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    Sunday, March 9, 2014

    Aliy Zirkle accepts the Wells Fargo Gold Coast Award for the first musher to reach the Bering Sea in Unalakleet during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Saturday, March 8, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Race leader Aliy Zirkle took a two-hour lead out of the Yukon River village of Kaltag on Saturday and became the first musher to reach the Alaska west coast community of Unalakleet in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

    She reached the checkpoint late Saturday afternoon, 52 minutes ahead of Martin Buser, who's gunning for his fifth championship.

    Zirkle, 44, is trying to improve on two runner-up finishes the last two years and become the first woman to win the grueling 1,000-mile race since Susan Butcher in 1990. Besides Buser, a handful of other veterans are trying to reel her in.

    Buser was the first musher into Kaltag, a village of 185 on the west bank of the Yukon River. He reached the village at 2 a.m. Saturday and rested for more than 3 1/2 hours.

    Zirkle, 44, of Two Rivers, Alaska, pulled into Kaltag at 3:11 a.m. and chose not to rest her team in the village. Instead, she headed down the trail seven minutes later.

    Buser departed Kaltag at 5:34 a.m., giving Zirkle a lead of two hours and 16 minutes.

    Zirkle pulled into Unalakleet at 4:39 p.m. Saturday. She made the 85-mile run in 13 hours and 21 minutes, likely resting along the way for part of that time. She had been averaging nearly 11 mph, and a 13-hour run would have meant she averaged only 6.4 mph.

    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.

    The last championship for Buser, 55, a 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.

    Zirkle is down to 11 dogs.

    Buser left Kaltag with 14 dogs and reached Unalakleet in just under 12 hours, at 5:31 p.m.

    Nicolas Petit of Girdwood, Alaska, left Kaltag in third place. He reached the village at 6:56 a.m., rested just 18 minutes and left at 7:14, nearly an hour and 45 minutes after Buser. But officials said he scratched at 6:45 p.m., 11 miles from Unalakleet, indicating that his team was fatigued. He was the rookie of the year in 2011 and finished a career-best 6th in the 2013 race.

    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.

    Ten other mushers had left Kaltag as of 5:30 p.m., including former champions Robert Sorlie, Mitch Seavey and Dallas Seavey.

    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 of 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

    This week will begin with rain in the Pacific Northwest, with some precipitation as far south as northern California. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

    A storm system in the Northwest will continue to deliver rain over the region heading into the new week with some rain dipping down into parts of California.

    Although cities such as San Francisco, Sacramento and Fresno are forecast to receive some rain from this, moisture from this system will fail to reach Southern California with no rain in sight.

    The greatest chance for residents of California to see some rain will come on Sunday night into Monday as the area of heaviest precipitation shifts south before tracking eastward towards the Rockies.

    Some snow is also forecast to fall across the mountains, helping to add to the snowpack in the Sierras and the Cascades.



    While those in the Northwest will have to worry about flash flooding with this system, any rain is welcome in the drought-stricken state of California.

    According to the most recent report by the U.S. Drought Monitor, 90 percent of California is in a severe drought and 66 percent of the state is in an extreme drought.

    "If our models are right, Southern California will not have any chance of rain before sometime during the week of March 17." said AccuWeather U.S. Western Expert Ken Clark.

    RELATED:
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    Recent California Rain and Snow Too Little, Too Late
    Every State May Feel the Effects of Historic California Drought


    Snowpack in the mountains is very important for the summer months as snowmelt helps feed water into reservoirs located downstream.

    "There certainly has been improvement in the amount of water in the Sierra snowpack, up on a statewide average by 16 percent. However, the percent of normal for year-to-date is still very low, ranging from 20 percent in the north to 37 percent in the central Sierra." said Clark.

    This drought will have negative effects on the agriculture industry across the Golden State which can ultimately impact prices at grocery stores all across the country.

    Looking ahead through the rest of the week, the entire West Coast appears like it will be dry as a large area of high pressure builds over the region.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Dramatic Photos Reveal California's Epic Drought

     

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    Sunday, March 9, 2014

    In this image provided by NASA Thursday Dec. 18, 2008 the Hubble Space Telescope has caught Jupiter's moon Ganymede playing a game of "peek-a-boo." (AP Photo/NASA/HUBBLE)

    If the skies are clear where you live tonight (March 9), you'll be able to see a waxing gibbous moon shining high in the southern sky, and glowing brightly well above it will be the largest planet in our solar system: Jupiter.

    While the moon and Jupiter won't be particularly close to each other, they still will attract some attention thanks to the fact they are the two brightest objects in our current evening sky. The two objects will be separated by about 7 degrees in the night sky (your closed fist held out at arm's length covers 10 degrees of the sky). The proximity of the moon and Jupiter to each other is, of course, merely a matter of perspective.

    While the moon, which will be 64-percent illuminated Sunday, will be 247,000 miles from Earth, Jupiter is nearly 1,800 times more distant, at 444 million miles away. [Related: What to See in March's Night Sky]

    Jupiter remains the prime night sky target through most of these windy March nights, though it is fading from its great brilliance of December and January. Jupiter becomes visible soon after sunset almost straight overhead for skywatchers at mid-northern latitudes.


    The locations of Jupiter and the moon are shown in the night sky at 11 p.m. on March 9, 2014 as they move across the southwestern sky in this Starry Night sky map. (Starry Night Software)

    As twilight fades and the stars come out around it, we find that it's shining between the legs of the constellation Gemini; seemingly the brightest "star" in the sky, non-twinkling and shining with a steady silvery light. In the coming weeks you can watch Jupiter edging eastward with respect to surrounding stars.

    Meanwhile, Gemini swings westward and rotates into an upright position to set feet first. Jupiter currently sets by 4 a.m. local daylight time (remember that daylight saving time goes back into effect for most of the country on Sunday; set your clocks ahead one hour).

    We still have all evening to study Jupiter in a telescope before it gets low and its image too shaky. A 4-inch telescope magnifying at 100-power should provide you with a view of Jupiter's cloud bands; with a larger instrument, such as a 10-inch scope at 250-power, you should be able to see fine detail in the clouds as well as get a good look at Jupiter's Great Red Spot.

    And even a pair of steadily held binoculars will show you some or all four of Jupiter's four big moons as they race around the planet that is their master. Jupiter will have its greatest phase angle on April 1 when good telescopes can show a shadowed strip only 0.9 percent of Jupiter's diameter width along its eastern edge. So for the next several weeks it will be a good time to see its shadow cast farthest to its eastern side making it easier to see eclipses of Jupiter's moons by the planet.

    On Sunday evening, all four moons will be visible; a pair flanking Jupiter on both sides. On one side will be Callisto and Europa while on the other side you'll find Io and Ganymede.

    Take special note of Europa as it approaches Jupiter until it finally transits (passes in front of Jupiter) at 3:43 a.m. EDT Monday morning. By then, Jupiter will be very near to the western horizon along the Atlantic coast making viewing of this event quite difficult. Farther west though, Jupiter will be higher and Europa's entry onto Jupiter's disk somewhat easier to see.

    Editor's note: If you snap an amazing photo of Jupiter and the moon, or any other night sky view, that you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please send images, comments and details on equipment used to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmer's Almanac and other publications, and he is also an on-camera meteorologist for News 12 Westchester, N.Y. Follow Space.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & 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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    Sunday, March 9, 2014
    A morning commuter waits on a train during a winter snowstorm Monday, March 3, 2014, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
    In this file photo from earlier this month, a morning commuter waits on a train during a winter snowstorm in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Despite a springlike start to the week, winter and substantial snow will make a comeback across the Midwest and Northeast at midweek.

    Indications continue to point toward a winter storm taking shape across the lower Midwest states Tuesday night, then tracking through the Northeast to Atlantic Canada Wednesday through Thursday.

    The storm will drop a swath of substantial snow along the cold side of its path, threatening to cause yet another round of disruptions to travel and daily routines. Parents should prepare for a day or two of school cancellations.

    The corridor from central Indiana to northern New England has the greatest potential of being targeted by the substantial snow.



    While more precise details will unfold in the coming day or two, snow amounts will likely be on the order of 4 to 8 inches within this zone. Totals could even approach or top a foot in northern New England, where near-blizzard conditions may evolve.

    Along the northern New England coast, the snow may first mix with or fall as rain.

    Motorists can anticipate difficult driving conditions on lengthy stretches of highways and interstates. The snow could come down heavily for a time, quickly clogging roads and making travel treacherous.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Plains to East Warmup Precedes Next Winter Storm
    Winter Shatters Expense Records in North


    Numerous flight delays and cancellations can be expected throughout the lower Midwest and Northeast with potential ripple effect delays elsewhere in the United States.

    The storm will initially spread mainly rain across communities around the Ohio River and along the I-95 corridor from Providence, R.I., to New York City to Washington, D.C.

    However, colder air plunging southward on the backside of the storm may set the stage for the rain to end as a period of snow and/or cause any wet spots on untreated roads and sidewalks to turn icy.

    Such danger will unfold across the Ohio Valley on Wednesday, then will shift to the corridor of I-95 that is mentioned above Wednesday night and Thursday morning.



    The impending winter storm will come despite a taste of spring across the eastern half of the nation early this week.

    As the warmth begins to build throughout the Midwest and East on Monday, the storm--in its beginning stages--will focus its snow on the northern Rockies with amounts topping 6 inches across central Idaho.



    The snow will streak southeastward to Iowa through Tuesday evening with amounts lessening to a couple inches. A separate band of snow with similar totals will also drop along the I-25 corridor of southern Wyoming and Colorado during this time.

    Tuesday night is when moisture from the Gulf of Mexico will be tapped into and the winter storm will begin to ramp up.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    Monday, March 10, 2014
    US-WEATHER-NEW YORK-SNOW
    (STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)


    Despite a springlike start to the week, winter and substantial snow will make a comeback across the Midwest and Northeast at midweek.

    Indications continue to point toward a winter storm taking shape across the lower Midwest states Tuesday night, then tracking through the Northeast to Atlantic Canada Wednesday through Thursday.

    The storm will drop a swath of substantial snow along the cold side of its path, threatening to cause yet another round of disruptions to travel and daily routines. Parents should prepare for a day or two of school cancellations.

    The corridor from central Indiana to northern New England has the greatest potential of being targeted by the substantial snow.

    While more precise details will unfold in the coming day or two, snow amounts will likely be on the order of 4 to 8 inches within this zone. Totals could even approach or top a foot in northern New England.

    Along the northern New England coast, the snow may first mix with or fall as rain.

    Motorists can anticipate difficult driving conditions on lengthy stretches of highways and interstates. The snow could come down heavily for a time, quickly clogging roads and making travel treacherous.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Plains to East Warmup Precedes Next Winter Storm
    Winter Shatters Expense Records in North

    Numerous flight delays and cancellations can be expected throughout the lower Midwest and Northeast with potential ripple effect delays elsewhere in the United States.

    The storm will initially spread mainly rain across communities around the Ohio River and along the I-95 corridor from Providence, R.I., to New York City to Washington, D.C.

    However, colder air plunging southward on the backside of the storm may set the stage for the rain to end as a period of snow and/or cause any wet spots on untreated roads and sidewalks to turn icy.

    Such danger will unfold across the Ohio Valley on Wednesday, then will shift to the corridor of I-95 that is mentioned above Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

    The impending winter storm will come despite a taste of spring across the eastern half of the nation early this week.

    As the warmth begins to build throughout the Midwest and East on Monday, the storm - in its beginning stages - will focus its snow on the northern Rockies with amounts topping 6 inches across central Idaho.

    The snow will streak southeastward to Iowa through Tuesday evening with amounts lessening to a couple inches. A separate band of snow with similar totals will also drop along the I-25 corridor of southern Wyoming and Colorado during this time.

    Tuesday night is when moisture from the Gulf of Mexico will be tapped into and the winter storm will begin to ramp up.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Real Photos That Look Like Scenes from the ApocalypseApocalypse

     

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    Monday, March 10, 2014
    Major Spring Snowstorm Hits Montana
    (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

    The same system responsible for dumping inches of rain along the Northwest coast over the weekend is expected to deliver snow to the Rockies and Plains for the start of this week.

    Although the heaviest snow is forecast to fall over the mountains, accumulations may still lead to some travel delays in the lower elevations from Colorado to Montana and into Iowa through Tuesday.

    This includes the cities of Billings and Missoula, Mont.; Cheyenne and Casper, Wyo.; Rapid City, S.D., Denver, Colo.; and Omaha, Neb.

    Snow will begin in Idaho and Montana on Monday before expanding across the rest of the region for Tuesday as cold air sinks into the Plains.

    While snow may begin to accumulate on elevated and grassy surfaces shortly after the onset, it will take longer to stick on roadways due to the recent record warmth.

    However, once the snow does start to accumulate on roads it can lead to slick conditions, slowing traffic and causing longer commutes.

    RELATED:
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    Interactive Radar
    Five Animals in Danger Due to Changing Climates

    Not only will this snow raise the risk of travel delays, but also avalanches.

    The snowpack in the mountains has undergone weakening over the past several days due to the recent snow and milder weather. Additional weight on this snow can trigger avalanches in the northern Rockies.

    Snow will taper off on Tuesday night as the system tracks eastward, bringing the threat of snow to the Northeast for Wednesday.


    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Monday, March 10, 2014
    kayaking in milford sound in...
    Milford Sound, New Zealand (Shutterstock)

    Though most storms that form in the Southwest Pacific have little to no effect on New Zealand, it looks like this may not be the case over the next week for the islands.

    Tropical Cyclone 18 formed just to the east of Vanuatu early Monday morning, local time. Though tropical systems form often around this region, most either track off to the west or push into the open waters of the Coral Sea or the Pacific Ocean.

    This storm is looking different from those as it looks to push off to the south over the week and approaches New Zealand and the northern island for the end of the week and into the weekend.

    RELATED:
    Auckland, New Zealand Forecast
    South Pacific Tropical Center
    New Zealand Weather Center

    Though the exact track can vary some, it looks to slowly push off to the southeast and away from Vanuatu early this week before it picks up forward speed and moves south towards New Zealand.

    The strength of Tropical Cyclone 18 is expected to increase over the week as it starts its trek towards New Zealand. It may eventually be as strong as a Category 1 hurricane in the Atlantic or eastern Pacific. If this is the case, waves will increase with this along with some higher waves as this moves towards the coastline.

    No matter the strength of the storm, New Zealand looks to get some beneficial rainfall. Rainfall for Auckland, which is in northern parts of the island, has been just 8 inches (20 cm) since October, well-below the normal rainfall of 18 inches (45 cm).

    Though there will be welcome rainfall, flooding may also be a problem from the rain over much of the northern island. Rainfall could be over 5 inches with this storm as it moves over the island. It could cause some landslides and flooding in some of the more mountainous terrain of central New Zealand.

    Coastal flooding could also be a major problem with higher waves. If this system does become a stronger tropical cyclone, it could bring waves over 6 feet (2 meters) to the coastline.

    Winds look to be strong as it moves through, despite the storm trying to weaken as it moves southward.

    Water temperatures are much cooler over New Zealand; however, this storm looks to transition into a non-tropical cyclone as it moves towards New Zealand. Despite whatever it is named, wind gusts over northern areas and into the mountains could easily gust to over 75 mph (120 kph) as the storm accelerates off to the south.

    Story by AccuWeather.com meteorologist Alan Reppert.

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

     

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    Monday, March 10, 2014
    City Of Chicago Prepares For Another Winter Storm
    (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

    With winter's end approaching, the 2013-2014 season has caused major disruptions in the southern part of the country, while setting record-breaking expenditures for areas in the Midwest and Northeast.

    The long-lasting and relentless winter season has broken seasonal maintenance expenditure records for the Ohio Department of Transportation and has created commuter chaos in Georgia and the Carolinas.

    "We have used almost a million tons of salt in the state of Ohio," Ohio Department of Transportation Spokesman Steve Faulkner said. "No one can recall a winter where we used a million tons of salt."

    Approximately 630,000 tons of salt are stockpiled each year for an average winter in Ohio, Faulkner said. This year, an additional 510,000 tons were obtained through department contracts.

    "This is part of our winter preparedness," he said. "We go above and beyond."

    Despite the extra supply, the department, which maintains an annual budget of $2.8 billion, has already spent record-breaking highs in total winter maintenance expenditures including labor, materials and equipment.

    "This winter has cost us $100 million," he said. "We believe it will be a record breaker."

    The department receives no revenue from the state's general fund, and acts as a self-sustaining entity through the fuel tax.

    In late January and mid-February, storms and ice plagued the South, hitting major metropolitan areas from Charlotte, N.C., to Atlanta, Ga.

    While many of the Northern states budget for winter expenses, South Carolina's department of transportation does not because expenses vary from year to year, department spokesman Jim Feda said.

    "We don't really just budget for winter weather like the Northern states would," Feda said. "It's not a huge amount - it's just part of the ordinary supplies when they budget for salt."

    In recent months, South Carolina was impacted by two major events that affected almost the entire state, he said.

    RELATED:
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    Sixty-three percent of the roads in the state are managed by the South Carolina Department of Transportation.

    With a total storage capacity of 40,000 tons, salt supplies were nearly depleted after the first major storm in January, according to Feda.

    "It all depends, we may go for several years and rarely use our supply," he said. "This has been one of the harder winters."

    In January, 16,000 tons of salt, 132,000 gallons of liquid calcium chloride and 847,000 gallons of brine were used to clear the roadways. Two weeks later, in February, 17,000 tons of salt, 73,600 gallons of calcium chloride and 1.4 million gallons of brine were used.

    "They had pretty much exhausted the (salt) supply after the first one and didn't have a chance to restock two weeks later," Feda said, referring to crews across the state.

    Through the department's mobilization efforts, they succeeded in resupplying their crews in time for the second event.

    Road salt is unloaded from storage at the public works facility in Glen Ellyn, Ill., on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014. The Midwest's recent severe winter weather has caused communities to expend large amounts of their road salt supplies. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

    In Georgia, thousands of vehicles were strewn across Atlanta highways and stuck in gridlock during the Jan. 28, 2014, winter storm, keeping motorists stranded overnight. In response, Gov. Nathan Deal declared a State of Emergency before the second storm, AAA's Automotive Services, Automotive Group Spokeswoman Joanna Newton said.

    "We've been hit by three waves, but our call volume actually dropped," she said, explaining that during the storm people are more likely to stay off the roadways, but in the days following the storm, the call volume spikes.

    "The second wave was the worst," Newton said. "We saw an average of a 30 percent increase over a normal day."

    As people return to their daily routines and begin traveling following a storm, more problems arise, she said. During the declared state of emergency, AAA's Atlanta offices were closed following protocol.

    "Our goal is to keep our roadways safe," Newton said.

    While automotive services employees are not first responders, they perform many duties with law enforcement, fire and emergency service personnel in maintaining safe roadways by mobilizing for first responders before they engage in public assists.

    "Everyone has to bear the weight," Newton said, adding that during the January storm, buses full of service personnel were assigned to clear the roadways.

    The process is conducted through rotation calls where various automotive service companies work alongside each other.

    "I would say it was a wake-up call for motorists in Atlanta," she said. "They're not equipped to handle it down here, and all of a sudden, you had all that traffic moving at the same time; it was just chaos."

    Newton said this year has left motorists and state officials with a new mindset in dealing with traffic and severe weather events because it was something people had never seen before.

    "There is no way to manage it," Newton said.

    AccuWeather meteorologist Dan Kottlowski said the amount of ice that heavily disrupted travel in Atlanta and caused problems in the Carolinas was relatively minimal, but had a major effect in metropolitan areas due to a number of factors.

    "It was just enough ice for roadways to become slick and hazardous and it was coming on the heels of a fairly cold period of weather," he said, adding the ground was cooler and allowed the surface to freeze more quickly.

    Kottlowski said it was bad timing because it happened during major rush hour traffic and state and local officials could not act fast enough.

    "There's no way for any highway department in the South to prepare for these types of events," he said.
    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Monday, March 10, 2014
    A girl stands next to a cardboard reading
    A girl stands next to a sign board made and written by the public at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Monday, March 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Daniel Chan)

    KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Rescue helicopters and ships searching for a MalaysiaAirlines jet rushed Monday to investigate a yellow object that looked like a life raft. It turned out to be moss-covered trash floating in the ocean, once again dashing hopes after more than two days of fruitless search for the plane that disappeared en route to Beijing with 239 people on board.

    With no confirmation that the Boeing 777 had crashed, hundreds of distraught relatives waited anxiously for any news. Thai police and Interpol questioned the proprietors of a travel agency in the resort town of Pattaya that sold one-way tickets to two men now known to have been traveling on flight MH370 using stolen passports.

    There has been no indication that the two men had anything to do with the tragedy, but the thefts of the passports fueled speculation of foul play, terrorism or a hijacking gone wrong. Malaysia has shared their details with Chinese and American intelligence agencies.

    Malaysia's police chief was quoted by local media as saying that one of the men had been identified. Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman didn't confirm this, but said they were of "non-Asian" appearance. He said authorities were looking at the possibility they were connected to a stolen passport syndicate, but declined to give any more details.

    The search operation has involved 34 aircraft and 40 ships from several countries covering a 50-nautical mile radius from the point the plane vanished from radar screens between Malaysia and Vietnam, he said.

    Experts say possible causes of the apparent crash include an explosion, catastrophic engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide.

    Selamat Omar, a Malaysian whose 29-year-old son Mohamad Khairul Amri Selamat was a passenger on the flight, expected a call from him at the 6.30 a.m. arrival time. Instead he got a call from the airline saying the plane was missing.

    "We accept God's will. Whether he is found alive or dead, we surrender to Allah," Selamat said.

    There have been a few glimmers of hope, but so far no trace of the plane has been found.

    On Sunday afternoon, a Vietnamese plane spotted a rectangular object that was thought to be one of the missing plane's doors, but ships working through the night could not locate it. Then on Monday, a Singaporean search plane spotted a yellow object some 140 kilometers (87 miles) southwest of Tho Chu island, but it turned out to be some sea trash.

    Malaysian maritime officials found some oil slicks in the South China Sea and sent a sample to a lab to see if it came from the plane. Tests showed that the oil was not from an aircraft, Azharuddin said.

    As relatives of the 239 people on the flight grappled with fading hope, attention focused on how two passengers managed to board the aircraft using stolen passports. Interpol confirmed it knew about the stolen passports but said no authorities checked its vast databases on stolen documents before the jet departed.

    Warning that "only a handful of countries" routinely make such checks, Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble chided authorities for "waiting for a tragedy to put prudent security measures in place at borders and boarding gates."

    The two stolen passports, one belonging to Austrian Christian Kozel and the other to Luigi Maraldi of Italy, were entered into Interpol's database after they were stolen in Thailand in 2012 and last year, the police body said.

    Electronic booking records show that one-way tickets with those names were issued Thursday from a travel agency in the beach resort of Pattaya in eastern Thailand.

    Thai police Col. Supachai Phuykaeokam said those reservations were placed with the agency by a second travel agency in Pattaya, which told police it had received the bookings from a China Southern Airlines office in Bangkok.

    The owners of the second Pattaya travel agency refused to talk to reporters. Thai police and Interpol officers went in to question the owners.

    A telephone operator on a China-based KLM hotline confirmed Sunday that passengers named Maraldi and Kozel had been booked on one-way tickets on the same KLM flight, flying from Beijing to Amsterdam on Saturday. Maraldi was to fly on to Copenhagen, Denmark, and Kozel to Frankfurt, Germany.

    As holders of EU passports with onward flights to Europe, the passengers would not have needed visas for China.

    Interpol said it and national investigators were working to determine the identities of those who used the stolen passports to board the flight.

    Interpol has long sounded the alarm that growing international travel has underpinned a new market for identity theft: Bogus passports are mostly used by illegal immigrants, but also pretty much anyone looking to travel unnoticed such as drug runners or terrorists. More than 1 billion times last year, travelers boarded planes without their passports being checked against Interpol's database of 40 million stolen or lost travel documents, the police agency said.

    Azharuddin also said the baggage of five passengers who had checked in to the flight but did not board the plane were removed before it departed, he said. Airport security was strict according to international standards, surveillance has been done and the airport has been audited, he said.

     

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    In this Jan. 9, 2014, photo, ice floes cover the surface of the Hudson River off the west side of Midtown Manhattan in New York. (AP Photo/Malcolm Ritter)

    The 2013-2014 winter season has been one of the coldest winters to hit the Northeast and Great Lakes region in two decades. With record-breaking low temperatures gripping much of the region for a lengthy amount of time, the deep freeze has created some picturesque, natural sights that are rarely seen.

    "It's probably the coldest the Northeast has seen since '1993-1994," AccuWeather Meteorologist Dave Dombek said.

    Across many rivers, large ice floes formed across the surface of the waters this winter season. While some ice is normal during the average winter, the duration of the floes and record-breaking cold have allowed large amounts of ice to form that should remain longer than usual, Dombek said.

    "I would say that's the most river ice you've probably seen in years," he said.


    In this Feb. 11, 2014, aerial photo the Mackinac Bridge over the the Straits of Mackinac spans an ice cover that stretches into the horizon in Michigan. (AP Photo/ Traverse City Record-Eagle, Keith King Pool)

    In addition, the long-standing cold has frozen 92.2 percent of the Great Lakes. Coupled with blowing and drifting snow, large ice caves have formed, which have become tourist attractions to many visitors.


    People look at an ice cave at Lake Michigan along the shore of northern Leelanau County, between Northport and Leland, Mich., on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/John L. Russell)

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    Record-breaking low temperatures have struck much of the Northeast multiple times from December to February, he said.

    "You can go the entire winter without seeing any-record breaking lows," Dombek said. "I'd say that's pretty impressive."


    An ice climber makes his way up Frankenstein Cliff in Hart's Location, N.H., on Saturday, March 1, 2014. A deep freeze is crossing through New England and keeping the ice in good condition for the sport. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

    Perhaps the most captivating sight has been the spectacle of a partially frozen Niagara Falls along the U.S.-Canadian border. This year between December and February, the area had an average temperature 5.5 degrees lower than normal.

    Throughout that time, five all-time, record-breaking lows have been recorded.


    The U.S. side of Niagara Falls has begun to thaw after being frozen solid from the recent "polar vortex" that affected millions in the U.S. and Canada, Friday, Jan. 10, 2014, in Niagara Falls, N.Y., as seen from the Canadian side of the falls. (AP Photo/Nick LoVerde)

    While the water of the Niagara River is still flowing beneath the ice cover, ice floes and chunks are slowing the water's descent, a rare display of this winter's fury.

    "To freeze like that, it had to be extremely cold for a very long period of time," AccuWeather Meteorologist Dave Dombek said.

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    March 10, 2014

    Ever dreamt of racing the Iditarod? The 1,000-mile Alaskan sled dog race took place from March 2-10 this year, with 26-year-old Dallas Seavey taking first place. The young Alaskan, who won the race in 2012 as well, beat out four-time champion Jeff King.

    Share this on Facebook?

    King had lead the pack for much of the race, but dropped out 25 miles from the finish line because of severe winds. During one of the early stages of the race, King recorded this incredible video. The action cam footage gives a glimpse at what it's like to be a musher -- falls and all.

    (via The Adventure Blog)

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    Tuesday, March 11, 2014
    Northeast Snow
    (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)​

    Although spring is on the horizon, the detrimental impacts of this year's harsh winter still loom as threats for roof collapses continue.

    "Usually one single storm by itself is not enough to ever cause a roof collapse," AccuWeather forensic meteorologist Steve Wistar said.

    However, a winter like this one, with a series of back-to-back snowstorms and numerous cold fronts let multiple snowfalls accumulate without allowing snow to melt between storms, increases the risk for roof collapses.

    This winter following a series of snowstorms in the Northeast, the roof of the WGAL Channel 8 studio in Lancaster, Pa., partially collapsed due to snow and ice on Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, according to Lancaster Online.

    "This winter there were some collapses in February because the snow had been accumulating since December, so there was a buildup," Wistar said.

    The shape of a rooftop is an important factor when determining the vulnerability of a roof. A pitched or slated roof is less of a risk than a flat roof.

    "As snow sits on roofs, especially flat ones, it compacts and becomes more dense," AccuWeather meteorologist Mark Paquette said.

    A flat roof does not allow snow to easily work with gravity and slide off the rooftop and as a result the snow and ice can make the load on the rooftop heavy, thus weakening the house's internal structure over time and eventually causing it to break and collapse.

    Other than the shape of the roof, what's positioned on top of it can influence how well it holds up in ongoing winter weather.

    The worst situations are flat roofs with a parapet, or roofs with a wall around the edge, or those with heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, units because these trap the snow when the wind blows and cause a snow drift to build on one side of the rooftop, according to Wistar.

    Besides the rooftop itself, the type of snow dumped during a storm can greatly effect the likelihood of a collapse.

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    Storms that bring heavy, wet snow to an area are the most dangerous due to the high water content in the snow. The higher the water content, the more weight the snow puts on a rooftop.

    However, rain after accumulating snowfall can also be harmful as the snowpack will then absorb the water and become even heavier.

    While roof collapses today are much less likely than they used to be due to updated building codes requiring every roof be built to hold a specific amount of load, there are three factors that make a rooftop more susceptible to collapsing.

    Rooftops on unheated structures like barns or garages are more prone to collapse when compared to heated structures, according to Professor of Civil Engineering at Rensselaer Michael O'Rourke.

    "Heat flow up through a roof reduces the roof load over time and thus reduces the susceptibility," O'Rourke said.


    Snow falls into the field from a hole in the collapsed roof of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

    Built before any building codes, older buildings also have increased instability, because over time the structural integrity of the roof lessens and things rust and rot, according to O'Rourke.

    Although many buildings today are built with steel or concrete, wooden roofs are also prone to collapses.

    "Unlike steel and concrete, wood gets weaker over time when subjected to significant loads," O'Rourke said.

    Even if a collapse does not occur, leaking and ice dams are other threats that accumulating snow on a rooftop can cause if not properly taken care of.

    To safely remove snow from a rooftop or detect potential problems with a roof, see the tips below from Professor of Civil Engineering at Rensselaer Michael O'Rourke.

    Tips to Safely Remove Snow From a Roof:

    1. If the roof has an access point, look and see if any components are sagging, creaking or cracking.

    2. Turn up the heat in the house, as this can help melt the snow on the roof.

    3. Get a snow rake and reduce the snow load by standing on the ground and pulling snow off the roof.

     

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    Tuesday, March 11, 2014
    The First Signs Of Spring Appear In London
    (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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

    After dramatically warmer air spread onto the Plains on Sunday, the rest of the eastern third of the U.S. will turn mild through Tuesday.

    Highs soared to 80 degrees in St. Louis, Mo., and the 70s in Raleigh, N.C., on Monday as the warmth expanded eastward.



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

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    New York City will reach the low 60s, while Washington, D.C., climbs into the low to middle 70s 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. In most of these areas, temperatures will 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 in the 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.

    The storm will produce widespread substantial snow with the threat currently greatest from Chicago to northern New England from Tuesday night through Thursday.
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    Updated Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 3 p.m. ET
    Winter Weather Illinois
    (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

    Despite a springlike start to the week, winter and substantial snow will make a comeback across the Midwest and Northeast at midweek.

    A winter storm will take shape across the Lower Midwest states on Tuesday night and then track into the Northeast and Atlantic Canada on Wednesday through Thursday.

    The storm will drop a swath of substantial snow along the cold side of its path, threatening to cause yet another round of disruptions to travel and daily routines. Parents should prepare for a day or two of school cancellations in the areas hit the hardest.

    The corridor from northern Illinois to northern New England has the greatest potential of being targeted by the substantial snow.



    While a plowable snowstorm is anticipated across parts of the Midwest and Ohio Valley, the heaviest snow will target interior New England. Totals can exceed 1 foot in northern New England, where near-blizzard conditions may evolve.

    Along the northern New England coast, the snow may first mix with or fall as rain.

    Motorists can anticipate difficult driving conditions on lengthy stretches of highways and interstates. The snow could come down heavily for a time, quickly clogging roads and making travel treacherous.

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    Numerous flight delays and cancellations can be expected throughout the Midwest and Northeast with potential ripple-effect delays elsewhere in the United States.

    The storm will initially spread mainly rain across communities around the Ohio River and along the I-95 corridor from Providence, R.I., to New York City to Washington, D.C.

    However, colder air plunging southward on the back side of the storm may set the stage for the rain to end as a period of snow and/or cause any wet spots on untreated roads and sidewalks to turn icy.

    Such danger will unfold across the Ohio Valley on Wednesday, then shift to the I-95 corridor on Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

    Storm

    The impending winter storm will come despite a taste of spring across the eastern half of the nationearly this week.

    Temperatures will be in the low 80s on Tuesday in the Lower Midwest, including St. Louis with 60s across parts of Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh.

    The snow will streak southeastward to Iowa through Tuesday evening with amounts lessening to a couple inches. A separate band of snow with similar totals will also drop along the I-25 corridor of southern Wyoming and Colorado during this time.

    Tuesday night is when moisture from the Gulf of Mexico will be tapped into and the winter storm will begin to ramp up.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 20 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Tuesday, March 11, 2014
    Iditarod musher Jeff King, from Denali, Alaska, is the first musher to leave the White Mountain checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 10, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)
    Iditarod musher Jeff King, from Denali, Alaska, is the first musher to leave the White Mountain checkpoint during the 2014 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on Monday, March 10, 2014. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bob Hallinen)

    NOME, Alaska (AP) - In a stunning reversal of fortune, four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King within hours went from leading this year's race to scratching just miles from the finish line.

    King cited severe winds near the last checkpoint along the nearly 1,000-mile trail in Safety, and told officials he had trouble navigating the trail.

    On Monday, he left the checkpoint in White Mountain with an hour's lead over Aliy Zirkle. But the Iditarod website said a gust of wind blew King and his dog team into driftwood. He was able to untangle the team but couldn't get them moving again.

    Winds were gusting about 40 mph and there was blowing snow near Safety.

    Zirkle passed King and was likely waiting out the storm in Safety. Meanwhile, third-place musher and 2012 champion Dallas Seavey was charging hard for Safety, which is 22 miles from the finish line in Nome.

    Officials said King was not quite 4 miles from the checkpoint in Safety, and waited with his team for 2 1/2 hours before he decided to scratch. He contacted a passing snowmobile driver, who took him to the checkpoint to make it official at 11:50 p.m.

    King and others were to move his dog team to Safety for the night.

    King's scratch means the race could come down to a repeat of 2012, when Seavey beat Zirkle by an hour.

    If Zirkle were to win, it would be an unlikely finish. She has been the runner-up in the last two races and seemed destined for the same outcome this year until King ran into trouble on the trail.

    While King's GPS unit didn't indicate any movement for hours, Zirkle steadily gained on him before eventually overtaking him just outside Safety, on the Bering Sea coast.

    Meanwhile, it appears the trail and conditions continuing into Nome only get worse, and Zirkle could be taking shelter in Safety. Seavey was just a few miles out of the checkpoint after starting the run from White Mountain nearly three hours behind King.

    The winner was expected under the burled arch sometime Tuesday, with mushers on what could appear to be a record pace despite poor trail conditions.

    Zirkle is trying to become the first woman to win the race in 24 years. The last woman to win was four-time champion Susan Butcher in 1990. Libby Riddles was the first female winner, taking the crown in 1985.

    King won the Iditarod in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2006. Rick Swenson, of Two Rivers, is the race's only five-time champion.

    The trail this year has been marked by poor conditions because of a lack of snow after a warm winter by Alaska standards.

    A number of mushers were injured at the beginning of the race as their sleds ran on gravel near the Dalzell Gorge. One musher, Scott Janssen of Anchorage, had to be rescued by a National Guard helicopter crew after breaking an ankle.

    Snowless conditions again greeted mushers as they traveled some portions along the western coast of the nation's largest state.

    The race began March 2 in Willow with 69 teams. As of Monday evening, 16 mushers had dropped out and one was withdrawn, leaving 52 teams on the trail.

    The Iditarod winner receives $50,000 and a new truck. The 29 teams after that get cash prizes decreasing on a sliding scale. All other teams finishing the race receive $1,049.

    John Baker holds the fastest finish in Iditarod history, covering the trail from Anchorage to Nome in eight days, 18 hours and 46 minutes in 2011.

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    Tuesday, March 11, 2014
    CORRECTION Wyoming Flooding
    This March 9, 2014, photo shows chunks of ice buildup in the Horn River where community first responders and Wyoming National Guard units assisted in flood relief efforts in Graybull, Wyo. (AP Photo/Wyoming National Guard)

    BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A new storm brought more snow to areas of Montana where hundreds of people have been left cut off by swollen rivers and impassable waterlogged roads.

    Authorities warned that the new precipitation Monday night and Tuesday could make the flooding worse.

    The snow was expected to move Tuesday into neighboring Wyoming where members of the National Guard were helping to protect two towns threatened by high water.

    The National Weather Service said 1 to 6 inches of snow could fall in the flooded areas of Montana and Wyoming before Tuesday night.

    Montana Gov. Steve Bullock declared a flood emergency late Monday after forecasters put 30 of the state's 56 counties under some type of high water warning.

    Musselshell County in central Montana appeared to be hardest hit: Dirt roads in rural areas turned to mud, some bridges were blocked by high water and the Musselshell River threatened to overcome protective dikes in Roundup.

    Warm weather over the past week unleashed massive amounts of water from record snowfalls that have blanketed the region. That pushed many streams and rivers over their banks, authorities said.

    Impassable roads cut off about 350 people south and east of Roundup, Musselshell County disaster coordinator Jeff Gates said.

    Officials advised residents to stay in place if possible, and were crafting plans to ensure sufficient food and medical supplies were available to any stranded residents.

    Hundreds more in the Dean Creek subdivision southwest of Roundup also were cut off for a time until the situation improved Monday evening. But officials advised residents to remain ready to leave if necessary.

    Temperatures were forecast to drop below freezing overnight as the rain turns to snow.

    "If it freezes and we get snow the roads will freeze and it will help us," Gates said.

    In Wyoming, Guard members stacked up sand bags in Manderson and Greybull. The National Weather Service says sandbags were used to divert water around the Manderson school and water treatment plant. No evacuations were reported.

    Seven homes were damaged in Greybull over the weekend but the extent of damage wasn't immediately clear, said Wyoming Office of Homeland Security spokeswoman Kelly Ruiz. Video posted by the homeland security office showed the river full of ice chunks on Sunday and a home protected by sand bags surrounded by water.

    Mountain snowpack across both states already is well above average, setting the stage for more high water when the spring runoff arrives. That's expected in May or early June, said National Weather Service forecaster Chauncy Schultz.

    Officials were keeping a wary eye on ice-jams along the Musselshell River west of Roundup, which has about 1,900 people. Ice jams also were reported on the Yellowstone, Big Horn and other rivers in Montana and Wyoming.

    If the ice jams break free, water levels downstream could rise and more people in low-lying areas evacuated on short notice, Gates said. A makeshift dike in Roundup built after flooding three years ago was successfully holding back the water.

    By late Monday, the Musselshell had risen to levels not seen since severe flooding damaged hundreds of homes in 2011.

    More than two dozen houses near the Musselshell River were evacuated. Schools in Roundup were canceled for Tuesday in anticipation that many teachers and students would not be able to make it.

    Bullock's emergency declaration allows the Democrat to mobilize state resources - including the National Guard if necessary - to help local authorities.

    "We're quite concerned about the moisture that's going to drop in the Little Belt Mountains and the Snowy Mountains. That could add more issues along the Musselshell River and in Roundup," said Steve Knecht, chief of operations for Montana Disaster and Emergency Services.

    In Yellowstone County, high waters that flooded the basements of many homes were starting to dissipate, said county emergency services director Duane Winslow. Five homes south of Laurel remained evacuated.

    A boil water order was in effect in Clyde Park north of Livingston, the Billings Gazette reported.

    In the town of Manhattan, about 19 miles northwest of Bozeman, Mayor Dave Rowell said flooding in the downtown area late last week caused at least a million dollars in damages, television station KTVM reported.

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    Tuesday, March 11, 2014

    The moon sets over the Atlantic Ocean in this beautiful photo taken near the shores of Fonte-de-telha pine forest in Portugal.

    Astrophotographer Miguel Claro recently sent Space.com great shot he took on Feb. 13 using Canon 60Da camera (ISO 500 f/4; Exp:10 sec. 35mm).

    Claro also followed the crescent moon with his camera using a portable Vixen Polarie Star Tracker Mount to capture motion during the sequence. The stunning results can be viewed in the following short timelapse video of the scene. [See more amazing March night sky photos by stargazers]

    The Moonset over the Ocean from Miguel Claro on Vimeo.

    A crescent moon is part way between a half moon and a new moon, or between a new moon and a half moon. You can learn more facts about the moon's phases here.

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

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

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

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    Wednesday, March 12, 2014
    Pennsylvania Daily Life
    (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Damaging thunderstorms will threaten residents and travelers from North Carolina northward into southeastern Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

    Early Wednesday morning will be tranquil and mild across the mid-Atlantic before threatening weather develops in the afternoon and evening.

    Downpours and thunderstorms will initially form in North Carolina around lunchtime before tracking northeastward toward Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia in the late afternoon and evening.

    "The main severe threat will be locally damaging winds on Wednesday, especially during the afternoon," said Senior Meteorologist John Gresiak.

    Travelers on Interstate 95, between Philadelphia and Fayetteville, N.C., can experience slow travel and reduced visibility as downpours cross the region.

    "There may be enough spin in the atmosphere to spark an isolated tornado or two," said Gresiak.

    The strong thunderstorm threat will evolve on the warm side of a wide-reaching winter storm.

    Since the warmth may encourage time outdoors Wednesday afternoon and evening, people should be on heightened alert for approaching dark clouds and listening for thunder in the distance.

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    Anytime you hear thunder, you are close enough to be struck by lightning. As soon as you hear thunder, seek shelter.

    Following the stormy weather, it will turn windy, colder and drier for the remainder of Wednesday night.

    The cold front will usher in a sharp change to colder weather on Thursday. High temperatures in some areas may plummet as much as 40 degrees Fahrenheit on Thursday in comparison to Wednesday.

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    Wednesday, March 12, 2014
    Another Winter Storm Affects Atlanta Area
    (Photo by Davis Turner/Getty Images)

    Following above-normal warmth early this week, temperatures will plummet dramatically across the I-95 corridor of the Northeast on Wednesday night. Such drastic temperature drops will set the stage for a rapid freeze-up on roadways and promote conditions conducive for pothole development and even water main breaks.

    Temperatures will plummet by as much as 40 degrees Fahrenheit in less than 24 hours along the I-95 corridor from New York City and Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. Following Wednesday, highs in the upper 50s in New York City, upper 60s in Philadelphia and low 70s in Washington, D.C., lows will drop into the 20s in these major cities on Wednesday night.

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    Any wet or slushy areas could freeze up rapidly on roads, creating slippery and hazardous travel conditions Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Sidewalks could also turn icy and treacherous.

    Besides creating dangerous icy spots, the temperature swings can lead to other concerns for motorists.

    "With the rapid thaw then freeze this week, (new) potholes will be a concern," AccuWeather chief meteorologist Elliot Abrams said.

    Already with the icy grips of winter followed by major thaws, potholes are a widespread problem in the major I-95 cities. Late in February, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio set aside $7.3 million to facilitate and accelerate the extraordinary number of road repairs needed this winter.

    "Water mains may also break as the temperature roller coaster occurs," Abrams said.

    So far, temperatures in March are averaging well below normal across the Midwest and Northeast.

    Temperature Departures in March (as of March 11, 2014)

    City
    Temperature Departure From Normal
    Chicago
    Minus 10.3 F
    Detroit
    Minus 11.1 F
    Indianapolis
    Minus 8.8
    Minneapolis
    Minus 11.4
    New York City
    Minus 6.6 F
    Philadelphia
    Minus 6.5 F
    Washington, D.C.
    Minus 5.4 F

    Temperatures will moderate back to normal across the Midwest and Northeast by late in the week, before yet another cold blast arrives over the weekend.

    While there will be frequent swings in temperatures moving forward in March, the cold spells are likely to be more punctuated.

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    Wednesday, March 12, 2014


    In this view looking at Cobb Parkway at I-285, abandoned cars are piled up on the median of the ice-covered road after a winter snowstorm slammed the city with over 2 inches of snow that turned highways into parking lots creating massive traffic jams lasting through Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, in Atlanta.(AP Photo/David Tulis)

    With business booming, this time of year brings numerous cars off the roadways and into body shops, as vehicles fall victim to some of winter's worst: potholes and salt corrosion.

    As the '13-'14 winter unfolded, multiple snowstorms brought swaths of snow, plenty of ice and bone-chilling air to areas of the Northeast and Southeast.

    By February, expense records across the nation were shattered, as this winter required millions of tons of salt and record-breaking maintenance costs including, labor, materials and equipment.

    "It's just apart of living in the Northeast. We don't really have hurricanes, tornadoes or massive floods, but we have to deal with winter. It's the tradeoff," said J.R. Vratarich, co-owner of Tire Town in State College, Pa.

    A harsh freeze-thaw cycle accompanied by a slew of salt atop the roadways have created numerous potholes, more than 145,000 in just New York City, across the region.

    Potholes Plague the Northeast

    "We're just in the beginning of pothole season to be honest, but it's only going to get increasingly worse," said Mike Veenstra, owner of Veenstra Garage in Grand Rapids, Mich.

    Due to the unexpectedness of hitting a pothole, it's important to assess the damage from this menace as quickly as possible. If possible, pull over and look at the vehicle for obvious damage.

    "Depending on how you hit the pothole you can have a wide range of damage," said Vratarich.

    The most common issues brought forth by potholes deal with the tires. Most often, drivers experience a detached wheel or cracked rim. Suspension is another common problem that affects a vehicle's handling," said Vratarich.

    A visit to the mechanic is also necessary when a vehicle rolls or sways on turns, the front end dives when braking or has loss of directional control during sudden stops.

    "Suspension components fail and whenever you hit a bump so do the tires and alignment and, at first, a lot of drivers don't realize they are having problems until it is too late," said Veenstra. "Every year we see people come into the garage and spend money fixing winter weather-related issues and it's a grudge purchase because it is really tough to prevent something like this. You can't swerve and miss potholes in fear of causing an accident and, if you're driving and they are filled with water, you probably won't even see the pothole. It's tough."

    This winter in particular has been tough on a lot of major highways, and state transportation crews are trying to keep ahead of the problem. To aid staff members in maintaining the problem, contact the city or state to report where potholes are a problem and help the crews locate the ones that could cause vehicle damage.

    Grand Rapids, Mich., was hit especially hard this winter with a total of 110.7 inches of snow so far, which is two-thirds higher than the city's normal amount, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Jim Andrews.

    "Just two blocks from my garage, you'll see signs everywhere from MDOT warning drivers of bumpy roads covered in potholes. I'm not surprised because weather-wise we've had quite the record-breaking year here [in Grand Rapids],"said Veenstra.

    These extreme winter conditions, along with a few warm days, make Grand Rapids a prime target during pothole season.

    Salt Exposure Causes Corrosion

    While salt is necessary on roads and highways to keep drivers safe when out in slick, wintry weather, salt also has some serious negative impacts on cars. The brine solution in salt specifically damages the steel parts of the car.

    "When salt sits, it finds its way though your vehicle's paint layers and latches on to metal where it begins to rust," said Veenstra.

    Rust is another undesirable effect of road salt on key car parts.

    "We see a lot of long-range salt-related problems for cars. The body can rust out, and steel break and fluid lines rust as well and can be costly to repair,"said Vratarich.

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    To ward off salt on a vehicle and avoid damage, the easiest solution is to wash the car occasionally during the winter months.

    "I don't think that is very realistic because once a snowstorm is over, another one starts and it's crazy to think that you can keep up with that many car washes. Keeping the car in a garage is a luxury that many drivers often overlook," Vratarich said.

    While repeat washing is unrealistic, Anthony Bruno of Anthony's Auto Salon in Philadelphia recommends waxing to keep corrosion at bay.

    "You should have your car waxed four times a year, and it protects your car from things such as dirt and salt getting into the wrong places. If you do just go for a wash, the large brushes that clean your car are pretty good at removing the dirt and salt on their own as well," Bruno said. "You can spend the money on a complete detail and ask for waxing or an application of a $150 coating job if that is the route you'd want to go," said Veenstra.

    As winter begins to thaw, the best thing that can be done for vehicles without making a major impact on the wallet is to ask the experts.

    "Always ask whoever is working on your car specific questions. The staff should know what's best for your vehicle. It's like when you go to the doctor, and even if you don't have a bad heart, they always check your blood pressure. Mechanics should do a thorough checkup," said Veenstra.

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