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    Saturday, Jan. 25, 2014

    There was plenty of snow for last year's Iditarod, as can be seen in this file photo. (Glenn Cantor via Getty Images)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A qualifying race for Alaska's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race has been canceled due to warm weather, the second mid-distance Iditarod qualifier to be called off.

    Race officials called off the Tustumena 200 sled dog race on the Kenai Peninsula on Friday.

    A run of mild weather and rain wiped out much of the snow in south-central Alaska, The Anchorage Daily News reported. Earlier this week, the Northern Lights 300 at Big Lake was also canceled.

    The high temperature Friday in Anchorage reached the upper 40s, according to the National Weather Service.

    Race director Tami Murray says the forecast forced their decision on the race, which usually runs from Clam Gulch to Homer and back.

    "We just don't have the snow and way too much water in the hills to put together a quality race," Murray said in an email. "We've looked at all possible options and with the 10-day forecast (trust me we've looked at them all) we feel this is the right decision."

    Reigning Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey topped the field signed up for the Tustumena.

    Other events, including a high school cross-country ski race and a fat-tire bike series, were canceled.

    The Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage thought it had saved the high school race by moving it from Kincaid Park to higher elevations, but found water there, too.

    Dubbed the Slush Cup, the race was canceled after a course inspection by the ski club's John Christopherson. At 10 a.m. Friday, the temperature was 48 degrees and the wind was howling, he said.

    "I feel that we cannot guarantee a safe race for 400-500 skiers," Christopherson said. "We can't fight the weather. So let's admit the conditions and find something else besides skiing for this weekend."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Truly Bizarre Creatures of the Deep
    Mola Mola

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014

    This photo shows the ice-covered boat slips in Chicago's Burnham Harbor last week. More frigid weather is headed to the Windy City soon. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

    A snowy Sunday is shaping up for Chicago with the coldest air so far this winter to follow.

    Yet another Alberta Clipper will return snow to Chicagoland by dawn on Sunday.

    The snow will taper off for the afternoon, but not before accumulating 1 to 3 inches and causing slick travel on area interstates and highways.

    While brisk winds will blow on Sunday, the main danger for blowing and drifting snow will come Sunday night when even stronger winds develop.

    Gusts to 45 mph are expected in the evening. Such winds could snap tree branches and easily toss around loose lawn items.

    The windswept snow will pose hazards to motorists by reducing visibility and covering roads.

    The winds will also usher in the coldest air so far this winter. Temperatures Sunday night will plummet below zero Sunday night and remain there through Tuesday night--even during the daylight hours.

    RELATED:
    Detailed Chicago Forecast
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    Interactive Chicago Radar

    As the biting winds continue, AccuWeather.com RealFeel(R) temperatures will dangerously drop under 30 below zero Sunday night with little recovery expected on Monday.

    Monday night, RealFeel temperatures will bottom out at near 50 below zero.

    Such cold is extremely dangerous, and residents who fail to properly bundle up will be highly susceptible to experiencing frostbite or hypothermia.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014

    In this file photo, people sunbathe on Leblon beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Jan. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

    An extended stretch extreme heat started to take hold on Brazil's second largest city. AccuWeather RealFeel temperatures soared to nearly 110 degrees Friday.

    "It's not the heat, it's the humidity" That is a quote heard many times a summer in the U.S. But, it is also holding true across Rio. The dew point temperatures will be in the middle to upper 70s for the foreseeable future.

    A ridge of high pressure will be centered right over the city for the next week. This will send daily temperatures soaring into the 90s. But, overnight lows will be very uncomfortable. Several nights over the next week will not see temperatures reach below 80.

    Hot weather affected Brazil earlier this month. Strong thunderstorms brought a temporary end to the heat last week. Lightning associated with these storms struck the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue.

    This go around, it will be a while before any thunderstorms affect Rio. The high pressure ridge is expected to keep the stormy weather further south. Unfortunately Lightning associated with these storms struck the iconic Christ the Redeemer statuethunderstorms have been frequent from southern Brazil into northern Argentina

    These same places will remain stormy in the coming days.

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

     

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    Above is an image of the Ranger 3 -- USA Lunar Hard Lander probe. (NASA)

    Exactly 52 years ago on today's date, January 26, 1962, NASA launched the Ranger 3 USA Lunar Hard Lander. The only problem was, the spacecraft missed its destination -- the moon.

    Fortunately, NASA was able to tweak the spacecraft to send back important TV and static images of the moon's surface. The Ranger 3 -- which has antennae of about 230 feet in diameter (almost as big as a football field) -- is now in a solar orbit.

    The Ranger 3 was part of a fleet of probes sent to study the lunar surface in the mid-1960s to prepare for the first human moon landing, Apollo 11, in 1969.

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

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014

    A man shovels snow in Bucharest, Romania, Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, during a snowfall. Heavy snow storms affected for a second day the southeastern regions of Romania leading to delays in the railway and air traffic, cancellation of 60 trains, closure of roads and prompted the authorities to halt all heavy traffic and close schools in affected areas until the weather improves.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

    BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - Snowstorms have swept southern and eastern Romania, closing roads and causing power outages.

    Authorities closed three main highways Sunday because of blizzards and to prevent drivers getting stranded en route to the capital. Dozens of roads were also closed in the south and east because of drifting. Train lines also experienced long delays.

    About 5,000 troops helped to clear snow, which began falling heavily late Friday. About 50 centimeters (20 inches) fell in some parts of Romania over 24 hours.

    Electricity company Enel said snow and high winds had caused power outages in 27 communities near the capital. The normally traffic-snarled capital was empty over the weekend as the snow deterred drivers from venturing out.

    Schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday in several parts of Romania.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014

    This graphic, created by the National Weather Service Office in Anchorage, shows the avalanche-dammed Lowe River. It states that the flash flood threat has ended for the Keystone Canyon, but this graphic was created on Saturday after Friday's first avalanche and before the avalanche later on Saturday occurred and renewed the flood danger. (NWS/NOAA)

    The only road leading into Valdez, Alaska, has been blocked by avalanches and the resultant flooding.

    A large avalanche occurred later on Saturday in Keystone Canyon, blocking the Lowe River. That led to a large backup of water behind the avalanche, the National Weather Service (NWS) in Anchorage reported.

    A Flash Flood Watch has been posted by the NWS from Keystone Canyon to mile post 5 along the Richardson Highway in the event the newly formed avalanche dam breaks and rapidly releases the water that has built up.

    The Flash Flood Watch is in effect until noon AKST Sunday (4 p.m. EST).

    Flash flooding from this situation is not a concern in downtown Valdez since it does not reside along the Lowe River.

    Aerial photographs released by the NWS showed that the flood waters and avalanche are covering the Richardson Highway, the only road motorists can use to travel to and from Valdez.

    The Richardson Highway connects Valdez to Fairbanks. Near this highway, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline runs.

    RELATED:
    Detailed Forecast for Valdez, Alaska
    Alaska Weather Center
    Alaska to Florida: Topsy-Turvy Weather to Persist


    Saturday's avalanche comes after another -- yet smaller -- avalanche initially blocked the river and sparked concerns for flash flooding on Friday.

    That initial flood threat ended earlier on Saturday as water slowly drained from the avalanche-dammed Lowe River, the NWS stated.



    AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Jim Andrews theorizes that the avalanches are being brought on by the abnormal warmth in place across Alaska causing rain, not snow, to fall on the snow-covered Chugach Mountains surrounding Valdez.

    Valdez remains in the midst of an unusually warm spell of weather, part of the topsy-turvy weather across the entire United States.

    Temperatures have risen into the 30s every day so far this January with only four exceptions. Highs in the upper 20s are more common.

    Overall this January, temperatures are running 7.0 degrees above normal.

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

     

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    Monday, Jan. 27, 2014
    APTOPIX Winter Storm
    (AP Photo)

    The impending polar blast will set the stage for snow and ice to cause significant disruptions in the South Tuesday through Wednesday.

    The arctic cold will plunge into the South Monday through Monday night, leading to highs in the 30s as far south as the I-10 corridor from Houston to Pensacola, Fla., on Tuesday.

    With that cold in place, a storm system will tap into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to allow snow and ice to develop from central Texas to the eastern Carolinas Tuesday through Wednesday.

    Houston and San Antonio, Texas, New Orleans, Mobile, Ala., Pensacola and Tallahassee, Fla., Savannah and Augusta, Ga., Myrtle Beach and Columbia, S.C., and Raleigh, Wilmington and the Outer Banks of North Carolina lie within this zone.

    Sleet could even make an appearance in Jacksonville.

    While the rare snow will be a welcome sight for children and those young at heart, this will be a major winter storm for the I-10 corridor and the eastern Carolinas.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Snow- and Cold-Related Watches, Warnings
    Forecast Temperature Maps

    The amount of snow and ice (whether falling as sleet/ice pellets or freezing rain) could be substantial, leading to school closures, extremely treacherous travel and flight cancellations.

    Residents and travelers should prepare for significant disruptions. This includes motorists planning to travel on Interstates 10, 40, 45, 65, 75 and 95.

    Snow totals will top 3 inches from southeastern Alabama to eastern North Carolina. This zone stretches across Augusta, Ga., Columbia, S.C., and Fayetteville, S.C., and lies just east of Raleigh.

    Accumulating snow should narrowly miss Atlanta and Charlotte.

    In between the snow and plain rain across the Florida Peninsula will be substantial sleet and freezing rain. Power outages are a serious concern, especially where the majority of the winter storm produces freezing rain.

    The winter storm could linger along the Carolina coast for a time Thursday before heading out to sea.

    The storm should not turn northward and graze the Northeast. The impending arctic blast will instead push the storm track well offshore, offering protection to the Northeast.

    Residents across the South are urged to continue checking back with AccuWeather.com for the latest on the impending winter storm as more details become clearer.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 30 Ice Sculptures That Will Take Your Breath Away

     

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    Updated Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, 4:50 p.m. ET

    Steam rises up from Lake Michigan as Navy Pier's Ferris Wheel is seen in the background Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

    CHICAGO (AP) - Parents brought kids to work or just stayed home because schools were closed, again. Office workers hailed cabs to ride a block - or less. And companies offering delivery services were inundated with business as Artic air blasted the central U.S. on Monday for the second time in weeks, disrupting the lives of even the hardiest Midwesterners.

    As temperatures and wind chills plummeted throughout the day Monday, even simple routines were upended by the need to bundle up, with anyone venturing outdoors being well advised to layer up with clothing, coats, hats, scarves and gloves.

    And there's no quick relief in sight as subzero highs were expected to dominate across the region into Tuesday.

    "This is similar to what we had three weeks ago" in terms of life-threatening conditions, said Sarah Marquardt, a National Weather Service meteorologist. "With wind chills in the minus 30 to minus 40 range, you can get frostbite within 10 minute s on exposed skin."

    In Chicago, temperatures had fallen below zero by Monday afternoon with wind chills in the negative double-digits.

    "We had two (employees) call in because they couldn't come to work because of the school closings, and another called in sick," said Kristelle Brister, the manager of a Chicago Starbucks, who was forced to bring her 9-year-old son to work after the city shut down its 400,000-student school system for the day.

    Residents of Minnesota and Wisconsin faced similar if even somewhat more severe weather.

    Wind chills in the minus 40s were expected in Minneapolis, while in Milwaukee the chill hit minus 23 by mid-afternoon. Elsewhere, wind chills of minus 18 were expected in Dayton, Ohio, minus 14 in Kansas City, Mo., and minus 3 in Louisville, Ky.

    The chill Monday was enough to keep even the hardiest people off the streets, including the customers of the Hollywood Tan salon in the southwestern Illinois' community of Bellev ille.

    "It's definitely a lot slower," said salon manager Kelly Benton, who wasn't expecting anything near the 100 tanners the salon sees on a typical day.

    But the chill didn't keep crowds from Tiny Tots and Little Tykes Preschool and Child Care Center in West St. Paul, Minn., where the cold weather means a lot more jumping rope and riding around on scooters - anything to escape cabin fever and let kids burn off some energy.

    "We're just trying to keep them busy, but it's definitely more of a challenge when you can't get outside," said ManaRae Schaan, the executive director.

    The brutally cold weather has brought a spike in business for GrubHub Seamless, a company that lets users order food online from restaurants and have the food delivered.

    "Across the board, restaurant and delivery drivers are dealing with an influx of orders," Allie Mack, a spokeswoman for the company said in an email.

    Not only that, but people seem to appreciate the driv ers more, with Mack saying that during the Polar Vortex earlier this month, tipping was up by double digits in Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Chicago. And, for some reason, deliveries of buffalo chicken sandwiches jumped 37 percent.

    "You figure people are probably being more generous to their drivers because their drivers are the ones braving the conditions while you're on your couch in your pajamas," Mack said.

    Chicago cabdriver Kumar Patel said the cold translates into bigger tips for him too.

    But the chill also seems to trigger some bad behavior as well, he said.

    "They get in and they say they have to smoke because it's so cold," Patel said.

    Still, he said, he can pick up a lot of fares in a short time. "They are going a block, sometimes only a half block," Patel said.

    The frigid weather also sent runners inside to health clubs or into stores to buy treadmills.

    "Treadmills and ellipticals are the No. 1 seller now that conditions are terrible," said Dave O'Malley, manager of Chicago Home Fitness.

    In Milwaukee, Michael Comerford, a 33-year-old barista, said Monday that he is making far fewer lattes than normal but expects the trend to reverse once the severe chill subsides.

    "Once it gets warmer, like the single digits or teens, it feels like a heat wave so people come out again," he said.

    It is the same for Brandon Kulosa, whose business is getting rid of critters that become dissatisfied with their homes and move into ours.

    "They hunker down when it gets this cold," said Kulosa, co-owner of Animal Trackers Wildlife Co. in suburban Chicago.

    Not only that, he said, but the ones that already have gotten into your attic seem to recognize they have it pretty good and should not draw attention to themselves and risk eviction.

    "You could have a raccoon up in your attic just sleeping," said his partner, Tony Miltz. "They're not going anywhere."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Bone-Chilling Temperatures Return to Midwest

     

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    A lunar halo glows over Frosty Drew Observatory. Scott MacNeill captured this image at approximately midnight on Jan. 18, 2014, from Charlestown, R.I. (Credit: Scott MacNeill | www.frostydrew.org)

    A beautiful lunar halo encircles the moon over an observatory in Rhode Island in this stunning image recently sent in to SPACE.com.

    Skywatcher Scott MacNeill took this photo of the moon around midnight on Jan. 18 from Frosty Drew Observatory, Charlestown, R.I.

    "We had about two hours of viewing before the clouds moved in," MacNeill wrote SPACE.com in an email. "The cool temps and super humid air kept us hopeful for a halo." [See more amazing night sky photos for January 2014]

    Halos around the moon, such as the one seen in this photo, are fairly common in the night sky. They are caused when light is diffracted from ice crystals formed in clouds in the Earth's atmosphere. Since the crystals are all of the same general shape, the light bouncing off them creates the circular pattern, creating the round halo shape.

    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 that 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: 15 Stunning Photos of the Moon

     

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    Monday, Jan. 27, 2014

    Grand Canyon viewed from the Tonto Trail. (Credit: National Park Service)

    The Colorado River took the easy route when it carved the Grand Canyon through Arizona's ruddy sandstones and pastel limestones, a new study claims.

    Instead of slicing through thousands of feet of unblemished rock, the Colorado River recycled ancient canyons, at least one of which was 70 million years old, researchers reported Sunday, Jan. 26, in the journal "Nature Geoscience."

    "I think the Colorado River found low places and paleocanyons and ancient topographies that led to the Grand Canyon," said Karl Karlstrom, lead study author and a geologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

    The new findings, which rely mainly on reinterpretations of other scientists' work, summarize decades of geologic sleuthing. But the study may do little to resolve the heated debate over the age of the Grand Canyon. For the past year, Karlstrom and others have stridently attacked work published Nov. 29, 2012, in the journal Science that suggested the westernmost Grand Canyon was 70 million years old.

    But the debate over the Grand Canyon's age has raged for decades, in part because so much of the canyon's history is missing, carried away by the river. The little that's left means many things to many people. The argument also hinges on how one defines the Grand Canyon. Is there a Grand Canyon without the Colorado River running through it? [Video: Virtual Tour of Grand Canyon]

    For Karlstrom, the answer is no. Even though his latest findings jibe with the 2012 Science paper, and he reuses that data, he asserts that the Grand Canyon is less than 6 million years old. He was also affronted by claims that dinosaurs walked on the Grand Canyon.

    "The Colorado River found a path and carved the entire canyon 5 [million] to 6 million years ago," Karlstrom told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet. "I agree our data is not in disagreement, but I had the [National] Park Service call me up and say, 'Is it true that the park is 70 million years old?'"

    Assembling the canyon

    To prove the point, Karlstrom and his co-authors assembled published geologic evidence, along with four new "cooling ages" in the westernmost canyon. The cooling ages come from apatite crystals, which contain helium-producing uranium. When the apatite is hotter than about 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius), helium escapes. As the rocks cool - for instance, when a canyon-carving river removes their cover - the helium stays trapped in the apatite crystals. Measuring the helium is a gauge for how long the rock has been cool, and exposed near the surface.

    Karlstrom's group snipped the Grand Canyon into pieces, and then calculated how long ago each segment was carved. Only two of the segments are less than 6 million years old, the age posted on the National Park Service's signage, they found.

    Here's the breakdown, from east to west:

    • Marble Canyon - Less than 6 million years old
    • Eastern Grand Canyon - A 4,900-foot (1,500 meter) deep canyon carved 25 million years ago along the Kaibab Uplift
    • Hurricane Canyon - Carved to half its current depth 70 million years ago, flowing north along the Hurricane Fault
    • Westernmost Grand Canyon - Less than 6 million years old

    The 2012 Science study also found a segment between the Hurricane Canyon and the westernmost Grand Canyon was cut to near-modern canyon depths about 70 million years ago.

    Rebecca Flowers, lead author of the Science study, said she was interested to see the unusually young ages for the westernmost Grand Canyon, close to where both her group and Karlstrom's team had discovered 70-million-year-old cooling ages.

    "Given the consistency of our combined helium data sets and the reproducibility of those results throughout this 35-mile [55 kilometers] section of the westernmost canyon, it will take a bit more time to understand fully why their interpretations are so different from ours and why they conclude that the erosion history varied so dramatically within this short reach of the canyon," Flowers, a geochemist at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said in an email interview.

    Why is it there?

    The Colorado River first emerged from the Rocky Mountains some 11 million years ago, according to old river gravels. So another huge puzzle remains: Where did the river flow before the Grand Canyon formed, and why did it finally end up in the Grand Canyon? [7 Amazing Grand Canyon Facts]

    "To me, the greatest remaining mystery is how this got connected into a canyon," said Joel Pederson, a geomorphologist at the University of Utah, who was not involved in the study.

    For now, here's Karlstrom's big picture: About 6 million years ago, something prompted the Colorado River to shift gears and head southwest. That event could have been a lake flood, climate change or subtle shift prompted by erosion. Whatever happened, the Colorado River grabbed its chance, cutting through the ancient rocks lining the gorge (up to 1.8 billion years old at the bottom) and bursting through to the Gulf of California.

    Pederson agrees that Karlstrom's reanalysis won't resolve the Grand Canyon age debate, especially because geochemists can continue to debate how the cooling ages are interpreted.

    "You have two groups of people who can take the same samples from the same results and come to really different conclusions," Pederson told LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet. "That's the key battle."

    But while the arguments will continue to play out in scientific journals and conferences, the big picture is getting clearer.

    Long before anyone ever measured helium in apatite, geologists had discovered the Grand Canyon's ancestors, the paleocanyons that came before today's stunning vermillion walls were breached. First discovered in the 1950s, the history of these older canyons is now being refined and revised by scientists like Flowers and Karlstrom, with modern geochemical techniques.

    "We now know there are parts of the Grand Canyon that are using ancient paleocanyons to a greater extent than we previously thought," Pederson said.

    And geologists continue more old-fashioned detective work, tramping across the desert plateau in search of undiscovered clues about the Colorado River's history.

    "There are a lot of ideas out there, but I don't think we're all in agreement yet," Karlstrom said.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Inspiring Photos of America's National Parks

     

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    Monday, Jan. 27, 2014
    Greece Earthquake
    In this Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, image earthquake damage is visible at a port in the island of Kefalonia, western Greece. (AP Photo/InTime News)

    ATHENS, Greece (AP) - Schools were ordered closed and a state of emergency was declared on the Greek island of Kefalonia on Monday after an earthquake damaged homes and injured at least seven people.

    Hundreds of the island's residents slept in their cars after a magnitude 5.8 temblor struck near the town of Lixouri on the western Greek island on Sunday, and was followed by dozens of aftershocks as powerful as magnitude 5.2, according to the Institute of Geodynamics in Athens.

    Seismologists noted it was too soon to tell whether the Sunday temblor, which the U.S. Geological Survey listed as having a 6.1 magnitude, was the main earthquake or whether a stronger one might strike in the following days.

    "We need 48 hours to say with 99 percent certainty that this was the main quake," Thanassis Ganas, head of research at the Athens Geodynamic Institute, said on Skai television. He added, however, that the aftermath of Sunday's temblor appeared to be developing smoothly, and that the multiple aftershocks were normal and expected.

    Kefalonia and nearby Zakinthos and Ithaki were devastated by massive earthquakes in 1953, when a 7.2 magnitude quake struck three days after a 6.4 temblor, leveling nearly all the buildings on the islands, killing hundreds of people and injuring thousands. Buildings constructed in the area since then have been constructed to strict anti-seismic specifications.

    Ganas said the quakes on Sunday and Monday were not created by the same fault as those of 1953.

    Local officials said two ferries were on the way to the island Monday to provide accommodation for residents whose homes were damaged.

    "There is damage but thankfully the island withstood" the quake, said Interior Minister Yannis Mihelakis, who arrived on the island shortly after the quake to review damage. Rockslides left some roads on the island shut and many homes and stores have suffered cracks and broken windows.

    Earthquakes are common throughout Greece, but the vast majority are small and cause no injuries or damage.

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

     

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    Updated Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, 2:33 p.m. ET
    Traffic creeps along I-55 in north Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 as ice and snow flurries cause difficult driving conditions. A severe winter storm is expected to hit the state bringing ice and snow to the Gulf Coast. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
    Traffic creeps along I-55 in north Jackson, Miss., Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014 as ice and snow flurries cause difficult driving conditions. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

    SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) - Cities rolled out snow plows that hardly ever leave the garage, a hardware store sold feed scoops for use as snow shovels and alligators in the Okefenokee Swamp burrowed into mud to stay warm Tuesday as a winter storm brought snow, ice and brutal cold to the Deep South, a part of the country more accustomed to hurricanes.

    As many as 50 million people across the region could be affected. Shortly after snow began falling in Atlanta, the business hub of the Southeast, traffic came to halt. Interstates were clogged as commuters ended their workday early, and office security guards and doormen took to the streets downtown to try to direct traffic amid a symphony of blaring car horns. At the world's busiest airport nearby, about 900 flights had been canceled.

    In northeastern Alabama, some schools held classes, but quickly had to change course midmorning and dismiss students early because the storm arrived earlier than forecasts pred icted. By that time, roads were too icy for travel in some areas and officials said hundreds of students may have to spend the night in classrooms or gyms.

    "They have food and we have gas heat and the electricity is on, so that is a possibility," DeKalb County Emergency Management Director Anthony Clifton said. "We will have a campout before we will send them out into an unsafe situation."

    Motorists from Texas to Virginia were warned to stay off the roads. Popular warm-weather tourist destinations - Charleston, S.C.; Savannah, Ga.; Pensacola, Fla.; Virginia Beach, Va.; and New Orleans - expected ice and snow over the next two days, rare occurrences in places that seldom even see freezing temperatures for long periods of time.

    In Charlotte, N.C., Mike Hammond pushed a grocery cart filled with food to his car and looked at the ominous, gray sky.

    "You never know what's going to happen," he said. "But I'm making sure I have the staples - and batteries for my flashlights in case something happens to the power. I want to be prepared."

    Meanwhile, in the Midwest, plummeting temperatures and increasing winds took root for another day even as the storm moved south. Several states in the central U.S. saw schools and other facilities close for a second consecutive day as dangerous wind chills were predicted. In Minnesota, forecasters said wind chills could reach 35 to 50 degrees below zero.

    At an Ace Hardware store in the north Georgia town of Cumming, snow shovels were in short supply, but manager Tom Maron said feed scoops - often used in barns - could be substituted.

    "We're fixing to put the ice melt out, and we've got plenty of sand here to mix in," Maron said shortly before dawn.

    In Savannah, residents braced for a winter whiplash, barely 24 hours after the coastal city hit a T-shirt friendly 73 degrees. Less than ¼ inch of ice and up to 1 inch of snow was possible in a city that hasn't seen much snowfal l on its manicured squares in the last 25 years.

    Savannah had 3.6 inches of snow in December 1989, a dusting of 0.2 inches in February 1996 and 0.9 inches in February 2010.

    Jason Deese with the National Weather Service said the snow totals would matter less than the ice potential.

    In rural Mississippi, four people died when an early morning fire destroyed a mobile home in Itawamba County, near the Alabama border. Investigators believe a space heater was to blame as temperatures dipped to about 20 degrees overnight. Authorities said the victims ranged in age from 3 months to 35 years old.

    Alabama state troopers said a seven-vehicle crash killed two people and injured five others near Wetumpka. It was likely caused by ice on a road, and jackknifed 18-wheelers littered Interstate 65 in central Alabama.

    In Montgomery, Bradley Thrift sat in a hotel parking lot letting his truck warm up before heading out with a crew to work on sewers.

    "We've go t a job to do. We'll just be out in it," said Thrift, wrapped up in a thick coat. "We'll be safe. When the boss man says that's it, it's too slippery, we'll just come back here and wait."

    At a nearby Publix grocery story, shoppers had cleaned out three shelves of bottled water, and all the boxed fire logs were gone. The milk cabinet had big gaps where rows of gallon jugs were missing.

    Forecasters said the Hampton Roads area of Virginia could see a foot of snow. Schools and businesses planned to close early, with the storm expected to further clog an already-busy afternoon commute.

    In coastal Charleston, it was a balmy 62 degrees Monday. But the approaching weather led the College of Charleston to cancel classes Tuesday. There was a forecast of rain, and sleet in the late afternoon, with the first snow expected Wednesday morning. The city was expecting up to 3 inches of snow and a ½ inch of ice.

    Nationwide, nearly 3,000 flights within, into or out of t he U.S. had been cancelled Tuesday, according to statistics from the flight tracking service FlightAware. Only a couple of hundred flights are canceled in the U.S. on a typical day.

    At the Okefenokee Swamp in far south Georgia, the alligators were slowing down and burrowing into mud to stay warm.

    "Their metabolism slows down so they're able to not breathe as often, so they don't have to come to the surface as often," said Susan Heisey, a supervisory ranger at the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. "These alligators have been on this earth a long time and they've made it through."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Bone-Chilling Temperatures Return to Midwest

     

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    Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014
    APTOPIX Avalanches Cut Off City
    This Jan. 24, 2014 photo shows multiple avalanches that crossed the Richardson Highway in the Thompson Pass region of Valdez, Alaska on Friday Jan. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Highway access to the city at the end of the trans-Alaska pipeline has been cut off indefinitely by avalanches, including one that dammed a river and created a lake up to a half-mile long across the roadway in a 300-foot wide mountain canyon.

    State Department of Transportation officials said Monday that the snow slide about 12 miles outside Valdez on the Richardson Highway cannot be cleared until water behind the snow drains. The water in Keystone Canyon is too deep on the upstream side for crews to approach the snow dam. Officials fear that digging from the downstream side could trigger a dangerous surge of water and harm work crews.

    "At this time there is no safe way to approach relieving that water," said Jason Sakalaskas, northern region maintenance engineer, at a news teleconference.

    The avalanche was in a location prone to avalanches and known locally as Snow Slide Path, said Mike Coffey, the DOT's statewide maintenance engineer.

    "This is of a magnitude we probably have never seen before," Coffey said.

    The Lowe River is a whitewater stream with Class 4 and 5 rapids. Rafting companies use it in summer for trips, but usually in winter it's just a trickle, Valdez DOT Superintendent Robert Dunning said. The rain and melting snowpack have filled the river to about one-third its summer capacity, he said.

    Coffey estimated snow is piled 100 feet high on the Lowe River and up to 50 feet high on the highway.

    A second avalanche is blocking the highway at Mile 39. Up to 10 more avalanches are blocking parts of the highway that stretches north 360 miles to Fairbanks.

    The avalanches have not affected the trans-Alaska pipeline, which is buried in the area. Air and water access remains open to Valdez.

    The city's 4,100 residents, especially old-timers, are taking the inconvenience in stride, city Clerk Sheri Pierce said.

    "We're doing our best to let people know we have food supplies at the grocery stores," Pierce said.

    Fuel companies expect no shortages. Mail is being flown in, Pierce said. Additional state ferries have been scheduled for people who want to leave with cars.

    Valdez is on Prince William Sound 105 miles east of Anchorage. The Richardson Highway goes through the Chugach Mountains at the 2,800-foot-high Thompson Pass, one of the snowiest areas of Alaska.

    Snow fell by the foot in early winter, Coffey said. Late last week, however, Alaska's unseasonably warm temperatures were accompanied by inches of rain. The precipitation trigged avalanches Friday morning that nearly trapped a trucker on the highway.

    Transportation Department officials had hoped to reopen the highway early this week, but they remain stymied by unstable snow pack conditions, including the threat of additional avalanches.

    They used a 105-mm howitzer and 50-pound bags of explosives dropped from helicopters to trigger additional snow in avalanche zones to make cleanup conditions safer for crews. Freezing temperatures also could stabilize snow on mountainsides.

    Efforts during the weekend to clear avalanche zones were been delayed when two people walking toward Valdez on Saturday refused orders to stop. The two were eventually flown to the city by helicopter, arrested and charged with disorderly conduct and obstruction of a highway.

    The highway is officially closed between Miles 12 and 42.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014

    Pedestrians try to keep warm as they walk through downtown in below-zero temperature January 27, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

    A blast of frigid air will grip most of the eastern two-thirds of the United States through Wednesday and could yield the lowest temperatures so far this winter in some communities.

    The impending polar plunge will rival the frigid days from earlier this January for the coldest daytime highs and nighttime lows so far this winter. This does not include South Florida.

    The arctic air first plunged into the Upper Midwest, northern Plains and northern Rockies on Sunday and is continuing to press to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts through Tuesday.

    The magnitude of this cold blast will be enough to produce a far-reaching threat of frostbite, hypothermia, frozen pipes and water main breaks.



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

    Especially across the Midwest and Northeast, officials may decide to cancel or delay school due to the extreme cold. Some vehicles may struggle or fail to start.

    While highs will be held to the 30s southward to the I-10 corridor, the Midwest and Northeast are bracing for the harshest conditions.

    Minneapolis, Chicago and other communities in the Upper Midwest will endure yet another day of subzero highs on Tuesday, after Monday's temperatures dropped below zero. Monday night lows dropped to at least 20 below zero from North Dakota to the western suburbs of Chicago.

    Grand Forks, N.D., bottomed out near 30 below zero.

    Across the interior Northeast, high temperatures will be held to the single digits and teens on Tuesday and Wednesday.

    Fargo, N.D., Des Moines, Iowa, Minneapolis, Chicago, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are on the list of cities that could rival their lowest temperatures of the season. For locations in the I-95 corridor of the Northeast, temperatures will stop short of breaching season lows, but will still be painful to endure.



    Biting winds will usher in frigid air, creating dramatically lower AccuWeather.com RealFeel(R) temperatures.

    Where snow covers the ground, the winds will worsen the situation for motorists by blowing and drifting the snow around. In the most extreme cases, there will be local ground blizzards.

    RealFeel(R) temperatures will be extremely dangerous across eastern North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. On Sunday night, RealFeel(R) temperatures dipped to 50 below zero in the town of Wadena, Minn.

    Frostbite can develop in a matter of minutes on exposed skin during such intense cold.

    Along the leading edge of the invading cold air, an Alberta Clipper spread a few inches of snow from parts of the southern Appalachians to northern New England on Monday.

    RELATED:
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    Alaska to Florida: Topsy-Turvy Weather to Persist
    Cold- and Snow-Related Watches, Warnings and Advisories


    While Detroit already set a January snow record, the clipper may cause other Midwestern cities to follow suit. The lake-effect snow machine will continue downwind of lakes Ontario, Michigan, Huron and Superior with locally heavy snow forecast. Most of Lake Erie is frozen, so minimal snowfall is forecast downwind of the water body.

    Snow also dropped along the Front Range of the Rockies as the cold pressed southward. Denver had periods of snow into Monday evening that deposited between 2 to 4 inches throughout the region.

    The invading cold and a developing storm will spread a swath of snow and ice across the I-10 and I-95 corridors in the South on Tuesday into Wednesday.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Bone-Chilling Temperatures Return to Midwest

     

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    Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014
    Winter Weather Super Bowl Football
    Tractors plow snow off the parking lot of MetLife Stadium near a tent which will serve as an access point into Super Bowl XLVIII as crews removed snow following a snow storm, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

    With less than a week to go before Sunday's Big Game, the question on everyone's minds has been whether or not it will snow. AccuWeather has been tracking conditions since Dec. 18 on www.WillitSnow.com and the latest forecast indicates players may expect a typical winter day and average chilly temperatures when they take to the field at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

    AccuWeather forecasters agree that although there may be light snow the day before the game, the brutal cold air of the Polar Vortex will not be present. Temperatures and precipitation will be more consistent with what is considered average for early February, with a daytime high in the 30s. As the first Big Game in history to be played in an open air stadium in a cold weather city, AccuWeather said players and fans will be relatively lucky in terms of weather.

    "Given the time of year and location, we're expecting the best possible conditions, as the Big Game is being played in between arctic systems," AccuWeather Expert Senior Meteorologist Henry Margusity said. "By game time, temperatures will be falling into the 20s and the RealFeel Temperature(R) could be in the teens, but players have certainly dealt with this and even worse conditions before."

    Even in lieu of snow, temperature - and perceived temperature - can be an important concern. AccuWeather represents the temperature players will actually feel with its exclusive RealFeel Temperature, which takes into account a range of weather factors to determine the actual impact of perceived temperature on the field. When the RealFeel Temperature is very low, players can not only feel cold, but the cold may affect their ability to catch and grip the football and to stay in the game for prolonged periods. The temperature expected for Sunday does not seem to present these challenges.

    "The air temperature at kickoff for the Jan. 19 AFC Championship game in Denver was 60 degrees, which is almost 30 degrees higher than the current forecast for Sunday's game," Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President for AccuWeather, Inc., Evan Myers said. "Though it seems like we may have escaped the worst in terms of possible weather conditions for game day, there is still a chance that snow and other disruptive winter weather could be a factor in the game."

    Precipitation, whether in the form of snow or rain, can be a major concern for any outdoor game. Accumulating snow can make the field slippery, cover field markings, and potentially lead to game stoppages-but rain and mixed precipitation can have the same effect, making the field and football slippery, adding to the possibility of dropped passes and fumbles. Wind can also have a significant impact on the game with strong winds running parallel to the field which can add or subtract lengths to kickoffs, field goals, and long passes.

    RELATED:
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    Alaska to Florida: Topsy-Turvy Weather to Persist
    Cold- and Snow-Related Watches, Warnings and Advisories


    In addition to its game day forecast, AccuWeather offers ongoing updates at www.WillitSnow.com which features snow predictions, columns and commentary by some of AccuWeather's most prominent meteorologists including, Bernie Rayno, Elliot Abrams, Henry Margusity and Evan Myers. They will continue to provide their perspectives for weather on Feb. 2, 2014, on the website. Other important information such as video forecasts (with plenty of expert analysis), historic weather for the New York region and related news items are also featured prominently on the site.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    A strange and rare winter weather marvel appeared overnight in Eastern states blasted by blustery winds - snow sculpted into fanciful shapes such as doughnuts and hollow tubes.

    Known as snow rollers, the delicate formations are as light as meringues and may crumble when touched, but others are icy enough for play. They were a social media phenomenon on Monday, Jan. 27, sweeping Twitter and Facebook as people from Ohio, Illinois and Pennsylvania posted images of their yards dotted with strange snowballs.


    Snow roller in Ohio. (Credit: Tracey Montgomery)

    According to the National Weather Service, snow rollers need just the right combination of light, sticky snow, strong (but not too strong) winds and cold temperatures to form. It's been about 10 years since snow rollers were reported in western Pennsylvania, but snow rollers appeared in near Spokane, Wash., in 2009.

    Like a snowball spinning downhill in a cartoon, picking up size, snow rollers grow layer by layer as they're rolled along by the wind. Sometimes they do roll downhill, but in this case, wind created the mysterious, hollow snow tubes. Pictures posted online show tracks in the snow left behind as the snow rollers swept across snowy yards and golf courses.

    The snow rollers are the latest in a string of strange winter weather events this month. After the polar vortex dropped temperatures in early January, Lake Michigan birthed its annual crop of giant ice balls. The ice balls form as freezing lake water is tumbled by waves, forming spheres. The coastline of Lake Superior froze as well, allowing hikers to head out to icy sea caves near Wisconsin's Apostle Islands. And the New Year started with a bang in Canada when frost quakes were reported throughout Ontario. When the polar vortex swept through, the cold air rapidly froze water in the ground, causing ice to expand and crack in frost quakes.

    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: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    In 2014 for the first time in more than a decade, five NASA Earth science missions will be launched into space in the same year, opening new and improved remote eyes to monitor our changing planet. (Credit: NASA)

    The launch of a precipitation-measuring satellite next month kicks off a busy year for NASA's Earth-observation program.

    The space agency will launch five Earth-science missions in 2014, starting with the Feb. 27 liftoff of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory from Japan's Tanegashima Space Center.

    The GPM rain-mapping mission, a joint effort between NASA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, will provide near real-time observations of rainfall and snowfall every three hours all over the world, improving scientists' understanding of climate change and the global water cycle, NASA officials said. [Amazing Photos of Earth from Space]

    The GPM Core spacecraft will orbit Earth at an altitude of 253 miles (407 kilometers), about as high up as the International Space Station. From that perch, the satellite will scan our planet from the Arctic Circle in the north to the Antarctic Circle in the south, providing a detailed look at clouds and rain and snow systems."The water cycle, so familiar to all school-age young scientists, is one of the most interesting, dynamic, and important elements in our studies of the Earth's weather and climate," NASA science chief John Grunsfeld said in a statement. "GPM will provide scientists and forecasters critical information to help us understand and cope with future extreme weather events and fresh water resources."

    Further, the GPM observatory will serve as the powerful anchor of an international constellation of climate satellites, some of which are already aloft, NASA officials said.

    "The GPM, through its core observatory and its constellation of satellites, will dramatically improve our knowledge of global precipitation and our ability to forecast it and its consequences," Steve Neeck, deputy associate director of flight programs for NASA's Earth science division, told reporters Monday (Jan. 27).

    The next NASA Earth-science mission to get off the ground this year is ISS-RapidScat, an instrument scheduled to launch to the International Space Station on June 6 aboard private spaceflight company SpaceX's unmanned Dragon cargo capsule. ISS-RapidScat will gather data about ocean winds around the ground, aiding climate research and improving the tracking of storms and hurricanes, officials said.

    Dragon will carry another NASA instrument to the orbiting lab in September. This one, called the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, will measure small particles in the atmosphere, which can affect human health and influence global climate, agency officials said.

    The other two NASA Earth-observation missions will place free-flying spacecraft in orbit around our planet. In July, the agency plans to launch the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2, a replacement for a satellite doomed by a launch-vehicle failure in 2009. OCO-2 will make detailed measurements of carbon dioxide, improving researchers' understanding of this greenhouse gas and how it cycles through land, air and sea.

    NASA also aims to launch its Soil Moisture Active Passive mission in November. SMAP is designed to map the planet's soil moisture, helping scientists better predict agricultural productivity, weather and climate, agency officials said.

    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: 20 Epic Photos of Astronauts on the Moon
    Man on Moon

     

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    FILE - This Oct. 27, 2011, file photo shows a sign along Highway 29 welcoming visitors to the Napa Valley in Oakville, Calif. Napa Valley wine grape growers said Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2014, some vines are ripening early and that farmers are planning fewer crops to save water. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
    A sign along Highway 29 welcomes visitors to the Napa Valley in Oakville, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

    NAPA, Calif. (AP) - With California in the grips of severe drought, Napa Valley wine grape growers on Tuesday said some vines are ripening early and that farmers are planning fewer crops to save water.

    Vineyard owners are pruning earlier than usual and on a shorter schedule, Domenick Bianco of Renteria Vineyard Management said.

    If the Valley does not see late winter or spring rains, 2014 will yield a smaller crop.

    "Water amount determines yield. If you use 80 percent less water than last year, you could see 80 percent of the crop," Bianco said.

    Still, unlike other areas, some Napa growers say access to water in underground aquifers will help them irrigate crops even if rains are light through this year.

    While it will not make up for rainfall, it can help mitigate the loss of yield to dry weather in the short-term, said Hal Huffsmith, director of vineyard operations at Trinchero Family Estates.

    Because rains may still come, it is too early to tell if the drought will affect the retail price of Napa wines, said Jennifer Putnam, executive director of Napa Valley Grapegrowers.

    Meantime, growers will reduce the amount of irrigation they do to conserve water.

    They will also not plant so-called "ground cover," or smaller plants that live between vines to help with erosion, and the fields of lush green vines so many are used to seeing in the valley will be pared down.

    "They're going to be more precise about irrigation," Putnam said. "We're not going to grow those lush canopies."

     

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