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    Space Station
    In this image made available from a video by NASA TV shows the SpaceX Falcon rocket on the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Monday, April 14, 2014. (AP Photo/NASA TV)

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) - A space station cargo ship will remain Earthbound for a while longer because of a rocket leak.

    With just over an hour remaining, the SpaceX company called off Monday's planned launch. Officials said they believe the problem can be fixed by Friday, the next opportunity for flying and the last chance before astronauts do urgent spacewalking repairs.

    A helium leak in the first-stage of the unmanned Falcon rocket forced a halt to the countdown, the latest delay spanning the past month.

    Over the weekend, NASA almost postponed the launch attempt because of a computer outage at the International Space Station. But mission managers decided Sunday that everything would be safe for the arrival of the Dragon capsule and its 2½ tons of supplies.

    The computer, a critical backup, failed outside the space station Friday as flight controllers were trying to activate it for a routine software load. The primary computer has been working fine.

    It's the first breakdown ever of one of these so-called space station MDMs, or multiplexer-demultiplexers, used to route computer commands for a wide variety of systems. Forty-five MDMs are scattered around the orbiting lab. The failed one is located outside and therefore will require spacewalking repairs.

    The Dragon capsule holds a gasket-like material for next week's computer replacement. This new material was rushed to the launch site over the weekend and loaded into the Dragon. NASA said astronauts can make the repair without it if necessary.

    NASA astronauts Rick Mastracchio and Steven Swanson will perform the spacewalk next Tuesday - regardless of whether the Dragon flies by then. It will take several days to get the replacement computer ready, thus the one-week wait before the job, NASA's Kenny Todd, a station operations manager, said Monday.

    SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of California) is one of two American companies hired by NASA to fill the cargo gap left when the space shuttles retired in 2011. Orbital Sciences Corp. of Virginia is the other.

    If the SpaceX Dragon isn't flying by Friday, the company may have to get in line behind Orbital, on track for a May delivery run from its Virginia launching site.

    The Dragon should have soared in mid-March, but SpaceX needed two extra weeks of launch prepping. Then an Air Force radar-tracking device was damaged in a fluke accident; an electrical short caused the instrument to overheat.

    Monday's helium leak apparently came from a system that separates the first-stage during the first few minutes of flight.

    Earlier in the afternoon, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease with NASA to take over the launch pad used during the Apollo and shuttle programs. Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39-A would be used for SpaceX launches with astronauts bound for the space station in three or four more years, if NASA approves the venture. Russia currently provides the only way to get astronauts to and from the space station.

    Unmanned missions also are slated for this pad, possibly next year.


    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Amazing Photos of the International Space Station
    International Space Station, Shuttle

     

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    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Some water on Sunday, March 23, 2014, had breached the dam created by the landslide on the Sillaquamish River at Oso, Wash. (Photo/Washington Department of Transportation)

    Last month's mudslide in Oso, Snohomish County, Wash., has killed more than 30 people and has left many more still unaccounted for.

    The rural neighborhood is now submerged in earth, mud and debris. According to the Seattle Times, a 1999 report written by geomorphologist Daniel J. Miller and filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warned of "the potential for a large catastrophic failure."

    According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a landslide is caused by gravity acting on an over-steepened slope. A variety of contributing factors are often responsible for their occurrence, but precipitation often plays a major role in failure.

    "Excess weight from accumulation of rain or snow ... may stress weak slopes to failure," USGS reported. "Almost every landslide has multiple causes."

    In addition to erosion from waterways, glaciers and waves, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can cause landslides. Human activities can also contribute to landslides.

    "Another cause of landslides is often man-induced because of logging or excavation," AccuWeather.com meteorologist Jim Andrews said.

    The May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens caused a massive landslide, Andrews said. The Mount St. Helens landslide was 57 times larger than than another recent major landslide, the April 2013 rockslide near Salt Lake City, according to the Associated Press.

    Some parts of the United States are more prone to landslides based on the geology of the region.

    According to the USGS's Landslide Overview map, the Appalachians, areas in the Rockies and mountain ranges near the Pacific coast are more prone to landslide than other parts of the county.

    "Landslides are a serious geologic hazard common to almost every state in the United States," according to the USGS website. "It is estimated that in the United States, they cause in excess of $1 billion in damages and from about 25 to 50 deaths each year."

    Globally, hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries are caused by landslides each year, along with hundreds of billions of dollars in damages, the USGS reported.

    Throughout geologic history, massive slides have left their imprint across the globe.

    The most expensive landslide in the history of the United States occurred in the spring of 1983 in Thistle, Utah, which is now a ghost town.

    "The Thistle, Utah, landslide cost in excess of $200 million to fix (1984 dollars - adjusted for inflation, this would be more than $400 million in 2010 dollars)," according to the USGS report.

    (Photo/Google Maps)

    Andrews said there was an El Niño winter season, making Utah exceptionally wet due to a high snowmelt along the slopes because of warmer weather.

    As debris slid down the slopes, it dammed the Spanish Fork River, he said, causing the town of Thistle to flood. It also pushed across Highway 89.

    "It buried the highway and drowned the town," Andrews said.

    According to the USGS report, the slide reached a state of equilibrium across the valley, but fears of reactivation caused the railway to construct a railroad tunnel through the bedrock around the slide zone. Highway 89 had to be realigned around the landslide.


    In this image provided by the Washington State Patrol, debris is shown from a landslide Saturday, March 23, 2014, between Arlington and Darrington, Wash. (Photo/Washington State Patrol)

    On April 8, Pittsburgh city officials temporarily closed LeMont restaurant located on Mt. Washington due to potential landslide dangers after large boulders and dirt fell from the slope, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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    Severe Weather Warnings, Washes and Advisories
    Death Toll Climbs in Oso, Wash., Landslide

    "An engineering consultant said rain, runoff and perhaps the severe winter combined to loosen clay and shale over an area estimated 'as wide as a football field'," the Tribune-Review reported.

    On April 7, Pittsburgh received a half of an inch of rain with temperatures hovering in the low to mid-50s, AccuWeather.com meteorologist Brian Edwards said.

    Between April 2 and 4, Pittsburgh was hit with 1.5 inches of rain.

    "They've seen seen twice their normal amount of precipitation for the first 10 days of the month," Edwards said.


    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    Tuesday, April 15, 2014
    Rainy weather
    (Gettystock)

    Heavy rain and thunderstorms will span the East on Tuesday, putting many at risk for dangerous flooding and damaging winds.

    The storm system and cold front that blasted through the Plains over the weekend and the Deep South on Monday, will trek into the East on Tuesday and will continue to wreak havoc on communities.

    Damaging winds and flash flooding will threaten the Southeast while rivers may overflow their banks in the Northeast.



    Strong storms are expected to rumble across the Southeast Coast on Tuesday as a blast of cold air meets warm and moist air centered over the region.

    Cities in the threat zone include Norfolk, Va., Raleigh, N.C., Charleston, S.C., Jacksonville, Fla., Orlando Fla., and Tampa, Fla.

    Rainfall rates of an inch per hour may occur which would create a fast rise in rivers and streams, prompting flash flooding emergencies.

    "Folks out on the road may encounter blinding downpours throughout the day," AccuWeather meteorologist Maggie Johnson said. "Water may pond on roadways and motorists should use caution in their travels."

    Along with the flash flooding, gusty damaging winds may sweep across areas as well.



    Winds could gust up to 60 mph which have the ability to topple trees and take down power lines. Some areas will be forced in the dark due to power outages.

    A quick spin-up of a tornado cannot be ruled out as well, but chances are expected to remain low.

    RELATED:
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    Interactive U.S. Radar
    Record Cold to Replace Warm Stretch Across East


    This cold front has had a history of creating dangerous storms in the past. Over the weekend, a few tornadoes spun up, large hail pelted towns, and gusty winds toppled trees and tore down power lines across the Plains.

    Water rescues were conducted on Monday night across the Deep South as high water left some people stranded.

    Like the Southeast, areas in the Northeast, specifically New England, will need to keep an eye on area rivers and streams.

    Drenching rain will spread across the Northeast during the day with heavier downpours expected in the afternoon.

    The heavy rain itself could cause some flash flooding to occur in low-lying and poor drainage areas, but the bigger threat will be rivers and streams flowing over their banks.

    Many waterways have been left swollen across northern New England due to the recent warmth melting deep snowpack across the region.

    Rivers and streams have been running rather high and with heavy rainfall in the forecast, it won't take much to push them over their banks.

    The Hudson River at Fort Edward, east of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is one of many examples of high flood potential. Water levels on Tuesday morning were already approaching flood stage and the heavy rain isn't expected to arrive until Tuesday afternoon.

    Many river gauges across New England are reporting high water levels as of Tuesday morning. Some flooding is already occurring and the heaviest rain is still to come.

    Those living in flood-prone areas should prepare to move to higher ground to ensure safety.

    Motorists are urged to turn around if the road ahead is overtaken by high water. Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles, including large SUVs and pickup trucks.

    The rain will come to an end at night. However, cold air will move in and may allow for a little snow to fall.

    Some of this snow may cause small accumulations on grassy surfaces. Although the calendar says spring, winter just does not seem to want to go away.

    "Just when people were getting used to the idea that spring was really here, winter pulls a sucker punch," AccuWeather chief meteorologist Elliot Abrams said.

    Although Wednesday will feature breezy and cooler conditions, dry weather will span most of the East, bringing an end to the flooding and storm threat, as well as the snow.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    Tuesday, April 15, 2014
    Early morning commuters walk through snow flurries in Washington, Tuesday, March 25, 2014. As the East Coast shivers through an unusually cold early spring, parts of the Mid-Atlantic and New England are bracing for a nor'easter that could bring additional snow. The National Weather Service says a powerful low pressure system will develop off the Mid-Atlantic coast Tuesday night. Where and how much snow falls will depend on the storm's track, according to the weather service. But, cold temperatures and windy conditions will cover the Mid-Atlantic states north into New England. (AP Photo/J. David Ake)
    (AP Photo/J. David Ake)

    Those who basked in the warmth across the eastern half of the nation this weekend should not bury their jackets deep in the closet with dramatically colder air, and even snow for some, set to make a comeback.

    Cold air from Canada will blast to the south and east through Tuesday night, erasing the warmth that gave residents a taste of what is to come in late spring/early summer.

    The arrival of the cold blast caused 20 to 30 degrees to be shaved off high temperatures from the previous day across most of the Plains, Midwest. Similar numbers can be expected across the Appalachians while high temperatures will be 10 to 20 degrees lower along the East and Gulf coasts.



    For example, Wichita, Kan., spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in the 80s, with a high of 82 Sunday. Severe thunderstorms rolled through as well. However, Monday's high only reached 50 and snow fell in the morning.

    The cooler air will only stop short of reaching Miami and the rest of South Florida.

    RELATED:
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    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Severe Weather Watches, Warnings


    Residents should resist the urge to plant sensitive vegetation during the warm spell with sub-freezing overnight lows set to return to the Plains - southward to Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, as well as the Ohio River and the Northeast.

    The I-95 corridor from Boston southward will be the exception.

    The clash of the invading cold and the warmth caused severe thunderstorm to erupt Sunday and Sunday night across the Plains and Midwest. More storms ignited Monday across the Deep South.

    The same storm system triggering the severe weather will spread soaking rain into the Northeast, potentially leading to some flooding problems. The Southeast could see damaging winds and flash flooding.

    Enough cold air is plunging southward for snow to return to parts of the Midwest and Northeast.

     

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    April 15, 2014 Footage of Rare 'Blood Moon' Eclipse

    The moon took on an eerie blood-red hue early Tuesday during the first total lunar eclipse of 2014, a celestial sight that wowed potentially millions of stargazers across North and South America.

    The total lunar eclipse of April 15 lasted about 3.5 hours between late Monday and early Tuesday, with the Earth's shadow slowing darkening the face of the so-called "Blood Moon" in a jaw-dropping sight for stargazers willing to stay up extra late or rise super-early for the event.

    "Definitely worth the early wake-up call," skywatcher Brett Bonine of Arkansas told Space.com in an email. [Blood Moon Photos: Amazing Total Lunar Eclipse Views for April 15]


    The moon turns blood red in this 3:30 a.m. ET view of the total lunar eclipse on April 15, 2014, as seen by a telescope at the University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter at Steward Observatory atop Mt. Lemmon, Arizona. (Credit: Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona)

    The lunar eclipse peaked at 3 a.m. EDT (0700 GMT), with the moon taking 78 minutes to pass through the darkest point of Earth's shadow. It was visible from most of North and South America, Hawaii and parts of Alaska. The eclipse was the first of four consecutive total lunar eclipses, known as a "tetrad," between April 2014 and September 2015.

    Astronomer Bob Berman, who hosted a live lunar eclipse webcast for the Slooh community telescope using views from Arizona's Prescott Observatory, said event was also one for the record books because of another bright object in the predawn sky.

    "It was the most special one, I would say, of our lives," Berman said during the Slooh webcast. "What made it particularly extraordinary was that it happened on the same night as the closest approach of Mars to Earth in years."


    Photographer Tyler Leavitt of Las Vegas, Nevada, took this series of photos of the total lunar eclipse on April 15, 2014 as the moon appeared from his front driveway. (Credit: Tyler S. Leavitt)

    Mars made its closest approach to Earth since 2008 on Monday night (April 14), coming within 57.4 million miles (92.4 million km) of our planet.

    So the Red Planet and the "Blood Moon" shined together in the predawn sky in a rare event, Berman said, adding that the bright blue star Spica completed the show.

    "We'll never again for the rest of our lives see a total eclipse of the moon on the same night as the closest approach of a bright planet like Mars," Berman said.

    Space.com was flooded with lunar eclipse photos taken by excited observers from across the United States, with images coming in from Hawaii, Puerto Rico and even a Disney Fantasy cruise ship in the Gulf of Mexico.

    While heavy cloud cover and rain threatened to spoil the total lunar eclipse for observers in the eastern United States, stargazers in the central and western United States got a good lunar show. In addition to the Slooh webcast, several other groups streamed live views of the eclipse.

    The University of Arizona's Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter at the Steward Observatory atop Mt. Lemmon in Arizona streamed spectacular telescope views of the eclipse from its start to finish. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama teamed up with the iconic Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, Calif., to offer another view.

    As the moon completely crosses the earth's shadow, the first of four total lunar eclipses, called the Blood Moon, occur in Whittier, Ca., USA on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Nick Ut )
    As the moon completely crosses the earth's shadow, the first of four total lunar eclipses, called the Blood Moon, occur in Whittier, Ca., USA on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

    NASA is also keeping close watch on two solar-powered spacecraft currently orbiting the moon. The lack of sunlight on the moon during the eclipse was expected to starve NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LADEE moon dust probe, both of which are solar powered.

    Meanwhile, the Virtual Telescope Project in Ceccano, Italy (where the eclipse was not visible) streamed live views of spectacular eclipse photos by astrophotographers across the United States. In South America, the Gloria Project held a live webcast at the Incan ruins of Cusco, Peru, to mark the event.

    Photographer Tyler Leavitt of Las Vegas, Nevada, captured a stunning series of images showing the moon slowly waltz into Earth's shadow, then take on its iconic blood-red hue. Leavitt took the photos from his front driveway between 11:30 p.m. and 1:20 a.m. PDT, and he was not alone.

    "It was nice to see several of the neighbors coming out to take a look also," Leavitt told Space.com in an email.

    Lunar eclipses occur when the moon is full and passes through part or all of the Earth's shadow. Total lunar eclipses happen when the moon is totally enveloped by Earth's shadow, darkening the face of the moon. Because the moon's orbit is tilted, it does not perfectly align with Earth and the sun every month so lunar

    Later this month, from April 28 to April 29, the sun will turn into a "ring of fire" during an annular eclipse. It's possible, however, that the celestial sight will only be visible for penguins. The solar eclipse's totality will only be visible over an uninhabited part of Antarctica. This year's total lunar eclipses and solar eclipses are among the most promising stargazing events of 2014.

    The next total lunar eclipse of 2014 will occur on Oct. 8, followed by another on April 8, 2015, and the last total lunar eclipse of the current tetrad on Sept. 28, 2015.

    Editor's Note: If you snapped an amazing picture of the April 15 total lunar eclipse, you can send photos, comments and your name and location to managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Miriam Kramer @mirikramer contributed to this report from New York City. Email Tariq Malik at tmalik@space.com or follow him @tariqjmalik and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Stunning Photos of the Moon

     

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    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Helicopter tours of the Grand Canyon can provide a bird's-eye view of the iconic landmark. But that's nothing compared to what astronauts see as they zip over northern Arizona in the International Space Station.

    In a new image taken from orbit, the Grand Canyon is visible slicing through the Kaibab Plateau, which is part of the expansive Colorado Plateau of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. The photograph was taken by the Expedition 39 crew aboard the ISS on March 25, 2014, according to NASA's Earth Observatory.

    In the image, the canyon's forested North and South Rims are visible on either side of the canyon. The popular South Rim, which hosts about 90 percent of the Grand Canyon's 5 million visitors a year, averages about 7,000 feet (2,134 meters) in elevation, according to the National Park Service. The remote North Rim is about 1,000 feet (305 m) higher. Its cooler climes mean that roads to the North Rim are closed October through May each year.

    Between the two rims, the Grand Canyon plunges a mile (1.6 km) through layers of schist, sandstone, limestone and more. The Colorado River carved the 227-river-mile (446 kilometers) canyon over millions of years as the Colorado Plateau experienced a tectonic uplift. The amount of time it took to carve the Canyon is a matter of major debate. On one side are researchers who see the canyon as "young" - the gorge as it is today is about 6 million years old, carved out by the Colorado River after it changed course some 11 million years ago. But some research points to sections of the canyon dating back 70 million years. Some researchers see these old sections as evidence of the origin of the Grand Canyon, while others argue that they are in fact "paleo-canyons" carved long ago that the Colorado River simply found and flowed into. Others argue that these sections represent the origin of today's canyon. The debate is intensified by gaps in the geological record and recent, complicated tectonic changes in the region.

    Whatever its age, the Grand Canyon's beauty remains a draw, even from space. The earthbound can get a close-up look at the canyon for free this weekend (April 19 and 20) for National Park Week.

    Follow Stephanie Pappas 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.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Breathtaking Images of Earth from Space

     

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    A crowd gathers at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston for a Sports Illustrated photo shoot before the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings, Saturday, April 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

    Following some rain showers this Saturday, drier weather will return to Boston in time for the 118th annual Boston Marathon.

    Drier weather will prevail through Monday, allowing the dampness from Saturday's rainfall to subside, according to AccuWeather.com meteorologist Andy Mussoline.

    "Clouds could limit sun on race day," Mussoline said.

    Qualified 2014 Boston Marathon runner Megan Hetzel said she was enjoying her return to Boston after competing in the 2013 event.

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    "I think everyone is excited to have a good race and officially put last year behind us," Hetzel said.

    Hetzel has been running for 12 years and has competed in three different marathons. In 2013, she qualified to compete in the Boston Marathon.

    The event began in 1897 and is one of the oldest marathons in U.S. history.

    "Since its inception, the Boston Marathon has been held on the holiday commemorating Patriots' Day," according to the official marathon website. "From 1897-1968, the Boston Marathon was held on April 19, unless the 19th fell on a Sunday. Since 1969, the holiday has been officially recognized on the third Monday in April."

    "Boston is the race that everyone wants to run," Hetzel said. "It's the Super Bowl of running."

    According to the marathon's website, the event is the second-largest single-day sporting event in terms of on-site media coverage following the Super Bowl.

    "I needed to run it again," she said, adding 2013 was her first year competing in Boston.

    Hetzel follows a few tips to make sure her race goes well including staying hydrated along the course and wearing a cap to prevent rain and sun from getting into her eyes.

    In addition, she said her ideal racing weather is cooler, dry weather.

    "The cooler the better," she said. "I run best in the cold and I think it's going to be a good day as long as it's not raining."

    Mussoline said temperatures should remain slightly below average for race day, with highs in the low 50s.

    The average high in Boston for April 21 is 58 F.

    According to Runner's World, runners' shoes melted in the 84-degree heat on race day in 1927. In 1976, temperatures climbed into the mid-90s.


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

     

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014
    Jogging couple running along riverside
    (Gettystock)

    A harsh blast of cold air that moved over the Northeast on Tuesday night will be quick to leave.

    Rain ended as some snowflakes from Pennsylvania to Maine on Tuesday night. Some wet snowflakes were even seen in New York City as temperatures plummeted into the 30s.

    Much of the precipitation tapered off by Wednesday morning with only some rain and snow along the coasts of Maine and Massachusetts.

    Snow fell in Chicago from late Monday into Monday night, which generally brought wet roadways to the area. However, some slick spots developed for the Tuesday morning commute as the low reached 26 F.

    Detroit received just over 3 inches of snow late Monday night into Tuesday morning, which made the 2013-2014 season the snowiest on record with 94.8 inches.

    Record Lows Tuesday Morning

    City
    New Record(F)
    Old Record(F) and Year
    Madison, Wis.
    18 (Tie)
    18 set in 1928
    Minneapolis
    18 (Tie)
    18 set in 1935
    Omaha, Neb.
    22
    24 set in 1962
    Fargo, N.D.
    12
    15 set in 1935
    International Falls, Minn.
    5
    12 set in 1962
    Dubuque, Iowa
    21 (Tie)
    21 set in 1928

    Pittsburgh, Pa., dropped 30 degrees in six hours Tuesday morning in wake of the strong cold front responsible for this cold blast.

    "It's hard to get this quick of a temperature drop in January let alone April," AccuWeather senior meteorologist John Gresiak said.

    Temperatures will continue to plummet across the East Tuesday night.

    The cold will bring a widespread freeze in areas from Little Rock and Atlanta to Louisville, Ky., and Raleigh, N.C.

    "The cold blast was totally unwelcome but it will be brief," AccuWeather chief meteorologist Elliot Abrams said.

    As quick as the cold blast came in, it will quickly bounce back.

    The jet stream will retreat back to the north Wednesday and Thursday, which will allow some of the southern warmth to build back northward.

    "April is a big transition month," AccuWeather senior meteorologist Bernie Rayno said. "There are these battles between the lingering cold across Canada and building warmth in the southern U.S."

    Highs will rebound into the mid-50s in Chicago by Wednesday with similar highs getting back into New York City by Thursday.

    The warmup will generally last into the weekend for many areas from the Midwest to the Northeast.

    A weak storm could bring a quick day-long cooldown from the Great Lakes to the interior Northeast Friday into Saturday. However, the strength and extent of this most recent cold blast will not be matched through the end of April as temperatures continue their upward swing heading deeper in spring.

    Aside from a couple of showers, springtime warmth will prevail for Washington Nationals' and New York Mets' baseball fans with hometown series this upcoming weekend. Sunshine and highs near 70 should prevail for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll next Monday in Washington, D.C.


    Photos on Skye: The World's 50 Most Epic Views

     

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    Broken windows are shown in the Bank One Tower in downtown Fort Worth, Texas, Wednesday, March 29, 2000. (AP Photo/Donna McWilliam)

    The United States has the highest concentration of tornadoes in the world, according to NOAA. It's important for citizens throughout the United States to know how to act and what a safe plan of action is when severe weather strikes. Not everything in the movies holds true, especially when it comes to safety precautions against severe weather such as tornadoes.

    With that in mind, compiled below are five of the top tornado myths debunked to help those who find themselves in the midst of a tornado be able to act quickly and as safely as possible.

    1. When there is a tornado warning, would opening the windows to equalize the pressure save a home from further destruction?

    Greg Carbin, warning coordination meteorologist of NOAA Storm Prediction Center, said that doing anything except taking cover during a tornado warning is a waste of precious time.

    "It's not about the pressure in your house; it's the winds that will ultimately be the cause of further destruction. The winds are going to bring debris from miles around, and if you open the windows, that will bring it right into your living room," Carbin said.

    AccuWeather senior meteorologist Dan Kottlowski agreed and said the winds will bring shrapnel and rain into your home.

    "Shrapnel is made up of bits of metal, grains of sand, soil, even corn, and it turns into a cloud of debris. You open up your windows and you'll find it right in your home along with rain damage too. I say leave the windows be, and get away from them because they are only glass and will break due to the shrapnel," Kottlowski said.

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    2. Does seeking shelter under a highway overpass protect you from a tornado?

    "Winds actually can be funneled and strengthened under overpasses, similarly to opening your windows in your house. Winds are what you want to avoid," Carbin said.

    While the concrete and rebar in the bridge may offer some protection against flying debris, the overpass also acts as a wind tunnel and may serve to collect debris.

    "Not to mention that it's a traffic hazard because other cars or drivers might be trying to get away from hail or heavy rain underneath," Carbin said.

    There is great potential for cars parked or deserted at an overpass to be a problem as well. It can pose a threat for accidents or depending on the strength of the tornado, the winds can pick up the cars and toss them around as debris.

    "If you are faced with a F4 or F5 storm, the cars could become hazardous. Not to mention, some people say that if the girders do stay intact that they could protect you. But that is a risky chance to take so I would advise not to risk it and take cover elsewhere," AccuWeather Meteorologist Eric Leister said.

    Instead of an overpass, both Kottlowski and Leister agree that getting out of your car and finding a low-lying area is the best option for safety.

    "On the interstate highways, there are usually very large ravines where debris should fly right over your head," Kottlowski said.

    3. Is a green sky an indicator that a tornado is coming?

    In some cases, green clouds can appear in thunderstorms that are dropping hail, or a green hue can hint to a tremendous amount of ice or water within a thunderstorm.

    There is no direct correlation that a green tint in the sky means a tornado. In fact, the time of day and lighting affect what the sky looks like on an average day let alone during severe weather, Kottlowski said.

    "Tornadoes can emerge from oculus clouds, thick dark stratus clouds or rain could prevent you from seeing the storm completely," Kottlowski said. "Just be sure to heed all warnings you receive and don't count on the clouds."

    4. Do tornadoes not strike big cities?

    "All targets are equal, but depending on where certain cities are on the map, they might not be as prone to tornadoes like Chicago or New York City," Kottlowski said.

    The geography of a city is what truly makes it susceptible to a tornado or not.

    "Cities such as Birmingham, Charlotte, Dallas, Atlanta and Oklahoma City have all seen their fair share of tornadoes," Carbin said.

    Tall office buildings are actually more protected from severe weather because they have a very sound infrastructure. However, even in a big city scenario, the wind is the enemy.

    "Back in 2000, there was a tornado in Fort Worth where a lot of high rise office buildings were destroyed but not completely flattened. What happened was, the windows were destroyed by gravel from the roof of an adjacent building that was picked up by the wind and hit the windows like bullets. To repair the windows alone was more expensive than how much the entire building was worth," Kottlowski said.

    5. Is the southwest corner of my house the safest place to take cover?

    "I think this myth comes from the thought that tornadoes typically, but not always, move in a southwest to northeast direction and people may feel they are at less risk if they are in the approaching corner, but that's incorrect," Carbin said.

    The best place to protect yourself is in a low place with a reinforced structure above your head. If you're fortunate enough to have a basement in your home or a safe room, those are good options as well.

    "In my experience, I know a lot of people don't have basements in the Plains because they are hard to build in that area due to the high level of the water table but do have a steel reinforced closet in their homes or garages for peace of mind. Those can usually fit a family of four," said Carbin.

    Kottlowski agreed this is a myth, but if you find there is no other option, you can triangulate yourself in a corner as an option to remain safe from having the roof of a house collapsing and injuring you.

    "There are two parts to this myth that are key and people often forget: you need to be in the southwest corner of your basement under a workbench or desk to protect your head. If you're in a bedroom, lay against the bed and put the mattress over your head forming an isosceles triangle because people in this position are more likely to survive," Kottlowski said.

    If there is no basement or safe room, another alternative would be to take shelter in an interior room of the house, particularly the bathroom in a house, hiding in the bathtub might be a good place to be because the plumbing will reinforce the walls for further protection, Kottlowski said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Things Found in the Tornado Rubble

     

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014
    Snow-covered pansies are seen March 25, 2014 during a Spring snow in Washington, DC. The Washington, DC area is expecting another 1-3 inches(2.54-7.62cm) of snow that should taper off in the late afternoon hours.AFP PHOTO / Karen BLEIER        (Photo credit should read KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)

    A mid-April snowstorm will focus on the northern Plains and Upper Midwest through Thursday, spreading snow from the Dakotas to Ontario.

    The biggest impacts from this system will be felt on Wednesday evening and into Thursday morning when snow will have the greatest chance of accumulating under the cover of darkness.

    This could lead to slick, slushy roadways for the Wednesday evening and Thursday morning commutes along portions of I-94 and I-35, as well as around the the Twin Cities.

    Snow will have a tough time accumulating during the daytime on Wednesday due to the higher angle of the sun this time of year when compared to the winter months.

    However, snow accumulations cannot be completely ruled out during the daytime hours. If the snow manages to fall at a fast enough rate, it may begin to accumulate, particularly on grassy surfaces.

    Snow in this part of the country is not uncommon during the month of April.

    On average, Minneapolis receives 2.5 inches of snow during April with a few snowflakes known to fly as late as May.

    This has been an unusually snowy winter for folks living in the Twin Cities.

    As of April 15, 2014, Minneapolis has recorded 69.5 inches on the season; well above the seasonal average of 54 inches.

    If the city can manage to pick up an additional 6.4 inches of snow before the cold air departs for good, it would become the 10th snowiest winter in the city's history.

    Even if Minneapolis fails to reach this benchmark, the city could still crack the top 10 for one of the snowiest Aprils on record.

    Only 3 more inches of snow is needed to become the 10th snowiest April on record.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Experts Scrutinize US Power Grid's Vulnerability to Severe Weather
    Interactive Radar

    There is a light at the end of the tunnel for those who are waiting for winter to finally loosen its grip over the northern Plains and Midwest for good.

    Looking ahead past this storm, a warmer trend appears as though it will set up over the regions, allowing for warmer, more seasonable weather to settle in by the start of next week.

    This could finally spell the end for snow for cities such as Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee.

    Afternoon highs are forecast to range between the upper 50s and upper 60s followed by overnight lows in the 40s through much of next week.


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

     

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014
    Lightning over Casa Grande
    (Gettystock)

    From 2006 to 2012, 82 percent of people killed by lightning were male, according to a report written by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Lightning Safety Specialist John Jensenius.

    Of the fatalities recorded, 52 percent of the female deaths occurred during daily-routine activities, while male deaths occurred during leisure activities.

    "Based on the statistics for gender, the vast majority of lightning victims are male," Jensenius said.

    Some explanations for this finding are that males are unaware of all the dangers associated with lightning and more likely to be in vulnerable situations or are unwilling to be inconvenienced by the threat of lightning, according to Jensenius.

    "In short, because of their behavior, males are at a higher risk of being struck and, consequently, are struck and killed by lightning more often than females," Jensenius said.

    In addition, males may also find themselves in situations that make it difficult to get to a safe place in a timely manner, don't react quickly to the lightning threat or any combination of these, he said.

    RELATED:
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    Five Essential Safety Steps to Take Before Severe Weather Hits


    The odds of getting struck by lightning in any given year are approximately one in 1 million, but the odds of getting struck in a lifetime are one in 10,000.

    Among the most common activities in which lightning resulted in death, fishing ranked the highest.

    "The activities which contribute most to the lightning fatalities, like fishing, tend to be dominated by males," Jensenius said. "Many of these activities require extra time to get to safety."

    Between 2006 and 2012, 238 people were struck and killed by lightning in the United States.

    "It's important for anyone in a situation where extra time is needed, to start heading to safety early," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 11 Surprising Effects of Being Struck by Lightning
    Struck by Lightning, Scar

     

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    A photograph of night-shining clouds taken with a Nikon D3S digital camera using a 400 millimeter lens by an astronaut aboard the ISS on January 5, 2013. (Credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

    Rare night-shining clouds that glow across the edge of space tend to appear near Earth's poles. But since the turn of the century, these silvery clouds have become more frequent sights over lower latitudes, including southern Canada and the northern United States, new research finds.

    Also known as noctilucent clouds, night-shining clouds are the highest clouds in Earth's atmosphere. They hover around 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the surface of the planet - high enough to reflect sunlight long after sunset. The wispy clouds were first officially documented in 1885. Since 2007, scientists have been monitoring the phenomenon near the poles with NASA's Aeronomy of Ice in the Mesosphere (AIM) satellite.

    "AIM and other research has shown that in order for the clouds to form, three things are needed: very cold temperatures, water vapor and meteoric dust," study author James Russell, an atmospheric and planetary scientist at Hampton University in Virginia, said in a statement from NASA. "The meteoric dust provides sites that the water vapor can cling to until the cold temperatures cause water ice to form." [In Images: Mysterious Night-Shining Clouds]

    The clouds are most commonly spotted from Earth's higher latitudes during the summer months (when the coldest layer of the atmosphere is actually most frigid). But in recent years, there have been more reports of night-shining clouds over midnorthern latitudes, between the 40th and 55th parallels.

    Previous studies have suggested that the increase in night-shining clouds could be linked to rocket launches or an increase in methane emissions, thought to boost the abundance of water at the top of Earth's atmosphere.


    Noctilucent clouds on July 3, 2011, in Lock Leven, Fife, Scotland. (Credit: Courtesy of Adrian Maricic)

    Russell and his colleagues wanted to check if this increase was linked to any systematic changes in the atmosphere. They modeled the occurrence of noctilucent clouds at lower latitudes from 2002 to 2011 using actual observations of the clouds as well as historical data on water vapor and temperature conditions in the upper reaches of Earth's atmosphere.

    The analysis showed that the presence of noctilucent clouds indeed increased during that decade-long span and that high-altitude temperature decreases seemed to be driving the uptick, the researchers concluded in their study in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres.

    Russell and his colleagues said they would further investigate whether the spike in noctilucent clouds corresponds to a decline in solar activity, as the sun went from solar maximum in 2002 to solar minimum in 2009.

    "As the sun goes to solar minimum, the solar heating of the atmosphere decreases, and a cooling trend would be expected," Russell explained in a statement.

    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.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Lightning Strikes 10 Famous Landmarks

    MORE ON SKYE: 13 Clouds to See in Your Lifetime
    Lenticular Cloud

     

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    As in this file photo, many in the northeast experienced a rude return of frigid temps after a brief warm-up. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

    Many across the East may have thought that the calendar flipped back to winter due to the cold blast that brought a dramatic drop in temperatures and even snow to some communities.

    Residents who did not turn on the heat before heading to bed Tuesday night were likely shivering when they woke up Wednesday morning.

    Temperatures throughout the East started Wednesday 20 to as much as 40 degrees lower than the previous 24 hours.

    That statement is even true southward to Tampa and Orlando, Fla. Only South Florida escaped the dramatic cooldown.

    24-Hour Temperature Change Degrees Fahrenheit

    City
    Temp. at 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday
    Temp. at 8 a.m. EDT Tuesday
    Portland, Maine
    51
    28
    Burlington, Vt.
    65
    24
    Boston
    59
    31
    Saranac Lake, N.Y.
    58
    14
    Albany, N.Y.
    63
    27
    New York City
    60
    32
    Philadelphia
    66
    32
    Washington, D.C.
    69
    35
    Richmond
    69
    35
    Raleigh, N.C.
    66
    35
    Charlotte, N.C.
    63
    35
    Charleston, S.C.
    70
    43
    Atlanta
    62
    37
    Jacksonville, Fla.
    71
    46
    Tampa, Fla.
    73
    52

    The dramatic drop in temperatures did not just come over the course of 24 hours, but in a matter of minutes for some communities.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    Forecast Temperature Maps
    Elliot Abrams Northeast Weather Blog

    Temperatures plummeted 20 degrees (from 63 F to 43 F) in 38 minutes in Syracuse, N.Y., Tuesday morning. The arrival of the cold air caused a 7-degree temperature fall in Allentown, Pa., in only eight minutes Tuesday afternoon.

    Temperatures dropped so much that many in the Northeast saw rain end as snow or snow pellets, one or two days after experiencing summerlike warmth.

    At the top of the snowfall totals list sits an area near Enosburg Falls, Vt., which picked up 8.0 inches. A total of 2.5 inches whitened Cooperstown, N.Y., while 2.4 inches set a daily snowfall record in Albany, N.Y., on Tuesday.

    Snow made an appearance in New York City overnight Tuesday and for the first time on April 16 since records began in Islip, N.Y.

    The chilly Wednesday that unfolded in the wake of the snow will transition to a cold Wednesday night with frost and freezing temperatures an issue throughout the Northeast and southward to upstate South Carolina and the eastern Tennessee Valley.

    As quickly as the dramatic cold blasted into the East, it will begin to ease for many. Temperatures on Thursday will exceed Wednesday's chilly highs by 10 to 15 degrees from the Ohio Valley to the Northeast - away from the I-95 corridor.

    Air flowing onshore from the cold ocean will limit the amount of warming that can take place closer to the coast.

    Temperatures on Thursday will once again struggle to reach the 50-degree mark in New York City and will be held to the lower 40s in Boston. Brisk winds will create even lower AccuWeather.com RealFeel(R) temperatures.

    This Easter weekend is when these cities will notice a more significant rebound in temperatures.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2013
    Twin Waterspouts

     

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014
    A person walks along the beach Wednesday, April 16, 2014, near where the 751-foot bulk carrier Ornak ran aground Tuesday night in the lower Chesapeake Bay near First Landing State Park, in Virginia Beach, Va. There were no reports of injuries, damage or pollution from the grounding, and the vessel was not blocking other water traffic, said Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer First Class Brandyn Hill. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Steve Earley)  MAGS OUT
    A person walks along the beach Wednesday, April 16, 2014, near where the 751-foot bulk carrier Ornak ran aground Tuesday night in the lower Chesapeake Bay near First Landing State Park, in Virginia Beach, Va. (AP Photo/The Virginian-Pilot, Steve Earley)

    VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - A thunderstorm with wind gusts of more than 70 mph ripped a cargo ship's anchors from the seafloor and caused it to run aground just a few hundred feet from a beach, drawing onlookers from nearby condos and apartments Wednesday morning.

    The Coast Guard also blamed weather for the collision of two other vessels Tuesday night. No injuries, damage or pollution were reported due to the grounding or the collision.

    Winds also caused 12 ships to drag anchor, the Coast Guard said.

    "I've not seen anything quite like this," said Coast Guard Capt. John Little, the captain of the port of Hampton Roads.

    The cargo ship, a 751-foot barge known as Ornak, typically hauls coal and gravel. It was anchored east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and ran aground not too far away near First Landing State Park. Little said the ship had two anchors in the water at the time of the storm and tried to get its engines running to fight the movement, but it had little time to react because it was already so close to shore.

    Little said more ships may have run aground if it hadn't been for towing vessels and the quick work of harbor pilots who were able to come aboard the ships in the middle of the storm and guide them to safety.

    Waves reached 4 to 6 feet during the peak of the storm and sustained winds were from 30 mph to 45 mph, the National Weather Service reported.

    Officials were trying to determine Wednesday when they would be able to free the ship, with high winds expected to continue for several days. The Coast Guard said the ship appeared intact, but it would need to inspect it before it was able to proceed to a coal loading terminal in the area.

    "It's really pretty amazing," Virginia Beach resident Dick Ullman said near the site as people gathered to take photos. "This is a first. I've been coming down this way for about 50 years, and I don't remember a ship being blown ashore like this."

    The ship has a crew of 22 and is owned by a company called Polsteam and sails under a Bahamian flag, according to the Coast Guard.

    The ship was resting in less than 16 feet of water Wednesday morning.

    As the storm swept through southeastern Virginia, it knocked out power to about 28,000 people, according to Dominion Virginia Power.

    The collision occurred about an hour before the grounding, the Coast Guard said. The 79-foot rig vessel Petite and the 1,065-foot container ship MSC Charleston were later safely anchored.
    RELATED ON SKYE: Stunning Hurricane Photos from Space

     

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    Wednesday, April 16, 2014

    (AccuWeather)

    A mid-April snowstorm will continue to focus on the Upper Midwest through Thursday, spreading snow from Minnesota to Ontario.

    Even without the cover the darkness, the snow was falling heavy enough during Wednesday to make roads slippery and treacherous.

    Such travel conditions will continue through Thursday morning, including along portions of I-94 and I-35, as well as around the Twin Cities.

    The Minnesota Twins were scheduled to take on the Toronto Blue Jays at 7:10 p.m. CDT Wednesday, snow is expected to fall. The game was postponed as of 12:30 p.m. CDT Wednesday.

    Snow in this part of the country is not uncommon during the month of April.

    On average, Minneapolis receives 2.5 inches of snow during April with a few snowflakes known to fly as late as May.

    This has been an unusually snowy winter for folks living in the Twin Cities.

    As of April 15, 2014, Minneapolis has recorded 69.5 inches on the season; well above the seasonal average of 54 inches.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    AccuWeather's Baseball Stadium Forecast
    Interactive Radar


    If the city can manage to pick up an additional 6.4 inches of snow before the cold air departs for good, it would become the 10th snowiest winter in the city's history.

    Even if Minneapolis fails to reach this benchmark, the city could still crack the top 10 for one of the snowiest Aprils on record.

    Only 3 more inches of snow is needed to become the 10th snowiest April on record.



    There is a light at the end of the tunnel for those who are waiting for winter to finally loosen its grip over the northern Plains and Midwest for good.

    Looking ahead past this storm, a warmer trend appears as though it will set up over the regions, allowing for warmer, more seasonable weather to settle in by the start of next week.

    This could finally spell the end for snow for cities such as Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee.

    Afternoon highs are forecast to range between the upper 50s and upper 60s followed by overnight lows in the 40s through much of next week.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 15 Photos of Monster Blizzards

     

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    Thursday, April 17, 2014
    Hurricane Irene 1999, Florida
    (Gettystock)

    A low pressure system is set to deliver heavy rain to parts of the Southeast Friday and Saturday, bringing the risk of flooding to the area.

    Folks with outdoor plans might want to get the umbrellas and raincoats ready as this steady, soaking rain looks to spread over the area on Friday.

    The heaviest rain is forecast to fall over northern Florida and southern Georgia with several inches possible through Saturday afternoon.

    Slower traffic can be expected for motorists traveling in this areas, including those traveling along the I-10, I-95 and I-75 corridors.

    With several inches of rain on the way, flooding can turn into a major problem given the rain that has recently fallen across the region.

    On April 14, over an inch of rain fell in Mobile, Ala.; Pensacola, Fla.; and Peachtree, Ga.; all of which are in the path of this storm.

    With more rain in store for the same area, streams and rivers still running above normal will likely rise due to the new influx of water.

    RELATED:
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    If you come across a road with water flowing over it due to flooding, you should try and find a new route to your destination rather than attempting to drive through the water.

    The flowing water may turn out to be deeper than it appears and can be powerful enough to lift and move your vehicle.

    Cooler weather will also accompany this storm with temperatures more than 10 degrees below normal. The steady rain will be one of the key factors limiting temperatures to the 50s across much of Georgia and the Carolinas Friday.

    This cooler weather is expected to carry over into Saturday where the rain persists with the lowest temperatures focusing from North Carolina to central Georgia.

    Dry weather is in store for Easter Sunday across much of the Southeast and it will continue into the start of next week, giving residents a break from the rain.

    Despite very little precipitation in the forecast through Tuesday, some minor flooding may still occur as rivers and streams crest from the rain brought by this storm.

    A look at the weather in the southeastern United States.

    Related on SKYE: The World's Wettest Places
    Hurricane Irene 1999, Florida

     

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    Thursday, April 17, 2014
    NBC NEWS -- Minnesota Storm -- Pictured: Lake Superior waters appear open and ice free after a storm in Duluth, Minnesota on December 24, 2007 -- Photo by: Stephanie Himango/NBC NewsWire **FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY AND CANNOT BE ALTERED, ARCHIVED OR RESOLD. NO TABLOID USAGE WORLDWIDE. SPECIFIC CLEARANCE REQUIRED FOR COMMERCIAL OR PROMOTIONAL USE. CONTACT YOUR NBCU REPRESENTATIVE FOR FURTHER INFORMATION**
    (Gettystock)

    A mid-April snowstorm will continue to focus on the Upper Midwest through Thursday, spreading snow from Minnesota to Ontario.

    As the storm moves northeastward into Thursday, the heaviest bands could drop more than a foot of snow on parts of northwest Wisconsin and the Upper Michigan peninsula, AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Richard Jaworski said.

    "As the day progresses, the heaviest snow will wind down as the storm weakens," he said.

    Slick travel conditions will continue through Thursday morning, including along portions of I-94 and I-35, as well as around the Twin Cities.



    Multiple accidents have been reported across the state, including a car that jackknifed when it lost control on highway 169, and a rolled vehicle on highway 30.

    Air travel was also disrupted as delays mounted, some for more than two hours.

    The Minnesota Twins were scheduled to take on the Toronto Blue Jays at 7:10 p.m. CDT Wednesday, snow is expected to fall. The game was postponed as of 12:30 p.m. CDT Wednesday.

    Snow in this part of the country is not uncommon during the month of April.

    On average, Minneapolis receives 2.5 inches of snow during April with a few snowflakes known to fly as late as May.

    This map shows the additional snowfall expected to fall on Thursday.

    This has been an unusually snowy winter for folks living in the Twin Cities.

    As of April 15, 2014, Minneapolis has recorded 69.5 inches on the season; well above the seasonal average of 54 inches.

    RELATED:
    AccuWeather.com Winter Weather Center
    AccuWeather's Baseball Stadium Forecast
    Interactive Radar

    If the city can manage to pick up an additional 6.4 inches of snow before the cold air departs for good, it would become the 10th snowiest winter in the city's history.

    Even if Minneapolis fails to reach this benchmark, the city could still crack the top 10 for one of the snowiest Aprils on record.

    Only 3 more inches of snow is needed to become the 10th snowiest April on record.

    In the town of Isanti, 19 inches of snow have been recorded with this system.

    There is a light at the end of the tunnel for those who are waiting for winter to finally loosen its grip over the northern Plains and Midwest for good.

    Looking ahead past this storm, a warmer trend appears as though it will set up over the regions, allowing for warmer, more seasonable weather to settle in by the start of next week.

    This could finally spell the end for snow for cities such as Minneapolis, Madison and Milwaukee.

    Afternoon highs are forecast to range between the upper 50s and upper 60s followed by overnight lows in the 40s through much of next week.

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

     

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    Thursday, April 17, 2014
    ADVANCE FOR USE SUNDAY, DEC. 22 AND THEREAFTER - FILE - This Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 aerial file photo shows people walking down a street where homes once stood that were destroyed by a tornado that hit the western Illinois town of Washington. Two dozen tornadoes swept through the state killing seven people. It was voted as one of the top 10 stories in Illinois for 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
    This Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 aerial file photo shows people walking down a street where homes once stood that were destroyed by a tornado that hit the western Illinois town of Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

    While the peak occurrences for severe weather events in the United States happen between March and October, severe weather can occur at any time. In order to save lives, branches of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will issue public watches and warnings.

    Knowing the difference between the two can prepare individuals for the necessary steps to take when considering the threat of severe weather. Watches and warnings issued to the public are based on different criteria.


    Watches are issued by the NOAA's SPC, and warnings are issued by local offices of theNational Weather Service (NWS).

    Kottlowski said there are no set criteria for issuing watches, but if the conditions seem consistent with a developing severe weather pattern, watches can be changed and altered by monitoring ongoing developments.

    "It can vary," he said. "There is not just one set of ingredients; every watch may have a different set of perimeters from one day to the next since it is based on a synoptic situation that may change within several hours."

    Warnings mean that severe weather is imminent and is based on specific criteria and existing reports received by the NWS.

    The criteria include hail that totals more than 1 inch in diameter and wind speeds of 55 mph.

    "Lightning is not a criteria for a severe thunderstorm warning," Kottlowski said. "Heavy rain is not either."

    RELATED:
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    Warnings must follow the two main criteria, he said, adding urban flood and stream advisories, flash flood watches and warnings, and flood watches and warnings, may accompany a storm with heavy rain.

    Warnings are issued through the efforts of individuals working for the NWS.

    "The way a warning is issued is that a meteorologist will monitor the weather by radar and look for particular areas where there could be high impact damage," Kottlowski said. "They will issue a warning and there will be a signature for an existing storm or developing tornado."

    Trained NWS spotters will verify reports of rotation or storm damage.

    "This gives the meteorologists confidence in what they are seeing on radar," he said.Thursday, April 17, 2014

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Stunning Photos from the 2013 Tornado Season
    Kansas Torndao

     

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    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    Astrophotographer Andrew Kwon sent in a composite image showing Mars on four different nights. (Credit: Andrew Kwon)

    A cosmic alignment between Earth and Mars is giving stargazers eye-popping views of the Red Planet.

    On April 8, Mars reached an orbital milestone known as "opposition," an event that occurs only once every 26 months when the planet aligns with Earth and the sun. Six days later, on April 14, Mars made its closest approach to Earth in six years, coming within 57.4 million miles (92 million kilometers) of our planet, making it a prime target for amateur astronomers.

    Astrophotographer Andrew Kwon in Canada sent in a composite image showing Mars on four different nights. The bright rust coloration of Mars is known for is due to iron-rich minerals. [Spectacular Night Sky Photos for April 2014 (Stargazing Gallery)]

    "These four were taken from March 27th to this morning April 6th," Kwon wrote in an email to Space.com. "With opposition only coming every 26 months I am out every clear night imaging the Red Planet from my backyard observatory in Mississauga, ON [Ontario]."


    Astrophotographer Daniel McVey sent a photo taken at Fremont Pass in Colorado which includes Mars, Spica, and bright constellation Corvus. (Credit: Photography by Daniel McVey)

    Another image shows Mars and star Spica near each other in the night sky at Fremont Pass in Colorado. Astrophotographer Daniel McVey sent this photo submitted March 26.

    Mars is easy to spot in the night sky now as it lies in opposition to the sun and relatively close to Earth. Spica, a blue-white giant, is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo. In the image, the constellation Corvus, the Raven, a small constellation with 11 stars visible to the naked eye, can also be seen.

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

    Editor's Note: If you have an amazing night sky photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com.

    Correction: This story was corrected on April 17 to reflect that the opposition of Mars occurs once every 26 months.

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

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

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    For the first time, scientists have discovered an Earth-size alien planet in the habitable zone of its host star, an "Earth cousin" that just might have liquid water and the right conditions for life.

    The newfound planet, called Kepler-186f, was first spotted by NASA's Kepler space telescope and circles a dim red dwarf star about 490 light-years from Earth. While the host star is dimmer than Earth's sun and the planet is slightly bigger than Earth, the positioning of the alien world coupled with its size suggests that Kepler-186f could have water on its surface, scientists say. You can learn more about the amazing alien planet find in a video produced by Space.com.

    "One of the things we've been looking for is maybe an Earth twin, which is an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a sunlike star," Tom Barclay, Kepler scientist and co-author of the new exoplanet research, told Space.com. "This [Kepler-186f] is an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a cooler star. So, while it's not an Earth twin, it is perhaps an Earth cousin. It has similar characteristics, but a different parent." [10 Exoplanets That Could Host Alien Life]

    Potentially habitable planet

    Scientists think that Kepler-186f - the outermost of five planets found to be orbiting the star Kepler-186 - orbits at a distance of 32.5 million miles (52.4 million kilometers), theoretically within the habitable zone for a red dwarf.

    Earth orbits the sun from an average distance of about 93 million miles (150 million km), but the sun is larger and brighter than the Kepler-186 star, meaning that the sun's habitable zone begins farther out from the star by comparison to Kepler-186.

    "This is the first definitive Earth-sized planet found in the habitable zone around another star," Elisa Quintana, of the SETI Institute and NASA's Ames Research Center and the lead author of a new study detailing the findings, said in a statement.

    Other planets of various sizes have been found in the habitable zones of their stars. However, Kepler-186f is the first alien planet this close to Earth in size found orbiting in that potentially life-supporting area of an extrasolar system, according to exoplanet scientists.

    'An historic discovery'

    "This is an historic discovery of the first truly Earth-size planet found in the habitable zone around its star," Geoff Marcy, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, who is unaffiliated with the research, told Space.com via email. "This is the best case for a habitable planet yet found. The results are absolutely rock-solid. The planet itself may not be, but I'd bet my house on it. In any case, it's a gem."

    The newly discovered planet measures about 1.1 Earth radii, making it slightly larger than Earth, but researchers still think the alien world may be rocky like Earth. Researchers still aren't sure what Kepler-186f's atmosphere is made of, a key element that could help scientists understand if the planet is hospitable to life. [Kepler-186f: Earth-Size World Could Support Oceans, Maybe Life (Infographic)]

    "What we've learned, just over the past few years, is that there is a definite transition which occurs around about 1.5 Earth radii," Quintana said in a statement. "What happens there is that for radii between 1.5 and 2 Earth radii, the planet becomes massive enough that it starts to accumulate a very thick hydrogen and helium atmosphere, so it starts to resemble the gas giants of our solar system rather than anything else that we see as terrestrial."

    The edge of habitability

    Kepler-186f actually lies at the edge of the Kepler-186 star's habitable zone, meaning that liquid water on the planet's surface could freeze, according to study co-author Stephen Kane of San Francisco State University.

    Because of its position in the outer part of the habitable zone, the planet's larger size could actually help keep its water liquid, Kane said in a statement. Since it is slightly bigger than Earth, Kepler-186f could have a thicker atmosphere, which would insulate the planet and potentially keep its water in liquid form, Kane added.

    "It [Kepler-186f] goes around its star over 130 days, but because its star is a lower mass than our sun, the planet orbits slightly inner of where Mercury orbits in our own solar system," Barclay said. "It's on the cooler edge of the habitable zone. It's still well within it, but it receives less energy than Earth receives. So, if you're on this planet [Kepler-186f], the star would appear dimmer."

    Exoplanet hunting in the future

    Kepler-186f could be too dim for follow-up studies that would probe the planet's atmosphere. NASA's James Webb Space Telescope - Hubble's successor, expected to launch to space in 2018 - is designed to image planets around relatively nearby stars; however, the Kepler-186 system might be too far off for the powerful telescope to investigate, Barclay said.

    Scientists using the Kepler telescope discovered Kepler-186f using the transit method: When the planet moved across the face of its star from the telescope's perspective, Kepler recorded a slight dip in the star's brightness, allowing researchers to learn more about the planet itself. Kepler suffered a major malfunction last year and is no longer working in the same fashion, but scientists are still going through the spacecraft's trove of data searching for new alien worlds.

    "I find it simply awesome that we live in a time when finding potentially habitable planets is common, and the method to find them is standardized," MIT exoplanet hunter and astrophysicist Sara Seager, who is unaffiliated with the research, told Space.com via email.

    The new research was published online today (April 17) in the journal Science.

    Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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

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