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    Thursday, March 6, 2014
    Major Winter Storm Cripples North Carolina
    Abandoned cars line Highway 70 East on February 13, 2014 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)

    A storm responsible for ice in portions of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday will swing farther east in the South later this week with snow and ice.

    Wet Snow, Ice May Hit Part of Southeast, Mid-Atlantic

    As the storm from Tuesday moves toward the Atlantic coast, it is forecast by AccuWeather.com meteorologists to strengthen later this week.



    According to Senior Meteorologist Mark Mancuso, "The storm could strengthen just enough to tap into just enough cold air in parts of northern Georgia, the Carolinas to portions of southern Virginia to bring some freezing rain, sleet and wet snow later Thursday into Friday."

    This is the zone that has a chance at receiving some wet snow or a wintry mix from the storm later Thursday into Friday.

    Cities that have a chance at receiving some wet snow or a wintry mix of snow, ice and rain include Gainesville, Ga.; Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro, N.C.; Greenville, Spartanburg and Rock Hill, S.C.; and Charlottesville, Roanoke and Richmond, Va. The possibility of wet snow and a wintry mix also includes some of the northern and eastern suburbs of Atlanta.



    RELATED:
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    Carolina Interactive Radar
    Winter Weather Center


    According to Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno, the odds favor wet snow over ice over northern Georgia to upstate South Carolina, then more of a chance of freezing rain and sleet farther to the northeast over North Carolina to southern Virginia.

    Enough snow or a wintry mix could fall in this swath to cover grassy surfaces and perhaps bring slippery travel. Ice could weigh down trees and perhaps cause sporadic power outages.

    Farther south, the storm system will bring drenching, locally gusty thunderstorms over the Florida Peninsula on Thursday.

    There is a slight chance the storm may track far enough to the north to bring a mixture of rain and wet snow to Washington, D.C, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Atlantic City, N.J., later Friday morning.

    The same strengthening storm can kick up winds and raise tides a bit from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to southeastern Virginia, the Delmarva Peninsula and southern New Jersey late in the week.

    Ice Storm Hits South Central States Tuesday

    Cold air trapped near the ground Tuesday morning allowed a zone of freezing rain to develop in part of the South Central states.

    Ice snarled traffic across portions of Texas and Louisiana early on Tuesday. The treacherous conditions and resultant accidents led to closures along portions of I-10, I-110, US 190 and other local roads across Louisiana.

    WAFB 9 Louisiana's footage showed scenes reminiscent of Atlanta's late-January ice storm, which stranded motorists for as many as 24 hours.

    Texas road crews were out in full force to sand the icy roads.

    Meanwhile, Flightstats reports that the messy wintry weather forced the cancellation of more than 900 flights and delays of approximately 4,000 flights across the U.S. as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, with the highest numbers at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

    Ice knocked out power to more than 21,700 customers of Entergy Louisiana, LLC, Entergy Texas, LLC, AEP Texas and Oncor.

    RELATED ON SKYE: How to Drive in Any Weather Condition

     

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    Thursday, March 6, 2014
    Great Lakes Water Levels
    In this Feb. 16, 2014 satellite image provided by the NOAA Great Lakes CoastWatch is the ice cover on the Great Lakes. (AP Photo/NOAA Great Lakes CoastWatch)

    TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) - Water levels in the Great Lakes are expected to continue a steady recovery this year, courtesy of widespread ice cover that is slowing evaporation and snowfall that has approached record amounts in some cities, federal experts said Wednesday.

    The siege of polar air that has gripped the region this winter has caused the most extensive freeze-over of the lakes since the record-setting year of 1979, when nearly 95 percent of their surface area solidified. On Tuesday, the ice cover reached its highest point since then - 91 percent, said George Leshkevich, a physical scientist with the federal Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Ann Arbor.

    Meanwhile, the towering snowpack rimming the watershed will melt this spring and much of the water will flow into the lakes or the streams that feed them. The runoff is expected to be so bountiful that some areas will be in danger of flooding, a prospect that could be worsened by ice jams on swollen rivers.

    "Any additional rainfall on top of that snowpack would add to that flood threat," said Keith Kompoltowicz, hydrology branch chief with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district office in Detroit. "We're certainly paying very close attention to the weather in the next few weeks."

    Great Lakes levels dropped sharply in the late 1990s and have remained mostly below normal since. Scientists blame a warming climate, which promotes evaporation and limits ice cover, and occasional dry spells.

    The drop-off was most severe on Lakes Michigan and Huron, which hydrologists consider one water body because they are connected and at the same height above sea level. They fell to the lowest point on record in January 2013, while the three other Great Lakes - Superior, Erie and Ontario - were well below average.

    The prolonged slump hammered the shipping industry, forcing vessels to carry lighter loads to avoid scraping bottom in channels and ports. Marina owners lost money as slips were too shallow for boats to dock. Vegetation sprang up along waterfronts, frustrating hotel and cottage owners.

    But the last 14 months have seen a long-awaited comeback, fueled by plentiful snow and rain. Superior and Michigan-Huron's seasonal rises were almost double their average gains in 2013.

    And the signs continue pointing upward. The snow's water content is the highest in a decade on Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron. The snowpack is the equivalent of 9.5 inches of water around Lake Superior. It holds 4 to 8 inches of water in the Huron-Michigan basin, 3.8 inches around Lake Ontario and 1.8 inches around Lake Erie.

    Ice cover has prevented evaporation and could keep water temperatures cool enough to delay the next period of heavy water loss to the atmosphere, Leshkevich said.

    A short-term forecast prepared by the Army Corps predicts water levels will continue rising for the next six months. Michigan-Huron are expected to be 9 to 14 inches higher than during that period in 2013 - although they'd still be 9 to 12 inches below their long-term average.

    Superior is forecast to reach 13 inches higher than a year ago this spring and might edge above its long-term average for March. If so, it would be the first time the lake has topped its monthly average since 1998.

    Lakes Erie and Ontario are expected to move above their long-term averages in the next few months but could dip below them as the summer wears on.

    Despite the improving levels, Kompoltowicz cautioned it was too early to declare the lean times over.

    "There's always a chance that beyond that six-month window, a return to drier conditions happens," he said.

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

     

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    Thursday, March 6, 2014
    FILE - In this Wednesday, March 25, 1998 file photo, Enrique Lagunas digs a trench to redirect water toward a street in Laguna Beach, Calif. after heavy rains from an El Nino storm hit Southern California. On Thursday, March 6, 2014, the U.S. National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration announced their prediction of an El Nino warming of the central Pacific Ocean in 2014 that will change weather worldwide. It is expected to trigger fewer Atlantic hurricanes, more rain next winter for drought-struck California and southern states and even cause a milder winter for the nation's cold-struck northern tier next year, meteorologists say. For the world it can mean an even hotter year coming up and food crop losses. (AP Photo/Orange County Register, Bruce Chambers)
    In this Wednesday, March 25, 1998 file photo, Enrique Lagunas digs a trench to redirect water toward a street in Laguna Beach, Calif. after heavy rains from an El Nino storm hit Southern California. (AP Photo/Orange County Register, Bruce Chambers)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. federal forecasters predict a warming of the central Pacific Ocean this year that will change weather worldwide.

    The warming, called an El Nino, can mean an even hotter year coming up and billions of dollars in losses for food crops. Australia and South Africa should be dry while parts of South America become dry and parts become wet in an El Nino. Peru suffers the most, getting floods and poorer fishing.

    But it could bring good news for some parts of the planet, leading to fewer Atlantic hurricanes and more rain next winter for drought-stricken California and southern U.S. states. It could also bring and a milder winter for the frigid U.S. northern tier next year, meteorologists say

    The National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration issued an official El Nino watch Thursday. An El Nino is a warming of the central Pacific once every few years, from a combination of wind and waves in the tropics. It shakes up climate around the world, changing rain and temperature patterns.

    Mike Halpert, acting director of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center, says the El Nino warming should develop by this summer, but that there are no guarantees. Although early signs are appearing already a few hundred feet below the ocean surface, meteorologists say an El Nino started to brew in 2012 and then shut down suddenly and unexpectedly.

    The flip side of El Nino is called a La Nina, which has a general cooling effect. It has been much more frequent than El Ninos lately, with five La Ninas and two small-to-moderate El Ninos in the past nine years. The last big El Nino was 1997-1998. Neither has appeared since mid-2012. El Ninos are usually strongest from December to April.

    Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who wasn't part of NOAA's forecast, agreed that an El Nino is brewing.

    "This could be a substantial event and I think we're due," Trenberth said. "And I think it could have major consequences."

    Scientific studies have tied El Ninos to farming and fishing problems and to upticks in insect-born disease, such as malaria. Commodity traders even track El Nino cycles. A study by Texas A&M University economics professor Bruce McCarl found the last big El Nino of 1997-1998 cost about $3 billion in agricultural damage.

    Trenberth said this El Nino may even push the globe out of a decade-long slowdown in temperature increase, "so suddenly global warming kicks into a whole new level."

    Halpert, however, says El Ninos can be beneficial, and that the one being forecast is "a perfect case."

    After years of dryness and low reservoirs, an El Nino's wet weather would be welcome in places like California, Halpert said.

    "If they get too much rain, I think they'd rather have that situation rather than another year of drought," Halpert said. "Sometimes you have to pick your poison."

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

     

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    Thursday, March 6, 2014
    Night time exposure of Perseids Meteors
    Alamy


    For the second day in a row, a space rock is going to zip close by Earth within the orbit of the moon, and you can watch the encounter live online.

    The 33-foot-wide near-Earth asteroid 2014 EC will come within 34,550 miles of Earth's surface this evening (March 6) - just 14 percent of the distance between our planet and the moon, which is about 239,000 miles on average. You can see a video of asteroid 2014 EC's orbit arount the sun here.

    The online Virtual Telescope Project will attempt webcast today's asteroid flyby liv. You can watch live webcast of asteroid 2014 EC live on Space.com beginning at 2:30 p.m. EST (1930 GMT), courtesy of the Virtual Telescope Project. Or you can go directly to the project's website: http://www.virtualtelescope.eu/webtv/

    2014 EC, which was discovered just Tuesday (March 4), is about half as wide as the asteroid that exploded over Russia in February 2013, injuring about 1,500 people. There is no danger that 2014 EC will hit Earth on this pass, researchers stress; the chances that it will ever strike the planet are currently estimated at 1 in 2.7 million.

    While 2014 EC will come extremely close to Earth, it's not a great skywatching target. The asteroid won't be visible through binoculars or small telescopes, said Don Yeomans, manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object program office at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

    "Moderately sized telescopes if you know where to look - yes," Yeomans told Space.com via email. "The asteroid will reach an apparent magnitude of about 13.6 near closest approach."

    The flyby of 2014 EC follows closely on the heels of another space rock encounter. On Wednesday (March 6), the 100-foot-wide (30 m) asteroid 2014 DX110 zoomed by Earth, passing inside the orbit of the moon at a range of 217,000 miles (350,000 km).

    Such back-to-back flybys are pretty special, though they can't exactly be called rare events, Yeomans said.

    "For small asteroids, one would expect a flyby of the Earth, to within the moon's distance, about every two weeks," he said.

    Astronomers think that more than 1 million asteroids cruise through space in Earth's neighborhood. To date, just 10,600 have been discovered and named.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    A new image captured by a NASA spacecraft shows Saturn's famous rings in gorgeous detail, with one of the planet's many moons shining in the distance.

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    The space agency's Cassini probe snapped the photo on Oct. 22, 2013, when it was about 1.6 million miles (2.6 million kilometers) from Saturn and 38 degrees below the ring plane, NASA officials said. The planet's battered "Death Star" moon Mimas is visible as a pinprick of light at the bottom right.

    The photo also depicts hazy, mysterious "spokes" in Saturn's B ring, just to the right of center. [See more photos of Saturn's glorious rings]

    "The exact mechanism of spoke formation is still the subject of debate, but ring scientists do know that spokes no longer appear when the sun is higher in Saturn's sky," NASA officials write in a description of the image, which was released Monday (March 3). "It is believed that this has to do with the ability of micron-sized ring grains to maintain an electrical charge and levitate above the rings, forming spokes."

    At 246 miles (396 km) wide, Mimas is the seventh-largest of Saturn's 60-plus known moons. Its surface is dominated by a gigantic crater called Herschel, which makes the object look like the Death Star in the movie "Star Wars."

    The $3.2 billion Cassini mission, which launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004, is a collaboration involving NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Cassini is slated to continue orbiting Saturn until 2017, when its mission will end with a designed death dive into the huge planet's atmosphere.

    The Cassini spacecraft also ferried a probe called Huygens, which landed on Saturn's largest moon, Titan, in January 2005. Huygens managed to send data home to Earth for about 90 minutes after touching down on the moon, which sports seas of liquid hydrocarbons on its frigid surface.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Friday, March 7, 2014
    California Storms
    A farmworker picks broccolini in the rain on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, in King City, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    Following one of the driest years on record for the Golden State, recent rain and snow were welcomed with open arms. However, despite improving conditions, 2014 is not off to a better start, as nearly 91 percent of the state still remains in a severe drought as of Tuesday, March 4, 2014, according to the United States Drought Monitor.

    "The storm has had an impact and the numbers are better then they were before; however, when you take the whole picture into view, it hasn't really helped a great deal," AccuWeather U.S. Western Weather Expert Ken Clark said.

    Thanks to the most recent rounds of rain and snow throughout California, Los Angeles and San Francisco both received at least 86 percent of their normal rainfall for the month of February. However, farther south, San Diego only received 44 percent of the city's normal precipitation for February.

    "This was a decent storm but it was a fairly typical winter storm. It's not unusual but it's been the only we've had this year," Clark said.

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    As the storm that spanned from the end of February to the beginning of March was the only significant storm that the state received so far in 2014, the overall impact on the drought proved to be minimal.

    "The Sierra snowpack is still only about one-third of normal," Clark said. "If you look at the amount of snow cover there is and then look at the reservoir sites, most of them are at below or near all-time record low levels."

    Perhaps one of the most alarming actualities are the comparisons between 2013 and 2014, farther showing the severity of the drought in California.


    This image was acquired Jan. 18, 2013, by a NASA satellite. (Photo/NASA Earth Observatory)


    A NASA satellite obtained this image on Jan. 18, 2014. (Photo/NASA Earth Observatory)

    There is a vast difference between the images taken exactly one year apart in the state's mountain ranges. In the second photo, taken this January, only the peaks of the Sierra Nevada bear snow compared to the sufficient snow on the mountains in 2013.

    Even farther north, snow is barely visible in the most recent photo in both the Cascade Mountains and the Coastal Range.

    As of March 6, 2014, for the entire state only 33 percent of the normal snow water equivalent has been met, according to the California Data Exchange Center. As the snowpack is essential for filling the reservoirs across the state and providing a third of California's water supply according to NASA, concerns are mounting as the region's rainy season is winding down.

    "The biggest concerns continue to be how much water is going to be allowed for farming in the Central Valley," Clark said.

    With April approaching quickly, many grape growers and farmers alike may find themselves in a tough situation as an ample water supply is vital to yielding an adequate crop.

    With almost half of the fruits and nuts grown in the U.S. coming from California, as well as some of the nation's finest wines, higher prices for produce and other commodities are possible across the nation are possible as the drought persists.

    As worries escalate, a prolonged dry pattern is in store for much of California, allowing the state no more relief in the near future, thus pushing California even deeper into the drought. With severe drought conditions continuing, the state will be at higher risk for economic loss, reduced crops, water shortages and restrictions and wildfires.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    Friday, March 7, 2014
    A887RD Umbrella and chair on Daytona Beach
    (Alamy)

    As the cold, snowy winter prepares to relax the icy grasp it has held on much of the United States this winter, eager vacationers are preparing for their spring break trips.

    A storm system that will move through the South to start next week will bring a few days of uncooperative weather for Gulf Coast beach goers, but there will be days of intermittent sunshine after the rain.

    Read on for the forecasts for locations in some of the most popular spring break regions.

    Cancun, Mexico

    (Photo/Wikimedia Commons)

    While the weekend will have inclement weather for this college vacation hotspot, AccuWeather.com meteorologists Mark Paquette and Rob Miller said that the disruptive front will move away from the area. In its wake will be a more seasonable pattern, with plenty of sunshine and warmer air.

    The average high temperature in Cancun in March is 84 F with a low of 71 F, with nearly 90 percent of average March days above 80 F. It is typically a dry month for the area, with an average of only three days seeing any precipitation.

    Its reliability for good weather combined with tourist-friendly resorts have made this area one of the most popular destinations for spring breakers.

    South Padre Island, Texas

    (Photo/arinahabich)

    It will be a chilly start to next week for South Padre Island as a storm moves through. Temperatures will only be in the 50s on Sunday, but will rise to the 60s Monday before hitting the 70s for the remainder of the week. Monday will also feature some gusty, northerly winds and rain.

    By Tuesday, clouds will begin to break up with more sunshine through Thursday.

    "It won't be the best beach weather early on, but by Tuesday the conditions will improve greatly," AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said.

    Daytona, Fla.

    (Photo/Jason Ganser)

    The same system that will bring wet weather to South Padre will hit Florida at midweek, though it will be a brief disruption. The week will begin in the upper 70s, with partly to mostly sunny skies. The showers and thunderstorms will arrive by Wednesday, though temperatures will still be in the 70s. The front will move through quickly, bringing drier but slightly cooler weather to end the week.

    Nassau, Bahamas

    (Photo/Worachat Sodsri)

    The pristine Caribbean waters of the Bahamas makes Nassau another popular international destination. Averaging about 10 days of precipitation for the month of March, Paquette said that rainfall is usually in the form of quick showers and not heavy rainfall.

    High temperatures will typically be in the high 70s for the month.

    While this weekend will begin with some tumultuous weather, next week will see plenty of sunshine and warm weather.

    Las Vegas

    (Photo/Shmuel Spiegelman)

    For those who prefer to take their vacation away from the beach, Las Vegas can be a popular winter get away. Normal highs for this time of year are in the upper 60s and normal overnight lows are in the upper 40s.

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    According to AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Ken Clark, next week will begin warmer than normal with highs nearing 80 F. By Wednesday, temperatures will dip to more seasonable levels in the high 60s. The weather to start the week will be dry with partly to mostly sunny skies and some breezy conditions at midweek.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 30 Best Places to Watch the Sunset

     

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    Friday, March 7, 2014
    Alpine glacier, Switzerland
    (Getty Images)

    While rain and storminess from the past few days will move out of the Pacific Northwest on Friday, the threat for avalanches will remain straight through the weekend.

    Mild air will surge northward into Oregon and Washington on Saturday. A storm system will then bring rain across all but the highest elevations Saturday night before snow levels gradually lower Sunday into Monday.

    Combined with wind and new snowfall over the past 24-48 hours, above-freezing temperatures and rain in all but the higher elevations Saturday night into Monday will trigger a considerable threat for avalanches.

    The highest threat for avalanches will be found in the Olympic Mountains of western Washington and both the western and eastern slopes of the Cascades in Washington and Oregon.

    Avalanche impacts across these areas include locations above, near and below the tree line. Those who plan to do any back-country skiing or hiking through the mountainous terrain should be aware that dangerous avalanches can occur with little or no warning.

    In fact, The Northwest Avalanche Center says, "careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making is essential."


    This image from the The Northwest Avalanche Center shows the danger from loose wet avalanches.

    The most serious avalanche concern will come from Loose Wet avalanches, which occur when water is running through the snowpack due to rain or melting, and it is released at or below a trigger point.

    RELATED:
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    Though still possible, it should also be noted that impacts from possible avalanches in developed ski areas and terrain near highways are somewhat lower due to ongoing avalanche mitigation techniques.

    As snow levels lower gradually into Monday, the avalanche threat will continue into at least Monday.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    Friday, March 7, 2014
    Michael Proske with Pike Electric, Inc. out of San Marcos, Texas, works to secure a telephone pole in Springdale, Ark. on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2009. Thousands in the city are without electricity following an ice storm that hit the northwest Arkansas region on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Beth Hall)
    (AP Photo)

    A storm responsible for ice in portions of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi on Tuesday will continue to bring much of the same to parts of North Carolina and Virginia on Friday.

    As Senior Meteorologist Mark Mancuso mentioned yesterday, "The storm could strengthen just enough to tap into just enough cold air in parts of northeastern Georgia, the Carolinas to portions of southern Virginia to bring some freezing rain, sleet and wet snow later Thursday into Friday."


    Cities that have the best chance of seeing dangerous ice and snow accumulations on Friday include Greensboro, N.C.; Winston-Salem, N.C.; Roanoke, Va. and Lynchburg, Va., to name a few.

    Power outages across North Carolina early Friday morning were already passed 160,000 customers, and as freezing rain continues through midday, this number will only go up.

    According to Winter Weather Expert Brian Wimer, "The storm can unload a half a foot of snow or more on the some of the mountains in western North Carolina and a couple of inches of snow over some of the mountains in southwestern Virginia."

    The mountains along the eastern Tennessee border also have a chance at picking up a bit of snow.

    RELATED:
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    According to Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno, "The odds favor freezing rain and sleet farther to the northeast over upstate South Carolina, central North Carolina to part of southern Virginia."

    Enough snow or a wintry mix could fall in this swath to cover grassy surfaces and bring slippery travel, especially on bridges and overpasses. Ice will develop on trees limbs and could cause sporadic power outages.

    There is a chance the storm may track far enough to the north to bring a little wintry mix to Washington, D.C, Baltimore, Dover, Del., and Atlantic City, N.J., on Friday.



    The same strengthening storm can kick up winds and waves from the Outer Banks of North Carolina to southeastern Virginia, the Delmarva Peninsula and southern New Jersey late in the week. Tides are likely to run 1-2 feet above published levels.

    Ice Storm Hits South Central States Tuesday

    Cold air trapped near the ground Tuesday morning allowed a zone of freezing rain to develop in part of the South Central states.

    Ice snarled traffic across portions of Texas and Louisiana early on Tuesday. The treacherous conditions and resultant accidents led to closures along portions of I-10, I-110, US 190 and other local roads across Louisiana.

    WAFB 9 Louisiana's footage showed scenes reminiscent of Atlanta's late-January ice storm, which stranded motorists for as many as 24 hours.

    Texas road crews were out in full force to sand the icy roads.

    Meanwhile, Flightstats reports that the messy wintry weather forced the cancellation of more than 900 flights and delays of approximately 4,000 flights across the U.S. as of 7 p.m. Tuesday, with the highest numbers at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

    Ice knocked out power to more than 21,700 customers of Entergy Louisiana, LLC, Entergy Texas, LLC, AEP Texas and Oncor.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 22 People More Sick of Winter Than You Are

     

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    Friday, March 7, 2014
    Ice Sailing
    The ice boats Jack Frost, near, and Ariel sail along the Hudson River on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Barrytown, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

    BARRYTOWN, N.Y. (AP) - Sharp winds lashed up the Hudson River as sailors launched boats onto the ice. Sails whipped furiously as the long blades slid across a white sheet that spread for miles.

    Finally, a frigid winter has created excellent conditions for ice sailing on the river.

    "In the blink of an eye you can get up to 30 miles an hour ... you can just feel the power of the wind filling the sails," Michael Soldati said after a bracing run across the ice. "It's just awesome. It's just you and the wind."

    More than a dozen boats hit the ice last weekend on a wide stretch of river with a view of the Catskill Mountains, about 100 miles north of New York City.

    Many were one-person craft that skittered over the ice like so many puppies around two big dogs - the Rocket and Jack Frost. The two larger craft - each about 50 feet long - are reconditioned 19th-century ice yachts, made of heavy lumber and fitted with tall sails.

    The term ice yacht is misleading - the older craft are neither luxurious nor spacious. Rides are bumpy and cold. Wooden backbones are fitted with a platform "cockpit" and a rear tiller for steering. Once sails are raised by the river bank, boats are given a push start until they catch the wind.

    On the Jack Frost, which had not been out on the river for 11 years, Richard Lawrence sat low in the cushioned cockpit to operate the tiller, while his son Kevin urgently pulled in rope to trim the sails. Riding the ice at speeds of around 40 mph, father and son had to shout over the rushing wind and slicing blades.

    In the early 1970s, Lawrence helped his father and other men recondition Jack Frost in nearby Newburgh. Now he shares the unique experience of local history and fast speeds with his son.

    "The boats stay the same, the skippers get older, pass them down as they go," Lawrence said between runs. "It's just an exhilarating feel of harnessing the wind."

    Another group, based in New Jersey, has spent the last decade restoring the Rocket. Soldati, of the North Shrewsbury Ice Boat & Yacht Club, said the trip was the Rocket's first under its own sail since the late 1920s.

    The crews are keeping alive a tradition from the 19th century when winter days might bring thousands of people out to the ice at nearby Poughkeepsie to watch the ice boats race, said the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club's John Sperr.

    "A lot of the old stern-steering boats got rebuilt and put back together and pushed into service. That's our mission right now - to try to keep these old yachts going," Sperr said. "We don't want to put them in a museum where nothing ever happens to them."

    But the massive old ice boats require the sort of old-fashioned icy, windy winters that are in shorter supply these days.

    Sperr said that even this winter was a bit of a tease. Early-season ice melted and a more recent hardening was accompanied by a Nor'easter that dropped more than a foot of snow on top. A warm spell followed by a freeze polished up the wintry layer to late-winter perfection for ice sailing.

    The ice sailors who last weekend navigated a 20-mile patch of sailable ice along the mid-Hudson were the rare Northeasterners who welcomed the polar vortex. The conditions were so promising that Soldati, who also does traditional sailing, said his group and others left their boats at Barrytown hoping for more good ice this weekend.

    "I do a lot of soft-water sailing in the summer, and I think the exhilaration on the hard water, you can't beat it," Soldati said.

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

     

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    Friday, March 7, 2014

    In a cosmic first, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has photographed the disintegration of an asteroid in deep space.

    Astronomers have seen comets break apart as they near the sun, but they'd never witnessed anything similar in an asteroid in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter -- until now. Hubble images show that the asteroid, known as P/2013 R3, has fragmented into as many as 10 pieces. Scientists created a video of the rare asteroid P/2013 R3' breakup based on the Hubble views to chronicle the space rock's demise.

    "This is a rock. Seeing it fall apart before our eyes is pretty amazing,"study lead author David Jewitt of UCLA said in a statement. [See more Hubble Photos of Asteroid P/2013/R3 Falling Apart]

    P/2013 R3 was discovered in September 2013 by the Catalina and Pan-STARRS sky surveys. Further observations by the Keck Telescope in Hawaii shortly thereafter revealed three bodies traveling together in an envelope nearly as wide as the Earth, researchers said.

    "Keck showed us that this thing was worth looking at with Hubble," Jewitt said.

    Asteroid Breaks up

    Hubble's sharp eyes found that P/2013 R3 actually consists of 10 separate objects, each of which sports a dust tail. The four biggest pieces are each up to 660 feet (200 meters) wide, and the space rock debris weighs a total of 200,000 tons, researchers said.

    Astronomers continued to observe P/2013 R3 from October through January of this year with Hubble, tracking how the object changed. They determined that the asteroid's fragments are drifting apart at just 0.9 mph (1.5 km/h) -- slower than casual walking speed.

    "This is a really bizarre thing to observe -- we've never seen anything like it before," co-author Jessica Agarwal, of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, said in a statement. "The break-up could have many different causes, but the Hubble observations are detailed enough that we can actually pinpoint the process responsible."

    For example, the fragments' leisurely drift argues against a recent collision as the cause of the breakup, researchers said. And the disintegration is probably not due to the warming and vaporization of interior ices, as P/2013 R3 is cold and appears to have remained far from the sun for billions of years. (The asteroid orbits about 300 million miles, or 480 million km, from our star.)

    Rather, scientists think P/2013 R3's fragmentation is driven by something called the Yarkovsky-O'Keefe-Radzievskii-Paddack (YORP) effect, which describes how sunlight can cause an object's rotation rate to increase over time.

    Celestial bodies absorb light from the sun and then re-emit much of this energy as heat. Irregularly shaped objects such as P/2013 R3 emit more heat from some areas than others, causing a tiny imbalance that spins the body up slowly over time. This increased rotation rate likely has caused P/2013 R3's constituent pieces to move apart due to centrifugal force, researchers said.

    P/2013 R3 must have a weak, "rubble pile" interior to be susceptible to breakup by the YORP effect. The asteroid probably was battered by numerous collisions with other space rocks in the past, scientists said.

    "This is the latest in a line of weird asteroid discoveries, including the active asteroid P/2013 P5, which we found to be spouting six tails," Agarwal said. "This indicates that the sun may play a large role in disintegrating these small solar system bodies, by putting pressure on them via sunlight."

    The study was published Thursday (March 6) in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Friday, March 7, 2014
    Yet another storm brings snow to the region
    Walkers and motorists share the road as side streets and sidewalks remain snow covered on March 3, 2014, in Frederick, Md. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

    March is often a month on the wild side in terms of powerful storms and temperature extremes.

    This month has fit into that mold thus far and will continue to be a tug of war between two seasons: winter and spring.

    This March has gotten off to a tremendous cold start over much of the Central and Eastern states. Temperature departures as of Friday, March 7, 2014, have reached 10 to 20 degrees below average for a number of locations.

    Temperature Departures for First Week of March 2014

    Location
    Departure From Normal
    Minneapolis
    Minus 20 F
    Chicago
    Minus 16 F
    Atlanta
    Minus 4 F
    Dallas
    Minus 10 F
    Boston
    Minus 10 F
    New York City
    Minus 11 F
    New Orleans
    Minus 7 F
    Pittsburgh
    Minus 11 F

    During the first week of the month, a series of storms have hit the West, producing flooding rain and heavy mountain snow. The stormy pattern in the Northwest will continue later this weekend after a brief lull.

    A snow and ice storm turned south last weekend in the Ohio Valley and East. A second snow and ice storm this past week hit the South. However, by no means does this suggest that all future storms this month will take the same path due to March's wild side and mood swings.

    Despite a cold start, mild air will be quite successful in visiting the South, Northeast and part of the Midwest this weekend into early next week. Temperatures are forecast to reach the 70s in much of the South, part of the Ohio Valley and the mid-Atlantic one or more days.

    AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams described March as a month where, "We peer out and the door to winter's dungeon creaks open."

    Mild temperatures and a lull in major storms often do not last very long during the month.

    RELATED:
    Winter Weather Center
    Winter Shatters Expense Records
    Spring Fever Alert for Midwest, East

    "March around the Great Lakes, New England and much of the mid-Atlantic is cold and stormy more often than it is warm and tranquil," Northeast Weather Expert Dave Dombek said. "April is about fifty-fifty and usually it is not until May when warm, tranquil weather makes up the majority of days."

    The weather for the middle of next week will depend on the track and strength of a storm forecast to develop over the Plains.

    If the storm takes a more southern route, snow and ice will stretch from the central Plains to the Ohio Valley and part of the mid-Atlantic. However, a more northerly track could take snow and ice toward part of the Great Lakes and New England.

    The timing of the potential storm for next week is likely to be Wednesday and Thursday.

    A swiftly developing storm would be more likely to track farther north, than a weaker storm.

    In the storm's cold sector, a large zone of travel disruptions is likely. Whether those disruptions last part of a day or a couple of days is yet to be determined.

    According to Senior Meteorologist Bernie Rayno, "Delays and disruptions are likely for at least part of the Midwest and the Northeast with this storm. However, people should not yet make alterations to plans, because of the uncertainty of the storm's path, precipitation type and intensity."

    Snowfall accumulations are still uncertain at this time.

    The storm could bring a mere few inches of snow, if it is weak and fast moving. However, if the storm strengthens enough and slows its forward speed, there could be a couple of pockets of heavy snow, which may be a real back-breaker to shovel in some locations.

    The time of the day the snow occurs will also have an impact, thanks to the strengthening March sun effect.

    At this early stage, odds favor a track farther north than last weekend's storm due to a less forceful push of cold air, but probably not so far north that it will cut across the upper Great Lakes. The polar vortex hanging out near Hudson Bay, Canada, is likely to prevent a far northerly track.

    No matter what form or amount of precipitation falls with the midweek storm, colder air will follow for a couple of days later next week. However, since March is a weather battle zone, another tease of warmth will not likely be too far behind.

     

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    Saturday, March 8, 2014

    This photo provided by Laurent Errera taken Dec. 26, 2011, shows the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER that disappeared from air traffic control screens Saturday, taking off from Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport in France. The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 carrying 239 people lost contact with air traffic control early Saturday morning, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Laurent Errera)

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Search teams across Southeast Asia using ships and planes scoured the seas between Malaysia and Vietnam on Saturday looking for traces of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that disappeared from air traffic control screens with 239 people on board.

    More than 17 hours after contact was lost with the plane as it entered Vietnam airspace, there was still no sign of Flight MH370, which had left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday morning and did not have had enough fuel to fly that long.

    Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said there was no indication that the pilots sent a distress signal. The fact that there was apparently no call for help suggests that whatever happened to the flight occurred quickly.

    Two-thirds of the plane's passengers were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe. It disappeared off the radar around an hour after takeoff. Yahya said weather conditions in the area at the time the plane disappeared were fine.

    At Beijing's airport, authorities posted a notice asking relatives and friends of passengers to gather at a hotel about 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the airport to wait for further information, and provided a shuttle bus service. A woman wept aboard the shuttle bus while saying on a mobile phone, "They want us to go to the hotel. It cannot be good!"

    Relatives and friends of passengers were escorted into a private area at the Lido Hotel, and reporters were kept away. A man in a gray hooded sweatshirt later stormed out complaining about a lack of information. The man, who said he was a Beijing resident but declined to give his name, said he was anxious because his mother was on board the flight with a group of 10 tourists.

    "We have been waiting for hours," he said. "And there is still no verification."

    The plane was last detected on radar at 1:30 a.m. (1730 GMT Friday) around where the South China Sea meets the Gulf of Thailand, about 75 nautical miles (85 miles north of the Malaysian city of Kuala Terengganu, said Azaharudin Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's civil aviation chief.

    Yahya said the plane had enough fuel to fly only until 8:30 a.m. Malaysia time.

    Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam's civil aviation authority, said air traffic officials in the country never made contact with the plane. The plane "lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam's air traffic control," Lt. Gen. Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese army, said in a statement.

    The South China Sea is a tense region with competing territorial claims that have led to several low-level conflicts, particularly between China and the Philippines. That antipathy briefly faded as nations of the region rushed to aid in the search, with China dispatching two maritime rescue ships and the Philippines deploying three air force planes and three navy patrol ships to help.

    "In times of emergencies like this, we have to show unity of efforts that transcends boundaries and issues," said Lt. Gen. Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Philippine military's Western Command.

    Thanh said Malaysian, Singaporean and Vietnamese search officials were coordinating operations. He said Vietnam had sent aircraft and ships to scour the 11,200-square-kilometer area where the plane was last known to be. Vietnamese fishermen in the area were asked to report any suspected sign of the missing plane.

    Asked whether terrorism was suspected, Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said authorities had "no information, but we are looking at all possibilities."

    The plane was carrying 227 passengers, including two infants, and 12 crew members, the airline said. It said there were 152 passengers from China, 38 from Malaysia, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, three from the U.S., and others from Indonesia, France, New Zealand, Canada, Ukraine, Russia, Italy, Taiwan, the Netherlands and Austria.

    In Kuala Lumpur, family members gathered at the airport, but were kept away from reporters.

    "Our team is currently calling the next of kin of passengers and crew. Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support," said Yahya, the airline CEO. "Our thoughts and prayers are with all affected passengers and crew and their family members."

    Fuad Sharuji, Malaysia Airlines' vice president of operations control, told CNN that the plane was flying at an altitude of 35,000 feet and that the pilots had reported no problem with the aircraft.

    Malaysia Airlines has a good safety record, as does the 777, which had not had a fatal crash in its 19-year history until an Asiana Airlines plane crashed in San Francisco in July 2013, killing three passengers, all teenagers from China.

    Finding planes that disappear over the ocean can be very difficult, and it can take days before wreckage is located. Airliner "black boxes" -- the flight data and cockpit voice recorders - are equipped with "pingers" that emit ultrasonic signals that can be detected underwater.

    Under good conditions, the signals can be detected from several hundred miles away, said John Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. If the boxes are trapped inside the wreckage, the sound may not travel as far, he said. If the boxes are at the bottom of an underwater trench, that also hinders how far the sound can travel. The signals also weaken over time.

    Air France Flight 447, with 228 people on board, disappeared over the Atlantic Ocean en route from Rio de Janeiro to Paris on June 1, 2009. Some wreckage and bodies were recovered over the next two weeks, but it took nearly two years for the main wreckage of the Airbus 330 and its black boxes to be located and recovered.

    Malaysia Airlines said the 53-year-old pilot of Flight MH370, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, has more than 18,000 flying hours and has been flying for the airline since 1981. The first officer, 27-year-old Fariq Hamid, has about 2,800 hours of experience and has flown for the airline since 2007.

    The tip of the wing of the same Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200 broke off Aug. 9, 2012, as it was taxiing at Pudong International Airport outside Shanghai. The wingtip collided with the tail of a China Eastern Airlines A340 plane. No one was injured.

    Malaysia Airlines' last fatal incident was in 1995, when one its planes crashed near the Malaysian city of Tawau, killing 34 people. The deadliest crash in its history occurred in 1977, when a domestic Malaysian flight crashed after being hijacked, killing 100 people.

    In August 2005, a Malaysian Airlines 777 flying from Perth, Australia, to Kuala Lumpur suddenly shot up 3,000 feet before the pilot disengaged the autopilot and landed safely. The plane's software had incorrectly measured speed and acceleration, and the software was quickly updated on planes around the world.

    Malaysia Airlines has 15 Boeing 777-200s in its fleet of about 100 planes. The state-owned carrier last month reported its fourth straight quarterly loss and warned of tougher times.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: 49 Killed in Deadly Laos Plane Crash

     

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    Saturday, March 8, 2014

    Don't forget -- clocks get moved ahead one hour at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 9. (Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

    Spring is approaching and our days are continuing to get "longer." Tomorrow, March 9, daylight hours for most of us will begin even earlier in the evening when we move our clocks ahead an hour to begin daylight saving time. Many people will change their clocks, but do they know why?

    Daylight saving time was primarily started in the United States for the sake of conserving energy. The Standard Time Act was passed in 1918, which officially established time zones and incorporated daylight saving months into federal law. This was during World War I, when national efforts were made to conserve materials for the war effort. It was believed that if daytime hours could correspond better with natural light, fewer tasks would need to be done at night. Homes would need to use less energy to stay lit.

    After the war, daylight saving time was revoked. When food conservation became mandatory in the United Sates during World War II (rather than just being encouraged as it was in WWI), daylight saving time was once again instated. Referred to as "War Time," it spanned from early February until the end of September.

    After the war "Peace Time" was back in effect and the issue of daylight saving time was handled on a local level. This led to a great deal of confusion as different locations were constantly operating at different times. The Uniform Time Act was passed in 1966 to solve the problem. States were given the option to opt out of daylight saving time if they passed proper ordinances.

    With daylight saving no longer a federal mandate, some states have chosen not to observe it. Among the states that don't currently participate in daylight saving are Arizona and Hawaii, with several U.S. territories choosing not to follow it as well. Arizona has such intense heat in daylight hours that it's not considered a benefit for its residents to be out for as much of it as possible.

    As for Hawaii, its location closer to the equator gives them more consistent "days" year round. They wouldn't be gaining, or losing, many daylight hours by observing the clock change.

    Daylight saving time (also called "summer time") is observed in many countries all over the world, though the time frame for it varies. In the United States it ran from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in October until the Energy Policy Act was passed in 2005. As of 2007, daylight saving now runs from the second Sunday in March until the first Sunday in November.

    The argument continues over whether or not daylight saving time makes enough of an impact on energy costs to be worth observing.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos of Groundhog Day, 2014

     

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    Saturday, March 8, 2014

    In this file photo, Sagan is shown with model planets of our solar system. (Eduardo Castaneda)

    For years, Carl Sagan brought science into homes around the United States with his TV shows and books.

    Although the famed astronomer died in 1996, his legacy lives on in people who were inspired by his unique brand of science education. Some of the most famous scientists working today had life-changing experiences with Sagan, and other people who never met him still felt his influence from the media he created.

    Scientists and other people who were touched by Carl Sagan's life and work shared some memories of the famous scientist:

    "I was just a 17-year-old kid from the Bronx with dreams of becoming a scientist, and somehow, the world's most famous astronomer found time to invite me to Ithaca in upstate New York and spend a Saturday with him," Tyson said during the first episode of "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey," a reboot of Sagan's "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage." "I remember that snowy day like it was yesterday." [See Carl Sagan's legacy in photos]

    "I already knew I wanted to be a scientist, but that afternoon, I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become," Tyson added. "He reached out to me and to countless others, inspiring so many of us to study, teach and do science. Science is a cooperative enterprise spanning the generations.

    "We took a big, big hit when we lost Carl Sagan," Seth MacFarlane, an executive producer of the new "Cosmos" reboot said during an event honoring Sagan in November 2013. "Here was a man of science who was regularly in the public eye. He used to appear on "The Johnny Carson Show" alongside big stars like Harrison Ford, Bill Cosby -- and he belonged in the spotlight. He was a great popularizer of science, a man who understood that scientific advancement is something that affects us all on a daily basis, whether we're aware of it or not."

    "Through an old but serviceable telescope from our front yard -- my father showed me the moon and the planet Saturn for the first time, and I shall never forget it," said Bill Nye, the star of the popular "Bill Nye the Science Guy" TV show. "Seeing those objects up close changes you, and so it was with Professor Sagan's astronomy class. It has changed me every bit as profoundly as the craters on the moon or the rings of Saturn. He empowered us. Indeed, he emboldened us to come to know our place in the cosmos, our place among the stars — what I like to call our place in space. Every day in his class, there was something astonishing to behold."

    "The idea was to take a picture of the Earth awash in a sea of stars," NASA scientist Carolyn Porco, one of Sagan's collaborators for the "pale blue dot" photo, said in November 2013. "Well, the actual 'pale blue dot' picture was not really what we had envisioned. As great as it was, there are no stars, and it ended up showing the Earth smack in the middle of a beam of light that was produced by light scattering in the optics of the camera. Of course, none of this really mattered because it was what Carl had to say about this image and the way he turned it into a romantic allegory on the human condition that made that phrase 'pale blue dot' now synonymous with an inspirational call to planetary brotherhood and protection of the environment."

    "We wanted to reach everyone because we believed that this knowledge is a birthright," Ann Druyan, Sagan's widow and "Cosmos" collaborator, said, referring to the show. "It belongs to all of us." [Watch the trailer for the new "Cosmos" series]

    "One of the first articles I was given to edit at S&T [Sky & Telescope magazine] was an essay by Carl Sagan," said Rick Fienberg, press officer for the American Astronomical Society. "I was incredibly nervous about touching his words, because he had recently won a Pulitzer Prize for one of his books," he told Space.com via email. "But I made a few changes, mailed them off to Carl (this was in the days before email and before every office had a fax machine), and waited to see what would happen. I got a call from Carl a few days later. He thanked me and said that my changes had improved his essay. That gave me a real confidence boost, and the rest is history -- I went on to
    become president of Sky Publishing and, later, editor-in-chief of Sky & Telescope."

    "It is one of the clearest memories I have from my childhood in Brazil," Fausto Pereira told Space.com via Facebook. "I would wake up in the Sunday mornings and watch his [Sagan's] show all by myself because my family was still sleeping. I was like 5. I still feel goosebumps when I hear the music from the show. [It's] one of the reasons I love astronomy and science!"

    "He [Sagan] invited us to join him on a journey to understand the universe; not as a passenger on his ship but as a fellow explorer," Jatinder Brar told Space.com via Twitter.

    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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    Saturday, March 8, 2013

    This map shows the area that will receive a dose of frosty air today (AccuWeather).

    Another blast of cold air will overtake the southern Plains on Saturday, sending a chilling reminder to folks that winter is still not over.

    In addition to the cold air, a light wintry mix of snow and rain will spread across parts of Oklahoma. Ahead of the front, light rain and a few thunderstorms will dot southern Texas.

    A sharp cold front is to blame for the blast of cold air. The front will continue to dive across Texas, opening the door to a dome of cold air across the northern Plains. Breezy northerly winds will help spread the cold air across the region.

    The cold air should have no problem fighting off the warm air that is in place across much of central Texas. A 40-degree temperature spread in high temperatures will exist from the northern to southern edge of the state.

    Across Oklahoma where the cold air has already taken over, high temperatures will average around 15 degrees below normal. Oklahoma City will likely come up a couple degrees short of 40 on Saturday, with a high of only 38 expected.

    A high of 38 degrees would fall 23 degrees short of the normal this time of the year. Many locations across central Oklahoma to southeastern Kansas will feel temperatures 20 to 25 degrees below normal.

    A stiff northerly breeze will make it feel much colder. AccuWeather RealFeel(R) temperatures are expected to be in the upper teens for most of the day.



    Much of the nation, including the southern Plains, has been fighting the cold weather all winter. Temperature departures have averaged a few degrees below normal.

    The cold air will make for a chilly rain during the day around Oklahoma City. A few flakes will mix north of the city.

    Showers will extend into much of Texas including Dallas and Houston. After last week's wintry mix in Dallas, another repeat is not expected on Saturday.

    Temperatures will remain warm enough for all liquid to fall. The cold front is expected to reach Houston late in the day.

    Thunderstorms will ignite in the warmer air from San Antonio to Brownsville in the afternoon and will provide for a quick downpour.



    The cold air won't remain in place for very long. A warming trend is expected for Sunday and Monday. High temperatures will top out in the 70s on Monday across most of the southern Plains.
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    March 8, 2014

    A woman wipes her tears after walking out of the reception center and holding area for family and friend of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

    The main weather concern to search crews through Monday in the vicinity of where the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 lost contact will be building seas.

    The search continues for Flight MH370, which went missing early Saturday morning local time (Friday afternoon EST) en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, China.

    Search crews from multiple nations are focusing their efforts on the South China Sea, the Associated Press reports.

    The last known position of MH370 was offshore of northern Malaysia at 2:40 a.m. Saturday local time, according to an official statement from Malaysia Airlines.

    The search will benefit from a lack of rain and thunderstorms as unusually dry weather persists across the southern South China Sea and the neighboring Gulf of Thailand.



    "The Malay Peninsula [home to Malaysia] has been in the midst of a severe drought since the beginning of the year," stated AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Anthony Sagliani.

    Typically this time of year, the monsoon is leading to daily rounds of showers and thunderstorms.

    However, AccuWeather.com meteorologists are concerned for building seas through Monday with a stiff northeasterly breeze in place. Wave heights may reach heights of 1-2 meters (4-7 feet) across the southern South China Sea.

    RELATED:
    Malaysia Weather Center
    South China Sea Satellite Page
    First Word of Malaysia Airlines Plane Going Missing


    Farther to the north along the scheduled path of MH370, occasional rain and drizzle will continue to dampen places from northern Vietnam to southeastern China.

    Skies were mainly clear across the South China Sea and Gulf of Thailand when MH370's last known position was recorded. Lightning detection maps obtained by AccuWeather.com indicate the area was free of thunderstorms.

    According to AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Alan Reppert, there was some light rain and snow falling over South and Central China at the time the plane went missing.

    However, Reppert stated that any precipitation that would have formed would have been well below the flight level at around 15,000 feet.

    The plane reached an altitude of 35,000 feet, according to Flightaware.com.

    Vietnamese air force planes spotted two large oil slicks off the southern tip of Vietnam late Saturday, the Associated Press reported, citing a statement from the Vietnamese government.

    That statement reportedly said that the oil slicks were consistent with the kinds that would be produced by the two fuel tanks of a crashed jetliner, but there has not been confirmation that the slicks are related to the missing plane.

    A total of 239 people were aboard the plane. The passenger manifest released by Malaysia Airlines indicates that five children aged four and under are among the 227 passengers.

    Malaysia Airlines states that the sea search mission will continue through Saturday night, while the air mission has been suspended until daybreak Sunday.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: 49 Killed in Deadly Laos Plane Crash

     

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    March 8, 2014

    Musher Aliy Zirkle of Two Rivers, Alaska, drives her team down the Cordova Street hill during the ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A runner-up from the last two years and a four-time champion continued to play leapfrog Saturday at the head of the pack in the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

    Aliy Zirkle, who has finished in second place the last two years, left the Yukon River village of Kaltag at 3:18 a.m. Saturday to retake the lead from Martin Buser.

    Zirkle, 44, of Two Rivers, Alaska, paused only seven minutes at the Kaltag checkpoint before heading out on the 90-mile ride to Unalakleet, where teams turn north for the run to Nome along Alaska's wind-swept west coast.

    The last championship for Buser, 55, the Swiss-born resident of Big Lake, Alaska, came in 2002. He has not finished in the top 10 since 2008, but he led most of Friday as teams made a 47-mile run on the wide Yukon River from Galena to Kaltag.

    Buser reached Kaltag at 2 a.m. Saturday, covering the distance at an average speed of 10.6 mph. Zirkle was a little faster at almost 11 mph.

    Buser rested his team at Kaltag for three hours, 34 minutes, and left to pursue at 5:34 a.m. with 14 dogs, giving Zirkle a two-hour, 16 minute lead that could evaporate if she chose to rest along the trail.

    Zirkle is down to a dozen dogs.

    No woman has won the race since Susan Butcher in 1990.

    Zirkle and her husband, Allen Moore, train dogs at Two Rivers, Alaska, 24 miles west of Fairbanks. Zirkle takes the top dogs for the Iditarod. Moore uses them in the Yukon Quest, the race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and has won it for two years in a row. Moore was in 35th place in the Iditarod with a secondary team Saturday.

    Nicolas Petit of Girdwood, Alaska, was in third. He reached Kaltag at 6:56 a.m., rested just 18 minutes and left at 7:14, an hour and 45 minutes after Buser.

    Two mushers with decades of experience followed later Saturday morning.

    Sonny Lindner, 64, who has completed 18 Iditarods since 1978, reached Kaltag at 6:30 a.m., rested for two hours and departed at 8:32 a.m. The best finish for the Two Rivers musher was second in 1981.

    Four-time champion Jeff King, 58, of Denali, Alaska, reached Kaltag at 8:23 a.m. He stayed just nine minutes and followed Lindner out at 8:32 a.m.

    Unalakleet is 261 miles from the finish line in Nome.

    The National Weather Service predicted mostly clear skies with lows of zero to 10 below and northeast winds 10 to 20 mph for eastern Norton Sound and the Nulato Hills north of Unalakleet.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: The 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race

     

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    Sunday, March 9, 2014

    A drop of rain clings to the blossom of a snowdrop -- a hopeful sign of spring. (AP Photo/Allen G. Breed)

    Springlike warmth will pour from the Plains to the East over the next few days before another winter storm unfolds at midweek.

    Dramatically warmer air will first spread to the Plains on Sunday with the rest of the eastern-third of the U.S. to turn milder Monday through Tuesday.

    The mild spell headed to the Northeast will come after fresh chilly air on Sunday puts the brakes on Saturday's warmup.

    Temperatures on Sunday will exceed Saturday's highs by roughly 20 degrees across most of the Plains. Highs in the 70s will be registered from Rapid City, S.D., to Garden City, Kan.

    Highs in the 70s will spread to St. Louis, Mo., and Raleigh, N.C., on Monday as the warmth expands eastward.

    Temperatures will return to the 50s in New York City and Philadelphia this day, but Tuesday will prove to be the mid-Atlantic's warmest day of the week.

    RELATED:
    Temperature Swings, Snowstorm Risk to Continue This Week
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center

    New York City will approach the 60-degree mark, while Washington, D.C., comes close to cracking 70 F on Tuesday.



    Throughout the Midwest and East, the greatest amount of warming--in regards to departures from normal--will occur in the vicinity of I-80 and points southward.

    Temperatures will return to normal or rise a few degrees above normal for a day or two across places to the north. Most of these areas will still see temperatures dip below freezing at night, causing any wet areas from continued melting snow to turn slick.

    Despite this taste of spring, winter does not appear to be willing to fully release its grip on the nation just yet. Colder air is destined to erase the warmup by late week.

    Along the leading edge of this next cold blast, AccuWeather.com meteorologists continue to closely monitor a storm that will track from the Northwest and Rockies to the Northeast.



    There is concern for the storm to produce widespread disruptive snow with the threat currently greatest from Ohio to New England at midweek.

    AccuWeather.com will continue to release more details on the winter storm potential in the upcoming days.

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    Updated Sunday, March 9, 2014, 11:41 a.m. ET

    In this photo released by Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, a patrol vessel of Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency searches for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane off from Tok Bali Beach in Kelantan, Malaysia, Sunday, March 9, 2014. (AP Photo/Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency)

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - International intelligence agencies joined the investigation Sunday into two passengers who boarded the missing Boeing 777 jetliner with stolen passports, as Malaysian authorities said radar images showed the plane may have turned back before vanishing.

    More than a day and half after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 went missing, no debris from the plane had been found, and the final minutes before it disappeared remained a mystery. The plane, which was carrying 239 people, lost contact with ground controllers somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam after leaving Kuala Lumpur early Saturday morning for Beijing.

    A massive international sea search has so far turned up no trace of the jet, though Vietnamese authorities said late Sunday that a low-flying plane had spotted a rectangular object in waters about 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Tho Chu island, in the same area where oil slicks were spotted Saturday. State media speculated the object might be from the missing plane.

    Civil administration chief Pham Viet Dung said search teams from Vietnam and other countries were asked to send boats to the area to examine the object. Authorities said earlier that they had spotted an orange object in the area that turned out not to be from the aircraft.

    The missing plane apparently fell from the sky at cruising altitude in fine weather, and the pilots were either unable or had no time to send a distress signal - unusual circumstances under which a modern jetliner operated by a professional airline would crash.

    Malaysia's air force chief, Rodzali Daud, said radar indicated that the plane may have turned back, but did not give further details on which direction it went or how far it veered off course.

    "We are trying to make sense of this," Daud said at a news conference. "The military radar indicated that the aircraft may have made a turn back, and in some parts this was corroborated by civilian radar."

    Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said pilots are supposed to inform the airline and traffic control authorities if the plane does a U-turn. "From what we have, there was no such distress signal or distress call per se, so we are equally puzzled," he said.

    Authorities were checking on the identities of the two passengers who boarded the plane with stolen passports. On Saturday, the foreign ministries in Italy and Austria said the names of two citizens listed on the flight's manifest matched the names on two passports reported stolen in Thailand.

    "I can confirm that we have the visuals of these two people on CCTV," Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a news conference late Sunday, adding that the footage was being examined. "We have intelligence agencies, both local and international, on board."

    Hishammuddin declined to give further details, saying it may jeopardize the investigation.

    "Our focus now is to find the aircraft," he said, adding that finding the plane would make it easier for authorities to investigate any possible foul play.

    Interpol confirmed that at least two stolen passports used by passengers on the plane were registered in its databases. It said no one had checked the databases, but added that most airlines and countries do not usually check for stolen passports.

    Hishammuddin said only two passengers had used stolen passports, and that earlier reports that the identities of two others were under investigation were not true.

    White House Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said the U.S. was looking into the stolen passports, but that investigators had reached no conclusions.

    In addition to the plane's sudden disappearance, which experts say is consistent with a possible onboard explosion, the stolen passports have strengthened concerns about terrorism as a possible cause. Al-Qaida militants have used similar tactics to try and disguise their identities.

    Still, other possible causes would seem just as likely at this stage, including a catastrophic failure of the plane's engines, extreme turbulence, or pilot error or even suicide. Establishing what happened with any certainty will need data from flight recorders and a detailed examination of any debris, something that will take months if not years.

    European authorities on Saturday confirmed the names and nationalities of the two stolen passports: One was an Italian-issued document bearing the name Luigi Maraldi, the other Austrian under the name Christian Kozel. Police in Thailand said Maraldi's passport was stolen on the island of Phuket last July.

    A telephone operator on a China-based KLM hotline on Sunday confirmed that "Maraldi" and "Kozel" were both booked to leave Beijing on a KLM flight to Amsterdam on March 8. Maraldi was then to fly to Copenhagen, Denmark, on KLM on March 8, and Kozel to Frankfurt, Germany, on March 8.

    She said since the pair booked the tickets through China Southern Airlines, she had no information on where they bought them.

    Having onward reservations to Europe from Beijing would have meant the pair, as holders of EU passports, would not have needed visas for China.

    Meanwhile, the multinational search for the missing plane was continuing. A total of 34 aircraft and 40 ships have been deployed to the area by Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, China and the United States, in addition to Vietnam's fleet.

    Vietnamese air force jets spotted two large oil slicks Saturday, but it was unclear whether they were linked to the missing plane.

    Two-thirds of the jet's passengers were Chinese. The rest were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

    After more than 30 hours without contact with the aircraft, Malaysia Airlines told family members they should "prepare themselves for the worst," Hugh Dunleavy, the commercial director for the airline, told reporters.

    Finding traces of an aircraft that disappears over sea can take days or longer, even with a sustained search effort. Depending on the circumstances of the crash, wreckage can be scattered over many square kilometers (miles). If the plane enters the water before breaking up, there can be relatively little debris.

    A team of American experts was en route to Asia to be ready to assist in the investigation into the crash. The team includes accident investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board, as well as technical experts from the Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing, the safety board said in a statement.

    Malaysia Airlines has a good safety record, as does the 777, which had not had a fatal crash in its 19-year history until an Asiana Airlines plane crashed last July in San Francisco, killing three passengers, all Chinese teenagers.

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