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SKYE on AOL

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    Winter brings cooling snows to Italy's fiery Mount Etna, where tourists flock to ski resorts below the volcano's belching craters.

    On Dec. 13, NASA's Landsat 8 satellite snapped lava winding down Etna's snowy slopes - the aftermath of a Dec. 2 eruption. In the image, volcanic gas puffed from Etna's New Southeast Crater, the source of spectacular lava fountains seen in recent months from nearby villages, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.

    The volcano erupted again on Dec. 14, the day after the satellite caught the fresh mix of fire and ice. Mount Etna, on the island of Sicily, is one of the most active volcanoes on Earth, spouting ash, gas and lava several times a year. The burst of activity forced the closure of Sicily's Catania and Comiso airports, according to news reports.

    On Dec. 15, new vents opened on a cone at Etna's New Southeast Crater, fountaining lava into the air, according to Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (INGV). Huge bursting magma bubbles and loud blasts rattled windows several miles (tens of kilometers) away.

    Email Becky Oskin or follow her @beckyoskin. Follow us OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanet, Facebook and Google+. Original article at LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Breathtaking Volcanic Eruptions Seen from Space

     

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    Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013


    A Washington photographer has taken something as simple as a bubble and turned it into a winter art form.

    Angela Kelly of Kelly Images and Photography, Arlington, Wash., took the photos over several days during a recent cold snap with early morning temperatures between 9 and 16 degrees Fahrenheit.

    "I find that taking photos of ordinary things and showing their whimsical or uniquely beautiful side has helped my children to really slow down, look closely at their surroundings and to thoroughly enjoy something as simple as a drop of water on a blade of grass or the dew drops that line a spider's web," Kelly said.

    Photo by Angela Kelly, Kelly Images and Photography.

    Kelly said she used a homemade bubble solution with water, Karo syrup and dish soap that she found on the Internet.

    "We quickly realized that using a mostly shady area was necessary in order to get the bubbles to freeze in their entirety and conversely using a partly sunny area allowed the bubbles to only partially freeze along the bottoms up to about the mid-point of the bubble," she said.

    Using that information, Kelly and her youngest son set about with the idea that they wanted to see them in all different stages: frozen completely, half-frozen and only partially frozen.

    "We were both awestruck as we watched how each bubble formed its own unique ice pattern as they froze," she said. "My son was amazed as I blew a gentle puff of air across the top of one bubble that had completely frozen and watched intently as it broke away from the surface it was on, rolled over and showed its shattered shell."

    Her son said it looked like a hard-boiled egg shell that was broken in half.

    The hardest parts of the photography assignment were getting the properly sized bubble and keeping it intact.

    "As cold as it was during these mornings, the smaller bubbles would almost freeze instantly and drop like stones to the ground while the largest ones would burst immediately on landing."

    Sometimes in our quest to appreciate beauty, we take for granted even the simplest treasures that can be found in our own back yard, Kelly said.

    "I love being able to show others something that they have perhaps taken for granted and walked by too quickly to notice before. I hope that in sharing my work, it will help others to change their perspective and take the time to enjoy and savor the beauty around them in the most unfamiliar or surprising ways possible."

    Photos by Angela Kelly, Kelly Images and Photography.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2013
    Twin Waterspouts

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 18, 2013

    Workers remove snow from parking lots at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Standing amid giant piles of snow in the shadow of MetLife Stadium, Super Bowl organizers said Wednesday that they're prepared to deploy thousands of trucks and tons of salt to prevent snowy weather from interfering with the biggest football game of the year.

    Officials held the press conference to assure the public that snow or ice will not hinder the game on Feb. 2, when it will debut as the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl in NFL history.

    The stadium has several snow melters on hand that can clear the fields quickly, including one machine that can melt up to 600 tons of snow per hour, said the stadium's CEO, Brad Mayne. Removable snow chutes can funnel snow out of the seating and concourse areas, he said.

    "As you can imagine, Mother Nature and her storms come in many different varieties," Mayne said. "And so we have to be flexible in how we address each and every storm."

    Mayne pointed to the most recent storm to hit the region last week, which dropped 6.3 inches of snow and ice on the stadium just hours before the New York Giants played host to the Seattle Seahawks.

    "Even though the storm ended just hours prior to kickoff, our experienced crew were able to have the stadium ready," Mayne said.

    The stadium plans to have up to 1,600 workers on standby for the Super Bowl, which is double the typical amount of personnel used in most storms.

    Officials said they would only consider rescheduling the game in extreme circumstances.

    "It is our objective to kick off the ball at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 2," said Frank Supovitz, Senior Vice President of Events for the NFL. "And we're going to expend every effort ... to make sure that that gets done."

    Transportation experts say a snowy football field isn't the issue - after all, many NFL games have previously been played in the snow. But the players might be throwing passes in an empty stadium if the fans can't make it there during a blizzard.

    Filling MetLife Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday hinges open the reliability of New Jersey's rails and roads to funnel fans to the game.

    "They'll play the game," said Mitchell Moss, director of the Rudin Center for Transportation at New York University. "The question is, they may have to hire mannequins to fill the stadium."

    An ice or snow storm would jeopardize the region's airports, causing ground delays or cancellations that would prevent fans from arriving in New York City, including the scores of private jets that will likely touch down at Teterboro Airport, Moss said. Icy roads would also hinder the many buses that will ferry fans from Manhattan to the game.

    During a nor'easter last February that crippled the region, for example, NJ Transit suspended bus operations across the state to decrease the number of vehicles on the road and help plows clear the pavement.

    At the press conference, New Jersey Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Joseph Mrozek said the state can deploy more than 820 vehicles and about 60,000 tons of salt within a 30-mile radius of the stadium, with even more resources available statewide if necessary.

    The state also has more than a quarter of a million gallons of brine and 850,000 gallons of liquid calcium in storage, which are used to treat salt when temperatures drop below freezing.

    "We have the trucks, we have the manpower and we have the supplies to fight any major event," Mrozek said.

    Interest in whether or not America will have its first snowy Super Bowl has ramped up so much that the forecasting company AccuWeather has created a website asking that very question: www.willitsnow.com.

    Launched on Wednesday, exactly 45 days before the game, the site currently predicts a 30 percent chance of snow on Feb. 2. The site will be updated daily.

    On Super Bowl Sunday, it'll update with hourly forecasts for fans who want to track theweather by the minute.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Best Snow and Ice Festivals

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013
    Winter Storm
    (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

    Multiple storms will produce areas of rain, ice and snow with areas of dense fog over the Central, Eastern and Northwestern states over the next several days.

    The largest storm of the bunch will hit this weekend, will affect nearly 30 states and impact over 100 million people.

    The atmosphere will quickly change gears the next few days to a pattern that will briefly send warmer air into the eastern third of the nation. Temperatures may challenge with record highs.

    The warmth will mean no snow or ice problems for millions of people in the South, Ohio Valley, mid-Atlantic and southeastern New England. However, that warmth will also be accompanied by episodes of rain and fog that can still lead to travel delays.

    According to Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams, "Conditions will be favorable for extensive fog to form with the warmup, even in the absence of heavy rain."

    The fog could settle over long stretches of highways and delay flights for hours at some major airports.



    On Friday, one storm will spread spotty rain and drizzle from the Ohio Valley to the central Appalachians and southern New England. Because of a cold ground, fog may form with or without snow cover and affect the cities of the cities of Pittsburgh, New York and Boston. Showers and patchy fog may reach southward to part of the central and western Gulf Coast as well.

    Farther north, from that same Friday storm, some snow and a wintry mix will reach eastward across from parts of Michigan to upstate New York and northern New England. While snowfall with this system will be considered to be minor, enough can fall to cause slippery roads.

    A different storm will affect the Northwest Friday. Enough cold air will be present with the storm to bring some snow to near sea level in western Washington, including around Seattle, Friday morning. Snow will fall over the passes in the Cascades Friday before a change to rain. Periods of snow and slippery travel is likely over portions of the northern Rockies.

    Yet another storm is forecast to take shape over the South Central states Saturday and quickly expand northward and eastward Sunday. The storm this weekend will become the major weather maker prior to Christmas over the eastern half of the nation. Major travel disruptions are likely.



    The weekend storm will bring rain and not snow to areas from much of Texas to northern Florida to coastal Maine, thanks to a surge of warmer air.

    However, the rain can become heavy enough to cause urban flooding. Cities that have a chance of heavy rain include Dallas, Memphis, Atlanta, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. With the rain will come with the potential for episodes of dense fog and low ceilings, which could add to flight delays and cause cancellations.

    A zone of ice and snow is expected to develop on the northwestern fringe of the rain area. Metro areas that could be hit with travel delays include Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Mo., Chicago and Detroit.

    The storm will also have major impact on neighboring Canada. There is the risk of a significant ice storm or a heavy wintry mix from a large part of southern Ontario to southern Quebec and part of new Brunswick. The Canada cities of Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal are included in the area that could have major travel disruptions and power outages from the storm.

    RELATED:
    Tune in to AccuWeather LIVE Weekday Mornings
    Weekend Severe Weather Risk
    Interactive National Radar


    There is also a risk of severe thunderstorms in part of the South from the weekend storm.

    According to AccuWeather.com Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity, "We could be looking at a severe weather outbreak including a few tornadoes beginning from central and eastern Texas to the lower Mississippi Valley with this storm Saturday into Sunday."

    In the wake of the weekend storm with its rain, fog, ice and snow will follow a push of chilly air that will last into Christmas Day. While this is not likely to be as cold as some prior Arctic outbreaks thus far, it may get cold enough to cause wet areas to freeze.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Best Christmas Festivals

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013
    Firefighters take a break while lighting a backfire along Highway 1 between Pfeiffer Ridge Road and the Big Sur Station in Big Sur, Calif. on Wednesday Dec. 18, 2013. Calm winds helped crews as they closed in on fire in Los Padres National Forest near state Highway 1. The blaze had consumed 769 acres, or a little over a square mile, as the 20 percent containment figure officials gave earlier Wednesday was expected to climb.  (AP Photo/ Monterey County Herald, David Royal)
    Firefighters take a break while lighting a backfire along Highway 1 between Pfeiffer Ridge Road and the Big Sur Station in Big Sur, Calif. on Wednesday Dec. 18, 2013. (AP Photo/ Monterey County Herald, David Royal)

    BIG SUR, Calif. (AP) - Officials are hopeful that a late fall wildfire in California's Big Sur region will soon be fully contained, after the flames destroyed more than a dozen homes and forced about 100 people to flee.

    As of Wednesday night, the fire had charred about 1 1/3 square miles of territory and was 74 percent contained, U.S. Forest Service spokeswoman Lynn Olson said.

    "There is light at the end of the tunnel," the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade announced on its Web site late Wednesday evening. "Hopefully, with the outstanding efforts of all the personnel involved, full containment will be achieved by 6:00 PM on Friday."

    Mark Nunez, the incident commander in charge of the team fighting the fire, said 1,007 firefighters have assisted in battling the blaze. The Forest Service has spent nearly $1 million to fight it, spokeswoman Kathleen Phelps told the Monterey Herald.

    Calm winds helped crews as they closed in on the Pfeiffer Fire in Los Padres National Forest near state Highway 1.

    The blaze began Sunday, fueled by dry vegetation and fanned by winds. It has destroyed 22 buildings, and about 13 of those structures were homes.

    The cause remains under investigation.

    Two firefighters suffered minor injuries. One hit his knee on a rock in the rough terrain and another suffered from heat exhaustion, said Los Padres National Forest spokesman Andrew Madsen.

    Though wildfires are unusual in Northern California at this time of year, Olson said the dry weather has made them more likely to occur.

    "Usually it's wetter by this time of year, but we're in a dry cycle. We've had very little rain. We have some other conditions such as sudden oak death in this part of the forest," Olson said. "The warm winds, the warm weather, the dry conditions just line the pins all up."

    Big Sur - miles of rugged coast, cliffs and wilderness - is a popular tourist destination about 150 miles south of San Francisco with high-end resorts and beautiful views of the ocean.

    "Big Sur's a special place," said Howard Barbarosh, whose house was destroyed.

    "Total loss. Gone, 32 years of dreams," he said at a community meeting Wednesday at the Big Sur Ranger Station. But he added, "We will rebuild on the same property because this is our home."

    Despite the destruction around them, a group of carolers, including some evacuees, sang holiday songs at a nearby restaurant.

    "We have people in our singing group who have been awake for 48 hours and defended and saved six homes and are very heroic," said Lisa Goettel, the group's singing instructor. "We're singing for them."

    The fire was burning a little more than a mile from Ventana Inn and Spa, a favorite spot among celebrities where former Facebook president and Napster co-founder Sean Parker got married in June.

    In the summer of 2008, a lightning-sparked wildfire forced the evacuation of Big Sur and blackened 250 square miles before it was contained. That blaze burned more than a dozen homes.

    California's fire season traditionally peaks by mid-fall, but the drought of the last several years has given the state essentially year-round danger.

    Larry Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Monterey, said the Big Sur area has averaged nearly 45 inches of rain yearly between 1981 and 2010. But the area has received about 7 inches of rain this year, about 16 percent of its normal amount.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Incredible Photos of Forces of Nature
    Volcano Eruption

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 18, 2013
    Belarus Weather
    (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - November was a hot month for planet Earth.

    Government scientists reported Tuesday that last month set a heat record. They say it was the warmest November on record, across Earth, since record-keeping began in 1880.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says average global temperature, for water and land surfaces combined, was 56.6 degrees. That's 1.4 degrees above the 20th century average.

    It was the 37th consecutive November with above-average temperatures. The last below-average November was in 1976.

    It was also the 345th straight month with above-average temperatures. That's almost 29 years.

    Among the November hot spots: much of Eurasia, Central America and the Indian Ocean. In Russia, it was the warmest November on record. But parts of North America were cooler than average.

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

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013
    milky way stars in the night...
    The Milky Way (Shutterstock)

    BERLIN (AP) - The European Space Agency launched its star-surveying satellite Gaia into space Thursday, hoping to produce the most accurate three-dimensional map of the Milky Way and to better understand the evolution of our galaxy.

    The satellite was lifted into space from French Guiana at 6:12 a.m. (4:12 a.m. EST) aboard a Russian-made Soyuz rocket, the agency said.

    Soon after the launch, Gaia unfurled its 33-feet circular sun shield - a crucial moment in the mission. The shield protects the spacecraft's sensitive instruments from the rays of the sun while simultaneously collecting solar energy to power the spacecraft.

    "Everything was super smooth," said Paolo Ferri, head of mission operations at the Paris-based European Space Agency.

    Gaia is now heading for a stable orbit around a point known as Lagrange 2 - some 930 million miles away on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun. Once it gets there next month, the satellite's instruments will be switched on and it will follow what Ferri described as "a very peculiar pattern" designed to keep its back always turned to the sun.

    Timo Prusti, ESA's project scientist, likened the mission's goal to the switch from two-dimensional movies to 3D. At the moment, he said scientists are working with a largely "flat" map of the galaxy.

    "We want to have depth," he said.

    Using its twin telescopes, Gaia will study the position, distance, movement, chemical composition and brightness of a billion stars in the galaxy, or roughly 1 percent of the Milky Way's 100 billion stars.

    The data will help scientists determine the Milky Way's origin and evolution, according to Jos de Bruijne, deputy project scientist for the Gaia program.

    "The prime importance of this mission is to do galactic archaeology," he said in a phone interview from French Guiana. "It will reveal the real history of our galaxy."

    The project is the successor to ESA's Hipparcos satellite, which was launched in 1989 and measured the position of 100,000 stars in the Milky Way.

    Gaia, which is named after an ancient Greek deity, will go far beyond that. Scientists have compared its measuring accuracy to measuring the diameter of a human hair from 600 miles away.

    "There is still a lot that we don't understand about the Milky Way," said Andrew Fox, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. He is not involved in the project, but his position at the science center is funded by the European Space Agency.

    ESA has dubbed Gaia the "ultimate discovery machine" because its sophisticated instruments will allow scientists to look for small wobbles in stars' movements that indicate the presence of nearby planets.

    "Those are the stars that people are going to go out and look for planets around, and ultimately for signs of life," said Fox.

    Equipped with dozens of cameras capable of piecing together 1,000-megapixel images, scientists also expect to find hundreds of thousands of previously undiscovered asteroids and comets inside our solar system.

    Beyond that, scientists hope that Gaia can also be used to test a key part of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity that predicts "dips" and "warps" in space caused by the gravity of stars and planets.

    Carmen Jordi, an astronomer at the University of Barcelona who is involved in the mission, said the satellite's findings will become the main reference for scientists in the years to come.

    "Almost all the fields of astrophysics will be affected," said Jordi.

    The mission's scientific operations will begin in about 4 ½ months. The $1-billion mission, which was delayed by about a month due to a technical problem with another satellite, has a planned lifetime of five years.

    If Gaia is still operational after that, scientists say they might extend its mission for up to two years.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Friday, Dec. 20, 2013
    Wintry Weather
    (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    Similar to the days prior to Thanksgiving, the worst weather will focus on the days prior to Christmas as millions of travelers take to the roads and airways.

    According to AAA, 94.5 million people will travel 50 miles or more over the holiday season, spanning Dec. 21 to Jan. 1.

    Most of the travel troubles will be caused by a single storm system forecast to affect much of the Central and Eastern states on Saturday and Sunday.

    The storm this weekend will bring a wide variety of weather ranging from temperature extremes to heavy snow, ice, flooding rain, fog, severe thunderstorms and the potential for tornadoes.

    First Things First, Friday Travel Trouble

    Prior to the main storm this weekend, snow will slide southward Friday from the Pacific Northwest to part of the Great Basin, northern Rockies and High Plains. A second batch of snow is also forecast to take a similar path in the West Friday night into Saturday, before fizzling out over the central and southern Rockies.

    Enough snow will fall from both systems to slow travel along extensive stretches of I-15, I-25, I-84 and I-90 in the United States, as well as Canada Highway 1 in part of British Columbia.

    Another dose of snow will sweep inland over the Northwest to the northern Rockies on Monday.

    Thousands of miles to the south on Friday, areas of rain and mountain snow can slow travel along I-40 in parts of Arizona and New Mexico.

    Thousands of miles to the northeast on Friday, ahead of the massive weekend storm, a swath of snow will streak along the Canada, U.S. border from the Great Lakes to the St. Lawrence Valley, northern Maine and the Maritimes. Up to several inches of snow will fall.

    Weekend Snowstorm to Reach Thousands of Miles

    The main storm this weekend will begin to put down snow across the northern Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma on Saturday.

    As the storm rolls out, heavy snow will develop later Saturday over central Kansas and will continue along a northeasterly path Saturday night and Sunday through northwestern Missouri, central and southeastern Iowa and Wisconsin, much of northern Michigan and across central Ontario, southern Quebec and northern New Brunswick.

    Portions of the central Plains, Upper Midwest and southeastern Canada could be on the receiving end of a foot (30 cm) of snow.

    Ice and a wintry mix is also another concern for travelers with the storm from part of central Oklahoma to southern Michigan, southern Ontario, along the St. Lawrence River in Ontario, northern upstate New York, northern New England central and southern New Brunswick. Enough ice can accumulate in part of this area to bring down trees and power lines.

    The snow and ice could bring vehicles to a crawl or possibly shut down portions of I-29, I-35, I-70, I-80 and I-90 in the U.S., and highways 2, 20, 40 and 401 in Canada.

    Rain, Flooding and Fog

    On the southeastern flank of the storm from central and coastal Texas to southern New England, drenching rain will fall.

    Some of the rain will be heavy enough to cause flooding.

    Episodes of dense fog could also be a player in slowing ground travel and causing flight delays, especially from around the Great Lakes to the Northeast.

    Dangerous Thunderstorms, Tornado Risk

    Farther south, there is the risk of damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes from parts of central Texas to the southern tip of Indiana Saturday and Saturday night, with the risk of locally severe thunderstorms farther east on Sunday.

    Storm, Rain Remnants Reach East Coast

    A cold front associated with the storm system will push showers and thunderstorms to the Atlantic Seaboard late in the weekend. Downpours, poor visibility and locally gusty winds could cause travel delays during this time from Boston to New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Charlotte and Atlanta Sunday afternoon and evening. Until then, much of the area will bask in record-challenging warmth.

    RELATED:
    Tune in to AccuWeather LIVE Weekday Mornings
    Severe/Winter Weather Center: Watches and Warnings
    Interactive Lower Mississippi Valley Radar

    By Monday, most of the direct effects from the storm will diminish, and travel conditions will improve over the Central and Eastern states.

    Rain will be restricted to the southern Atlantic Seaboard, and colder air will be sweeping across the Midwest and into the East. Bands of lake-effect snow can cause localized travel problems downwind of the Great Lakes.

    Better Travel Conditions by Christmas Eve

    In much of the Southwest, the weather will be good for travel, spanning Saturday right through Christmas Day.

    Over much of the nation, travel weather for Tuesday and Christmas Day will be good.

    Some snow could fall on parts of Colorado on Christmas Day, and rain showers may hug the Atlantic Coast from Florida to North Carolina.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Best Christmas Festivals

     

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    Friday, Dec. 20, 2013
    Wyoming Weather
    A Wyoming Department of Transportation plow clears snow from the northbound lane of Highway 85 near Jay Em, Wyo., on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

    After several days of unseasonable warmth, bitter cold and rounds of snow will spread across the Western and Central states late this week into this weekend.

    Right on cue, snow, ice and cold will arrive in conjunction with the winter solstice, which is this Saturday.

    Snowfall amounts of 1-3 inches are expected from Washington to Utah heading into the first part of the weekend with up to 6 inches possible in the mountains.

    This will likely cause slick roads and travel delays, especially on Interstates 80, 15, 25 and 90.

    Reduced visibility and deicing operations will cause some flight delays at the airports, including Salt Lake City, Utah and Rapid City, S.D.

    As of Thursday afternoon, more than 350 arriving and departing flights were delayed or canceled at Salt Lake City International Airport due to snow and ice.

    A few accidents during the afternoon hours also halted travel along I-80 and I-215 near the Millcreek and West Valley City areas.

    By Thursday evening, even more flights were delayed or canceled at Salt Lake City International Airport, making the day's total delays and cancellations top 450, according to FlightStats.

    Dense fog around Vernal, Utah, also delayed travel Thursday night for motorists.

    According to Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski, "The storm will spread snow and travel delays down to sea level around Seattle and bring locally heavy snow to the passes in the Washington Cascades."



    Travel along I-90 will be affected the most from Snoqualmie Pass to Spokane, Wash., and Lookout Pass along the Idaho/Montana border, where locally 6 inches of snow can fall.

    Many locations across the northern and central Plains ran at least 30 degrees colder Thursday compared to Wednesday.

    RELATED:
    Tune in to AccuWeather LIVE Weekday Mornings
    Severe Weather Center: Watches and Warnings
    Rain, Record Warmth Bring Flood Risk

    After reaching 60 degrees Wednesday, the high in Rapid City, S.D., Thursday was more than 30 degrees colder failing to climb out of the 20s.

    "Temperatures have taken a roller coaster ride in the West this month," said AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Daniel Pydynowski.

    "This recent warm spell followed the frigid start to December in the Plains and Rockies and temperatures are heading downward once again," Pydynowski added.

    Big temperature changes are also expected across Southern California and the Southwest, where record highs were toppled earlier in the week.

    After an early-week stretch of days with highs in the 80s in Los Angeles, temperatures did not even reach 60 degrees Thursday. Sunshine will help temperatures reach the lower 60s one again Friday and Saturday.

    A stronger storm will bring a mix of snow and ice and more travel problems this weekend from the southern Plains to the Midwest.



    The timing of this storm will wreak havoc for folks planning to leave home over the weekend for the Christmas holiday, as there will be travel delays on the roads and at the airports.

    There is the potential for several inches of snow in Wichita, Kan., Kansas City, Mo., Moline, Ill., and Milwaukee, Wis., while Chicago and Detroit, Mich., will get a mix of snow and ice.

    Frigid air will persist this weekend in the northern Plains with the cold air also spreading into the Midwest.

    Record-shattering warmth is likely ahead of this storm system from the Southeast to the mid-Atlantic this weekend, along with the threat for flooding rain and intense thunderstorms.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Best Snow and Ice Festivals

     

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    Friday, Dec. 20, 2013
    waikiki beach and skyline
    Waikiki Beach, Hawaii (Shutterstock)

    SAN FRANCISCO - Huge tsunamis with waves as high as a four-story building could inundate the island of Oahu, washing out Waikiki Beach and flooding the island's main power plant, a new study finds.

    "Any of us who watched the Tohoku tsunami footage on television had to have been affected by the scale of what they saw in real time," said study co-author Rhett Butler, the interim director of the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology. "People looked at that and said, 'Could it happen here?'"

    The answer seems to be yes, at least if new evidence and modeling can be corroborated.

    Ancient traces of historical tsunamison both Hawaii Island and the Aleutian Islands in Alaska suggest that monster earthquakes at the juncture of the Pacific and the North American plates can trigger giant tsunamis bigger than Tohoku size every 325 years. [10 Tsunamis That Changed History]

    The findings were presented here Thursday (Dec. 12) and Friday (Dec. 13) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

    Monster waves

    Archaeobotanist David Birney was excavating in Makauwahi Sinkhole on Kauai, Hawaii, when he found huge deposits of coral, shells, beach gravel and other marine sediments inside a cave in the area. When the team dated the sediments, they found they had accumulated there between around 1424 and 1660.

    The giant mound of sediment - enough to fill about nine huge containers for shipping sea cargo - made it unlikely that the material somehow made it through the tiny entrance to the cave, Butler said.

    The only other way the material could have entered the cave is if a tsunami surge breached a cobbled barrier on the outside and carried it over the top of the cave, which was about 23.6 feet (7.2 meters) above sea level.

    To see how big an earthquake would be required to cause such a huge wave, the team computer-modeled tsunamis at various locations in Hawaii and the Alaskan area. They found that given the location of the cave and the size of the wave required, a magnitude-9.25 earthquake near the Aleutian Islands would be required to elevate waves enough to deposit the marine sediments in the cave. Earthquakes on the scale of the magnitude-9.0 Tohoku temblor, by contrast, would only trigger waves less than half the necessary size. [7 Ways Japan's Earthquake Affected Earth]

    "These are huge earthquakes, and none of them came even close," Butler said. "Only a very, very large event in the Aleutians could actually get the hole wet and potentially put the material into that hole," referring to the cave where the deposits were found.

    In a separate talk presented on Thursday, researchers said they found evidence of six massive earthquakes that struck in the past 1,700 years at Stardust Bay on Sedanka Island, in the Aleutian Island chain. Some of the traces of related tsunamis were found about 46 feet (14 m) above sea level, said study co-author Robert Witter, of the U.S. Geological Survey Alaska Science Center.

    From the sediment deposits, the team concluded that huge earthquakes large enough to trigger such tsunamis happened about every 325 years - and that the same fault rupture that triggered the Alaskan tsunamis probably also caused the inundation in Kauai.

    Butler and his colleagues then modeled the effect of a magnitude-9.25 earthquake triggering a tsunami in the Aleutian Islands. He found that such a temblor would trigger monster waves on Oahu Island.

    The tsunami would trigger 23-foot-high (7 m) waves off Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, and completely wash out the community around Oahu's Kailua Beach, where President Barack Obama likes to spend Christmas, Butler said.

    Even more worrisome, Kahe Power Plant, the main power source on the island of Oahu, could be at risk. Though the power plant was built about 22 feet above sea level based on tsunamis in the 20th century, models predict that a monster earthquake could trigger 49-foot-high (15 m) waves at the plant.

    Still, it's too soon to definitively link the Aleutian Island tsunamis with the monster wave that flooded the Kauai sinkhole. To get a sense of the true risk, the team needs to find evidence of other historic tsunamis around the Hawaii Islands, Butler said.

    Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. 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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    Friday, Dec. 20, 2013

    Astrophotographer Daniel McVey sent in this photo of Orion taken in Colorado, Dec. 11, 2012. (Credit: Daniel McVey/www.danielmcvey.com)

    This coming Saturday (Dec. 21) marks one of the four major way stations on the Earth's annual journey around the sun.

    Because of the tilt in the Earth's axis of rotation, the sun appears to rise and fall in our sky over the course of a year. It's not the sun itself moving, but the Earth moving relative to the sun.

    The Earth's axis currently points in a northerly direction close to the second-magnitude star Polaris, also known as the Pole Star. Everything in the sky, including the sun, appears to revolve around this almost fixed point in the sky. [Season to Season: Earth's Equinoxes & Solstices (Infographic)]

    Because the Earth's axis points to Polaris no matter where Earth happens to be in its orbit, the sun appears to move over the year from 23.5 degrees north of the celestial equator on June 21 to 23.5 degrees south of the celestial equator on Dec. 21.

    The sun crosses the equator travelling northward around March 21 and going southward on Sept. 21, in celestial events known as "equinoxes" (from the Latin for "equal night," as day and night are of roughly equivalent length on these dates.) The exact dates vary a little bit from year to year because of leap years.

    On Dec. 21, the sun stops moving southward, pauses, and then starts moving northward. This pause is called the "solstice," from the Latin words "sol" for "sun" and "sisto" for "stop." Similarly, on June 21 the sun stops moving northward and starts moving southward.

    These four dates have been extremely important to humanity since we first started to grow crops 10,000 years ago. Our ancestors have built amazing structures over the millennia to track these important landmarks. For example, Stonehenge in England was built as an astronomical observatory, its stones precisely oriented to detect the extremes of the sun's movement.

    Our calendar is based on the dates of the equinoxes and solstices, though errors over the years have caused the calendar to shift by 10 days from the celestial dates. Many cultures in the world use the winter solstice to mark the beginning of the year. The other three dates neatly divide the year into quarters, or seasons.

    The accompanying chart shows what the sky would look like this coming Saturday at precisely 12:11 p.m. EST (1711 GMT), if somehow the sun's light could be dimmed so that you could see the background stars. The sun is traveling from right to left along the green line, called the "ecliptic" because eclipses happen along it. The sun is as far south as it can get at that instant, and begins moving northward immediately.

    The celestial equator is marked by the red line, far to the north of the sun's position. You can see the inner planets gathered around the sun. Venus, off to the left, is moving toward the right, and will pass between us and the sun on Jan. 11. Mercury, to the right, is moving to the left and will pass behind the sun on Dec. 29. Pluto is on the far side of the sun and will pass behind it on Jan. 1.

    Notice the Milky Way crossing diagonally through the chart. That's because our solar system is not oriented in any particular way relative to the plane of the Milky Way. The center of the Milky Way is almost directly below the sun's position on Dec. 21, something that was made much of last year. As astronomers pointed out repeatedly then, the sun passes in front of the Milky Way's center every year, not just in 2012. Because the Milky Way's center is so far away, 27,000 light-years distant, it has no measurable effect on the Earth.

    For some odd reason, the winter solstice has come to be known as "the first day of winter" while the summer solstice continues to be called correctly "midsummer's day." Although Dec. 21 gets less sunshine than any other day in the year in the Northern Hemisphere, it is far from the coldest day of the year, because the weather always lags a month or two behind the exact calendar dates.

    This article was provided to SPACE.com by Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and 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.

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    Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013

    Passengers wait in the security line at Terminal 3 at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on Friday, Dec. 20, 2013. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

    Freezing rain. Snow. Thunderstorms. Even tornadoes. Much of the nation braced for foul weather on one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, as a wet winter storm created travel worries from Chicago and Detroit to Boston and New York.

    Forecasters were predicting everything from freezing rain and snow in the north to torrential rain in the Ohio Valley and Appalachia and possibly even tornadoes in the South.

    The worst of the storm was expected to hit Midwest population centers on Saturday, though the weather took a toll on air travel Friday with significant delays from Albuquerque to Denver to Chicago, according to FlightStats.com.

    The foul weather could cause headaches for the estimated 94.5 million Americans planning to travel by road or air during this holiday season, which runs from Saturday through New Year's Day.

    Most of the precipitation on Friday night was in the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma and southern Missouri. The system was expected to move north into the Chicago area late Saturday into Sunday as it crawls toward the northeast U.S. and Canada, National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Ratzer said.

    But that may just be the pregame show. On Sunday, the rain is expected to turn to snow in some parts of the Upper Midwest, with 6-8 inches north and west of Chicago and into Wisconsin, he said.

    Dennis Richmond, 72, was worried about a possible delay to his son's Saturday flight from Washington, D.C., to Madison, Wis., which could get up to 8 inches of snow. He said he didn't tell his son to change his itinerary, though, because there were few alternatives, and that he still planned to drive the roughly 140 miles from La Crosse to pick him up.

    "The thing is, trying to book another flight at this time of year is next to impossible," he said. "I just want to alert him to the fact he might be delayed."

    Icy weather snarled traffic in Oklahoma on Friday. Police in Oklahoma City blamed at least one traffic death on the weather. Forecasters said up to a half-inch of ice could accumulate across the middle of the state, from the Texas border in the southwest to the Missouri border in the northeast.

    In Wisconsin and Michigan, slippery roads from freezing rain forced some schools to cancel classes. A woman sleeping in a hotel in Holland in western Michigan was injured when a motorist lost control of his car on an icy street early Friday and slammed into the wall outside her room, MLive.com reported.

    In New England, communities were planning for a bit of everything - snow, sleet and rain - but were most concerned about the threat of freezing rain.

    The National Weather Service predicted that parts of Maine could get more than a half-inch coating of ice, which would make roads treacherous and cause widespread power outages.

    "The best advice for everyone is just to really pay attention. With every few hours, we're going to get better information," Maine Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Lynnette Miller said Friday.

    An ice storm warning was issued until 6 a.m. Sunday by the National Weather Service for central and southwestern Oklahoma and until 6 p.m. Saturday for the northeastern portion of the state.

    The weather service issued a flash flood watch from Arkansas northeastward through parts of Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, with up to 4 inches of rain projected. With falling temperatures, some of that could be freezing rain by Saturday night in the St. Louis area, weather service meteorologist Jon Carney said.

    Kansas City also was bracing for freezing rain this weekend followed by 6 inches of snow.

    In Indiana, the National Weather Service posted flood warnings along southern and central Indiana streams and predicted the highest flood crests along the East Fork of the White River since April 2011.

    While the Midwest and Plains were preparing for ice and snow, residents down South were concerned about tornadoes, which forecasters said were possible this weekend even though they are uncommon this time of year. The area most threatened stretched from central and northeastern Texas through Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and southeast Missouri, where 80 mph wind gusts and flash flooding were possible.

    Tom Kines, an AccuWeather meteorologist, said a northern cold front clashing with warm, humid air from the South is causing the unsettled weather.

    "I think there's a high likelihood there will be severe storms with hail and damaging wind" in parts of the South, Kines said. "Whether or not there's tornadoes, that's tough to say, but I will say the conditions are right."

    Weekend temperatures could surpass 70 degrees in Nashville this weekend and approach that in New York City as well, Kines said. But by Sunday night, the storm will be hammering the Northeast, where residents could be treated to a rare winter thunderstorm.

    If there is a silver lining, it's that Christmas happens mid-week this year, AAA spokeswoman Heather Hunter said.

    "When a holiday falls on a Wednesday it gives travelers more flexibility of either leaving the weekend before, or traveling right before the holiday and extending the trip through the following weekend," Hunter said.

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    Updated Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 12:35 a.m. ET


    In this file photo, astronaut Nicholas Patrick is shown floating just below the International Space Station, making some repairs. (NASA)

    Astronauts ventured out Saturday on the first of a series of urgent repair spacewalks to revive a crippled cooling line at the International Space Station, from 7:01 a.m. ET to 12:29 p.m. ET.

    The two Americans on the crew, Rick Mastracchio and Michael Hopkins, will need to perform two and, quite possibly, three spacewalks to replace an ammonia pump containing a bad valve.

    The next spacewalk will take place on Monday, followed by the third on Christmas Day, if necessary.

    The breakdown 10 days ago left one of two identical cooling loops too cold and forced the astronauts to turn off all nonessential equipment inside the orbiting lab, bringing scientific research to a near-halt and leaving the station in a vulnerable state.

    Mastracchio, making his seventh spacewalk, and Hopkins, making his first, wore extra safety gear as they floated outside. NASA wanted to prevent a recurrence of the helmet flooding that nearly drowned an astronaut last summer, so Saturday's spacewalkers had snorkels in their suits and water-absorbant pads in their helmets.

    "Beautiful day," Mastracchio said as the orbiting complex approached the west coast of Africa.

    And then: "The ammonia tank over here looks familiar."

    The pump replacement is a huge undertaking attempted only once before, back in 2010. The two astronauts who tackled the job three years ago were in Mission Control, offering guidance, as Saturday's drama unfolded 260 miles up.

    The 780-pound pump is about the size of a double-door refrigerator and extremely cumbersome to handle, with plumbing full of toxic ammonia. NASA's plan - fine-tuned over the past several days - called for the pump to be disconnected Saturday, pulled out Monday and a fresh spare put in, and then all the hookups of the new pump completed Wednesday.

    It would be the first Christmas spacewalk ever for NASA.

    In the days following the Dec. 11 breakdown, flight controllers attempted in vain to fix the bad valve through remote commanding. Then they tried using a different valve to regulate the temperature of the overly cold loop, with some success. But last Tuesday, NASA decided the situation was severe enough to press ahead with the spacewalks. Although the astronauts were safe and comfortable, NASA did not want to risk another failure and a potential loss of the entire cooling system, needed to radiate the heat generated by on-board equipment.

    NASA delayed a delivery mission from Wallops Island, Va., to accommodate the spacewalks. That flight by Orbital Sciences Corp., which should have occurred this past week, is now targeted for Jan. 7.

    Until Saturday, U.S. spacewalks had been on hold since July, when an Italian astronaut's helmet was flooded with water from the cooling system of his suit. Luca Parmitano barely got back inside alive.

    Engineers traced the problem to a device in the suit that turned out to be contaminated - how and why, no one yet knows.

    For Saturday's spacewalk, Hopkins wore Parmitano's suit, albeit with newly installed and thoroughly tested components.

    Just in case, NASA had Mastracchio and Hopkins build snorkels out of plastic tubing from their suits, before going out. The snorkels will be used in case water starts building up in their helmets. They also put absorbent pads in their helmets; the pads were launched from Earth following the July scare.

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    Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013
    AP Photo/Alastair Grant
    During the solstice, the sun's rays align in a unique way in Stonehenge, the ancient stone arrangement in England. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

    This weekend marks the beginning of the end. Of winter's darkness, that is.

    Today (Dec. 21), those living in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the mark of increasingly longer days, those in the Southern Hemisphere will transition to shorter days, and those at the equator won't notice much of a difference at all.

    The global discrepancy in seasonal sunlight results from Earth's 23.5-degree tilt on its axis: During the Northern Hemisphere winter, the Earth is tilted directly away from the sun, and during the summer, it is tilted directly toward the sun. The equator does not experience much of a change during the year since it sits in the middle of the axis.

    For many ancient civilizations that struggled to subsist through harsh winter months, the winter solstice marked a time of spiritual rejoice and celebration. Modern heating technology and the globalization of food markets make the seasonal transition remarkably easier for modern humans to survive, but people still do celebrate the day with festivities and rituals, including a tradition of reading poetry and eating pomegranates in Iran, and the Guatemalan ritual known as polo voladore -- or "flying pole dance" -- in which three men climb to the top of a 50-foot-tall pole and perform a risky dance to flutes and drums. [Winter Solstice: Sunrise & Sunset Times in US Cities]

    Still other people celebrate the day by tuning into the spiritual rituals of ancient civilizations and visiting the sites of winter solstice tributes. Here are six archaeological sites that researchers believe pay tribute to the winter solstice:

    1. Stonehenge, England

    Stonehenge -- one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world -- is an arrangement of rocks carefully positioned on barren ground in southern England. The megalith, which may have been a burial site, was built between 3000 B.C. and 2000 B.C., over the course of roughly 1,500 years, in a series of several major phases.

    When the sun sets on the winter solstice, its rays align with what are known as the central Altar stone and the Slaughter stone -- an event that hundreds of families, tourists, Wiccans, and others visit each year to experience what researchers believe was an important spiritual event for those responsible for creating the monument. [5 Strange Theories About Stonehenge]

    2. Newgrange, Ireland

    The Newgrange monument is located northeastern Ireland, and is thought to date back to about 3200 B.C. The mound, with grass on its roof, rises from a green field and, inside, contains a series of tunnels and channels. During sunrise on the winter solstice, the sun pours into the main chambers, which researchers have interpreted to mean it was built to celebrate this special day of the year.

    3. Maeshowe, Scotland

    Built in Orkney, Scotland, around 2800 B.C., Maeshowe is another burial ground that appears as a grassy mound rising about 24 feet above a grassy field. Similar to Ireland's Newgrange, the inside of the mound contains a maze of chambers and passageways that become illuminated by sunlight during the winter solstice.

    4. Goseck circle, Germany

    The Goseck circle is a series of concentric rings dug into the ground -- the largest of which measures about 246 feet in diameter -- located in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. It dates back to about 4900 B.C., but was forgotten and covered by a wheat field before being discovered through aerial surveys in the early 1990s. Archaeological remains suggest Goseck circle was the site of religious rituals, such as sacrifices.

    Upon discovery and excavation, researchers realized that two gates cut into the outermost circle aligned with the sunrise and sunset of the winter solstice, suggesting this the circle was somehow a tribute to the solstice.

    5. Tulum, Mexico

    Located on the eastern coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum is an ancient stone-walled Mayan city whose population collapsed around the 15th century when Spanish settlers had begun to occupy Mexico, bringing new disease that wiped out large portions of the Mexican population. Much of the stone buildings that made up the city still stand today. One of these buildings contains a small hole at its top that produces a starburst effect when the sun rises on the winter (and summer) solstice.

    6. Stone lines at Cerro del Gentil pyramid, Peru

    Earlier this year, researchers discovered two stone lines that, when approached straight on, appear to frame Peru's Cerro del Gentil pyramid in the distance. The lines are located roughly 1.2 miles southeast of the pyramid, and extend about 1,640 feet. Using 3D-modeling software, the researchers discovered that the winter solstice sun sets exactly where the lines converge on the pyramid in the horizon.

    Follow Laura Poppick on Twitter. 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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    Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013
    AP Photo/Nic Coury
    Fire crews work to contain the fire atop Pfeiffer Ridge, Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, in Big Sur, Calif. The wildfire burning Monday in the Big Sur area of California destroyed at least 15 homes and forced about 100 people to evacuate as it chewed through dry vegetation on its way toward the ocean. (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

    As California heads into its third consecutive dry winter with no relief in sight, firefighters continue to battle a late-fall blaze in Big Sur.

    Extremely dry vegetation and flame-fanning winds have fueled the fire, which began on Dec. 16.

    It was more than 85 percent contained Friday, after destroying several homes and forcing about 100 evacuations this week.

    While the cause remains unknown, according to the U.S. Forest Service, the drought conditions are a dangerous setup.

    "Usually it's wetter by this time of year, but we're in a dry cycle. We've had very little rain," Lynn Olson, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, told the Associated Press.

    "The warm winds, the warm weather, the dry conditions just line the pins all up."

    RELATED:
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    Currently, more than 75 percent of the state is enduring some degree of drought, while nearly 8 percent is suffering from extreme to exceptional drought.

    Fire season for the area usually dies down after the middle of fall, when rain is more common for the region. December kicks off the wet season for the year, as monthly precipitation totals build through March.

    This year, however, could mark an exception to the norm.

    "It will remain dry through February and probably early March in California," AccuWeather.com Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok said.

    "It's possible that a system or two could reach the state, but not enough to put a dent in the drought."

    Winter 2013-2014 could become the third consecutive dry winter for the California, which relies on snowpack to boost the water supply in its reservoirs.

    California's drought has worsened this year overall making it the driest state in the West as of mid-December. Oregon and Nevada take a close second and third, respectively.

    "2013 will probably end up the driest year on record for the state of California," Pastelok said. "The reservoirs are already hurting from last winter's drought; this will be a serious situation."

    Meanwhile, most of the U.S. has seen significant improvement over the course of 2013.

    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+.


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    Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013

    The above satellite image shows storms moving across the middle of the country. (AccuWeather)

    As more than 94 million take to the roads and skies this weekend, a storm has begun to unfold threatening to hinder early Christmas travel.

    A heavy glaze of ice has begun to coat trees, power lines in portions of central Oklahoma to central Missouri. The ice storm will spread in to the upper reaches of the Northeast later this weekend.

    Thunderstorms are increasing from eastern Texas to the lower Mississippi Valley and are likely to produce tornadoes Saturday afternoon and evening.

    Heavier snow will likely develop later Saturday farther north and west of the ice over portions of Kansas, continuing northeastward up into northern Michigan and across central Ontario.

    Flooding will occur in areas with and without substantial snow on the ground, centered over the Ohio and lower Mississippi valleys.

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    Rain, fog, ice and snow will delay ground travel in the I-35, I-44, I-40, I-70, I-80 and I-90 corridors.

    It is highly likely that hundreds of flights will be delayed or cancelled directly or indirectly from the storm nationwide. This will be due to poor visibility, thunderstorms in the vicinity and deicing activities in the storm and aircraft and crews not reaching their destination as scheduled.

    UPDATES: (All times are listed in CST)

    11:10 a.m. Saturday: Storm total rainfall (Inches) from official reporting sides include: Little Rock, Ark., 4.37; Poplar Bluff, Mo., 3.27; Cairo, Ill., 3.33; and Washington, Ind., 2.48.

    10:40 a.m. Saturday: Moderate to major river flooding is forecast for lesser rivers in the Ohio Valley, by the NWS River Forecast Center.

    10:10 a.m. Saturday: In the heart of the ice storm, American Electric Power reports that nearly 6,200 are without electricity in Oklahoma, including more than 4,200 in Tulsa, Okla.

    9:50 a.m. Saturday: Conditions are becoming more favorable for severe thunderstorms with damaging wind gusts and a few intense tornadoes from part of northeastern Texas to much of western and central Louisiana to southern Arkansas at this time until this evening.

    9:00 a.m. Saturday: MODOT is reporting that multiple secondary roads in southeastern Missouri are experiencing poor drainage area flooding. Some "letter" routes are closed.

    9:00 a.m. Saturday: At Chicago O'Hare Airport, according to FlightStats, delays are excessive due. Aircraft from other airports are running behind schedule.

    8:40 a.m. Saturday: The temperature is 15 degrees with a visibility of 1/16 of a mile in freezing fog at Denver International Airport. Approximately 600 outgoing flights may delayed due to deicing activities according to FlightStats.

    8:40 a.m. Saturday: Travel on I-35 in central Oklahoma is being discouraged by ODOT.

    8:34 a.m. Saturday: Public reports up to 1/2 an inch of ice on trees along the Will Rogers Turnpike in northeastern Oklahoma.

    8:30 a.m. Saturday: In the heart of the ice storm, American Electric Power reports that nearly 4,700 are without electricity in Oklahoma, including more than 1,700 in Tulsa, Okla.

    7:50 a.m. Saturday: Street flooding on the southern side of Carbondale, Ill., with 3.32 inches of rain since midnight, according to NWS spotter.

    7:35 a.m. Saturday: Widespread flooding of streets is occurring in Little Rock, Ark. Pulaski County, Ark., has received between 1.5 and 3.5 inches of rain thus far from the storm.

    7:30 a.m. Saturday: Storm total rainfall close to 3 inches so far near Vincennes, Ind., according to NWS spotter.

    7:00 a.m. Saturday: Little Rock, Ark., has received 2.40 inches of rain thus far from the storm with 2.15 inches falling on Cairo, Ill. With many hours of rain to go, flash flood warnings have been issued from Arkansas to southeastern Missouri and southern Illinois.

    4:05 a.m. Saturday: A NWS employee reported 1/3 of an inch of ice on trees and elevated surfaces around Tulsa, Okla.

    3:23 a.m. Saturday: A thin glaze of ice contributed to multiple vehicle accidents in East Wichita, Kan., according to Sedgwick County emergency dispatch.

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    Sunday, Dec. 22, 2013

    The Books-A-Million store is seen damaged by heavy wind, rain and possibly a tornado during a major storm in Monroe, La., Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)

    A storm system swept across the central and southern U.S. on Saturday, bringing tornadoes and wind gusts that ripped roofs from barns and hurled trees into power lines, officials said. At least two people were killed.

    A man died after his mobile home overturned in northern Mississippi, said Coahoma County Coroner Scotty Meredith. Another man was killed when his car hit a tree that had fallen across a county road in southeastern Mississippi. A woman who was in the car was critically injured, Jasper County Coroner Randy Graham said.

    Wind caused the roof of a fitness center in a strip mall to collapse in Senatobia, 40 miles south of Memphis, Tenn. No injuries were reported.

    "I think it buckled the back part of it," Tate County Emergency Management director Kim Brownlee said. "There's water pouring in the back of that place."

    At the storm's height, more than 22,000 people lost power in northern Mississippi, though that number was beginning to fall late Saturday night.

    Meanwhile, tens of thousands of residents lost electricity after heavy rain and strong gusts of up to 60 mph whipped northern Louisiana. Some areas had as much as three inches of rain, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Adams.

    High winds ripped the front facade off the Books-a-Million bookstore in the northern town of Monroe, 100 miles east of Shreveport. The area in front of the store was full of storm debris.

    To the northwest in Union Parish, Sheriff Dusty Gates said damage was widespread across the parish of 28,000 residents. Trees fell on houses, across roads and on power lines. No injuries were reported by late Saturday, although some areas were cut off and not accessible due to bad weather.

    "There are still several areas we have not been able to access to check on," he said.

    National Weather Service meteorologist Bill Parker said a possible tornado hit the town of Downsville mid-afternoon on Saturday. The Weather Service has yet to confirm it was a twister.

    Downsville Mayor Reggie Skains said a number of barns and chicken houses were damaged on the edge of his village of 250 people, including a barn on his farm.

    "We had about a $500,000 barn over there and it blew about half of it away," Skains said by phone.

    Downsville resident Albert Mayo said he was napping when the storm came through.

    "I thought the roof was going to come off, there was so much pressure," Mayo said.

    More than 40,000 customers lost power in northern parts of the state. Claiborne Electric Cooperative saw more than half of its 23,000 customers lose power when a transmission line was blown down, disrupting power to three substations.

    In Arkansas, at least five people were injured and two dozen homes were damaged after two apparent tornadoes touched down.

    St. Francis County Sheriff's dispatcher Leslie White said a suspected tornado damaged three homes and injured three people late Saturday afternoon near Hughes, a town of roughly 1,400 residents about 35 miles southwest of Memphis, Tenn. She didn't know the severity of the injuries.

    David Cox, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Jackson, Miss., said another apparent tornadostruck near Dermott, Ark., which is in the far southeast of the state. Two people were injured and about 20 homes were damaged, he said.

    The National Weather Service said severe storms with damaging winds were possible early Sunday morning in northern Georgia, including Atlanta. A flood watch for the region was in effect through Monday.

    The squall line continued to produce gusty winds as it moved across Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky on Saturday night, with multiple reports of winds stronger than 50 mph. Downed trees and power outages were widespread in those states, as they were in states to the west.

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