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    Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014
    Massive Snowball
    A large snowball that crashed into a Grove Quad dormitory at Reed College in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo/Reed College)

    PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Two math majors at Reed College lost control of a massive snowball that rolled into a dorm, knocking in part of a bedroom wall.

    There were no injuries, but college spokesman Kevin Myers said Friday it will cost $2,000 to $3,000 to repair the building.

    The incident happened last Saturday night following a rare trio of snowstorms in Portland.

    Students started building the giant snowball on a campus quad near the dorm. Urged by a crowd, the math majors tried to make the snowball as big as possible by rolling it down the sidewalk that goes past the dorm.

    "And the ball just got away from them," Myers said.

    After escaping their control, the boulder-sized snowball rolled about 15 yards before slamming into Unit #7. Three students heard the smack and discovered the fractured bedroom wall. The student whose dorm was damaged has not had to move.

    Nobody weighed the snowball, but a maintenance worker who sliced it up for removal estimated it to weigh 800 pounds or more, Myers said.

    The students responsible for the runaway snowball reported the incident and won't be disciplined. Myers said they didn't intend to cause damage and feel awful about what happened. He declined to release their names and said he didn't know their class years.

    Reed Magazine was first to report about the snowball.

    "It was not the talk of campus until the story came out," Myers said. "The people that were there knew about it, but now it has kind of taken us by storm."

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Pathetic Snowmen

     

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    Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014
    Frozen Great Lakes
    In this Dec. 26, 2013, photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard the icebreaker Mackinaw maintains a shipping lane on the St. Marys River linking Lakes Superior and Huron. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard)

    With no end in sight, the winter of 2014 rages on, ushering in frigid Arctic air and dumping record-breaking snow and ice on much of the nation. This season, ice coverage on Lake Superior has exceeded other measurements in recent history.

    "By the long shot this is the most ice we've had on Lake Superior in 20 years," associate professor at the Large Lakes Observatory in Duluth, Minn., Jay Austin said.

    During a typical winter, 30 to 40 percent of the Great Lakes are covered by ice, according to AccuWeather senior meteorologist Brett Anderson.

    Usually Arctic air swept over the Great Lakes creates lake-effect snow, but modifies the air, making it warmer. This usually makes regions from Ohio through the Northeast a little warmer than it otherwise would be.

    However, this winter 80 to 90 percent of the Great Lakes are covered in ice. As of Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, Lake Superior was classified as 90 percent covered.

    "The Arctic air masses don't get warmed up as much because of all the snow and ice," Anderson said. "There has not been much of a thaw so the ice keeps building up."

    The last time the ice coverage was even close to this winter's percentage was the winter of 1993-94. At this exact time two years ago, the ice coverage on the Lakes was approximately 9 percent.

    Unlike a pond, the depth of the Great Lakes prevent it from being a completely frozen sheet of ice, but instead the ice atop the lakes can actually move with the wind, according to Austin. Due to the ability of the ice to move around, the thickness of the ice across the lakes vary and therefore researchers do not know how thick the ice is in all portions of the lake.

    So, this makes it hard for scientists to define what freezing over entirely means.

    Depending on who you ask, Lake Superior already has frozen over, Austin stated. However, with two to three weeks to go until the typical peak of ice coverage in mid-March, the Lakes will only freeze even more.

    "The ice will become more robust, we are going to have more ice rather than less over the next three weeks," Austin said.

    RELATED:
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    AccuWeather Winter Weather Center
    Black Ice: How to Spot This Winter Driving Danger

    Other than the ice jam worries, the ice coverage on the Great Lakes, specifically on Lake Superior, is mounting concerns for the region's climate.

    "With all of this ice, all the sunlight that hits the surface of the lake is going to get bounced back out into space, so it's going to take longer to get warmer this spring and summer," Austin said. "The lake is going to just start warming this year when it will start cooling off for next year."


    In this Feb. 6, 2014, aerial photo is the ice-covered St. Clair River with the Canadian shoreline on the left. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

    This could bring a relatively cool year for the communities surrounding the lake.

    However, the silver lining of the massive ice coverage is that perhaps it can prevent lake water levels from lowering like they did just last year.

    "With the ice cover, less water gets evaporated so lake levels stay high and help preserve some of the water," Anderson said.

    Regardless of the impending impacts of the ice on the region, one thing is for sure, the ice isn't going anywhere, anytime soon.

    An impending return of the now-infamous polar vortex for the middle of next week will send temperatures from the Midwest to the Northeast plummeting 15 to 20 degrees below normal. As it drops down to the James Bay in Canada, it will deliver another blast of arctic air for the area.

    "This type of airmass will give the Great Lakes the potential for a new satellite-era ice coverage record," Anderson said.

    The winters of 1993 and 1994 had the previous highest since we started monitoring ice coverage with satellites about 30 years ago.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Best Snow and Ice Festivals
    Frozen Great Lakes

     

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  • 02/18/14--22:10: Blizzard Aiming for Midwest
  • Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014
    Winter storm
    (Chuck Berman/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

    After a short respite from this winter's fury, a powerful storm will blast the Midwest and western Great Lakes with heavy, wind-driven snow on Thursday into Thursday night.

    The storm will get organized in the Plains on Wednesday night into Thursday morning and snow and ice will spread into portions of the Midwest.

    Snow is expected on Wednesday night into early Thursday across parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, while an icy mix will create slick roads across parts of Iowa, northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin.

    Travel delays are likely on Thursday morning along the Interstate 80 corridor from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Omaha, Neb., Des Moines, Iowa and Chicago.

    The storm will continue to intensify through Thursday as it moves into the western Great Lakes on Thursday night.

    This will pull warmer air northward and allow precipitation to go from ice to rain in Chicago and Milwaukee, Wis., by Thursday afternoon. People across Chicagoland could hear rumbles of thunder as well on Thursday afternoon.

    The icy mix will spread northeastward into Green Bay, Wis., and northern Michigan, while snow will become heavier from northern Iowa to western Minnesota and eastern Wisconsin.

    Snow will arrive in Minneapolis, Minn., on Thursday morning, but the heaviest accumulation will occur during the afternoon and early evening.

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    Sixty Million at Risk for Severe Weather Thursday, Friday

    Winds will become quite strong across the Midwest and western Great Lakes on Thursday night, with gusts expected to reach, and perhaps exceed, 50 mph.

    It will be a whiteout at times with visibility down to near zero, which will create extremely dangerous travel conditions.

    Although the storm will move into Ontario, Canada on Friday, gusty winds will continue to cause blowing and drifting in the Upper Midwest.

    This storm will have far-reaching impacts, not just the middle section of the country.

    Severe thunderstorms with damaging winds and downpours are a threat from the lower Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast.

    Rain and snow melt will combine to create an increased threat for flooding north of the Ohio River.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    Updated Wednesday, Feb. 19. 2014, 4 p.m. ET
    Winter storm
    (Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

    A weak storm moving through the Northeast brought ice and dangerous travel Wednesday morning in part of the mid-Atlantic and will bring snow into the evening in central and northern New England.

    The storm has been responsible for multiple accidents and road closures in parts of western and central Pennsylvania early on Wednesday.

    A combination of freezing rain, sleet and a bit of snow on cold ground and in sub-freezing air turned roads and sidewalks into a sheet of glass in central and eastern Pennsylvania, upstate New York, northern Maryland and northern New Jersey Wednesday morning.

    In many cases, roads became a sheet of ice in a matter of minutes.

    RELATED:
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    Warmup to Bring Flooding, Roof Collapse risk Midwest, East

    Ice, Snow Advisories and Warnings

    Rising temperatures Tuesday afternoon has allowed the ice to melt over the mid-Atlantic and avoid the major cities along I-95.

    However, the storm will bring snow and a wintry mix to parts of central and northern New England and eastern upstate New York into Wednesday evening.

    Snowfall Through Wednesday Night

    While less dangerous than a thin glaze of ice, the snow and wintry mix will bring a new round of travel delays and disruptions to daily activities.

    Portions of Maine and New Hampshire could receive as much as half a foot of snow from the storm system.

    As the storm strengthens a bit and swings toward the Maritimes, just enough cold air can sneak back in during Wednesday evening to cause a change from rain to snow in part of southern and coastal New England, including the Boston area.

    Meanwhile, a clearing sky will allow temperatures to plummet below freezing over much of the Northeast Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

    Motorists and pedestrians should be on the lookout for areas of black ice on their travels overnight into the morning commute Thursday.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Best Snow and Ice Festivals

     

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    Updated Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 4 p.m. ET
    Germany Weather
    (AP Photo/dpa,Daniel Bockwoldt)

    More than 35 million people in the Central states and 25 million along the Atlantic coast will be at risk for severe weather later this week.

    The air will become warm enough ahead of a late-week storm over the Missouri and Mississippi valleys, as well as parts of the East to bring not only thunderstorms, but also the potential for severe weather, damage and flight delays.

    The main threats of the storms will be locally powerful wind gusts and flash flooding. A number of locations may also experience hail with the storms. A small number of the storms could also produce a tornado.

    According to Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity, "The greatest risk for a handful of tornadoes will be where the air is the warmest and most humid, which is most likely from western Tennessee to northwestern Mississippi on Thursday."

    The potential for damaging thunderstorms by Thursday will stretch from Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, as well as the southern part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

    Cities on Thursday that could be impacted by gusty strong to severe thunderstorms include St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.; Indianapolis; Cincinnati; Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.; Little Rock, Ark.; Louisville, Ky.; Jackson, Miss.; and Monroe, La.

    While snow on the ground will limit the intensity of some of the storms, it will not eliminate the risk of severe weather everywhere.

    Even in the absence of thunderstorms, locally strong wind gusts can affect areas from the Midwest to upstate New York on Thursday into Thursday night.

    On Friday, the potential for strong to severe storms will reach from northern Florida to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and southern New York state.

    RELATED:
    Mid-Atlantic Interactive Radar
    Warmup to Bring Flooding, Roof Collapse risk Midwest, East

    Ice, Snow Advisories and Warnings

    However, during Friday, the storms along the Atlantic coast are likely to be much less widespread than from the day before farther west.

    According to Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark, "We will probably have a narrow line of gusty thunderstorms pushing east of the Appalachians and toward the Atlantic beaches."

    During Thursday and Friday, the some storms will hit where there is still snow on the ground. In part of this area, there may not be much thunder and lightning. There can be still a brief gust of strong wind that can down tree limbs and power lines, as well as cause minor property damage.

    The combination of a surge of warm air and rainfall will raise the risk of ice jam flooding on some streams and rivers from the lower Midwest to the mid-Atlantic.

    The weight of recent snowfall and the added rain coming with the storm could be enough to stress some roofs to the point of failure.

    Melting snow ahead of and during the passage of a cold front associated with the storm can lead to street and poor drainage area flooding, where storm drains have become blocked with snow.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Incredible Photos of Forces of NatureVolcano Eruption

     

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    Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014
    Falling Ice Skyscrapers
    Pedestrians pass a sign warning them of falling ice near City Hall Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

    NEW YORK (AP) - City dwellers facing one of the most brutal winters on record have been dealing with something far more dangerous than snow falling from the sky: ice tumbling from skyscrapers.

    Streets around New York's new 1 World Trade Center, the nation's tallest building, were recently closed when sheets of ice were seen shearing from the face of the 1,776-foot structure - turning them into potentially deadly, 100-mph projectiles.

    And sidewalks around high-rises in cities big and small have been cordoned off with yellow caution tape because of falling icicles and rock-hard chunks of frozen snow, a situation that experts warn could get worse over the next few days as a thaw sets in over much of the country.

    "The snow starts to melt and the liquid drips off and makes bigger and bigger icicles, or chunks of ice that break off skyscrapers," said Joey Picca, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in New York, which has had 48.5 inches of snow since the start of the year, and several cycles of freeze and thaw.

    "Be very, very aware of your surroundings," he said. "If you see ice hanging from a building, find another route. Don't walk under hanging ice."

    Some architects say newer, energy-efficient high-rises may actually be making the problem worse.

    "They keep more heat inside, which means the outside is getting colder and that allows more snow and ice to form," said engineer Roman Stangl, founder of the consulting firm Northern Microclimate in Cambridge, Ontario.

    Stangl helps developers opt for shapes, slope angles and even colors - darker colors absorb more melting sunrays - to diminish ice formation. High-tech materials can be also be used, such as at Tokyo's Skytree observation tower, where heaters were embedded in the glass to melt the ice.

    Such options are not always possible in older cities with balconies, awnings and stone details.

    Barry Negron said he saw ice hanging perilously off a four-story building near Rockefeller Center last month and was trying to warn other pedestrians when he was hit in the face with a sharp, football-size chunk. Cuts across his nose and cheek required 80 stitches.

    "I panicked because I saw blood on my hands, and more coming down," said the 27-year-old salesman. As he lay on the pavement, "I heard two young ladies yelling, 'Oh, my God, oh my God, help! There's a lot of blood!'"

    Since then, he's nervous when he walks around the city and has seen other near-hits. "I look at my scars, and I say, 'Why did this have to happen to me?'"

    Exactly how many pedestrians are hit by falling ice is not clear, but dozens of serious injuries are reported annually. It's a perennial problem in St. Petersburg, Russia, where dozens reportedly are injured or killed every year. Seven people were injured in 2011 near Dallas when huge sheets of ice slid off the roof of Cowboys Stadium. Fifteen people were injured in 2010 by a shower of ice from the 37-story Sony Building on New York's Madison Avenue.

    Outside Chicago's 100-story John Hancock Center last month, people scrambled with backpacks and purses over their heads to avoid falling ice. On Tuesday, signs warning pedestrians of falling ice stood outside nearly every skyscraper and other tall building in Chicago's Loop as temperatures pushed above freezing for the first time in weeks. Last week near New York's Carnegie Hall, at the same under-construction condo tower where a crane dangled during Superstorm Sandy, chunks of ice tumbled onto cars and buses.

    "This happens all over the country, all over the world, in cold climates," said architect Chris Benedict, who accounts for ice buildup in designing new structures.

    New York City's Department of Buildings has issued an alert asking building owners to clear dangerous buildups of snow and rope off sidewalks, and they have issued citations with a standard penalty of $1,000 for those failing to do so.

    But even the simplest solutions can sometimes be problematic. After ice was seen falling from 1 World Trade Center earlier this month, officials closed a nearby street and the entrance to the underground PATH train station that links New York with New Jersey. That caused a logjam of thousands of commuters with nowhere to go.

    Anthony Hayes, spokesman for the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, which owns the trade center site, said crews have been removing the accumulation of ice that formed on the 1 World Trade Center and on an external construction hoist that stretches from the ground to the 90th floor. A new covered entrance to the PATH station now protects commuters walking by.

    "Hey, what do you want? It's winter, that's what happens - ice," said Mike McKenna, a 38-year-old management consultant who was under 1 World Trade Center when the chunks first started flying.

    "It was a mess," he said. "But I went through 9/11. Falling ice is nothing."

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

     

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    Take a break from watching the winter Olympics to check out another snowboarder making headlines. After a snowstorm blanketed New York last weekend, Casey Neistat suited up, strapped on his board and took to the city streets. The video went viral, racking up almost five million views in less than a week.

    (via The Adventure Blog)

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    Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014
    Deep Freeze
    Three men protect themselves from the elements as they walk in Chicago's Loop on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

    Consider the weather this week a mere pause in a tough winter that will resume next week with cold air and the potential for snowstorms.

    Signs are pointing toward another southward dip from the polar vortex. The polar vortex is essentially a mass of very cold air that usually hangs out above the Arctic Circle and is contained by strong winds.

    According to long-range expert Mark Paquette, "We noticed a minor Sudden Stratospheric Warming event taking place back on Feb. 6-7, 2014."

    When sudden warming takes place high in the atmosphere, it initiates a chain of events that tends to displace the polar vortex between 14 and 30 days later.

    "In addition to the exact timing of the cold outbreak is you never know for sure initially which continent the cold air will be directed," Paquette said, "This time it appears it will take aim at the eastern part of North America."

    Cold air is poised to return in stages to the North Central states, the Northeast and interior South beginning this weekend and continuing into next week.

    As the magnitude of the cold air fully is gauged in the short term, most likely temperature forecasts will be adjusted downward for multiple days.

    One reason for the cold blast carrying more weight than you might expect is the fact that the Great Lakes are largely frozen over. The air will not moderate to the extent as if most of the lakes were not frozen. In addition, while the amount and extent of snow on the ground will diminish this week, many areas will retain some sort of snow cover.

    There is the potential for high temperatures to be in the single digits and teens during a several-day stretch from Chicago to Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo, N.Y. Farther south, from St. Louis to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and New York City, highs may wind up in the teens and lower 20s, if the cold air drives forcefully to the south and east.

    Further updates on the cold air will follow through this weekend.

    According to senior meteorologist Bernie Rayno, "For all practical purposes, the upcoming pattern next week will be a continuation of the weather that has occurred during much of the past winter concerning not only temperatures, but also storms."

    At times, clipper storms will roll in from western Canada to the Midwest and Northeast. On other occasions, storms will move up from the Gulf coast or develop along the Atlantic Seaboard.

    The setup next week may present one to several such Atlantic Coast storms next week in the Sunday to Thursday period.

    How quickly and forcefully the cold air moves toward the coast will determine whether one main storm forms or multiple significant storms develop. The degree to which the cold air moves toward the coast will also determine which areas get snow versus rain or a wintry mix.

    People along the middle and upper Atlantic coast and the Appalachians to the west should anticipate at least a couple of days of travel delays and disruptions to daily activities.

    Like Rayno said, "It will be business as usual for this difficult winter as the familiar pattern resumes."

    AccuWeather's long-range meteorologists expect the pattern of lower-than-average temperatures and rather frequent storms to continue over the Upper Midwest to the Northeast next week well into March.

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

     

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    Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014

    In this Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, file photo, workers clear a downed tree blocking a school bus in the aftermath of a winter storm in Downingtown, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    The winter that just doesn't want to end has sent parents and school officials scrambling to adjust their schedules because of school delays and cancellations.

    Recently, Gizmodo posted a map that showed that it doesn't take much snow for a school district to cancel classes in about 50 percent of the country.

    The cancellations can force administrators to extend the school year beyond the originally scheduled end date, and parents without childcare may have to make other arrangements to care for their children on snow days.

    Marion County, W.Va., students, for example, had 15 days of instruction during 29 days scheduled as of Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, with the last full week of instruction coming before Christmas break in December, The Associated Press reported.

    There are greater expectations for parents when their children go to school.

    "One of our responsibilities as advocates for parents when they transition their children to the schools is to make them more aware of the expectations coming their way with school closings, as well as the many days already scheduled by the districts for conferences, in-service that they are not prepared to face," said Wendy Whitesell, director of Penn State University's childcare program.

    Whitesell thinks one way to deal with cancellations is to hold "virtual school" on snow days.

    "Teachers can send assignments to students for these closings, and they could do them on the snow day and turn in the assignments over the Internet," Whitesell said. "Of course, there are children without computers, but in most areas schools supply them if a family doesn't have one, or that too can be something schools begin to do, for such an occasion."

    "Currently, most parents I speak with comment on how their children turn their assignments in through Google docs or online programs individual schools have in their districts. Lack of computers seems almost passé. So, maybe expanding computer access (as we do in third world countries for children) can help in this growing child protection/legal risk situation we have created, as well as moving schools to problem solve how to reach students on snow days."

    Allowing parental leave would be the other prong to this dilemma, Whitesell said.

    "With a bit more realization that families have responsibilities that we could, as employers, support, it would make a better place to live," she said.

    A new study conducted by Harvard Kennedy School professor Joshua Goodman shows that snow days are less detrimental to a student's performance than other absences, in part because schools can tack days onto the school calendar.

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    Actually, keeping schools open during a storm is more detrimental to student performance because of absences due to parent discretion or transportation issues, Goodman found. Those absences are typically not made up in the school calendar.

    Goodman studied data from 2003-2010 for grades 3 to 10 in conducting the study at the request of the Massachusetts Department of Education.

    More potential problems for school calendars are on the horizon, AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno said.

    Blizzard conditions are possible Thursday and Friday in the Upper Midwest, with particular concerns for central and northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Rayno said.

    There will be a break during the weekend, but next week could bring disruptive snows to the Midwest on Tuesday and Wednesday with a snowstorm possible for the East Coast.

    "Behind that will be very cold air that can also cause school delays," Rayno said.


    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    Updated Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, 3 p.m. ET
    Severe Thunderstorms Affect New York City
    (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

    Dangerous thunderstorms will affect the Midwest and will reach southward to the Gulf Coast, threatening damaging winds and a few tornadoes into Thursday night.

    Cass County, Illinois emergency managers reported a tornado Thursday afternoon. Just prior to that tornado siting, a funnel cloud was observed just to the southwest over Scott County, Ill.

    A two-faced storm will affect the Central states, creating a drastic change in weather into Thursday night.

    While snow will bring blizzard conditions to Minnesota and Wisconsin, thunderstorms will be brewing only a few hundred miles to the south.

    Storms Midwest

    Rain and thunderstorms affected areas from eastern Kansas and Missouri to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and southern Wisconsin Thursday morning. Some locations over the central Plains experienced hail with the storms.

    Rain and thunderstorms will advance into parts of Pennsylvania, New York state and southern Ontario Thursday evening.

    In areas where there is a significant amount of snow on the ground, combined with the rain, there is a risk of flooding.

    However, farther south, a new line of thunderstorms ignited Thursday afternoon and will reach reach from the Ohio Valley to the Gulf Coast into Thursday night. It is this zone that is likely to produce severe thunderstorms that are capable of producing damaging wind gusts, flash flooding and even a small number of tornadoes.

    The greatest risk of a tornado reaches from central Illinois, Indiana, and western Ohio, southward to central Mississippi. The risk area includes the western and middle parts of Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as portions of Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri and Illinois.

    The storms could impact more than 30 million people in some way on into Thursday night in the Central states.

    Severe Storms

    Strong winds gusting to 60 mph in the absence of thunderstorms were racing across southern Kansas, Oklahoma and northern Texas Thursday. The gusty winds have been kick up dust and raising the fire danger in parts of the South Central states.

    It is this energy that will cause the severe storms to ignite farther to the east.

    Locations most at risk into Thursday evening include Indianapolis, Louisville and Jackson, Ky; Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.; Tupelo, Miss.; and Huntsville, Ala. During the overnight hours, the storms are scheduled to reach Pittsburgh; London, Ky.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and New Orleans.

    The cities of Chicago, Indianapolis and Detroit will receive drenching rain and locally gusty thunderstorms.

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    The gusty winds with these storms will extend farther north Thursday night, reaching Great Lakes region and the central Appalachians.

    These potentially severe storms will then move to the Atlantic coast on Friday.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2013
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    Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014
    Winter Weather Brief Thaw
    Workers at a downtown parking garage removes snow melt water to the storm drain Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

    CHICAGO (AP) - Blue skies and temperatures above freezing had giddy Chicago residents basking in the rare sunshine after one of the cruelest winters in recent memory. But there were signs - melting snow, growing puddles - that Mother Nature was about to unleash a whole new miserable on the Midwest.

    Flooding.

    Weeks of subfreezing weather are giving way, at least briefly, to temperatures in the 40s and 50s, putting many Midwestern cities on guard for flooding, roof collapses and clogged storm drains. Some areas expected a double whammy: warm, spring-like air combined with heavy rains that could compound the problem and turn the big melt into a muddy, damaging mess.

    A whole new layer of snow and sleet was forecast to accumulate early Thursday, particularly across Wisconsin, northern Illinois and parts of Indiana, before temperatures rise and change the precipitation to rain, according to the National Weather Service. The warmer temperatures may be accompanied by fog and strong winds that could reach 50 miles per hour.

    Landscaping companies' phones were ringing off the hook Wednesday with calls from homeowners seeking crews to scoop snow piles onto dump trucks and haul them away before basements or streets flooded.

    "They're calling me to say, 'With this rain coming, where is that water and the snow going to go when it melts?'" said Jodey Schmiedekamp of Countryside Industries in suburban Chicago.

    Warnings were issued Wednesday that ice and deep snow could clog drainage systems. In Chicago, street crews were racing to clear catch basins of debris and asking residents to do the same.

    Officials in Will County, south of Chicago, prepared to siphon warm water from a nuclear power plant's cooling pond into the Kankakee River in hopes of melting ice that can jam the channel and push floodwaters over the banks. At the same time, emergency management authorities warned people in low-lying areas to be ready to move to higher ground, even going door-to-door to ensure families were aware of the danger.

    In Indiana, the weather service cautioned that melting snow piled as high as 18 inches wouldn't be able to flow normally into rivers and streams because those channels are frozen. Between the snowmelt and the rain, some flooding would be unavoidable.

    "A lot of bad things could happen tomorrow," Marc Dahmer, a weather service meteorologist in Indianapolis, said Wednesday.

    Parts of Michigan have gotten so much snow that authorities fret about more roof collapses like the one that injured two women Wednesday in the Grand Rapids area, which has received 101 inches of snow this season. Other collapses have been reported around the state since January.

    If rain adds weight to the snowpack, it "can exacerbate the situation that's there," said John Maples, a weather service meteorologist in Grand Rapids.

    And more good news: With temperatures expected to drop as low as 10 degrees on Sunday, and perhaps lower Monday, puddles along roads and sidewalks are expected to freeze.

    The thaw may also reveal a struggle for survival that has played out all winter close to the frozen ground. As the ice and snow recedes around rivers, lakes and ponds, it could reveal dead fish, turtles, frogs, toads and crayfish that didn't make it.

    "Winterkill begins with distressed fish gasping for air at holes in the ice and often ends with large numbers of dead fish that bloat as the water warms in early spring," said Gary Whelan, of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

    After enduring so many snowstorms and painfully cold days, the people who emerged Wednesday in Chicago were delighted by sunshine and warmth that let them indulge in the simple pleasure of a walk or a jog.

    "I should be in my office doing something, but I haven't been out there in three to four months," said Ning Du, 40, as she returned from a run along Lake Michigan in Chicago.

    A block away, Caroline Vickrey and her friend Michelle Hoppe Villegas couldn't get past the change in people that seemed to reflect the change in the weather.

    "Everybody is smiling and saying hello to each other," Vickrey said.

    "My daughter was cheerful this morning (and) so pleasant," added Hoppe Villegas. "I was wondering what is going on here."

     

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    Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014

    The northern lights were spotted over Sebago Lake in Maine early Feb. 19, 2014. (Credit: John Stetson)

    The northern lights spilled over into New England last night, courtesy of an eruption on the sun that supercharged a geomagnetic storm.

    From the top of the Northeast's highest peak, a night observer at New Hampshire's Mount Washington Observatory snapped pictures of the greenish glow of auroras around 1:00 a.m. EST, and then again just after 2:00 a.m. EST. At 6,288 feet tall, Mount Washington is famous for its erratic weather and whipping winds, but skies were clear over the observatory overnight.

    The shimmering lights were also visible across the state border, in Maine, where photographer John Stetson stood on the frozen edge of Sebago Lake early Wednesday and pointed his camera north towards Raymond Beach. [See Photos of Amazing Auroras]

    "A green ribbon of color could be seen on the horizon, and a purple-blue could be seen extending skyward," Stetson wrote in an email. He pointed out that the 1,619-foot-tall communications tower that cuts through the auroras was the tallest man-made structure in the world when it was built in 1959.

    The northern lights, or aurora borealis, flare up when high-speed charged particles from solar storms slam into Earth's magnetic field, sparking geomagnetic storms. Ions of oxygen and nitrogen in the upper atmosphere can get excited during these storms, producing electrifying bands of color in the night sky. (The phenomenon also occurs in the Southern Hemisphere, over Antarctic skies, and is known as the aurora australis, or southern lights.)


    Auroras light up the skies over Mount Washington in New Hampshire in the early morning hours of Feb. 19, 2014. (Credit: Mount Washington Observatory)

    According to forecasters at Spaceweather.com, a minor geomagnetic storm was already underway when a coronal mass ejection, or CME, sent a huge cloud of solar material speeding toward Earth. The CME impacted the planet around 9:00 p.m. EST Tuesday (0200 UTC Wednesday) and further fueled the geomagnetic storm, triggering auroras in the northerly parts of the continental United States.

    Nighttime photographers were able to capture the northern lights in the Midwest, the Great Lakes region and in the Pacific Northwest, too. Pictures of auroras shared on Spaceweather.com were submitted from locales like Sauk Rapids, Minn., Bellevue, Wash., and Crofton, Neb.

    Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @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.

     

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    Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014

    By tracing radioactive material in the remains of a nearby exploded star, scientists have a new understanding of what happened in the star's final moments and how similar explosions create the calcium, gold, iron and other elements spread throughout the cosmos.

    GALLERY: The Supercomputer Supernova

    The discovery comes from NASA's Nuclear Spectroscopic Telescope Array, or NuSTAR, which was launched in 2012 to home in on the highest energy X-ray radiation emanating from celestial objects.

    Astronomers took a look at a popular target, Cassiopeia A, which is the remnant of star that exploded some 11,000 years ago. In visible light, Cas A is an expanding spherical cloud of debris stretching 10 light years, or some 60 trillion miles, across the sky.

    NuSTAR's X-ray eye shows a different scene. The explosion that marked the star's death was not symmetrical. Rather than jets - generated by the spinning star's collapse - as some computer models predict, the detonation more likely was triggered by its core sloshing around, similar to the disrupted surface of a pot of boiling water.

    ANALYSIS: Supernova Explosions Make Nuclear Pasta

    "Stars are spherical balls of gas, and so you might think that when they end their lives and explode, that explosion would look like a uniform ball expanding out with great power," NuSTAR's lead scientist Fiona Harrison, with the California Institute of Technology, said in a statement.

    "Our new results show how the explosion's heart, or engine, is distorted, possibly because the inner regions literally slosh around before detonating," she said.

    When a massive star runs out of hydrogen for nuclear fusion, gravity eventually takes the upper hand and begins crushing it, building up pressure inside and fusing together even heavier elements.

    When there is nothing left to fuse, at the very center of the star tiny particles called neutrinos form and start heating material just behind the shock wave.

    ANALYSIS: Super-Duper Supernovas in a Class All By Themselves

    Astrophysicist Brian Grefenstette, also with Caltech, likens the process to boiling water.

    "You're heating up the water. That makes bubbles that rise up and the top of your boiling water sloshes around a little bit," Grefenstette told reporters.

    Neutrinos cause a similar phenomenon in the heart of a collapsing star.

    "That's where you get your big bubbles," Grefenstette said. "They come up and they make ripples in the shock wave."

    "It sort of pushes the material out of the way, just like the bubbles in your pot (of boiling water.) In this case, they're letting the shock wave out and the shock wave tears apart the rest of the star," he said.

    ANALYSIS: Supernova Erupts in Nearby Galaxy M82

    The extreme heat and pressure of supernova explosions fuse lighter materials together to create heavier elements, such as gold, calcium and iron - the very substances that are in our bodies, our cars and everywhere in the material universe.

    "If you bought an American car, it wasn't made in Detroit two years ago," said astronomer Robert Kirshner, with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. "The iron atoms in that steel were manufactured in an ancient supernova explosion that took place 5 billion years ago," he said.

    The research appears in this week's Nature.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 50 Best Space Photos of 2013
    Horsehead Nebula

     

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    Friday, Feb. 21, 2014
    <<enter caption here>> on October 7, 2013 in New York City.
    (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

    After severe thunderstorms caused damageover the Central states Thursday night, the next stop will be the East Coast from Atlantic City, N.J., to Jacksonville, Fla., on Friday.

    The storms over the Central states on Thursday were responsible for more than 300 initial reports of severe weather, including more than a dozen possible tornadoes and hundreds of high wind or wind damage incidents.

    Although the system may be somewhat weaker when compared to Thursday, as many as 20 million people could be impact in some way by the storms on Friday as they reach the Atlantic Coast.

    The storms passed through the central and southern Appalachians during Friday morning and midday with blinding downpours and gusty winds, but were gaining new strength upon nearing the coast and with warming of the day.

    The greatest risk from the storms will be caused by wind gusts that can reach 60 mph. Winds of this strength can down tree limbs, cause sporadic power outages and even produce minor property damage.

    A locations from northeastern South Carolina to eastern North Carolina and southeastern Virginia have an elevated risk of a few tornadoes into early Friday afternoon.

    As the squalls move through, flight delays are possible at major airports from New York City to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, N.C., and Jacksonville, Fla. The storms in many areas will be limited the middle of the day Friday.

    Flash, urban and small stream flooding will be another aspect of the storms that can lead to delays on the streets, highways and rural roads.

    A few locations can experience hail.

    RELATED:
    Frigid Air to Clutch Midwest, Northeast Again Next Week
    Interactive Weather Radar
    Severe Weather Center

    Gusty winds follow the showers and thunderstorms and will spread from the Midwest to the Appalachians and then part of the Atlantic Coast Friday night.

    While the air is cooler and not as moist behind the front, cold air will hold up until next week in the East. Temperatures may be quite mild this weekend, especially during Saturday along the Atlantic Seaboard.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos
    Lightning Hits the Grand Canyon

     

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    Friday, Feb. 21, 2014

    An Alaska Air plane is serviced at Newark Liberty International Airport, Monday, Feb. 3, 2014, in Newark, N.J. Many flights were canceled at the airport due to snowfall. (AP Photo/Mike Stewart)

    Heavy snow and subzero temperatures spreading throughout much of the United States have not only delayed winter travel for airline customers but have also left staff and crew displaced. The winter months tend to lead to higher costs for airlines because of mandatory overtime, safety measures, fuel costs and aircraft deicing.

    "It's been a challenging winter," US Airways-American Airlines Spokesman Todd Lehmacher said. "Our goal is to run as reliable of an operation as possible; it's very expensive not to run a reliable operation."

    Lehmacher said preparations are made as soon as possible when dealing with incoming winter storms to accommodate crews and passengers.

    "A lot of time we have additional hotels ready because of the Federal Aviation Administration's regulations with crew duty time for the flights," he said.

    In addition to crew costs, de-icing and preparing the ramp for ground crews, safety is also a vital concern.

    "There is definitely a cost for the airline and an inconvenience to our customers and employees," Lehmacher said. "It's been a very impactful winter, but we don't have an estimate at this time."

    The airline will be releasing the information in March during the next fiscal quarter.

    However, the airline's main concern is safety, according to Lehmacher.

    Preventing the ramp area surrounding the aircraft from icing over is essential in maintaining the normal flight schedule and ensuring that crew members working on the ground do not suffer injury when preparing the aircraft for takeoff or loading baggage at the gate.

    "It's important that we treat that area so the ice doesn't build up," Lehmacher said. "We put a chemical down that's been FAA approved to make sure it doesn't freeze up and to make sure it's safe for employees."

    RELATED:
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    AccuWeather Winter Weather Center
    Potential Record Ice on Lake Superior May Mean a Cooler Summer

    Concerns regarding the temperatures and working conditions for outdoor crews are also taken into consideration during the process. In the inevitable circumstance that an aircraft maintains its engine running because of harsh weather conditions, fuel is also an added cost to the airline.

    "There is definitely an additional cost of burnt fuel," Lehmacher said, adding cancellations may help balance out this total cost.

    In order to maintain a more reliable operation, American Airlines, who recently merged with US Airways in December 2013, will issue travel advisories to their customers in advance of a large storm that could have adverse effects on travel plans.

    "We have a lot of flexibility by having several hubs to reroute passengers through," Lehmacher said. "One of our biggest tools is the travel advisory that is sent out though email, or on the customer's mobile phone to notify them in advance; they will have the option to change their flight online and the airline will waive the charge fees."


    A board displays canceled flights at Logan International Airport in Boston on Saturday evening, Feb. 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

    This system has drastically decreased wait times and traffic at airports, according to Lehmacher.

    Southwest Airlines offers a similar service, and like US Airways-American Airlines, may allow passengers to reschedule their flights a few days in advance to the expected storm.

    "We have a customer accommodations team that is always monitoring the weather," Southwest Airlines Spokeswoman Michelle Agnew said. "If we know there is a hurricane or bad weather conditions, we will issue special accommodations for certain cities."

    The Southwest Airlines Proactive Customer Care Team is responsible for issuing special accommodations to reschedule flights without charging customers additional fees.

    "It's their choice and it's allowing the customer to decide ahead of time," Agnew said.

    Agnew could not disclose specific details about the financial impact this winter has had on the airline's staffing and expenditures. There are times when employees are required to work mandatory overtime and additional costs are accrued because of adverse weather conditions, she said.

    In addition, flight crews and flight attendants are often scheduled to be on-call if the airline predicts unfavorable flight conditions ahead of time.

    While winter still grips the country, it looks like passengers and airlines will continue to deal with the adverse affects.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    Friday, Feb. 21, 2014

    In this photo, taken Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, a warning buoy sits on the dry, cracked bed of Lake Mendocino near Ukiah, Calif. Despite recent rains, the reservoir is currently only about 41 percent full.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

    The historic California drought is far-reaching not only impacting the Golden State but also the rest of the United States.

    In the last 500 years, there have been only three years as dry as the current one, B. Lynn Ingram, a paleoclimatologist at the University of California at Berkeley, said.

    As a result of the drought, higher prices are possible for produce and other commodities, communities may run out of water and jobs may be lost, officials say.

    Millions of dollars in federal disaster and other emergency assistance will be made available to California to deal with the drought, President Barack Obama announced last week.

    Relief is also available for five drought-affected states, the president said.

    RELATED:
    Southern California Weather Radar
    Detailed Los Angeles Weather
    Ken Clark's Western Weather Blog

    A long-term ridge along the West Coast has pushed the jet stream much farther north than is usual this winter, creating the current conditions during the now-three-year-old drought, AccuWeather.com western weather expert Ken Clark said.

    "Already, there is talk of farmers having to leave fallow more than 1 million acres this year as there will not be the water to grow crops," Clark, who lives in California, said.

    "Ranchers are selling herds as they will not be able to afford to feed livestock. Recreation with reservoirs being low are impacted, mandatory water restrictions may be needed and already Californians are being asked to conserve 20 percent of their normal water use."

    There may be some rain in the next 10 to 14 days, but a major change won't soon be coming because of the extended nature of the drought, Clark said.

    Since Dec. 1, Los Angeles has had only 6 percent of normal rain, Santa Maria 10 percent and San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles 19 percent of normal, Clark said.

    California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued a drought State of Emergency in January.

    The California Department of Water Resources also announced that it is seeking to preserve remaining water supplies, so project customers will get no deliveries in 2014 if dry conditions persist.

    The department also said that deliveries to agricultural districts with long-standing water rights in the Sacramento Valley may be cut 50 percent - the maximum permitted by contract - depending upon future snow survey results.

    Water restrictions may cost California $11 billion in annual state revenue and affect 40 percent of Central Valley jobs that are tied to the agriculture industry, according to the California Farm Water Coalition, a nonprofit group representing a cross-section of the state's agricultural industry.

    Paleoclimate studies show that multi-year droughts could last for decades to over a century, Ingram said. "However, these past droughts were not as dry as this year; they were around 30 to 40 percent drier," she said.

    The other comparative droughts occurred in 1580, 1923-24 and 1976-77, Ingram said.

    Ingram studies sediment cores taken from beneath lakes, estuaries (like San Francisco Bay) and the Pacific Ocean. The sediments have accumulated over the last several thousand years, and Ingram and her lab can look at the chemistry of the fossils in them to determine how climate has changed in the past.

    Other climate researchers study width of tree growth rings, which reflects the amount of precipitation in the past.

    Climate scientists see evidence that warming has been impacting California during the last 40 years, said Ingram, co-author of the book "The West Without Water: What Past Floods, Droughts, and Other Climatic Clues Tell Us About Tomorrow."

    "Spring comes two weeks earlier, spring snowmelt is also earlier, and the snowpack has declined by 10 percent. Wildfire frequency has increased four-fold," she said.

    "So there is a trend, but there is still natural variability in climate that has always been there (at least based on our paleoclimate studies, we see that climate in California and the west has been extremely variable over the past 20,000 years. We describe these studies in our new book "The West without Water"."

    It doesn't feel different living in a drought area, although as a meteorologist, Clark said he is probably more aware of how serious the situation is than the average person.

    "Therefore I feel the need to make sure I conserve where I can. I am on the board of our Homeowners Association and I am proposing this month major changes in our landscaping for our community of 545 homes to help save water and lower costs," he said.

    Clark said he has been using less water than normal for his landscaping and making sure what he does use is being done right, such as sprinklers working properly.

    "I'm also trying to take shorter showers and doing full loads of laundry and dishes," he said.


    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    Friday, Feb. 21, 2014
    Earns H.J. Heinz

    Government agencies in the United States spend $2.3 billion every year to battle winter weather conditions, according to a study sponsored by the New York State Department of Transportation.

    While effective to 16 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, the traditional application of rock salt to maintain roadways has negative environmental impacts.

    A study conducted by Marquette University concluded that using rock salt (sodium chloride) presents problems when the chloride is absorbed by the ground and water streams.

    In response to these concerns and for their responsibility to keep roads safe for more than 135 million motor vehicles registered in the United States, transportation departments continue to investigate and implement new, sometimes unusual, strategies for winter weather.

    Unconventional sources of salt brines, such as pickle juice, beet juice, potato and cheese byproducts, are decreasing costs, lowering environmental impacts and are effective at temperatures well below zero.

    These agricultural-based brines were rated highly by many states surveyed, noting the high ice melting capabilities and the overall safety impacts on wintry roads.

    AccuWeather.com spoke with several transportation department officials about their seemingly off-beat solutions for winter weather conditions.

    Beet juice

    As an agricultural byproduct created through the sugar beet process, beet juice brine is a useful tool for many highway departments.

    PennDOT District 10 uses "Beet Heet," which Deborah L. Schreckengost Casadei, public information officer for PennDOT, describes as "an anti-icing and salt pre-wetting agent made from processed sugar beet molasses."

    When combined with the traditional deicing agent of salt, the thick red beet juice freezes at a lower temperature than just a pure salt brine, so it can be used in below-zero temperatures. It also provides additional adhesive powers for the brine, which allows the roadway to retain more even after rainfall.

    Beet Heet has provided positive results for PennDOT, as they test the product on Route 422 in Butler County, Pa. They are currently evaluating the performance and cost effectiveness of these methods, in the hopes to enact a more widespread application.

    This beet solution is also being used in Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee.

    Casadei said, "PennDOT continually evaluates new materials and technology to provide cost effective tools to reach our goal of providing safe, passable roadways and bridges for the traveling public. "

    Pickles

    In light of the brutal winter and dwindling salt supplies, New Jersey has implemented a larger-scale use of pickle brine on roadways.

    When pickle brine is applied, it acts similarly to rock salt and lowers the freezing point of liquid on the road to 6 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

    Consumers can also experiment with the use of pickle brine by applying the pickling liquid that is included with commercial pickles. Spraying the liquid on walkways and driveways will have the same effect as municipal applications on roadways.

    Cheese

    Brines are being created from cheese in a predictable place: Wisconsin. The state, already famous for its cheese, is implementing the use of salty cheese by-products to treat their roadways.

    Although it was first used in the state of Washington, Wisconsin was a logical testing ground for this new brine.

    "The brine is simply a salt bath used in the final manufacturing process. The cheese brine was a waste product that the dairy had to pay $25,000 annually to have treated off site," said Steve Warndahl, a highway commissioner in Polk County, Wis.

    The cheese brine can be used in temperatures as low as minus 21 degrees, which is much lower than solid rock salt which is ineffective at minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

    "This works well for us and at cost savings to our taxpayers," Warndahl said.

    Potatoes

    In Tennessee, a brine solution containing potato juice, commercially named Magic Salt, is helping to keep roadways open and clear during winter. A byproduct of the distillation of vodka, it was discovered in Hungary that the mixture did not freeze in low temperatures.

    Jerry Hatcher, maintenance director for the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT), said "That's when someone realized it could be used as a deicing agent."

    The potato juice is mixed with a traditional salt brine at varying ratios depending on the temperatures and weather conditions. "We also use it to treat when we've already got snow or ice on the ground, to help [salt brines] work at a lower temperature," Hatcher said.

    Although temperatures in Tennessee do not reach this threshold, the potato juice is also effective in temperatures well below zero.

    RELATED:
    Rock Salt Versus Salt Brines: What's Best for Road Safety?
    Is Winter Driving Safer With Four-Wheel, All-Wheel Drive Vehicles?
    Winter Weather Center

    The potato juice is more environmentally friendly than rock salt. Hatcher said, "[Agricultural brines] are friendly to the environment because they have reduced corrosive effects."

    He continued, "In Tennessee, these [agricultural brines] are going to continue to be used and experimented, to see what's more effective for us at different temperatures. It's still pretty early on for us, but we know that we will continue to use these and find the solution that's most cost effective going forward."

    Clearing snow and ice from roadways is of the utmost importance to provide the highest level of safety for travelers. Unconventionality aside, these innovative brines are lowering costs, lessening environmental impacts and providing safer roads.

    Experimenting with solutions beyond traditional rock salt and even salt brines will prove to have a tremendous impact on road safety, environmental concerns and cost savings.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Surprising Ways to Predict the Weather

     

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    Friday, Feb. 21, 2014
    One pedestrian at least, manages to look graceful crossing a
    (Photo by Mike Albans/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

    As winter's snow slowly melts, people may be happy to see that sidewalks are finally free of ice and slush. But those ice-free sidewalks and roadways may hold an even more dangerous threat: death by electrocution.

    Several blocks of busy Sixth Avenue in downtown Manhattan were cordoned off to pedestrians and vehicles yesterday (Feb. 19), following reports of a powerful electric current surging through sidewalk grates, manhole covers and the doorknobs of nearby buildings, Gothamist reported.

    The problem was a defective electric cable, according to service provider Consolidated Edison (Con Ed). Though no injuries were reported, similar incidents in the recent past have proved deadly to people and pets. [Top 10 Leading Causes of Death]

    In winter 2004, graduate student Jodie Lane, 30, was electrocuted to death while walking on a damp street in New York City. Con Ed later admitted that her death was the result of poorly insulated electrical wires.

    In 2007, two dogs were electrocuted in as many days after walking on New York City sidewalks where snow and ice had melted. One dog died; the other was revived after its dog walker was able to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the pet.

    And earlier this month, a pit-bull-terrier mix was electrocuted just steps from the front door of its owner's Manhattan apartment. "We were entering the building when Bella started acting funny," the dog's owner told the New York Daily News. "She let out a cry. She didn't seem to want to go into the building. Then, she went into a spasm and just laid there."

    Winter's deadly shocks

    It's not a coincidence that these electrocutions all happened in winter, during periods when the weather was just warm enough to melt the snow and ice that had accumulated on roads and sidewalks.

    Water can conduct electricity, though not very efficiently. The conductivity of water is greatly increased when salts and other inorganic chemicals (such as calcium, magnesium and chloride compounds) are dissolved in water.

    And those dissolved minerals - especially sodium chloride (NaCl), calcium chloride (CaCl2), magnesium chloride (MgCl2) or potassium chloride (KCl) - are the exact compounds found in deicers commonly spread on sidewalks and roads to melt ice and snow.

    So when ice and snow begin to melt, deicing minerals are dissolved in the meltwater, creating a perfect conduit for any electrical charge that may be present in wires that are frayed or have cracked insulation.

    In the most recent case of electrocution, Con Ed was able to determine that the electric current from a frayed electric wire on a building's scaffolding was responsible for the dog's death.

    Follow Marc Lallanilla on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @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: 22 People More Sick of Winter Than You Are

     

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    Friday, Feb. 21, 2014
    Winter Weather
    A pedestrian is under snow covered trees on Boston Common in Boston, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

    The return to cold weather next week will be anything but straight forward as several storms of various strength and track will swing through.

    Cold air will return in stages late this weekend into the end of next week. While that cold air will not have the staying power of much of this past winter, it will be strewn with storm systems. Any of these storms have the potential to bring a surprise snow.

    The coldest air will settle in late in the week as the polar vortex is forecast to take another southward dip.

    The cumulative nature of the storms may put some communities back in the mode where it is snowing every day or every other day. Budget and salt supply concerns may again arise. As will the potential for more travel and school disruptions.

    RELATED:
    State Budgets Continue to Take Winter Beating
    AccuWeather Winter Weather Center
    Polar Vortex to Come Back for an Encore

    The first potential snow event appears to be a minor one with a general 1 to 2 inches within its reach. A few spots could pick up a bit more, and some locations may get just flurries. This snow will be a rather long, skinny band of snow reaching from the Ohio Valley to the central Appalachians and part of the mid-Atlantic and southern New England coasts. It will begin Saturday night over the Midwest and reach the coast by late Sunday or Sunday night. Near the coast, some of the precipitation may fall as rain or a wintry mix.

    A second and rather weak system will swing eastward from the Midwest Monday night and will cross the Appalachians and reach the East Coast Tuesday.

    A third system Tuesday night and Wednesday appears to be the strongest of the bunch through midweek.

    According to Senior Meteorologist Kristina Pydnowski, "The storm during the middle of next week will travel along the zone of greatest temperature contrast, which right now looks to be from the Tennessee Valley to the lower mid-Atlantic coast."

    Many storms have turned out stronger or over-achieved, when compared to early indications.

    "If the storm ends up being stronger, it could take more of a northward turn along the Atlantic coast," Pydnowski said.

    A stronger storm tracking in this manner would have a greater chance at bringing heavier snow farther north, than a modest storm heading straight out to sea.

    In this very challenging weather pattern, the details on the storms may not be available until within a day or two of the actual event and adjustments to the forecast over time is likely.

     

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