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    A wildfire burns out of control on the slopes of Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County, Calif., seen from the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/The Modesto Bee, Andy Alfaro)

    CLAYTON, Calif. (AP) - Firefighters were working to confine a wildfire within a San Francisco Bay Area wilderness park as it threatens about 100 homes and triggers a smoke advisory for three nearby counties.

    The fire in Mount Diablo State Park in Contra Costa County, which began Sunday, nearly tripled in size to 3,718 acres or nearly 6 square miles Monday afternoon, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It was 20 percent contained.

    Officials said hot temperatures and wind gusts fueled the fire's spread. While crews managed to stop the fire's advance by Monday evening, they were bracing for more hot weather and 10-20 mph winds in the forecast for Tuesday.

    About 100 homes remained evacuated.

    The fire spewed a plume of smoke visible for miles. It was burning in steep, rugged terrain near Clayton, a town of about 11,000 people northeast of San Francisco, alongside the park.

    Some 800 firefighters, aided by two air tankers and three water-dropping helicopters, were battling the blaze. Three of them suffered minor injuries.

    The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a smoke advisory Monday for parts of Contra Costa, Alameda and Santa Clara counties. Residents were advised to take precautions, including setting air conditioning units and car vent systems to recirculate.

    Elderly people, children and those with respiratory illnesses were told to be particularly careful.

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

     

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    (AP Photo)

    MEXICO CITY (AP) - A new study of the Monarch butterflies' winter nesting grounds in central Mexico says small-scale logging is worse than previously thought and may be contributing to threats facing the Monarch's singular migration pattern.

    The reserve's 33,482-acre core zone lost 41 acres of pine and fir trees so far in 2013, about half of that because of illegal logging, said the study by Omar Vidal, head of Mexico's chapter of the World Wildlife Fund, the WWF, and other authors. The rest of the loss was due to drought or disease-control removal of trees.

    Mexico's government has taken a strict stance to protect the Monarch grounds in recent years, shutting down sawmills and going after logging trucks, commercial loggers and their equipment. As a result, the reserve reached a milestone in 2012, when aerial photographs found almost no detectable deforestation due to logging over the previous year.

    That finding was welcomed has a sign that officials had reined in tree-cutting, which at its peak in 2005 depleted as many as 1,140 acres annually in the reserve.

    But the study's comparative analysis of aerial photos taken more than a decade apart showed that small-scale logging has never gone away. Too minor to detect in year-to-year comparisons, the study found incremental losses by comparing 2001 photographs, from the first systematic aerial survey, to ones from 2011.

    "Small-scale logging is a serious and growing concern for the conservation of the monarch sanctuaries," the report said.

    It attributed nearly half of the total logging loss in 2012, about 10 acres (4 hectares), to small-scale logging, often by residents of mountain villages going out to get firewood or to cut beams and boards for building purposes.

    Some 27,000 people live in the small agrarian communities that dot, and in many cases own, the land in the reserve. While commercial loggers can be caught and prosecuted, dealing with local impoverished residents who use or occasionally sell wood from their lands may be much tougher to combat.

    "One of the main factors that will allow us to eliminate this problem are the communities themselves," said the head of Mexico's nature reserves, Luis Fueyo.

    Vidal said local communities must be paid more to compensate them for not cutting down trees and for protecting and reforesting the area.

    The pine and fir forests in the reserve just west of Mexico City serve as a sort of blanket for the millions of butterflies that migrate there each year from the U.S. and Canada, protecting them from rain and freezing temperatures as they cluster in huge clumps on tree boughs.

    The Monarch migration is under serious threat. A report in March said the number of butterflies making it to Mexico this year had dropped 59 percent, the lowest level since comparable record-keeping began 20 years ago.

    It was the third straight year of declines for the orange-and-black butterflies. Six of the last seven years have shown drops, and there are now only one-fifteenth as many butterflies as there were in 1997.

    Lincoln Brower, a leading entomologist at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, wrote in a statement to The Associated Press welcomed the new study.

    "I am pleased to see a new willingness to address the continuing small scale logging which, as my research group has emphasized for many years, causes significantly negative effects on the forest micro-climate which is crucial for the butterflies' survival," he said.

    But Brower added: "What still needs to be documented is the loss, alteration and protection of forest in the surrounding buffer zone ... which is more than three times the area of the core zone."

    The total reserve stretches across 139,000 acres of mountain tops and valleys, but less than one-third of that is in the highly protected core zone. Some 105,000 acres are in the less-protected, and often deforested, buffer zone where businesses, housing and extensive roads are allowed.

    Homero Aridjis, a long-time environmentalist and defender of the reserve, also pointed to a need to do more in the buffer zone.

    "In addition to much stricter enforcement of the total prohibition of logging of any size or sort in the core zone, the buffer zone must be protected, as the colonies have often changed location, and the core zone cannot possibly exist as an island of trees surrounded by buildings, roads and fields," he said.

    The swarms of butterflies don't necessarily return to the same exact locations each year. Sometimes, for reasons not yet clear, they gather at other hilltops, miles from previously popular wintering sites.

    All the experts stressed that deforestation in Mexico isn't the only threat.

    Perhaps more dangerous for the butterflies is the crowding out in the U.S. of the only plant the Monarchs lay their eggs on, the milkweed, by pesticide use and changes in crop and land-use patterns. Vidal said that while Mexico is struggling with its problems, the United States must do more as well to guarantee the health of Monarchs.

     

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    The 55-story High Roller, the world's largest Ferris wheel, left, is almost complete near the Las Vegas Strip on Monday, Sept. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

    LAS VEGAS (AP) - The madcap carnival on the Las Vegas Strip is getting another over-the-top addition: the world's largest Ferris wheel.

    The outer wheel of the 55-story High Roller ride is scheduled to be hoisted into place Tuesday. The gargantuan project is now visible from all over the city, including the airport. Early next year, it will be outfitted with 1,500 LED lights, and start its slow spin.

    "It's going to be an icon," Project Director David Codiga said. "It's going to be a part of your visit to Las Vegas if you ride it or not. It's more or less impossible not to see it if you come here."

    Caesars Entertainment Corp., which owns more casinos than any other U.S. gambling company, is building the ride as part of its $550 million Linq development, a new outdoor plaza across the street from Caesars Palace.

    The walking mall, sandwiched between the Flamingo and Harrah's hotel-casino, is expected to open this winter. It's designed to lure Gen Xers and millennials, demographics Caesars believes will contribute a majority of Sin City tourist dollars by 2015.

    City after city has jumped to put a new spin on the classic carnival attraction over the past decade.

    The High Roller will be 100 feet taller than the London Eye, which opened in 2000, 30 feet taller than China's Star of Nanchang, which opened in 2006, and 9 feet taller than the Singapore Flyer, which opened in 2008.

    These giant urban Ferris wheels typically transport riders in large, fixed capsules instead of the smaller, teetering baskets most people remember from childhood.

    High Roller riders will have to take a break from gambling and smoking when they enter one of the 28 glass capsules attached to the gargantuan wheel, Codiga said, but they will be able to take in the marquee-lit panoramic views with a drink in hand.

    The wheel, which has been under construction since 2011, is taller than the Bellagio hotel-casino but still dwarfed by the Stratosphere observation tower, which rises more than 1,000 feet. It will carry 3.5 million pounds of steel - the equivalent of about 200 Hummers - and will take 30 minutes to make one revolution.

    And, because this is Las Vegas where overstimulation is the sales pitch, it will feature audiovisual shows in each 40-person pod designed to complement the views.

    Codiga, who previously worked for the theme park company Universal Studios, said he doesn't want visitors to get bored as the ride ascends and descends.

    Tickets will be comparable to the London ride, which costs about $30, according to Caesars spokeswoman Christina Karas. She declined to say to how much it cost to build the ride.

    The High Roller is not the only big wheel jostling for a place among the volcanoes and dancing fountains of the tourist corridor.

    A rival company is building SkyVue, a 500-foot observation wheel across from Mandalay Bay at the southern end of the Strip that will feature video screens broadcasting ads. That project is expected to open in mid-2015, according to developer David Gaffin.

    Last spring, a group of developers revealed plans for a third wheel - the London Thrill - near the CityCenter complex in the middle of the Strip.

    The High Roller will also likely have to surrender its tallest in the world title before long. Another monster wheel is looming in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced plans last year for a 625-foot ride on Staten Island's waterfront.

    Other wheels may grow taller, Codiga said, "but the High Roller will allow you to float over Las Vegas."

     

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    Denver Receives Feet of Hail in September

    A storm dropped several feet of hail on the Denver, Co., suburbs of Wheat Ridge and Lakewood on Monday, Sept. 10, knocking out power to thousands of customers and causing road closures.

    A number of residents were reportedly trapped in their homes due to 5-foot-tall hail drifts. Some people were spotted clearing the hail in shorts and boots, and officials employed a front-end loader and dump trucks to help clear the mess.


    "I've never seen that much hail in one place," one observer said.

    The storm was expected to move over the central Rockies in the coming days.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos

     

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    Updated Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, 5:34 p.m. ET


    HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) - Humberto grew to hurricane force far out in the Atlantic on Wednesday, becoming the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, while Bermuda shook off a drenching by Tropical Storm Gabrielle.

    Humberto's maximum sustained winds were near 85 mph (140 kph) and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said it could gain more strength by Thursday morning, but a gradual weakening would begin at that time.

    The storm was centered about 360 miles (575 kilometers) west-northwest of the Cape Verde Islands and was moving north at 12 mph (19 kph) into the open Atlantic.

    In Bermuda, Gabrielle caused several power outages overnight, but no major damage was reported on the British territory.

    The government announced that all public schools were reopening and there would be sporadic ferry service.

    The island's meteorology service warned that strong winds and rain would continue to pelt Bermuda as the storm headed north.

    By l ate afternoon, Gabrielle was centered about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west-northwest of Bermuda with winds of up to 40 mph (65 kph), and it was moving westward at 5 mph (7 kph). It was expected to turn to the north-northeast and remain well off the U.S. East Coast while heading toward a possible weekend brush with Nova Scotia.

    It is unusual for this much time to pass in the Atlantic season without a hurricane forming, though not unheard of. Hurricane Gustav was the first of the 2002 season when it formed on Sept. 11 of that year. The record for the latest first-of-the-season hurricane is Oct. 8, 1905, based on records dating to 1851.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    NASA's Global Hawk 872 takes off for HS3 Science Flight #5 on Tuesday Sept. 4, 2012, less than 5 hours after NASA 871 landed at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Va. (AP Photo/NASA)

    ATLANTIC, Virginia (AP) - NASA scientists are using former military surveillance drones to help them understand more about how tropical storms intensify, which they say could ultimately save lives by improving forecast models that predict a hurricane's strength.

    The unmanned Global Hawk aircraft were designed to perform high-altitude, long-endurance reconnaissance and intelligence missions for the Air Force. Two of the original Global Hawks built in the developmental process for the military have found new life as part of NASA's research mission, studying storms that form over the Atlantic Ocean. NASA planned to launch one of the drones from its Wallops Flight Facility on Wednesday to study Tropical Storm Gabrielle, which re-formed in the Atlantic on Tuesday.

    "The biggest scientific question we're trying to attack is why do some hurricanes intensify very rapidly and why do others not intensify at all? In the last 20 years, we've made terrific progress in forecasting where hurricane tracks will go," said Paul Newman, deputy project scientist for the research mission. "But we've made almost no progress in the past 20 years in forecasting intensity."

    More accurately predicting a storm's intensity would help government officials and coastal residents decide whether an evacuation is needed, as well as avoid developing a false sense of security among residents who frequently cite failed storm expectations as a reason not to leave their homes when warned to do so.

    There are two questions on which NASA scientists primarily want the drone research to focus. One is what role thunderstorms within a hurricane play in its intensification. Researchers aren't sure if the thunderstorms are a driver of storm intensity or a symptom of it.

    The other is what role the Saharan Air Layer plays in the tropical storm development. The Saharan Air Layer is a dry, hot, dusty layer of air from Africa. Scientists have been at odds with each other over whether it helps hurricanes strengthen or does the opposite. One school of thought is that the Saharan Air Layer provides energy for storms to grow, while others have suggested it is a negative influence on storm growth because of the effect the dry air has on wet storms.

    "There's a bit of a debate in terms of how important it is, one way or the other," said Scott Braun, a research meteorologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is the drone project's principal investigator.

    This is the second year NASA has launched Global Hawks from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, a strategic location that allows drones to spend plenty of time studying storms shortly after they form off the coast of Africa or as they approach the Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico.

    This year's mission will end later this month, and the third and final year of the project's flights will start again next August. NASA officials hope three years of flights will give them enough data to begin answering their questions.

    The drones are considered advantageous over manned aircraft because they can fly for much longer periods of time than traditional research aircraft and at much greater altitudes. Global Hawks can spend up to 28 hours in the air at a time and reach altitudes up to 12.3 miles (19.8 kilometers), or roughly twice that of a typical commercial airliner.

    By comparison, specially equipped P-3 Hurricane Hunter aircraft that fly directly into a storm typically do so at low altitudes of 1,000 to 10,000 feet (300 to 3,000 meters). Researchers say having a broad overview of a storm can help them understand things such as whether air moving away from a storm helps it intensify.

    "As a Hurricane Hunter goes through a storm, they get very detailed information," Newman said. "Imagine that this (Global Hawk) will do kind of a cat scan of a hurricane, but Hurricane Hunters go in and it's like you're using a fine scalpel to look at the details of the patient, if you will."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Weather Balloon or UFO?
    Weather Balloon or UFO

     

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    HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) - Newly reformed Tropical Storm Gabrielle swirled near Bermuda early Wednesday, sweeping the wealthy British territory with wind, rain and rough surf.

    Government authorities had urged islanders to take the storm seriously after it sprang up again Tuesday over the Atlantic, and people crowded into supermarkets to stock up on candles, batteries and other emergency supplies.

    A tropical storm warning was in effect for Bermuda, an offshore financial haven and tourist destination, has strong building codes and residents are accustomed to storms.

    Ferry service was suspended Tuesday afternoon when the wind and rain began picking up, and airline flights were cancelled. Officials said schools would be closed Wednesday.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm's center was about 40 miles west-southwest of Bermuda at 2 a.m. EDT Wednesday and moving north-northwest at 8 mph with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. It was expected to pass near or just west of Bermuda during the night, and move away later Wednesday.

    "Gabrielle has proven somewhat unpredictable and so I caution everyone to take this storm seriously and to prepare for the forecast conditions," Bermuda's public safety minister, Michael Dunkley, said.

    British visitors Tom and Laura Palmer said they were stuck in Bermuda until Thursday because British Airways cancelled inbound and outbound flights to the island until the stormy weather cleared.

    "We don't mind staying a few more days despite the weather," said Tom Palmer, a resident of Crawley, England. British Airways "are paying, so we're fine."

    Local painter Coolridge Eve said he was mostly unconcerned about the storm but he had earlier checked a shark oil-based barometer that Bermudians traditionally use to gauge rough weather.

    "I looked at my shark oil this morning; it told me something was brewing up. How close it is, I don't really know, but I'm ready," Eve said.

    U.S. forecasters said Gabrielle could drop 2 to 4 inches of rain on the island, with up to 6 inches possible in isolated spots. Storm surge of up to 3 feet above normal tide levels was predicted.

    Farther east out in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Humberto was nearly a hurricane as its maximum sustained winds increased to 70 mph. It currently poses no threat to land.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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  • 09/11/13--01:37: Mudslides in Mexico Kill 13

  • Members of the Mexican Army are seen in the city of Veracruz, Veracruz State, on August 26, 2013, after it was partly flooded by the heavy rains of Tropical Storm Fernand. (KORAL CARBALLO/AFP/Getty Images)

    VERACRUZ, Mexico (AP) - Mud and sand slid off the side of a hill after days of heavy rains and swept over two homes, killing eight children and five adults in a town in eastern Mexico, authorities said Tuesday. Officials said two people were rescued alive from the buried houses in Veracruz state.

    Those killed included a woman, her five children ranging in age from 2 to 11 and her mother. A week-old baby, an 8-month-old boy and another child also were among the dead, civil defense official Ricardo Maza Limon said.

    The two homes were hit late Monday in the town of Manzanatitla, which is in a mountainous area about 200 miles (320 kilometers) east of Mexico City.

    Heavy rains have been falling across southeastern and central Mexico in recent days.

    Tropical Storm Fernand caused landslides and flooding that killed 13 people in Veracruz state last month.

    The state civil defense department has not released the names of the latest victims.

     

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    At 8:18 p.m. CDT on Monday, Sept. 9, 2013, skygazers in Alabama were stunned by a fireball meteor that streaked across the sky.

    The meteor moved southwest across the sky at a velocity of 76,000 miles per hour. Marshall Space Flight Center official Bill Cooke has confirmed that it was a baseball-sized fragment of a comet.

    A meteor is classified as a fireball when it is brighter than the planet Venus, which Cooke said, "The fireball seen [on] Monday night was 15 times brighter than Venus."

    The phenomenon was only visible for 3 seconds, as the meteor disintegrated in Earth's atmosphere over the town of Woodstock, Ala. The video below shows a montage of the lone fireball as it shot across the sky.

    The fireball was also accompanied by a sonic boom, which is a thunderlike noise that accompanies an object moving faster than the speed of sound.

    The American Meteor Society has already received more than 190 reported sightings of this event.

    Also on AccuWeather:
    AccuWeather.com Hurricane Center
    Atlantic Hurricane Season Just Getting a Late Start
    2013 in Running for Latest First Atlantic Hurricane on Record


    Reported sightings of the fireball were described by attendants of Mumford & Son's concert at the Oak Mountain Amphitheatre in Pelham, Ala. However, a video reportedly claiming to be the cosmic event is unsubstantiated. While Cooke says the video is consistent with what concert-goers would have witnessed, it is believed to be a fireball that occurred in Argentina earlier this year.

     

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    This optical color image of galaxies is seen overlaid with X-ray data (magenta) from NASA's black hole-hunting NuSTAR space telescope. The arrow points to magenta blobs indicating giant, supermassive black holes discovered by the space telescope. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    A powerful NASA space telescope has found not one, but 10 monster black holes lurking in the hearts of distant galaxies - the first major finds for the X-ray space observatory, scientists say.

    The discoveries, which scientists say occurred "serendipitously," were made as astronomers reviewed images from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array (NuSTAR), an X-ray space telescope designed specifically to hunt black holes.

    "We were looking at known targets and spotted the black holes in the background of the images," David Alexander, a professor with Durham University's physics department, said in a statement.

    Then the team confirmed what they saw with observations from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite, which also can look at low-energy light.

    The 10 black holes discovered are just the beginning of hundreds of expected finds, the scientists added. With every supermassive black hole catalogued, scientists are hoping to better understand the population.

    Surrounded by galaxies

    According to NASA, discovering the supermassive black holes were a key piece of a puzzle first uncovered in 1962. Astronomers found a glow of X-rays in the background of the universe, but didn't know where the glow came from.

    Today, scientists know the glow (also called the cosmic X-ray background) comes from very distant supermassive black holes, some of which are as large as 17 billion times the mass of the sun. But how these black holes form is still under investigation.

    "Our early results show that the more distant supermassive black holes are encased in bigger galaxies," stated Daniel Stern, a co-author of the study and the project scientist for NuSTAR at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "This is to be expected. Back when the universe was younger, there was a lot more action with bigger galaxies colliding, merging and growing."

    While NuSTAR can detect these big black holes, other measurements (such as mass) come from agency observatories including the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) and Spitzer Space Telescope.

    The research appeared Aug. 20 in the Astrophysical Journal.

    Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebookand Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    In this Friday, Sept. 7, 2013, photo, people in Brooklyn Bridge Park gather to watch a test of the Tribute in Light rising from the lower Manhattan skyline in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Sept. 11 victims' loved ones marked the 12th anniversary of the attacks Wednesday at ground zero with the reading of names, moments of silence and serene music that have become tradition.

    At a morning ceremony on the 2-year-old memorial plaza, relatives recited the names of the nearly 3,000 people who died when hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and near Shanksville, Pa., as well as the 1993 trade center bombing victims' names. Beforehand, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, musician Billy Joel, firefighters and others joined in a tribute motorcycle ride from a Manhattan firehouse to ground zero.

    "Daddy, I miss you so much, and I think about you every day," Christina Aceto said of her father, Richard Anthony Aceto. "You were more than just my daddy, you were my best friend."

    Near the memorial plaza, police barricades were blocking access to the site, even as life around the World Trade Center looked like any other morning, with workers rushing to their jobs and construction cranes looming over the area.

    Name-reading, wreath-laying and other tributes also will be held at the Pentagon and at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville while the commemoration unfolds at ground zero, where the mayor who has helped orchestrate the observances from their start will be watching for his last time in office. And saying nothing.

    "No matter how many years pass, this time comes around each year - and it's always the same," said Karen Hinson of Seaford, N.Y., who lost her 34-year-old brother, Michael Wittenstein, a Cantor Fitzgerald employee.

    "My brother was never found, so this is where he is for us," she said as she arrived for the ceremony with her family early Wednesday.

    Continuing a decision made last year, no politicians will speak, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

    Over his years as mayor and chairman of the National Sept. 11 Memorial & Museum, Bloomberg has sometimes tangled with victims' relatives, religious leaders and other elected officials over an event steeped in symbolism and emotion. But his administration has largely succeeded at its goal of keeping the commemoration centered on the attacks' victims and their families and relatively free of political image-making.

    "Joe, we honor you today and all those lost on Sept. 11," said Kathleen O'Shea, whose nephew Joseph Gullickson was a firefighter in Brooklyn. "Everyone sends their love and asks that you continue to watch over us all, especially your wife."

    Memorial organizers expect to take primary responsibility for the ceremony next year and say they plan to continue concentrating the event on victims' loved ones, even as the forthcoming museum creates a new, broader framework for remembering 9/11.

    "As things evolve in the future, the focus on the remembrance is going to stay sacrosanct," memorial president Joe Daniels said.

    Hinson said she would like the annual ceremony to be "more low-key, more private" as the years go by.

    The 12th anniversary also arrives with changes coming at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, where officials gathered Tuesday to herald the start of construction on a visitor center. At the Pentagon, plans call for a morning ceremony for victims' relatives and survivors of the attacks and an afternoon observance for Pentagon workers.

    Around the world, thousands of volunteers have pledged to do good deeds, honoring an anniversary that was designated a National Day of Service and Remembrance in 2009.

    When Bloomberg and then-Gov. George Pataki announced the plans for the first anniversary in 2002, the mayor said the "intent is to have a day of observances that are simple and powerful."

    His role hasn't always been comfortable. When the ceremony was shifted to nearby Zuccotti Park in 2007 because of rebuilding at the trade center site, some victims' relatives threatened to boycott the occasion. The lead-up to the 10th anniversary brought pressure to invite more political figures and to include clergy in the ceremony.

    By next year's anniversary, Bloomberg will be out of office, and the museum is expected to be open beneath the memorial plaza.

    While the memorial honors those killed, the museum is intended to present a broader picture of 9/11, including the experiences of survivors and first responders.

    But the organizers expect they "will always keep the focus on the families on the anniversary," Daniels said. That focus was clear as relatives gathered last September on the tree-laden plaza, where a smaller crowd was gathering Wednesday - only friends and family of the victims were allowed.

    Bruni Sandolval carried a large photo of childhood friend Nereida DeJesus, a victim.

    "We grew up together on the Lower East Side and I come every year with her family," she said. "Coming here is peaceful in a way."

    Denise Matuza, who lost her husband on Sept. 11, said people ask her why she still comes to the service with her three sons.

    "It doesn't make us feel good to stay home," she said. Her husband called after the towers were struck. "He said a plane hit the building, they were finding their way out, he'd be home in a little while. I just waited and waited," she said.

    "A few days later I found an email he had sent that they couldn't get out."

     

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    Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013

    (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

    The Soyuz spacecraft carrying American astronaut Chris Cassady and two cosmonauts parachuted down to Earth in Zhezkazgan, Kazakhstan, on Wednesday, Sept. 10. The three men were returning after more than five months aboard the International Space Station. According to NASA, the flames visible in the photo are coming from retro rockets firing before the capsule touches down.

    Before leaving the ISS, Cassady, pictured below after landing, said he was looking forward to seeing his family, and that "a gooey, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie ranks right on the top of my list."

    Here's hoping he gets that cookie soon.


    (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

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

     

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    Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013

    (NASA)

    On Sept. 11, 2001, as smoke rose from the World Trade Center site, American astronaut Frank Culbertson was aboard the International Space Station, soaring high over Earth.

    "I didn't know exactly what was happening," he recalled, "but I knew it was really bad, because there was a big cloud of debris covering Manhattan."

    Soon after, of course, he learned that planes had struck the World Trade Center. He captured this haunting photo of smoke rising from the site.

    "It's horrible to see smoke pouring from wounds in your own country from such a fantastic vantage point," he said later. "The dichotomy of being on a spacecraft dedicated to improving life on the Earth and watching life being destroyed by such willful, terrible acts is jolting to the psyche, no matter who you are."

    Culbertson recalls the experience beginning at 1:25 in the NASA video below.



    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Amazing Photos of the International Space Station
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    Updated Thursday, Sept. 12, 8:14 p.m. ET
    A man walks past dangerously high Boulder Creek following overnight flash flooding in downtown Boulder, Colo., Thursday, Sept 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

    LYONS, Colo. (AP) - Heavy rains sent walls of water crashing down mountainsides Thursday in Colorado, cutting off remote towns, forcing the state's largest university to close and leaving at least three people dead across a rugged landscape that included areas blackened by recent wildfires.

    After a rainy week, up to 8 more inches fell in an area spanning from the Wyoming border south to the foothills west of Denver. Flooding extended all along the Front Range mountains and into some cities, including Colorado Springs, Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Aurora and Boulder.

    Numerous roads and highways were washed out or made impassable by floods. Floodwaters poured into homes, and at least a few buildings collapsed in the torrent.

    Boulder County appeared to be hardest hit. Sheriff Joe Pelle said the town of Lyons was completely cut off because of flooded roads, and residents were huddling together on higher ground. Although everyone was believed t o be safe, the deluge was expected to continue into Friday.

    "It is not an ordinary disaster," Pelle said. "All the preparation in the world ... it can't put people up those canyons while these walls of water are coming down."

    Jason Stillman, 37, said he and his fiancee were forced to evacuate their home in Lyons at about 3 a.m. after a nearby river began to overflow into the street.

    Stillman, who was staying at a friend's house on higher ground, went back to his neighborhood in the afternoon and saw how fast-moving water had overturned cars and swept away homes at a nearby trailer park.

    "From what I could tell, my house is sitting in Class 3 rapids," he said. When he returns, "it's going to be a sobering experience."

    By mid-afternoon, some high-clearance vehicles were on their way to the town, where the Red Cross said about 200 people sought shelter in an elementary school. National Guard rescue helicopters were grounded by fog and low visibilit y.

    To the north, residents along the Big Thompson Canyon in Larimer County, scene of the deadliest flash flood in state history, were also evacuated. The Big Thompson River flooded in 1976 after about a foot of rain fell in just four hours, killing 144 people.

    Water roaring across U.S. Highway 36 south of Lyons prevented residents from leaving the Crestview subdivision, so Howard Wachtel arranged for someone to meet him at a roadblock for a ride to a gas station. He needed more gasoline to keep his generator running so he could pump water out of his basement.

    "This is more like something out of the Bible. I saw one of my neighbors building an ark," he joked, over the sound of the rushing water.

    Firefighters performed a daring rescue of two men trapped in vehicles in Rock Creek, east of Boulder. After rushing water collapsed a section of road, rescuers used a raft to reach the men, broke the car windows and lifted them to safety.

    Some of the floo ding was exacerbated by wildfire "burn scars" that have spawned flash floods all summer in the mountains. That was particularly true in an area scarred by fire in 2010 near the tiny community of Jamestown and another near Colorado Springs' Waldo Canyon that was hit in 2012.

    Rain is normally soaked up by a sponge-like layer of pine needles and twigs on the forest floor. But wildfires incinerate that layer and leave a residue in the top layer of soil that sheds water. A relatively light rain can rush down charred hillsides into streambeds, picking up dirt, ash, rocks and tree limbs along the way. Narrow canyons aggravate the threat.

    At the University of Colorado, about 400 students in a dorm were evacuated, and administrators canceled classes at least through Friday. About a quarter of the school's buildings have some kind of water damage.

    One person was killed when a structure collapsed in the tiny town of Jamestown northwest of Boulder. Another person drown ed in northern Boulder as he was trying to help a woman who was swept away in a torrent of water, authorities said. Boulder County sheriff's Cmdr. Heidi Prentup said the woman is still missing.

    To the south, Colorado Springs police conducting flood patrols found the body of 54-year-old Danny Davis in Fountain Creek on the west side of the city.

    Weather service meteorologist Bob Kleyla said a 20-foot wall of water was reported in Left Hand Canyon north of Boulder, and a firefighter radioed he was trapped in a tree. He said rescuers were trying to get through, but were blocked by debris.

    The creek is usually "just a trickle," said nearby resident Carm Say. "You can walk across it and have fun. Now, as you can see, it's hitting houses."

    At least one earthen dam gave way southeast of Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Water levels could rise downstream as authorities release more water to ease pressure on dams. With debris piling up near bridges, downstream farming areas including Fort Lupton, Dacono and Plateville were also at risk.

    In rural Morgan County, authorities urged ranchers to move cattle to higher ground as the mountain rains emptied onto the plains.

    Rain showers and thunderstorms were expected through the night, with some storms capable of dumping an inch of water in 30 minutes, the weather service warned.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Flash Flooding Deluges Parts of Colorado

     

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    A collapsed bridge, damaged during Hurricane Katrina; east of Biloxi, MS. (Getty Images)

    JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Eight years after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, Mississippi still hasn't spent almost $1 billion in federal money dedicated to recovery from the storm.

    The remaining $872 million is part of $5.5 billion Congress gave the state to rebound from Katrina, which struck in August 2005, killed 238 people in Mississippi and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, most heavily in coastal counties.

    More than half of the unspent money is tied up in a hotly debated plan to expand the state-owned Port of Gulfport, and millions more are allocated for projects that have yet to materialize.

    Critics also complain that some projects are far from the Katrina strike zone and don't seem to have a direct connection to recovery from the hurricane, while others have failed to take root or are not meeting promises of creating jobs.

    One of the projects - a parking garage in Starkville near the Mississippi State University football stadium - is more than 200 miles from Katrina's landfall.

    Ashley Edwards, director of the state's Office of Recovery, said the pace of spending has been partly due to difficulty satisfying federal requirements. Some funding wasn't released to the state until recently, Edwards said, but state officials said they plan to complete most work within the next two years.

    The money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development must be directed toward projects that meet certain criteria. For example, companies or government entities getting economic development money must agree to create certain numbers of jobs, with at least half of them to be offered to low or moderate-income people.

    But Reilly Morse, a lawyer for the Mississippi Center for Justice who has fought the state's spending priorities, questioned why Mississippi hasn't been able to find uses for all of the money.

    "For a state that's got economic development challenges, a state that's got a difficult unemployment rate, it's surprising," he said.

    The decision to allot more than half of the HUD money to job-creation was made by former Gov. Haley Barbour, who was in office when Katrina struck. The state could reallocate money with HUD's approval, but has resisted changes.

    Neighboring Louisiana budgeted less than 3 percent of its money for economic development, spending almost all of it on housing and infrastructure.

    As of March 31, Louisiana had spent about 91 percent of the $10.5 billion it received under the program, according to reports it submitted to HUD.

    Morse had campaigned to have more of the money diverted to help Mississippians repair houses. Under national criticism, Mississippi shifted about $164 million into a home repair program that's still ongoing.

    One of the most contentious projects funded with the money has been the plan to expand the port of Gulfport.

    As the project dragged and job creation lagged, current Gov. Phil Bryant called for a re-evaluation of port plans in 2012. Raising the port's elevation to 25 feet to thwart storm surge was scrapped, and the port lowered its cargo target from 3 million containers a year to 1 million containers. Longtime port director Don Allee resigned.

    The cost of the project - $581 million with $463 million still to be spent - is still attracting criticism. The port currently averages about 200,000 containers a year, and Gulfport City Councilman Rusty Walker questions Bryant's goal of expanding capacity to 1 million a year. He doubts that current tenants, such as fruit importers Dole Food Co. and Chiquita Brands International Inc., are going to increase the amount of cargo they move through Gulfport, arguing the port could already handle more traffic than it gets today.

    "If they could sell an extra bunch of bananas, do you believe they wouldn't be doing that now?" Walker said.

    Walker wants money shifted from the port to such efforts as repairing storm-damaged sewers.

    "It's time to take the money back," Walker said.

    Port Executive Director Jonathan Daniels, though, said the port needs all the money to meet its goal of creating 1,200 jobs.

    "If we don't complete the project, then essentially we're sitting here with a big field and very little ability to expand," he said. "The best way for us not to reach our job goals would be to remove the money."

    Beyond the port, the state set aside $384 million for projects funded by economic development grants. It's spent $234 million, but still has $150 million to spend.

    Of the $283 million allocated so far, $39 million has gone to 10 projects that have yet to yield a job.

    Mississippi Development Authority Chief Administrative Officer Manning McPhillips said companies have three years from the end of construction to meet their pledges.

    But in some cases, no jobs were ever created.

    After Indeck Energy failed to build a wood pellet plant near McComb, Pike County sued the company to reclaim the land. The state spent $475,000 to build a rail spur and move earth.

    The state counts Indeck, a hardware distribution center that closed in Meridian and a welding company in Holmes County that took money and hasn't built a building as its only failures.

    But a life insurance sales firm now called One Life America agreed to open a 100-employee call center in Stonewall, south of Meridian. The state spent $600,000 to renovate a former factory. The insurance company closed the call center when the company reorganized.

    State House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said the company had trouble hiring workers in the isolated location. He also said the company met all its legal commitments.

    Advance Auto Parts took $614,000 for drainage, water and road improvements at its distribution center in Gallman, south of Jackson.

    It pledged to create 35 jobs, but has actually cut jobs because of the bad economy, state officials say. They're now seeking a waiver or an extension from HUD for job creation requirements. Other companies may also get extensions, records show.

    Then there is the question of whether some of the projects have anything at all to do with the hurricane recovery.

    The state plans to spend $8 million to finance a parking garage for the city of Starkville, home of Mississippi State University's main campus and more than 200 miles from where Katrina struck.

    Part of a hotel-convention center complex planned around a former cotton mill, it's blocks from Mississippi State's football stadium. That's not unlike the condominiums built for University of Alabama football fans in Tuscaloosa using Katrina-related tax breaks and subsidized borrowing.

    Like Tuscaloosa, Starkville was part of the presidentially declared disaster zone, and Edwards said spending is appropriate because it helps fuel "a comprehensive recovery."

    While Mississippi funds the Starkville project and can't seem to find uses for millions in other available funding, some recovery programs in coastal areas still visibly affected by the storm are out of money.

    For example, a $3 million forgivable loan program in Hancock County has committed all its funds to local businesses trying to rebuild. Storm surge was at its most extreme in Hancock County, where Katrina made its final landfall.

    "We had far more applicants than we had funds," said Tish Williams, executive director of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce. "We were the hardest hit and the last to get."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    (NOAA)

    MIAMI (AP) - Hurricane Humberto is maintaining its strength far out over the Atlantic.

    The Category 1 hurricane has maximum sustained winds early Thursday near 85 mph with gradual weakening forecast to begin later in the day.

    Humberto is centered about 440 miles northwest of the Cape Verde Islands and is moving north near 14 mph.

    Meanwhile, Tropical Depression Gabrielle is moving away from Bermuda after drenching the British territory. The depression's maximum sustained winds are near 35 mph and the U.S. National Hurricane Center says Gabrielle could regain tropical storm strength.

    The depression is centered about 190 miles west-northwest of Bermuda and is moving northwest near 7 mph.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    A waterspout tore through a school in Thailand's eastern province of Trat on Tuesday, injuring at least nine students, according to the Bangkok Post. The Satree Prasertsin School's closed circuit television cameras captured the incident as desks, tables, chairs and chalkboards flew across rooms and students ran for cover. The chaos begins to erupt around the video's 1:00 mark, showing the moment winds erupted in footage from cameras around the school.

    The waterspout also damaged more than 30 houses, school buildings and cars, according to the Bangkok Post.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes

     

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    In this Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, photo, Japanese hikers climb one of the trails on Mount Fuji in Japan. (AP Photo/David Guttenfelder)

    MOUNT FUJI, Japan (AP) - They trudge up well-trod cinder paths by the thousands, headlamps glowing in the dark, and then settle in, shivering, to await and cheer the sun's blazing ascent over the horizon.

    Climbing Mount Fuji, Japan's most iconic landmark, is a group activity: Seldom is it climbed in solitude. The recent recognition of the 12,388-foot peak as a UNESCO World Heritage site has many here worried that it will draw still more people, adding to the wear and tear on the environment from the more than 300,000 who already climb the mountain each year.

    Safety is another concern. At least seven people died and 70 were hurt climbing Fuji In 2012, and traffic jams of climbers in the pre-dawn darkness can add to the risks, says Shomei Yokouchi, governor of Yamanashi, the area to the west. The official climbing season runs July to August, and the trek - nine-hours' round trip in good weather - is especially treacherous other times of the year.

    Mount Fuji's near perfect cone was created by an eruption thousands of years ago that buried earlier peaks, and pilgrims have been climbing it for centuries - though women have been allowed only since 1868. It towers over the Pacific coast, ringed by lakes, national parks, temples and shrines that are also part of the World Heritage site.

    The new status, granted in June, will likely help area businesses - a welcome boost given the economic decline in most of rural Japan. Local authorities are puzzling, however, over how to preserve the mountain's natural beauty while improving traffic access and other facilities to accommodate the anticipated increase in visitors.

    Some have suggested limiting access by raising tenfold the 1,000 yen ($10) climbing fee. But that might lead climbers to risk hypothermia by roughing it outdoors instead of staying in the 16 huts along the top of the trail, which charge up to $100 a night for cheek-by-jowl communal accommodations.

    "With more foreigners visiting, we will need to think of improving the facilities," Gov. Yokouchi says, noting that the installation of composting toilets has helped. "They are cleaner than before and the smell's not so bad, but there are not enough of them."

    Then there's the litter.

    Each year 40,000 to 50,000 volunteers clean up garbage on the peak. Groups collected nearly 900 tons to prepare for June's World Heritage vote by UNESCO, the U.N.'s cultural organization.

    The designation is something to be proud of, says Hisataka Kurosawa, a 16-year-old high school student who recently joined a group of volunteers who climbed part of a trail and then scrounged around a car park near a visitor center, collecting several big bags' worth of oil cans, cigarette butts, car parts and candy wrappers.

    "It's getting polluted and so many people are running around. I'm a bit disappointed about that," he says.

    The volunteers were led by Toyohiro Watanabe, a former local government official who runs a civic group called Groundwork Mishima.

    It's not just the crowds that worry him. He also frets over acid rain from sea water mixed with emissions from factories on the coast. And over invasive plant species, such as the bamboo grass that grows thick along the roadsides, obscuring some of the litter tossed from passing vehicles.

    Global warming may be contributing to huge fissures on Fuji's slopes, prone to erosion and landslides, he says. "Although Fuji has a power of its own, it is being influenced by global warming and other factors," Watanabe says as he looks for trouble spots in some of the most frequented areas. "It is getting weaker."

    Though it last erupted in 1707, Mount Fuji remains an active volcano and Japanese seismologists watch it closely. The bigger risk, though, is from accidents.

    Fuji is hardly steep, but its high elevation and fickle weather can make it a hazardous climb. "There are rock falls, and sometimes people are unable to get out of the way," Gov. Yokouchi says.

    UNESCO has long acknowledged the risks to World Heritage sites, both from natural disasters and unsustainable levels of tourism. Even for a country as wealthy as Japan, tight budgets mean fewer resources available to support conservation.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Survival Stories from Mount Everest

     

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    (Getty Images)

    As cool air begins to cut into surging heat and humidity from the Great Lakes to the Northeast, locally severe thunderstorms will affect some communities and may disrupt travel.

    Many of the storms will bring brief gusty winds, downpours and a few lightning strikes. However, a small number of the storms can be locally severe with damaging wind gusts, hail, flash flooding and frequent lightning strikes.

    During Wednesday, the storms fired around the I-90 corridor of the United States from Chicago to Albany, N.Y., northern New England and from Toronto to Montreal and Quebec City, Canada.



    On Thursday, storms will reach from Pennsylvania to Maine and northern New Brunswick, Canada. After affecting part of the I-81 corridor in Pennsylvania and New York state during the afternoon, the greatest chance of regional travel disruptions and severe weather along the I-95 corridor will be during the evening drive.

    Cities that can be impacted by a heavy, gusty thunderstorm to perhaps more severe weather include Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston. Storms are likely to occur during the afternoon along I-81 from Virginia to New York state.

    A few disruptions from locally strong storms can also occur Thursday over the Tennessee Valley to the southern Appalachians along the I-40, I-64 and I-81 corridors.

    In addition to the potential for blinding downpours and flash flooding, sporadic power outages are possible.

    Much cooler will sweep eastward and southward in the wake of the storms by the end of the week.

    RELATED:
    Severe Weather Watches and Warnings
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    Northeast Regional Radar


    For parts of the region, a reasonable amount of rain would not be a terrible thing. Despite a wet June and July in many areas, a few locations have become dry in recent weeks.

    Washington, D.C., and Scranton and State College, Pa., have only received about one-third of their normal rainfall since Aug. 1. Baltimore, Md., has received less than one-quarter of its normal rainfall in the past six weeks.

    The combination of the rainfall from the storms and the cool air that follows may give allergy suffers a little break, by washing and sweeping away dust, pollen and poor air quality in general.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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