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    Friday, April 4, 2014
    Cardinals Pirates Baseball
    Storm clouds give way and the grounds crew at PNC Park works to prepare the field for a rain-delayed baseball game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and the St. Louis Cardinals in Pittsburgh on Friday, April 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

    A round of drenching rain on soggy ground early next week could cause flooding problems in parts of the Midwest and East.

    A drenching rainstorm is forecast to sweep northeastward from the Gulf of Mexico spanning Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

    Enough rain can fall to push flood waters higher on area streams and rivers in parts of the Midwest, could cause flash flooding in the South and may bring the first significant flood threat of the season in parts of the Northeast.

    In the wake of heavy rainfall from this week, some streams and rivers will be hovering at or above flood stage from Missouri to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan into this weekend.

    National Weather Service hydrologists are expecting minor to moderate flooding to occur in parts of the Midwest this weekend, in absence of any additional rain. Rivers that bear watching in the Midwest include the Maumee, White and Wabash.


    Orange and red areas indicate locations along various rivers where minor to moderate flooding, respectively is forecast during this weekend.

    Melting snow and/or rainfall has also pushed some streams to bank full in parts of the Northeast.

    The storm Sunday to Monday of next week has the potential to unleash 1 to 3 inches of rain from the central Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and New England as it moves along.

    While the new storm is forecast to move along at a swift enough pace to avoid widespread flooding, it may not move fast enough to avoid flooding where streams are already high or where snow melts quickly along with the rain.

    RELATED:
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    AccuWeather Spring Flooding Outlook
    Spring 2014 Severe Weather Outlook

    Portions of northern upstate New York and northern New England had at least 20 inches of snow on the ground at the start of the day Friday, April 4, 2014. The snow contained as much as 6 inches of water in some areas.

    In addition to the river and stream flooding potential, downpours and thunderstorms can cause another round of delays, especially in parts of the South and mid-Atlantic. The combination of rain, fog and low cloud ceilings could affect the timeliness of flights.

    Lingering winter conditions during March have had a negative impact on sporting events, travel and commerce.

    The frequent rounds of wet weather early next week and beyond may put another damper on outdoor activities ranging from baseball to walking the dog.

    Rain could impact the Philadelphia Phillies home opener Monday evening as well as the first round of practice at Augusta National for the 2014 Masters.

    Rain may hold off for other baseball games in New York and Boston on Monday. Rain delays are possible in St. Louis and Cleveland.

    As the storm pulls warm, humid air northward from the Gulf of Mexico, a couple of rounds of severe weather may affect parts of the South on Sunday and Monday.

    In the wake of the steady, heavy rain early next week, a pool of cool air is forecast to be accompanied by showers in parts of the South, Midwest and Northeast Tuesday and Wednesday of next week.

    Meanwhile, the rounds of rain with above-freezing temperatures at night will continue to allow lawns to green up and more buds and blossoms to push out farther north.

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    Lightning Hits the Grand Canyon

     

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    Saturday, April 5, 2014

    The dry bed of the Stevens Creek Reservoir is seen on Thursday, March 13, 2014, in Cupertino, California. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

    The highest temperatures of the spring thus far are expected next week across the West, with some locations experiencing their first day of the year above 90 degrees.

    Unfortunately, this will likely lead to worsening drought conditions across California, where some reservoirs are already at near record-low levels.

    The current drought is three years in the making and the disappointing snow season in the Sierra Range did no favors.

    "Despite the storms of the past month, the latest snow survey shows dismal water locked up in the Sierra snowpack. On average across the state, the snow water equivalent is only 33 percent of average," said AccuWeather.com Western U.S. weather expert Ken Clark.

    Temperatures will be 10-20 degrees above average during the early and middle parts of next week across the West.

    Phoenix, Ariz., has yet to reach 90 degrees this year, but highs there will be well above 90 during the middle part of next week.

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    Ken Clark's Western U.S. Weather Blog

    Parts of Southern California on north into the San Joaquin Valley will likely climb into the 90s early next week.

    The warmth will extend northward into the Northwest and help accelerate the snow melt. While this will cause stream and river levels to rise, significant flooding is not expected.

    Places like Missoula, Mont., and Boise, Idaho, will also experience their warmest day of the year thus far.

    Temperatures will begin to cool a bit during the latter part of the week, as the upper-level ridge of high pressure that will be over the West early next week breaks down.

    An area of low pressure is expected to approach Southern California late in the week. However, moisture with this system will be limited and is not expected to bring meaningful rain, if it does at all.

    An ease in the heat will be welcome for those attending the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival that gets underway next weekend in Indio, Calif.

    After highs in the 90s Monday through Thursday, temperatures will be in the middle 80s on Friday and upper 70s on Saturday. Temperatures at night will dip into the 50s.

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

     

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    Saturday, April 5, 2014

    In this file photo, heavy rains have flooded a village in in the Philippines. Similar disasters could be on their way due to new storm. (ERWIN MASCARINAS/AFP/Getty Images)

    Residents of the Philippines are being put on alert for future flood threats from Tropical Storm Peipah.

    AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Eric Wanenchak is especially concerned for impacts across the southern Philippines given how unusually far south in the western Pacific Ocean Peipah developed.

    "[The southern Philippines] do not get hit by tropical systems very often," stated Wanenchak. The majority of tropical storms and typhoons form too far to the north to take aim at these islands.

    Wanenchak expects the track of Peipah, through the point of landfall, to mirror Super Typhoon Bopha from late 2012 closely. Bopha slammed into the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

    The good news is that a repeat of Bopha's super typhoon status is not expected. However, the warm waters of the Pacific and the absence of disruptive wind shear will allow for some additional strengthening over the next several days.

    The storm will likely further intensity into a stronger tropical storm. It is not out of the question that Peipah reaches minimal typhoon strength, becoming the first typhoon of the year to threaten the Philippines.

    RELATED:
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    Philippines Weather Center
    El Nino May Tame Atlantic Hurricanes

    Peipah is likely to reach the Philippine island of Mindanao by midweek with flooding rain and damaging winds.

    There is concern that the tropical storm will then stall in the vicinity of Mindanao or the Visayas islands. Flooding is sure to result if this occurs as more torrential rain will be unleashed. Mudslides may ensue in the higher terrain.

    AccuWeather.com meteorologists are also monitoring the possibility of Peipah stalling or significant slowing its forward progress before reaching the Philippines. That would delay the arrival of the heavy rain and flood threat in the Philippines until later in the week.


    RELATED ON SKYE: See Typhoon Usagi Wreaking Havoc

     

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    Saturday, April 5, 2014

    In this photo, David Wise en route to winning a third straight gold medal during the men's ski halfpipe final at the X Games Aspen at Buttermilk on Friday, January 24, 2014. (Photo by Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

    ASPEN, Colo. (AP) - Aspen Mountain is extending its season after getting around 300 inches of snow.

    The mountain was set to close April 20 but will stay open for weekend skiing and riding for the following two weekends.

    Aspen Skiing Co. vice president Rich Burkley says conditions are "just too good not to go skiing."

    Breckenridge is also extending its season for another week and will remain open through April 27 because of its deep snowpack.

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    Saturday, April 5, 2014

    Jupiter will shine near the moon the night of Sunday, April 6, 2014. This sky map shows the location of Jupiter and the moon in the southwestern sky at 11 p.m. local time, as viewed from mid-northern latitudes. (Starry Night Software)

    Weather permitting, when you step outside Sunday evening (April 6) you have a chance to see a rendezvous of two of the brightest objects in the night sky: the moon and Jupiter.

    The eye-catching celestial duo will be visible in the southwest sky about 45 minutes after sunset, roughly two-thirds up from the horizon to the point directly overhead (called the zenith). The moon, which will be mere hours from reaching first-quarter phase -- 47-percent illuminated by the sun -- will be situated below and to the right of Jupiter, a distance of roughly 5 degrees. To gauge how wide 5 degrees is, your clenched fist held at arm's length measures about 10 degrees, so Jupiter and the moon will appear roughly "half a fist" apart.

    Even without the moon, Jupiter alone readily attracts attention. The planet is the brightest "star" for the time it's above the horizon (it currently sets at around 2:15 a.m. your local time), and first comes into view high in the southwest sky during the early stages of twilight. Jupiter, at about magnitude negative 2.2, outshines everything in the night sky except Venus and the moon. [Best Night Sky Events of April 2014: Stargazing Guide.

    As twilight fades, Jupiter is soon joined by the bright winter stars in this part of the sky -- stars that are beginning to seem out of season as spring evenings warm up.

    How soon after Jupiter appears can you spot these stars? Stretch your hand wide, hold it at arm's length and look past it. One hand span from thumb tip to little-finger tip is about 20 degrees. Using this measure, look about 30 degrees to Jupiter's right for the yellowish star Capella, 21 degrees to its left for yellow-white star Procyon and 40 degrees to its lower left for bluish Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Orion is roughly 20 degrees below Jupiter. The orange star Aldebaran lies about 35 degrees below and to the right. Yellowish Pollux and white Castor are 12 degrees above the planet.

    Examine the stars for their colors. Do they seem more pronounced against a twilight sky than in darkness?

    In a telescope, Jupiter is a prime attraction, and best observed during early evening, when it's still high in the sky. It appears only three-fourths as big as it did when it stood exactly opposite of the sun in early January, but don't let that stop you from checking it out. The quirks of atmospheric seeing, which can change from minute to minute, often determine what a telescope will show on Jupiter more than the planet's apparent size. And its four bright moons are always performing.

    If you live in the western United States or western Canada, however, you'll likely see only three satellites. That's because at 7:51 p.m. PDT (10:51 p.m. EDT) -- in bright twilight -- Io will cross in front of Jupiter, a motion known as a transit.

    On Sunday, while you enjoy the sight of Jupiter near the moon, keep in mind that with only slight optical aid, up to four more satellites can be seen. They seem like small stars, though two of them are really larger than Earth's moon, and it is indeed possible to watch them change their positions relative to each other from hour to hour and night to night.

    Editor's note: If you take an amazing skywatching photo of the moon and Jupiter or any other night-sky view, and you'd like to share it for a possible story or image gallery, please contact 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 us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 Breathtaking Photos of Comets

     

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    Saturday, April 5, 2014

    The storm that will affect the south and northeast can be seen in this satellite image gathering strength over Texas. (NOAA)

    Violent thunderstorms and even some tornadoes threaten to close out the weekend across the Deep South.

    Extreme southeastern Texas, southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi will become the target of the severe weather Sunday afternoon and evening.

    The threat zone will expand to southern Alabama and the far western Florida Panhandle Sunday night.

    Within this zone lies Beaumont, Texas; Lake Charles, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, La., McComb and Biloxi, Miss., Mobile, Ala., and Pensacola, Fla.

    The strongest thunderstorms will be capable of producing damaging winds and flooding downpours. Drenching rain and thunderstorms earlier this weekend will make some areas more susceptible to flash flooding later Sunday.




    There is also concern for some tornadoes to touch down and potentially cause destruction.

    With the tornado danger encompassing the nighttime hours, residents are urged to plan ahead to make sure weather radios and alarms on other communication devices are turned on so that vital warnings are not missed.

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    Sunday's severe weather danger comes despite a cool Saturday across the Deep South.

    Following occasional rain and thunderstorms through Sunday morning, the door will open for warmer and more humid air to surge northward and set the stage for the severe thunderstorms.

    Triggering the severe weather will be the same storm system set to spread soaking rain across the rest of the East and parts of the Midwest Sunday through Tuesday.



    Monday through Monday evening, more of northern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina will become the target of possible severe thunderstorms.

    This includes Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Fla., Atlanta, Albany and Savannah, Ga.; and Columbia and Charleston, S.C.

    The threat zone also encompasses Augusta National, Ga., where practice rounds for the 2014 Masters start on Monday.

    While damaging winds will be the primary threat on Monday, a couple of isolated tornadoes may still occur.

    Any lingering gusty and/or drenching thunderstorm on Tuesday will be confined to central and southern Florida as cooler air presses across the rest of the East.

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    Saturday, April 5, 2014

    A new volcanic island, called Nishino-shima, emerged from the ocean on Nov. 20, 2013. (Japanese Coast Guard)

    As a sea-floor volcano continues to erupt in a remote part of the Pacific Ocean, a newborn island has swallowed its neighbor whole, images from space show.

    In November 2013, a baby volcanic island rose from the sea out of a volcanic blast in the Bonin Islands about 620 miles south of Tokyo, on the western edge of the Pacific "Ring of Fire," a hotbed of seismic activity. Named Niijima, the newcomer boiled the sea and spewed steam, ash and lava fragments into the air.

    Some thought the small black cone -- which sprouted just offshore of a larger volcanic island called Nishino-shima -- might slip back into the sea, vanishing under pounding waves. But Niijima kept growing. [Stunning Pictures: Japan's New Volcanic Island]

    Now a satellite image taken March 30, 2014, by the Operational Land Imager on Landsat 8 shows that Niijima has actually overtaken Nishino-shima.


    Landsat 8 snapped this image of Niijima and Nishino-shima, now one island, on March 30, 2014.
    (NASA Earth Observatory)

    Together, the conjoined islands measure about 3,280 feet across, officials with NASA's Earth Observatory said. The landmass has also tripled in height since December, now rising more than 196 feet above sea level.

    The smashed-together islands mark the top of a giant submarine volcano that had not erupted since a major outpouring in 1973 to 1974, according to the Japanese Coast Guard. Lava flows are now most active in the southern portion of the new landmass, and plumes of ash continue to rise, with tiny particles seeding a stream of white cloud puffs overhead.

    "The intermittent, pulsing shape of the cloud stream might be a reflection of the volcanic eruption itself," officials with NASA's Earth Observatory wrote. "Strombolian explosions are essentially bubbles of lava and gas rising from Earth's interior in pulses. Underwater, sediment appears to be stirred up in a green plume that stretches eastward from the island."

    Follow Megan Gannon on Twitter and Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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

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    Saturday, April 6, 2014

    As in this file photo of cars driving through flood waters in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, next week could see some high waters in the south. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

    The first full week of April will start off on a wet note over the East and Midwest, raising flooding concerns across the regions.

    A soaking rain is forecast to spread northward across the East as a low pressure system taps into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico with the heaviest rain focusing on the Southeast.

    Although rainfall totals are not expected to be quite as high farther north, it can still be enough to cause flooding in streams and rivers from Illinois to Ohio following last week's heavy rain.

    Despite the heaviest rain being confined to the Southeast, other factors will contribute to flooding farther north across northern New England.

    "Portions of northern upstate New York and northern New England had at least 20 inches of snow on the ground at the start of the day Saturday, April 5, 2014." said AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

    "The snow contained as much as 6 inches of water in some areas." Sosnowski said.

    The combination of the rainfall and the above-freezing temperatures will unlock water being held in the snowpack, helping to fill rivers from upstate New York through central Maine.

    Flooding will not be the only threat for folks in the Southeast as some heavy thunderstorms can produce gusty winds from Louisiana to the Carolinas.

    Some tornadoes are also possible from southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi as the storms initiate Sunday afternoon and Sunday evening before tracking eastward through Monday.

    Impacts from this system will not only be felt by travelers, but also those headed to sporting events being held across the East.

    Both rain and gusty thunderstorms are in the forecast for the first day of the practice rounds for the Masters, being held in Augusta, Ga.

    Folks headed to the ballpark should also be prepared for the rainy weather. This includes folks in Philadelphia headed to the Phillies home opener on Monday afternoon, just as the rain arrives in the mid-Atlantic.

    RELATED:
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    Current AccuWeather Snow Map

    One of the benefits that this rain will bring is the water that plants use when preparation for blooming in the spring.

    This includes the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.

    Cooler air is forecast to move over much of the East and the Midwest for midweek, followed by a push of mild air from the Plains to close out the week.

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    Sunday, April 6, 2012
    converted PNM file
    Saturn's moon Enceladus, covered in snow and ice, resembles a perfectly packed snowball in this image from NASA's Cassini mission released on Dec. 23, 2013. This view was taken by Cassini on March 10, 2012. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

    Astronomers are hoping that the existence of a subsurface ocean on Saturn's icy moon Enceladus will build momentum for life-hunting missions to the outer solar system.

    Researchers announced their discovery of the deep watery ocean on Enceladus on Thursday (April 3) in the journal Science, confirming suspicions held by many scientists since 2005, when NASA's Cassini spacecraft spied geysers of ice and water vapor erupting from Enceladus' south pole.

    The discovery vaults Enceladus into the top tier of life-hosting candidates along with Europa, an ice-sheathed moon of Jupiter that also hosts a subterranean ocean. Both frigid satellites bear much closer investigation, researchers say. [6 Most Likely Places for Alien Life in the Solar System].

    "I don't know which of the two is going to be more likely to have life. It might be both; it could be neither," study co-author Jonathan Lunine of Cornell University told reporters yesterday (April 2). "I think what this discovery tells us is that we just need to be more aggressive in getting the next generation of spacecraft both to Europa and to the Saturn system once the Cassini mission is over."

    Cassini arrived in orbit around Saturn in 2004 and is currently scheduled to go out in a blaze of glory in September 2017, when it will dive headlong into the giant planet's thick atmosphere.

    Enceladus' geysers blast material hundreds of miles into space, offering a way to sample the moon's subsurface ocean from afar. (Researchers think the ocean is feeding the geysers, though they can't be sure of this at the moment.)

    Cassini has already done some of this work with its mass spectrometer, detecting salts and organic compounds -- the carbon-based building blocks of life as we know it -- in Enceladus's plumes during flybys of the moon.

    But Cassini's mass spectrometer can detect only relatively light organics. A follow-up mission to Enceladus should sport a more advanced and more sensitive version of this instrument that could spot a wider range of organics, Lunine said.

    "You could actually do this by making flybys of Enceladus, the way that Cassini does now," he said. "I think you could learn quite a bit about the organic inventory in the plume by flying this device."

    Interestingly, astronomers announced in December that they had discovered plumes of water vapor erupting from Europa's south polar region as well. So that moon's ocean could be sampled during flybys, too-- perhaps by a mission called the Europa Clipper.

    NASA is developing the Europa Clipper as a concept mission at the moment. Recent estimates have pegged the mission's cost at around $2 billion. That's pretty steep in these tough economic times, so a scaled-down version might have the best chance of getting it off the ground, NASA officials have said.

    Enceladus and Europa aren't the only icy moons that harbor subsurface oceans; Jupiter's enormous moon Ganymede also has one, for example. But Ganymede's appears to be sandwiched between layers of ice, while the seas of Enceladus and Europa are in contact with rocky seafloors, making possible all sorts of interesting chemical reactions, researchers say.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    A true sign of a very much anticipated spring is here. On April 4, National Snow and Ice Data Center reps announced that the Arctic sea ice melt is underway -- it reached its winter maximum on March 21, 2014.

    The maximum Arctic sea ice coverage was 5.76 million square miles this year. It was the fifth-lowest freeze since records began being kept in 1979.

    On the other pole of the planet, Southern Hemisphere sea ice reached its yearly low point on February 23, 2014. This year's summer minimum extent was 1.37 million square miles, which was the fourth largest in the satellite record.

    Global warming is causing varying impacts on sea ice in the Arctic and the Antarctic. The Arctic has a smaller ice cover in most all areas and all seasons, and large losses in summer.

    Antarctic sea ice sizes vary more. Over the Southern Ocean as a whole, sea ice extent has increased by a small amount on an annual basis, with decreases in some basins and increases in others and changes in some seasons but not others.

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    Sunday, April 6, 2014
    during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.
    Driver Parker Kligerman qualifies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 5, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Brian Lawdermilk/NASCAR via Getty Images)

    Before significantly warm air surges into Dallas, rain threatens to impact NASCAR's Sprint Cup Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.

    There is a high possibility that NASCAR officials will be forced to delay the Duck Commander 500 as rain and a couple of thunderstorms will continue to wet the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex through Sunday afternoon.

    While lightning remains a danger, the threat of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes lies to the east.

    Residents and those in the area for the NASCAR race or the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship will be disappointed to hear that a high of near 75F is not expected, which is typical for early April.



    Instead, the rain and accompanying clouds will hold temperatures on Sunday to the 50s.

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    The rain will taper to spottier showers for Sunday evening with drier weather to start Monday. As some sunshine returns, temperatures on Monday will rebound to the upper 60s. A stray shower or thunderstorm will also return in the afternoon.

    Further warming will occur on Tuesday underneath a partly sunny sky. A high in the lower 70s is anticipated with a gusty breeze creating lower AccuWeather.com RealFeel(R) temperatures.



    Wednesday is when a surge of warmth will pour across the Metroplex and send temperatures soaring into the 80s. The warm air will hang on through at least Thursday.

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    Sunday, April 6, 2014

    This week will see extreme swings between clouds and sun, cold temps and warm ones. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

    A roller coaster ride is the best way to describe the trend temperatures will be on this week across the Midwest and Northeast.

    This week will feature the typical up-and-down temperature swings that are common in spring as the transition from cold to warm weather continues.

    A storm tracking northeastward from the Gulf Coast with its soaking rain will erase the mild weather closing out this weekend.

    New England will be the exception with the rain not expected to arrive until Monday night.



    Brisk winds in the wake of the storm will usher fresh cool air across the Midwest on Tuesday. The Northeast's I-95 corridor will actually experience a rebound in temperatures this day before the cool winds blow on Wednesday.

    The latter part of the week will feature warm air surging from the Plains to both the Midwest and Northeast. The warmth will first cause Downtown Los Angeles to challenge a record high.

    RELATED:
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    Highs in the 60s will be common across the Great Lakes and Northeast with 70-degree warmth returning to the Ohio Valley and parts of the mid-Atlantic.

    For many, the warmth will cause temperatures to top the previous chilly day's high by 10 to 20 degrees.



    Thursday or Friday will either rival or could become the warmest day so far this year in the Northeast. This includes in Albany, N.Y., Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

    While many will welcome the mild days with open arms after the unusually cold winter, rising temperatures could lead to some problems.



    Runoff from melting snow across the upper Great Lakes and northern New England may overwhelm streams and rivers. That is especially true where the ground is saturated or rivers are already running high from recent rain (or from the rain that will fall with the early week storm).

    Lawns will also green up and more buds and blossoms will come out this week, which will be bad news for allergy sufferers.

    The late week warmth does not mean an end to additional blasts of chilly air through the rest of April.

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    Sunday, April 6, 2014

    A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carrying the Air Force's DMSP-19 military weather satellite lifts off from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., on April 3, 2014. (United Launch Alliance)

    A new global weather observatory for the U.S. armed forces was lofted into orbit aboard its Atlas 5 booster rocket from California on Thursday to provide tactical forecasts to military operations.

    Powering away from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:46 a.m. local (10:46 a.m. EDT; 1446 GMT), the liftoff was timed to deliver the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Flight 19 spacecraft into its precise orbit 530 miles high.

    "Weather guides some of the most important decisions in the armed forces, from flight patterns to troop movements. Through DMSP, we're helping to provide safer, successful missions," said Sue Stretch, DMSP program director at Lockheed Martin. [See photos of the DMSP-19 weather satellite launch]

    "This new asset will carry on the mission for military users and civilians who depend on it."

    About 18 minutes into flight, the 2,700-pound satellite separated from the Centaur upper stage, marking the 115th successful Atlas launch in a row over the past two decades.

    "DMSP Flight 19 will provide data to identify, locate and determine the intensity severe weather such as thunderstorms, hurricanes and typhoons, and is used to form three-dimensional cloud analyses, which form the basis for computer forecast models needed to meet unique DOD requirements," said Col. Scott Larrimore, Air Force weather program director.

    "DMSP Flight 19 continues the legacy of over 50 years of providing meteorological data to the armed forces worldwide."

    The $518 million observatory will be checked out and ready for service in about two months, and joins a half-dozen older DMSPs in orbit divided into two orbital groupings.

    "F19 is placed into an orbit compromised between the two planes we currently have. We are changing our operational concept from this two-plane constellation to this single-plane constellation. We can do that because we can get data to the Air Force Weather Agency faster than before," Larrimore said.

    The craft carries a sophisticated suite of weather instruments to observe virtually the entire planet twice daily. Data from DMSP satellites is used to create global weather forecasts that military commanders and strategic planners rely upon.

    The satellites can track weather systems by visible and infrared cloud-cover imagery, day and night, plus monitor ice and snow coverage, pollution and fires.

    The primary sensor, one of seven aboard, is the Operational Linescan Sensor, which collects visible and infrared cloud pictures in 1,800-mile swaths covering the globe. The microwave sounder provides storm intensity measurements.

    "Weather is the vital element of well-planned missions for each branch of service. High winds limit aircraft, storms threaten ships and low visibility can alter troop movements. The data that DMSP provides is essential to mission success," said Stretch.

    What comes later is not quite clear. DMSP F20 remains on the ground, but officials may elect to keep it there in favor of moving on to the next-generation of a smaller spacecraft.

    "We certainly hope they launch it. It's built, paid for, it's a capable satellite, and we know it works, so we think that's the smart decision for the Air Force," said Mark Valerio, vice president of Lockheed Martin's military space division.

    "You have to find a balance because if you launch too early you might waste the on-orbit life, and if you wait too long then you run into the cost of storing it on the ground."

    "What happens after that is under review, but we're confident we're in a good place," said Gen. William Shelton, commander of Space Command.

    "Following the analysis of alternatives, we have gone on with a weather system follow-on program, which will end up being a small satellite which has unique DoD requirements satisfied. We will count on NOAA, international partners, and commercial [providers] to provide the rest of the data that's needed to round out the picture."

    Next for the Atlas program, attention returns to the East Coast and another try at launching the NROL-67 mission as early as April 10. That flight and a SpaceX resupply mission to the International Space Station planned for late March both were delayed due to a Range radar outage.

    The next space launch from Vandenberg will be the return of the Delta 2 rocket on July 1 with NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2. Another Atlas 5 will carry the commercial Earth-imaging spacecraft into orbit in August.

    You can follow Spaceflight Now on Twitter @SpaceflightNow and on Facebook. Copyright 2013 SpaceflightNow.com, all rights reserved.

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

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    Monday, April 7, 2014

    Sean Bean (Ned Stark) and Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) accept the Best TV Show award on behalf of the show at the 2011 Scream Awards in front of a mock-up of the Iron Throne. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

    As the fourth season of "Game of Thrones" kicked off Sunday night, many questions linger in the minds of fans, from wondering who will win the war for the Iron Throne, to which characters will survive this season, to when the Starks' foreboding warning that "winter is coming" will prove true.

    Westeros has a complex and varied climate, spanning the dry, hot deserts of Dorne in the south, to the icy wall north of Winterfell. Seasons do not run in short or predictable schedules; summers last for years with the threat of winter's return looming ahead in the future.

    To capture the varied landscape and scenery presented in the "Song of Ice and Fire" books, production of the "Game of Thrones" television show is filmed in different countries, about 100 different locations in a season. Snowy scenes that take place at the Wall are filmed in Iceland. Malta and Croatia have been used for King's Landing, and much of Westeros was represented by Northern Ireland.

    The weather plays such a heavy hand in the scenery of the stories, and so the production crews often travel to get the environments and weather conditions that will be the most cooperative for their story telling.

    "Basically, the saying on set is, the worse the weather is, the better it's going to look on screen," said David Benioff and Dan Weiss, executive producers and writers of the show.

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    While inclement weather may make for better scenes on film, capturing those scenes can provide an extra challenge.

    According to Sullivan Entertainment, "Filming outside is challenging at the best of times but dealing with bad weather definitely complicates things even further."

    They said that the biggest issue the weather can present when filming is around continuity. If the weather at the start of the scene is rainy, but then the rain doesn't persist by the time shooting concludes, it creates problems for the scene's consistency.

    Tricks are used to help manipulate the way scenes are shot outside when the weather is not cooperating, such as adjusting different lighting angles or setting up tarps and canopies to minimize the impact of rain when a clear-day shot is needed.

    Snowy and rainy weather also provides an extra challenge to crews trying to protect their equipment. Camera crews may need to use water-resistant, well-ventilated, covers or set up equipment in an inside location to film what is taking place outside.

    With more ice and snow on tap for the fourth season as the threat of the White Walkers grows, fans of the show can expect some extreme weather conditions to set the scene this year.

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    Monday, April 7, 2014
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    A roller coaster ride is the best way to describe the trend temperatures will be on this week across the Midwest and Northeast.

    This week will feature the typical up-and-down temperature swings that are common in spring as the transition from cold to warm weather continues.

    A storm tracking northeastward from the Gulf Coast with its soaking rain will erase the mild weather closing out this weekend.

    New England will be the exception with the rain not expected to arrive until Monday night.

    Brisk winds in the wake of the storm will usher fresh cool air across the Midwest on Tuesday. The Northeast's I-95 corridor will actually experience a rebound in temperatures this day before the cool winds blow on Wednesday.

    The latter part of the week will feature warm air surging from the Plains to both the Midwest and Northeast. The warmth will first cause Downtown Los Angeles to challenge a record high.

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    Highs in the 60s will be common across the Great Lakes and Northeast with 70-degree warmth returning to the Ohio Valley and parts of the mid-Atlantic.

    For many, the warmth will cause temperatures to top the previous chilly day's high by 10 to 20 degrees.

    Thursday or Friday will either rival or could become the warmest day so far this year in the Northeast. This includes in Albany, N.Y., Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

    While many will welcome the mild days with open arms after the unusually cold winter, rising temperatures could lead to some problems.

    Runoff from melting snow across the upper Great Lakes and northern New England may overwhelm streams and rivers. That is especially true where the ground is saturated or rivers are already running high from recent rain (or from the rain that will fall with the early week storm).

    Lawns will also green up and more buds and blossoms will come out this week, which will be bad news for allergy sufferers.

    The late week warmth does not mean an end to additional blasts of chilly air through the rest of April.


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    Monday, April 7, 2014
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    It's shaping up to be a wet and stormy start to the week in the Southeast as severe thunderstorms take aim at the region.

    The same system responsible for rounds of rain and gusty storms on Sunday in the Deep South will be the driving force behind these storms, focusing from Alabama to the Carolinas.

    Impacts from these storms may be felt all across the country as the nation's largest airport hub, located in Atlanta, lies in the path of these storms.

    This could result in flight delays and cancellations to mount as the storms produce poor flight conditions around the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for both inbound and outbound flights.

    The storms will start the day over Alabama and the Florida Panhandle and expand eastward towards the Atlantic coast through Monday evening.

    This area includes the cities of Montgomery, Ala.; Atlanta and Augusta, Ga.; Tallahassee and Jacksonville, Fla.; Charleston and Columbia, S.C.; and Charlotte, Fayetteville and Raleigh, N.C.

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    Gusty winds and blinding downpours appear to be the main threats from these thunderstorms with some stronger storms capable of spinning up a few brief tornadoes.

    Heavier downpours associated with these storms may also result in flash flooding.

    Folks headed to Augusta, Ga., for the practice rounds for the 2014 Masters should prepare for this weather and know where to seek shelter if one of these storms moves through.

    Not only will the threat of severe weather be found over the Southeast, but also portions of the Ohio Valley.

    These storms are not forecast to become as violent as those farther south, but can still produce damaging wind and hail.

    The threat of severe weather is expected to diminish through Monday night, but the system will continue to delver rain to portions of the East through Tuesday.

    This will continue the threat for flooding, particularly the parts of New England where snowmelt will contribute to flooding.


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    Monday, April 7, 2014
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    The first full week of April will start off on a wet note over the East and Midwest, raising flooding concerns across the regions.

    A soaking rain is forecast to spread northward across the East as a low pressure system taps into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico with the heaviest rain focusing on the Southeast.

    Although rainfall totals are not expected to be quite as high farther north, it can still be enough to cause flooding in streams and rivers from Illinois to Ohio following last week's heavy rain.

    Rainfall totals across the I-95 corridor of the Northeast will be closer to an inch than two inches.



    Despite the heaviest rain being confined to the Southeast, other factors will contribute to flooding farther north across northern New England.

    "Portions of northern upstate New York and northern New England had at least 20 inches of snow on the ground at the start of the day Saturday, April 5, 2014." said AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

    "The snow contained as much as 6 inches of water in some areas," Sosnowski said.

    The combination of the rainfall and the above-freezing temperatures will unlock water being held in the snowpack, helping to fill rivers from upstate New York through central Maine.

    Flooding will not be the only threat for folks in the Southeast as some severe thunderstorms can produce damaging winds from Louisiana to the Carolinas. Some tornadoes are also a threat along the Gulf Coast states.



    Impacts from this system will not only be felt by travelers, but also those headed to sporting events being held across the East.

    Both rain and gusty thunderstorms are in the forecast for the first day of the practice rounds for the Masters, being held in Augusta, Ga.

    Folks headed to the ballpark should also be prepared for the rainy weather. The Philadelphia Phillies have already postponed their home opener from Monday to Tuesday due to the rain.

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    One of the benefits that this rain will bring is the water that plants use when preparation for blooming in the spring.

    This includes the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.



    Cooler air is forecast to move over much of the East and the Midwest for midweek, followed by a push of mild air from the Plains to close out the week.

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    Monday, April 7, 2014

    The cluster, catalogued as ACT-CL J0102-4915, contains several hundred galaxies swarming around under a collective gravitational pull. [Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Jee (University of California, Davis)]

    The most massive galaxy cluster ever observed in the early universe is quite a bit bigger than astronomers had thought.

    New measurements by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope suggest that the cluster nicknamed "El Gordo" (Spanish for "the fat one") contains about as much mass as 3 quadrillion suns. That's 43 percent larger than previous work had estimated, researchers said.

    "It's given us an even stronger probability that this is really an amazing system very early in the universe," study leader James Jee, of the University of California at Davis, said in a statement. [See more 'El Gordo' Galaxy Cluster Photos in Hubble's Latest Views]

    The El Gordo galaxy cluster - whose formal name is ACT-CL J0102-4915 - is located more than 7 billion light-years from Earth. So astronomers are seeing the cluster as it existed when the universe was less than half of its current age (which is about 13.8 billion years).

    El Gordo's mass was reported in January 2012 to be around 2 quadrillion suns. Researchers arrived at that estimate by studying the temperature of gas and movement of galaxies within the cluster using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope array in Chile.

    The calculation had some uncertainty about it, however, chiefly because El Gordo may be the result of a collision between two constituent clusters.

    "We wondered what happens when you catch a cluster in the midst of a major merger and how the merger process influences both the X-ray gas and the motion of the galaxies," said co-author John Hughes of Rutgers University. "So the bottom line is that because of the complicated merger state, it left some questions about the reliability of the mass estimates we were making."

    It's possible, for example, that the geometry of the merger prevented the authors of the 2012 study from gauging the true kinematic energy of El Gordo's galaxies, resulting in a mass underestimate. And Hubble's new observations suggest that this indeed was the case.

    Jee and his team used Hubble to measure how much El Gordo's immense gravity is warping the images of galaxies that lie behind it, even farther from Earth. The large degree of warping translated to a mass of around 3 quadrillion suns (that's a "3" followed by 15 zeroes).

    Astronomers have found clusters as massive as El Gordo - which contains several hundred galaxies - closer to Earth. But El Gordo's extreme distance makes the cluster special, since astronomers think such enormous clusters were rare when the universe was young.

    The study team plans to continue studying El Gordo with Hubble. The cluster is too big to fit into the iconic space telescope's field of view, so the researchers aim to get a mosaic image next.

    "We can tell it's a pretty big El Gordo, but we don't know what kind of legs he has, so we need to have a larger field of view to get the complete picture of the giant," said Felipe Menanteau of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    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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    MARATHON-MOROCCO-SABLES-SAND
    A competitor runs on a dune, on April 10, 2013, during the 28th edition of the Marathon des Sables, some 300 kms south of Ouarzazate in the Moroccan Sahara. (PIERRE VERDY/AFP/Getty Images)

    While most avoid or take refuge when the weather is too hot or cold, some athletes actually thrive on the challenge of tackling extreme temperatures and weather conditions.

    Battling temperatures down to minus 40 F, as high as 120 F and with as much as 100 percent humidity, below is a list of some of the toughest running races in the world due to weather extremes.

    The Antarctic Ice Marathon

    A typical 26.2-mile marathon, this race takes place at the South Pole in November. Over the course of the competition, runners deal with average temperatures between 0 and 10 F.

    However, November temperatures in this region are known to drop as low as minus 30 to minus 40 F, according to AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Eric Leister.

    While it's typically dry during this time of the year, generally about 5 inches of snow fall throughout the month. However, the most unusual element that participants must cope with is the 24 hours of daylight that the South Pole experiences during this time of year. As this may be beneficial during the actual race, it can alter sleeping patterns before race day.

    Marathon des Sables

    Known as the "Marathon of the Sands," this April event encompasses approximately 150 miles of desert as competitors race through the largest desert in the world, the Saharan Desert, in Morocco.

    Aside from April temperatures in the mid- to high 80s during the day and the 50s at night, athletes have to survive sandstorms, snakes and other potentially poisonous creatures.

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    Run in six stages, the competition requires each entrant to provide his/her own food and sleeping bag, as well as the race's mandatory kit and equipment list, which includes a compass, lighter, knife with a metal blade, an anti-venom pump, salt tablets and a distress flare.

    Since its inception, some runners have been put to the ultimate test of staying alive, running far off the marathon course and into the vast, parched landscape. During the 1994 race, Italian racer, Mauro Prosperi, got lost after a sandstorm, placing him miles off the course. Before finding a group of nomads traveling through the area, Prosperi ate bats and scorpions to stay alive, according to an article on Men's Running.

    The Jungle Marathon

    Hosted in the Tapajos National Forest in the Amazon, on the banks of Rio Tapajos of Para, in northern Brazil, this October competition offers three distances for racers to chose from. Ranging from a normal marathon distance to nearly 157 miles, the race is measured by terrain opposed to miles.

    With morning humidity around 100 percent, competitors have to withstand average temperatures in the 90s, all the while avoiding falling on slippery, muddy terrain and getting bite and stung by various Amazonian animals and insects.

    Although water is provided at checkpoints, athletes must ration out their food and provisions for the entirety of the race. Rationing must be done carefully as RealFeel(R) temperatures can reach between 120 F and 130 F, putting athletes at risk for various heat-related illnesses, such as dehydration and heat stroke.

    Badwater Ultramarathon

    Badwater Ultramarathon

    It's another hot and sunny day in Death Valley National Park, Calif., in April 2013. (Photo/Kristen Rodman)

    Allowing only 90 runners in total, this July's 135-mile ultramarathon begins in the lowest and driest area in North America, Death Valley, Calif. With the starting line at Lone Pine, Calif., the selected athletes run over three mountain ranges ascending more than 19,000 feet over the course of the race.

    Finishing at the trailhead of Mt. Whitney, athletes struggle through intense summer heat averaging between 115 and 120 F in the middle of arid, desert valley. Although average July temperatures usually average around 117 F, Death Valley holds the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded in the world with a record of 134 F, set on July 10, 1913.

    The North Pole Marathon

    Taking place in April at the top of the world and known as the "World's Coolest Marathon," this race forces runners to tackle sub-zero temperatures while racing to the finish line.

    Racing atop frozen water, athletes are exposed to average temperatures of minus 12 F and low temperatures of minus 20 F. However, the lowest April temperatures in this area have been recorded as low as minus 42 F.

    The 4 Deserts

    A series of four separate seven-day footraces, known as the 4 Deserts, brings athletes approximately 115 miles across the world's largest and forbidding deserts in the world, according to the race's website.

    As competitors travel throughout the year to each race, athletes travel to tackle the Atacama Crossing in Chile, the Gobi Desert in China, the Saharan Desert in Jordan and Antarctica. Each competition requires participants to support themselves on their journey, carrying their own food and equipment the entire time.

    With the upcoming race in China, June 1 to June 7, 2014, athletes will not contend with the typical desert landscape as the Gobi Desert consists of rocky terrain and grasslands. Ranging in elevation from under 3,000 feet to over 9,000 feet with high temperatures in the 80s, this desert presents various challenges to its contestants due to rapid changes in elevation.


    Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Kristen Rodman at Kristen.Rodman@accuweather.com, follow her on Twitter @Accu_Kristen or Google+. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.
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