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SKYE on AOL

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    (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

    A brutal heat wave in progress over the Central states since last weekend will break down over the Labor Day weekend, but there are more hot days to go in the late-summer pattern.

    Temperatures will surge well into the 90s most days through Saturday. A few spots will reach the century mark.

    The heat wave that has closed some schools and cancelled fall activities during the first week of the new semester will shrink toward the Southwest during the Labor Day weekend.

    A cool front will sweep from northwest to southeast, from the northern Plains to the Midwest spanning Saturday night, Sunday and Labor Day.

    In the wake of the front, temperatures will be shaved by 10 to 20 degrees from North Dakota to Michigan. Humidity levels will also be trimmed back.



    By Labor Day, highs at Fargo, N.D., and Minneapolis are forecast to be in the 70s with highs projected to be in the 80s for Omaha, Neb., Kansas City, Mo., and Chicago.

    Farther south and west over the region, the temperature drop will be more on the order of 5 to 10 degrees, but the edge will be taken off the heat.

    From Oklahoma City to Dallas and Little Rock, Ark., there may be no appreciable change in temperature or humidity.

    The push of cool air may not mean the end of summer heat just yet for the Central states. In addition to heat lingering over the southern Plains, temperatures are likely to rebound late next week and could surge well into the 90s again for a few days.

    The heat late next week could again perhaps impact some school activities.

    Long Range Weather Expert Paul Pastelok is still expecting a quick progression toward winter weather over the northern Plains and Midwest during the autumn.

    "Despite the heat going on now and a resurgence next week, there is still the possibility of significant frost visiting portions of the northern Plains and part of the Midwest during the latter part of September," Pastelok stated on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013.

    In the meantime, the heat wave will continue to drive energy bills higher as fans and air conditioners run full blast.

    RELATED:
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    North Central States Radar Loop

    For people participating in vigorous physical activity or attending sporting events, be sure to drink plenty of fluids.

    Pools and lakes will continue to be hot spots for people trying to keep their cool and enjoy some late-summer fun and make up for lost time earlier in the season.

    For folks on the road or spending time outdoors from the northern Plains to the Great Lakes, there will continue to be rounds of thunderstorms into the Labor Day weekend.

    The storms are forecast to affect the Dakotas as well as part of the Midwest Friday to close out the week.

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

     

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    An Arizona-style house and yard. (Getty Images)

    Much of the western United States is still experiencing severe to exceptional drought, and some communities have been for years. Some cities in the Southwest are making changes to their landscape to help reduce water waste.

    Cities across California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Nevada are encouraging residents to replace their grass lawns and spray irrigation systems with native plants, rocks or drip irrigation systems.

    Toby Bickmore, conservation services administrator for the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA), explained that they began an in-depth study of several hundred properties in the valley with turf yards in the late 1990s to see the kind of water usage they required. A few years later, they researched another area of the state and received similar results: Every square foot of grass that was removed, about 55 gallons of water could be saved each year.

    In Nevada, new building codes designed in 2005 restrict turf placement; none in the front yards of new construction and limited amounts of grass allowed in backyards. For structures built before the new code, residents were given the option to receive a rebate for every square foot of grass they removed.

    "There have been millions of square feet rebated since we began the program in 2000," Bickmore said. "From all different types of properties: single-family homes, multi-family homes, commercial residences, even golf courses."

    The SNWA rebates customers $1.50 for each square foot of grass they remove and replace with natural desert landscaping. After 5,000 square feet, the rebate reduces to a dollar per square foot.

    Bickmore said that their estimates put 165 million square feet of turf rebated to date, with a savings of about 9 billion gallons of water are being saved every year.

    Along with rebated lawns that are replaced, SNWA also encourages homes to switch from spray irrigation systems to drip irrigation systems.

    "It's the difference between using gallons of water per hour instead of per minute," Bickmore said.

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    SoCal Water$mart has adopted a similar program for Southern California residents, starting rebates at 30 cents per removed square foot of grass. They specify that soil must have 2 to 3 inches of covering to prevent erosion, and encourage property owners to use a "California Friendly(R)" garden in place of the turf, which includes drought-tolerate and native plants.

    Water shortages are often a problem for Southern California. The Association of California Water Agencies state, "Three years of drought coupled with environmental restrictions on pumping in the Delta have created some of the worst water shortages" in recent memory.

    There is some concern that turf replacement has some negative consequences, however. Moisture-rich grass takes sun energy for growth and evaporation. With dark stones in place of the turf, urban areas may be more susceptible to the heat island effect, which is when cities remain 10 to 12 degrees warmer at night than their rural neighbors due to more buildings, asphalt and other heat retainers.

    "Grassy surfaces kept moist will be significantly cooler on a sunny day when compared to artificial turf, gravel and pavement," AccuWeather.com expert senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    Friday, Aug. 30, 2013


    NASA just released a stunning new image of Mercury captured by the Messenger spacecraft.

    From NASA:

    Fresh and bright, this unnamed, elongated crater appears to have been formed by an impactor that struck the surface at an oblique angle, causing most of the ejecta to be thrown out unevenly around the crater (notice the bright rays above, below and to the right of the crater). The marginally bright material in the bottom left corner is actually part of a ray from Hokusai, over 1380 km (about 860 mi.) away!

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 New NASA Images Capture Smiling Sun
    Smiling Sun

     

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    Aug. 31, 2013

    This satellite imagery shows the great number of storms brewing in the Atlantic. (NOAA)

    While systems remain weak over the tropical Atlantic, there are still multiple features to keep an eye on through the Labor Day weekend.

    According to Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski, "The most notable system that could impact the Lesser Antilles this weekend is a tropical disturbance over the central Atlantic, located at about 50 degrees west longitude Friday midday."

    This feature has developed a weak circulation in the lowest levels of the atmosphere, but it has been somewhat limited in thunderstorm development.

    There is a chance this feature becomes better organized over the next few days. Regardless of development, as this system continues westward, it will bring a pulse of showers and thunderstorms to the Lesser Antilles Sunday into next week.

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    Another tropical disturbance is moving westward off the coast of Africa Friday and was located around 20 degrees West Longitude. There is a significant chance this system becomes better organized into the weekend and could become the Atlantic's next tropical depression. This system will bring drenching showers and gusty thunderstorms to the Cape Verde Islands this weekend.

    The parade of tropical disturbances continues to pick up the pace over Africa.

    Not only are there more disturbances, when compared to recent weeks, the disturbances are stronger to begin with, producing more thunderstorms over Africa.

    While this is not a guarantee for future development, when combined with warm waters and more moisture in general over the tropical Atlantic, the odds of one or more systems developing into tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes continue to increase.

    In the current pattern development of more than one tropical depression through the first week of September should not come as a surprise.

    Another spot to keep an eye on, in addition to the train of disturbances over the tropical Atlantic, is the area of the southwestern Gulf of Mexico, known as the Bay of Campeche. This area gave quick rise to Tropical Storm Fernand last weekend, which produced deadly flash flooding in Mexico.

    "There are no such features over the Atlantic Basin Thursday," Kottlowski said. "Most disturbances on the playing field right now will be counter-balanced by pockets of disruptive winds as they move along, especially those that travel over much of the Caribbean Sea and drift farther north over mid-latitudes of the Atlantic."

    There is no reason to alter travel plans at this time but rather continue to monitor the tropics. In this pattern portions of the Atlantic Basin can get out of balance, tipping in the favor of development with little notice.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    August 31, 2013

    SKY MAP: The stars of Sagittarius as of 10:30 p.m. local time from mid-northern latitudes.
    (Starry Night Software)


    For many years at New York's Hayden Planetarium, I would look forward to the month of September, because I could always have a little fun with my audience by reminding them that the annual Miss America Pageant was close at hand.

    Held each year in Atlantic City, N.J., the contest would present its winner with a crown shaped very much like a tiara. I would then point out not one, but two crowns that adorned the late summer evening sky.

    But that practice came to a halt in 2006 when the pageant moved from Atlantic City to Las Vegas and the date was shifted from September to January. This year, however, Miss America will return to Atlantic City, and the contest will again be held in September. So, once again, my Miss America-themed star I.D. is relevant. [Amazing Night Sky Photos for August (Gallery)]

    A crown of gems, a crown of leaves

    There are two crown constellations shining in the sky now: Corona Australis, or the Southern Crown, and Corona Borealis, or the Northern Crown.

    Stargazers should look low in the sky near the southern horizon at nightfall to catch the Southern Crown, while the Northern Crown can be spotted high in the west. The brightest star in the Corona Borealis is 2nd magnitude Gemma, sometimes called the "crown jewel." Fittingly, the Northern Crown bears a striking resemblance to Miss America's tiara.

    The Southern Crown is a fainter collection of stars, arranged in a tighter pattern. The brightest stars in the Corona Australis are 4th magnitude.

    For most of the United States, unfortunately, the Southern Crown is quite close to the horizon, in an area where haze becomes quite significant. From New York, the crown barely gets 10 degrees above the horizon (the equivalent of the width of your fist held at arm's length). Observers have to go as far south as Florida or the Gulf Coast to get a really good view of the Southern Crown.

    Both crowns are ancient constellations, part of Claudius Ptolemy's "definitive" list of 48 groupings that were handed down to Western peoples from Ptolemy's era.

    Corona Borealis is the gem-studded golden crown of Ariadne, who, in Greek legend, received it from Bacchus upon marrying him.

    Corona Australis was originally a group that represented a crown of leaves sometimes worn by the ancients on ceremonial occasions. The gem-less Southern Crown has no particular story associated with it, although some write that it was another crown that Bacchus gave as a gift, this one to his mother, Semele.

    Sagittarius: archer or teapot?

    Also on these late summer evenings after the sun has set, look low in the south for the classical archer, Sagittarius. Traditionally a centaur (half man, half horse), this constellation is one of two such creatures in the sky. The other is Centaurus, a large, complex star pattern best viewed during the spring from far-southern localities.

    Long ago, Sagittarius was not a centaur at all, but simply a standing archer looking with some apprehension toward the Scorpion immediately to his west.

    About two-fifths of the way up from the star Al Nasl northwest to Theta Ophiuchi lies in the direction of the center of the Milky Way, appearing as a veritable cloud of stars. The English poet John Milton once described the Milky Way as a "broad and ample road whose dust is gold and pavement stars."

    In Latin, "Via Lactea" describes the star system's appearance in the sky. For the same reason, the Greeks used the words "gala" and "kyklos," meaning milk and circle - hence the word galaxy.

    Although tracing out an Archer-Centaur among Sagittarius' stars does require some imagination, visualizing the constellation as a teapot is quite easy. In fact, it is the Teapot and not the Archer that is portrayed on most star charts and in observing guides.

    I find it a truly delightful pattern: as star pictures go, it's one of the best. Nearly 40 years ago, the late astronomy-popularizer, George Lovi pointed out that stargazers could augment their stellar tea service with a teaspoon and lemon as well. Lovi's "Teaspoon" is made from stars in northern Sagittarius, while his "Lemon" is an alternate rendition of the Southern Crown.

    Editor's note: If you snap an amazing picture of any night sky sight that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, send photos, comments and your name and location to Managing Editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, Farmer's Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, N.Y. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

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    Aug. 31, 2013


    FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - Smoke from a wildfire around Yosemite National Park is causing problems in the San Joaquin Valley, even as firefighters make advances against the massive blaze.

    Winds had been blowing dense smoke plumes northeast into the Lake Tahoe area and Nevada but a shift brought them west down to the San Joaquin Valley floor.

    Regional air pollution control authorities issued a health caution for San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno and Tulare counties. Residents who see or smell smoke were urged to stay inside, especially people with heart or lung problems, older adults and children.

    But in signs of progress, By Friday crews had built containment lines around more than a third of the huge forest fire and officials had lifted evacuation advisories in some small communities in the mountainous area,

    Also, a few dozen firefighters were released and more could be sent home in coming days, said Daniel Berlant, spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More than 4,800 firefighters remained on the scene late Friday.

    "We continue to gain the upper hand, but there's still a lot of work to be done," Berlant said.

    The 2-week-old blaze burning in the Sierra Nevada northeast of Fresno has scorched 333 square miles of brush, oaks and pine, making it the largest U.S. wildfire to date this year and the fifth-largest wildfire in modern California records. Containment was estimated at 35 percent.

    Evacuation advisories were lifted Thursday in Tuolumne City, Soulsbyville and Willow Springs but remained in place for other communities, and evacuations were still mandatory along the fire's southeastern edge.

    About 75 square miles of the fire are inside Yosemite but at some distance from the national park's major attractions, including glacially carved Yosemite Valley's granite monoliths and towering waterfalls.

    Park officials expect about 3,000 cars a day to pass through gates during the long Labor Day holiday weekend instead of the nearly 5,000 that might typically show. The fire has caused some people to cancel reservations in the park but those vacancies have been quickly filled, officials said.

    "Valley campgrounds are still full and skies in Yosemite Valley are crystal clear," said park spokeswoman Kari Cobb.

    A 4-mile stretch of State Route 120, one of three western entrances into Yosemite, remained closed, hurting tourism-dependent businesses in communities along the route.

    Costs reached $47 million, including firefighters from 41 states and the District of Columbia and significant aviation resources including helicopters, a DC-10 jumbo jet and military aircraft equipped with the Modular Airborne FireFighting System. Aircraft have dropped 1.7 million gallons of retardant and 1.4 million gallons of water.

    The fire started Aug. 17 and its cause remains under investigation. It is expected to keep burning long after it is fully contained, and recovery will be extensive. Some 7,000 damaged trees next to power lines will need to be removed by utility crews and 800 guardrail posts will need to be replaced on Route 120, a fire fact sheet said.

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

     

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    Aug. 31, 2013

    In 2012, Diana Nyad made her last Cuba-Florida attempt; above, she is shown at the start of her swim. (AP)

    HAVANA (AP) - The Florida Strait, a dangerous stretch of sea full of sharks and jellyfish that is prone to sudden, violent storms, has stubbornly resisted Diana Nyad's repeated attempts to conquer it.

    Yet the Florida-raised endurance athlete was back in the water once again Saturday, launching her fourth bid in three years to become the first person to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys without a protective shark cage.

    "I admit there's an ego rush," Nyad said. "If I - three days from now, four days from now - am still somehow bringing the arms up and I see the shore ... I am going to have a feeling that no one yet on this planet has ever had."

    She expects to take about 80 hours to arrive somewhere between Key West and Marathon, more than 110 miles from Havana.

    Nyad, who recently turned 64, tried three times in 2011 and 2012. Her last attempt was cut short amid boat trouble, storms, unfavorable currents and box jellyfish stings that left her face puffy and swollen.

    She says this will be her final try. She has said the same after previous defeats, but likened those statements to the rash promises of a heartbroken spouse.

    "Every person who's married, the day after they get the divorce they say, Never again!" Nyad said.

    "But you need to heal, your heart needs to heal, and pretty soon not all men are bad again."

    Nyad has spoken of night swimming in particular as a mystical, almost out-of-body experience where she finds herself contemplating the nature of the universe.

    Still, she acknowledged some might wonder, "Why would I come back to a place where maybe I'm lucky I didn't die before?"

    The answer is that it's a longtime dream she's been unwilling to give up, and she said she shares an emotional bond with Cuba unlike any other place she might have chosen for a marquee swim.

    Nyad hopes a new silicone mask will protect her from jellyfish at night when they rise to the surface more. She'll also don a full bodysuit, gloves and booties. The kit slows her down, but she believes it will be effective.

    A 35-person support team will accompany her at sea. Equipment that generates a faint electrical field around her is designed to keep sharks at bay, and she stops from time to time for nourishment.

    Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam the Strait in 1997 with a shark cage, which besides providing protection from the predators has a drafting effect that pulls a swimmer along.

    Nyad also made an unsuccessful attempt in 1978 with a cage.

    In 2012, Australian Penny Palfrey swam 79 miles toward Florida without a cage before strong currents forced her to abandon the attempt. This June, her countrywoman Chloe McCardel made it 11 hours and 14 miles before jellyfish stings ended her bid.

    Amid shouts of "Onward!" from supporters, Nyad jumped from the seawall of the Hemingway Marina into the warm waters off Havana Saturday morning.

    "My adrenaline is pumping very hard," she said. "Which means in one half I'm excited. I did all the training. The body is ready. My mind is ready. On the other hand, I admit I'm scared."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Could a Trip to Your Favorite Beach Make You Sick?

     

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    Aug. 31, 2013

    A recent satellite image of the Pacific, with Baja California on the right. (NOAA)

    MIAMI (AP) - A tropical depression has formed in the Pacific Ocean, far from land.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the depression is expected to become a tropical storm later Saturday. The depression is about 500 miles southwest of the southern tip of Baja California.

    It has maximum sustained winds of 35 mph and is moving northwest.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Remembering Hurricane Katrina
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    Aug. 31, 2013

    Even though 2013 has been hurricane-free on the East Coast, it's crucial to remember that Superstorm Sandy -- a satellite image of which is shown above -- did not hit until October of 2012. (NOAA)

    The 2013 Atlantic Hurricane season will go down in the books as being free of hurricanes through August. However, data suggests that interests in the basin may not be so fortunate through November.

    According to Meteorologist Adrienne Green, "Since 1960, there have been five years when there were no hurricanes through August."

    The years were 1967, 1984, 1988, 2001 and 2002.

    "During each of those years, multiple hurricanes followed spanning September through October," Green said.

    The average number of hurricanes during the five years (5.8) is close to the average number of hurricane during all years (5.9).

    An average of about nine named systems with about six hurricanes occurred following August during those five years. Since the start of September, the 2001 season brought nine hurricanes, while 2002 brought four hurricanes.

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    While there is no 100-percent guarantee any hurricanes will form for the balance of the season, the odds are greatly in favor of multiple hurricanes through November with some of these likely during September.

    Based on past data, there will be multiple major hurricanes and direct impact on land by named systems are likely moving forward this season.

    Each of these five years without August hurricanes delivered deadly and damaging hurricanes later in the season ranging from the Caribbean islands to Central America, Mexico, the United States and Canada.

    These include:

    • 1967 - September Hurricane Beulah - Category 5 - 688 fatalities - $1 billion in damage
    • 1984 - September Hurricane Diana - Category 4 - 3 fatalities - $65.5 million in damage
    • 1988 - September Hurricane Gilbert - Category 4 - 550 fatalities - $7 billion in damage
    • 2001 - October Hurricane Iris - Category 4 - 36 fatalities - $250 million in damage
    • 2001 - November Hurricane Michelle - Category 4 - 22 fatalities - $2 billion in damage
    • 2002 - September Hurricane Isidore - Category 3 - 19 fatalities - $1.3 billion in damage
    • 2002 - September Hurricane Lili - Category 4 - 13 fatalities - $925 million in damage

    The 1984 and 2001 seasons brought named systems lingering into December. The 2002 season ended early, during mid-October.

    A lack of strong systems in the tropics to date this season means there is a great deal of potential heat energy that is locked up over the basin. This energy is likely to be released and transported northward in the form of hurricanes during the months ahead.

    There does not have to be a major hurricane making direct landfall to bring great risk to lives and property. Dangerous and damaging effects from a storm passing near an area or diminishing while moving inland can bring tremendous flooding, for example.

    Despite the lack of hurricanes through August this season, people should not let their guard down.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Remembering Hurricane Katrina
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    Aug. 31, 2013

    Tropical storm Kiko can be seen to the west of Baha California. (NOAA)

    MIAMI (AP) - Tropical Storm Kiko (KEE'-koh) has neared hurricane strength in the eastern Pacific, but poses no threat to land.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said early Sunday that Kiko was centered about 400 miles west-southwest of the southern tip of Mexico's Baja California peninsula. It had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph and was moving north at 7 mph.

    The hurricane center said Kiko could become a hurricane later Sunday morning, but is likely to begin weakening Sunday night and Monday.

    There are no warnings or watches in effect for land. Tropical force winds extend outward up to 70 miles from the center of the storm.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Remembering Hurricane Katrina
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    Sept.1, 2013

    The above map shows the path of cooler and drier air that will be heading from the Midwest to the Northeast this week. (AccuWeather)

    Relief from the sticky and stormy conditions starting this extended holiday weekend is headed to the Midwest, Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

    Drier and less humid air will spend Sunday through Wednesday sweeping in a west to east fashion from the Midwest to the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

    Fargo, N.D., and Minneapolis will first notice a reduction in storminess and humidity on Sunday, followed by Kansas City, Chicago and Detroit on Labor Day.

    St. Louis and Cincinnati will see humidity levels fall Monday afternoon and night with the same set to happen in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City 24 hours later on Tuesday.

    Wednesday is when the steamy air will finally be gone from Portland, Boston and southward to Richmond, Va. The less humid air may even work its way into Atlanta this day, but will stop short of reaching the Gulf Coast.

    The reduction in humidity will also be accompanied by temperatures returning to values that are more typical of early September.

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    The departure of the humid air, however, will not come quietly. Potentially severe thunderstorms will continue to threaten the Upper Midwest through Saturday night, then the mid-Mississippi Sunday afternoon and evening.

    Locally drenching showers and thunderstorms will rattle the East every day prior to the less humid air's arrival. Much to the demise of those with outdoor plans, Labor Day should prove to be the most active day in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic.

    Once the steamy air leaves, its quick return is not anticipated. The coolest air mass since the spring may instead dive into the Northeast late in the week.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Sept. 1, 2013

    Fire trucks drive through heavy smoke generated by the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, Calif., on Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. Thick smoke has entered the park, obscuring views of the famous waterfalls and rock formations. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) - For the first time since a wildfire broke out around Yosemite National Park, dense smoke has begun to obscure the region's majestic mountain views, park officials say.

    The smoke from the two-week-old fire that shrouded parts of Yosemite Valley Saturday also hampered firefighting efforts.

    "I'm in Yosemite Valley right now, and I cannot see the cliffs around me," spokeswoman Kari Cobb said. "The wind has shifted and smoke is impacting the entire park. We have been lucky until now."

    All the campgrounds in the Valley still were full as of Saturday morning, despite the thick blanket and burning smell that permeated the area and was expected to linger until at least Monday, she said.

    As a health precaution, visitors were being asked to scale back their outdoor recreation plans and avoid strenuous activities or even stay indoors.

    Meanwhile, firefighting aircraft were grounded most of the morning because of low visibility caused by the smoke, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Mark Healey said. The blaze had scorched 348 square miles of brush, oaks and pines and 11 homes, as of Saturday, an area larger than the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose combined.

    Of that total, 94 square miles of wilderness have burned in the northern section of Yosemite, up from 75 square miles a day earlier.

    The fire was 40 percent contained.

    Although containment efforts proceeded on a positive note overnight, officials became concerned Saturday about a 150-acre spot fire that crossed a road and prompted an evacuation order for homes near the west entrance of Yosemite, Healey said.

    Once planes and water-dropping helicopters were cleared to take off again, the worry lifted some along with the evacuation order.

    "Air operations are going full-blast to bring this fire under control," Healey said late Saturday afternoon.

    The cause of the fire, which started August 17 and has claimed the most acreage in the Stanislaus National Forest, is under investigation.

    Healey said fresh firefighters were being brought in to replace tired crews, but that officials did not plan to reduce the nearly 5,000 people assigned to the blaze.

    The wildfire is the largest now burning in the United States and is the fifth-largest in California history.

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

     

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    Sept. 1, 2013

    Five of the six of the astronauts currently aboard the International Space Station are pictured above. (NASA)

    Americans across the United States will pause to celebrate the Labor Day holiday on Monday (Sept. 2), even space travelers soaring high above Earth aboard the International Space Station.

    There are two American astronauts, NASA's Karen Nyberg and Chris Cassidy, currently serving on the space station's six-person crew, and they are expecting a light work day Monday, NASA officials said.

    While station astronauts typically take a break from their usual duties on holidays, they still may need to do a little work. Nyberg and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano might take part in a quick training session to prepare for the arrival of an unmanned cargo-carrying Cygnus spacecraft, NASA spokesman Josh Byerly told SPACE.com via email.

    The Cygnus capsule is scheduled to launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., atop an Antares rocket on Sept. 17. It will mark the first Cygnus test flight to International Space Station. The unmanned cargo ship was built by the commercial spaceflight company Orbital Sciences Corp.

    But aside from Cygnus training, Nyberg and the rest of the station's Expedition 36 crew will likely have the chance to chat with their loved ones in honor of the U.S. holiday. Space station residents can call their families whenever they have time and they can send emails and video link with the ground.

    This year's Labor Day in space should be more subdued than last year's holiday. In 2012, astronauts on the space station were prepping for an extra spacewalk after a sticky bolt prevented NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japanese spaceflyer Akihiko Hoshide from replacing a faulty piece of hardware on the outside of the station.

    The $100 billion International Space Station is currently home to multicultural crew representing the United States, Russia and Europe. The Expedition 36 crew includes Nyberg and Cassidy (both of NASA), Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano and Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Alexander Misurkin.

    The station is about the size of a five bedroom house has the wingspan of a football field. Construction of the station began in 1998 and it has been continuously staffed with crews of spaceflyers since 2000.

    Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

    Holidays in Space: An Astronaut Photo Album
    Cosmic Quiz: Do You Know the International Space Station?
    Amazing Space Photos: Italian Astronaut Luca Parmitano's Orbital Images

    Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, 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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    Sept. 1, 2013
    Narrow Escape: Boulder the Size of Truck Almost Crushes Car

    TAIWAN - Tropical Storm Kong-rey has been menacing the Philippines since last week, according to AccuWeather.com.

    As expected, the powerful storm tracked north this weekend, dumping huge amounts of rain onto the of Taiwan. The soaking moisture was predicted to lead to flash-flooding, mudslides and landslides -- exactly as seen in the shocking roadway video above where a truck-size boulder comes within inches of crushing a car.

    As well, a 4.1-magnitude earthquake jolted the island nation Sunday morning.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    (Getty Images)

    The unwanted parting gift of headaches thanks to the weather awaits many Labor Day travelers on Monday across the East and many Western states.

    Numerous showers and thunderstorms are set to rumble from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast on Monday, with a separate area across the Rockies and interior Northwest.

    Some of the thunderstorms will be capable of producing downpours, the most numerous of which will occur across the Northeast.

    Such downpours will slow motorists down by reducing visibility and heightening the risk of vehicles hydroplaning at highway speeds.

    In a highly localized number of incidents, runoff from the heaviest thunderstorms could force officials to temporarily close highways and intersections--making motorists find alternate routes.

    The good news is that the natural cycle of flash flooding will allow the flood waters to recede fairly quickly after the downpours end.

    It is also not out of the question that an isolated heavy thunderstorm or two in the Rockies triggers a landslide in the higher terrain.

    Airline passengers will not be exempt from possible travel troubles as the thunderstorms, with their lightning, could lead to delayed flights.

    Airports where these delays may ensue include Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, Nashville, Atlanta and Salt Lake City.

    Fog is another issue that could develop for air and ground travelers in the East Monday morning.

    Elsewhere across the nation, spotty showers will cause more of a nuisance for travelers in Seattle and Portland. San Francisco and Los Angeles will stay dry, but low clouds could lead to morning flight delays.

    RELATED:
    United States Radar
    Humidity, Storm Relief Coming to Midwest, East
    Travel Weather Maps

    Chicago, St. Louis, Denver and the rest of nation's northern midsection will feature the best conditions for travelers with widespread dry weather. Detroit will join this list as Monday progresses and clouds break for sunshine.

    According to AAA Travel, Labor Day holiday travelers venturing 50 miles or more from home are expected to total 34.1 million this year. That's an increase of 4.2 percent from the 32.7 million who traveled Labor Day weekend 2012.

    "Monday, September 2, is the most popular date of return for holiday trips with 43 percent planning to return that day," the press release from AAA Travel stated.

    Out of the holiday travelers, approximately 29.2 million people will take to the roads.

    Breaking weather is detailed in the above AccuWeather.com video.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Utility poles fall over a road after a tornado in Koshigaya city, Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, Monday, Sept. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

    TOKYO (AP) - Tornadoes tore through eastern Japan on Monday, leaving dozens of people injured, at least one seriously, and destroying some buildings.

    Police in Saitama Prefecture, near Tokyo, say that 63 people were reported injured. Details of their injuries were not immediately available.

    Kyodo News reported that the tornadoes toppled power lines, blew roofs off homes and sent debris flying, smashing windows at an elementary school.

    Six homes were totally destroyed in Saitama, while 83 were partially damaged, police said.

    Tornadoes also struck other nearby areas, such as Chiba Prefecture.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Stunning Photos from the 2013 Tornado Season
    Kansas Torndao

     

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    In this photo a member of the BLM Silver State Hotshot crew using a drip torch to set back fires on the southern flank of the Rim Fire on Pilot Peak, Calif., Friday, Aug. 30, 2013. (AP Photo/U.S. Forest Service)

    YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) - Favorable weather is helping crews make advances against a wildfire burning in and around Yosemite National Park, a wild land blaze that has expanded to become the fourth-largest in modern California history,

    Clouds and higher humidity slowed flames from advancing through brush and trees, giving firefighters room to set backfires, dig containment lines and to strengthen lines around threatened communities, fire spokesman Trevor Augustino said.

    The 2-week-old Rim Fire moved up a spot on the state's list of large wildfires dating back to 1932 when it grew to 351 square miles - an area larger than the cities of San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose combined, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Daniel Berlant said.

    Although the fire still is growing, it was 45 percent contained as of Sunday.

    Full containment is not expected until Sept. 20.

    The blaze started Aug. 17 in the Stanislaus National Forest and two-thirds of the land burned since then is located there as well. In Yosemite, 94 square miles have burned. The cause remains under investigation.

    Meanwhile, the dense smoke that obscured Yosemite's majestic views for the first time on Saturday and prompted air quality warnings was starting to ease, park spokeswoman Kari Cobb said.

    Although park officials advised visitors to avoid heavy exertion, Cobb said she has seen people outside running "and enjoying Yosemite, despite the smoke."

    "The park was actually busier than I thought it would be," she said.

    A 427-square-mile fire in San Diego County that killed 14 people and destroyed more than 2,800 structures a decade ago tops the list of California's largest wildfires.

    The Rim Fire has claimed 111 structures, 11 of them homes.

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

     

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    Stingray Attacks on the Rise
    Life guards are warning swimmers in southern California to look out for stingrays after a dramatic rise in the number of reported stingray injuries. Lifeguards reported hundreds of stingray injuries in August, more than five times the number reported last year. Warmer water temperatures and lower surf may be to blame for attracting the stingrays to the region's waters.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Underwater Surfing Photos

     

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    Monday, Sept. 2, 2013

    U.S. swimmer Diana Nyad, 64, greets her support team before her swim to Florida from Havana, Cuba, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

    KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - Looking dazed and sunburned, U.S. endurance swimmer Diana Nyad walked on to the Key West shore Monday, becoming the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the help of a shark cage.

    Nyad arrived at the beach just before 2 p.m. EDT, about 53 hours after she began her swim in Havana on Saturday.

    As she approached, spectators surrounded her in the water, taking pictures and cheering her on. Once on the beach, she was put on a stretcher and received medical treatment, including an IV. Her lips were swollen.

    It was Nyad's fifth try to complete the approximately 110-mile swim. She tried three times in 2011 and 2012. She had also tried in 1978.

    Her last attempt was cut short amid boat trouble, storms, unfavorable currents and jellyfish stings that left her face puffy and swollen.

    "I am about to swim my last 2 miles in the ocean," Nyad told her 35-member team from the water, according to her website. "This is a lifelong dream of mine and I'm very very glad to be with you."

    Nyad told supporters a silicone mask she wore to protect her face from jellyfish stings caused bruises inside her mouth, making it difficult for her to talk.

    Doctors traveling with Nyad were worried about her slurred speech and her breathing, but they didn't intervene, according to Nyad's website.

    Nyad's journey began Saturday morning when she jumped from the seawall of the Hemingway Marina into the warm waters off Havana. She stopped from time to time for nourishment.

    "I admit there's an ego rush," Nyad said before the swim began. "If I - three days from now, four days from now - am still somehow bringing the arms up and I see the shore ... I am going to have a feeling that no one yet on this planet has ever had."

    Nyad tried the swim the Florida Strait three times in 2011 and 2012. She had also tried in 1978.

    Her last attempt ended amid boat trouble, storms, unfavorable currents and jellyfish stings that left her face puffy and swollen.

    This time she wore a full bodysuit, gloves, booties and a mask at night, when jellyfish rise to the surface. Before the swim, she said the kit would slow her down, but she believed it would be effective.

    The support team accompanying her had equipment that generated a faint electrical field around her, which was designed to keep sharks at bay. A boat also dragged a line in the water to help keep her on course.

    Australian Susie Maroney successfully swam the Strait in 1997 with a shark cage, which besides protection from the predators, has a drafting effect that pulls a swimmer along.

    In 2012, Australian Penny Palfrey swam 79 miles toward Florida without a cage before strong currents forced her to abandon the attempt. This June, her countrywoman Chloe McCardel made it 11 hours and 14 miles before jellyfish stings ended her bid.

    In 1978, Walter Poenisch, an Ohio baker, claimed to have made the swim using flippers and a snorkel. Critics say there was insufficient independent documentation to verify his claim.

    Nyad first came to national attention in 1975 when she swam the 28 miles around the island of Manhattan in just under eight hours. In 1979 she swam the 102 miles from North Bimini, Bahamas, to Juno Beach, Fla., in 27.5 hours.

    Nyad is also an author of three books, a motivational speaker and has been a reporter and commentator for NPR.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Could a Trip to Your Favorite Beach Make You Sick?

     

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