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    Thursday, March 20, 2014

    Spring has officially sprung in the Northern Hemisphere and NASA is celebrating with a dazzling new view of the Earth from space today (March 20).

    The GOES-13 satellite operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) captured the sunning view of Earth from space as our planet reached its vernal equinox -- the date that marks the shift from winter to spring in the Northern Hemisphere. In the south, summer changes to fall today.

    "This full-disk image from NOAA's GOES-13 satellite was captured at 11:45 UTC (7:45 a.m. EDT) and shows the Americas on March 20, 2014," NASA officials said in an image description. "This date marks the start of astronomical spring in the northern hemisphere." [6 Signs that Spring Has Sprung]

    The vernal equinox is a milestone in the Earth's year in which the sun appears to move from south of the celestial equator to the north. During that event, the days -- which have been steadily growing longer since the winter solstice on Dec. 21 -- are now equal in length to the nights. In fact, the word equinox is Latin for "equal nights."

    From March 20 to June 21 (which will mark the summer solstice in the north), the days will grow longer as the sun moves higher into the sky, allowing more hours of daylight. That means that, for the Northern Hemisphere, warmer weather is coming after a particularly bitter winter.

    "Today's vernal equinox marks the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere!" officials at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center explained via Twitter today.

    On Sept. 22, the seasons in the north will shift from summer to fall during the autumnal equinox, leading back to winter again.

    Of course all of this is reversed for the Southern Hemisphere. Today, the seasons change from summer to fall, with the southern spring beginning on Sept. 22.

    Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, 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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.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: Breathtaking Photos of Earth From Space

     

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    Thursday, March 20, 2014


    Scientists are rushing to the site of a possible meteorite impact in Canada's southwestern Ontario after a bright fireball lit up the skies over that region Tuesday night (March 18).

    The basketball-sized fireball was spotted at 10:24 p.m. local time in seven all-sky cameras operated by Western University's Southern Ontario Meteor Network, according to meteor scientist Peter Brown of Canada's Western University in London, Ont. Two other camera systems in Ohio and Pennsylvania operated jointly with NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office also spotted the fireball, he added. This video of the March 18 fireball shows all nine camera views of the meteor flare-up.

    Western University scientists suspect the fireball exploded up about 47 miles (75 kilometers) above Port Dover, Ont., and moved west until breaking up around 20 miles (32 km) between Aylmer and St. Thomas, about two hours west of Toronto. [5 Amazing Fireball Videos]

    Canadian Meteorite

    "In this fall, meteorites may be found in a small hole produced by their dropping into soil," university officials advised. "Meteorites are not dangerous, but any recovered meteorites should be placed in a clean plastic bag or container and be handled as little as possible to preserve their scientific information."

    Brown and Western University meteorite curator Phil McCausland are expected to hold a press briefing at St. Thomas Municipal Airport to discuss the upcoming meteorite hunt. They will be joined by meteor expert Bill Cooke, who leads NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., Western University officials said.

    "Meteorites may best be recognized by their dark and scalloped exterior, and are usually denser than normal rock and will often attract a fridge magnet due to their metal content," officials at Western wrote in a statement today (March 20). The university is based in London, Ont., Canada.

    One or more meteorites possibly emerged from the fireball, falling 3 miles (5 km) to the north or northwest of St. Thomas, the researchers said. Western officials said they are seeking anyone who "may have witnessed or recorded this event, seen or heard unusual events at the time, or who may have found possible fragments of the freshly fallen meteorite."

    Potential meteorite hunters should ask for permission of land owners before searching on private land, university officials warned.

    Western University requests that any possible meteorite finds from Tuesday's should be reported to McCausland at 519-661-2111, ext. 88008 or on his cell at 519-694-3323. The university is posting updates about the meteorite hunt on Twitter @mediawesternu and with the hashtag #stthomasmeteor.

    Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or Space.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on 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: 10 Breathtaking Photos of Comets

     

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    Friday, March 21, 2014

    In this July 13, 2011, file photo, homes flooded by the Souris River are shown in Minot, N.D. (AP Photo/James MacPherson, File)

    Despite the official changing of the seasons, the impacts of this year's harsh winter will linger throughout the spring months and influence this year's spring flooding potential.

    Breaking records for months on end, the unusually cold and snowy winter has brought forth a deep layer of frozen ground across much of the nation. In addition to the freeze, an abnormally high level of water is currently present in the snowpack. Combined both of these factors make this year's spring flood potential extremely dependent on the rate of snowmelt and amount of rain in the months to come.

    Overall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, predicts that there will be no extensive areas in danger of exceeding major flooding; however, significant localized river flooding is the main concern for the spring of 2014.

    Causing more property damage in the United States than any other weather-related event and costing companies an average of $2-3 billion in losses annually worldwide, according to Vice President of Research at FM Global Dr. Lou Gritzo.

    Moderate flooding is expected this spring in portions of the Midwest.

    Areas in southern Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as parts of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana should be on alert for moderate flooding this spring. High water content in the snowpack integrated with predictions of above-normal precipitation and wet periods from April through June may put rivers in the area at risk.

    In the Great Lakes region, the severe ice from winter will elevate the flood risk, as nearly 92.2 percent of the Great Lakes covered in ice, as of March 6, 2014. Significant river ice along with the Great Lakes ice could increase the flood risk due to the likelihood of ice jams and breakups.

    "Rivers and creeks that drain into Lake Erie will elevate the flood risk," Acting Director of NOAA's Office of Hydrologic Development Robert Hartmann said.

    Moving west, already saturated soil conditions may lead to moderate flooding in western South Dakota along the Cheyenne River if additional snow or rain falls over the region. Across the Great Plains, an increased chance to exceed the minor flood stage exists.

    RELATED:
    National Flood Safety Awareness Week
    AccuWeather Severe Weather Center
    It Can Happen in a Flash: How to Stay Safe in a Flood

    Throughout Missouri and eastern Kansas, the threat for moderate flooding will remain through the spring, as some areas have already experienced minor flooding this year.

    In addition, both the Red River and the Souris River may also encounter moderate flooding, impacting areas from eastern North Dakota into northwest Minnesota with certain areas like Fargo, N.D.

    Minor flooding, or flooding that creates little to no property damage but threatens some public property, is possible this spring in Ohio, the Northeast, northern Rockies and Southeast.

    As some cities in the Northeast experienced some of their snowiest winters on record this year, the potential for flooding will be minor with only a chance for exceeding minor river flood levels existing from the Upper Midwest eastward through New England. Communities in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine will likely see some flooding.

    While some flooding has already occurred in Montana and Wyoming, there is a greater than 50 percent chance that these areas will exceed the minor flood stage at certain river points along the Musselshell River, North Platte River and the Wind River this spring.

    Depending on the amount of rain that falls this spring, areas from eastern Texas to southern Virginia also run the risk for some minor flooding.

    However, any type of early tropical wave development could lead to some flooding in southeastern and eastern Florida too, according to AccuWeather.com lead long-range forecaster Paul Pastelok.

    A very low chance for flooding prevails throughout the Southwest, as the drought persists in the region. However, some flash flooding could transpire if heavy rain were to fall over a short time period.

    "Looking forward we see little improvement; unfortunately, the drought is expected to persist," acting chief of the Operational Prediction Branch of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center Jon Gottschalck said. "If the drought persists, it will likely result in an active wildfire season."


    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    Friday, March 21, 2014
    Another Extreme Cold Front Moves Through Midwest
    (Getty Images)

    The calendar says it's now spring but winter refuses to loosen its grip on the Midwest and Northeast.

    This will certainly become apparent this weekend and into next week as a blast of arctic air pours southward out of Canada.

    The first three weeks of March have been unusually cold across much of the eastern half of the United States, especially in the Northern states.

    Most locations across the Great Lakes, for example, are running 7-9 degrees Fahrenheit below average through the first 20 days of the month. Most locations in the Northeast have experienced temperatures on average 5-8 degrees Fahrenheit below normal through the same period.

    The arctic air will move into the Midwest and Great Lakes during the first half of this weekend behind a cold front. Gusty winds behind the front will make it feel even colder.

    This front will push through the Northeast late this weekend. The bitter cold will remain in place through the middle of next week.

    AccuWeather.com meteorologists expect temperatures to be 15-25 degrees below average this weekend into next week for places such as Chicago, Minneapolis, Minn., and Green Bay, Wis.

    The first half of next week will be the coldest period in the Northeast, when temperatures will be 10-20 degrees below average.

    High temperatures could struggle to get to 40 F in New York City during the first half of next week, compared to an average high in the lower 50s. To put this in context, the forecast temperatures are typical for middle to late February.

    High temperatures in parts of New England on Monday will not get out of the teens and 20s.

    RELATED:
    Five Ways to Prepare Your Pets for Spring
    March Temperature Extremes Not a Factor in Spread of Common Cold
    PHOTOS: Five Signs That Spring is on the Horizon


    Outdoor sports such as baseball, soccer, lacrosse, golf, track and field and other activities will continue to ramp up this weekend and next week. The cold will likely cause problems for participants and spectators at the collegiate and high school level.

    The cold could force the cancellation or postponement of some scheduled events.

    This new blast of arctic air, along with other factors, could potentially lead to the development of a large snowstorm along the Atlantic Seaboard by the middle of next week.


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

     

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    Thursday, March 20, 2014
    Winter storms bring ice and cold temps
    (Anthony Souffle/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

    Despite the change in seasons, more cold air and potential snow are in the offing next week for parts of the Midwest and East.

    The recurring cold weather is likely to persist into the first part of April and will cause difficulties for collegiate and high school baseball games, soccer, golf, lacrosse, track and field, and other outdoor sporting activities.

    Cold air is again building up over the Arctic and is forecast to push southeastward across the Canada Prairies late this week. The new surge of cold air will enter the Upper Midwest early this weekend and is projected to reach the interior South and East Coast by early next week.

    A second push of cold air will push southeastward during the middle part of next week.

    According to AccuWeather.com long-range weather expert Mark Paquette, "It is almost unthinkable, but it appears that a flow of air straight from the Arctic will develop again."

    Temperatures may struggle to reach 32 F on one or more days from parts of the central Plains to the Midwest and Northeast. Highs may be in the 20s F over the northern tier states from Montana to Maine.

    At their peak, temperature departures may be 15 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit below average in some cases.

    RELATED:
    Five Ways to Prepare Your Pets for Spring
    March Temperature Extremes Not a Factor in Spread of Common Cold
    PHOTOS: Five Signs That Spring is on the Horizon

    In between the two pushes of cold air, an area of disturbed weather along an advancing front could slowly organize into a significant storm system.

    "It is too early to say for sure if everything will come together to make a large snowstorm and exactly where that will be," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Bernie Rayno said. "But, if you go by pattern repetition this winter, the odds favor a significant snowfall for part of Atlantic Seaboard during the middle of next week."

    There will be other factors to consider along with the track and strength of the storm, such as the extent that snow melts as it falls due to the March sun effect during the daylight hours.

    "While Major League Baseball may catch a break from the cold for opening day games in Pittsburgh, Detroit, New York City, Milwaukee, Chicago and Cincinnati on March 31, the overall chilly weather pattern is likely to persist through the first week of April," Paquette said.

    Recall that last season similar cold and snowy weather early on forced multiple games to be postponed. The New York Mets had back-to-back games snowed out on April 14 and 15, 2013, one in Minnesota and the other in Denver.

    Given the expected weather pattern for the start of this year's regular season, there is a chance of snow for a couple early-season games.

    The pattern for the end of March into the first few days of April 2014 will not be as cold, relatively speaking, compared to the past couple of months. However, the weather may only be warm for couple of days here and there from the northern Plains to the Midwest and Northeast.

    The back-and-forth pattern may not break up until the second week of April, when temperatures in the Midwest and Northeast will swing to near to above normal during the majority of the time.

    Normal High Temperature for April 15

    City
    High (F)
    Minneapolis
    58
    Chicago
    59
    Milwaukee
    54
    Cleveland
    59
    Detroit
    59
    Kansas City, Mo.
    67
    St. Louis
    67
    Cincinnati
    65
    Pittsburgh
    62
    Washington, D.C.
    67
    Baltimore
    65
    Philadelphia
    64
    New York City
    61
    Boston
    81

    For MLB fans wanting to experience true warmth for opening day, consider heading to Australia. Two games are being played outside of the U.S., in Sydney, Australia, on March 22 and 23, and will open the regular season.

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

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

     

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    Friday, March 21, 2014
    Rising Price of Gold Spurs Increases In Prospecting In California
    Residents of Jamestown, California, look for gold in Woods Creek on April 29, 2011, in Jamestown, California. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)

    Golden opportunities have appeared for prospectors in California, thanks to the 3-year-old drought.

    Prospectors were able to find gold during a December-January "gold rush," Dave Efseaff of the Central Valley Prospectors in Fresno, Calif., said. When streams and other pools of water started to dry up from the drought, it exposed areas that previously couldn't be explored because of the water depth.

    The price of gold can be a powerful incentive for prospectors. Gold's price on the New York Mercantile Exchange was $1,331.50 per troy ounce on Thursday, March 20, 2014.

    Dry December-January Allow for Gold Rush

    During the driest period from December through January, opportunities to access the dry gravel beds of the area's waterways were discussed and anticipated in the mining community, Jim Hutchings of the River City Prospectors said.

    "If you have ever tried to scoop a shovel of mud and sand under water, it is nearly impossible," Hutchings said. "Having the 'gut' of the stream dry out, gives miners access to move boulders and access cracks and crevices in the center of the stream or at least in what would be the center of the stream during flood stage."

    Without water, miners can get in and try to get to the bedrock where the best gold will usually be in a protected place there.

    Locate a known gold bearing river, fill your pan with sand and gravel and wash out the lighter material, and hopefully find color [gold] in the bottom of the pan, Adolph Lostaunau of the Golden Valley Prospectors in Bakersfield, Calif., said.

    More people have joined the Golden Valley Prospectors to learn how to prospect with hopes of striking it rich, Lostaunau said.

    "I tell people, 'Do not quit your day job,' and when out prospecting, not to trespass or claim jump," Lostaunau said.

    California Drought to Worsen, More Gold Prospects

    According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, extreme to exceptional drought conditions continue in parts of northern and central California. Conditions will worsen from April to June, AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Jack Boston said.

    California Drought
    The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, published March 18, 2014, continues to show drought conditions over California.

    Temperatures will be above normal for April to June, Boston said.

    "The reason is because it's going to be so dry. That's not good news. The sun heats dry soil more efficiently than wet soil, making the temperatures go higher," he said.

    The San Joaquin Valley in the state's Central Valley may have temperatures climb into the low 90s in May, just like it did a year ago, Boston said. Fresno had two days above 100 F and nine days in the 90s during May 2013.

    The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor, published Thursday, March 18, 2014, continues to show drought conditions over California.

    AccuWeather.com meteorologists also expect precipitation to be below or much below normal during April to June, Boston said.

    "In some areas, it will mean zero, nil, no precipitation," he said. "Drought conditions will actually be getting worse."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    Friday, March 21, 2014
    US-WEATHER-SNOWSTORM
    A woman tosses a snow ball at a friend in Washington on March 17, 2014, the morning after yet another snowstorm. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

    The path and strength of a storm Tuesday into Wednesday will determine which areas on the East Coast may be hit by snow and which areas will be missed.

    The storm has the potential to spread a swath of snow from the Carolinas to Maine along with possible travel delays and disruptions to daily activities.

    A storm moving from the Gulf of Alaska will travel southeastward into British Columbia, Canada, and the Northwest this weekend. During early next week, the storm will turn eastward over the Central states, where it will bring spotty snow, a wintry mix and rain.

    The storm is likely to reorganize farther east before midweek. A new center of the storm is forecast to develop over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico.

    The key to whether or not heavy snow falls on the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, Conn., and Boston, is how quickly the newer storm center strengthens.

    A rapidly strengthening storm is more likely to turn northward along the Atlantic coast and generate heavy snow, gusty winds and rough seas. A weaker storm is likely to take a path farther east over the Atlantic Ocean with less wind and a lower risk for coastal flooding.

    At this early stage, there is a significant chance that the storm will bring snow to portions of the southern Appalachians and areas farther east over upstate South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula on Tuesday.

    RELATED:
    Snow to Hit Quickly on First Weekend of Spring
    February-like Chill to Grip Midwest, Spread East This Weekend
    AccuWeather Winter Weather Center

    Where the snow falls at night and first thing in the morning, the odds are greater for an accumulation on roads. However, the warming effect of the March sun during the midday and afternoon could only be negated by a very heavy snowfall rate.

    According to AccuWeather Chief Operating Officer Evan Myers, "Where heavy wet snow falls on areas where trees are budding and blossoming in the South, there is a greater risk of downed tree limbs and power outages with the storm."

    Southern cities that have a chance of snow or a rain/wet snow combination include Charleston and Beckley, W.Va.; Knoxville and Bristol, Tenn.; Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C.; Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Richmond, Charlottesville and Roanoke, Va.

    There are some similarities and differences with this storm setup to the March 24-25, 1983, snowstorm in the Carolinas.

    According to Southern Weather Expert Frank Strait, "The '83 storm formed over the northern Gulf of Mexico, strengthened and unloaded 6-10 inches of snow from central and upstate South Carolina to central and northeastern North Carolina."

    The strengthening storm tapped into cold air and caused rain to change to heavy wet snow in parts of the South. Since the 1983 storm started as rain, the change to heavy snow caught many people by surprise.

    "There is a chance we see a similar outcome in terms of snow compared to 1983," Strait said. "It is the difference in the upper atmosphere that could allow the storm to turn northward along the coast, instead of forcing it eastward and out to sea like the storm from '83."

    Details and updates on the potential East Coast snowstorm for next week will unfold on AccuWeather.com in the coming days.

    Preceding and following the storm next week will be a blast of cold air.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2013
    Lightning Hits the Grand Canyon

     

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    NASA's Hubble Space Telescope has captured an amazing view of a distant starbirth factory, a nebula known as the "Monkey Head," to help celebrate the upcoming 24th anniversary of the iconic instrument's launch.

    The new infrared mosaic from Hubble - which launched on April 24, 1990 - shows knotty curls of dust and gas in the Monkey Head Nebula, a star-forming region that lies about 6,400 light-years away from Earth and is also known as NGC 2174 and Sharpless Sh2-252. Scientists used the Hubble mosaic to create a spectacular video of the Monkey Head Nebula to explain the new cosmic views.

    "Massive, newly formed stars near the center of the nebula (and toward the right in this image) are blasting away at dust within the nebula," Hubble officials wrote in a description of the image, which was captured in February and released on Monday (March 17). You can see more Monkey Head Nebula views here, along with other Hubble Space Telescope images.

    Monkey Head Nebula
    This graphic shows the location of the infrared image from the Hubble Space Telescope in a wider view of the region of NGC 2174. (NASA and ESA; Acknowledgment: The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) and R. Crisp)

    "Ultraviolet light from these bright stars helps carve the dust into giant pillars. The nebula is mostly composed of hydrogen gas, which becomes ionized by the ultraviolet radiation," they added. "As the interstellar dust particles are warmed from the radiation from the stars in the center of the nebula, they heat up and begin to glow at infrared wavelengths."

    Though the Hubble Space Telescope is famous today for its gorgeous cosmic images and contributions to astronomy in a number of fields, the mission had a bumpy start. Hubble launched to space with a primary mirror ground to the wrong prescription, and five space shuttle missions were required to repair and upgrade the huge instrument.

    Hubble officials have said they hope to keep the telescope operating through at least 2020, ensuring some scientific overlap with its designated successor, NASA's infrared-optimized James Webb Space Telescope. The $8.8 billion JWST mission is currently scheduled to launch in 2018.

    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
    Monkey Head Nebula

     

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    Saturday, March 22, 2014
    UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 05: Spring crocus (Crocus vernus), Iridaceae. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)
    Plants that flower in the very early spring, like the crocus, may be buried under another layer of snow. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

    The potential for a significant spring snowstorm to unfold along the East Coast continues to be monitored for this coming Tuesday and Wednesday.

    The storm has the potential to spread a swath of snow from the Carolinas to Maine along with possible travel delays and disruptions to daily activities.

    A storm moving from the Gulf of Alaska will travel southeastward into British Columbia, Canada, and the northern Rockies this weekend. During early next week, the storm will turn eastward over the Central states, where it will bring spotty snow, a wintry mix and rain.



    The storm is likely to reorganize farther east before midweek. A new center of the storm is forecast to develop over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico before strengthening along the East Coast.

    The key to whether or not heavy snow falls on the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, Conn., and Boston, is how quickly the newer storm center strengthens.



    A rapidly strengthening storm is more likely to turn northward along the Atlantic coast and generate heavy snow, gusty winds and rough seas. A weaker storm is likely to take a path farther east over the Atlantic Ocean with less wind and a lower risk for coastal flooding.

    At this early stage, there is a chance that the storm will bring snow to portions of the southern Appalachians and areas farther east over upstate South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula on Tuesday.

    RELATED:
    Snow to Hit Quickly on First Weekend of Spring
    February-like Chill to Grip Midwest, Spread East This Weekend
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center


    The storm may then either slam or graze New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, New York and New England with windswept snow and strong winds Tuesday night through Wednesday.

    If the storm develops to its full potential and remains close enough to the East Coast, parts of New England could be faced with an all-out blizzard before the storm barrels into Atlantic Canada on Wednesday.

    Where the snow falls at night and first thing in the morning, the odds are greater for an accumulation on roads. However, the warming effect of the March sun during the midday and afternoon could only be negated by a very heavy snowfall rate.

    According to AccuWeather Chief Operating Officer Evan Myers, "Where heavy wet snow falls on areas where trees are budding and blossoming in the South, there is a greater risk of downed tree limbs and power outages with the storm."

    Southern cities that have a chance of snow or a rain/wet snow combination include Charleston and Beckley, W.Va.; Knoxville and Bristol, Tenn.; Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C.; Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Richmond, Charlottesville and Roanoke, Va.

    There are some similarities and differences with this storm setup to the March 24-25, 1983, snowstorm in the Carolinas.

    According to Southern Weather Expert Frank Strait, "The '83 storm formed over the northern Gulf of Mexico, strengthened and unloaded 6-10 inches of snow from central and upstate South Carolina to central and northeastern North Carolina."

    The strengthening storm tapped into cold air and caused rain to change to heavy wet snow in parts of the South. Since the 1983 storm started as rain, the change to heavy snow caught many people by surprise.

    "There is a chance we see a similar outcome in terms of snow compared to 1983," Strait said. "It is the difference in the upper atmosphere that could allow the storm to turn northward along the coast, instead of forcing it eastward and out to sea like the storm from '83."

    Details and updates on the potential East Coast snowstorm for next week will unfold on AccuWeather.com in the coming days.

    Preceding and following the storm next week will be a blast of cold air.

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

     

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    Saturday, March 22, 2014
    This colour composite of the unusual polar ring galaxy NGC 4650A was created from data from the new MUSE instrument on ESO?s Very Large Telescope. For each part of this spectacular galaxy this new instrument splits the light up into its component colours ? revealing in detail the chemical and physical properties of each point. This picture is based on a mosaic of three MUSE datasets that were obtained soon after the instrument achieved first light in early 2014. To make this picture selected regions of the spectrum were extracted to form a single colour image. In addition the glowing star formation regions in the unusual disc around the galaxy have been colour coded to represent their velocities ? blue regions are approaching, relative to the centre of the galaxy, and red regions receding due to the rotation of the disc.
    This color composite of the unusual polar ring galaxy NGC 4650A was created from data from the MUSE instrument on ESO's Very Large Telescope in Chile. The MUSE instrument, which went online in March 2014, splits the light from each part of the spectrum. (ESO/MUSE consortium/R. Bacon)

    A new telescope tool for peering into the cosmos and creating three-dimensional views of the universe has passed its first major test at a European observatory in Chile's high desert.

    After a decade of design and development, the tool -- called the Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) -- successfully captured its first images of deep space to create 3D views of the early universe. Installed on the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, MUSE can both study and image the depths of space.

    "It has taken a lot of work by many people over many years," principle investigator Roland Bacon of the Lyon Astrophysics Research Center (CRAL) in France said in a statement. "This seven-ton collection of optics, mechanics, and electronics is now a fantastic time machine for probing the early universe." [See more cosmic photos by MUSE (Gallery)]

    Splitting colors

    MUSE uses 24 spectrographs to split light into its component colors (spectra) to assemble images and spectra of different regions of the sky. Studies of these colors can provide insight to astronomers about the composition and movements of various objects.

    MUSE also creates a 3D image of objects with the light waves it obtains. Known as integral field spectroscopy, the technique allows astronomers to study the properties of different regions of an object at the same time. Applying the technique to galaxies, for instance, can reveal not only their chemical composition but also details about their rotation.

    Once the images have been split into a variety of wavelengths, astronomers can move through different views of the object, like a channel surfer tuning into different television channels.

    Following its installation on Unit Telescope 4 of the Very Large Telescope, MUSE captured test images of distant galaxies, bright stars and other objects in early 2014. The data was released earlier this month at the 3D2014 workshop in Germany.

    In addition to its own technology, MUSE also takes advantage of the advanced adaptive optics on its base telescope. A technology that helps to remove atmospheric distortions from images the telescope -- and thus MUSE -- observes, adaptive optics allows for a significant improvement in image sharpness. The ESO is in the process of converting Unit Telescope 4 into a fully adaptive instrument.

    With successful test images under its belt, MUSE will continue to probe the ages of the universe. Galaxy formation, chemical properties, and motion are prime science goals of the instruments. MUSE will also be able to study the planets and stars in the solar system, as well star-forming regions in the Milky Way and distant galaxies.

    MUSE is the result of ten years of work by the MUSE consortium, which is headed by the CRAL. Partners include the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam and the Institute for Astrophysics in Göttingen in Germany, Switzerland's Institute for Astronomy EETH, the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in France, the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy, and the ESO.

    "A muse is there to inspire. Indeed, MUSE has inspired us for many years and will continue to do so," Bacon said in the MUSE team's blog. "No doubt many astronomers from all over the world will also be charmed by our MUSE."

    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.

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    Saturday, March 22, 2014

    In this file photo taken Aug. 25, 2009, Australian shepherds Baxter, foreground, and Kanga pose for a photo near Elkins, W.Va. (AP Photo/Sharon Theimer)

    With the official start to spring behind us, soon temperatures will climb and outdoor activities will return in full force, bringing forth new threats to household pets.

    However, owners can prepare their pets for the change in season by taking the proper precautions.

    1. Get Back on Track With Heartworm Prevention

    One of the single, largest dangers to the health of household pets is Dirofilaria immitis, or heartworms. Spread through mosquito bites, these parasitic worms can significantly harm the health of any animal infected.

    With the peak of mosquito season coming with warmer weather, owners should be proactive and get their pets back on heartworm prevention medications if they were taken off them during the winter months.

    "Heartworms are carried by mosquitos when temperatures are above a certain degree," Associate Veterinarian at Central Pennsylvania Emergency Treatment Services, or CPVETS, Dave Allgeier said. "Average temperatures have to be above 55 or 60F for an extended period of time before mosquitos can become activated."

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    Even though heartworms may not be as prevalent during the colder months of the year, it is still possible for animals to suffer from the infestation during the wintertime.

    "In the colder air people think that their pets can't get parasites but it is possible, so you should really keep your pets on medication year-round," Doctor of Veterinary Medicine with VETdispatch Lauren Connolly said.

    2. Continue Flea and Tick Prevention

    During the wintertime, fleas are dormant outside, but when it gets warmer outside, they will come back out, according to Allgeier.

    However, these insects can still be seen all year-round, and once they are present, they are exceedingly hard to get rid of, as they infest the animal then can jump to humans.

    "Within five minutes of landing on an animal, they start eating and reproducing," Connolly said.

    Other than the direct effects of flea bites on both animals and people, the parasite can also carry a slew of diseases including the Bubonic Plague.

    Similar to fleas, ticks are a major concern for the spring season as the peak activity of the blood-sucking arachnid approaches.

    "Their breeding season is late April, May and June and that's when we see a lot of tick activity," Allgeier said.

    Ticks can also be vectors for diseases including Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Fever.

    While the peak season for ticks is not until the spring, it's a good idea to keep pets on preventative medications all year-round, according to Connolly.

    3. Watch out for Seasonal Allergies

    With grasses, flowers and trees abloom in the spring season, like people, pets can suffer from seasonal allergies too.

    "Pets manifest allergies through the skin instead of people with their respiratory systems," Connolly said.

    While there is typically no way to prevent seasonal allergies in pets, owners can keep an eye out for excessive scratching or ear troubles in their animal, as these can be classic signs of allergies.

    According to Connolly, if it is suspected that allergies may be causing the animal distress, owners should first rule out fleas and ear infections by taking them to the veterinarian. If allergies are the culprit, antihistamines can be prescribed to help the animal cope.

    4. Ramp up Exercise Slowly to Shed Winter Weight

    Due to a family's change in activity level during the winter months, pets tend to gain weight. The warmer weather of the spring months present multiple opportunities for animals to shed that winter weight.

    "If owners themselves start exercising and include the animal, start slowly and work up to an exercise regiment," Connolly said.

    However, owners should beware of increasing exercise too quickly, as animals can develop injuries from jumping into an exercise regiment too fast.

    5. Consider Getting a Microchip

    With pets potentially spending more time outdoors, spring is the perfect time to contemplate getting a microchip for their pet.

    "This is a way to identify your pet in case they get out of the fence, yard or break out of the leash," Connolly said. "It's a great way to get your pets back to you."

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    March 22, 2014

    In this file photo, a woman jogs during snowy day at North Avenue Beach in Chicago on a frigid day. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)


    Despite the official arrival of spring, temperatures over the next several days will feel more like January across the Midwest and East and will set the stage for snow in some communities.

    The passage of a cold front will pave the way for fresh arctic air to erase the mild start to spring in the Midwest and East.

    Gone is the warmth that sent temperatures into the 40s in Minneapolis, 50s in Chicago and 70s in St. Louis on Friday.

    South of the snow falling in northern New England, Saturday will prove to be the Northeast's last mild day until later next week.



    This cold spell will produce high and low temperatures on par with typical January readings (in terms of averages, not what was recorded during this past frigid January).

    As another way to put the cold in perspective to late March, highs will be roughly 15 to 20 degrees below normal in the Midwest and Northeast and up to 25 degrees below normal in the Upper Midwest.

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    By midweek, Duluth and International, Minn., will experience at least two days of highs in the teens and subzero overnight lows.

    Highs in the 20s will return to Minneapolis and Detroit, while Chicago records at least five days of daytime highs in the 30s. Temperatures will be held to the 30s southward to St. Louis and Cincinnati on Tuesday.



    Monday should be the coldest day of the week--in terms of actual temperatures--across the Northeast with highs in the teens across most of the St. Lawrence Valley, 20s southward to I-84 and 30s in Pittsburgh, New York City, Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

    This latest arctic blast may set the stage for generally nuisance snow to spread across the Midwest Monday through Tuesday, while the potential for a more potent snowstorm unfolding along the East Coast is being monitored for Tuesday and Wednesday.



    If a major snowstorm does indeed take shape along the East Coast, Wednesday could feel even colder than Monday across the Northeast as blustery winds howl on the storm's backside.

    Outdoor spring sports and activities are ramping up at the collegiate and high school levels, and the cold threatens to cause problems for participants and spectators.

    "The cold could force the cancellation or postponement of some scheduled events," stated AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Mike Doll.

    Athletes will be able to put the winter jackets, extra layers of clothing, hats and gloves they will need to keep themselves warm over the next several days back into the closet later this week with another brief surge of warmth expected.

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    This is NASA's image of the day for March 22, 2014. It's a high-resolution close-up of the surface of Mars, and it gets its drama from the deep, dark shadows on the planet's surface. The image was captured January 24 by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The photo shows roughly 1.5 kilometers, including a sand dune field in a southern highlands crater. The sun's angle was low on the horizon, thus just the dune crests are seen fully lit. Winter is on its way to the red planet and the white parts of the image show pockets of frost.

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    March 21, 2014

    In this March 17, 2014 a cow cleans her newborn calf on the O'Connor Ranch near Philip, South Dakota. (AP Photo/Toby Brusseau)

    SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Cattle ranchers discovered tens of thousands of dead animals in their fields last fall after an unexpected blizzard slammed western North and South Dakota, a devastating loss for their livelihood, but they're finding renewed hope as spring calving season contributes to their herds' recovery.

    The intense two-day October storm, which first brought rain and then dumped up to 4 feet of snow in some places, killed calves that were due to be sold and cows that would have birthed this year's calves.

    Chuck O'Connor of Philip, who lost 45 of his 600 cows and 50 of his 600 calves in the blizzard, said his surviving black cows and Charolais calves are healthy and he's not diverging from his standard calving practices. He brought in about 200 replacement females to rebuild and expand his herd.

    "There's nothing you can do differently," the 77-year-old rancher said. "Just because I had a loss doesn't mean I'm going to quit."

    Cattle experts say recovery could take years for ranchers who lost high percentages of their herds. In South Dakota, more than 40,000 cattle, sheep and horses caught in the rain, snow and high winds died of congestive heart failure brought on by stress. North Dakota's losses are believed to be more than 1,000 animals.

    The storm ushered in a frigid winter, but things warmed up for O'Connor in early March with the birth of his first calf. The ranch has since welcomed about 75 new members of the herd, and O'Connor estimates that he'll have reached 500 newborns by early May when his calving season ends.

    Julie Walker, an SDSU Extension beef specialist, said the storm recovery will be the toughest on ranchers who suffered the most, especially those who lost 80 to 90 percent of their herds. Bringing in a replacement heifer could run $2,000 and there typically aren't enough females available on the open market to purchase because of the nation's low cattle numbers, she said.

    "When you're talking that kind of devastation with only 10 percent of your cows left, even keeping all your replacements, you're not going to rebuild at a rate fast enough," said Walker, an associate professor in animal science at South Dakota State University. "Then it becomes a financial issue. Can you go buy from outside?"

    More than 600 ranchers have applied for help from a relief fund set up by the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association and the South Dakota Sheep Growers Association. The fund has received more than $5 million in donations from around the country.

    Also, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will start accepting applications next month for a livestock disaster program that was reauthorized the five-year farm bill. Ranchers will be able to sign up if they incurred losses from 2012 through 2014.

    O'Connor says prompt government assistance is crucial for younger ranchers who are working hard to become the future of the industry.

    "I had some losses but I'm old enough to take it," he said.

    Once the snow melted and the carcasses were hauled off in October, ranchers made sure their survivors didn't have signs of lingering stress.

    Larry Stomprud, who runs an Angus cattle ranch near Mud Butte, said he lost 50 of his 300 mother cows in the storm but the survivors are in good condition.

    "They acted kind of dumpy for a while," Stomprud said of the 10 or so days after the storm. "It had taken its toll, but I don't think we experienced any more sickness this year after the storm than usual."

    Stomprud said he's still catching up from a management and labor standpoint and expects to be about 50 head short come fall sale time.

    "Our intention is to grow our herd back to where it was with our own replacements," he said. "We figure we'll probably be back there in two years."

    Dr. Vicki Cook, a Rapid City veterinarian who assists ranchers during calving season, said she's seeing higher than normal instances of prolapsed uteri, which tend to come from stress or improper nutrition.

    "Everything could be related back that the storm that set them up not to use the nutrients correctly or drug them down so far that they're not back up," she said.

    Cook said a prolapse happens when a cow has a live calf and keeps pushing until the uterus is turned inside out. Cook can push the uterus back in so the cow will rebreed after healing naturally.

    "We saw a lot of them two years ago, more than normal, and that was due to a dry, bad summer in western South Dakota," she said.

    Stomprud said it's been a tough period for ranchers, but he's been overwhelmed by the calls and donations to the relief funds from friends and other caring people. His son received five animals from Heifers for South Dakota, an effort by the nation's ranchers to donate hundreds of bred cattle and heifer calves to their brethren in South Dakota.

    "The storm doesn't come without its blessings," he said. "We have really genuinely found out how generous people are. It kind of renewed our faith in mankind."

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    March 23, 2014

    As in this file photo, the northeast could again be blasted by a major snowstorm. (Matt McClain/ The Washington Post via Getty Images)

    The potential for a spring snowstorm to unfold along the East Coast continues to be monitored for this coming Tuesday and Wednesday with an all-out blizzard possible for eastern New England and Nova Scotia.

    The storm has the potential to spread a swath of snow from the Carolinas to Maine and Atlantic Canada along with possible travel delays and disruptions to daily activities.

    A storm moving from the Gulf of Alaska will travel southeastward into British Columbia, Canada, and the northern Rockies this weekend. During early next week, the storm will turn eastward over the Central states, where it will bring spotty snow, a wintry mix and rain.



    The storm is likely to reorganize farther east before midweek. A new center of the storm is forecast to develop over the northeastern Gulf of Mexico before strengthening along the East Coast.

    The key to whether or not heavy snow falls on the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts, from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Hartford, Conn., and Boston, is how quickly the newer storm center strengthens.

    A rapidly strengthening storm is more likely to turn northward along the Atlantic coast and generate heavy snow, gusty winds and rough seas. A storm that is slow to strengthen will likely take a path farther east over the Atlantic Ocean with less wind and a lower risk for coastal flooding.

    Even if the rapidly strengthening storm scenario unfolds, how close the storm tracks to the coast will determine the coverage area of the significant snowfall.



    At this early stage, there is a chance that the storm will bring snow to portions of the southern Appalachians and areas farther east over upstate South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula on Tuesday.

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    The storm may then either slam or graze New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, New York and New England with windswept snow and strong winds Tuesday night through Wednesday.

    If the storm develops to its full potential and remains close enough to the East Coast, parts of New England could be faced with an all-out blizzard before the storm barrels into Atlantic Canada on Wednesday.

    Where the snow falls at night and first thing in the morning, the odds are greater for an accumulation on roads. However, the warming effect of the March sun during the midday and afternoon could only be negated by a very heavy snowfall rate.

    According to AccuWeather Chief Operating Officer Evan Myers, "Where heavy wet snow falls on areas where trees are budding and blossoming in the South, there is a greater risk of downed tree limbs and power outages with the storm."

    Southern cities that have a chance of snow or a rain/wet snow combination include Charleston and Beckley, W.Va.; Knoxville and Bristol, Tenn.; Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C.; Charlotte, Raleigh and Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Richmond, Charlottesville and Roanoke, Va.

    There are some similarities and differences with this storm setup to the March 24-25, 1983, snowstorm in the Carolinas.

    According to Southern Weather Expert Frank Strait, "The '83 storm formed over the northern Gulf of Mexico, strengthened and unloaded 6-10 inches of snow from central and upstate South Carolina to central and northeastern North Carolina."

    The strengthening storm tapped into cold air and caused rain to change to heavy wet snow in parts of the South. Since the 1983 storm started as rain, the change to heavy snow caught many people by surprise.

    "There is a chance we see a similar outcome in terms of snow compared to 1983," Strait said. "It is the difference in the upper atmosphere that could allow the storm to turn northward along the coast, instead of forcing it eastward and out to sea like the storm from '83."

    Details and updates on the potential East Coast snowstorm for next week will unfold on AccuWeather.com in the coming days.

    Preceding and following the storm next week will be a blast of cold air.

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    Updated March 23, 2014, 1:36 a.m. ET

    A fatal mudslide brought debris down the Stillaguamish River near Oso, Wash., Saturday, March 22, 2014, stopping the flow of the river and destroying several homes. (AP Photo/The Herald, Genna Martin)

    ARLINGTON, Wash. (AP) - About 18 people are still unaccounted for after a massive mudslide in rural northwest Washington state killed at least three people and forced evacuations because of fears of flooding, authorities said Sunday.

    Snohomish County Fire District 21 Chief Travis Hots said at a news briefing that "we suspect that people are out there, but it's far too dangerous to get responders out there on that mudflow."

    Searchers in helicopters will be flying over the area of the square-mile mudslide Sunday to find people who may have been able to get out on their own, as well as look for other signs of life.

    Authorities are also trying to determine how to get responders on the ground safely, Hots said, calling it as "like quicksand."

    Officials described the deadly slide as "a big wall of mud and debris" that blocked about one mile of State Route 530 near the town of Oso, about 55 miles north of Seattle. It was reported about 60 feet deep in some areas.

    Several people - including an infant - were critically injured and as many as 30 houses were destroyed. The slide wiped out one neighborhood, where there were about 28 to 30 homes, authorities said.

    Hots said the number of missing is fluid and could change because some people may have been in cars and on roads when the slide hit just before 11 a.m. Saturday.

    The mud was so thick and deep that searchers turned back late Saturday after attempting to reach an area where voices were heard crying for help.

    Rescuers couldn't hear any signs of life once they got closer, and the decision was made to back out due to safety reasons, Hots said.

    The slide blocked the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River, which prompted an evacuation notice because water was rising rapidly behind the debris. Authorities worried about severe downstream flooding if water suddenly broke through the debris.

    Authorities said Sunday that residents could return home during daylight hours.

    The Snohomish County sheriff's office reported that two people had been killed at the scene. Authorities later said one of the people who had been resecued died at a hospital.

    A 6-month-old boy and an 81-year-old man remained in critical condition Sunday morning at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Hospital spokeswoman Susan Gregg said two men, ages 37 and 58, were in serious condition, while a 25-year-old woman was upgraded to satisfactory condition.

    Five of the injured were taken to Cascade Valley Hospital in Arlington, and one has been treated and released, hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Egger said She didn't know the condition of the others.

    The American Red Cross set up at the hospital, and evacuation shelters were created at Post Middle School in Arlington and the Darrington Community Center.

    One eyewitness told the Daily Herald that he was driving on the roadway and had to quickly brake to avoid the mudslide.

    "I just saw the darkness coming across the road. Everything was gone in three seconds," Paulo Falcao told the newspaper.

    Search-and-rescue help came from around the region, plus the Washington State Patrol and the Army Corps of Engineers. More than 100 were at the scene.

    The National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for Snohomish County through Sunday afternoon.

    People who live in the North Fork's flood plain, from the small communities of Oso to Stanwood, were urged to flee to higher ground.

    Forecasters warned that flooding was also possible north of the slide area. The Weather Service said "catastrophic flooding" was unlikely downstream, but authorities were taking no chances and urged people to leave.

    Washington Gov. Jay Inslee also proclaimed a state of emergency. He planned to visit the scene Sunday.

    Bart Treece, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Transportation, said he didn't know how long the two-lane rural road would be closed. Drivers were advised to find another way to get between Darrington and Arlington, he said.

    Authorities believe the slide was caused by groundwater saturation from recent heavy rainfall. Pennington said the area has a history of unstable land. He said a slide also happened there in 2006.

    Pennington said Saturday's slide happened without warning.

    "This slide came out of nowhere," he said.

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    March 23, 2014

    As in this file photo, residents of a large swath of the country will need to put their snow shovels to use again next week. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    Despite the official arrival of spring, temperatures over the next several days will feel more like January across the Midwest and East and will set the stage for snow in some communities.

    The passage of a cold front will pave the way for fresh arctic air to erase the mild start to spring in the Midwest and East.

    Gone is the warmth that sent temperatures into the 40s in Minneapolis, 50s in Chicago and 70s in St. Louis on Friday.

    South of the snow falling in northern New England, Saturday will prove to be the Northeast's last mild day until later next week.



    This cold spell will produce high and low temperatures on par with typical January readings (in terms of averages, not what was recorded during this past frigid January).

    As another way to put the cold in perspective to late March, highs will be roughly 15 to 20 degrees below normal in the Midwest and Northeast and up to 25 degrees below normal in the Upper Midwest.

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    By midweek, Duluth and International Falls, Minn., will experience at least two days of highs in the teens and subzero overnight lows.

    Highs in the 20s will return to Minneapolis and Detroit, while Chicago records at least four consecutive days of daytime highs in the 30s. Temperatures will be held to the 30s southward to St. Louis and Cincinnati on Tuesday.



    Monday will be a cold day across the Northeast with highs in the teens across most of the St. Lawrence Valley, 20s southward to I-84 and 30s in Pittsburgh, New York City, Philadelphia and Atlantic City.

    This latest arctic blast may set the stage for generally nuisance snow to spread across the Midwest Monday through Tuesday, while the potential for a more potent snowstorm unfolding along the East Coast is being monitored for Tuesday and Wednesday.



    If a major snowstorm does indeed take shape along the East Coast, Wednesday could feel even colder than Monday across the Northeast as blustery winds howl on the storm's backside.

    Outdoor spring sports and activities are ramping up at the collegiate and high school levels, and the cold threatens to cause problems for participants and spectators.

    "The cold could force the cancellation or postponement of some scheduled events," stated AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Mike Doll.

    Athletes will be able to put the winter jackets, extra layers of clothing, hats and gloves they will need to keep themselves warm over the next several days back into the closet later this week with another brief surge of warmth expected.

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    March 22, 2014

    The bottom part of this illustration shows the scale of the universe versus time. Specific events are shown such as the formation of neutral Hydrogen at 380 000 years after the big bang. (BICEP2 Collaboration)

    The discovery that the universe really did expand at many times the speed of light immediately after the Big Bang should bring physicists slightly closer to their ultimate goal -- the long-sought "Theory of Everything."

    On Monday (March 17), researchers announced that they had detected the signature of gravitational waves in the cosmic microwave background, the ancient light that began pervading the universe 380,000 years after the Big Bang.

    If it holds up, the landmark find confirms the theory of inflation, which posits that the cosmos exploded from mere quantum fluctuations into something of macroscopic size just a few tiny fractions of a second after its birth. [How Inflation Gave the Universe the Ultimate Kickstart (Infographic)]

    The discovery also gives researchers a new window onto a realm of extreme physics, potentially aiding their daunting quest to devise a theoretical framework that can explain all aspects of the universe.

    "This will give additional motivation, and also additional constraints, on models of inflation and, perhaps, a Theory of Everything," Harvard theorist Avi Loeb, who was not a member of the study team, told Space.com. "But, of course, it will take time."

    Explaining the Universe

    Physicists rely on two different theories to explain the universe: Einstein's general relativity, which applies to the realm of large objects such as stars and galaxies, and quantum mechanics, which works well at the subatomic level.

    Together, the two frameworks cover the four fundamental forces in the universe; general relativity deals with gravity, while quantum mechanics focuses on the weak force, the strong force and electromagnetism.

    But the two theories are inherently incompatible, breaking down in extreme realms such as those found inside black holes or in the instants just after the Big Bang. So physicists long for a single framework that marries all four fundamental forces and works at all levels and in all situations.

    One of the leading contenders for such a Theory of Everything is string theory, which holds that all of the fundamental particles in the universe are actually vibrating, one-dimensional objects. The new gravitational wave discovery should help refine that idea, Loeb said.

    For example, many string theorists had predicted a "low-energy" version of inflation that did not result in the production of gravitational waves. [The Universe: Big Bang to Now in 10 Easy Steps]

    "Now these models are ruled out, and they [string theorists] have to go back to the drawing board and make new models that are compatible with the data," Loeb said.

    High-Energy Birth

    The energy levels present during inflation were likely on the order of 10^16 billion electron volts, or roughly 1 trillion times greater than those achieved by Earth's most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider. At such energies, the strong, weak and electromagnetic forces probably all blended together, researchers say.

    "This discovery probes new physics, and that's why it's of such fundamental importance, to physics as well as cosmology," Loeb said. "Since we can't really do the experiments in the laboratory, we better rely on the universe to give us some clues about what happens at these energy scales."

    Primordial gravitational waves give scientists a way to peer further back in time than they ever have before — to around just a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

    While the new discovery likely marks a watershed moment in our understanding of the universe, physicists working on a Theory of Everything would love to look back further still — to the earliest of all times, the "Planck epoch," in which all four fundamental forces are thought to have been unified.

    A Long Way to Go

    Scientists are piecing together an increasingly accurate picture of the universe and its history, but there is still much left to be learned.

    For example, Loeb said, researchers have no idea what the substance that propelled inflation -- known as the "inflaton" -- actually is. They also lack basic information about mysterious dark matter and dark energy, which together make up 96 percent of the universe.

    "It looks like we are at a relatively primitive early stage in cosmology, where we find the constituents that are necessary to explain the data that we have about the universe, but we don't really know what they are," Loeb said. "There are some islands of knowledge, but they are surrounded by an ocean of ignorance."

    Still, he said, a Theory of Everything may eventually emerge -- as long as scientists continue making landmark observations that can guide the theorists' thinking.

    "I think it's possible, as long as we have experimental clues like this one, for example," Loeb said, referring to the detection of primordial gravitational waves.

    "If we get enough constraints, then they can guide us in the right direction," he added. "But just thinking about it abstractly, like was done over the past few decades, just from pure thought -- I think there are too many mathematical possibilities for us to figure out which one describes reality."

    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.

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    March 23, 2014

    The graphic above shows the likely storm path. Depending on the exact track of the storm, the blizzard area could expand westward across more of eastern New England. (AccuWeather)

    The start of spring does not mean an end to fierce blizzards unfolding as will be evident across eastern New England and Atlantic Canada at midweek.

    Concern remains high for a rapidly strengthening storm to unleash windswept heavy snow from eastern New England through Atlantic Canada Tuesday night through Wednesday night.

    The rest of the East Coast will escape the worst of the storm, but there is still nuisance-to-disruptive snowfall in store for the spine of the Appalachians and the rest of the Northeast.

    The blizzard could easily halt travel and cause school cancellations and other significant disruptions to daily routines.

    While there is no question that a large swath of Atlantic Canada will be targeted by the fierce blizzard, the coverage area across eastern New England will be determined by how close the storm tracks to the coast.

    The storm may pass far enough offshore to only clip Cape Cod and Down East Maine. However, a track closer to the coast would expand the blizzard threat to more of eastern New England--including the I-95 corridor--and eastern Long Island.

    Those in Norwich, Conn., Providence, R.I., Provincetown, Boston and Worcester, Mass., Portsmouth and Manchester, N.H., Portland and Bangor, Maine, are among the residents in eastern New England who should keep a close eye on this storm and prepare for major disruptions.

    The New York City area should narrowly escape the blizzard, but not disruptive snowfall.

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    Winter Weather-Related Watches, Advisories


    Snow totals within the heart of the blizzard across eastern New England will generally be on the order of 6 to 12 inches with a potential for some communities to top a foot.

    Strong winds will severely blow and drift the snow around, making driving extremely dangerous, if not impossible, and possibly overwhelming road crews. Motorists driving during the height of the storm run the risk of becoming stranded on interstates and highways.

    The strong winds alone, which could gust between 40 and 60 mph, are possible of causing tree damage and power outages. The highest wind gusts will be along the coast.

    The winds will also kick up extremely rough seas across the northwestern Atlantic Ocean. Coastal flooding may ensue along the eastern New England coast.

    The blizzard will not take shape in time to severely impact the rest of the East Coast; however, that does not mean nuisance-to-disruptive snowfall will be avoided.

    The storm is currently in its infant stages and will continue to spread nuisance snow from the northern Rockies to the central Plains through Monday. That snow will spread across the Midwest to the spine of the Appalachians Monday night.



    As the storm reorganizes along the East Coast on Tuesday, some snow will develop across the mid-Atlantic, southern New York and Connecticut. Outside of the mountains, there will likely not be enough cold air in place for more than wet snowflakes across the Carolinas.

    Most of the snow that falls during the daylight hours of Tuesday will have a hard time sticking to roads.

    "Where the snow falls at night and first thing in the morning, the odds are greater for an accumulation on roads. However, the warming effect of the March sun during the midday and afternoon could only be negated by a very heavy snowfall rate," stated AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

    Such heavy snowfall is not expected to develop until the evening and overnight hours of Tuesday as the storm begins to rapidly strengthen.

    Paving the way for the return of snow to the East Coast will be yet another blast of arctic cold.

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    March 22, 2014

    Bob Landon endures a snowy day on Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

    March features huge temperature swings as winter and spring battle it out across the United States.

    It is also a time when people say they get sick due to the drastic temperature changes.

    Doctors, however, say there is no correlation between the weather changes and illnesses.

    "This is a myth that is very commonly heard, however," Dr. Wanda Filer, a member of the American Academy of Family Physicians' board of directors, said. "It is known that seasonal flu viruses circulate faster in cold weather, when the air is cold and dry."

    The most dramatic temperature drops occur in March, AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Dave Dombek said.

    "This is the time for 'March Madness' in college basketball. It's also March madness in weather; March is notorious for huge swings," Dombek said.

    Between March 10 and 12, the daytime high in Abilene, Texas, went from 76 F to 92 F then down to 59 F.

    The wild swing also occurred in Washington, D.C., from March 12 to 14. The high went from 69 F to 36 F and back to 60 F.



    In the winter, people spend more time indoors and in close contact with others, Dr. Charles Cutler, chair of the American College of Physicians' Board of Regents and a practicing internist, said.

    "Being in close proximity to another person makes it more likely that the germ will spread from person to person," Cutler said.

    People may be more aware of colds this time of year because they have plans to get out and enjoy nice weather, which are delayed when they are not feeling well, said Filer, Pennsylvania's first physician general.

    "Cold and flu season usually lasts until at least mid-March almost every year," Filer said. "Most adults will get two to three colds in an average year and symptoms can easily last 10 or more days."

    Pollen counts start to rise this time of year, but allergies are not a factor with the illnesses, Cutler said.

    "Most colds are viral. They spread from one person to another through the air (by coughing into the air) or on one's hands/fingers," he said.

    "Many people, however, can suffer sinus symptoms with changes in barometric pressure and may interpret this as a cold or allergies, since congestion and headaches may result. When the temperature changes, they may associate it incorrectly with their symptoms," Filer said.

    With colds being a year-round reality, hand washing is the most important thing a person can do to protect others and themselves.

    "If soap and water is not used, then the antiseptic hand gels are needed. Also, never share food utensils, glassware, etc.," Cutler said. "Eating or drinking from someone else's plate is high risk for spreading cold germs."

    Avoiding exposure to illnesses is key.

    "Avoid others who are ill, especially in the first few days of their illness when they are communicable, and stay home if you are sick and could put others at risk (especially if you have any fever)," Filer said.

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