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    Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2013
    A tanker truck is tended to by firefighters after sliding off the snowy highway near mile marker 48 on Interstate 90 in Piedmont, S.D., Tuesday afternoon,  Dec. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Rapid City Journal, Chris Huber) (REV-SHARE).
    A tanker truck is tended to by firefighters after sliding off the snowy highway near mile marker 48 on Interstate 90 in Piedmont, S.D., Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Rapid City Journal, Chris Huber)

    HELENA, Mont. (AP) - An icy blast of arctic air sent temperatures plunging as much as 40 degrees below normal Tuesday across the western half of the nation soon after a storm snarled roadways in the Rockies and threatened citrus crops in California.

    The cold snap was expected to spread as far south as Texas by the weekend before turning east, AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines said.

    "It's a pretty impressive air mass that's coming down out of Canada," he said. "Everybody affected will see temperatures 20, 30 degrees below normal. Some areas will be 40 below normal."

    The storm hit the northern Rockies on Monday and Tuesday, dumping up to 2 feet of snow in the mountains and in Yellowstone National Park.

    Temperatures were expected to fall below zero with wind chills dropping below minus 20 degrees, said National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Bernhardt in Great Falls, Mont. Such cold weather over a prolonged period of time has not been seen in Montana since the late 1990s, he said.

    "The duration is probably what caught most people's eye," Bernhardt said. "It looks like this could last a week."

    The weather has created frostbite dangers for anybody staying outside for any length of time, and officials warned residents to take precautions.

    Snow and ice created hazardous driving conditions throughout the West, and were a factor in a four-vehicle crash in central Montana that killed 21-year-old Chelsea Stanfield of Great Falls. Authorities said Stanfield was driving too fast for the conditions.

    The weather also closed a stretch of Interstate 90 on Tuesday between Sheridan and Buffalo, Wyo. In eastern Oregon, authorities closed much of Interstate 84 as trucks jackknifed in the snow. In Utah, transportation authorities reported dozens of crashes.

    In the Dakotas, cattle ranchers who lost thousands of animals in an October blizzard were bracing for the latest wintry weather, with wind chills of 40 degrees below zero expected by week's end.

    Cattle should be able to withstand the harsh conditions better than they did the Oct. 4 blizzard, said Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.

    "Cattle are a hardy species; they can endure a lot," she said. "With that October storm, they didn't have their winter hair coat yet. They've acquired some of that extra hair that will help insulate them better."

    The cold was expected to keep pushing south and bring near-record low temperatures to parts of California. Citrus famers in the Central Valley checked wind machines and ran water through their fields in anticipation of temperatures at or below freezing Tuesday night, followed by even colder weather on Saturday.

    However, farmers should not panic, said Bob Blakely of California Citrus Mutual, a trade association. Coldweather can be good for the crops, he said.

    "Trees and fruits need some of that cold weather to harden off and prepare for late December and January," he said.

    The jet stream is much farther south than normal, allowing the cold air to push in from the Arctic, Kines said. Areas such as Palm Springs, Calif., which typically has high temperatures in the low 70s at this time of year, could see highs in the 50s and lows in the 20s.

    Texans enjoying balmy 80-degree days should be seeing temperatures in the 40s by Thursday, Kines said.

    The cold air is expected to linger until next week then move east, where it will bring less-drastic temperature changes, he said.

     

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    Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013
    Spring Storm Dakotas
    (AP Photo/Amber Hunt)

    A swath of ice and a wintry mix later this week threatens to slow travel and cut power from parts of Texas to Pennsylvania.

    As dangerous cold sweeps southward and eastward over the Plains and Midwest in the wake of a North Central states snowstorm, it will set up a weather pattern favoring a narrow zone of freezing rain, sleet and some snow late this week.

    The icy mix will spread from part of northern Texas Thursday to central Kentucky and southern Ohio Thursday night to central Pennsylvania Friday.

    The potential for slippery travel includes the cities of Dallas; Oklahoma City; Little Rock, Ark.; Louisville, Ky.; and Cincinnati. More snow, rather than ice will fall farther to the northeast into part of eastern Ohio, western and central Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

    There is the potential for ice and a wintry mix to last more than a few hours.

    In some cases, a buildup of ice may span several days and last into the weekend. Such an icing event could result in power outages ranging from a local to regional basis. At the apex of the ice may be portions of Arkansas, southeastern Oklahoma and northeastern Texas.

    RELATED
    Wind-Driven Snowstorm to Blast Northern US Into Midweek
    Winter Weather Center
    Dangerous Arctic Cold Headed for Rockies, Plains

    A wedge of warm air will hold over the southeastern United States and will extend northward to the I-95 Northeast this week. The warmth is forecast to outlast the precipitation in this area so that rain falls from Houston to Atlanta and in the corridor from Raleigh, N.C., to Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston.

    However, at the tail end of the rain, a brief period of freezing rain, sleet and/or snow is possible in Shreveport, La.; Memphis, Tenn.; and perhaps London, Ky.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013
    Andrew Wooster clears off his driveway in Virginia, Minn. Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 during the area's first major winter storm of the season. The storm is expected to blanket the Arrowhead with up to two feet of snow before moving out early Thursday. (AP Photo/Mesabi Daily News, Mark Sauer)
    Andrew Wooster clears off his driveway in Virginia, Minn., Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, during the area's first major winter storm of the season. (AP Photo/Mesabi Daily News, Mark Sauer)

    HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A wintry storm pushing through the western half of the country is bringing bitterly cold temperatures that prompted safety warnings for residents in the Rockies and threatened crops as far south as California.

    The jet stream is much farther south than normal, allowing the cold air to push in from the Arctic and drop temperatures by 20 to 40 degrees below normal levels, AccuWeather meteorologist Tom Kines said Tuesday.

    Areas of Montana and the Dakotas were forecast to reach lows in the minus-20s, while parts of California could see the thermometer drop to the 20s. The icy arctic blast was expected to be followed by another one later in the week, creating an extended period of cold weather that hasn't been seen since the late 1990s, meteorologists said.

    Officials warned residents to protect themselves against frostbite if they are going to be outside for any length of time.

    "When it gets this cold, you don't need 30-, 40-mile-per-hour winds to get that wind chill down to dangerous levels. All it takes is a little breeze," Kines said.

    The storm hit the northern Rockies on Monday and Tuesday, dumping up to 2 feet of snow in the mountains and in Yellowstone National Park.

    Snow and ice created hazardous driving conditions throughout the West, and were a factor in a four-vehicle crash in central Montana that killed 21-year-old Chelsea Stanfield of Great Falls. Authorities said Stanfield was driving too fast for the conditions.

    The weather also closed a stretch of Interstate 90 on Tuesday between Sheridan and Buffalo, Wyo. In eastern Oregon, authorities closed much of Interstate 84 as trucks jackknifed in the snow. Transportation authorities in Utah and Nevada reported dozens of crashes.

    In the Dakotas, cattle ranchers who lost thousands of animals in an October blizzard were bracing for the latest wintry weather, with wind chills of 40 degrees below zero expected by week's end.

    Cattle should be able to withstand the harsh conditions better than they did the Oct. 4 blizzard, said Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen's Association.

    "Cattle are a hardy species; they can endure a lot," she said. "With that October storm, they didn't have their winter hair coat yet. They've acquired some of that extra hair that will help insulate them better."

    The cold was expected to keep pushing south and bring near-record low temperatures to parts of California. Citrus famers in the Central Valley checked wind machines and ran water through their fields in anticipation of temperatures at or below freezing Tuesday night, followed by even colder weather on Saturday.

    However, farmers should not panic, said Bob Blakely of California Citrus Mutual, a trade association. Cold weather can be good for the crops, he said.

    "Trees and fruits need some of that cold weather to harden off and prepare for late December and January," he said.

    The system was pushing south, and Texans enjoying balmy 80-degree days should be seeing temperatures in the 40s by Thursday, Kines said.

    The cold air is expected to linger until next week then move east, where it will bring less-drastic temperature changes, he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Off-the-Charts Hottest and Coldest Places on Earth

     

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    Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013
    Arctic Climate Change
    In this July 19, 2007, file photo an iceberg is seen off Ammassalik Island in Eastern Greenland. (AP Photo/John McConnico, File)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - Hard-to-predict sudden changes to Earth's environment are more worrisome than climate change's bigger but more gradual impacts, a panel of scientists advising the U.S. government concluded Tuesday.

    The 200-page report by the National Academy of Sciences looked at warming problems that can occur in years instead of centuries. The report repeatedly warns of potential "tipping points" where the climate passes thresholds, beyond which "major and rapid changes occur." And some of these quick changes are happening now, said study chairman James White of the University of Colorado.

    The report says abrupt changes like melting ice in the Arctic Ocean and mass species extinctions have already started and are worse than predicted. It says thousands of species are changing their ranges, seasonal patterns or in some cases are going extinct because of human-caused climate change. Species in danger include some coral; pika, a rabbitlike creature; the Hawaiian silversword plant and polar bears.

    At the bottom of the world in Antarctica, the melting ice in the west could be more of a wild card than originally thought. If the massive ice sheet melts it may happen relatively rapidly and could raise world sea levels by 13 feet, but researchers aren't certain how soon that may occur.

    However, the report had what researchers called "good news." It said two other abrupt climate threats that worried researchers likely won't be so sudden, giving people more time to prepare and adapt. Those two less-imminent threats are giant burps of undersea and frozen methane, a super-potent greenhouse gas, and the slowing of deep ocean currents. That slowdown is a scenario that would oddly lead to dramatic coastal cooling and was featured in the 2004 movie "The Day After Tomorrow."

    Study co-author Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University compared the threat of abrupt climate change effects to the random danger of drunk drivers.

    "You can't see it coming, so you can't prepare for it. The faster it is, the less you see it coming, the more it costs," Alley told the Associated Press. "If you see the drunk driver coming, you can get out of the way."

    The scientists said the issue of sudden changes is full of uncertainties, so the world can better prepare by monitoring places like Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets more. But because of budget cuts and aging satellites, researchers have fewer measurements of these crucial indicators than they did a few years ago and will have even fewer in upcoming years, study co-author Steven Wofsy of Harvard University said.

    The panel called on the government to create an early warning system.

    "The time is here to be serious about the threat of tipping points so as to better anticipate and prepare ourselves for the inevitable surprises," said the report by the research arm of the federal government, which enlists independent scientists to look at major issues.

    Donald Wuebbles, a University of Illinois climate scientist who wasn't part of the academy study, called it important, especially the call for better warning systems. However, outside scientist Michael Mann of Penn State said he doesn't see the need for a new warning system.

    "The warning is already there, loud and clear," Mann said in an email. "The changes we are seeing in the Arctic are unprecedented in thousands of years, and they are already having a catastrophic impact on human civilizations, animals, and ecosystems there."

    In a separate study, published Tuesday in the journal PLoS One, former NASA climate scientist-turned-activist James Hansen argues that the countries of the world have set the wrong goal in its fight against global warming. World leaders have set a goal of trying to keep warming to another 2 degrees Fahrenheit from now but Hansen said that would blow past tipping points and give Earth a "dangerous level" of global warming.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 U.S. Cities Most at Risk from Rising Sea Levels

     

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    Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013
    Saints Seahawks Football
    Seattle Seahawks fans cheer in the second half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints, Monday, Dec. 2, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

    Rowdy fans stomping and roaring when the Seattle Seahawks scored a touchdown Monday night (Dec. 2) shook the football stadium so hard that a nearby seismometer registered an "earthquake."

    It's not the first time the seismometer, which monitors earthquakes, picked up ground-shaking vibrations from Seahawks fans. Nearly three years ago, on Jan. 8., 2011, a 67-yard touchdown run now known as the "Beast Quake" resulted in a fan frenzy as powerful as a magnitude-2 temblor. A 1988 showdown between Louisiana State University and Auburn University also registered on LSU's local seismometer, leading ESPN to dub it the "Earthquake Game."

    This Monday night, with a Guinness World Record for loudest recorded crowd noise on the line, a seismologist from the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network watched the Earth shake in real time, with the game on one screen and the seismometer readings on another. (The crowd beat the sound record, registering a reading of 137.6 decibels.)

    The play-by-play helped confirm that fans were triggering the seismic vibrations, said John Vidale, a seismologist with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.


    A recording of earthquake-like vibrations triggered by Seattle Seahawks fans celebrating a touchdown on Dec. 2. (Credit: Pacific Northwest Seismic Network)

    "With all the hype, we wanted to be clear that every time the Seahawks scored a touchdown, we could see a characteristic signal on the seismometer," Vidale told LiveScience. The seismometer is about a block from downtown Seattle's CenturyLink Field, where the Seahawks play. [What If Everyone On Earth Jumped at Once?]

    Not only did each touchdown create a clear signal on the earthquake monitor, but Vidale also thinks he can see the fans screaming. "It's not as clear as the touchdowns," Vidale said. "There's a lot of things that make a racket in downtown Seattle."

    Though Vidale offered a comparison to earthquake size, vibrations from celebrating fans are different from actual quakes, he said. Instead of an earthquake's many distinct pulses, the vibrations have just two frequencies, reflecting the stadium's natural resonance.

    As the fans jump in excitement, the stadium starts to shake and sway - similar to tall buildings swaying in the wind - a phenomenon called resonance. "The fans jump, and the stands start swaying, and what we're really seeing is the natural resonance of the structure," Vidale said. "I think the fans are self-synchronizing, and it's shaking the building so much that the entire neighborhood shakes a little bit."

    The vibrations from the stadium traveled at about 2.5 hertz and 5 hertz and lasted about 30 seconds, and was equivalent to a magnitude-1 or magnitude-2 earthquake, Vidale said.

    The stadium seismometer is part of an extensive network that monitors the Pacific Northwest's active earthquake faults and volcanoes for potential hazards.

    Vidale said the network can also detect vibrations from powerboats in Puget Sound, and recorded the sonic booms that shook Seattle windows in 2010, when fighter jets were called in after a small private plane entered airspace restricted for a visit by President Barack Obama.

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

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

     

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    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - A new communications satellite that has both public and government applications has been launched into space aboard a private rocket.

    The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Tuesday evening, carrying the 7,000-pound satellite. It will be placed in geostationary orbit. That means it will orbit at a fixed point above Earth, in sync with the Earth's rotation.

    The launch was originally scheduled for early this year, but has been delayed by technical issues with the rocket. The last try was on Thanksgiving Day when two attempts were aborted.

    The SES-8 satellite will be used in conjunction with another communications systems to increase bandwidth capacity in Asia and provide expansion of services such as maritime communications and distance learning programs.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Stunning Photos of the Moon

     

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    Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013


    LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) - Entombed at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in an upended tugboat for three days, Harrison Odjegba Okene begged God for a miracle.

    The Nigerian cook survived by breathing an ever-dwindling supply of oxygen in an air pocket. A video of Okene's rescue in May that was posted on the Internet more than six months later has gone viral this week.

    As the temperature dropped to freezing, Okene, dressed only in boxer shorts, recited the last psalm his wife had sent by text message, sometimes called the Prayer for Deliverance: "Oh God, by your name, save me. ... The Lord sustains my life."

    To this day, Okene believes his rescue after 72 hours underwater at a depth of 30 meters (about 100 feet) is a sign of divine deliverance. The other 11 seaman aboard the Jascon 4 died.

    Divers sent to the scene were looking only for bodies, according to Tony Walker, project manager for the Dutch company DCN Diving, who were called to the scene because they were working on a neighboring oil field 120 kilometers (75 miles) away.

    The divers had already pulled up four bodies.

    So when a hand appeared on the TV screen Walker was monitoring in the rescue boat, showing what the diver in the Jascon saw, everybody assumed it was another corpse.

    "The diver acknowledged that he had seen the hand and then, when he went to grab the hand, the hand grabbed him!" Walker said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

    "It was frightening for everybody," he said. "For the guy that was trapped because he didn't know what was happening. It was a shock for the diver while he was down there looking for bodies, and we (in the control room) shot back when the hand grabbed him on the screen."

    On the video, there's an exclamation of fear and shock from Okene's rescuer, and then joy as the realization sets in. Okene recalls hearing: "There's a survivor! He's alive."

    Walker said Okene couldn't have lasted much longer.

    "He was incredibly lucky he was in an air pocket but he would have had a limited time (before) ... he wouldn't be able to breathe anymore."

    The full video of the rescue captured by divers was released by DCN Diving after a request from The Associated Press. Initially, a shorter version of the rescue emerged on the Internet. The authenticity of the video was confirmed through conversations with DCN employees in the Netherlands. The video showing Okene was also consistent with additional photos of him on the rescue ship. The AP also contacted Okene on Tuesday who confirmed the events.

    Okene's ordeal began around 4:30 a.m. on May 26. Always an early riser, he was in the toilet when the tug, one of three towing an oil tanker in Nigeria's oil-rich Delta waters, gave a sudden lurch and then keeled over.

    "I was dazed and everywhere was dark as I was thrown from one end of the small cubicle to another," Okene said in an exclusive interview after his rescue with Nigeria's Nation newspaper.

    He groped his way out of the toilet and tried to find a vent, propping doors open as he moved on. He discovered some tools and a life vest with two flashlights, which he stuffed into his shorts.

    When he found a cabin of the sunken vessel that felt safe, he began the long wait, getting colder and colder as he played back a mental tape of his life - remembering his mother, friends, mostly the woman he'd married five years before with whom he hadn't yet fathered a child.

    He worried about his colleagues - 10 Nigerians and the Ukrainian captain including four young cadets from Nigeria's Maritime Academy. They would have locked themselves into their cabins, standard procedure in an area stalked by pirates.

    He got really worried when he heard the sound of fish, shark or barracudas he supposed, eating and fighting over something big.

    As the waters rose, he made a rack on top of a platform and piled two mattresses on top.

    According to his interview with the Nation: "I started calling on the name of God. ... I started reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept. I read the Bible from Psalm 54 to 92. My wife had sent me the verses to read that night when she called me before I went to bed."

    He survived off just one bottle of Coke, all he had to sustain him during the trauma.

    Okene really thought he was going to die, he told the Nation, when he heard the sound of a boat engine and anchor dropping, but failed to get the attention of rescuers. He figured, given the size of the boat, that it would take a miracle for a diver to locate him. So he waded across the cabin, stripped the wall down to its steel body, then knocked on it with a hammer.

    But "I heard them moving away. They were far away from where I was."

    By the time he was saved, relatives already had been told the sailors were dead.

    Okene kept faith with the psalm he recited, that promises to "give thanks in your name, Lord," at a service at his Redeemed Christian Church of God.

    He was rescued by a diver who first used hot water to warm him up, then attached him to an oxygen mask. Once free of the sunken boat, he was put into a decompression chamber and then safely returned to the surface.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Incredible Photos Showcasing Forces of Nature

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013
    WINTER STORM
    (AP Photo/Bob Child)

    As colder air seeps in from the north and west, a swath of snow and wintry mix causing slippery travel will develop from central Missouri to upstate New York prior to the weekend.

    A series of storms will roll out from the Southwest through next week with multiple rounds of snow.

    One of these storms will spread snow and ice along a swath reaching along the I-70 corridor from Missouri to southwestern Pennsylvania and over part of the I-80 and I-90 corridors from Indiana to northern Ohio, northern Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

    The snow will hit the Midwestern states first Thursday into Friday and will expand into the central Appalachians Thursday night into Friday night.

    Within this zone, a general 1 to 6 inches of snow is forecast with local amounts up to 8 inches possible.

    The cities forecast to receive accumulating snow include St. Louis, Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh and Albany, N.Y.

    A narrow zone of ice is likely to overlap and occur south of the accumulating snow area. A delay in or a more shallow push of cold air could mean the difference between rain, significant ice and accumulating snow in some communities.

    The worst of the ice storm is expected to focus from central Kentucky to northeastern Texas. Enough ice can accumulate on trees and utility lines in these areas over several days to cause blocked roads and regional power outages.

    RELATED
    Wind-Driven Snowstorm to Blast Northern US Into Midweek
    Winter Weather Center
    Ice Storm to Threaten Widespread Power Outages Centered on Arkansas

    Rain is forecast to fall over the I-95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, New York City and Boston as the first of the storms slices northeastward Friday into Saturday.

    Another storm in the series will cause snow, ice and rain to reload over the South Central states this the weekend before rolling toward the Northeast.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013
    WEATHER
    (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

    As cold air continues to flow down out of Canada and across the Plains and Rockies, the Northeast is next in line for the blast, despite a seasonable start to December.

    Last month delivered biting cold to major cities in the East, including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Buffalo, N.Y., and Boston.

    From Nov. 19-30, Buffalo dropped 8.7 degrees below normal for the period. D.C. plummeted 6.6 degrees below normal and Philadelphia, 5.1 degrees.

    While the first week of December brought some reprieve to the region, surges of cold air will bleed eastward through the remainder of the month, according to AccuWeather.com lead long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok.

    Similar to November, the last few weeks of fall will feel like the winter season.

    "December looks colder than originally thought in the Northeast," he said.

    Next week could bring some mixed events, including snow and ice for the region. Nearer to the holidays, however, travelers may catch a break from the slippery, traffic-slowing conditions.

    "Right near the Christmas holiday, there may be a small break in the pattern, but of course, that's hard to pinpoint this far out," Pastelok said.

    Northern New England and New York will likely have an active enough storm track to keep ski resorts busy through the holiday. Other parts of the East could struggle due to the mixed precipitation, but low temperatures will be conducive to snow-making operations.

    Though the forecast brings good news for skiers and snowboarders, homeowners may be less enthused as the cold surge could drive up energy costs.

    Those with electric heat may crank the thermostat higher than usual this month, but natural gas users may have little control over higher bills.

    Short-term increases in natural gas use can drive costs up as the supply cannot always respond quickly enough to the demand, according to the Energy Information Administration.

    RELATED:
    Northeast Radar
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    Current AccuWeather Snow Map

    Temperatures in far northern areas of the East could wind up averaging slightly below normal this month.

    Some mild days will punctuate the cold blasts, but long stretches of higher temperatures are not anticipated.

    Depending on the frequency, these warmer days could result in slightly above-normal monthly averages for southern New England and the mid-Atlantic.


    Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Jillian MacMath at macmathj@accuweather.com, follow her on Twitter @Accu_Jillian or Google+. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.


    RELATED ON SKYE: Off-the-Charts Hottest and Coldest Places on Earth

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013
    A woman braces against the cold and blowing snow on Denver's 16th Street Mall on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. A wintry storm pushing through the Rockies and Midwest is bringing bitterly cold temperatures and treacherous driving conditions. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)
    A woman braces against the cold and blowing snow on Denver's 16th Street Mall on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

    DENVER (AP) - The jet stream hunkered to the south Wednesday, promising to bring nearly a week of temperatures that could dip to minus 20 or worse in the northern midsection of the country, and forcing much of the rest of the nation to deal with unexpectedly cool temperatures.

    The wintry blast delighted Rocky Mountain ski resorts, some of which surpassed 100 inches of snow for the season on Wednesday. But the cold snap had public-safety officials warning of elevated avalanche risk and frostbite risk to anyone outside.

    In Minnesota, the cold forced Salvation Army bell ringers inside and canceled holiday parties, while dense, cold air sunk into Rocky Mountain valleys and kept some lower elevations freezing in the West. A Christmas parade planned for Friday in the Colorado town of Erie was canceled.

    The dip in the jet stream is allowing Arctic air to plunge deeper into the United States. To add to the cold weather trouble, AccuWeather senior forecaster Paul Walker said a new storm will likely develop in New Mexico and west Texas on Thursday and head east, bringing ice and potentially power outages.

    Extreme cold is nothing new in the Rockies, with temperatures regularly dropping each winter to minus 20 or minus 25 degrees annually. The difference this year is how long the cold snap is expected to last.

    National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Bernhardt said the last extended cold period in Montana he could recall was in the winter of 1996.

    Low temperatures in Denver were expected to drop just below zero through Friday but remain below 20 through the middle of next week. The storm dumped several inches of snow in Denver, and parts of Colorado's mountains could get up to 3 feet by the end of the day. Heavy overnight snow canceled a men's World Cup downhill training in Beaver Creek because the skiers need a clean, slick surface to practice on.

    Snowfall totals could also approach 3 feet in northeastern Minnesota, where the weather has contributed to hundreds of traffic accidents around the state, including at least five fatal crashes since Monday. Two other fatal crashes in Montana and North Dakota were blamed on the weather.

    At the Denver Zoo, which was closed due to the weather, the polar bears were playing and lying in the snow and the Mongolian camels seemed friskier than normal, spokeswoman Tiffany Barnhart said. But many other animals remained in the indoor section of their quarters, close to their hay beds. Workers kept the lions occupied with toys and videos of African predators.

    "It's a snow day for them, too," she said.

    The risk of frostbite was high for people doing every day activities, like waiting for a bus, unless they're bundled up. Tyler Elick wore a hat and gloves as he played with his dog, Coconut, in a parking lot downtown.

    "It's fun, but my cheeks are frozen, so I may be slurring my words," he said.

    Colorado homeless shelters opened extra beds, and Denver Police checked under bridges in search of homeless who may have been in danger.

    Laramie, the home of the University of Wyoming, sits in a valley between two mountain ranges and could see temperatures dip to minus 29 Wednesday night and early Thursday. The record low for Dec. 5 at Laramie is 33 below zero, set in 1972.

    In Montana, the cold spot will be the northern city of Havre, with low temperatures expected to dip as low as minus 30 between Thursday and Saturday. The city isn't expected to get warmer than minus 6 degrees during that period.

    In California's Central Valley, temperatures dropped into the upper 20s overnight into Wednesday, not enough to cause any damage to citrus crops. Citrus farmers, however, are anticipating colder temperatures overnight and Thursday and are continuing to take precautions, said Bob Blakely, of California Citrus Mutual.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The Arctic Fox and More Amazing Cold Weather Creatures

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013
    Officials in boats monitor the scene where dozens of pilot whales are stranded in shallow water in a remote area of Florida's Everglades National Park, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
    Officials in boats monitor the scene where dozens of pilot whales are stranded in shallow water in a remote area of Florida's Everglades National Park, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013.

    EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Fla. (AP) - Wildlife workers are returning to Everglades National Park in Florida to try to lead 41 pilot whales out of dangerously shallow waters and back to the ocean waters where they belong.

    The whales were spotted Tuesday in a remote area on the western boundary of the park and about 20 miles east of where they normally live. It takes more than an hour to reach the spot from the nearest boat ramp and there is no cellphone service, complicating rescue efforts.

    Of the 51 whales that ended up in the Everglades, six were found dead, and four had to be euthanized.

    Workers from the National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spent Wednesday trying to herd the whales toward the ocean, but the marine mammals weren't cooperating.

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013

    The Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory's Pisces V submersible at the deck of the I-400 submarine. (Credit: Courtesy of NOAA HURL archives)

    A World War II-era Japanese submarine that had been captured and intentionally sunk by U.S. forces was discovered earlier this year in its watery tomb. The massive submarine, lost underwater since 1946, was found off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

    Researchers at the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL), headquartered at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu, located the missing I-400 submarine off Oahu's southwest coast, sitting more than 2,300 feet (700 meters) below sea level. The sub was found in August, but the researchers just announced their finding this week.

    The I-400 was one of the Imperial Japanese Navy's Sen Toku-class submarines, which were the largest submarines ever built before the age of nuclear-powered subs. These massive vessels were longer than a football field, and were used as submarine aircraft carriers. The subs were capable of carrying up to three float-plane bombers underwater, but were designed to rise quickly to the surface, launch aircraft and then dive underwater again before enemies could detect them. [7 Technologies That Transformed Warfare]

    The Japanese Navy intended to amass an entire fleet of Sen Toku-class submarines, but by the end of World War II, only three had been built.

    "The I-400 had been on our 'to-find' list for some time," Terry Kerby, HURL's operations director and chief submarine pilot, said in a statement. "Finding it where we did was totally unexpected. All our research pointed to it being farther out to sea."

    Underwater treasures

    HURL researchers have been using manned submersibles to hunt for submarines and other sunken historical artifacts since 1992. The I-400 discovery resulted from a series of dives funded through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Exploration and Research and the University of Hawaii at Manoa's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

    Kerby described his excitement when sonar instruments identified what appeared to be a massive underwater wreck. "It was a thrill when the view of a giant submarine appeared out of the darkness," he said.

    Before the invention of Sen Toku-type vessels, submarines were used almost exclusively to sink surface ships and other submarines in stealth underwater attacks.

    "The innovation of air strike capability from long-range submarines represented a tactical change in submarine doctrine," James Delgado, director of NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program in Washington, D.C., said in a statement. "The large I-400, with its extended range and ability to launch three M6A1 Seiran strike aircraft, was clearly an important step in the evolution of submarine design."

    The mammoth I-400 submarines had a range of 37,500 miles (60,300 km), and could circumnavigate the globe one-and-a-half times without needing to refuel.

    And while the submarines were built to carry planes to bomb the U.S. mainland, none ended up being used for their designed missions during the war, Delgado said. Still, the mega-subs were instrumental in shaping the future of submarine design, he added.

    "The I-400 is technologically significant due to the design features associated with its large watertight hangar," Delgado said. "Following World War II, submarine experimentation and design changes would continue in this direction, eventually leading to ballistic missile launching capabilities for U.S. submarines at the advent of the nuclear era."

    Historical legacy

    At the end of World War II, the U.S. Navy captured five Japanese submarines, including the newly discovered I-400.

    The vessels were brought to Pearl Harbor for inspection, but were scuttled off the coast of Oahu in 1946, after the former Soviet Union demanded access to the submarines under the terms of the treaty that ended the war, according to HURL officials. The U.S. Navy intentionally sank the subs in order to keep knowledge of the advanced technology out of Soviet hands in the buildup to the Cold War.

    HURL expeditions have since located four out of the five scuttled submarines. The I-400 was first located in August, but the finding was announced this week after NOAA reviewed details of the discovery with the U.S. State Department and officials from the Japanese government.

    "These historic properties in the Hawaiian Islands recall the critical events and sacrifices of World War II in the Pacific, a period which greatly affected both Japan and the United States and shaped the Pacific region as we now know it," Hans Van Tilburg, maritime heritage coordinator for NOAA in the Pacific Islands region, said in a statement. "Our ability to interpret these unique weapons of the past and jointly understand our shared history is a mark of our progress from animosity to reconciliation. That is the most important lesson that the site of the I-400 can provide today."

    Follow Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

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

     

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    NEW YORK (AP) - With a flick of the switch, a 76-foot Norway Spruce officially became the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree Wednesday night after it was illuminated for the first time this holiday season in a ceremony that's been held since 1933.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg turned on the lights just before 9 p.m., setting off a dazzling 45,000 multi-colored LED lights and a 9 ½-foot-wide Swarovski star that topped the 12-ton tree.

    The holiday event in midtown Manhattan also was watched by millions on television. The tree will be on display until Jan. 7, after which it'll be milled into lumber for Habitat for Humanity.

    Artists such as Mary J. Blige, the Goo Goo Dolls, Jewel, Mariah Carey and Leona Lewis performed.

    The approximately 75-year-old tree made the 70-mile trip to New York City on a tractor-trailer from its home in Shelton, Conn., last month.

    "Today Show" personalities Matt Lauer, Al Roker, Savannah Guthrie and Natalie Morales co-hosted "Christmas in Rockefeller Center," which aired on NBC.

    They dedicated the broadcast to James Lovell, 58, a married father of four and a sound and lighting expert who worked on the tree. Lovell was one of four people killed when a Metro-North commuter train derailed in the Bronx on Sunday. He was on his way to work on the tree when the accident occurred.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Best Christmas Festivals

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013
    GERMANY-WEATHER
    Waves hit the coast in Dagebuell, on December 5, 2013, as storm front Xaver has reached the North Sea in Germany. (CARSTEN REHDER/AFP/Getty Images)

    LONDON (AP) - Hurricane-force gusts hit Scotland on Thursday, causing a fatal truck accident, halting all trains and leaving tens of thousands of homes without electricity. Much of northwestern Europe braced for a storm that was expected to bring flooding to coastal areas.

    Winds of to 142 miles per hour were measured overnight in the Scottish Highlands, and many roads and bridges were closed. All train services in Scotland were suspended; Network Rail spokesman Nick King said that "there's too much debris and too much damage to equipment to continue."

    The British government's crisis committee met to discuss its response to a storm that threatened to cause tidal surges flooding as many as 6,000 homes.

    A truck driver was killed and four people were injured in an accident west of Edinburgh when high winds toppled his vehicle onto several cars, police said.

    PHOTOS: Extreme Weather Pummels Northwestern Europe
    A number of flights serving Scotland were also canceled, and power companies said up to 100,000 homes were without electricity. Another 7,000 homes were reported without power in Northern Ireland.

    Glasgow's central rail station was evacuated after debris smashed glass in the roof, though no one was hurt.

    Weather forecasters predicted winds gusting up to 87 miles per hour on Germany's North Sea coast. Britain's Environment Agency said tidal surges could bring "significant" coastal flooding, and the Thames Barrier was being closed later Thursday to protect London.

    Hundreds of homes in Great Yarmouth, on the Norfolk coast 130 miles northeast of London, were evacuated as a precaution against tidal surges. The Environment Agency issued more than 250 flood alerts across England and Wales, including 28 "severe" warnings of significant threats to life.

    Ferry operators canceled services to some of Germany's North Sea islands and the country's national railway, Deutsche Bahn, warned of likely disruption across a swathe of northern Germany.

    Train services in Denmark and the Netherlands were suspended after 1300 GMT.

    By early afternoon German authorities reported flooding on the tiny low-lying North Sea islands of Langeness and Hooge near Denmark, the DPA news agency reported. Residents protected their homes with sandbags and other barriers against the rising waters, but none of the houses - all built on raised foundations - were thought to be in immediate danger.

    Still, Langeness mayor Heike Hinrichsen warned that if the seas rose as high as predicted as the storm moves in, the "waves of the North Sea will be lapping at the houses."

    "Nobody on the islands will be closing their eyes tonight," said Langeness resident Fiede Nissen. "It's already tense."

    In Belgium, the coastal town of Bredene to evacuate hundreds of people from one neighborhood well before the worst of the storm hits.

    "There is no reason for panic yet, but Bredene is anticipating serious flooding problems. The situation can be much more serious than we could have expected this morning," the city said in a statement.

    The Netherlands braced for the storm by closing water barriers that protect the low-lying country from high tides. The Oosterscheldekering in the southwestern delta region of the country was being closed to protect the land behind it for the first time since 2007.

    National carrier KLM canceled dozens of flights to European airports as a precaution.

    Passengers on an easyJet flight from London to Glasgow, Scotland, wound up landing in Manchester after aborted attempts to land in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

    As the plane neared Scotland, "suddenly everything started shaking and bumping, we were going up and down, up and down," said a passenger, Hazel Bedford.

    "An awful lot of people were being sick but the plane, it was incredibly quiet. When cabin crew said 'we're going to Manchester', people started to realize this was serious," she said.

    The airline said a number of passengers chose to return to London by bus.

    The German Weather Service said the storm front, which was gathering strength as it headed eastward from the Atlantic Ocean off Greenland, would also bring polar air to Europe - meaning that it could bring snow to low-lying areas.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Extreme Weather Pummels Northwestern Europe

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013
    Saturn Hexagon
    This colorful view from NASA's Cassini mission is the highest-resolution view of the unique six-sided jet stream at Saturn's north pole known as "the hexagon." (NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Hampton University)

    A NASA probe has captured an amazing video of the huge and mysterious six-sided vortex spinning around Saturn's north pole.

    Scientists created the new video of Saturn's vortex from 128 images snapped by NASA's Cassini spacecraft in December 2012. It's the highest-resolution movie yet obtained of the giant hexagon, which is about 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) wide and has been swirling for at least 30 years, researchers said.

    "The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable," Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a statement. "A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades -- and who knows -- maybe centuries." [Latest Saturn Photos by the Cassini Orbiter]

    The Saturn vortex is composed of a jet stream racing through the planet's northern atmosphere at 200 mph (322 km/h) or so. While most other planets in the solar system are known to have jet streams, nothing quite like the hexagon has ever been seen anywhere else.

    The hexagonal vortex was discovered by NASA's Voyager mission in the early 1980s, and Cassini has gotten some good looks at the feature since August 2009, when sunlight began flooding Saturn's northern hemisphere at the start of the planet's northern spring. The probe's views improved considerably in late 2012, when sunlight started illuminating the vortex's inner portions, researchers said.

    Several smaller vortices are nested within the main hexagon, and some of them rotate in the opposite direction. The largest of these smaller storms measures about 2,200 miles (3,500 km) across -- twice as big as the largest hurricane recorded on Earth, NASA officials said.

    The hexagon serves as a sort of barrier, separating particles of various sizes in Saturn's atmosphere.

    "Inside the hexagon, there are fewer large haze particles and a concentration of small haze particles, while outside the hexagon, the opposite is true," Kunio Sayanagi, a Cassini imaging team associate at Hampton University in Virginia, said in a statement.

    The $3.2 billion Cassini mission launched in 1997 and began orbiting Saturn in 2004. The probe is currently operating on an extended mission that is set to end in September 2017, when Cassini will make a spectacular death dive into the planet's atmosphere.

    But the spacecraft should get some more good looks at the hexagon before ending its life, mission team members said.

    "As we approach Saturn's summer solstice in 2017, lighting conditions over its north pole will improve, and we are excited to track the changes that occur both inside and outside the hexagon boundary," said Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Hurricane Images from Space

     

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    Updated Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 7:48 p.m. ET
    Major Winter Storm Blankets Southern U.S.


    DALLAS (AP) - Freezing rain and stinging winds slammed the Southwest on Friday, covering highways in frost and closing schools and businesses, as millions of residents hunkered down for icy conditions expected to last through the weekend.

    In California, four people died of hypothermia in the San Francisco Bay Area.

    Despite warm temperatures earlier in the week, Texas faced the same wintry blast that has slammed much of the U.S., bringing frigid temperatures, ice and snow.

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    The weather forced the cancellation of Sunday's Dallas Marathon, which was expected to draw 25,000 runners, some of whom had trained for months. A quarter of a million customers in North Texas were left without power, and many businesses told employees to stay home to avoid the slick roads.

    Friday's storm stretched from southern Texas, where anxious residents bagged outdoor plants to protect them from the cold, through the Midwest and Ohio Valley and up into northern New England and the Canadian Maritimes.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Icy Storm Hits Texas, Midwest
    Winter Ice StormPeople in the Dallas area raided grocery shelves and home improvement stores Thursday in advance of what one store manager joked was the Black Friday of bad weather - "Ice Friday." Most people appeared to heed warnings Friday to stay inside.

    The weather led to more than 1,000 cancelations at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, one of the nation's busiest airports and a key hub for Fort Worth-based American Airlines. Many travelers were stuck waiting - and hoping for another flight. Those arriving in North Texas were having trouble finding cabs as many drivers stayed home. Dallas-area light rail trains were not running.

    Rosibel Gutierrez Artavia, shivering in a light sweater as she waited for a taxi, had traveled from Alajuela, Costa Rica, to suburban Fort Worth to see family. Relatives called her before she left Costa Rica to warn her to pack warm. But she got the call when she was already at the airport.

    "I did not come prepared with snow clothes," Artavia said in Spanish.

    Police in Arlington, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Dallas, reported one driver was killed when his car slammed into a truck. Authorities in Oklahoma reported two weather-related traffic deaths.

    In California, four people died of hypothermia in the San Francisco Bay Area as the region dealt with freezing temperatures, according to the Santa Clara County coroner's office. The San Jose Mercury News reported that three of the victims died in homeless encampments while a fourth person died in a garage.

    Storms this week had already dumped up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) of snow in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin and draped many communities in skin-stinging cold. The temperature in parts of North Dakota on Thursday was a few degrees below zero, but wind chill pushed it to nearly 40 below.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Icy Storm Hits Texas, Midwest

     

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    Friday, Dec. 6, 2013
    Europe Storm
    Two men walk down a flooded street, in Helsingborg, Sweden, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Johan Nilsson)

    LONDON (AP) - Thousands of people in Britain face a second day of flooding Friday as the country confronts its worst tidal surge in 60 years after a powerful storm with hurricane-force gusts roared across northern Europe.

    The storm prompted evacuations along the eastern English coast, with 1,000 properties flooded and at least half dozen communities at great risk of high tides and large waves. The Thames Barrier - a series of huge metal plates that can be raised across the entire river - closed for a second time in as many days to protect London from the surge.

    "There will still be exceptionally high tides" on Friday and Saturday, Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said.

    Accidents linked to the storm killed at least seven people across Europe over the past two days in Poland, Sweden, Denmark and Britain.

    Traffic ground to a halt on icy highways and train service was canceled in large parts of Sweden. Tens of thousands of people lost electricity. Strong winds knocked down the city of Vaxjo's Christmas tree.

    Scores of flights were canceled at airports in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Germany and Poland. More than 1,000 people spent the night at Copenhagen airport where 200 flights were canceled Thursday and about 70 on Friday.

    Copenhagen's international airport reopened at 0500 GMT after an all-night closure and flights resumed but delays were expected. Some bridges in Scandinavia remained closed and thousands of homes in Sweden and Norway were without power Friday morning.

    Strong winds threatened a collection of Viking ships recovered from the bottom of a Danish fjord in the 1960s and put on exhibition. Museum workers boarded up the expansive windows of the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde 25 miles (40 kilometers) west of Copenhagen amid fears the water from the surrounding fjord would rise and shatter the glass.

    In Hamburg, Germany's second-biggest city, the water rose about 13 feet above average flood levels Friday, hitting heights rarely seen and parts of the city's busy port were shut.

    Hamburg airport, where almost all flights were canceled late Thursday, was open for business on Friday but cautioned that there would be cancelations because of wind and snow. Trains northward from Hamburg to Denmark and some other destinations were canceled.

    Soccer club Werder Bremen, whose game Saturday against German champion Bayern Munich had been in doubt, announced on Twitter Friday morning that flood water hadn't topped a levee near its stadium and the match would go ahead.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Extreme Weather Pummels Northwestern Europe

     

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    Friday, Dec. 6, 2013
    Workers wear the masks to protect them from air pollution in Shanghai, China, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. Shanghai authorities have ordered youth indoors and halted construction as China?s financial hub suffers one of its worst bouts of air pollution, bringing visibility down to a few dozen meters and obscuring its spectacular skyline.(AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
    Workers wear the masks to protect them from air pollution in Shanghai, China, Friday, Dec. 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

    SHANGHAI (AP) - Shanghai authorities ordered schoolchildren indoors and halted all construction Friday as China's financial hub suffered one of its worst bouts of air pollution, bringing visibility down to a few dozen meters, delaying flights and obscuring the city's spectacular skyline.

    The financial district was shrouded in a yellow haze, and noticeably fewer people walked the city's streets. Vehicle traffic also was thinner, as authorities pulled 30 percent of government vehicles from the roads. They also banned fireworks and public sporting events.

    "I feel like I'm living in clouds of smog," said Zheng Qiaoyun, a local resident who kept her 6-month-old son at home. "I have a headache, I'm coughing, and it's hard to breathe on my way to my office."

    Shanghai's concentration of tiny, harmful PM 2.5 particles reached 602.5 micrograms per cubic meter Friday afternoon, an extremely hazardous level that was the highest since the city began recording such data last December. That compares with the World Health Organization's safety guideline of 25 micrograms.

    The dirty air that has gripped Shanghai and its neighboring provinces for days is attributed to coal burning, car exhaust, factory pollution and weather patterns, and is a stark reminder that pollution is a serious challenge in China. Beijing, the capital, has seen extremely heavy smog several times over the past year. In the far northeastern city of Harbin, some monitoring sites reported PM 2.5 rates up to 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in October, when the winter heating season kicked off.

    As a coastal city, Shanghai usually has mild to modest air pollution, but recent weatherpatterns have left the city's air stagnant. On China's social media, netizens swapped jokes over the rivalry between Shanghai and Beijing, saying the financial hub was catching up with the capital in air pollution.

    Alan Yu, a chef in Shanghai, satirized the air on his microblog as though he were sampling a new vintage of wine.

    "Today, Shanghai air really has a layered taste. At first, it tastes slightly astringent with some smokiness. Upon full contact with your palate, the aftertaste has some earthy bitterness, and upon careful distinguishing you can even feel some dust-like particulate matter," Yu wrote.

    The environmental group Greenpeace said slow-moving and low-hanging air masses had carried factory emissions from Jiangsu, Anhui and Shandong provinces to Shanghai. But it said the root problem lies with the excessive industrial emissions in the region, including Zhejiang province to the south.

    "Both Jiangsu and Zhejiang should act as soon as possible to set goals to reduce their coal consumption so that the Yantze River Delta will again be green with fresh air," Huang Wei, a Greenpeace project manager, said in a statement.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Choking Smog Engulfs North China City

     

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