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    Friday, Jan. 17, 2014
    FILE - In this April 2, 2013 file photo, Davis Nixon, left, and Jose Ponce, walk on the dry shores of Minnequa Lake in Pueblo, Colo. Federal officials have designated portions of 11 drought-ridden western and central states as primary natural disaster areas, highlighting the financial strain the lack of rain is likely to bring to farmers in those regions. The announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Jan. 16, 2014, included counties in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma and California.(AP Photo/Pueblo Chieftain, John Jaques, file)
    In this April 2, 2013, file photo, Davis Nixon, left, and Jose Ponce, walk on the dry shores of Minnequa Lake in Pueblo, Colo. (AP Photo/Pueblo Chieftain, John Jaques, file)

    LAS VEGAS (AP) - Federal officials have designated portions of 11 drought-ridden western and central states as primary natural disaster areas, highlighting the financial strain the lack of rain is likely to bring to farmers in those regions.

    The announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday included counties in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma and California.

    The designation means eligible farmers can qualify for low-interest emergency loans from the department.

    Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he and President Obama want to ensure that agriculture remains a bright spot in the nation's economy.

    "USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood." he said in statement.

    Counties adjacent to those affected also are eligible for assistance.

    While storms have dumped rain and snow in the East, droughts are persisting or intensifying in the West, according to officials connected with the U.S. Drought Monitor, an index on which the USDA's declarations are based. A ridge of high pressure is to blame for keeping storms off the Pacific coast and guiding them to the East.

    "What we're seeing meteorologically is a blocking pattern that is deflecting all the storms," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the Lincoln, Neb.-based National Drought Mitigation Center. "There really hasn't been a lot of indication that this pattern is breaking down."

    Poor snowpack is threatening regions dependent on major western rivers, and no amount of wet winter weather in the East can ease the pain, officials said.

    "Once you cross the Rockies, nothing on the East is going to help you," Fuchs said.

    The dry weather could mean an active fire season. Southern California had an early taste of that with a blaze that started Thursday morning in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and forced nearly 2,000 people to evacuate. At least two homes were burned.

    Three men were arrested on suspicious of recklessly starting a fire. They're accused of tossing paper into a campfire in the dangerously windy and dry conditions.

    "We don't say the drought causes the fires," Fuchs said. "But when you have fire season and drought, you'll see more fire."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    Friday, Jan. 17, 2014
    twister
    (Shutterstock)

    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - The Storm Prediction Center intends to broaden its advance warning system for severe weather after finding that days it labeled with a "slight risk" turned out to be pretty nasty.

    State emergency managers say they're already attuned to bad weather, but believe a new warning system with two additional categories, "enhanced" and "marginal," could keep them from crying "wolf" - and the public from tuning them out.

    "We try to educate everybody that a tornado can pop out of thunderstorm at any time," said Greg Flynn, a spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. "I don't think it will change the way we prepare, but if it changes the mind of one person in the public, if it gets one more person to pay attention, then it's worth it."

    When significant severe weather is forecast, the current rating system labels days as having a slight, moderate or high risk, based on the chance of tornadoes, high winds or significant hail.

    Russ Schneider, the director of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the agency has found over the years that some conditions warranted more than a "slight risk" label, but not quite a "moderate risk" one. The center's default action has been to label the areas as a slight risk and advise National Weather Service offices to tell local residents and emergency managers that the storms could be rough.

    "Some 'slight risk' days are really quite active," Schneider said Thursday. "You can get some strong tornadoes those days."

    So, sometime this spring - after National Weather Service administrators in the Washington area weigh in, likely in April - areas at the upper end of the current "slight risk" will be said to have an "enhanced risk." There also would be a "marginal" category for risks less than slight.

    "That will not raise many eyebrows around here," Schneider said, speaking in Oklahoma, "but could as you move into the eastern United States" where storms generally aren't as strong. "The 'enhanced risk' category will be a pretty high category if you get into the East Coast."

    Television stations throughout Tornado Alley, the Midwest and the southeast commonly show maps days in advance, asking viewers to note that bad weather could arise. And meteorologists have worked with social scientists over the years to study how people interact with weather warnings and to address any sense of complacency, Schneider said.

    He cited a storm last February near Hattiesburg, Miss., that blew up on what had been a "slight risk" February day and could have been better described as an "enhanced" risk. Isolated strong storms, like one that hit near Meridian, Miss., last April and killed a man, wouldn't have required an upgraded advisory because the threat wasn't as broad.

    The criteria are being changed only at the lower levels. Current guidelines for moderate risk and high risk days remain the same.

    David Maxwell, the director of the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, said the sense of alarm grows as forecasters go up the scale.

    "We start paying attention on slight risk," he said. By the time a moderate risk or high risk approaches, he's holding conference calls with county emergency managers to ensure they're prepared.

    "You don't want to have the effect of crying 'wolf,'" Maxwell said.

    But even on slight risk days, Maxwell said, he will trust his gut and reach out if a sixth sense kicks in.

    "There are some days you can walk outside and smell a tornado," he said.

    Flynn said Mississippi's emergency managers were ready for last February's storms because local forecasters had already put them on a heightened alert.

    "Even if it's slight, that still means something is coming," Flynn said. "Nobody was killed because emergency managers did a great job getting everyone ready."

     

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    Jeff Berkes captured this image of the Geminid meteor shower on Dec.13, 2013, from French Creek State Park, Penn. (Credit: Jeff Berkes | www.jeffberkesphotography.com)

    A Geminid meteor streaks across the night sky over a frozen Pennsylvania lake in this stunning image by a veteran space photographer.

    Astrophotographer Jeff Berkes captured this photo on Dec. 13 from French Creek State Park, Penn., during the annual Geminid meteor shower.

    "After a series of winter storms and cold temperatures, this frozen lake set the scene for the first meteor shower of the winter- the Geminids," Berkes wrote SPACE.com in an email. "Even though clouds rolled from 'Winter Storm Electra' around 9:30 p.m., I was still able to capture this meteor earlier in the night." [See more photos of the 2013 Geminid meteor shower]

    The Geminid meteor shower appears to radiate out from the constellation Gemini, and is known known for being slow, bright moving objects in the sky. Meteor showers are created when the Earth makes its way through the leftover debris of comets or asteroids. This space dust and rock are referred to as meteoroids, becoming meteors when they burn up - heated to more than 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit - in the Earth's atmosphere. Pieces of meteors that reach the planet's surface are called meteorites.

    To see more amazing night sky photos submitted by SPACE.com readers, visit our astrophotography archive.

    Editor's note: If you have an amazing night sky photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+. Original story on SPACE.com.

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

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 Breathtaking Photos of Comets

     

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    Jan. 17, 2014

    New satellite images of California reveal just how abnormally dry the state is for this time of year. The two images were taken on the same day, one year apart, yet the difference is glaring. The stark contrast in snow and water levels is evident in the amount of white snow and greenery visible in the 2013 shot that is noticeably absent in 2014.

    Precipitation is currently less than 20 percent of normal in the state, and the forecast isn't improving any time soon.

    California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a drought emergency on Friday. According to Brown, the state is "facing perhaps the worst drought California has ever seen since records began being kept 100 years ago."

    On Jan. 15, 2014, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials designated portions of 11 states, including Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Hawaii, Idaho, Oklahoma and California, as primary disaster areas because severe drought is likely to cause financial strain on farmers in those regions.

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

     

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    Friday, Jan. 17, 2014

    How terrible is the air pollution in Beijing? Bad enough that the only bright sunlight some residents saw today was on a giant LED screen in Tiananmen Square.

    The city has been shrouded in smog for days, and the number of toxic small particles in the air is more than two dozen times the amount considered safe. Beijing Municipal Government issued a yellow smog alert Friday morning.

    We're not certain whether the broadcast sunrise was meant as a distraction or a statement, but it certainly made for a striking image.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Choking Smog Engulfs China Skylines

     

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    Updated, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 3:15 p.m. ET

    An aircraft drops fire retardant on the Colby Fire on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, near Azusa, Calif. Firefighters were chasing flare-ups Friday morning in the damaging wildfire that was largely tamed but kept thousands of people from their homes in the foothill suburbs northeast of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    GLENDORA, California (AP) - A wildfire in the suburbs of Los Angeles was a smoldering shadow of its former self, but hundreds of residents of a foothill neighborhood remained evacuated and extremely dangerous fire conditions were expected to last well into Saturday.

    Another wave of evacuees returned Friday evening to their homes, this time in Azusa, 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles, a day after their neighbors in Glendora did the same. But one Azusa neighborhood known as Mountain Cove remained too close to the remaining fire, so its residents would have to spend another night away, Los Angeles County emergency officials said.

    Flare-ups occurred within the burn area of about 3 square miles but none escaped the perimeter, said Mike Wakowski, commander of the multi-agency firefighting force. Containment was estimated at 30 percent.

    "Things are progressing nicely," Wakowski said. "It's looking pretty good."

    Crews took advantage of the lower temperatures and wind conditions overnight to set backfires to take out potential fuel for the blaze, and continued Saturday to mop up.

    The fire erupted early Thursday in the Angeles National Forest when Santa Ana winds hit a campfire that authorities said was recklessly set by three men. Gusts quickly spread flames from the San Gabriel Mountains into Glendora and Azusa, where some 3,700 people had to evacuate at the fire's peak.

    Five homes were destroyed and 17 other houses, garages and other structures were damaged, according to early assessments.

    Red-flag warnings of critical danger due to the combination of winds, extremely low humidity and extraordinarily dry vegetation were repeatedly extended during the week. The National Weather Service said some warnings would remain for mountain areas until 6 p.m. Saturday.

    The state is in a period of extended dry weather compounded in Southern California by repeated periods of the regional Santa Anas, dry and powerful winds that blow from the interior toward the coast, pushing back the normal flow of moist ocean air and raising temperatures to summerlike levels.

    The dry conditions statewide led Gov. Jerry Brown to formally declare a drought emergency Friday in order to seek a range of federal assistance.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Southern California Wildfire Spreads
    Southern California Wildfire

     

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    Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014

    As in this file photo of Boston earlier this month, New England residents are getting yet another helping of snow. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

    Although not a big snowstorm, enough snow is moving through the Northeast this Saturday to cause travel disruptions and aid the skiing industry.

    The weather pattern into the start of next week will favor episodes of spotty snow and flurries, produced by weak storms originating from Western Canada. These storms are called Alberta Clippers.

    While these can cause minor travel problems at the local level, widespread disruptions from heavy snow are unlikely through Monday. Some roads will be coated with snow from time to time.

    One clipper will continue to spread snow across the Northeast through Saturday night.



    This clipper has already produced 5.0 inches of snow at Laurel Summit in western Pennsylvania and will drop similar amounts in Syracuse, N.Y., through Saturday.

    Several inches will blanket other parts of upstate New York and New England through Saturday night as the weak storm makes a northward turn and attempts to throw moisture from the Atlantic Ocean onshore.

    The steadiest snow will fall through the evening hours.

    New York City, Boston and the rest of the I-95 corridor in the Northeast will have a few snowflakes fly, but no accumulation is expected. A rumble of thunder or two will also be heard.

    The snow will accumulate a coating to an inch or two in the northern and western suburbs.

    The Maine section of I-95, home to Portland and Bangor, is where steadier snow will develop Saturday afternoon and evening and drop a few quick inches.

    Winds will kick up enough in the wake of the clipper storm to cause blowing and drifting of the small amount of snow that falls.

    A third episode of spotty snow is possible on Sunday over the Northeast region, mainly over the Appalachian Mountains.

    RELATED:
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    AccuWeather Channel Coming in 2014
    Will It Snow on February 2 at East Rutherford, N.J.?

    Waves of cold air will continue to move out of Canada into early next week but will first have to cross the Midwest and Great Lakes, where it will moderate.

    The pattern into next week will allow some temperatures swings from one day to the next, but ski resorts will be able to keep snow on their slopes and make more snow at night, if necessary. The clipper storms will deposit a small amount of natural powder on the slopes from time to time.

    Later in the month, the pattern is forecast to change to more persistent cold and perhaps more intense cold like that of early in January.

    During this transition to more noteworthy cold, one or more significant storms with snow can come about, the details of which are not yet clear.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Dangerous Deep Freeze Pummels Much of US

     

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    Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014

    Crew 133 commander Paula Crock riding an all-terrain vehicle near Utah's Mars Desert Research Station, Jan. 15, 2014.

    Editor's Note: In the Utah desert, scientists are attempting to recreate what a real-life mission to Mars might be like, and SPACE.com contributor Elizabeth Howell is along for the ride. Here's her latest dispatch.

    HANKSVILLE, Utah -- As I revved the all-terrain vehicle up the steep hill, I could feel gravity and mud pushing me back from the crest. I leaned forward in my spacesuit and with my right thumb, pressed hard on the throttle. The vehicle shuddered, hopped, and at last reached the top.

    Now to make sure Crew 133's commander made it. After rolling forward a few feet, I checked a small mirror on my left arm to watch Paula Crock's progress behind me. She had somewhat more trouble, but managed to get up the hill by maneuvering the vehicle left and right during the ascent.

    Astronauts have gone off-roading before, as pictures of the Apollo program will testify. As we ventured several miles away from Utah's Mars Desert Research Station, we were figuring out how to safely maneuver vehicles while wearing mock spacesuits. [See more photos from the mock Mars mission]

    For me, a Canadian used to slippery roads, the muddy terrain reminded me of driving on roads slick with freezing rain in Ottawa. The big difference, however, is if something broke or someone fell, we'd be a long way from help.

    Pairing up

    One of Crock's research projects here is to map out "dead zones" or areas of non-existent radio communication around the main MDRS habitat. Our radios are too weak to communicate across long distances, so knowing where these dead zones begin would be a great asset to safety.

    Once we drop out of radio comms, it's up to each other to make sure other crewmates are all right. I checked my mirror at least once a minute to make sure Crock was right behind me. When we hopped off the ATVs at the Hanksville-Burpee Dinosaur Quarry, we kept each other in sight.

    That came in handy when I got temporarily stranded on a hill. I misjudged a slope and found myself lying on a bed of pebbles, unsure of how to get up or down safely. Since my present position was stable, all I had to do was call over Crock (an experienced hiker) and discuss what to do next. A few minutes later, I scrambled up the hill on my own feet to stand next to her, and to head back to the vehicles.

    Safety first

    Past crews have flipped ATVs accidentally before, which is easy to do because the vehicles we have are only two-wheel drive. Ice, mud and severe uneven roads compound the driving situation. During our initial safety briefing, we were advised to drive the vehicles no faster than a walking pace. That was plenty on this terrain.

    With mud and water mixing on the drive back, I slowed driving to a crawl and kept steering to a minimum. The exception to my self-imposed rule was when I spotted a crack in the road that was big enough to trap a wheel. Best to take the long way around, I reminded myself.

    Hills could also be treacherous on the way down. Every time I reached a crest, I'd slow slightly and scan the area below. If the slope was steep enough, I'd ease off the gas and let gravity do its job in pulling me down. It felt like soaring, but rather than focusing on the sensation, I kept my gaze focused on the road ahead.

    Elizabeth Howell is participating in a two-week simulation at the Mars Society's Mars Desert Research Station from Jan. 4 to 19. Have a burning question about the mission or a picture you really would like to see from the site? E-mail contact@elizabethhowell.ca for the chance to get your question answered in a future story.

    Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on 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.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Epic Photos of Astronauts on the Moon
    Man on Moon

     

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    Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014


    The beautiful petal-like formation of clouds of gas and dust that give the Rosette Nebula its name take center stage in this amazing image captured by an amateur astronomer.

    Astrophotographer Steve Coates captured this amazing view of the Rosette Nebula on Dec. 24 from Ocala, Fla. Radiation from hot, young stars within the central cluster form the nebula's rose-like shape.

    The Rosette Nebula , also known as Caldwell 49 or NGC 2237, is a nebula located approximately 5,200 light-years away at the edge of the molecular cloud Monoceros. One light-year is the distance light travels in one year, or about 6 trillion miles.

    Coates created this image using Ha, OIII and SII filters and processed using Hubble palette, assigning SII to RED, OIII to BLUE and Ha to GREEN. An Orion 80mm EON (focal length 480mm) telescope, QSI 683 wsg-8 camera and Losmandy G-11 with Gemini II German equatorial mount were used to capture the image.

    To see more amazing night sky photos submitted by SPACE.com readers, visit our astrophotography archive.

    Editor's note: If you have an amazing night sky photo or video you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+. Original story on SPACE.com.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014

    Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo space plane rockets through the stratosphere at 71,000 feet, its highest flight yet, during its third powered test flight on Jan. 10, 2014. The supersonic flight occurred over California's Mojave Air and Space Port. (Virgin Galactic)

    A stunning new video lets viewers ride along on last-week's record-breaking test flight of Virgin Galactic's suborbital spaceliner SpaceShipTwo.

    The new SpaceShipTwo rocket-powered test flight video documents the piloted vehicle's jaunt on Jan. 10, which set a company altitude record by reaching 71,000 feet (21,641 meters) in the skies above California's Mojave Air and Space Port.

    SpaceShipTwo also attained a top speed of Mach 1.4 -- 1.4 times the speed of sound, which is roughly 761 mph at sea level -- during the test, Virgin Galactic officials said.

    The 2.5-minute video, which Virgin Galactic released earlier this week, captures highlights of the Jan. 10 supersonic flight, beginning with a pre-dawn inspection of SpaceShipTwo on the tarmac. It then shows the spaceliner being lofted off the runway by its carrier aircraft, a behemoth known as WhiteKnightTwo.

    WhiteKnightTwo is designed to drop SpaceShipTwo at an altitude of roughly 50,000 feet, at which point the spacecraft's rocket engine blasts into action. The video captures this dramatic moment from several different angles, incorporating footage shot from the ground and from cameras mounted on WhiteKnightTwo.

    WhiteKnightTwo's cameras, in fact, show SpaceShipTwo dropping toward the parched desert below before the craft's engine kicks on, shooting a tail of flame behind the spaceliner and sending it streaking past and above its carrier plane.

    The engine fired for 20 seconds as planned on Jan. 10, company officials said. The new video ends shortly after the engine cuts out, showing SpaceShipTwo dropping back to Earth on its way to making a successful landing.

    The Jan. 10 test was the third rocket-powered flight for the six-passenger SpaceShipTwo, and the first one that featured Virgin Galactic chief pilot Dave Mackay at the controls. The vehicle has also made more than two dozen unpowered "glide flights" over the past few years.

    Virgin Galactic remains on pace to launch its first customers to suborbital space sometime this year, company officials say. Tickets to ride the spaceliner cost $250,000, and more than 600 people have put deposits down to reserve a seat so far, including major celebrities like Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber.

    A ride aboard SpaceShipTwo will let passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness and afford them a view of Earth against the blackness of space.

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

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

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

     

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    Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014

    Lightning bolts strike through the sky near Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, late Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Renata Brito)

    Lightning is being blamed for damaging the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro.

    Officials told the Associated Press that the right thumb of the statue was chipped during an apparent lightning strike Thursday night.

    Data obtained by AccuWeather.com from the city's Santos Dumont Airport verifies that thunderstorms were in the area from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. local time Thursday (3 p.m. to 7 p.m. EST).

    Winds gusted to nearly 55 mph as the thunderstorms arrived.
    The airport does not report weather observations between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. local time.

    "A stalled frontal boundary near Rio de Janeiro helped trigger some thunderstorms over the past couple of days," stated AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Rob Miller.

    "This front will remain over the area through early next week, fueling more spotty afternoon thunderstorms."

    RELATED:
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    Brazil Weather Center
    Brazil Satellite Map


    It is not unusual for the 125-foot statue that sits at the top of a steep mountain to be struck by lightning. Much like the Empire State Building in New York City, it is a prime target for lightning strikes.

    The Associated Press reports that repairs to the statue will soon be made.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Incredible Photos of Volcanic Eruptions
    Lightning, Volcano

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014

    As in this file photo, Chicago and the Midwest will be hammered by snow this week. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

    Rounds of unsettled weather and cold air will continue to push through the Great Lakes this week.

    The next surge of arctic air comes early in the week. Late on Sunday night, the coldest temperatures start moving into the Upper Midwest before this cold floods the Great Lakes area on Monday.

    By Tuesday, many locations will only be reaching highs in the teens, including Detroit, Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio. The cities of Chicago and Green Bay will only be in the single digits on Tuesday.

    Temperatures will struggle to reach 0 degrees in Minneapolis, Minn., on Tuesday after bottoming out at 15 degrees below zero on Monday night.

    In addition to the cold, waves of light snow and wind will also move through this week.

    The series of clipper systems quickly passing the area will continue, bringing snow on Monday into Tuesday with another round on Wednesday.

    Accumulations will be rather light with these systems, leaving no more than a coating to an inch or so in most areas. However, locations downwind of the lakes are likely to have a few inches through Wednesday.

    RELATED:
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    AccuWeather.com Temperature Forecast Maps
    New AccuWeather Channel: All Weather, All the Time

    Wind will accompany the initial pushes of snow with these clippers, making it rather gusty in the northern Plains on Monday, from Bismarck, N.D. to Grand Island, Neb.

    However, wind moving in with the snow on Wednesday will be the most troublesome. The strongest corridor of wind will stretch through the Dakotas and Minnesota to Missouri and Illinois by early on Thursday.

    Wind gusts could be in excess of 35 mph, and cause low visibilities in areas receiving fresh snow cover. The wind-whipped snow could cause flight delays and make travel tricky on the roadways.

    Temperatures are expected to warm up late in the week, just in time for another round of snow going into this coming weekend.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014


    After a few flurries fly and chilly winds blow during the extended holiday weekend, frigid air will once again grip the New York City area.

    The parade of Alberta Clippers streaming from western Canada to the East Coast will continue through the upcoming week.

    Each clipper will be monitored for possible strengthening and the development of steadier snow along the East Coast, which happened across New England on Saturday.

    However, the majority of the clippers will race offshore and struggle to bring a flurry to New York City and the other I-95 cities.

    That will be the case with the clipper that delivered disruptive snow to Minneapolis, Chicagoland and Indianapolis on Saturday. Only a flurry or two will fly over New York City on Sunday.

    A cool and gusty breeze will blow otherwise on Sunday and Monday as temperatures return to the lower 40s.

    RELATED:
    Detailed New York City Forecast
    New York Interactive Weather Radar
    Forecast Temperature Maps


    Highs in the lower 40s are not a sign of things to come. Instead, the polar vortex will sink southward and usher in noticeably cold air by Tuesday.

    As the arctic air arrives, temperatures on Tuesday will be held to the lower 20s and a bit of snow is possible.

    Temperatures will then plummet into the teens Tuesday night and then remain there through Wednesday and Wednesday night. Some suburbs will dip into the single digits Tuesday night.



    More waves of frigid air should follow for the remainder of the month
    .
    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Dangerous Deep Freeze Pummels Much of US

     

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    Updated Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014. 3:32 p.m. ET

    Firefighter Jeff Newby sprays water as he battles the Colby Fire on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014, near Azusa, Calif. Firefighters were chasing flare-ups Friday morning in a damaging wildfire that was largely tamed but kept thousands of people from their homes in the foothill suburbs northeast of Los Angeles.(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

    GLENDORA, Calif. (AP) - Firefighters said Sunday they continued their steady progress in surrounding a wildfire near Los Angeles that destroyed several homes.

    The Los Angeles County Fire Department said the fire was 78 percent contained, with full containment expected Wednesday.

    Meanwhile, hundreds of residents who fled the blaze in suburbs about 25 miles northeast of downtown Los Angeles returned home Saturday evening as red-flag warnings of extremely dangerous fire conditions expired. Officials cautioned that bone-dry winter conditions remain a threat for the region.

    Crews focused on securing fire lines around the roughly 3-square-mile blaze and looked ahead to rehabilitating the burn area to prevent erosion and possible mudslides, said U.S. Forest Service spokesman Robert Brady.

    "It's starting to look fairly good," Brady said. "We're still in very dry conditions, so I would remind people to be careful out there."

    The fire erupted early Thursday in the Angeles National Forest when Santa Ana winds hit a campfire that authorities said was recklessly set by three men. Gusts quickly spread flames from the San Gabriel Mountains into Glendora and Azusa, where some 3,700 people had to evacuate at the fire's peak.

    Five homes were destroyed and 17 other houses, garages and other structures were damaged, according to early assessments.

    The state is in a period of extended dry weather compounded in Southern California by repeated periods of the regional Santa Anas, dry and powerful winds that blow from the interior toward the coast, pushing back the normal flow of moist ocean air and raising temperatures to summerlike levels.The dry conditions statewide led Gov. Jerry Brown to formally declare a drought Friday in order to seek a range of federal assistance.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Southern California Wildfire Spreads
    Southern California Wildfire

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014

    This file photo of the the Circular Quay near the Sydney Harbour Bridge shows conditions like the ones currently brought by tropical rains. (GREG WOOD/AFP/GettyImages)

    New Zealand and Australia are both dealing with their own tropical troubles with New Zealand seeing a named system approaching and Australia seeing some rain and cooler temperatures in central areas.

    Tropical Cyclone June is continuing to weaken as it pushes south towards the northern island of New Zealand. Winds with the storm are just above tropical storm criteria, and there is a chance this can bring little in the way of winds to New Zealand at all.

    Rainfall looks to be more of a concern with New Zealand as the storm approaches. Clouds will begin to increase for New Zealand and the biggest city of New Zealand, Auckland. It looks like the rain will hold off until late Sunday night or early Monday morning, local time.

    Rainfall totals with June are expected to be on the order of 1-3 inches before the storm pushes east of the island on Tuesday. Winds for New Zealand may struggle to hit 30 mph as what is left of June moves through.

    RELATED:
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    Meanwhile, Australia is seeing some heavy rainfall as a weak tropical system continues to spin over central Australia. This system moved onshore over the past week. Though this was never a named system, the biggest issue with this will be rainfall.

    Rainfall for Tennant Creek, Australia, has been over 1.5 inches the past two days ending early Sunday morning, local time. Normal rainfall for January is 3.5 inches, and high temperatures normally climb to around 97 degrees F. The high temperature the past few days has struggled to get to 90 degrees F.

    This storm is expected to slowly push south and west into the early part of the week. Some areas over central Australia will see upwards of 8 inches as the storm slowly weakens.

    The storm that is bringing the rain to central Australia will begin to push off to the south and into the Great Australian Blight by the middle of next week.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014


    This powerful comparison shows how much looting has intensified at even popular tourist sites like Apamea, which is now scarred with thousands of trenches carved by treasure hunters. (Google Earth, Jesse Casana)

    Archaeologist Jesse Casana couldn't have foreseen the violence that would break out in Syria less than a year after he left his dig site in summer 2010.

    "No one knew whether it was going to blow over quickly," Casana said. "We were all just waiting to see what happened. Clearly, it started getting worse."

    Casana, a professor at the University of Arkansas, was director of an expedition at Tell Qarqur, an artificial mound in northwest Syria built up through 10,000 years' worth of debris left by human occupation. He had to cancel his 2011 field season, and because of the ongoing war in Syria, he hasn't returned since. Violence has besieged the Christian village of Gassanieh, where his team stayed, and he has barely been able to contact his friends and colleagues in the country, let alone get a handle on how Tell Qarqur is faring.

    Images from Google Earth, however, show pretty clearly what's been going on: By July 2011, tanks were sitting inside bunkers carved into the top of the mound. Apparently, the prominent surfaces of ancient mounds built over several millennia can also serve as strategic grounds for military installations overlooking the flat surroundings. [Photos: Damage to Syrian Ruins Seen from Space]

    Destruction from above

    Activists and archaeology researchers have made ambitious attempts to assess the war's toll on cultural heritage in Syria, which was home to Paleolithic settlements, Roman outposts, and the Assyrian, Persian and Akkadian empires. But many on-the-ground reports of damage at sites in Syria have been unreliable at best, and propaganda-driven at worst, circulated by citizen journalists, amateur photographers and members of the Bashar al-Assad regime, Casana noted.

    The impartial eye of satellites, however, could help archaeologists assess, or at least verify, which sites are at risk when conflict makes countries like Syria otherwise inaccessible.

    Casana, who is also chairman of the American Schools of Oriental Research's Damascus Committee,presented the results of a small survey this month at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Chicago. With recent satellite images from the DigitalGlobe, a company that provides high-resolution Earth imagery, Casana analyzed 30 sites across Syria and found moderate to severe war-related damage and looting at 10 of them.

    But the breadth of the destruction is likely much worse. Satellite photos don't reveal localized scars of shelling on monuments and architecture. Of the 20 sites where no visible destruction showed up in the imagery, six had well-documented war-related damage on the ground, Casana said. [7 Stunning Archaeological Sites in Syria]

    "With the war less than three years old and no resolution in sight, it's not a really good prognosis," Casana said during his presentation. "The data really does suggest there does not seem to be any clear geographic orientation to the damage. It seems to be taking place all across Syria. But we do see a strong trend toward looting at Hellenistic, Roman or early Islamic sites in particular, I suspect, because metal or gold is more common in them."

    Casana told LiveScience he estimates that at least half of the major sites in Syria are getting badly damaged by the war.

    Looting holes and military bunkers

    Satellite imagery shows widespread looting and destruction at some of the country's most iconic ruins, such as Apamea, a once-flourishing Roman city about an hour south of Tell Qarqur. Apamea's long column-lined street is often emblazoned on the cover of Syrian guidebooks, but a military garrison now fortifies a former tourist restaurant at the center of the site, and more than 4,000 holes dug by looters and treasure hunters are visible in the surrounding landscape. [Photos: 7 Stunning Archaeological Sites in Syria]

    "Zooming closer, you can see that these are not small holes," Casana said. "Most measure 7 to 10 feet on the side, and many of them are bigger, suggesting that they're probably dug with the help of machinery."

    Just a mile and a half to the east of Apamea sits a mound called Tell Jifar, which formed over many centuries of occupation, though it is unexcavated and not very well understood by archaeologists, Casana said. The mound is now topped with a military garrison and pockmarked with looting holes. Some of these pits can be spotted in images from as far back as 2007 and 2003, Casana found, suggesting many Syrian sites were hardly secure before the onset of violence.

    "I was surprised by the extreme scale of looting that had already taken place prior to the war," Casana told LiveScience. He suspects the same group of looters likely brought their shovels to both Apamea and Tell Jifar because of the sites' proximity and the long history of looting at Tell Jifar. In both cases, the looting seems to have happened "with at least the tacit cooperation of military forces encamped at the sites," Casana said in a recent email.

    But the Assad regime's army can't bear sole blame for the destruction at archaeological sites. On other ancient mounds in his survey, Casana said he's spotted what look like bunkers belonging to the Free Syrian Army, the opposition forces seeking to oust Assad. To help fund their insurgency, the rebels told The Washington Post last year that they've been selling looted tablets, vases and other artifacts through illicit antiquities markets in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

    International observers have been waiting for those valuable objects to hit bigger auction houses. The International Council of Museums, or ICOM, created a "Red List" of Syrian antiquities that should raise eyebrows if they show up on the antiquities market.

    Casana says his survey was mainly a proof of concept. Free satellite images from Google Maps and Bing Maps typically haven't been updated for Syria beyond 2012, and up-to-date pictures are more expensive. This past fall, Casana received 25 satellite images of Syria that were taken over the past four to 15 months through a grant from the DigitalGlobe Foundation.

    The 30 archaeological sites covered in those 25 images, however, are just a fraction of the 20,000 sites Casana initially had flagged in his database for Syria.

    Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on LiveScience.

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

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

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014

    The above image is an artist's rendering of the Rosetta Spacecraft. (NASA/ESA)

    Tomorrow, January 20, 2014, a space probe will become operational after a long period of hibernation as is traveled through space to the proper position for its mission. This groundbreaking European Space Agency's cometary probe was created with NASA contributions, and its goal is to track a comet.

    So far, these fast-moving "icy dirt balls" (as some astronomers dub comets) have only been observed and studied as they whip past telescopes or space probes that momentarily have them in their sites.

    The Rosetta craft will perform an entirely new kind of observation. It will closely track a space-bound comet, 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, for months, delivering fresh insight into this space nomad. Loaded with 25 instruments, 3 from NASA, Rosetta will observe the comet as it whips into, and out of, the inner solar system.

    Prepare for an exciting ride!

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 Breathtaking Photos of Comets

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014

    On Feb. 8, 1983, a massive dust storm advanced on Melbourne, Australia. The dust storm was a consequence of devastating droughts induced by an extreme El Niño. (Australia Bureau of Meteorology/Photographer: Trevor Farrar)

    The most intense El Niño events may soon hit every 10 years, instead of every 20 years, thanks to warming water in the eastern Pacific Ocean, a new study predicts.

    An El Niño is the warm phase of a long-standing natural climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean. When changing wind patterns start piling up warm water in the eastern part of the equatorial Pacific, the redistribution of hotter water triggers changes in atmospheric circulation that influences rainfall and storm patterns around the world -- an El Niño.

    During extreme El Niños, sea surface temperatures warmer than 82 degrees F develop in the normally cold and dry eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. Because this part of the Pacific is typically colder than the western Pacific, even 1 degree of warming in these waters has an outsize effect, said lead study author Wenju Cai.

    "Under global warming, the barrier to convection shifts," Cai told LiveScience. "Therefore, it is easier to generate this massive atmospheric circulation associated with an extreme El Niño event." (Convection is the process that fuels storms.)

    During extreme El Niños, this warm-water zone stretches across the entire equatorial Pacific Ocean. Because the Pacific's sea surface temperatures are rising, climate researchers have tried to predict the impact of global warming on extreme El Niños, but their models have produced conflicting results, said Cai, a climate scientist at CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, a government research organization in Aspendale, Australia. [Infographic: Earth's Atmosphere Top to Bottom]

    "If we just look at sea surface temperatures, there has been no consensus," Cai said.

    To better gauge the effect of future warming on the El Niño cycle, Cai and an international group of climate scientists redefined an extreme El Niño. Their study tested 20 climate models that simulated extreme El Niños, but instead of looking at sea surface temperatures, they defined each episode as an increase in rainfall by a factor of 10 over the eastern equatorial Pacific. The results show an increase from an extreme event every 20 years to an episode every 10 years from the present day through the next 100 years. The findings were published today (Jan. 19) in the journal Nature Climate Change.

    While the increased frequency could be a boon for the drought-stricken western United States, which would receive extra rainfall, an extreme El Niño has devastating global effects.

    During past extreme El Niño events, countries in the western Pacific, such as Australia and Indonesia, experienced devastating droughts and wildfires, while catastrophic floods occurred in the eastern equatorial region of Ecuador and northern Peru. The last extreme El Niño, in 1997-1998, caused $35 billion in damage in the United States and killed an estimated 23,000 people worldwide.

    "Extreme El Niños cause a lot of loss of life and productivity," Cai said.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    Monday, Jan. 20, 2014
    Wintry Weather
    (AP Photo)

    Along the leading edge of the invading polar blast, nuisance snow will spread from the Midwest to the East Coast on Tuesday.

    The snow will come courtesy of yet another Alberta Clipper, set to drop through the Dakotas and Ohio Valley Monday through Monday night with accumulations on the order of a coating to two inches.

    The snow will streak across the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday, then southern New England late in the day and evening.

    Accumulations of 1 to 3 inches are expected along the spine of the central and southern Appalachians and eastward to the Delmarva and southern New Jersey.

    When snow that falls from Monday night is factored in, snow amounts will reach 2 inches across parts of the upper Ohio River Valley. Cape Cod could receive more than 3 inches if the snow continues past Tuesday evening.

    In this zone lies Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Roanoke and Richmond, Va., Dover, Del., and Atlantic City, N.J.

    A separate area of similar amounts will unfold across Cape Cod. AccuWeather.com meteorologists will continue to monitor the storm for the possibility of more of southern New England experiencing this steadier snow band.

    A coating to an inch of snow is expected in Philadelphia, New York City and Boston as the snow grazes these two cities.

    Even Norfolk, Va., Elizabeth City, N.C., and the northern Outer Banks of North Carolina will see a quick coating to an inch Tuesday afternoon and evening as the clipper races into the Atlantic.

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    Even where a coating to an inch of snow is expected, Tuesday's snow will still be enough to turn some roads and sidewalks slippery.

    Motorists planning to travel along I-64, I-66, I-68, I-70, I-81 and I-95 should use caution and prepare for possible slowdowns. Gusty and chilly winds developing on the backside of the clipper will blow the snow around, causing some reduction in visibility for motorists.

    Airline passengers may experience some delays.

    Tuesday's snow will come after a milder Monday along the East Coast.

    A snow shower or two will even drop southward to Greenville, S.C., and Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., on Tuesday. Outside of any isolated heavier burst, the snow will leave little if any accumulation - though will still be a nice sight to see for children and those young at heart.

    In the wake of the snow, the door will open for cold air to settle across the entire East for midweek. Highs on Wednesday will be held 10 to 20 degrees below normal, even down to Miami.

    Sunday morning was the coldest so far this winter across most of South Florida. Frost even made a rare appearance in Naples and the western suburbs of the Palm Beach metro area.

    Wednesday night will not be as cold as Sunday morning, but frost could return to the coldest interior locations of the Florida Peninsula.

    After the midweek cold snap, fresh cold will follow for later in the week.


    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Pathetic Snowmen

     

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    Monday, Jan. 20, 2014
    Deep Freeze
    (AP Photo)

    The polar vortex is headed southward once again, returning dangerously cold air to the Midwest and Northeast in the upcoming days.

    The polar plunge has already started to invade the Upper Midwest and will continue to spread across more of the eastern half of the U.S. through Tuesday night.

    While temperatures will drop below freezing as far south as northern Florida Tuesday night, the core of the cold will center on the Midwest and Northeast.

    Highs will be held to the single digits and teens across these two regions once the frigid air takes up residence. Temperatures will even remain below zero during the daylight hours on Tuesday in and around Minnesota and the St. Lawrence Valley.



    Temperatures will bottom out at 20 below zero or lower over parts of Minnesota Monday night, then 10 below zero or lower across the entire St. Lawrence Valley Tuesday night.

    The good news is that prolonged biting winds will not accompany this cold blast in the Midwest, preventing a repeat of the extremely low AccuWeather.com RealFeel(R) temperatures that were registered earlier this month.

    The Northeast's coast will have to endure an extended stretch of brisk and frigid winds in the wake of Tuesday's snow.

    The magnitude of this cold blast is still dangerous enough to put residents who do not properly bundle up at risk for frostbite and hypothermia.

    Care should also be taken to ensure that livestock and other animals housed outdoors have adequate shelter.

    "The cold may be intense enough to cause school closings, frozen pipes and water main breaks,"stated AccuWeather.com expert senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. "Heating systems may struggle to keep up, people will spend more money keeping their homes and businesses warm and ice will again build up on area rivers."

    The Alberta Clipper at the leading edge of the dangerous cold blast will spread snow from the Dakotas to the Ohio Valley, mid-Atlantic and southern New England Monday through Tuesday.

    RELATED:
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    A band of steadier and more disruptive snow will unfold along the spine of the Appalachians to southern New Jersey, the Delmarva and Cape Cod. Washington, D.C., lies within this zone.

    A couple of snow showers will even spread as far south as the Carolinas, including Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.

    Beyond Wednesday, temperatures may slightly rebound but frigid air should win out for the remainder of the month.

    The next shot of arctic air, due to reach the U.S. Wednesday and Thursday, will encompass more of the Plains than the early week blast.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Dangerous Deep Freeze Pummels Much of US

     

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