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    Thursday, Jan. 9, 2013
    Hand of God

    Religion and astronomy may not overlap often, but a new NASA X-ray image captures a celestial object that resembles the "Hand of God."

    The cosmic "hand of God" photo was produced when a star exploded and ejected an enormous cloud of material, which NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, glimpsed in high-energy X-rays, shown in blue in the photo. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory had imaged the green and red parts previously, using lower-energy X-rays.

    "NuSTAR's unique viewpoint, in seeing the highest-energy X-rays, is showing us well-studied objects and regions in a whole new light," NuSTAR telescope principal investigator Fiona Harrison, of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said in a statement.

    The new image depicts a pulsar wind nebula, produced by the dense remnant of a star that exploded in a supernova. What's left behind is a pulsar, called PSR B1509-58 (B1509 for short), which spins around 7 times per second blowing a wind of particles into material ejected during the star's death throes.

    As these particles interact with nearby magnetic fields, they produce an X-ray glow in the shape of a hand. (The pulsar is located near the bright white spot in the image but cannot be seen itself, NASA officials said.)

    Scientists aren't sure whether the ejected material actually assumes the shape of a hand, or whether its interaction with the pulsar's particles is just making it appear that way.

    "We don't know if the hand shape is an optical illusion," Hongjun An, of McGill University in Montreal, said in a statement. "With NuSTAR, the hand looks more like a fist, which is giving us some clues."

    The red cloud appearing at the fingertips is a separate structure called RCW 89. The pulsar's wind may be heating the cloud to produce the low-energy X-ray glow, astronomers believe.

    The X-ray energies seen by NuSTAR range from 7 to 25 kiloelectron volts, or keV, whereas the energies seen by Chandra range from 0.5 to 2 keV.

    The Hand of God is an example of pareidolia, the psychological phenomenon of perceiving familiar shapes in random or vague images. Other common forms of pareidolia include seeing animals or faces in clouds, or the man in the moon. Despite its supernatural appearance, the Hand of God was produced by natural astrophysical phenomena.

    Follow Tanya Lewis on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.

    Copyright 2014 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014



    Visitors to the shores of Lake Michigan were greeted by an interesting sight this week, as waves lapped against hundreds of massive ice balls.

    The balls, or boulders, as some have called them, are formed when water from the lake begins to freeze and is pushed ashore by wave action, according to AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Jim Andrews.

    As the waves lap the shore, the ice is tumbled, smoothed and frozen into a round shape.

    "It's possible that the ice is accreting like a snowball or like a hailstone, and that they keep growing," Andrews said.

    While the process does require specific conditions, it's definitely not an abnormal event, he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2013
    Volcanic Eruption

     

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    Thursday, Jan. 9, 2013
    Deep Freeze Weather St. Louis, Missouri
    A person struggles to cross a street in blowing and falling snow as the Gateway Arch appears in the distance, in St. Louis, Mo., on Jan. 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - We've become weather wimps.

    As the world warms, the United States is getting fewer bitter cold spells like the one that gripped much of the nation this week. So when a deep freeze strikes, scientists say, it seems more unprecedented than it really is. An Associated Press analysis of the daily national winter temperature shows that cold extremes have happened about once every four years since 1900.

    Until recently.

    When computer models estimated that the national average daily temperature for the Lower 48 states dropped to 17.9 degrees on Monday, it was the first deep freeze of that magnitude in 17 years, according to Greg Carbin, warning meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    That stretch - from Jan. 13, 1997 to Monday - is by far the longest the U.S. has gone without the national average plunging below 18 degrees, according to a database of daytime winter temperatures starting in January 1900.

    In the past 115 years, there have been 58 days when the national average temperature dropped below 18. Carbin said those occurrences often happen in periods that last several days so it makes more sense to talk about cold outbreaks instead of cold days. There have been 27 distinct cold snaps.

    Between 1970 and 1989, a dozen such events occurred, but there were only two in the 1990s and then none until Monday.

    "These types of events have actually become more infrequent than they were in the past," said Carbin, who works at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. "This is why there was such a big buzz because people have such short memories."

    Said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private firm Weather Underground: "It's become a lot harder to get these extreme (cold) outbreaks in a planet that's warming."

    And Monday's breathtaking chill? It was merely the 55th coldest day - averaged for the continental United States - since 1900.

    The coldest day for the Lower 48 since 1900 - as calculated by the computer models - was 12 degrees on Christmas Eve 1983, nearly 6 degrees chillier than Monday.

    The average daytime winter temperature is about 33 degrees, according to Carbin's database.

    There have been far more unusually warm winter days in the U.S. than unusually cold ones.

    Since Jan. 1, 2000, only two days have ranked in the top 100 coldest: Monday and Tuesday. But there have been 13 in the top 100 warmest winter days, including the warmest since 1900: Dec. 3, 2012. And that pattern is exactly what climate scientists have been saying for years, that the world will get more warm extremes and fewer cold extremes.

    Nine of 11 outside climate scientists and meteorologists who reviewed the data for the AP said it showed that as the world warms from heat-trapping gas spewed by the burning of fossil fuels, winters are becoming milder. The world is getting more warm extremes and fewer cold extremes, they said.

    "We expect to see a lengthening of time between cold air outbreaks due to a warming climate, but 17 years between outbreaks is probably partially due to an unusual amount of natural variability," or luck, Masters said in an email. "I expect we'll go far fewer than 17 years before seeing the next cold air outbreak of this intensity.

    And the scientists dismiss global warming skeptics who claim one or two cold days somehow disproves climate change.

    "When your hands are freezing off trying to scrape the ice off your car, it can be all too tempting to say, 'Where's global warming now? I could use a little of that!' But you know what? It's not as cold as it used to be anymore," Texas Tech University climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said in an email.

    The recent cold spell, which was triggered by a frigid air mass known as the polar vortex that wandered way south of normal, could also be related to a relatively new theory that may prove a weather wild card, said Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. Her theory, which has divided mainstream climate scientists, says that melting Arctic sea ice is changing polar weather, moving the jet stream and causing "more weirdness."

    Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with the private firm Weather Bell Analytics who is skeptical about blaming global warming for weather extremes, dismisses Francis' theory and said he has concerns about the accuracy of Carbin's database. Maue has his own daily U.S. average temperature showing that Monday was colder than Carbin's calculations.

    Still, he acknowledged that cold nationwide temperatures "occurred with more regularity in the past."

    Many climate scientists say Americans are weather weenies who forgot what a truly cold winter is like.

    "I think that people's memory about climate is really terrible," Texas A&M University climate scientist Andrew Dessler wrote in an email. "So I think this cold event feels more extreme than it actually is because we're just not used to really cold winters anymore."

     

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    Friday, Jan. 10, 2014

    Health officials continue to urge residents to get their flu shots as half of the United States reports a widespread outbreak.

    Flu cases have been reported in every state, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Regional outbreaks have also been reported in 20 other states.

    Studies have suggested that seasonal influenza viruses have a seasonal pattern; influenza viruses circulate at higher levels in cold weather and at lower levels in warm weather, but it is a subject that needs further investigation, Dr. Michael Jhung of the CDC said.

    So far during the 2013-14 season, 2009 H1N1 influenza viruses have been most common to circulate and cause illness. The 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, the so-called swine flu, was first identified in 2009, when it emerged to cause an influenza pandemic.

    "Since then, it has circulated worldwide as a seasonal flu virus, although this is the first year since 2009 that it has been the predominant strain," Jhung, a medical officer for the Surveillance and Outbreak Response Team in the Influenza Division of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases of the CDC, said.

    Six flu-related deaths have occurred in Pennsylvania, where there is a widespread outbreak of the flu, Pennsylvania Health Department spokeswoman Holli Senior said.

    All 67 Pennsylvania counties have reported flu cases, 90 percent of which are of the H1N1 variety.

    Since the 2010-11 season, the flu vaccine started to cover the N1H1 strain.

    "It's certainly not too late to get vaccinated," Senior said. "A flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu and protect you and your loved ones."


    Pharmacist Alexander Christianson, left, gives John Bagley, 77, a flu shot during the Flu + You event at Memorial Hospital of Tampa, on Friday, Oct. 4, 2013, in Tampa, Fla. (Brian Blanco / AP Images for National Council on Aging and Sanofi Pasteur)

    It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to build up full immunity, she said.

    There are three classes of factors that may contribute to the influenza season in the U.S., Jhung said.

    "The three classes are: one, factors related to host resistance to infection (seasonal variation in the body's immune response to infection with influenza viruses); two, factors related to environmental survival of influenza virus (seasonal variation in ambient temperature and relative humidity that impact survival of influenza virus outside hosts); and three, factors related to seasonal variation in host behavior (spending more time indoors during cold winter months, close contact of susceptible children in schools during fall and winter months)," he said.

    Soon there may be a flu forecast, just like the daily weather and pollen count forecasts.

    Jeffrey Shaman, assistant professor at the Department of Environmental Health Sciences for Columbia University, developed a forecast model to predict influenza's spread up to seven weeks in advance.

    The model is predicated on the rate of influenza outbreaks being specific to each region and associated with absolute humidity levels, Shaman told AccuWeather.com in December.

    The degree to which ambient temperature and relative humidity contribute is not completely understood, Jhung said.

    "Influenza virus shows increased survival in environments with lower ambient temperatures and lower relative humidity (compared with higher temperature and higher humidity), and studies suggest that influenza virus transmission can be facilitated by cold, dry conditions," he said.

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    Widespread influenza activity is ongoing in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wyoming.

    Regional influenza activity was reported in California, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

    "Although it is too early to compare the duration or severity of the current season to previous seasons, increases in influenza activity are expected to continue in the coming weeks, and most influenza seasons typically show peak activity in January or February," Jhung said.

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

     

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    Updated Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, 5:29 p.m. ET

    Ice collects on the Delaware River in view of Philadelphia, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. Temperatures across Pennsylvania are rising after a blast of arctic air set cold-weather records earlier this week from the Midwest to the East and South. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Following a buildup of ice this week, rain accompanying a thaw this weekend will bring the risk of sporadic flooding and additional ice jams to parts of the Northeast and Midwest.

    Rain spreading from west to east Friday night into Saturday night will last less than 24 hours in most areas, but enough can fall in a short period of time to cause rises on streams and flooding in urban, poor drainage areas.

    The single-digit and subzero cold earlier this week caused the amount of ice on streams and rivers to increase and become thicker in northern areas of the Midwest and Northeast.

    During Wednesday, one area where ice became bottled up was along the Delaware River nearTrenton, N.J., and the Lehigh River, near Easton, Pa.

    An ice jam continued to cause problems along the Niagara River Friday, bordering New York state and Canada. Ice breaker ships were working to clear the intakes of a hydroelectric power plant along the river.

    Portions of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania have also been clogged with ice during the latter part of this week.

    On Friday afternoon, an ice jam led to flood waters in Rockmere, Pa. Local emergency management reported that the flooding made roadways into the town impassable.

    With rain and warmer conditions on the way, the greatest risk for minor, sporadic flooding exists from northwestern Pennsylvania and western New York, eastward to central New England, and from northern and central Indiana to northwestern Ohio according to National Weather Service hydrologists.

    According to Ronald Horwood, senior hazard hydrologist with the New England River Forecast Center, "There is the potential for flooding and ice jams this weekend, especially from near Buffalo, N.Y., through Massachusetts."

    These areas have been very cold with locally heavy snow recently and will have the warmest weather with significant rain this weekend.

    Farther west, there is a substantial amount of snow on the ground in much of Indiana and northwestern Ohio to neighboring Michigan. A fair amount of minor flooding is expected in the region with this weekend's mild air and rain coming in.

    According to Joe Heim, senior hydrologist with the Ohio Valley River Forecast Center, "There is always the potential for very localized flooding due to ice jams and a thaw following a spell of cold weather, but ice jam flooding is dependent on the thickness of the ice, temperatures and rainfall that occurs, as well as the characteristics of each stream and river."

    Meanwhile, in the mid-Atlantic region, the ice buildup on portions of the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers is being monitored.

    "Fortunately, the ice is not very thick and the main channels appear to be open along most of the major rivers in the mid-Atlantic," Senior Hydrologist Charles Ross of the Mid-Atlantic River Forecast Center said Wednesday morning.

    Ross cautioned that conditions along streams and rivers could change rapidly as rain falls on the area and more ice breaks up and moves downstream this weekend.

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    Most areas do not have a significant amount of snow on the ground to add to the runoff. However, a lack of snow cover and a frozen ground can lead to a more rapid runoff and sporadic problems where ice gets jammed up.

    The duration of the cold spells has been short enough to keep ice formation to a minimum over all but the upper reaches of the Midwest, northern New York state and northern New England.

    "The areas farther north, near the Canada border, will likely not get enough rain and high enough temperatures to cause rapid melting and widespread shifting of the ice with this weekend's event," Horwood said.

    Communities that are protected by a levee system will not have problems with this event.

    Ice May be Dangerous

    While ice has rebounded after last week's thaw, it is likely not thick enough to be venturing on in most areas.

    "In my opinion, it is too dangerous to be on the ice due to the changeable conditions so far this winter keeping the ice too thin in much of the mid-Atlantic," Ross added.

    The same conditions exist over much of the Ohio Valley.

    Additional Hazards This Weekend

    In addition to the risk of urban, small stream and ice jam flooding this weekend, motorists should be on the lookout for potholes.

    As the ground thaws and rain falls, traffic moving over weak areas of pavement can produce potholes.

    A more serious concern for areas that received heavy lake-effect snow in recent days and were hit by the snowstorm in the Midwest last weekend is the potential for roof collapses.

    Not enough rain may fall to wash away all of the snow on roofs. The added weight can stress some flat and shallow angle roofs to the point of failure, especially where there is a more than a foot of snow accumulation. Remove snow from your roof only if you can do so safely. If there is any doubt, consult a professional.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Pathetic Snowmen

     

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    Friday, Jan. 10, 2014

    An avalanche in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia. (Photo/Auddmin)

    Large snow amounts and strong winds have caused deadly avalanches to start 2014. With an active storm track threatening more heavy snow and high winds, dangerous mountain conditions are expected to continue across portions of the Northwest.

    At least five people have been killed so far this winter in Big Sky, Mont., Jackson Hole, Wyo., Neeley, Idaho, and most recently in Vail, Colo.

    The latest fatality has been confirmed as Anthony Seibert, the 24-year-old grandson of Pete Seibert, Sr., who is a co-founder of the widely popular Vail ski region.

    "This is a shocking and terrible tragedy," Chris Jarnot, senior vice president and chief operations officer of Vail Mountain stated. "Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to Tony's entire family. I want to acknowledge how integral the Seibert family is to the fabric of our community; their contributions to Vail date back to Vail founder Pete Seibert, Tony's grandfather. This is an incomprehensible loss and we will support the Seibert family and our community through this difficult time."

    The deadly avalanche that took Seibert's life and injured three others occurred on Jan. 7 around 11:30 a.m. at the East Vail Chutes, according to the Eagle County Sheriff's Office. The group was skiing and snowboarding in the back country of the mountain.


    Jan. 9 avalanche risks. (Graphic/Colorado Avalanche Information Center)

    The Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC) cited significant snow with little reprieve between systems as a factor in the avalanche, along with strong winds. Avalanches can be triggered by strong winds or the skiers themselves that shake entire slabs of snow loose and send them barreling down a mountain side.

    The CIAC said that the areas of concern from earlier in the week are now stabilizing.

    On New Year's Day, an avalanche killed a snowmobiler at Onion Basin in Montana. Other skiers and snowmobilers were killed just after Christmas in Idaho and Wyoming. A backcountry traveler was buried New Year's Eve on Parkview Mountain in Colorado.

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    Avalanche risks are being listed as considerable in the Yellowstone Park area of Wyoming.

    "A few storms will move through over the next few days with the bigger of the bunch late Saturday and Saturday night into Sunday," AccuWeather.com western weather expert Ken Clark said. "These will bring periods of snow and gusty winds."

    "Usually what contributes to avalanches is unstable layers of snow, usually a bottom layer that has been melted some and then refrozen with a fresh snow pack coming on top of it. Think of the bottom layer being like a teflon pan and the top layer is your eggs," Clark said.


    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Friday, Jan. 10, 2014
    Vehicles are damaged after a pileup involving a logging truck and more than 40 other vehicles in Meridian, Idaho, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Idaho State Police spokeswoman Teresa Baker said the crash happened as emergency responders tried to clear a previous wreck on Interstate 84, one of the state's main east-west highways. She said a motorist in a black Subaru tried to move to the right lane and away from the previous crash but clipped a silver Subaru. A logging truck then hit the black car, causing a chain-reaction crash in the interstate's westbound lanes that included four other tractor trailers. Baker said 10 people have been transported by ambulance to area hospitals, including the driver of the black Subaru. The man sustained serious injuries, but they aren't considered lift-threatening, Baker said. (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Joe Jaszewski)  LOCAL TV OUT (KTVB 7)
    Vehicles are damaged after a pileup involving a logging truck and more than 40 other vehicles in Meridian, Idaho, Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Joe Jaszewski)

    MERIDIAN, Idaho (AP) - Slick roads and quickly moving fog led to a pileup involving a logging truck and more than 40 other vehicles Thursday on a busy highway near Boise, injuring at least 10 people during the morning commute.

    Authorities said the crash happened as emergency responders tried to clear a previous wreck on Interstate 84, one of the state's main east-west highways.

    "Within a three- or four-minute timeframe, the fog rolled in," Idaho State Police captain Bill Gardiner said. "Witnesses say you could see 30 to 40 feet in front of you - that's all."

    Idaho State Police spokeswoman Teresa Baker said a motorist in a black Subaru tried to move to the right lane and away from the previous crash but clipped a silver Subaru. A logging truck then hit the black car, causing a chain-reaction crash in the interstate's westbound lanes that included four other tractor trailers.

    Baker said 10 people were transported by ambulance to area hospitals, including the driver of the black Subaru. The man was seriously hurt and had to be extricated from his vehicle, which was crushed to the point where there was little room left for him inside it.

    "There was just a little compartment in there, and he was in there," Baker said. "It took them about an hour to get him out."

    The man's injuries, including a leg injury, were not considered life-threatening, she said.

    Authorities reopened the interstate at about 2 p.m. Baker said police were still investigating, and no citations had been issued so far.

    Sleeting rain early Thursday resulted in a number of crashes in and around Boise, the state's most populous city. One of them occurred at about 6:30 a.m. on I-84.

    Baker said an incident-response vehicle from the Idaho Transportation Department was parked on the far left side of the road waiting for a tow truck to remove a vehicle from that crash site when the chain-reaction pileup started.

    "There was crash upon crash upon crash," Baker said. "It's a significant event. I'm sure there are many people out here who have never seen that many at once."

    Baker said a separate crash occurred just ahead of those collisions due to what Idaho State Police surmise was a driver becoming distracted seeing the pileup taking place behind him.

    "If you saw that in your rear view mirror, it would be a little dramatic," Baker said.

    The secondary crash involved three to five vehicles, she said, and extended the length of the accident scene to about a mile of the interstate. In all, police say 41 vehicles and five tractor trailers, including the logging truck, were involved.

    Authorities said the fog moved in quickly and likely caught drivers unaware.

    "It's a perfect storm," Gardiner said. "First off, you have icy roads, and then you have the weather change in an instant like that. Then you have people driving too fast for the conditions of the road, sprinkled with a little bit of inattention."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Mesmerizing Photos of Fog

     

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    Friday, Jan. 10, 2014
    November Storm
    (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

    Waves of rain and snow impacted the Northwest through the second half of this week, but the worst is still on the way. A powerful system promises to add fierce winds to the mix Saturday, but it will largely avoid California and Nevada.

    Winds on the ridge tops of the Cascades, Bitterroots and northern Rockies will easily blow in excess of 80 mph with gusts over 100 mph.

    These winds will be funneled through some of the passes and will create hazardous driving conditions, especially those oriented west to east or southwest to northeast.

    The powerful winds will rush down the lee of the Cascades and Rockies and create frequent wind gusts between 70 and 80 mph.



    According to senior meteorologist Bob Smerbeck, "Chinook winds can locally gust in excess of 100 mph in northern Montana, specifically along U.S. Highway 2 just east of Glacier National Park."

    The howling winds will impact drivers on Interstates 15, 90, 84 and 25. High-profile vehicles, such as RVs and tractor trailers, will be especially vulnerable to powerful crosswinds on north to south roads.

    "The winds can also cause property damage, can down trees and cause power outages," Smerbeck added.

    Rain will be heavy at times across western Washington and Oregon. The greatest amount of rain will be found in the Foothills of the Cascades and along the coast, where rainfall amounts on Friday through Saturday can exceed 4 inches.

    There is a risk of localized flooding in some low-lying and poor drainage areas.

    Folks in Seattle, Wash., and Portland, Ore., can get downpours at times on Friday into Saturday along with wind gusts to 40 mph.

    Snow levels on Friday will be at 3,000-4,000 feet, then rise to around 6,000 feet on Saturday. There can be some snow accumulation in the higher passes which can cause slippery roads.

    Strong winds will spread into the northern Plains later on Saturday and into Sunday with gusts topping 50 mph.

    Drought Worsens in California

    Unfortunately for drought-stricken California, this storm will pass to the north and fail to give the state some much-needed rainfall.

    Additional storms over the next couple of weeks will pass by mainly north of California as well.

    According to western weather expert Ken Clark, "It may be totally dry from just south of the Bay Area and south of Sacramento, Calif., to the Mexico border with only a small amount of rain forecast farther north in California on Saturday."

    In addition to a lack of rain at low elevations, there has been and will continue to be a lack of snow over the Sierra Nevada.

    "The existing snowpack is shockingly low, and there is very little water in the snow," Clark stated.

    This drought monitor map is a product of the National Drought Mitigation Center is shows conditions as of Dec. 31, 2013. Red areas indicate areas of extreme drought. Dark red areas indicate areas of exceptional drought.

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    In most areas, the amount of snow on the ground is only about 20 percent of normal. In the north, it is only 10 percent of normal for the season which ends on April 1. Of this amount only between 1.0 and 2.6 inches of water is held within the snow cover.

    "Unless there is a big turnaround later in the season, California has the potential for major water shortage problems this summer and possible severe impact on the economy," Clark said.

    Clark was not expecting any drastic changes in the dry weather pattern for the state through most of the winter.

     

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    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - A privately launched supply ship rocketed toward the International Space Station on Thursday following a series of delays ranging from the cold to the sun.

    Orbital Sciences Corp. launched its unmanned Antares rocket from Wallops Island, Va., offering a view to nearby states along the East Coast. It successfully hoisted a capsule packed with 3,000 pounds of equipment and experiments provided by NASA, as well as food and even some ants for an educational project. Christmas presents also are on board for the six space station residents; the delivery is a month late.

    The spacecraft, named Cygnus, should reach the station on Sunday. The orbiting outpost was zooming over the Atlantic, near Brazil, when the Antares blasted off.

    "It's going to be an exciting weekend," Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata said in a tweet from the space station.

    The delivery had been delayed three times since December, most recently because of a strong solar storm. Engineers initially feared solar radiation might cause the rocket to veer off course. But additional reviews Wednesday deemed it an acceptable risk. Previous delays were due to space station repairs and frigid temperatures. Thursday was a relatively balmy 45 degrees.

    NASA is paying Orbital Sciences and the SpaceX company to restock the space station. The Orbital Sciences' contract alone is worth $1.9 billion.

    This was Orbital Sciences' second trip to the orbiting lab, but its first under the contract. The company conducted a successful test run last September. Two more trips are scheduled for this year. Orbital Sciences launches from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in eastern Virginia, its corporate base. California-based SpaceX flies from Cape Canaveral. It's scheduled to make its fourth supply run next month.

    "Great way to start out the new year ... we're all smiles here," said Bill Wrobel, director of NASA's Wallops facility, after Thursday's launch.

    The U.S., Russian and Japanese space station residents eagerly awaited the goodies inside the Cygnus. Their families included Christmas gifts; the Cygnus should have arrived in time for the holiday. NASA also tucked in some fresh fruit.

    When asked earlier this week if any gifts were swapped out given the delay, Orbital Sciences' executive vice president Frank Culbertson quipped, "We haven't changed them out for Valentine's cards."

    "We think they'll enjoy them anyway," he told reporters.

    NASA is counting on private industry to keep the space station well stocked and, in another four years, to provide rides to the outpost for U.S. astronauts. Until then,NASA is forced to buy seats on Russian Soyuz capsules. The space shuttles provided most of the heavy lifting until their retirement in 2011.

    Russia, Europe and Japan make their own supply runs.

    Orbital Sciences named this Cygnus capsule after the late shuttle astronaut C. Gordon Fullerton, who died in August at age 76 after suffering a stroke. He flew the airplane for the company's air-launched Pegasus rocket during the 1990s.

    After arriving at the space station, the Cygnus will be unloaded and then filled with trash and cut loose for a fiery re-entry in mid-February.

    Space station construction began in 1998 and ended with the shuttle program. The White House on Wednesday agreed to a four-year lifetime extension for the station, to 2024.

     

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    Friday, Jan. 10, 2013

    NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) - Niagara Falls hasn't frozen over, but it has become an icy spectacle, thanks to a blast of arctic wind and cold that blew around and froze the mist on surfaces and landscaping.

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    Despite the urban legends, Niagara Falls doesn't freeze solid in the winter, tourism officials say.

    Niagara Falls Freeze
    The frozen mist from Niagara Falls coats the landscape around Prospect Point at Niagara Falls State Park, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/The Niagara Gazette, James Neiss)

    Nevertheless, "it's stunning," Virginia Kuebler of East Aurora told The Buffalo News while taking in the site Thursday.

    A section of the American Falls, one of three waterfalls that make up the natural attraction, has frozen, the newspaper reported. The Niagara River rapids and larger Horseshoe Falls continue to flow unimpeded.

    Niagara Falls Freezing
    Ice forms along the areas of Niagara Falls and Niagara Falls State Park in Niagara Falls, N.Y., photographed from Niagara Falls Ontario, Canada. (AP Photo/The Niagara Gazette, James Neiss)

    And it's all surrounded by a white blanket of snow and ice, which coats viewing railings and lampposts, trees, shrubs and boulders.

    It is a scene that has been absent during the last several winters, which have been relatively mild.

    The cold even brought the return of the "ice bridge," an occasional formation of ice that stretches across the Niagara River below the falls, linking the United States and Canada. Until 1912, tourists were allowed to walk on the bridge to look at the falls from below. That ended when the bridge broke apart and three tourists died.

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    Grand Canyon Lightning

     

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    Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014

    In this file photo, steam eam rises from Lake Michigan due to the polar vortex. Will the deep-freeze weather pattern return? (Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images)

    After mild weather through this weekend, there are signs of another arctic blast on the way, including a glancing blow from the polar vortex.

    While the timing of the the next polar plunge is challenging, it is not expected to be as extreme as that of Jan. 5-8, 2014.

    "Following the retreat of arctic air this weekend, waves of progressively colder will move southward over Canada next week," AccuWeather.com Lead Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok said.

    The pattern will continue to evolve, bringing colder and colder air first to the southern Canada Prairies and the northern Plains, next to the Midwest then finally the East.



    Ahead of the first push of cold air, temperatures will average above normal. The first push of cold air will sweep over the northern Plains Monday, the lower Mississippi Valley and Midwest Tuesday and Wednesday then the East Thursday.

    The main thrust of the cold air will follow up a couple of days later. However, for people concerned about the severity of the cold there is good news.

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    "We will likely see a piece of the polar vortex break off and set up just north of the Great Lakes spanning Jan. 16 to 20," Pastelok stated.

    "This next main arctic blast will not rival, nor will be as extensive as the event this past week," Pastelok said.

    This time, it appears the temperature readings for most areas across the Ohio Valley and central Appalachians will remain above zero during the day and night. Daytime temperatures will also be above zero in most locations over the northern Plains and Upper Midwest.

    However, when combined with wind and other atmospheric conditions, AccuWeather RealFeel(R) temperatures will be near to below zero at times over much of the North Central states and interior Northeast toward the end of next week.

    The movement of cold air past the Great Lakes will bring more rounds of lake-effect snow.

    There is also the chance that as the main thrust of cold air moves in a storm could spin up and deposit more general snow in parts of the South and along the East coast this time, instead of the Midwest.

    More information on the cold and potential snow will unfold into early next week.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Dangerous Deep Freeze Pummels Much of US
    Deep Freeze

     

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    Updated Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, 11:15 a.m. ET

    A firefighter works on a roof of a wooden building while a fire ravages ancient Dukezong town in Shangri-la county, in southwestern China's Yunnan province, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014. The 10-hour inferno has razed the ancient Tibetan town in the province that's popular with tourists. (AP Photo)

    BEIJING (AP) - A fire that raged for nearly 10 hours Saturday razed an ancient Tibetan town in southwest China that's popular with tourists, burning down hundreds of buildings as fire engines were unable to get onto the narrow streets, state media and witnesses said.

    There was no immediate report of any casualties, and the cause of the fire was not yet known. State media, citing local authorities, said the blaze started in a guesthouse and was ruled accidental.

    The fire broke out at about 1:30 a.m. in the ancient Tibetan quarter of Dukezong, which dates back more than 1,000 years and is known for its preserved cobbled streets, ancient structures and Tibetan culture. Dukezong is part of scenic Shangri-La county in Deqen prefecture.

    Once called Gyaitang Zong, the county renamed itself Shangri-La in 2001, hoping to draw tourists by the reference to the mythical Himalayan land described in James Hilton's 1933 novel. Like hundreds of Chinese cities and counties, Shangri-La renovated its old neighborhood, Dukezong, turning it into a tourist attraction filled with shops and guesthouses.

    Photos and video footage showed Dukezong and its labyrinth of houses engulfed in flames that turned the night sky red.

    The fire destroyed about 242 houses and shops in Dukezong, dislocated more than 2,600 people, and torched many historic artifacts, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

    He Yu, a resident, said she woke to loud, explosion-like sounds to find the old town on fire.

    "The fire was huge," she said. "The wind was blowing hard, and the air was dry. I was scared because my home is a little distance away from the ancient town. It kept burning, and the firefighters were there, but there was little they could do because they could not get the fire engines onto the old town's narrow streets."

    With fire engines kept out, local residents lined up to pass buckets of water to combat the fire, the Deqen prefecture government said.

    Most of Dukezong's buildings are made of wood and the fire spread easily because of dry weather, state-run China Central Television said.

    More than 2,000 firefighters, soldiers, police, local officials and volunteers responded to the blaze and brought it under control at around 11 a.m., the Shangri-La county government said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Southern California Wildfire Spreads
    Southern California Wildfire

     

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    Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014

    In this kooky photo, a reporter from Mashable.com demonstrates iGrow, a helmet retrofitted with dozens of lasers and LED lights that are thought to help stimulate hair growth. (Mashable.com)

    The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is always sure to entertain, and this year is no different. Although the show is loaded with cutting edge innovations like 4K cameras, and the exploding market of wearable fitness gadgets, there are some technologies and gadgets that are unexpected, offbeat or just plain strange lurking around. We've rounded up some of the wackiest thingys of CES 2014.

    ChefJet 3D printer

    If you're a gadget junkie with a sweet tooth, then 3D Systems Corporation may have just the product for you. The company is launching its ChefJet 3D Printer, a kitchen-ready countertop device that can print sugary treats in all sorts of fun, 3D geometrical shapes. The futuristic candymaker will come with several recipes and flavors, including chocolate, vanilla, mint, sour apple, cherry and watermelon. The 3D printer is expected to be available in the second half of 2014, and will cost under $5,000, according to company officials.

    Evil-monster-sized speaker

    The monstrous extraterrestrial cyborg from BBC television series Doctor Who paid a visit to CES 2014, not to exterminate, but to play music. This 6-foot, handmade replica of the Dalek is actually a Bluetooth speaker system made by Massive Audio, a car audio company.

    This Dalek is made of 32 woofers on its skirt, and a subwoofer in its head. Equipped with 5,000-watt amplifiers, the "Dalek Massive" is the loudest and largest Bluetooth speaker, the company says.

    The one-of-a-kind speaker bot issues commands and obeys any smartphone to stream music via Bluetooth. The company plans to upgrade the Dalek Massive to move its head and limbs too, and then auction it off for charity on eBay. [9 Odd Ways Your Tech Devices May Injure You]

    Personal thermal imaging device

    With the FLIR ONE personal thermal imaging device, it'll be easy to spot supernatural visitors without having to call the Ghostbusters. The device fits as a case for the iPhone 5 and 5s, and enables users to scan heat signatures around them. FLIR, which stands for forward-looking infrared, is equipped with a visual and thermal camera, and is powered by a battery that can be partitioned to charge your phone on the go. The case is expected to retail for $349, and will be available to purchase in Spring 2014.

    Slouch zapper

    For those who want good posture, but don't fancy putting a book on their head, a new gadget could help. The Lumo Lift will zap its wearer every time they slouch. The tiny device clips underneath a collar, undershirt or bra strap, detects the beginnings of a slouch and then vibrates to remind the wearer to stand up straight.

    But posture fanatics (and overzealous parents) will have to wait before they clip one on. The company that makes the device, LumoBodyTech.com, is trying to crowd fund the posture device. The company says it hopes to roll out the product by late spring this year, and that it will cost $59 to $79.

    Mother is watching you

    Finally, a mom you can program to nag you. With eyes that glow and a body that looks like a cross between a bowling pin and a Russian doll, Mother is a gadget that wirelessly receives data from sensors called Motion Cookies that you can place on drawers, coffee machines, keys, pill bottles, doors and even toothbrushes to track activity in your home, The Wall Street Journal reports. The manufacturer Sen.se says its goal for Mother is to bring the Internet of Things into everyday life, helping users track their eating, fitness and hygiene habits and even home security. Mother costs $222 for a base unit and four Cookies, and is expected to start shipping next month. [11 Odd and Intriguing Smart Home Technologies]

    Snore-silencing bed

    Why stop tracking yourself when your head hits the pillow? That's exactly what one company may have been thinking when they developed their smart bed. This $8,000 piece of furniture from Sleep Number promises to track sleep activity and nudge you into blissful rest. How? Using voice commands, a person can change the firmness and elevation of the x12 bed, made of layers of memory foam. Announced at CES 2014, the bed will even give you a massage on command.

    The bed's intelligent technology monitors your entire body's movement throughout the night, sending that information to a tablet; if most of the night was fitful, the bed can modify features like firmness to ensure the next night is better. Sleep Number also claims their bed can nix snoring. "By gently moving the snorer up and down the bed opens their airways without interrupting their slumber," the BBC reports.

    Debit, credit, or hand-vein scanner payment system?

    Imagine if you could pay for something with a mere wave of your hand?

    The "PulseWallet" unveiled at CES this week consists of sensors that take a photo of the unique pattern of veins in the palm of your hand, and then deduct payment from a credit card on file. The system is set to come out next month, although its price has not been specified, The Verge reported.

    The PulseWallet's makers claim the technology is more secure than other payment options, because it's harder to impersonate someone. But some remain skeptical. "I'm not sure how much I'd trust businesses to keep my vein signature safe even if the company says forgery is virtually impossible," wrote Alyssa Danigelis of Discovery News.

    iGrow

    For those suffering from hair loss, California-based engineering company Apira Science Inc. has produced what they call iGrow – a light-weight helmet equipped with 51 lasers and LED lights that supposedly stimulate hair growth through a process called low-level laser therapy (LLLT), Mashable reports. The company claims that the red-glowing lasers excite molecules in hair follicles and stimulate growth, but there are few details about the science behind this process.

    For best results, users would have to wear the helmet for about 20 minutes every other day for four to six months, according to the Apira website. And to maintain their results, users would have to continue wearing the helmet every week or so, indefinitely. To spruce up the prospect of needing eternal treatment, the company has retrofitted the helmet with iPod/MP3 interfaced earphones. The product is available online for $695.

    Smartphone stun gun

    Is this is most dangerous or the most devious phone case at CES? Yellow Jacket showed off the latest version of its iPhone stun gun case this week, which can both fully recharge your phone and jolt an attacker with 650,000 volts. An earlier version, released in 2012, fit the iPhone 4/4S, but the new model fits an iPhone 5/5S, comes in four more colors and has a detachable stun gun pack. It will be sold starting in February for $149, the company says.

    3D viewer for iPhone

    It may look like a pair of binoculars, but this gadget lets you see videos in 3D using just your iPhone.

    Poppy 3D, as the device is called, lets you record and watch 3D videos. To use it, you put your phone in a slot on the top of the device, and Poppy uses mirrors to split the image captured from the camera into two images.

    When you look into the viewer, each eye sees just one of the images, and your brain fuses the two images together, so the video appears 3D, according to the makers of the device.

    The device costs $59, and can also be used to watch 3D videos available on YouTube.


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

    However, because the image is split, the images taken with Poppy are half the size of regular iPhone photos and videos.

    A remote for your pet

    Tractive's new "Pet-Remote" prototype promises to help you train your dog to execute commands from afar. The small device fits on the dog's collar. First, you train your dog to perform a command as you normally would — giving a verbal order, and offering treats or praise when Fido gets it right. Next, turn on the Pet-Remote to either vibrate, emit an electronic noise, or both, and teach the dog to associate that feeling or sound with the command.

    The idea is that instead of screaming "Snookums, sit!!!" across the dog park when your pooch is misbehaving, you can just press a button on your phone or iPad to get the desired behavior from up to 100 feet away. Will it work? Find out sometime in early 2014, which is when Tractive says it would be able ship the product, if it meets fundraising goals on the crowd-sourcing website IndieGoGo.

    LiveScience's Jeanna Bryner, Denise Chow, Bahar Gholipour, Tia Ghose, Tanya Lewis, Becky Oskin, Stephanie Pappas, Laura Poppick, Rachael Rettner, and Karen Rowan contributed to this story.

    Follow LiveScience @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on LiveScience.

    Copyright 2014 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014

    In this image, taken by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite, Cyclone Ian is shown heading south towards the islands of Tonga (at the bottom of the photo). (NOAA)

    NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga (AP) - The South Pacific nation of Tonga was lashed by a powerful cyclone on Saturday, destroying homes and ripping roofs from churches and other public buildings in the populous northern islands. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

    A state of emergency was declared for two of Tonga's three island groups, Vava'u and Ha'apai, on Saturday morning as category-five storm Cyclone Ian brought heavy rain and strong winds forecast to gust at up to 178 miles per hour.

    The storm was later downgraded from the top of the scale of destructive cyclones to category four, with gusts of up to 155 mph.

    The main island of Tongatapu in the south appears to have avoided the worst of the storm.

    Tonga's Director of Emergencies Leveni Aho said damage to homes, churches and other public buildings was reported on Lifuka island in the central Ha'apai group and Hunga island in the Vava'u group to the north.

    The extent of the damage was still being assessed, but the destruction appeared to be less extensive than Tongans had feared from the first category-five storm they had experienced in decades.

    "The lucky part ... is that although it is very highly dangerous, the eye was so narrow, the extent of the damage is not what you associate normally with a category-five cyclone," Aho said. He estimated the storm's eye was less than 35 miles across.

    He said there were no immediate reports of deaths, injuries or missing persons.

    While churches had been prepared as standby evacuation centers, Aho said he was not aware of people leaving their homes in large numbers.

    Aho advised against travel between Tongan islands during the storm and urged residents of outer islands to stay put.

    Tonga is an archipelago of 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited by more than 100,000 people.

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    Twin Waterspouts

     

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    (Space Frontiers/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

    On January 11,1610, pioneering astronomer Galileo Galilei directed his newly crafted telescope at the night sky. The Italian scientist spotted one of the four moons that orbit Jupiter, Ganymede.

    Later that week, Galileo went on to discover other things in the heavens that would revolutionize human understanding of the universe. He spotted the structure of the Milky Way, our Moon's craters and Jupiter's three other satellites. He also noted Venus's phases and the phenomenon of sun spots. That groundbreaking period, a week 404 years ago, is still considered by many to be the most crucial time in the history of astronomy.

    The image of Ganymede shown here was captured by the Galileo spacecraft in 1996.

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    Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014

    The above graphic shows when the top wind speeds will batter the northwest. (AccuWeather)

    A powerful storm will continue to kick up hurricane-force winds across parts of the Northwest and Rockies this weekend, threatening to cause damage, power outages and travel headaches.

    Winds Saturday morning gusted to 102 mph on the peak of Crystal Mountain, Wash., and 109 mph at Kenosha Pass, Colo., according to AccuWeather.com Enterprise Solutions Meteorologist, Cory Mottice.

    Additional hurricane-force winds will be measured throughout the Northwest and Rockies and not just in the highest elevations.

    Such winds are blasting the coast, as well as places to the lee of the Rockies from Montana to Colorado. This includes Cut Bank, Mont., and Cheyenne, Wyo.

    Even the lower elevations of Seattle and Spokane, Wash., Portland and Pendleton, Ore., and Denver, Colo., will experience wind gusts to or past 55 mph.

    The Northwest will continue to experience its strongest winds of the weekend this Saturday. For Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, the strongest winds will occur on Sunday.

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    The howling winds threaten to cause damage, power outages and travel problems for both motorists and airline passengers.

    Seattle City Light reported that more than 28,000 customers were without power early Saturday morning. The good news is that crews were able to restore power to all but 8,000 of those customers in three hours.

    While potentially causing flight delays, the winds will make driving difficult on stretches of Interstates 5, 15, 25, 84 and 90.

    High-profile vehicles are at greatest risk of being overturned by the powerful winds, but even drivers of smaller vehicles will feel the winds tug at their cars and trucks.

    AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Mike Doll is especially concerned for hazardous driving conditions through passes and roads that are orientated west to east or southwest to northeast.

    Winds also threaten to interfere with passing and kicking plays during the NFL playoff games in Seattle Saturday afternoon and Denver Sunday afternoon.

    In addition to the wind, players will be dealing with the soaking rain that is also accompanying the wind in Seattle and along the rest of the Northwest's coast and I-5 corridor.

    Large waves will also continue to pound the coastline, while the avalanche danger is high in the mountains.

    Heavy snow in excess of a foot will blast the Cascades and Bitterroots, including I-90's Snoqualmie Pass and other mountain passes. Travel will become extremely difficult, if not impossible, as the snow combines with the fierce winds to create an all-out blizzard.

    A shower or two from the potent Northwest storm will reach San Francisco Saturday afternoon, but not drought-stricken Southern California.

    Monday through Tuesday, calmer weather will return to Oregon and Washington as the Rockies and neighboring Plains endure more powerful wind events.



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

    Twin Waterspouts >

     

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    Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014
    [UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Ribbon lightning rains down over Texas near Lubbock from a severe thunderstorm on October 12 2012.
    This file photo shows the type of dramatic thunderstorms that are headed to the southern Atlantic coast. (Zachary Roberts via Getty Images)

    Just days after an arctic blast busted low temperature records in the Southeast, Saturday will bring the threat for severe thunderstorms to the region.

    Several large population centers could be impacted across the region, including Richmond, Va., Raleigh, N.C., Charleston, S.C., and Jacksonville, Fla. In total, 17 million people are at risk to see severe storms.

    "Strong winds with the most intense thunderstorms can knock down trees and power lines, creating electricity service disruptions and possibly damage to property," said AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Matt Rinde.

    There will be enough twisting of the winds that some thunderstorms could spawn tornadoes. This setup does not favor an outbreak of tornadoes, but rather a situation where tornadoes could form on an isolated basis.

    With a juicy environment in place, these storms can dump quite a bit of rain in a short period of time. Downpours could lead to flooding of low lying and poor drainage areas.

    Ponding of water will be a threat on Interstates 95, 20, 26, 85 and 64, which could cause travel delays.

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    A combination of winds, lightning and reduced visibility could cause flight delays across the region. Rain is also expected for the major hubs in the Northeast which can exacerbate delays at the airports.

    Showers and thunderstorms are expected to move through Metro Atlanta during the morning hours and those can contain gusty winds and downpours. However, the greatest threat for severe thunderstorms will be east of the area.

    The cold front that will aid thunderstorm development will quickly sweep through the Southeast region on Saturday into Saturday night. Sunday will bring cooler weather along with lower humidity.

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    Twin Waterspouts

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014

    In this Twitter photo, posted this morning, Philippine residents are shown riding scooters through deep flood waters. (@MyNewsNetwork)

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) - At least two men were reported missing and more than 2,400 villagers were evacuated over the weekend after two days of rains flooded low-lying villages and set off minor landslides in the southeastern Philippines, officials said Sunday.

    The men went missing while separately crossing rivers in the provinces of Agusan del Norte and Surigao del Norte, said Liza Mazo, a regional disaster-response official.

    Heavy rains set off flooding in four provinces and on an island in the region, prompting army troops, police and local authorities to evacuate more than 2,400 villagers, she said.

    Many of those evacuated were in Butuan city, where the Agusan River threatened to overflow and inundate 15 low-lying villages, Mazo said.

    Forecasters say a brewing storm has dumped rains in the remote region since Saturday, but they expect the weather to improve in about two days. The stormy weather has also brought sporadic rains in central Philippine provinces where Typhoon Haiyan left more than 6,100 people dead and nearly 1,800 others missing in November.

    Haiyan displaced about 4 million people and thousands continue to live in tents as the government scrambles to build temporary shelters.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Typhoon Haiyan Slams Into Philippines

     

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    Updated Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, 3:55 p.m. ET


    In this image from video provided by NASA the Cygnus resupply spacecraft approaches the International Space Station early Sunday Jan. 12, 2013. The spacecraft is expected to arrive on the station later this morning. It is packed with 3,000 pounds of equipment and experiments. Christmas presents also are on board for the six space station residents; the delivery is a month late. (AP Photo/NASA)

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - The six space station astronauts finally got their Christmas presents Sunday with the arrival of a privately launched supply ship that took an extra month to soar.

    The spacemen opened the capsule a day early and started removing items, as soon as the Orbital Sciences Corp. vessel was moored safely at the International Space Station. Packed inside were 3,000 pounds of groceries, equipment and experiments, as well as eagerly awaited Christmas gifts from their families back home and some fresh fruit courtesy of NASA.

    Among the first things out: ants that are part of an educational project.

    NASA is relying on private industry to keep the orbiting lab well stocked in this post-shuttle era and, in three or four more years, possibly supply rides for U.S. astronauts as well. This was Orbital Sciences' second shipment.

    The Virginia company was supposed to make the latest delivery last month, well before Christmas, but had to wait for reasons beyond its control. A space station breakdown in mid-December took priority, and NASA bumped the flight to January in order to repair the disabled cooling system at the orbiting outpost.

    Then frigid weather at the launch site at Wallops Island, Va., forced a delay. Then a strong solar storm interfered. Everything finally came together for a smooth liftoff on Thursday.

    Flight controllers for Orbital Sciences, wearing red company shirts, broke into applause when astronaut Michael Hopkins used the space station's main robot arm to grab onto the Cygnus capsule, more than 260 miles above the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar. Within two hours, the capsule was bolted to the station. And four hours after that, the astronauts threw open the hatch.

    Because of the long day, the astronauts were supposed to wait until Monday before opening the capsule. But with presents from their families awaiting them, they couldn't resist.

    As a holiday treat, NASA stashed away the fruit for the two Americans, three Russians and one Japanese, and Orbital Sciences included a few surprises of its own.

    "It was difficult keeping up with you today," Mission Control radioed. "You guys were blazing."

    Orbital Sciences conducted a test run to the space station last September. This is the first official supply run under a $1.9 billion contract with NASA.

    "I've been up here on station for about 3½ months," Hopkins said, "and I've seen two Orbital vehicles in that time, and I think that's very impressive. So congratulations to everyone."

    As before, the Cygnus will be filled with trash and cut loose for a fiery, destructive re-entry, in mid-February.

    NASA is paying Orbital Sciences and the California-based SpaceX company to supply the space station. SpaceX will make its fourth delivery next month, launching from Cape Canaveral. Russia, Japan and Europe also make periodic deliveries.

    Russia is the lone means of astronaut transport, however, until SpaceX or another American company is able to fly humans. NASA estimates that should occur by 2017.

    This Cygnus is named for the late shuttle astronaut C. Gordon Fullerton, who helped conduct air-launched rockets for Orbital Sciences in the 1990s. He died in August at age 76 following a stroke. Sunday's successful linkup is a testament to Fullerton's career, both Hopkins and Mission Control noted.

    "Gordo was an American hero," Mission Control said.

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    International Space Station, Shuttle

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014

    This Twitter photo, pic.twitter.com/h2g5bXPn8E, posted by @terra_de_waki, shows the intense winds that battered Tonga during the cyclone. The photo was captioned "Prayers with you Tonga! Severe Cyclone Ian intensifies to category 5."

    NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga (AP) - Authorities were searching Tonga's remote islands for cyclone victims Sunday after a powerful storm cut a swath of destruction through this South Pacific archipelago, killing one person and destroying most of the homes in some areas.

    Relief efforts following Saturday's cyclone were concentrating on the Ha'apai islands - one of Tonga's three island groups between the main island of Tongatapu in the south and the Vava'u islands to the north, Tonga's Director of Emergencies Leveni Aho said.

    Cyclone Ian hit Tonga with gusts of up to 287 kilometers (178 miles) per hour. The storm was later downgraded from Category 5 - the most destructive level - to Category 4, with gusts of up to 250 kph (155 mph). On Sunday, the cyclone was tracking southeast away from Tonga.

    Two navy patrol boats carrying tarpaulins, tents and other emergency supplies left Tongatapu to bring help to victims who were cut off in the Ha'apai islands.

    Authorities have been unable to make telephone contact with 23 islands, which account for most of the inhabited islands in the Ha'apai group, Aho said.

    "The patrol boats are still out there, going from island to island to scout for information," he said.

    The Ha'apai islands are home to 8,000 people, most of whom live on the devastated islands of Lifuka, where the person died, and Foa.

    Aho said the fatality was an elderly woman, but he did not have details on how she died.

    He estimated that hundreds of people on the two islands were taking shelter in church buildings that were being used as evacuation centers.

    A New Zealand air force P3 Orion plane made a surveillance flight over the disaster area on Sunday, taking pictures showing the extent of the damage.

    "Some places have very extensive damage - up to 80 percent of the houses have been totally wiped out," Aho said. "There is much more damage on the ground than we anticipated before."

    He said there were several injuries, and that local medical facilities could manage them. He said there were no reports of survivors with life-threatening injuries.

    Tongan authorities will further assess the damage before considering asking for international help, Aho said.

    Aho said storm damage to the Tongatapu and Vava'u island groups was slight.

    The weather was fine Sunday, but rough seas were hampering the patrol boats' relief mission, he said.

    Tonga is an archipelago of 176 islands, 36 of which are inhabited by more than 100,000 people. Its economy relies on fish exports, tourism and remittances from Tongan communities overseas, with about 40 percent of the population living in poverty.

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