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SKYE on AOL

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    Chris Gilbert (left) and Sebastian Drew, walk through the snow after sledding near Blue Canyon, Calif, Monday. The first storm of the season swept through Northern California bringing rain to the lower elevations and snow in the mountains. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

    By Tracie Cone

    FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - Fall looked a lot like winter across Northern California on Monday as the first major storm of the season spawned at least one tornado, brought out snow plows on Interstate 80 and showered the rest of the parched region with much-needed rain.

    The tornado touched down 40 miles north of Sacramento. Only minor damage was reported when it hit at 3:15 p.m. near Yuba City.

    There were several other reports of funnel clouds north of Sacramento, but no others touched down, said National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Kurth.

    Forecasters were calling for up to 2 feet of snow at the highest elevations in the northern Sierra Nevada, a good sign for a state dependent on winter snow accumulation for its water supply.

    "It looks like Mother Nature threw us our first snowball," said Rochelle Jenkins of Caltrans, which was enforcing chain controls above 4,300 feet on I-80, the state's main highway from San Francisco to Reno, Nev.

    There were reports of downed power lines and trees across the northern half of the state.

    Baseball fans hoped for clear skies as the San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals play the deciding seventh game of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park.

    The forecast said there was a 30 to 40 percent chance of scattered showers across the region at game time, said Charles Bell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

    "It's one of these cases where one city could pick up a little, but one 20 miles away would be dry," he said. "If any go through it will be relatively light - less than a tenth of an inch - and fairly brief."

    Earlier in the day, chain controls were in effect on U.S. Highway 50 southwest of Lake Tahoe. By late morning, nearly an inch of rain had fallen on Sacramento.

    Law enforcement authorities were working most of the morning to clear five jackknifed big rigs that forced the closing of Highway 20 east of Nevada City, where at least 6 inches of snow had accumulated by midmorning.

    Caltrans, meanwhile, worked to keep traffic flowing through a 10-mile construction zone on I-80 about 75 miles northeast of Sacramento, using plows to toss snow over concrete barriers.

    A winter storm warning above 5,500 feet was in effect until 5 a.m. Tuesday. The heaviest snowfall was expected on Monday, though snow showers were expected into Tuesday night, said Karl Swanberg, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

    More widespread precipitation was expected to move across Northern California on Wednesday.

    In the southern Sierra Nevada, the California Highway Patrol issued a chain warning for Highway 168 near Shaver Lake. Yosemite National Park was expecting about 8 inches of snow above 6,000 feet. Tioga Pass and Glacier Point Road were closed at 10 p.m. Sunday, but officials intended to assess conditions on both as weather improves.

    The storm system originated in the Gulf of Alaska and has stalled over the Pacific Northwest, bringing colder temperatures and gusty winds of 80 mph at the crests of the Sierra Nevada.

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

     

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    National Weather Forecast

    A strong storm will begin the day over Montana and Wyoming before moving northeastward into North Dakota and central Canada. This could translate to widespread rain and high elevation snow throughout much of the West, from Washington through North Dakota. Some elevations could expect over 8 inches of snow on Tuesday.

    This precipitation will be followed by cold temperatures that will pour into the Northwest and Intermountain West from the Gulf of Alaska. This cold air will allow for much colder temperatures into Wednesday morning. The third effect of the storm will be the strong winds that are expected in Montana through North Dakota. Winds will gust to 40 mph for some areas.

    Meanwhile, a cold front will initially stretch from Texas through Michigan, before very slowly eastward while weakening. The heaviest precipitation over the Upper Midwest will fall as rain through the Great Lakes region and could total well over 1 inch by the time the day is over.

    Also, a high pressure system over the Southeast will continue to provide mostly dry conditions along the Gulf Coast and through Virginia.

    In the tropics, Tropical Storm Sandy is expected to move very slowly northeastward over the next few days. Landfall is not expected in the forecast period, but the system could be a hazard to the eastern seaboard next week as it moves northward.

    The Northeast will rise into the 50s, 60s, and 70s, while the Southeast will see temperatures in the 70s, 80s, and some 90s in south Texas. The Northwest will rise into the 30s and 40s, while the Southwest will see temperatures in the 70s and 80s.

    Temperatures in the lower 48 states Monday have ranged from a morning low of 17 degrees at Cut Bank, Mont., to a high of 95 degrees at Edinburg, Texas.

     

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    Updated Tuesday, Oct. 23, 8:51 p.m. ET

    (NOAA)

    KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Jamaicans stocked up on supplies and reinforced roofs on Tuesday ahead of the arrival of Tropical Storm Sandy, which is expected to hit the Caribbean island of posh resorts and sprawling shantytowns as a hurricane with lashing rain and wind.

    The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said the strengthening storm was churning over warm Caribbean waters and should reach Jamaica on Wednesday, most likely as a Category 1 hurricane. The late-season storm is expected to travel from south to north over the island, which local meteorologists say hasn't sustained a direct hit from a hurricane's eye since powerful Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

    Acting Prime Minister Peter Phillips said "all Jamaicans must take the threat of this storm seriously" and asked people to look out for their neighbors, especially children, the elderly and the disabled.

    Hurricane conditions were possible in eastern Cuba by Wednesday night. The storm is forecast to pass near the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where pretrial hearings are being held for a suspect in the attack on the Navy destroyer the USS Cole. Authorities at the base had considered suspending this week's proceedings, but said that as of late Tuesday they planned to continue despite Sandy.

    On Tuesday night, the outer bands of Sandy were drenching parts of Jamaica with steady rain that sent brown water rushing down streets and gullies. Tropical storm winds were expected to hit later in the night or early Wednesday.

    Schools, government offices and Kingston's port shut down early and the country's international airports prepared to close Wednesday morning.

    The Jamaican Constabulary Force called numerous curfews in neighborhoods across the island to prevent crime and protect properties.

    In the poor Kingston community of Standpipe, Christopher "Boxer" Bryce and his relatives were bracing for the worst as they quickly tried to finish repairs to their concrete home's leaking roof.

    "This is giving all of us a nervous feeling, old and young. I'm hoping the storm doesn't leave too many problems," said Bryce, as his brother Brian adjusted a plastic bucket to catch more of the water dripping steadily down from the cracked ceiling.

    Across a debris-clogged gully, dreadlocked Philip Salmon was trying to find more sheet metal to bolster his shack's rusting roof. The laborer lives by himself in a ramshackle settlement of illegal homes near the U.S. Embassy.

    "Everybody's worried about it here, I can tell you. This storm is no small thing," said Salmon, whose sheet metal roof is held in place by rocks, just like that of many of his neighbors.

    Two years ago, six members of a family living along a nearby stretch of the gully were swept away during the relatively weak Tropical Storm Nicole after part of their home collapsed into the waterway's raging current. People living in the shantytowns are warned repeatedly to move for their own safety but most refuse to relocate.

    About a mile away in the riverside town of Tavern, Errol Heron rushed back to his home next to the rushing Hope River carrying a loaf of bread. He said he's confident his home will manage Sandy intact since a new retaining wall was built below his property.

    "But I'm looking forward to this being over," Heron said Tuesday evening on a bridge in the community.

    Jamaica's government issued a hurricane warning on Tuesday morning and announced schools would close on Wednesday. It has urged people in flood-prone areas to be on alert and advised fishermen on outlying cays to return to the mainland. There were reports in local media saying roughly 100 fishermen were stranded on the lobster- and conch-rich Pedro Cays because they didn't have enough fuel for the journey.

    In Kingston, Jamaica's biggest city, some residents flocked to grocery stories to stock up on food, propane, tarp, batteries and water. At one major supermarket, hardly any bread remained on the shelves.

    In Cuba, authorities issued a hurricane watch for several provinces and there were intermittent rains over Haiti, where a tropical storm warning was in effect. A tropical storm watch was called for the central and southeastern Bahamas, meaning stormy conditions were possibly within 48 hours.

    Although Florida was not expected to receive any direct impact from Sandy, Brian Koon, director of the U.S. state's emergency management division, said residents should remain aware of the storm and take precautions to keep themselves safe from indirect impacts such as windy conditions, rain and rip currents.

    In Jamaica, Sandy was expected to dump more than 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rainfall, especially over central and eastern parts of the island, according to the country's meteorological service. Flash flooding and landslides are likely on the mountainous island, Jamaican forecasters said.

    Sandy's maximum sustained winds Tuesday evening were roughly 50 mph (85 kph). It was moving north-northeast at about 8 mph (13 kph) and its center was about 225 miles (360 kilometers) south-southwest of Kingston by 8 p.m. EDT.

    Sandy on Monday became the 18th named storm of this year's busy Atlantic season, which officially ends Nov. 30.

    Meanwhile, U.S. forecasters said a tropical depression in the Atlantic could possibly become a tropical storm later Tuesday or Wednesday. There were no coastal watches or warnings in effect as it spun over open waters some 990 miles (1,590 kilometers) northeast of the Leeward Islands. The depression's maximum sustained winds were near 35 mph (55 kph).

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    First Snow Storm Knocks Out Power In Sierra

    Snowfall continues in the California Sierras, bringing slippery driving conditions, and power outages to the region. Another eight to 10 inches of snow could fall by Wednesday morning.

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

     

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    Multiple tornados were reported in Northern California on Monday, some causing minor damage. Footage of this funnel cloud was captured in Marysville, Calif.


    RELATED ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes

     

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    The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, or VSS Enterprise, glides toward the earth on its first test flight after release from the mothership, WhiteKnight2, over the Mojave, Calif., Oct. 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Clay Observatory for Virgina Galactic, Mark Greenberg)

    By Irene Klotz


    While SpaceShipTwo builder Scaled Composites prepares the commercial spaceship for its first rocket-powered test flight, owner Virgin Galactic has been thinking about all the armchair astronauts lining up to finally test their space legs.

    Their fliers won't go far -- just 65 miles or so above the southern New Mexico launch site -- and they won't be gone long. The supersonic sprint beyond the atmosphere will last only a few minutes.

    But Virgin Galactic is betting that the ride, albeit short, is sweet enough to warrant its $200,000 fare. As of last week, 545 people had put down deposits or paid the full fee to find out for themselves.

    Photos on Discovery: Introducing SpaceShipTwo

    So what will the experience be like? Here's a perspective from SpaceShipTwo lead pilot David Mackay.

    After a three-day training program, passengers will leave Virgin's terminal at the newly built Spaceport America, located near Las Cruces, NM, and climb aboard SpaceShipTwo, which they'll find hanging beneath the twin-boomed White Knight carrier aircraft. The six-passenger, two-pilot vehicle is based on the prize-winning SpaceShipOne prototype, which now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution's Air & Space Museum.

    Unlike the rocket ride to space, which will come after SpaceShipTwo is released, White Knight's flight up to about 50,000 feet will be long and slow.

    Video on Discovery: Find Out What It's Like To Be An Astronaut

    "It's a low-key part of the experience, but I think it will be quite interesting," Mackay said at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight last week.

    "It's probably a little bit like a roller coaster ride where you're all excited just to strap in and then you have this long, steep climb, up to that initial drop. Some people love that sort of thing. Others perhaps get a little bit nervous. We have to think about that -- how to make everyone relaxed and keep them calm during that part of the flight," he said.

    Upon reaching the launch altitude, there will be short countdown while the pilots and flight controllers run through a checklist before SpaceShipTwo is released.

    "When you're dropped from underneath White Knight, you do feel briefly like you're falling. That's quite a nice feeling," Mackay said.

    "Very soon after, we light the rocket motor and it all starts to get really damn exciting," he said.

    Passengers will feel about 3.5 times the force of Earth's gravity for just over a minute, and another three to 3.5 push when the pilots turn the spaceship from horizontal to vertical.

    "It's quite an abrupt turn," Mackay said.

    The rocket engine will be shut down at about 150,000 feet, close to the edge of the atmosphere. SpaceShipTwo will keep climbing until it reaches about 350,000 feet or so.

    "By the time we're passing 200,000 feet there's virtually no measurable aerodynamic loads on the vehicle. At that point we're going to allow the passengers to unstrap and experience this fantastic sensation of zero-g and float to the windows," Mackay said.

    Interview on Discovery: Virgin Founder Talks SpaceShipTwo

    Pilots will probably flip the ship over so passengers have a view of the Earth from the roof-top windows.

    "The best view is probably of the Earth rushing away from you, which is quite exciting," Mackay said.

    The apex of the ride will be between 62 miles and 68 miles above the planet, and then it's all downhill.

    "Before we meet the atmosphere, we orient the vehicle back around to the entry position. It's got this very clever, unique 'feather' system which will ensure that we always enter the atmosphere in the optimal attitude. It's a very, very stable attitude, a hands-free task for the pilots," Mackay said.

    Gravity forces will build back slowly at first and then accelerate, peaking at about 5.5 to six times the force of Earth's gravity and then drop off. For the ride home, passengers' seats will recline, which should make the forces easier to handle.

    Surprisingly, the flight back to Earth is expected to be just as noisy as the rocket ride up, as air blasts the bottom of the vehicle during its supersonic descent through the atmosphere.

    News on Discovery: SpaceShipTwo Cleared for Suborbital Test Flights

    SpaceShipTwo will decrease in speed and go subsonsonic (slower than the speed of sound) by about 70,000 feet. The spaceship's tail section, positioned forward for re-entry, will be moved back for the glide back to the runway.

    For now, Virgin Galactic isn't planning to put its passengers in pressurized flight suits.

    "It's a complication to the experience," Mackay said. "A lot of people actually find them quite claustrophobic, and they tend to get very warm. We think our system is both sufficient in redundancy and safety."

    That's not to say passengers will fly in shorts and T-shirts.

    "Our customers will probably wear some from of coverall -- no doubt it'll be very trendy and very Virgin -- and possibly some type of protective headgear," Mackay said.

    "They'll look the part," he added. "I think a lot of people actually do want to look like an astronaut when they go into space."

    SpaceShipTwo's powered test flights are expected to begin before the end of the year. Spaceport America is preparing for the spaceship's first commercial flight in December 2013.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Study: Beluga Whale Learned to Mimic Human Speech

    SAN DIEGO (AP) - It could be the muffled sound of singing in the shower or that sing-songy indecipherable voice from the Muppets' Swedish Chef.

    Surprisingly, scientists said the audio they captured was a whale imitating people. In fact, the whale song sounded so eerily human that divers initially thought it was a human voice.

    Handlers at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego heard mumbling in 1984 coming from a tank containing whales and dolphins that sounded like two people chatting far away.

    It wasn't until one day, after a diver surfaced from the tank and asked, "Who told me to get out?" did researchers realize the garble came from a captive male Beluga whale. For several years, they recorded its spontaneous sounds while it was underwater and when it surfaced.

    An acoustic analysis revealed the human-like sounds were several octaves lower than typical whale calls. The research was published online Monday in Current Biology.

    Scientists think the whale's close proximity to people allowed it to listen to and mimic human conversation. It did so by changing the pressure in its nasal cavities. After four years of copying people, it went back to sounding like a whale, emitting high-pitched noises. It died five years ago.

    Dolphins and parrots have been taught to mimic the patterns of human speech, but it's rare for an animal to do it spontaneously.

    The study is not the first time a whale has sounded human. Scientists who have studied sounds of white whales in the wild sometimes heard what sounded like shouting children. Caretakers at the Vancouver Aquarium in Canada previously said they heard one of the white whales say its name.

     

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    Updated Wednesday, Oct. 24, 8:21 p.m. EDT

    Waves churned up by Hurricane Sandy crash on a house in the Caribbean Terrace neighborhood of eastern Kingston, Jamaica, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Collin Reid)

    By David McFadden

    KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) - Hurricane Sandy's howling winds and pelting rains lashed precarious shantytowns, stranded travelers and downed power lines Wednesday as it roared across Jamaica on a course that would take it on to Cuba and then possibly threaten Florida and the Bahamas.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Hurricane Sandy Could Threaten Northeastern U.S.

    Sandy's death toll was at least two. An elderly man was killed in Jamaica when he was crushed by a boulder that rolled onto his clapboard house, police reported. Earlier Wednesday, a woman in Haiti was swept away by a rushing river she was trying to cross.

    In some southern towns on Jamaica, a few crocodiles were caught in rushing floodwaters that carried them out of their homes in mangrove thickets, showing up in districts where electricity was knocked out, local residents reported. One big croc took up temporary residence in a family's front yard in the city of Portmore.

    By Wednesday evening the hurricane's eye had crossed Jamaica and emerged off its northern coast near the town of Port Antonio, meteorologists said, but rain and winds continued to pound the Caribbean island, and hurricane conditions were predicted to last well into the night.

    It was the first direct hit by the eye of a hurricane on Jamaica since Hurricane Gilbert 24 years ago, and fearful authorities closed the island's international airports and police ordered 48-hour curfews in major towns to keep people off the streets and deter looting. Cruise ships changed their itineraries to avoid the storm, which made landfall five miles (8 kilometers) east of the capital, Kingston.

    Flash floods and mudslides were a threat for this debt-shackled tropical island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, which has a crumbling infrastructure and a number of sprawling shantytowns built on steep embankments and along gullies that sluice runoff water to the sea.

    SEE ON SKYE: Photos of Hurricane Sandy Striking Jamaica
    In the hilly community of Kintyre, on the outskirts of Kingston, Sharon Gayle and a few of her neighbors expected to completely lose the town's bridge over the Hope River, which washed away a section of the span just three weeks ago during a heavy downpour. The shell of a concrete home that collapsed into the river and killed two people several years ago still lies toppled on the sandy banks.

    "I'm really nervous. We're trying not to show it in front of the children though," the mother of three said, huddling under a sopping white towel as she stared at the rising river.

    The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was expected to pass over eastern Cuba early Thursday, missing the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where pretrial hearings were being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen.

    Cuban authorities issued a hurricane watch for several provinces. A hurricane watch was issued for the central and northwestern Bahamas, where the storm was predicted to pass Thursday and Friday morning.

    Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said tropical storm conditions were possible along the southeastern Florida coast, the Upper Keys and Florida Bay by Friday morning. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the area, the center said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

    In southwestern Haiti, a woman died in the town of Camp Perrin after she was swept away by a river she was trying to cross, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, head of the country's civil protection office. There were reports of extensive damage to Port Salut on Haiti's far-southwestern coast after a river burst its banks. Mayor Larock Pierre Clervert said a hotel was destroyed by flood waters.

    Across Jamaica, the poor in slums and moneyed residents in gated communities hunkered down at home as powerful winds shrieked around buildings and sent sheets of rain sideways. Many homes were lit by candlelight and lanterns since tens of thousands of power utility customers were without electricity.

    Stranded business travelers and a smattering of locals rode out the Category 1 hurricane in hotels clustered along a strip in Kingston's financial district. Some read prayer books or novels, while others watched movies or communicated with loved ones on computers.

    Cris Hopkinson, a Toronto woman who was on a business trip, said she hoped to catch a flight off the island Friday once the stormy weather cleared.

    "For now, I'm just hoping that the glass in the windows doesn't shatter from the winds," Hopkinson said in the dining room of the Courtleigh Hotel.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Remembering Hurricane Andrew 20 Years Later

    About a mile away in the rough neighborhood of Grants Pen, where shops have been ransacked in the past during storms, a number of young men ignored the curfew, riding on bicycles or walking in small groups in the steady rain.

    Cecile Graham, a mother of two teenagers, said she was worried about the possibility of burglaries or looting at the small markets and shops that line the main road.

    "I hope that all the police are out and we won't have the looting that has taken place before," she said.

    Police slowly drove through drenched communities in the coastal capital with their cruisers' lights flashing. A senior police superintendent was shot in troubled West Kingston, but the circumstances were murky.

    The storm was predicted to drop as much as 12 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, especially over central and eastern parts of Jamaica, the country's meteorological service said. Some isolated spots could see as much as 20 inches (50 centimeters), according to U.S. forecasters. Sea water washed over the streets of southern coastal towns like Port Royal, a depressed fishing village at the tip of a spit of land near Kingston's airport.

    RELATED ON SKYE: How to Survive a Hurricane

    More than 100 fishermen were stranded in outlying Pedro Cays, a lobster- and conch-rich area about 40 miles (66 kilometers) off Jamaica's southern coast that was the first area of Jamaica to get Sandy's winds and rain. Some of them told local media they lacked fuel to get back to the mainland, but authorities said they willfully disobeyed an evacuation order.

    On the mainland, over 1,000 people moved to shelters, but others living in low-lying areas on the mainland refused to evacuate their homes because they were fearful that their possessions would be stolen.

    Airports in Kingston and Montego Bay shut down for the day and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced that its Allure of the Seas megaship would not stop at Jamaica's northern Falmouth terminal on Wednesday, remaining at sea instead. Other cruise lines also rerouted ships from port calls to Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.

    While Jamaica was ravaged by bands from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and other powerful hurricanes centered offshore, the eye of a hurricane hasn't carved across the island since Gilbert in 1988, Jamaican meteorologist Jacqueline Spence said.

    By Wednesday evening, strengthening Sandy was a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (135 kph). It was moving north at about 14 mph (22 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 30 miles (45 kilometers) from the center.

    Far out in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Tony posed no threat to land. The storm had maximum sustained winds of about 50 mph (85 kph) and was moving east-northeast at 25 mph (41 kph). Its center was 1,060 miles (1,705 kilometers) west-southwest of the Azores.


    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Hurricane Sandy Strikes Jamaica

     

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    (NOAA)

    MIAMI (AP) - Tropical Storm Tony has formed in the Atlantic, more than 1,000 miles west of the Azores. Forecasters say it poses no threat to land.

    The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Tuesday night that the storm had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph as it drifted about 1,500 miles from the Azores. Tropical storm-force winds extended about 45 miles east of the center.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Hurricane Sandy Churns Toward Jamaica

    Tony was moving northeast at about 12 mph and was expected to turn eastward with an increase in forward speed by Wednesday. The storm was expected to strengthen in the next day or so.

    The center said the storm posed no threat to land and no coastal watches or warnings were in effect.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    National Weather Forecast

    The northeast will continue to see morning showers on Wednesday as a frontal boundary slowly dissipates across the region. Clouds will diminish throughout the day and any leftover showers in New York or Pennsylvania should taper off before nightfall. Temperatures throughout the east will remain fairly typical for this time of year.

    The Northern Plains will continue to see cloudy skies and rainfall on Wednesday, as a storm centered just to the north of the region sends a fresh cold front pushing through the Dakotas and into the central Rockies. Some thunderstorms could pop up along this front, and a few of these storms will likely contain strong damaging winds. Severe thunderstorm watches are possible across Wisconsin, Iowa, and southeastern Minnesota.

    The West will also continue to see wet weather on Wednesday as low pressure remains nearly stationary just off the Washington coast. High elevation snowfall will continue to come down across the Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, as well as in some of the higher elevations in the northern coastal ranges. Rainfall in the lower elevations will be generally light to moderate, though a few downpours with brief bursts of heavy rain are possible.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Tuesday have ranged from a morning low of 10 degrees at Stanley, Idaho, to a high of 92 degrees at Houston / Southwest Airport, Texas.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Electrifying Photos of Lightning Bolts

     

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    A severe storm's 75 mph winds brought wild waves to the coast of Montevideo, Uruguay, on Tuesday. Rough surf crashed over the sea wall, pounding traffic as it passed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 Craziest Things to Go Airborne in a Storm

     

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    The lumber schooner George E. Billings shortly after launching, more than a century ago. Credit: Courtesy of San Francisco Maritime Historic Park

    By: Douglas Main

    The wreck of a 109-year-old schooner was discovered on the ocean floor near Los Angeles last year after two decades of searching, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on Wednesday, Oct. 23.

    The ship, named the George E. Billings, hauled timber at the beginnings of the 1900s from the West Coast to Hawaii and Latin America. After briefly being turned into a sport-fishing barge, it was scuttled by its owner in 1941, according to a paper presented today at the California Islands Symposium in Ventura, Calif.

    Archaeologists and historians who had been searching for the shipwreck finally found it in February 2011 off the coast of Santa Barbara Island, according to Robert Schwemmer, a NOAA maritime archaeologist.

    The five-masted schooner was built in 1903 by the Hall Bros., a shipbuilding company, in Port Blakely, Wash.

    After it was turned into a fishing barge, the owners were informed by the U.S. Coast Guard that they had to install bulkheads throughout the ship, or face a $500 per day fine, Schwemmer told OurAmazingPlanet. Instead of installing bulkheads, they decided to set it on fire and let it sink, he said.

    A newspaper article from 1941 reported the owner towed the ship to an "island reef" but did not provide a name for the island. "So we have searched for the last 20 years using a photo from the newspaper article," Schwemmer said.

    The explorers finally found the ship after deploying three dive teams in an area that matched the photo, he said. While most of the wooden hull is gone, iron and other metal components remain.

    "Now we can write the final chapter of not only the largest, but the last sailing vessel built by the Hall Bros. during their 30-year career of designing some of the finest ships sailing the Pacific," Schwemmer said in a NOAA statement.

    The ship was found in the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, where more than 150 historic ships and aircraft have sunk beneath the waves. Only about 30 of these have been located and surveyed. These wrecks are protected by state and federal law; the remains of the Billings are owned by the state of California.

    Reach Douglas Main at dmain@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

    Shipwrecks Gallery: Secrets of the Deep
    Shipwreck Alley's Sunken Treasures
    Disasters at Sea: 6 Deadliest Shipwrecks

    Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. (AP)

    YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. (AP) - A Canadian climber stranded in a snowstorm was recuperating Tuesday from a mild case of hypothermia after Yosemite National Park rangers rescued him from the face of the largest granite monolith in the world.

    The 40-year-old climber was stuck 230 below the summit of iconic El Capitan late Sunday and unable to deploy a rain-deflecting cover when California's first winter snowstorm of the season struck, park officials said. Temperatures dipped into the 20s, as four to six inches of snow fell.

    The name of the climber has not been released, but he and a climbing partner began ascending a route known as Muir Wall on Oct. 14. They were due to reach the top on Sunday night ahead of the storm.

    The lead climber made it to the 7,569-foot summit, but the second climber was stranded after his rope became stuck.

    With weather keeping the park's helicopter grounded, rangers were forced to hike to the summit in snow and ice on Monday to rescue the climber.

    Once there, ranger Ben Doyle and rescue crew member Matt Othmer lowered ranger Aaron Smith to the climber, who was suffering then from exhaustion and mild hypothermia. After rigging ropes and anchors, they were able to haul him to the top.

    They did not make their way back to the Yosemite Valley floor until 10 p.m. Monday. The climber was taken to a hospital, where he was in good condition, authorities said.

     

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    AccuWeather

    As Sandy reached hurricane strength on Wednesday morning and churned toward Jamaica and the Bahamas, the Northeastern United States faced an unexpected threat: Some forecast models have positioned the potentially destructive storm on a path to hit cities in the Northeast, according to AccuWeather.com.

    These models indicate that the storm could swirl along the Southeastern coast from Florida to the Carolinas, then move inland, hitting Norfolk, Va., Washington D.C., Philadelphia, New York City and Boston early next week.

    Reports AccuWeather:

    The realm of possibilities continues to range from Sandy escaping out to sea, with nothing more than blustery, much cooler air sweeping in, to a dynamic storm turning inland packing coastal flooding, flooding rainfall, high winds, downed trees, power outages, travel mayhem and even Appalachian snow.

    Still, other models predict a less severe outlook, and show the storm grazing the coast before being swept eastward, Accuweather.com reports.

    Forecasters continue to monitor the storm's progress, as well as its potential impact on the Eastern U.S. coast.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Hurricane Sandy Strikes Jamaica

     

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    Armed with a GoPro camera, snowboarder Mike Basich helicoptered to the top of Powder Mountain in Whistler, British Columbia, then carved first tracks down some seriously sweet powder. Basich (along with a few friends) had the place all to themselves. Lucky guys.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Extreme Sports

     

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    Google operations manager Steve Silverman stands along the canyon wall wearing the Trekker during a demonstration for the media along the Bright Angel Trail at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

    By Felicia Fonseca

    GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz. (AP) - Google and its street-view cameras already have taken users to narrow cobblestone alleys in Spain using a tricycle, inside the Smithsonian with a push cart and to British Columbia's snow-covered slopes by snowmobile.

    The search giant now has brought its all-seeing eyes - mounted for the first time on a backpack - down into the Grand Canyon, showcasing the attraction's most popular hiking trails on the South Rim and other walkways.

    It's the latest evolution in mapping technology for the Mountain View, Calif., company, which has used a rosette of cameras to photograph thousands of cities and towns in dozens of countries for its Street View feature. With a click of the mouse, Internet users are transported virtually for a 360-degree view of locales they may have read about only in tourist books and seen in flat, 2-D images.

    "Any of these sort of iconic, cultural, historical locations that are not accessible by road is where we want to go," said Ryan Falor, product manager at Google.

    Google announced the trekker earlier this year but made its first official collection of data this week at the Grand Canyon.

    The backpacks aren't ready for volunteer use, but Google has said it wants to deploy them at national forests, to the narrow streets of Venice, Mount Everest and to ancient ruins and castles.

    The move to capture the Grand Canyon comes after Apple chose to drop Google Maps from its mobile operating systems and opted to use its own mapping program that was derided for, among other things, poor directions and missing towns.

    Steve Silverman, operations manager for Google didn't directly address the competition in saying: "Just trying to document a trail, it's going to be hard to beat this."

    Google launched its Street View feature in 2007 and has expanded from five U.S. cities to more than 3,000 in 43 countries. Google teams and volunteers have covered more than 5 million miles with the Street View vehicles on a scale that other companies haven't approached, said Mike Dobson, president of Telemapics, a company that monitors mapping efforts.

    "You could safely say that it's a standout, well-used application and they don't really have any competition," he said.

    As the sun rose Monday, Luc Vincent, Google engineering director, strapped on one of the 40-pound backpacks and set down the Bright Angel Trail to the Colorado River - a nearly 10-mile hike that goes from 6,900 feet in elevation to 2,400 feet. He hiked back up from Phantom Ranch, which can be 30 degrees warmer than at the rim, through the South Kaibab Trail and also gathered data on other trails.

    The so-called trekker captures images every 2.5 seconds with 15 cameras that are 5 megapixels each from the rest areas, the steep switchbacks, the change from juniper trees to scrub brush and the traffic that moves aside as a courtesy to mule riders.

    The GPS data is limited, so Google must compensate with sensors that record temperature, vibrations and the orientation of the device as it changes, before it stiches the images together and makes them available to users in a few months, Falor said.

    Hikers that were on the trail when the data was gathered will have their faces blurred - an attempt by Google to ensure privacy. Street View has run into problems in places like Europe and Australia for scooping up information transmitted over unsecured wireless networks.

    A removable hard drive on the trekker stores the data gathered at the Grand Canyon. Tourists looked at the trekker strangely this week, as if it was something from outer space.

    Sharon Kerfoot, a first-time visitor from Alberta said being able to view the terrain ahead of time, gauge the difficulty of the hike and know just how wide the path is would benefit those considering a trip to the Grand Canyon. She and a group of friends headed down the same path as Vincent but on mules, not foot.

    "I think it's an excellent idea to give people a broader perspective on what they're getting into," she said.

    What the images won't tell visitors is how much water they should carry down the trails, how to prepare for temperature changes, what type of food to bring and how much, and how best to protect the natural resources, park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge said.

    "Stitched together with other information out there, the technology could be valuable," she said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Extreme Sports

     

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    MIAMI (AP) - Forecasters have issued tropical storm warnings and watches for parts of the southeastern coast of Florida and Keys ahead of Hurricane Sandy that is pounding Jamaica.

    Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center on Wednesday issued a warning for Ocean Reef to the Sebastian Inlet. Watches are out for north of Sebastian Inlet to Flagler Beach and the Florida Upper Keys.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Hurricane Sandy Pounds Jamaica

    Forecasters say tropical storm conditions were possible by Friday morning.

    The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was making landfall in Jamaica and forecast to spin into eastern Cuba overnight. It was expected to pass west of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay and possibly brush Florida.

    Sandy is a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Hurricane Sandy Strikes Jamaica

     

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    Updated Thursday, Oct. 25, 8:55 p.m. EDT

    Residents wade through a flooded street caused by heavy rains from Hurricane Sandy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

    NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) - Hurricane Sandy lashed the central Bahamas on Thursday night with violent winds and torrential rains after slashing across eastern Cuba, where it ripped off roofs and forced postponement of a hearing at the Guantanamo naval base but caused no reported deaths.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 'Frankenstorm' Predicted to Slam Northeast Next Week

    The sprawling Category 2 hurricane killed 10 people elsewhere in the Caribbean: nine in Haiti and one in Jamaica. Haiti's count rose throughout the day as new confirmations of deaths came to the civil protection office from different sections of the country.

    Meanwhile, forecasters warned that Sandy will likely blend with a winter storm to cause a super storm in the eastern U.S. next week whose effects will be felt along the entire Atlantic Coast from Florida to Maine and inland to Ohio.

    Some weakening in Sandy was forecast during the next 48 hours, but it was expected to remain a hurricane for a couple of days.

    SEE ON SKYE: Photos of Hurricane Sandy Striking the Caribbean
    By Thursday evening, the hurricane's center was about 105 miles (170 kilometers) east of the Bahamas capital of Nassau as it spun between Cat Island and Eleuthera in the central Bahamas. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kph), down slightly from earlier in the day, and was moving north-northwest at 17 mph (27 kph).

    Caroline Turnquest, head of the Red Cross in the Bahamas archipelago off Florida's east coast, said 20 shelters were opened on the main island of New Providence.

    "Generally people are realizing it is serious," she said.

    Power was aout on Acklins Island and most roads there were flooded, government administrator Berkeley Williams said. He said his biggest concern was that a boat filled with basic supplies for the island had to cancel its trip until next week.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

    "Supplies were low before, so you can imagine what we are going through now," Williams said.

    On Ragged Island in the southern Bahamas, the lone school was flooded. "We have holes in roofs, lost shingles and power lines are down," said Charlene Bain, local Red Cross president. "But nobody lost a life, that's the important thing."

    Steven Russell, an emergency management official in Nassau, said that docks on the western side of Great Inagua island had been destroyed and that the roof of a government building was partially ripped off.

    "As the storm passes over Eleuthera and Cat Island, they should get a pretty good beating," he said. "There are sections of Eleuthera we are concerned about."

    The huge Atlantis resort went into lockdown after dozens of tourists left Paradise Island before the airport closed, said George Markantonis, president of Kerzner International, which manages the resort. He said the resort was now less than half full, but all its restaurants, casinos and other facilities were still operating.

    Sooner Halvorson, a 36-year-old hotel owner from Colorado who recently moved to the Bahamas, said she and her husband, Matt, expected to ride out the storm with their two young children, three cats, two dogs and a goat at their Cat Island resort.

    "We brought all of our animals inside," she said, though she added that a horse stayed outside. "She's a 40-year-old horse from the island. She's been through tons of hurricanes."

    RELATED ON SKYE: How to Survive a Hurricane

    On Great Exuma island, guest house operator Veronica Marshall supplied her only customer with a flashlight and some food before Sandy bore down. The storm-hardened Bahamian said she was confident that she and her business would make it through intact.

    "I'm 73 years old and I've weathered many storms," she said.

    Hurricane Sandy was expected to churn through the central and northwest Bahamas late Thursday and early Friday. It also might cause tropical storm conditions along the southeastern Florida coast, the Upper Keys and Florida Bay by Friday morning.

    With storm conditions projected to hit New Jersey with tropical storm-force winds Tuesday, there is a 90 percent chance that most of the U.S. East Coast will get steady gale-force winds, flooding, heavy rain and maybe snow starting Sunday and stretching past Wednesday, U.S. forecaster Jim Cisco said.

    Sandy was blamed for the death of an elderly man in Jamaica who was killed when a boulder crashed into his clapboard house, police said. In Haiti, Joseph Edgard Celestin, a spokesman for the civil protection office, said the country's death toll stood at nine, including three people who died while trying to cross storm-swollen rivers in southwestern Haiti. He did not provide specifics of how other people died.

    Officials reported flooding across Haiti, where many of the 370,000 people still displaced by the devastating 2010 earthquake scrambled for shelter. More than 1,000 people were evacuated from 11 quake settlements, according to the International Organization for Migration.

    In Cuba, authorities said they were worried about the damage Hurricane Sandy might have inflicted in small mountain villages still unheard from, but no deaths were reported.

    "It crossed the entire eastern region practically without losing intensity or structure," said Jose Rubiera, the island's chief meteorologist.

    Santiago, Cuba's second largest city near the eastern tip of the island, was spared the worst of the storm, which slammed into the provinces of Granma, Holguin and Las Tunas.

    Cuban President Raul Castro ordered authorities to evaluate damage throughout eastern Cuba.

    There were no reports of injuries at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, but there were downed trees and power lines, said Kelly Wirfel, a base spokeswoman. Officials canceled a military tribunal session scheduled for Thursday for the prisoner charged in the 2000 attack on the Navy destroyer USS Cole.

    Far out in the Atlantic, post-tropical cyclone Tony kept weakening and posed no threat to land. The storm had maximum sustained winds of about 40 mph (65 kph) and was moving east-northeast at 22 mph (35 kph). It was about 615 miles (990 kilometers) southwest of the Azores.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Hurricane Sandy Strikes the Caribbean

     

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    (NOAA)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - All the spare parts appear to be coming together to create what forecasters are calling "Frankenstorm," a monster combination of high wind, heavy rain, extreme tides and maybe snow that could cause havoc along the East Coast just before Halloween next week.

    Hurricane Sandy, having blown through Haiti and Cuba on Thursday, continues to barrel north. A wintry storm is chugging across from the West. And frigid air is streaming south from Canada.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Hurricane Sandy Makes Landfall in Bahamas

    And if they meet Tuesday morning around New York or New Jersey, as forecasters predict, they could create a big wet mess that settles over the nation's most heavily populated corridor and reaches as far inland as Ohio.

    With experts expecting at least $1 billion in damage, the people who will have to clean it up aren't waiting.

    Utilities are lining up out-of-state work crews and canceling employees' days off to deal with the power outages. From county disaster chiefs to the federal government, emergency officials are warning the public to be prepared. And President Barack Obama was briefed aboard Air Force One.

    SEE ON SKYE: Photos of Hurricane Sandy Striking the Caribbean
    "It's looking like a very serious storm that could be historic," said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the forecasting service Weather Underground. "Mother Nature is not saying 'trick-or-treat.' It's just going to give tricks."

    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecaster Jim Cisco, who coined the nickname Frankenstorm, said: "We don't have many modern precedents for what the models are suggesting."

    Government forecasters said there is a 90 percent chance - up from 60 percent two days earlier - that the East will get pounded starting Sunday and stretching past Halloween on Wednesday. Things are expected to get messier once Sandy, a very late hurricane in what has been a remarkably quiet season, comes ashore, probably in New Jersey.

    Coastal areas from Florida to Maine will feel some effects, but the storm is expected to vent the worst of its fury on New Jersey and the New York City area, which could see around 5 inches of rain and gale-force winds close to 40 mph. Eastern Ohio, southwestern Pennsylvania, western Virginia and the Shenandoah Mountains could get snow.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The Most Devastating Hurricanes in U.S. History

    And the storm will take its time leaving. The weather may not start clearing in the mid-Atlantic until the day after Halloween and Nov. 2 in the upper Northeast, Cisco said.

    "It's almost a weeklong, five-day, six-day event," he said from a NOAA forecast center in College Park, Md. "It's going to be a widespread, serious storm."

    It is likely to hit during a full moon, when tides are near their highest, increasing the risk of coastal flooding. And because many trees still have their leaves, they are more likely to topple in the event of wind and snow, meaning there could be widespread power outages lasting to Election Day.

    Eastern states that saw blackouts that lasted for days after last year's freak Halloween snowstorm and Hurricane Irene in late August 2011 are already pressuring power companies to be more ready this time.

    Asked if he expected utilities to be more prepared, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick responded: "They'd better be."

    RELATED ON SKYE: How to Survive a Hurricane

    Jersey Central Power & Light, which was criticized for its response to Irene, notified employees to be ready for extended shifts. In Pennsylvania, PPL Corp. spokesman Michael Wood said, "We're in a much better place this year."

    Some have compared the tempest to the so-called Perfect Storm that struck off the coast of New England in 1991, but that one didn't hit as populated an area. Nor is this one like last year's Halloween storm, which was merely an early snowfall.

    "The Perfect Storm only did $200 million of damage and I'm thinking a billion," Masters said. "Yeah, it will be worse."

    As it made its way across the Caribbean, Sandy was blamed for at least four deaths in Haiti and Jamaica. The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season hit the Bahamas after cutting across Cuba, where it tore roofs off homes and damaged fragile coffee and tomato crops.

    Norje Pupo, a 66-year-old retiree in Holguin, was helping his son clean up early Thursday after an enormous tree toppled in his garden.

    "The hurricane really hit us hard," he said. "As you can see, we were very affected. The houses are not poorly made here, but some may have been damaged."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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