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    Monday, Feb. 3, 2014

    An artist's concept of the LRO as it orbits the moon. (Credit: NASA)

    A NASA probe orbiting the moon is broadcasting live cosmic tunes from a computer near you.

    NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has a new Internet radio station for people who want to check out space weather through music. Operating in real time - as long as the craft isn't behind the moon - the station plays music that changes in pitch and instrument based on how much radiation the spacecraft experiences.

    "Our minds love music, so this offers a pleasurable way to interface with the data," project leader Mary Quinn of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, said in a statement. "It also provides accessibility for people with visual impairment." [Photos: The Biggest Solar Storms of 2014]

    Cloudy, with a chance of B-flat

    Launched in 2009, LRO orbits the moon as it maps its surface. The craft carries with it a Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation, or CRaTER. Six detectors on the instrument measure the radiation from solar activity and galactic cosmic rays.

    The detectors measure how many energetic particles are registered each second and sends the information to CRaTER Live Radio, where software converts the measurements into pitches in a four-octave scale. Six pitches are played each second - one for each detector. Low pitches indicate high activity, while higher pitches indicate lower counts.

    As activity increases, the musical instruments scale as well. The main instrument at the lowest level of activity is a piano. Two instruments up, it becomes a marimba. Further activity is indicated by a steel drum or a guitar, while the peak of normal activity is indicated by the strum of a banjo.

    During the course of a significant solar event such as a solar flare, radiation activity may exceed the normal operating range. In such a case, the software creates a second operating range with the piano at the bottom and banjo at the top, but the background violin and cello scales. A drop in pitch for the background instruments indicates a move to the secondary range.

    24-hours of space tunes

    LRO broadcasts 24 hours, and is live at all times except when the craft travels behind the moon. During this blackout period, the station reuses the previous hour's activity, changing the sound of the background bongo drum and muting the chiming triangle.

    The process, known as sonofication, converts data into sound and has been utilized in a number of fields on a variety of missions, including Voyager 1, Voyager 2 and Kepler.

    "Music makes it easier for people to take in the data, and it seems to be a natural fit for space missions," LRO project scientist John Keller, of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said in a statement.

    Visit the Internet radio website to hear the music online or to find out more information about the downloadable apps: http://www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/musical-space-weather-reports-from-nasas-lro/index.html#.UtWgsbSmaGu

    Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Monday, Feb. 3, 2014

    Catalin Island, Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands, Micronesia. (Alamy)

    WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - It's a story that almost defies belief: A man leaves Mexico in December 2012 for a day of shark fishing and ends up surviving 13 months on fish, birds and turtles before washing ashore on the remote Marshall Islands some 5,500 miles (8,800 kilometers) away.

    But that's what a man identifying himself as 37-year-old Jose Salvador Alvarenga told the U.S. ambassador in the Marshall Islands and the nation's officials during a 30-minute meeting Monday before he was taken to a local hospital for monitoring. Alvarenga washed ashore on the tiny atoll of Ebon in the Pacific Ocean last week before being taken to the capital, Majuro, on Monday.

    "It's hard for me to imagine someone surviving 13 months at sea," said Ambassador Tom Armbruster in Majuro. "But it's also hard to imagine how someone might arrive on Ebon out of the blue. Certainly this guy has had an ordeal, and has been at sea for some time."

    Other officials were reacting cautiously to the Spanish-speaking man's story while they try to piece together more information.

    If true, the man's ordeal would rank among the greatest tales ever of survival at sea.

    Mexico's Foreign Relations Department says the man told Mexico's Ambassador to the Philippines, Julio Camarena, that he set out from an area near the coastal town of Tonala in southern Chiapas state, which would mean his journey covered a distance of more than 6,500 miles (10,460 kilometers), if he drifted in a straight line.

    Armbruster said the soft-spoken man complained of joint pain Monday and had a limp but was able to walk. He had long hair and a beard, the ambassador said, and rather than appearing emaciated he looked puffy in places, including around his ankles. Otherwise, he added, Alvarenga seemed in reasonable health.

    Armbruster, who speaks Spanish, said the survivor told the following story:

    He's a native of El Salvador but had lived in Mexico for 15 years and fishes for a man he knows as Willie, catching sharks for 25 pesos ($1.90) per pound.

    On Dec. 21, 2012, Alvarenga left Mexico in his 23-foot (7-meter) fiberglass boat for a day's fishing, accompanied by a teen he knew only as Ezekiel, who was between 15 and 18.

    A storm blew the fishermen off course, and soon they were lost and adrift.

    "He talked about scooping up little fish that swam alongside the boat and eating them raw," Armbruster said. "He also said he ate birds, and drank birds' blood."

    After about a month, Ezekiel died, the survivor told officials.

    Alvarenga also talked about eating turtles. Once near Ebon, he swam ashore.

    "He thanked God, initially, that he had survived," the ambassador said. "He's very anxious to get back in touch with his employer, and also with the family of Ezekiel. That's his driving motivation at the moment."

    Armbruster said the man said he had no family in Mexico but he does have three brothers who live in the U.S., although he could not immediately provide officials with contact details. The Mexican government also quoted the man as saying he had no family in Mexico.

    Gee Bing, the acting secretary of foreign affairs for the Marshall Islands, said he was somewhat skeptical of Alvarenga's account after meeting with him Monday.

    "It does sound like an incredible story, and I'm not sure if I believe his story," Bing said. "When we saw him, he was not really thin compared to other survivors in the past. I may have some doubts. Once we start communicating with where he's from, we'll be able to find out more information."

    Bing said the man had no identification with him, and other details of his story remained sketchy. Camarena said Alvarenga gave his hometown as Garita Palmera, in El Salvador's Ahuachapan province. Mexico said it was coordinating with the Salvadoran government to provide assistance to the man.

    The survivor's vital signs appeared good except that his blood pressure was a bit low, Bing said. After doctors give him the all-clear, Bing said, officials hope to repatriate him to Mexico or whatever country is appropriate.

    Erik van Sebille, a Sydney-based oceanographer at the University of New South Wales, said there was a good chance a boat drifting off Mexico's west coast would eventually be carried by currents to the Marshall Islands. He said such a journey would typically take 18 months to two years depending on the winds and currents, although 13 months was possible.

    "The way that the currents in the Pacific work is that there is a very strong westerly current just north of the equator and that basically drives you directly from Mexico all the way toward Indonesia and in the path, you go right over the Marshall Islands," he said.

    There have been other cases of people surviving for months adrift in the Pacific. In a case with similarities, three Mexican shark fishermen in 2006 said they were lost at sea for nine months before being rescued near the Marshall Islands. In 1989, four men survived nearly four months in the Pacific Ocean near New Zealand after their multi-hulled boat capsized.

     

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    Updated Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 5 p.m. ET
    US-WEATHER-SNOW
    People walk dogs February 3, 2014, in Central Park as a snowstorm hits New York. (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

    A major winter storm with heavy snow, ice and a wintry mix will reach from the central Plains to the Midwest and Northeast spanning Tuesday night and Wednesday.

    It will hit barely after some people had time to dig out from two prior storms in the Midwest and the Monday storm in the Northeast.

    Storm Satellite Image
    (NOAA)

    By the time the storm has ended it will have directly affected more than two dozen states and at least 100 million people with snow and/or ice. Travel delays and disruptions to daily activities are likely. The storm will hit especially swiftly and hard over part of the central Appalachians to New England.

    The storm has the potential to drop 6 inches or more of snow on portions of Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. In part of the Northeast, the bulk of the snow will fall in six hours or less.

    Snowstorm

    Some areas are expected to see more than a foot of snow from northeastern Pennsylvania to southern New Hampshire.

    Snowfall

    The storm was hitting Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois Tuesday.

    There is a long list of major cities that can receive enough snow to shovel and plow. These include Kansas City, Mo.; St. Louis; Chicago; Indianapolis; Cleveland; Detroit; Boston; Scranton, Pa.; Hartford, Conn.; and Buffalo, N.Y.

    Accumulating snow will also fall on the Canada cities of Toronto, Montreal and St. John, New Brunswick.

    A long stretch of the I-70, I-80 and I-81 corridors will be hit by the storm as it rolls northeastward.

    Storm

    The bulk of the storm will hit the Midwest Tuesday night and the Northeast late Tuesday night into Wednesday.

    Winds may be strong enough to cause blowing and drifting snow near the end of the storm over parts of the Central states and Northeast during Tuesday night and Wednesday.

    A zone of wintry mix, snow changing to rain, or a period of ice will occur with the storm south and east of the heavy snow area.

    In a narrow zone, as the snow becomes more wet and heavy or changes to ice, there is the potential for downed trees and power outages. The area where this is most likely to occur will reach from eastern Oklahoma to a large part of Arkansas, along the Ohio River, part of the I-81 corridor in the central Appalachians and the I-95 corridor from the northern mid-Atlantic to southern New England. This includes the area around Little Rock, Ark., Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New York City.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Latest Watches, Warnings, Advisories
    Northeast Regional Radar

    In some cases, the rain will wash away the newly fallen snow, which can lead to urban flooding.

    Even at airports not directly affected by heavy wintry precipitation, there is the potential for rounds of flight delays and cancellations with this storm.

    Additional major winter storms and associated disruptions to travel and daily activities will follow through at least the middle of the month approximately every two to four days.

    The amount of snow on the ground may build to and beyond a couple of feet in some areas of the central Plains, Midwest and Northeast.

    One particular storm bears watching in the East Sunday into Monday.

    However, at least the next storm in the train will have a bit more separation and may offer more time to prepare, compared to the storms during the first half of this week.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Winter Storm Hits from Midwest to Northeast
    Kansas Winter Storm Photos

     

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    Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014
    APTOPIX Deep Freeze
    Ice collects on the Delaware River in view of Philadelphia, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    As storms continue to bring heavy snow in a swath from the Midwest to the Northeast, they will also raise the potential for flooding.

    The immediate concern will be in portions of the Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic that have recently received heavy snow. Enough rain can fall in this area to the I-95 region to bring the risk of urban flooding Tuesday night into Wednesday.

    Following another period of slippery travel in some locations, melting snow and rainfall can lead to blocked storm drains and street flooding.

    Cities or some of the suburbs thereof that may experience minor flooding problems with the midweek storm include: Louisville, Ky.; Cincinnati; Pittsburgh; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore; Wilmington, Del.; Philadelphia; and New York City.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Latest Watches, Warnings, Advisories
    Northeast Regional Radar

    The midweek storm will bring also bring the possibility of flash and urban flooding to part of the lower Mississippi and Tennessee Valley. Locally severe thunderstorms with gusty winds are possible within this zone.

    Additional storms of various strength will continue to hit approximately every two to four days.

    A storm due to hit the Northeast on Sunday into Monday is also likely to raise the potential for coastal flooding at times of high tide. The storm early next week is forecast to be strong enough to produce gusty winds from off the ocean from perhaps as far south as Delmarva to as far northeast as eastern New England and the Maritimes.

    While each storm will bring a zone of drenching rain on their southern flank, snow cover will build on their colder flank and may increase the risk for flooding later.

    The storms through mid-month will pack more water content than the storms from January because of their origin. Most storms moving forward into February will grab plenty of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. So not only will the snow be more difficult to shovel and plow, but the snow will release more water when it melts compared to snow earlier this winter.

    At the end of the siege of snowstorms, a broad area may end up with a couple of feet of snow on the ground.

    Not enough warm air may work into part of the Upper Midwest and interior Northeast in the wake of each storm to gradually melt the snow on the ground and the ice on rivers. This raises the risk for a sudden, big meltdown and ice-jam flooding later on this winter.

    The upcoming cycle of thaws and freezes will lead to an increasing number of potholes and the potential for water main breaks.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014
    Winter Weather Cabin Fever
    Joanne Kehoe, right, watches while her children, from left, Maria, Anthony and Veronica play with shaving cream on the kitchen table while trying to combat cabin fever, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/R Brent Smith)

    ST. LOUIS (AP) - T.J. Rutherford loves to golf, even in the winter. Just not this winter.

    With single-digit temperatures and sub-zero wind chills becoming the norm from the Midwest to the East Coast, often combined with snow or ice, the 59-year-old and his Illinois golfing buddies are no longer just bundling up. They're staying inside.

    "I'm on my third 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle," said Rutherford, who lives in Carterville, about 100 miles southeast of St. Louis. "I haven't done that in a long time."

    Cabin fever is setting in for countless Americans as bitter cold, heavy snowfall and paralyzing ice storms keep pounding a large swath of the country. School districts across two-thirds of the U.S. are reporting higher than normal numbers of snow days, while social service agencies are trying to work around the forecasts to get to people in need.

    Heavy snow was falling - again - in New York on Monday, and up to 8 inches of snow was expected Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo. Later this week, snow was forecast from the Plains to the East Coast, with no break in the cold.

    Some records have been broken - Detroit, for example, recorded 39.1 inches of snow in January, a record for the month - but the weather isn't especially unusual, said Alex Sosnowski, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather. He said this winter seems worse because so many recent winters have been mild.

    "A lot of people probably are going a little stir crazy," he said. "But if you look at the broad picture, this is probably a once in 10- to 20-year winter. We were probably due for it a little bit."

    That isn't welcome news for those holed up at home, especially parents whose children keep racking up snow days.

    In Indiana, where some schools were closed for a full week in January because of the weather and road conditions, Joanne Kehoe has to entertain her four children, ages 2 through 8, when classes get cancelled in Indianapolis. She said it can be especially trying because her oldest is autistic and has a "tendency to bolt" if he is off his routine, so that limits where the family can go.

    It helps that her husband, an attorney, can often take time off work.

    "We usually divide and conquer," Kehoe said, acknowledging that shoveling snow while listening to e-books provides her "a little quiet time."

    Amy Murnan has been homebound with her four children - ages 8, 10, 12 and 13 - in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina on four snow days, an unusually large number for a region well-accustomed to tough winters. But she welcomes the break.

    "We're really busy and we spend most of the time running around to games and practices and lessons," Murnan said. "So it was actually kind of great for me to have nowhere to be and nothing to do. We don't get that very often."

    In suburban St. Louis, students in the Rockwood School District have already missed more than a week of school because of snow or ice. One snow day was called because it was too cold for the buses to start.

    "After the eighth snow day, even the kids were like, 'We're happy to be in school,'" district spokeswoman Cathy Orta said. "But safety is our first priority."

    The weather also has taxed communities' pocketbooks.

    St. Louis has already opened the city's main emergency homeless shelter more days than budgeted. In Kansas, county officials keep lists of people who live in areas that tend to become isolated in winter storms, and can enlist the National Guard to help if needed, said Sharon Watson, a spokeswoman for the state adjutant general.

    Programs that provide in-home services, such as Meals on Wheels, have had to plan around the forecasts. Sarah McKinney, who runs the program in Athens, Ga., said last week's ice storm forced the program to shut down for two days. Volunteers, aware of the forecast, provided boxed meals in advance, so the seniors had plenty to eat.

    The bigger concern, McKinney said, is that the volunteers weren't able to check on their clients.

    "We check on these people five to seven days a week and we're seeing them face-to-face," McKinney said. "We don't like to let two full business days pass."

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    An amazing new photo of Saturn's north pole puts the planet's odd hexagon-shaped jet stream and dazzling rings on display.

    NASA's Cassini spacecraft exploring Saturn and its moons snapped the photo - which NASA released today (Feb. 3) - as the probe flew 1.6 million miles (2.5 million kilometers) above the ringed planet.

    Cassini took its newest view of Saturn's polar vortex on Nov. 23, 2013, though the image itself was just released today. The hexagonal vortex is about 20,000 miles (30,000 km) across and is a jet stream made up of 200 mph winds (322 km/h) surrounding a huge storm, NASA officials have said. Scientists have not found another weather feature exactly like this anywhere in the solar system, space agency officials said. [See more amazing photos of Saturn's bizarre hexagon storm]

    "The hexagon is just a current of air, and weather features out there that share similarities to this are notoriously turbulent and unstable," Andrew Ingersoll, a Cassini imaging team member at the California Institute of Technology, said in a statement in 2013. "A hurricane on Earth typically lasts a week, but this has been here for decades - and who knows - maybe centuries."

    Saturn's hexagonal jet stream might be so long lasting because the planet is basically a giant ball of gas. Landmasses disrupt currents on Earth, but the storm remains stable on Saturn due to a lack of solid landforms, according to NASA.

    Cassini has been able to image the strange feature since 2009 when Saturn's northern hemisphere became illuminated by the sun during the planet's northern spring, NASA officials said. Scientists used 128 of Cassini's images to create an incredible video of the hexagon-shaped jet stream last year.

    Cassini isn't the first spacecraft to see Saturn's strange jet stream. NASA's Voyager mission first spotted the hexagon in the 1980s.

    The $3.2 billion Cassini mission launched toward Saturn in 1997. It arrived at the ringed wonder in 2004 and has been sending back incredible photos of the planet and its moons since then. The probe is currently on an extended mission, and is expected to collect data until at least 2017, at which point it will burn up in Saturn's atmosphere.

    "As we approach Saturn's summer solstice in 2017, lighting conditions over its north pole will improve, and we are excited to track the changes that occur both inside and outside the hexagon boundary," Scott Edgington, Cassini deputy project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement in 2013.

    Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2013

    A Salvadorean castaway who identified himself as Jose Salvador Alvarenga walks with the help of a Majuro Hospital nurse in Majuro after a 22-hour boat ride from isolated Ebon Atoll on Feb. 3, 2014. (HILARY HOSIA/AFP/Getty Images)

    GARITA PALMERA, El Salvador (AP) - A Salvadoran fisherman's account of his survival after more than 13 months and about 6,500 miles in an open boat has proved a double miracle for his mother and father, who lost touch with him eight years ago and thought he was dead.

    Jose Salvador Alvarenga's family reacted with joy and tears after two phone calls from their long lost son, who said he was getting medical treatment and food - he later got a shave and a haircut. But he confessed to his mother he didn't really know where he was.

    The family provided details that may help explain his almost unbelievable survival after what may have been as many as 14½ months adrift.

    His father, Jose Ricardo Orellana, 65, who owns a store and flour mill in the seaside Salvadoran town of Garita Palmera, described a strong, stocky young man who first went to sea at age 14. "The sea was his thing," Orellana said.

    Maria Julia Alvarenga, 59, said her son always had unusual strength and resilience.

    Recounting the phone calls with her son from the Marshall Islands, she broke into tears. "We hadn't heard from him for eight years, we thought he was dead already. This is a miracle, glory to God."

    Jose Salvador Alvarenga's 14-year-old daughter, Fatima, said she didn't remember ever seeing her father, who left El Salvador when she was just over a year old.

    "I'm so very happy to know he's alive," said Fatima. "He's alive and I'm going to see him."

    Gee Bing, the Marshall Islands' acting secretary of foreign affairs, said he helped relocate Alvarenga from the hospital to a hotel in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, on Tuesday.

    "He requested that we give him some time to rest. I don't think he got enough sleep at the hospital, and he wanted to rest and also get a haircut," Bing said. "When we dropped him off at the hotel, there was someone there to take him to the barber."

    Bing said that at the hospital, Alvarenga had a constant stream of journalists and well-wishers wanting to talk to him. They brought him gifts, including blankets, pillows, clothes and fruit. The hotel stepped up security to try to provide him some privacy, Bing added.

    The official said medical tests showed Alvarenga was doing well. He was taking vitamins, and Tylenol to ease his joint pain, but was otherwise recovering nicely. He said questions remained about Alvarenga's story but authorities were focusing on repatriating him to El Salvador.

    Bing said that he expected it to take one to two weeks for authorities to finalize Alvarenga's repatriation, and that the Marshall Islands government would likely pick up the tab for his stay.

    The official said Alvarenga also spoke by phone Tuesday to his brother in Maryland for the first time in years: "He got very emotional."

    Alvarenga's parents said he was known in his hometown as "Cirilo," a nickname that coincides with the first name of a man registered as missing with civil defense officials in the southern Mexico state of Chiapas. The civil defense office said a small fishing boat carrying two men, named Cirilo Vargas and Ezequiel Cordoba, disappeared during bad weather on Nov. 17, 2012, and no trace of them or the craft was found during an intense two-week search.

    Alvarenga said his fellow fisherman, who he identified only with the first name of Ezequiel, died after about a month at sea and he tossed his body overboard. Alvarenga said he survived on raw fish, birds, bird blood and turtles before washing ashore on the remote Marshall Islands atoll of Ebon, 6,500 miles across the Pacific Ocean from the fishing hamlet of Costa Azul, Mexico, where he set out.

    There was no immediate explanation of the discrepancy in dates given by Alvarenga and Mexican authorities or the survivor's different names. Alvarenga said he set sail on Dec. 21, 2012, but fisherman in Costa Azul said an overweight Central American man known as "La Chancha," or "the Pig," had been lost since November 2012. Alvarenga may have used multiple nicknames, and he has seemed fuzzy about details of his voyage.

    Jose Manuel Aragon, spokesman for the Chiapas state civil defense office, said two weeks of searches were fruitless and reflected the widespread incredulity at Alvarenga's tale.

    "It was probably something that was planned beforehand, something we had no knowledge of," Aragon said. "Our only duty was to carry out search and rescue operations."

    Villermino Rodriguez, a young fishing boat owner in Costa Azul known as "Willie," described Alvarenga as a heavy set, quiet man. Alvarenga has said he worked for Willie.

    Rodriguez said the two men set out despite warnings that day about heavy rains and high winds. He, too, wondered about the survival story.

    "You can imagine a lot of things, but that is something he should explain," Rodriguez said. "There are things that don't match up. I knew him, but I have a lot of doubts."

    Central America is a major transshipment route for U.S.-bound drugs, but there is no evidence traffickers would use such a small boat to try to make such a long journey.

    Alvarenga did not appear badly sunburned, despite his account of spending such a long time adrift.

    "It's hard for me to imagine someone surviving 13 months at sea," U.S. Ambassador Tom Armbruster said in Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands, after speaking with Alvarenga. "But it's also hard to imagine how someone might arrive on Ebon out of the blue. Certainly this guy has had an ordeal, and has been at sea for some time."

    Armbruster said the soft-spoken man complained of joint pain Monday and had a limp, but could walk. He had long hair and a beard, and rather than appearing emaciated he looked puffy in places, including around his ankles, the ambassador said. Otherwise, he added, Alvarenga seemed in reasonable health.

    Armbruster, who speaks Spanish, said Alvarenga told him he was working for Willie, catching sharks for 25 pesos ($1.90) a pound, when a storm blew his 23-foot (7-meter) fiberglass boat off course.

    "He talked about scooping up little fish that swam alongside the boat and eating them raw," Armbruster said. "He also said he ate birds and drank birds' blood."

    Other elements of the story supported Alvarenga's account. Photos from the Marshall Islands published by Britain's Telegraph newspaper showed the boat he purportedly arrived in. It bore the hand-lettered name of a Chiapas fishing cooperative, Camaroneros de la Costa, that Alvarenga said he worked for. The photos also showed an enormous plastic cooler that Alvarenga purportedly used to shelter himself from the sun and sea.

    No one answered calls to a phone number listed for the cooperative in Chiapas.

    Alvarenga's story mirrors the apparent ordeal of three Mexican fishermen rescued by a trawler near the Marshall Islands after nine months at sea in 2006.

    Despite many doubters, fishermen Lucio Rendon, Salvador Ordonez and Jesus Vidana stuck to their story, saying they left Mexico's Pacific port of San Blas on Oct. 28, 2005, and they were rescued Aug. 9, 2006, by a Taiwanese fishing ship 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles) away.

    The trio, who were also on a shark-fishing expedition in an open boat similar in size to Alvarenga's, said they survived by taking shelter from the sun under a blanket, eating raw fish and birds and drinking rain water and their urine.

     

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    Deep Freeze
    (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

    Shivering triggers a response in muscles similar to that of exercise, new research suggests.

    The study, published today (Feb. 4) in the journal Cell Metabolism, found that the muscles of shivering people triggers the release of a hormone that activates brown fat, a type of fat that burns energy to generate heat.

    If this same response could be activated by a drug, then scientists could one day develop medicines that could amp up energy expenditure, without requiring people to break a sweat -- or a shiver, said study co-author Dr. Francesco Celi, an endocrinologist at Virginia Commonwealth University.

    Shivering effects

    Several studies have shown that people respond to the cold by increasing their energy expenditure, said Celi, who conducted the new research while at the National Institutes of Health. A hormone called irisin seemed critical in the process, but exactly how it was linked to energy expenditure wasn't clear.

    To find out, Celi asked seven healthy study participants to ride a bike as hard as they could, and measured their maximum oxygen uptake, or VO2 max. This allowed the researchers to calculate the participants' maximum energy expenditure. The volunteers also spent an hour exercising at 40 percent of their maximal capacity.

    After each bout of exercise, the researchers took blood samples and measured levels of several chemicals, including irisin.

    It turned out that muscle contractions stimulated the release of irisin. [9 Myths That Can Make You Fat]

    Then, the participants spent some time lying in bed. After calculating their energy expenditure, the researchers covered the participants with blankets pumped full of cold water.

    Most of the participants started shivering. An hour later, the researchers drew volunteers' blood and measured their circulating hormone levels.

    "With shivering, we obtained a similar increase in irisin level as maximum exercise, or one hour of exercise, but the timing was much shorter and the amount of energy expenditure was lower than these two types of exercise," Celi told Live Science.

    Brown fat

    The team suspected that brown fat, which often is found in hibernating animals but also to some extent in humans, played a role. To find out, they exposed ordinary, white fat cells to irisin in a lab dish. After a while, the irisin stimulated the release of chemicals usually made by brown fat to produce heat.

    The findings suggest that both shivering and muscle contraction stimulate the release of this hormone. Irisin then turns on brown fat, and allows it to burn energy to produce heat.

    However, it's probably too soon to swap out a jog for sitting in a chilly room, as no studies have shown that shivering on its own can lead to weight loss. (Even exercise, without calorie restriction, doesn't do much to help people shed pounds, Celi said.)

    Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014
    Sochi Olympics Ski
    A competitor takes a jump during a ski slopestyle training session at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, prior to the 2014 Winter Olympics, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

    The opening ceremonies of the XXII Winter Games at Sochi, Russia, should not be hampered by adverse weather conditions.

    Dry weather is forecast as the ceremonies commence Friday around 8:00 p.m. local time, Feb. 7, 2014, with a temperature near 44 F; 6.7 C.

    According to world weather expert Jason Nicholls, "For athletes practicing during this week leading up to the start of the games, most of the time will be dry with seasonable temperatures."

    The average February high temperature at the city of Sochi, located along the coast of the Black Sea, is in the upper 40s F or 9 C. Well inland, at the base of the Krasnaya Polyana in the Caucasus Mountains, the average high is in the middle to upper 30s F or around 3 C. However, temperatures trend downward approximately 5.5 F or 3 C per thousand feet of increasing elevation.

    The terrain is very similar to that of the Vancouver, B.C. Winter Games. Correspondingly, the weather behaves similarly to the weather along the British Columbia and Washington coasts.

    "Some snow is possible at the mountain venues during the week of Feb. 10, but no major storms are forecast to impact the region," Nichols said.

    Any precipitation will fall as rain in Sochi during the first week of the games. Even milder air is expected to build over the region during the week of the 17th.

    Switzerland's Carlo Janka passes a gate during the first run of the Men's giant slalom, at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

    "There is plenty of snow on the slopes now and it is not likely to disappear during the games, despite the upcoming mild weather," Nicholls said.

    Snowmaking equipment exists at the mountain venues. Snow has also been stored nearby in case warm weather causes the snow to melt at intermediate levels.


    A general view of the Alpine ski course looking down to the finish area, center left, ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)

    Another concern is that any gusty winds over the mountains could make the existing snowpack unstable, potentially raising the risk for avalanches.

    However, there are preventative measures in place should the situation arise.

    Overall, the weather pattern during the Sochi Games is expected to be precipitation-free much of the time with near- to above-normal temperatures.

    Photos on SKYE: 20 Great Winter Olympics Photos to Get You Psyched for Sochi

     

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    Updated Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 1 p.m. ET
    Winter storm
    A pedestrian crosses Douglas Avenue on a bike during a snowstorm on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, in Wichita, Kan. (Travis Heying/Wichita Eagle/MCT via Getty Images)

    As the latest winter storm delivers a swath of snow reaching more than 1,500 miles at midweek, another snowstorm is being monitored for this weekend.

    The timing of the storm as it travels from the Rockies and Southwest is Saturday to Sunday over the Central states and Sunday to Monday in the East.

    The upcoming storm could be the most intense, and correspondingly the most disruptive, of the recent barrage especially as the storm nears and moves along the Atlantic coast.

    This is provided the storm does not have competition with another storm nearby.

    The snow this weekend could affect major hubs in the East, such as New York City, Philadelphia, Washington and Boston into Monday's morning commute.

    East Coast Storm

    Many airlines may still be trying to catch up and get back on schedule in the wake of the recent storms.

    The Single-Storm Scenario

    One scenario suggests the storm may develop into a blizzard as it nears the Atlantic Ocean. As a result, people from Virginia to Maine will need to watch this one carefully.

    If the storm develops to its full potential along the mid-Atlantic coast, it may deliver not only snowfall rates of several inches per hour to inland areas of the Northeast, but also strong winds.

    East Coast Storm

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Latest Watches, Warnings, Advisories
    Frequent Storms to Raise Flood Risk

    These winds would cause extensive blowing and drifting snow over the central Appalachians to New England with local whiteout conditions. A period of strong onshore winds would bring coastal flooding and beach erosion over the upper mid-Atlantic to eastern New England. A return flow from the west would bring cold air back in quickly to the coast.

    New England and the Maritimes have the best chance of a period of windswept snow Sunday into Monday.

    The Two-Storm Scenario

    Another scenario would be for the storm to behave more like other storms have done recently with a period of light to moderate snow streaking across part of the Midwest to part of the Northeast. Winds would be significantly less and probably not a factor. Overall, a more manageable snowfall would occur.

    Supporting this less intense storm idea on Sunday to Monday is a front-running and weaker storm that will roll across the South on Friday night with rain showers and then could brush the Northeast on Saturday with a swath of snow.

    Saturday Storm

    Recall that a similar sneaky storm brought over 6 inches of snow to parts of the Northeast this past Monday.

    According to senior meteorologist Mark Mancuso, "With so many storms on the playing field, the atmosphere may not have the energy available to allow the Sunday to Monday storm to become a major event until it has bypassed the United States."

    With this latter scenario, there would be two weaker storms, rather than one very strong system.

    Either way, it appears another episode of travel disruptions and concern for daily activities will sweep from the Central states to the East Coast.

    Saturday Storm

    In both scenarios, rain would fall across the Deep South and some snow would sweep across part of the southern Plains during Saturday night and the Tennessee Valley and southern Appalachians on Sunday. A period of snow would also streak eastward across the Midwest cities of St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati and Cleveland.

    However, a stronger storm would imply more thunderstorm activity and a greater risk for severe weather in part of the Southeastern states.

    The details on the nature of storm for this weekend will unfold in the coming days.

    More Storms Beyond This Weekend

    According to senior meteorologist Henry Margusity, "The Sunday to Monday weather event will not mark an end to the stormy pattern. Additional storms are on deck through at least the middle of February."

    Another storm may affect part of the eastern third of the nation with snow and rain around Valentine's Day.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Winter Storm Hits from Midwest to Northeast
    Kansas Winter Storm Photos

     

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    Updated Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 11:31 a.m. ET
    Earl Barnes shovels snow off the sidewalk in front of Smith's Market on S. Main St. in Hutchinson, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. The winter storm dumped more than 10 inches of snow on the city from late Monday to late Tuesday. (AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse)
    Earl Barnes shovels snow off the sidewalk in front of Smith's Market on S. Main St. in Hutchinson, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. (AP Photo/The Hutchinson News, Travis Morisse)

    Winter-weary residents of the Northeast are getting another dose of snow, sleet and freezing rain, with the second storm of the week canceling classes, closing government and business offices, and causing power outages across the region after causing similar havoc in the Midwest on Tuesday. Anywhere from a few inches to a foot or more of snow is expected to fall Wednesday on East Coast states, while some are getting freezing rain and sleet that makes driving treacherous. It's their second go-round since Monday.


    (NOAA)

    ARKANSAS

    A day after snow, sleet and freezing rain pushed through Arkansas, leaving thousands without power, more wintry precipitation is forecast.

    Lows Wednesday may be in the 20s in northern Arkansas and the 30s in the central and south regions. But there are chances of snow across north and central Arkansas starting Wednesday and running into Friday.

    Entergy Arkansas says about 38,000 customers were without power Wednesday morning. The Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas reported another 10,400 customers without electricity Wednesday morning.

    CONNECTICUT

    Connecticut's governor and legislative leaders agreed to delay the start of the General Assembly's annual session because of snow.

    Gov. Dannel P. Malloy says legislative leaders agreed to move the planned Wednesday opening to Thursday. The joint session will begin at noon Thursday when Malloy delivers his State of the State Address.

    PHOTOS: Winter Storm Slams Midwest to Northeast
    Malloy also ordered a delayed opening for state offices on Wednesday, with nonessential state employees to report at 10 a.m. Many schools are closed.

    Metro-North canceled and combined some trains on the New Haven Line.

    The National Weather Service forecasts 6 to 10 inches of snow and sleet in northwestern Connecticut, 5 to 9 inches in the Hartford area and 1 to 3 inches along the shoreline. A winter storm warning is in effect until 6 p.m.

    ILLINOIS

    Heavy, blowing snow is slowing travel across much of Illinois.

    The Illinois Department of Transportation says the "majority" of the state's roads are covered with snow and ice.

    The National Weather Service in Romeoville says up to 6 inches of snow is expected in the Chicago area, along with winds that could reach 25 mph.

    Central Illinois could get 8 inches by the time the storm system moves through later in the morning.

    Bitter temperatures are expected to follow the storm.

    IOWA

    Snow that began falling on Tuesday is expected to leave several inches by early Wednesday.

    Authorities say road conditions may have contributed to a vehicle collision in Des Moines that killed one person.

    INDIANA

    Most counties across Indiana are asking people to restrict their travel as crews clean up from heavy snowfall or freezing rain in much of the state.

    The National Weather Service reports Indiana's midsection has the heaviest snowfalls from the storm that arrived Tuesday. About 7 inches of snow is reported in Indianapolis and Terre Haute, with more than 8 inches reported near Bloomington.

    The state's northern and southern counties had 2 to 3 inches of snow in many places, although some sections of southern Indiana have seen freezing rain at times.

    Most school districts from Evansville through central Indiana to Fort Wayne canceled classes Wednesday. Many government offices also are closed for the day or delaying their openings.

    Purdue University is canceling its morning classes at its West Lafayette campus. Classes and normal operations will resume at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The Indiana-Purdue campus in Fort Wayne is closed Wednesday, while IUPUI in Indianapolis is closed through 5 p.m.

    Duke Energy reported about 2,500 outages across Floyd, Clark, Harrison and Crawford counties.

    KANSAS

    Gov. Sam Brownback has ordered state offices in the Topeka area closed for a second consecutive day because of a winter storm.

    The Legislature also canceled all of its meetings for Wednesday.

    Authorities blame slick conditions for a two-car crash in southeast Kansas that killed two people.

    The northern half of the state is expected to have wind chill temperatures of 15 to 25 below zero throughout Wednesday, with actual daytime temperature of 5 to 10 degrees.

    KENTUCKY

    Freezing rain and ice that moved through Kentucky overnight have left thousands of people without power.

    According to the Public Service Commission, most of the outages were reported in Jefferson County, which had about 10,000 people without power early Wednesday.

    The National Weather Service reported the winter storm that hit Tuesday evening left about a quarter-inch of ice over much of the central and northern regions of the state.

    The weather led several schools systems to cancel classes Wednesday.

    MAINE

    Maine is under a winter storm warning as a big snowstorm makes its way into the region.

    Snow is expected to begin falling before sunrise Wednesday, intensifying during the morning commute, and tapering off in the afternoon.

    Maine could see 4 to 8 inches.

    MARYLAND

    The National Weather Service has issued warnings for a wide area from western Maryland to northern Delaware, including the suburban counties north of Baltimore and west of Washington.

    Those areas could get a quarter-inch of ice by Wednesday morning. Counties in western and northern Maryland could get up to a third of an inch. The Maryland State Highway Administration says crews have been salting roads overnight.

    The federal government is open, but workers can telework or take unscheduled leave. Many schools are closed or are opening late.

    Maryland emergency management officials report rising power outages with 73,000 customers in the dark, mostly in counties north and west of Baltimore.

    MASSACHUSETTS

    A storm that could drop a foot or more of snow in some places is making its way across Massachusetts.

    The snow hit western portions of the state in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday.

    Communities including Boston, Worcester and Springfield closed schools and banned street parking to prepare for snow removal.

    Gov. Deval Patrick has told all non-essential state employees working in the executive branch to stay home.

    A winter storm warning will remain in effect through late Wednesday afternoon. Six to 12 inches of snow is expected, with 3 to 6 inches in southeastern areas before a changeover to sleet and rain. The higher elevations of the Berkshires in western Massachusetts could see up to 15 inches.

    MICHIGAN

    Another winter storm is pushing across southern Michigan, with 5 to 8 inches of snow expected in three counties along the Indiana and Ohio state lines.

    The weather service has issued a storm warning for St. Joseph, Branch and Hillsdale counties through Wednesday afternoon.

    Lesser amounts of snow are expected in areas farther north, including in metropolitan Detroit.

    MISSISSIPPI

    Gov. Phil Bryant has declared a state of emergency in preparation for the severe weather.

    Northern portions of the state could see winter weather conditions, including ice and freezing rain. Additional portions of the state could see heavy rain and thunderstorms, which could cause flooding.

    Forecasts for Coahoma, Desoto and Tunica counties calls for up to four-tenths an inch of ice and up to two-tenths an inch of sleet. In Benton, Marshall, Panola, Tate, Tallahatchie and Quitman counties, weather experts say residents could see up to two-tenths an inch of ice and sleet.

    MISSOURI

    Some schools and businesses in Missouri are expected to remain closed Wednesday as snow tapers off in the morning.

    The Missouri Department of Transportation warns that wind gusts could make road conditions dangerous, even after roads are plowed.

    A Southwest Airlines jet arriving from Denver got stuck in a snow bank Tuesday evening at Kansas City International Airport. A Southwest spokesman said all 55 passengers on Flight 305, a Boeing 737, were placed on buses and taken to the terminal.

    NEW HAMPSHIRE

    The snow started falling before sunrise Wednesday and quickly picked up in strength for the morning commute. The state Department of Transportation lowered highway speeds to 45 mph.

    The snow is expected to taper off in the afternoon. When it's all over, the southern half of New Hampshire could get anywhere from 7 to 14 inches of snow.

    NEW JERSEY

    Temperatures are determining whether the ride to work in New Jersey is wet or icy.

    Snow is mainly a problem north of Interstate 78, where 4 to 8 inches are possible.

    But colder air in central New Jersey is creating sleet and freezing rain. It's mainly raining from Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean counties south Wednesday morning.

    Nearly 30,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey are without electricity. Schools are closed or have delayed opening.

    The National Weather Service expects temperatures to rise and the precipitation to changeover to rain by noon.

    Gov. Chris Christie has declared a state of emergency and state offices are closed for non-essential employees.

    NEW MEXICO

    Forecasters say a cold front Wednesday could bring more snow to the northeastern part of the state and could even bring snow to dry southeast areas.

    NEW YORK

    The New York metropolitan area is seeing another bout of Old Man Winter.

    A mix of snow and freezing rain began falling after midnight.

    Manhattan and the Bronx should get anywhere from 3 to 6 inches of snow and up to a half of inch of ice. Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island are looking at 2 to 4 inches of snow and a coating of ice.

    The MTA says Metro-North service will be reduced by 18 percent on morning trains. The agency says subway trains are running on schedule but bus riders should expect significant delays.

    A winter storm warning is in effect until 6 p.m. Wednesday on Long Island.

    In upstate New York, hundreds of schools are closed and authorities are advising against any unnecessary travel.

    The National Weather Service is predicting snowfall totals of 6 to 16 inches by the time the storm ends Wednesday night.

    OHIO

    Most of Ohio was hit with another bout or heavy snow and freezing rain, closing hundreds schools and creating extremely hazardous driving conditions.

    Much of the state was slammed with 4 to 8 inches of snow overnight. Many counties declared snow emergencies.

    Officials were advising people to stay off the roads if possible Wednesday morning and some local governments and businesses closed or delayed opening. Scattered power outages were reported.

    A winter storm warning was in effect until 10 a.m., with ice storm and flood warnings for the southern sections of the state. The storm was expected to move out by late morning.

    OKLAHOMA

    A storm that dumped several inches of snow on Oklahoma is to be followed by bitter cold Wednesday and Thursday, with lows in the single digits.

    More snow is in the forecast for Wednesday night into Thursday, with up to 3 inches possible in some areas.

    PENNSYLVANIA

    Icy conditions have knocked out power to more than 200,000 electric customers in southeastern Pennsylvania and prompted school and legislative delays as well as speed reductions on major roadways.

    PECO reported more than 217,000 customers without power early Wednesday in the five-county Philadelphia region, most of them in suburban counties.

    The Pennsylvania Turnpike ordered speed limits reduced to 45 mph and banned empty tractor-trailers until further notice. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation also dropped speed limits to 45 mph on a number of roads including a number of interstates.

    The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Administration is reporting delays and some cancellations on suburban Philadelphia routes. Many schools have announced delays and some have canceled classes altogether.

    RHODE ISLAND

    Another winter storm is bringing snow and sleet to Rhode Island.

    The National Weather Service expects the storm to dump 5 to 9 inches of snow and sleet in the northwestern corner of the state, 3 to 7 inches in the Providence area and 1 to 3 inches along the coast. A winter storm warning is in effect until 6 p.m.

    The storm has created difficult driving conditions. Most schools in the state are closed and parking bans are in effect in several communities.

    WISCONSIN

    Severe winter conditions have caused officials to ask thousands of homeowners in far northern Wisconsin to leave their faucets running 24 hours a day to prevent water pipes and sewer lines from freezing.

    The 9,000 Rhinelander residents won't be charged for using the extra water. Temperatures in the area are expected to be below zero for much of the week.

    WYOMING

    Bitter cold will continue to envelop Wyoming, which is under wind chill warnings.

    The National Weather service says wind chills could hit 25 to 35 degrees below zero into Wednesday morning in a large part of western and central Wyoming.

    High temperatures Wednesday will struggle to reach zero in many areas. By night, lows will be in the 10 to 20 below range. Temperatures aren't expected to warm up again until the weekend.

    VERMONT

    The snow started falling before sunrise Wednesday and was expected to taper off in the afternoon. Vermont is expected to get 5 to 10 inches.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Winter Storm Hits from Midwest to Northeast
    Kansas Winter Storm Photos

     

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    Updated Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, 11:35 a.m. ET
    Storms Hit South West Of The UK
    Waves crash against the seafront and the railway line that has been closed due to storm damage at Dawlish on February 5, 2014, in Devon, England. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

    LONDON (AP) - Heavy rain, high tides and strong winds pounded England's southern coast Wednesday, washing away a stretch of rail line, damaging an iconic seaside pier and leaving thousands of homes without power.

    A section of seawall under the railway line collapsed at Dawlish in the county of Devon on the southwestern coast, severing the main rail route between London and the region.

    "I have been here for 44 years and we haven't had storm damage like we have now," Devon county councilor John Clatworthy said. "The storm last night was unbelievable."

    Further east in Brighton, a chunk of the ornate but derelict West Pier, a Victorian landmark, crumbled into the sea.

    The storm, which began Tuesday and saw wind gusts of up to 91 mph (146 kph), is the latest of the bad weather that has battered Britain since December.

    In the low-lying Somerset Levels, thousands of acres have been under water for more than a month. Police in a helicopter used megaphones to tell residents of more than 150 properties to leave their homes Wednesday as more flooding loomed.

    Many residents there say the government has been slow to come to their aid.

    Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday promised to spend an extra 100 million pounds ($163 million) on flood defense, repairs and maintenance over the next year.

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

     

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    Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014
    Winter Weather
    Plows clear sleet and snow from a gate at La Guardia airport, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

    Airlines are canceling thousands of flights because of snow and freezing rain in the Northeast and Midwest.

    FlightStats says almost 2,600 flights had been canceled as of 9:30 a.m. Eastern time Wednesday. That follows almost 2,000 cancellations on Tuesday and another 2,500 on Monday.

    Most of the canceled flights were from the New York-area airports, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington. Regional airline Cape Air alone canceled more than 200 flights, including nearly every flight planned from airports in Massachusetts.

    United Airlines warned that the disruptions will affect flights in the Midwest, including Chicago and Cleveland, too. United and other airlines are allowing passengers to change their tickets without the usual change fees.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Winter Storm Hits from Midwest to Northeast
    Kansas Winter Storm Photos

     

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    For the first time in five years, intrepid visitors to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore can make the icy trek along the frozen waters of Lake Superior to glimpse the millions of icicles - some several stories tall - that embellish the region's incredible ice caves.

    The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is made up of 22 islands in Lake Superior, located off the coast of northern Wisconsin. The area boasts some of the most impressive sea caves in the Great Lakes region, and during warmer months, visitors can paddle along the sculpted shorelines and navigate through the caves' scenic passageways and arched chambers. But, during the winter, witnessing the caves' icy transformation is much trickier.

    This year, however, the ice on Lake Superior is thick enough for people to reach the ice caves - for the first time since 2009, according to officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior. [Ice World: Gallery of Awe-Inspiring Glaciers]

    The Interior Department released a jaw-dropping photo of one of the Apostle Islands ice caves, showing thick ice blanketing the cave's interior, and spectacular icicles dangling from the ceiling. The stunning scene, which appears more like a painting than a real ice-scape, looks out from the mouth of the frozen cave.

    The National Park Service (NPS) opened the ice caves to visitors in mid-January, and within the first 10 days, some 10,000 made the wintry journey, according to The Reporter. Typically, the area attracts roughly 35,000 visitors each year, and the peak periods tend to be in the summer months, said Neil Howk, an official with the NPS.

    "We are in uncharted waters - we've never seen any kind of response like this," Howk told The Reporter.

    To reach the Apostle Islands' picturesque and colorful caves, visitors must hike at least 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) across the ice of Lake Superior, according to officials at the Interior Department. This icy trek can be dangerous, and conditions can be unpredictable. The NPS monitors the thickness of the lake ice, and provides updates and current information on the region's conditions via the agency's Ice Line, which can be reached at (715) 779-3397 extension 3.

    If ice conditions are considered low-risk, the NPS will deem the ice caves accessible to visitors. But, officials at the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore recommend checking the Ice Line for updates, as ice conditions can change rapidly. Cold temperatures can form thick ice on Lake Superior, but wind and waves can break up these formations and make the ice unstable, according to officials at the Interior Department.

    Follow Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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

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

     

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    We've been following the recent eruptions of Indonesia's Mount Sinabung - including an eruption on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, that killed at least 15 people in a nearby village.

    The eruption sent 700-degree ash pouring down the North Sumatra mountainside. On Sunday, scientist Richard Roscoe of Photovolcanica.com posted this stunning video of the pyroclastic flow and - most astonishingly, beginning at the 57-second mark - the small "tornadoes" spawned by the event. Roscoe said he doubled the video speed.

    He writes:

    The pyroclastic flow deposits red-hot material on the slope of the volcano. After a few minutes, air heated by the deposit establishes a convective regime and due to the speed of the rising air a series of small tornados are formed.

    (H/T Huffington Post Travel)

    RELATED ON SKYE: Dramatic Images of Mount Sinabung's Newest Eruptions

     

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    When 15-month-old Kayden steps out into rain for the first time, the pure joy on her face is radiant. The toddler's excitement is palpable as she raises her arms to feel the wet drops.

    Kayden lives in California, and had never seen rain before this unusual December shower. The heartwarming video went viral shortly after Kayden's sister Nicole Byon posted it to Vimeo last week.

    More than 50 people commented on the Vimeo post, thanking Nicole for sharing the touching video. We think one user put it best, writing:

    I'm sitting here so stressed under a mountain of work to complete but this stopped me dead in my tracks. You had me in tears. What a great reminder of what life should be all about. This is so simple but so powerful.

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

     

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