to weaken over the next day.

    The center should pass over Cabo San Lucas Wednesday night and the Baja peninsula into Thursday.

    The storm is expected to dump 1 to 3 inches of rain over the area.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Hurricane Images from Space
    Hurricane from Space


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    Updated Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, 10:58 a.m. ET

    Cattle stand in a field as a smoke from the Rim Fire rises near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013. The giant wildfire burning at the edge of Yosemite National Park is 23 percent contained, U.S. fire officials said Wednesday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    GROVELAND, Calif. (AP) - As crews advanced against a giant wildfire around Yosemite National Park, firecommanders said they would maintain use of a Predator drone to give them early views of any new flare-ups across in the remote and rugged landscape.

    Officials remained confident on Thursday about their efforts to corral the Rim Fire, which grew by a relatively modest few hundred acres overnight.

    The fire had burned about 301 square miles as of Thursday morning and remained 30 percent contained. It has cost $39 million to fight.

    "We remain very optimistic that our containment lines are holding, and we'll continue to strengthen lines around communities that are threatened around the fire," said California fire spokesman Daniel Berlant.

    Fire officials said they expect to fully surround the blaze in three weeks, although it will burn for much longer than that.

    The California National Guard drone deployed Wednesday was being remotely piloted hundreds of miles away, allowing ground commanders to keep an eye out for new fires they otherwise wouldn't have immediately seen.

    "The drone is providing data directly back to the incident commander, allowing him to make quick decisions about which resources to deploy and where," Berlant said.

    Previously, officials relied on helicopters that needed to refuel every two hours.

    While unmanned aircraft have mapped past fires, use of the Predator will be the longest sustained mission by a drone in California to broadcast information to firefighters in real time.

    The plane, the size of a small Cessna, will remain over the burn zone for up to 22 hours at a time, allowing firecommanders to monitor fire activity, determine the fire's direction of movement, the extent of containment and confirm new fires ignited by lightning or flying embers.

    The drone is being flown by the 163rd Wing of the California National Guard at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside and is operating from Victorville Airport, both in Southern California. It generally flew over unpopulated areas on its 300-mile flight to the Rim Fire. Outside the fire area, it will be escorted by a manned aircraft.

    Officials were careful to point out the images are being used only to aid in the effort to contain the fire.

    In 2009, a NASA Predator equipped with an infrared imaging sensor helped the U.S. Forest Service assess damage from a fire in Angeles National Forest. In 2008, a drone capable of detecting hot spots helped firefighters assess movement of a series of wildfires stretching from Southern California's Lake Arrowhead to San Diego.

    The Rim Fire started Aug. 17 and quickly exploded in size, becoming one of the 10 largest California wildfires on record. Its progression slowed earlier this week when it moved from parts of the forest with thick underbrush that had not burned in nearly a century to areas that had seen fire in the past two decades.

    But it will burn for months, possibly until California's dry season ends this fall.

    "My prediction is it will burn until we see rain," said Hugh Safford, a regional ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

    That means the smoke could continue to foul air north of Yosemite in the Lake Tahoe basin and neighboring Nevada, although residents received something of a reprieve Wednesday when for the first time in three days blue sky was sometimes visible through the haze.

    The air quality index in the Reno area still had improved only to the "unhealthy" level, and in Douglas County, Nev., school children were kept indoors again when the index registered in the "hazardous" category.

    The air was clear, however, in the tourist mecca of Yosemite Valley, home to the towering Half Dome and El Capitan rock formations and the 2,425-foot plunge of Yosemite Falls.

    The Rim Fire has destroyed 111 structures, including 11 homes, and posed a threat to ancient giant sequoias.

    The fire also has threatened San Francisco's water supply at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, but Stratton said it was burning itself out as it approached and that crews were lighting back burns to push it back into the wilderness.

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


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    Updated Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013 at 2:46 p.m. ET

    Juliette was especially damaging to Baja California. (NOAA)

    CABO SAN LUCAS, Mexico (AP) - Tropical Storm Juliette blew down trees and power lines as it blasted across the tourist resorts at the tip of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula, causing at least one death, officials said Thursday.

    The storm's maximum sustained winds decreased to near 40 mph near midday after hitting 50 mph overnight. It was centered about 95 miles northwest of Cabo San Lazaro, but it was projected to weaken and curve away from land, into the Pacific.

    The storm flooded low-lying areas and collapsed at least one house, according to civil defense officials.

    Much of the area is without power, including the communities of Todos Santos and Pescadero, as well as parts of Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo, according to state Civil Protection head Carlos Enriquez Rincon. Firefighters reported helping various people trapped in their cars on flooded streets.

    Municipal police commander Martin Espinoza said one man died because of an electrical shock in a neighborhood where people commonly draw power with jury-rigged, illegal taps into electricity lines.

    Emergency workers went door to door urging people in high-risk areas to go to shelters, but many refused.

    The storm was expected to lose tropical storm force.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos


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    Aug. 29, 2013

    Hurricane Katrina imagery. (Getty)

    NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Eight years after Hurricane Katrina, the Ferris wheel at the former Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans sits idle. "Closed for Storm" signs are still posted and the abandoned, weed-choked site remains a thorn in the side of officials leading one of the most extensive city-rebuilding projects in U.S. history.

    Proposals to revitalize the 150-acre site in New Orleans have ranged from restoring it to a working amusement park to turning it into a retail mall. The land has been controlled by the city since 2009, when an agreement was struck with Six Flags Inc., for the tract. So far, the city hasn't been able to seal a development deal.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Remembering Hurricane Katrina
    Hurricane Katrina, Superdome, FloodingFor New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, such eyesores are a lingering distraction from the enormous rebuilding effort that has followed since the day the levees broke under Katrina's fury on Aug. 29, 2005. Now optimism is rising as a rebounding city approaches the 300th anniversary of its 1718 founding.

    "The city is a much better place than it was eight years ago. The biggest challenge we have is blight," Landrieu said, adding that 10,000 blighted properties have been removed from the cityscape.

    A thriving downtown and newly vibrant neighborhoods contrast starkly with the city's appearance eight years ago. When Katrina hit, thousands of people who couldn't escape New Orleans in time were trapped in homes as levees broke and floodwaters rose. Helicopters plucked the desperate from rooftops as chaos spread. The damaged Superdome became a refuge of misery for thousands as temperatures and tempers soared.

    Days afterward then-President George W. Bush promised the nation's full attention. But federal authorities were sharply criticized for their early response and local and state authorities as well. And though billions of federal dollars have helped to rebuild a strengthened levee system, many locals remain bitter with the Army Corps of Engineers for the failure of the levees.

    Landrieu said he's intent on moving forward.

    "I think that we have successfully done the most important thing, which was to think about building the city back the way she should have always been and not the way she was," he said.

    Landrieu said rebuilding has even meant re-organizing government operations, streamlining finances, curbing waste and fraud and reorganizing the city's education system - even adding new fire and police stations, parks and libraries.

    Gov. Bobby Jindal praised the progress, calling New Orleans "America's Comeback City," in a statement Wednesday night.

    "Hurricane Katrina was a terrible and devastating storm that brought us to our knees, but it didn't shake our resolve," he said.

    Landrieu said he planned to attend a ceremony Thursday at a cemetery for those who died. The hurricane was blamed for more than 1,800 deaths, mostly in the New Orleans area and along neighboring Mississippi's Gulf coast.

    "We're going to commemorate the anniversary of Katrina by doing the thing that really is important, just remembering those that lost their lives," Landrieu said.

    Despite somber memories, the city leaders are buoyed by new figures.

    Information compiled by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center shows about 80 percent of the pre-storm population has returned, retail outlets are reopening and new ones emerging. Investment in a major medical corridor and an influx of technology companies offer new hope for a city long dependent on tourism.

    Direct damages have been estimated at about $108 billion, but the overall cost of rebuilding raises estimates as high as $150 billion. Katrina greatly topped the estimated $50 billion in damages caused by superstorm Sandy during its East Coast rampage in 2012, according to the National Hurricane Center.

    Billions of dollars in federal aid has built a new and stronger flood protection system, adding pumps and more concrete storm surge walls.

    Many neighborhoods have been restored, though there are vacant lots where houses once stood. A way of life is showing changes, though the city's annual Mardi Gras celebration and zest for good food, music and the NFL's New Orleans Saints had remained intact.

    Bike lanes have been added, linking outlying neighborhoods with the French Quarter and downtown while a post-Katrina expansion of a streetcar service is another sign of progress.

    Some lifelong residents talk of relishing renewed normalcy.

    Stephen Assaf, a musician whose raised cottage was pushed off its foundation when a levee gave way, took payouts for the property and invested in repairing another house blocks away. He didn't want to leave his neighborhood.

    Sipping coffee at his parents' home, he recalled the scene there after Katrina: several feet of muck all over with a car in the backyard pool and a tree running through the front doors. Eight years later, the home has been renovated, re-landscaped and many neighbors are also back in their renovated houses.

    "It's looking nice here," he said.

    The city is not without its trouble-spots. A crime problem predating Katrina remains. And there are questions whether post-storm reforms have really improved schools.

    Many scattered far and wide when the city was abandoned. Those who came back talk of weighty decisions.

    In 2008 at her rebuilt home in the city's Lower 9th Ward, Valeria Schexnayder drew praise from U.S. Rep Nancy Pelosi as an inspiration for others to start anew in a neighborhood that had been all but wiped out. Now years later, Schexnayder said, she couldn't have imagined how slow recovery would be.

    "We're still living in a jungle," she said, seated on a porch with friends. She took in a view that included rebuilt homes but also vacant lots overgrown with weeds.

    Linda Rhodes, who lives nearby, said she doesn't regret returning.

    "This is home," she said. "This is home."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Remembering Hurricane Katrina
    Hurricane Katrina, Looting


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    Aug. 29, 2013

    As in this file photo, Minneapolis school administrators tried to keep students cool with fans, to no avail. (The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

    MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Minneapolis schools tried fans, popsicles, ice and outdoor classes before finally giving in to a late-summer heat wave.

    After three days of temperatures in the upper 90s and high humidity, district officials canceled classes for the rest of the week in 27 buildings that lack much or any air conditioning.

    Classes were to resume Tuesday after the Labor Day holiday, and students won't have to make up the time

    District spokesman Stan Alleyne told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the district worried about staff and students becoming ill from the heat.

    The heat also closed many Iowa schools. In Eagle Grove, where students were released early all week, Superintendent Jeff Toliver said the window air conditioners in the 1920s-era school simply couldn't keep up with the heat.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Tips for Surviving a Heat Wave


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    Aug. 29, 2013

    The Mars rover Curiosity now gets to decide its own course on the Red Planet. (NASA/AP)

    After obeying orders on the Red Planet for more than a year, NASA's Mars rover Curiosity has finally gotten its first taste of freedom.

    The 1-ton Curiosity rover used autonomous navigation for the first time on Tuesday (Aug. 27), driving itself onto a patch of ground that its handlers had not vetted in advance. The robot will likely employ this "autonav" capability more and more as it continues the long trek toward the base of Mars' huge Mount Sharp, NASA officials said.

    In autonav mode, Curiosity analyzes photos it takes during a drive to map out a safe route forward. The car-size rover used this ability on Tuesday to find its way across a small depression whose fine-scale features were hidden from Curiosity's previous location. [Curiosity's 7 Biggest Achievements (So Far)]

    "We could see the area before the dip, and we told the rover where to drive on that part," rover driver John Wright, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "We could see the ground on the other side, where we designated a point for the rover to end the drive, but Curiosity figured out for herself how to drive the uncharted part in between."

    Curiosity drove about 33 feet (10 meters) in autonav mode Tuesday, out of a total driving distance of 141 feet (43 m) for the day.

    Curiosity landed inside the 96-mile-wide (154 kilometers) Gale Crater on Aug. 5, 2012 to determine if Mars could ever have supported microbial life. The rover has already checked off that primary mission goal, determining in March that an area called Yellowknife Bay was indeed habitable billions of years ago.

    The rover stuck close to its landing site for nearly a year after touching down. But in early July, Curiosity set out for the 3.4-mile-high (5.5 km) Mount Sharp, whose many layers hold a record of the Red Planet's changing environmental history over time.

    Curiosity has now covered 0.86 miles (1.39 km) on this trek, with about 4.46 miles (7.18 km) left to go along a provisional path mapped out using orbital observations, NASA officials said. The actual driving route may be longer or shorter, since it will be based on images Curiosity captures along the way.

    The mission team also plans to stop at a few places along the way to do some science work. The first of these "waypoints" lies about 0.31 miles (0.5 km) from Curiosity's current location.

    "Each waypoint represents an opportunity for Curiosity to pause during its long journey to Mount Sharp and study features of local interest," Curiosity chief scientist John Grotzinger, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a statement.

    "These features are geologically interesting, based on HiRISE images, and they lie very close to the path that provides the most expeditious route to the base of Mount Sharp," Grotzinger added, referring to the HiRISE instrument aboard NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. "We'll study each for several sols [Martian days], perhaps selecting one for drilling if it looks sufficiently interesting."

    Follow Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. Originally published on

    Amazing Mars Rover Curiosity's Martian Views (Latest Photos)
    The Boldest Mars Missions in History
    A 'Curiosity' Quiz: How Well Do You Know NASA's Newest Mars Rover?

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Amazing Photos of the International Space Station
    International Space Station, Shuttle


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    Aug. 29, 2013

    The California Rim Fire began on Aug. 17, 2013, and has since grown to cover 301 square miles, becoming one of the 10 largest California wildfires on record. In this time-lapse video, the raging fire is seen from different vantage points in Yosemite National Park.

    As of Thursday, Aug. 29, the fire was 30 percent contained. It is expected to be fully contained by Sept. 10.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Rim Fire Rages in and Around Yosemite
    Yosemite Rim Fire, California


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    We've seen some pretty angry skies before, but this is something else altogether. Jamie O'Connell was walking his dog in Fort William, Scotland when he noticed a cloud that seemed to be making an obscene gesture, according to the Daily Mail, and O'Connell snapped a photo. The 23-year-old says he was "gobsmacked."

    "A lot of people have said it might be a sign - I must have annoyed someone!" O'Connell was quoted as saying.

    RELATED ON SKYE: What Creatures Do You See in These Clouds?


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    (SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images)

    HONG KONG (AP) - About two dozen people on two flights were injured when their aircraft hit turbulence before landing at Hong Kong's airport on Friday morning.

    Thai Airways said 20 people were hurt when an Airbus A38-800 carrying 500 passengers, two pilots and 24 cabin crew from Bangkok encountered "unforeseen turbulence" as it was descending to Hong Kong's airport.

    The airline said passengers and cabin crew suffered injuries but the plane landed safely.

    Thai Airways sales manager Kenny Kung said earlier that 39 were injured but the airline later revised the number to 20. Kung says the injured were sent to three hospitals in the southern Chinese city.

    Local carrier Hong Kong Airlines said three passengers and three flight attendants were hurt when their flight from Phuket hit "sudden turbulence" as it neared the city's airport. The airline said the plane landed safely and the six have left hospital.

    The plane was carrying 110 passengers and seven crew.

    Hong Kong has been experiencing unsettled weather as Tropical Storm Kong-rey passes nearby.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Terrifying Airports


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    Local residents walk through floodwaters from passing Tropical Storm Kong-Rey in Tainan, Taiwan, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013. (AP Photo)

    TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) - Three people in Taiwan perished as a result of heavy rains spawned by a destructive tropical storm, the government said Friday.

    Tropical Storm Kong-Rey battered the island Thursday, dumping more than 19 inches of rain on the heavily populated west coast and causing widespread flooding.

    The government's emergency operations center said one of the fatalities occurred when a man in Pingtung county in Taiwan's far south drowned after being thrown into a river from his skidding motorbike. Farther to the north in Yunlin country, one woman was electrocuted in her home after heavy flooding and another woman drowned.

    Kong-Rey skirted the island's east coast on Thursday before heading north toward Japan.

    Particularly hard hit in Taiwan were the large west coast cities of Chiayi, Tainan and Kaohsiung, where flooding in some areas reached second-story levels. Officials evacuated a total of 3,600 residents and cancelled some train services.

    Kong-Rey is the second major storm to hit Taiwan this month. Last week, a severe tropical storm dumped up to a meter (39 inches) of rain on the southern part of the island. High winds caused the cancellation of scores of international flights and in conjunction with the rain led to the disruption of high speed rail service between the capital of Taipei and Kaohsiung.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space


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    (Getty Images)

    CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Allaying concerns from tourists and campers, a National Park Service official says a wildfire burning in the heart of Yellowstone National Park is expected to stay away from major tourist areas during the busy Labor Day weekend.

    "We haven't seen a lot of activity or any growth on any of the fires in Yellowstone in recent days," Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash said Thursday. "And this includes the Alum Fire which is located northwest of the Fishing Bridge area. We don't expect a lot of activity from any of these fires in the coming days."

    The Alum Fire, one of four burning in the park, has charred about 11 square miles. It's burning on the ridge about 5 miles northwest of Fishing Bridge Junction on the north side of Yellowstone Lake. Fishing Bridge, Lake Village and Bridge Bay are major tourist spots in the area.

    All park campgrounds, lodging, stores, service stations, restaurants and other facilities are open, Nash said.

    "All the roads in and to the park are open," he said. "We have some very limited backcountry closures in response to the fires, but they impact a very small percentage of our visitors."

    While the Alum Fire is not expected to move toward Fishing Bridge, Lake Village or Bridge Bay, firefighters have done extensive work to ensure the protection of the areas should the fire make an unexpected move.

    Nash said Yellowstone has received calls from some worried and confused people about the fire situation in the park.

    "Once we explain that this is Yellowstone in Wyoming and tell them about our current fire activity we are able to allay their concerns," he said. "Some people get us mixed up with Yosemite in California."

    Firefighters have been battling a large wildfire that has burned more than 300 square miles around Yosemite National Park.

    Nash said Yellowstone typically sees visitors from around the world on Labor Day weekend.

    "But when we have a favorable weather forecast like we do for this weekend, we often see a significant influx of people from the immediate region who choose to wrap their summer activities with Labor Day in Yellowstone," he said. "I would have every expectation that you will see more Wyoming, Montana and Idaho license plates in the park this weekend."


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    Aug. 30, 2013

    Firefighters douse a spot fire as they battle the Rim Fire on Aug. 24, 2013, in Groveland, Calif. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - With the last big travel weekend of the summer arriving, some nervous tourists are keeping an eye on the huge Sierra Nevada wildfire, wondering whether it will interfere with their travel plans to destinations like Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe.

    Those who keep their hard-to-get Labor Day lodging reservations in Yosemite will enjoy a pleasant surprise: stunning views of the towering granite icons Half Dome and El Capitan with less of the usual holiday congestion.

    The park has seen some reservation cancellations and some nearby mountain communities have had a serious drop-off in business due to the 311-square-mile Rim Fire, which was 33 percent contained late Thursday. More than 20,000 acres of the fire are along the northern edge of the national park.

    But 20 miles upwind in Yosemite Valley, the sky is clear and not even the scent of smoke is in the air.

    Park officials expect about 3,000 cars a day to pass through gates this weekend instead of the nearly 5,000 that might typically show on the holiday. Most of the missing will be day tourists, not folks who have waited months and even years for a campsite along the Merced River or a room at the historic Ahwahnee Lodge.

    "We've had minimal cancellations, and when we do we fill them immediately," said park spokesman Scott Gediman. "The campsites are full and there are plenty of people, but because of the publicity we're slower."

    It's a familiar pattern of panic, cancellation and rebooking in the rugged national park that has been shaped by all manner of disaster. In years past, when boulders tumbling from 3,000-foot granite monoliths have sent tourists scrambling, or when a mouse-borne illness killed tent cabin guests, cancellations poured in.

    But the park never has enough lodging for the 4 million tourists who visit annually, so vacant rooms rarely go unfilled for long.

    That's not the case in nearby Groveland, a scenic Gold Rush community along a road that carries 2.2 million cars into the park every year. Early on, fire tore along Highway 120, forcing its closure and cutting off the town's lifeblood.

    Since then, the historic hamlet has been the dateline on scores of ominous news stories describing the inferno that has long since chewed its way north. The notoriety has taken a toll.

    "I laid off all my girls" Wednesday, said Laura Jensen, owner of the Firefall Coffee Roasting Co. "This has totally drained us. It's like winter when we slow down and take care of the locals, but this should be our busiest time of the year."

    The Iron Door Saloon, which calls itself the oldest in California, also laid off employees this week, as did the Hotel Charlotte, a 1920s boutique hotel on Main Street.

    "I've had $20,000 worth of cancellations in the past few days," said Doug Edwards, who owns the hotel with his wife, Jen. "It's fear-driven. People don't want to drive on a road that looks like Hiroshima or Nagasaki."

    Making matters worse for Groveland was Thursday's fire-forced cancellation of the Strawberry Music Festival, which draws 20,000 bluegrass lovers to town every Labor Day weekend.

    "We're coming into the crescendo of our season," Edwards said. "Our hotel should be completely full."

    The impact is being felt as far north as Lake Tahoe, where thick smoke settled this week in the alpine basin that draws outdoor enthusiast from around the world, affecting everything from hotel reservations to bicycle rentals.

    The sky was clear Thursday, but tourists had yet to come back.

    "It has dropped off drastically the past week," said Travis McCoy of Camp Richardson Mountain Sports Center on the lake's south shore. His usual rental income of up to $3,000 daily has fallen to less than $500.

    Some hotels and motels at South Lake Tahoe were experiencing as much as a 10 percent to 20 percent drop in business, with less of an impact at larger hotel-casino properties, said Carol Chaplin, executive director Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority. But she said there were signs of improvement as the holiday weekend neared.

    "We've got blue skies. We've got the lake back. It's the best it has been in a week," she said.

    Harrah's Lake Tahoe fielded some weekend cancelations, but not an unusually large number, spokesman John Packer said Thursday.

    "It's a vast improvement this morning - just a huge improvement - particularly compared to Tuesday when it was one of the thicker days," said Packer, who noted that 6,000 tickets have been sold for a Friday night outdoor concert by Brad Paisley.

    Air quality also showed some improvement along the Eastern Sierra just east of Lake Tahoe and in Reno, Nev.

    At least 31 wildfires are burning in eight Western states, and only two are contained.

    The Rim Fire started Aug. 17 and quickly became the sixth-largest California wildfire on record. Its progression slowed earlier this week but it will burn for months.

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


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