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SKYE on AOL

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    Updated Nov. 20, 11:50 a.m.

    High winds whip surf and spray at Boiler Bay State Scenic Viewpoint, north of Depot Bay, Ore., on Monday. (AP Photo/The Oregonian, Brent Wojahn)

    SEATTLE (AP) - Residents in Washington and Oregon braced for more wet weather after a fierce storm swamped streets, toppled trees and large trucks, cut power to nearly 50,000 residents, and caused at least one death.

    Though the main threat is over, the rain will continue but shouldn't disrupt Thanksgiving holiday travel plans, since all major roads and passes in the Northwest are open.

    Thanksgiving should be mainly dry in the Northwest, the National Weather Service said, but drivers may encounter winter driving conditions in mountain passes on their way home over the weekend.

    Flood warnings were issued for a handful of western Washington rivers, with moderate flooding expected Tuesday along the Chehalis River in the Centralia area. Residents there were told where to find sandbags and were directed to move any endangered livestock to higher ground.

    Nearly 2 inches of rain fell in six hours Monday in one Seattle neighborhood - a total that Seattle Public Utilities meteorologist James Rufo-Hill called "extraordinary."

    "It was a pretty big storm for most of the city - lots of rain in a relatively short amount of time," he said, but several neighborhoods "really got drenched."

    The rain caused widespread reports of flooded roads and highways, some mudslides and residential flooding, and even sewage overflows in parts of Seattle and Everett. Several blocks of downtown streets were briefly flooded in Port Orchard, west of Seattle.

    Puget Sound Energy reported 24,000 electricity outages at mid-afternoon in its western Washington service area, with most service restored by Monday evening.

    In Oregon, the storm knocked out electricity to as many as 24,000 Pacific Power customers. Several thousand remained in the dark Monday night, mainly in Clatsop, Lincoln and Coos counties.

    BNSF Railways imposed a 48-hour moratorium on passenger and commuter trains travel between Everett and Seattle, starting around noon Monday, after at least 10 mudslides affected the tracks, spokesman Gus Melonas said.

    Wet weather was expected to continue through the week, but National Weather Service meteorologist Jay Neher in Seattle said Monday night that the "heavy rain is over."

    "We're into showers now," Neher said.

    On Oregon's northwest coast, a hunter was killed Monday morning when a tree crashed on his tent near Nehalem. Two hunters in an adjacent camp heard the tree snap as gusts reached more than 70 mph and saw it lying across the tent. They cut it away in an attempt to rescue the man, to no avail.

    Tillamook County Sheriff Andy Long identified the hunter as Nathan Christensen, 52, of Seattle.

    A Portland police officer was seriously injured during all-terrain vehicle training when a tree fell. Sgt. Pete Simpson said the accident on Hayden Island in the Columbia River appeared to be weather-related.

    Also in Oregon, a woman who identified herself as Susan Seale and said she was homeless called 911 Monday afternoon to report that her Clackamas campsite southeast of Portland was surrounded by rising water.

    Rescuers used a small boat to rescue Seale and her dog, Clackamas County sheriff's Sgt. Adam Phillips said.

    In southwest Washington, a Washington State Patrol car and another vehicle were struck by a tree carried by a mudslide on U.S. Highway 101 near Naselle.

    The patrol car started burning, and the trooper had to break a window to crawl to safety. The trooper was unhurt, and the female driver of the other vehicle was OK except for neck pain. Both vehicles were destroyed by the fire.

    Four Seaside, Ore., firefighters narrowly avoided injury when a tree fell on their fire truck. Fire Chief Joey Daniels said the four had gone to U.S. Highway 26 to help clear a tree. When they got back into the truck, they saw another one starting to fall.

    "They all opened their doors and jumped out," Daniels said.

    Strong winds overturned large commercial trucks on two highways Monday. One tractor-trailer tipped over while crossing the Astoria-Megler Bridge that carries U.S. 101 across the Columbia River. That caused a lengthy traffic headache.

    Another semi was blown onto its side in the middle of the Chehalis River Bridge in Aberdeen, on the Washington coast, Aberdeen police said.

    In Washington, peak storm gusts reached 101 mph on the Megler bridge linking Oregon and Washington and 61 mph at Hoquiam on the Washington coast. They hit 114 mph on isolated Naselle Ridge in the mountains of southwest Washington, the Weather Service reported.

    On the Oregon coast, strong gusts included 98 mph at Yaquina Head, 85 mph at Lincoln City and 80 mph at Newport, the Weather Service said. In Newport, the wind peeled back the roof of a restaurant.

    The Weather Service reported 24-hour Washington rainfall totals as of Monday evening that included 4.09 inches in Bremerton, west of Seattle; 2.97 inches at Hoquiam on the Washington coast; and 6 inches at Cushman Dam on the Olympic Peninsula.

    In Oregon, Lincoln City saw 3.55 inches of rain in 24 hours while 2.13 inches fell at the Portland airport and 2.08 inches in Salem. The Portland suburb of Hillsboro reported 3.42 inches, the Weather Service said.

    Grand Ronde in the Oregon Coast range reported 6.10 inches.

    In Portland, Weather Service meteorologist Kirsten Elson said powerful Northwest storms are not uncommon even as early as November. The storms, however, generally include either heavy winds or drenching rains, not both.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Craziest Things to Go Airborne in a Storm

     

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    A bulldozer pushes piles of sand around on the Ocean Grove, N.J., on Nov. 15. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

    SPRING LAKE, N.J. (AP) - The average New Jersey beach is 30 to 40 feet narrower after Superstorm Sandy, according to a survey that is sure to intensify a long-running debate on whether federal dollars should be used to replenish stretches of sand that only a fraction of U.S. taxpayers use.

    Some of New Jersey's famous beaches lost half their sand when Sandy slammed ashore in late October.

    The shore town of Mantoloking, one of the hardest-hit communities, lost 150 feet of beach, said Stewart Farrell, director of Stockton College's Coastal Research Center and a leading expert on beach erosion.

    Routine storms tear up beaches in any season, and one prescription for protecting communities from storm surge has been to replenish beaches with sand pumped from offshore. Places with recently beefed-up beaches saw comparatively little damage, said Farrell, whose study's findings were made available to The Associated Press.

    "It really, really works," Farrell said. "Where there was a federal beach fill in place, there was no major damage - no homes destroyed, no sand piles in the streets. Where there was no beach fill, water broke through the dunes."

    The beach-replenishment projects have been controversial both for their expense and because waves continually wash away the new sand. The federal government picks up 65 percent of the cost, with the rest coming from state and local coffers.

    How big the beaches are - or whether there is a beach at all to go to - is a crucial question that must be resolved before the summer tourism season. The Jersey shore powers the state's $35.5 billion tourism industry.

    But the pending spending showdown between congressional Republicans and Democrats could make it even harder to secure hundreds of millions of additional dollars for beach replenishment.

    From 1986 to 2011, nearly $700 million was spent placing 80 million cubic yards of sand on about 55 percent of the New Jersey coast. Over that time, the average beach gained 4 feet of width, according to the Coastal Research Center. And just before the storm hit, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded nearly $28 million worth of contracts for new replenishment projects in southern New Jersey's Cape May County.

    U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, used a photo of a pig on the cover of his 2009 report "Washed Out to Sea," in which he characterized beach replenishment as costly, wasteful pork that the nation could not afford.

    "Taxpayers are not surprised when they learn how Congress wastes billions of dollars on questionable programs and projects each year, but it may still shock taxpayers to know that Congress has literally dumped nearly $3 billion into beach projects that have washed out to sea," he wrote.

    A message seeking comment was left Monday with Coburn's office.

    U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, predicted lawmakers from New Jersey and New York would be able to get additional shore protection funds included in the next federal budget, despite partisan wars.

    "I think we will be able to make the case," he said. "We can show that this provides long-term protection to property and lives. You can either pay up front to keep on top of projects like this, or you can pay on the back end" through disaster recovery funds.

    Menendez this week noted that Congress has approved emergency recovery funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina and tornadoes in Missouri, among other natural disasters.

    During a tour of storm-wrecked neighborhoods in Seaside Heights and Hoboken, Vice President Joe Biden also vowed the federal government would pay to rebuild New Jersey.

    "This is a national responsibility; this is not a local responsibility," Biden said. "We're one national government, and we have an obligation."

    Jogging in the street because Sandy had destroyed the Spring Lake boardwalk for the second time in little over a year, Michele Degnan-Spang said it was difficult to comprehend how things have changed in her community.

    A few stray planks of the synthetic gray boardwalk that was just replaced last year after Tropical Storm Irene were strewn about the sand; concrete pilings that used to support the boardwalk now stretch for a mile off to the horizon like little Stonehenges.

    "It's horrible," she said. "It's draining to see this. It's surreal. I'm walking through it and saying, 'This really is happening.'"

    Degnan-Spang predicted she and her extended family would be back on the sand soon, though.

    "The drive is going to be to get back on the beach next summer, no matter what it looks like," she said. "We don't go on vacation because we live in the most beautiful spot in the world. We all go to the beach; it's what summer is. It'll come back; it'll just be different."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    (AP Photo)

    DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - This year's drought is consistent with predictions that global climate change would bring about weather extremes including more frequent droughts, said a report released Monday.

    The Iowa Climate Statement updates the 2010 report, reflecting the year's lingering drought and the belief that it signifies what many scientists have predicted - increasing instability in weather patterns will lead to extremes during both wet and dry years.

    Iowa has experienced such extremes in recent years; in 2008, flooding caused an estimated $10 billion in damage, making it the worst disaster in the state's history.

    More broadly, this year's drought brought about parched croplands, reducing corn yields across the nation's Grain Belt, from South Dakota to Indiana. And last month's Superstorm Sandy - a combination of a hurricane, a wintry storm and a blast of arctic air - devastated parts of the Eastern seaboard and killed more than 100 people.

    The report was signed by 138 scientists and researchers from 27 Iowa colleges and universities. They said they wanted to release the updated report now while the drought is still fresh in the public's mind.

    "The drought is sort of a teachable moment," said Jerry Schnoor, co-director of the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research at the University of Iowa.

    The scientists are careful to avoid saying any single extreme weather incident is directly caused by global warming, saying too many factors are at play when it comes to weather. But, they did say increasingly volatile weather patterns have been predicted by scientists who study global warming.

    Patrick Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Washington-based conservative think tank Cato Institute, said there's no evidence global warming contributed to this summer's drought. He doesn't deny that global warming is real and that man-made pollutants may contribute to it, but says it has a very small impact overall.

    Michaels said the scientists who signed on to the report are "nibbling around the edges" with their recommendations that Americans use more renewable energy sources, such as wind power and ethanol, and build homes to be more efficient. He says any action the United States takes wouldn't be that effective because China and India are emitting increasing amounts of pollutants that contribute to global warming.

    The Iowa scientists said their statement is not one of gloom and doom, but meant to indicate investments can be made now to slow the economic impact of weather extremes and to help communities adapt to the changes.

    One scientist who helped draft the report, Dave Courard-Hauri, chairman of environmental science and policy program at Drake University, said continuing to deny the connection between increased storm volatility and a warming climate helps no one.

    "We gain nothing if we act as if there's uncertainty where there's not or that there is significant division among scientists regarding the causes of climate change," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    Rose Atoll, part of the new National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. (Credit: Dr. Jean Kenyon, NOAA/NMFS/PIFSC)

    A pristine tropical reef that has weathered several natural disasters is now part of America's largest marine sanctuary.

    The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finalized a huge expansion of the Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary in American Samoa last month, from 0.25 square miles to 13,523 square miles.

    The boost takes the sanctuary from a single protected coral reef to a marine area larger than the state of Maryland. The agency also renamed the protected region, now calling it the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa.

    Five new marine units joined Fagatale Bay's reef: Fogama'a/Fagalua (Larsen Bay), waters around Swains Island and Muliva, also known as Rose Atoll, and some of the waters around Aunu'u Island and Ta'u Island.

    NOAA cited the "tremendous advancement in marine discovery and exploration, marine conservation science, and ecosystem-based management" as factors in its decision to expand the sanctuary. The decision was published July 26 and finalized Oct. 31 in the Federal Register.

    "The Sanctuary contains a unique and vast array of tropical marine organisms, including corals and a diverse tropical reef ecosystem with endangered and threatened species, such as the hawksbill and green sea turtles, and marine mammals like the Pacific bottlenose dolphin," NOAA said in the Federal Register.

    Of the five new units, one was already under federal protection. Rose Atoll was designated a marine national monument in 2009 by President George W. Bush. It is the world's smallest atoll, and home to American Samoa's largest populations of giant clams, nesting seabirds and rare reef fish.

    Ta'u Island hosts some of the oldest and largest known corals in the world, with one colony measuring 23 feet tall and 135 feet in circumference, according to NOAA. And from June to September, southern humpback whales migrate north from Antarctica to calve in the protected waters surrounding American Samoa.

    Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary was established in 1986 in response to a proposal from the American Samoa government. The impetus was a devastating attack on the region's coral reefs by crown-of-thorns starfish in the late 1970s. Millions of starfish ate their way across the reefs, destroying more than 90 percent of living coral. Hurricanes and coral bleaching have also hit the coral in the last 20 years.

    Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

    Gallery: Creatures from the Census of Marine Life
    Colorful Creations: Incredible Coral Photos
    The 10 Most Pristine Places on Earth

    Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    The release of the new James Bond flick, "Skywall," has me thinking about the insane stunts featured in some of the great Bond films. But I'm not sure those Hollywood stunts have anything on the real-life stunt in this video. Armed with GoPro cameras, Matthias Giraud and Stefan Laude ski right off the edge of cliffs high in the French Alps. An avalanche thunders down the mountain behind them. The only thing missing as their chutes deploy? Maybe a little James Bond theme music. But their victory whoops at the end of the video more than make up for it.

     

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    A crane sits atop a pile of storm debris in a parking lot in Point Pleasant Beach, N.J., on Nov. 15. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Just a few months ago, the parking lot at Jacob Riis Park on New York City's Rockaway seashore was filled with happy beachgoers. Now, it is home to a mountain of misery from Superstorm Sandy - a growing pile of garbage containing everything from mangled appliances, splintered plywood and sodden drywall to shreds of clothing and family photos.

    The seagull-pecked pile, at least two stories high, three quarters of a mile (1,200 meters) long, and fed by an endless caravan of dump trucks, is just part of a staggering round-the-clock operation along hundreds of miles (kilometers) of coastline to clear away the mangled mess of homes, cars and boats so the rebuilding can begin.

    Three weeks in, it is an effort that has strained the resources of sanitation departments and landfill operators, and caused headaches and heartache for thousands of families in the sprawling disaster zone.

    The lucky have only had to empty their basements of soggy belongings. Others have been forced to strip their flood-ravaged homes down to the studs, and pile drywall, furniture, clothing and appliances on the sidewalk.

    "We've seen people put virtually all their worldly possessions at the curb," said Mike Deery, a spokesman for the town of Hempstead, which includes several beach and bay hamlets on Long Island's South Shore. "We've gone down streets and picked up the entire contents of homes, and come back the next day and have it look like we haven't been there in months."

    In the three weeks since the storm, New York City alone has removed an estimated 271,000 tons of wreckage from flooded neighborhoods. That doesn't include the downed limbs and trunks of some 26,000 damaged trees.

    New Jersey shore towns have been adding to big piles of rubble just like the one at Jacob Riis. One of the biggest ones, in Long Branch, reaches nearly three stories into the sky from a vacant lot a block from the ocean.

    As of Friday, auto insurance companies had reported storm damage to at least 52,000 vehicles, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Many of those cars floated on the tide and were left smashed, silt-filled and strewn across sidewalks and yards.

    In Long Beach, New York, a barrier island city of 33,000 people that was completely inundated by the storm surge, public works crews worked 16-hour shifts to scoop up hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand that had buried city streets. The mountain of silt they have created now stands five stories high.

    A powerful mechanism has been at work to make it happen: In New York, the city's regular army of 6,000 sanitation workers has been supplemented by battalions of private contractors, hired under a $92 million Federal Emergency Management Agency contract administered by the Army Corps of Engineers.

    Garbage barge terminals on Staten Island that were last used to remove debris from the destroyed World Trade Center after Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks have been pressed into service again, this time carrying Sandy's wreckage up the Hudson River, toward a landfill outside Seneca Falls.

    Rubble has also been moving by truck to landfills in Pennsylvania, some of which have been stretched to the limit.

    "You are trying to drive material through a funnel that isn't quite wide enough to accept it," said John Hambrose, a spokesman for industry giant Waste Management. He said the company has had to boost staffing and bring in 65 additional trucks and equipment from as far away as Florida and Wisconsin to handle the rubble headed for its landfills in Pennsylvania.

    The task of clearing the streets has had its share of missteps.

    In the devastated beach town of Seaside Heights, New Jersey, famous as the location for MTV's reality show "Jersey Shore," there was outrage after officials asked a towing company to clear the streets of flooded cars.

    Numerous residents complained that the company also hauled away undamaged vehicles from private property. Some owners were told they would have to pay as much as $900 to retrieve their vehicles.

    Prosecutors in Ocean County, New Jersey, said they are investigating. An attorney for the company, APK Towing, blamed the episode on "messed-up" communication in the chaotic days after the storm.

    "We were told, 'Get rid of everything.' We did what we thought was the right thing to do," said the lawyer, Steven Secare. "A couple of people were honestly charged too much." He said the company is now charging a maximum of $250 for tows and will issue a refund to anyone who paid more. Some people are also getting vehicles back for free.

    Boats ripped free by the tide pose another challenge. In Broad Channel, a maritime village built on an island in the middle of New York City's Jamaica Bay, a motor yacht with the words "S.S. Minnow" spray-painted on its side sat partially blocking traffic on the only road in and out of the community for two weeks before it was hauled away.

    Up and down the coast, sanitation crews have been working seven days a week, including holidays, since the storm hit, starting before dawn and continuing into the night, when the task of handling nail-studded debris gets dicey. Some of the workers are spending their days off cleaning out their own ravaged homes.

    "You've got to remember a lot of our employees live here," said city Public Works Commissioner Jim LaCarrubba. "We asked a lot of them, and they've stepped up."

    In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie has sought to speed the cleanup by suspending safety rules that normally limit how many hours or days in a row a truck driver can work without time off.

    Speed is seen as key by many people working on the recovery.

    On New York City's heavily flooded Rockaway Peninsula, home to 115,000 people, private contractors have been in a race against mold.

    "Every last one of these houses needs to have (this) done," said Stephen Wagner, owner of Specialized Cleaning and Flood Restoration of Rochester, New York, as he worked to rip out the inside of a flooded Rockaway building.

    Living in a home with mold can cause health problems such as skin and eye irritation, a stuffy nose or shortness of breath, particularly for people with asthma or allergies. Ideally, homes would have been gutted within 48 hours - an impossibility because of the magnitude of the damage.

    The floodwaters left behind a nasty mess of contaminants. Residents were urged to clean carefully, especially in areas where the water might have been tainted with sewage.

    "If there was a box of paint in a garage, or a car that was swamped that had oil in the engine, those contaminants were released," said John Lipscomb, a boat captain with the environmental group Riverkeeper. "It is an amazing pollution event that just occurred."

    New York City's deputy mayor of operations, Cas Holloway, said the beach sand that was scooped off the streets has to be checked for contamination from such things as fuel oil.

    "You can't just put that stuff back on the beach," he said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    A thermal oxidizer, the large tower on the right, will flare methane gas and covert it to carbon dioxide. (AP Photo/The Aspen Daily News, Chris Council)

    GENEVA (AP) - The main global warming pollutant reached a record high level in the air in 2011, the United Nations weather agency said Tuesday.

    Concentrations of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the atmosphere averaged 390 parts per million during the year. That is up 40 percent from before the Industrial Age, when levels were about 280 parts per million, the World Meteorological Organization said.

    Carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, stays in the atmosphere for 100 years. Some of it is natural, coming mainly from decomposing dead plants and animals, but scientists say the bulk of it is from the burning of fossil fuels.

    There have been 350 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere since 1750 and it "will remain there for centuries, causing our planet to warm further and impacting on all aspects of life on earth," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. "Future emissions will only compound the situation."

    Between 1990 and 2011, carbon dioxide and other gas emissions caused a 30 percent increase in the warming effect on the climate, the agency reported.

    After carbon dioxide, methane has the biggest effect on climate. Atmospheric concentrations of methane also reached a new high of 1,813 parts per billion in 2011, up 159 percent from pre-industrial levels of about 700 parts per billion. About 40 percent comes from natural sources such as termites and wetlands, but the rest is due to cattle breeding, rice agriculture, fossil fuel burning, landfills and incineration, the agency said.

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

     

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    Cars that were uprighted and submerged by Superstorm Sandy remain at the entrance of a subterranean parking garage in New York's Financial District on Nov. 2. (AP Photo)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Thanksgiving travelers who have yet to rent a car in the Northeast are out of luck: Superstorm Sandy has created a shortage.

    The storm has damaged thousands of cars - including those owned by rental companies. The loss of vehicles has been compounded by rising demand. Thanksgiving and Christmas are normally busy rental periods. And lingering mass transit problems caused by Sandy have added to demand.

    Existing reservations are mostly being honored, but people who still want to book for Thanksgiving are finding almost no cars left. The few cars available carry a hefty premium.

    Tadd Rosenfeld is flying into New York's LaGuardia airport Wednesday. He couldn't find a car with any major rental company. U-Save was the only one with a car and it wanted nearly $350 a day - more than his plane ticket from Florida. Now, he is considering renting a moving truck.

    "Showing up to Thanksgiving in a U-Haul is worse than showing up with an escort. But at $19 a day, it's tempting," says Rosenfeld, CEO of TeamLauncher.com, an outsourcing company based in Miami.

    To help ease the shortage, car rental companies have driven in thousands of extra vehicles from elsewhere in the country. They have also kept older models that they would normally sell to used-car dealers.

    They'll need every car. Thousands of people in the Northeast are still without vehicles. Some cars were flooded by surging waters and will be replaced with new ones once insurance checks are cut. Others were damaged by falling trees and debris and are in body shops waiting to be repaired

    Insurance companies State Farm, Progressive, New Jersey Manufacturers, Nationwide and USAA told The Associated Press in the days following the storm that they received about 38,000 car-damage claims. Other companies either did not return calls or declined to release claims information.

    "It's an unusual situation," says Neil Abrams of the Abrams Consulting Group, which focuses on the car rental industry. "Unfortunately, you can't go out and buy cars for a demand spike. You don't know how long it will last."

    Car rental companies were hesitant to speak about their own losses but Avis Budget Group Inc. says it removed from service 2 percent of its fleet from Philadelphia to Connecticut. The company did not respond to repeated requests to clarify how many cars that was.

    Outside of the holiday rush, car rental companies say there are enough vehicles available for drivers. Here's what they did to ensure a large enough fleet:

    - Hertz held on to older vehicles that were scheduled to be sold. It also brought in extra cars and even rented trailers and generators to keep open some locations destroyed by the storm.

    - Avis Budget brought in 6,000 extra cars from elsewhere in the country.

    - Enterprise Holdings - which owns Enterprise Rent-A-Car, National Car Rental and Alamo Rent A Car - moved 17,000 cars to the Northeast region from other parts of the country. Another 10,000 brand new cars, slated for other states, were instead redirected to New York and New Jersey.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    Volcano Erupts in New Zealand

    WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - A New Zealand volcano erupted with a brief blast of dark ash Wednesday, canceling flights but causing no significant damage. Schoolchildren and dozens of other hikers who were walking on trails along the mountain's base were safe.

    The eruption of Mount Tongariro, its second in less than four months, sent a dark ash plume about 1.9 miles into the sky. Authorities issued a no-fly alert above the mountain located in the sparsely populated area of central North Island.

    National carrier Air New Zealand advised travelers that some of its flights could be delayed or canceled because of the eruption. Airline spokeswoman Brigitte Ransom said two flights had been canceled by midafternoon.

    The New Zealand Herald reported that about 100 middle-school students and teachers were safe after they were hiking on the Tongariro Track at the base of the volcano when it erupted. Dozens more adults hiking in the region were also uninjured.

    Tongariro National Park has three active volcanoes, is a popular tourist destination and was the backdrop for many scenes in "The Lord of the Rings" movies.

    Civil defense authorities were advising people in the region to remain indoors and shut their windows to avoid the ash, which could be a health hazard.

    Tony Hurst, a volcanologist with GNS Science, said the eruption lasted about five minutes and was unexpected, although scientists had placed the volcano on a higher alert after it erupted in August for the first time in more than a century.

    Hurst said the dark ash indicated that magma pressure deep underground caused the eruption. A steam-driven eruption typically produces white ash.

    New Zealand lies on the Pacific Ocean's "Ring of Fire" and has frequent geothermal and seismic activity.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Breathtaking Volcanic Eruptions Seen from Space

     

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    The Pine Island Glacier in western Antarctica has been seemingly poised to calve off a giant iceberg. (Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

    With its protective sea ice barrier melted away, Antarctica's Pine Island Glacier grows ever closer to finally dropping its New York City-sized iceberg into the ocean, according to NASA.

    The giant crack in Pine Island Glacier was first spotted by scientists with NASA's IceBridge mission in 2011 as they surveyed the massive ice shelf in their specially equipped DC-8 plane. A second rift also formed and joined the northern side of the crack in May 2012, as captured on satellite images that track the incipient iceberg.

    When IceBridge scientists returned this month, they discovered the original rift now has only about half a mile (less than 1 kilometer) to go before the 300-square-mile (770 square kilometers) berg forms.

    The calving front of Pine Island Glacier is also free of sea ice, as shown in an Oct. 26 image from the Landsat 7 satellite. Warm spring temperatures are melting the sea ice that rings the continent during the winter, and winds help push the remaining ice out to sea. Sea ice acts as a buttress against waves, protecting the front of the glacier from calving, Kelly Brunt, a cryosphere scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a NASA video about the Pine Island Glacier rift.

    "So the fact that there's no sea ice in front of the Pine Island Glacier right now implies that it might be in a state that's sort of primed to calve," she said.



    Pine Island Glacier is one of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet's fastest-changing ice shelves, simultaneously thinning and flowing faster out to sea. Melting ice from the region represents the largest input to sea level rise from an Antarctic source, Brunt said. Once the glacier calves, the calving front will be further upstream from any calving front seen in the last 40 years, she added.

    Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

    Video: Antarctic Glacier's Huge Crack Expands
    Gallery: Dazzling Images from Operation IceBridge
    Antarctica: 100 Years of Exploration (Infographic)

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    The Thanksgiving feast shuttle astronauts ate in space on Nov. 20, 2008. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

    By Clara Moskowitz

    Turkey and all the trimmings are a staple for Americans on Thanksgiving, and that doesn't have to change for Americans in space.

    Astronaut food has come a long way from the early days of human spaceflight, and crewmembers on the International Space Station these days can enjoy many Turkey Day traditions, such as cornbread stuffing, yams, mashed potatoes, cherry blueberry cobbler, and, of course, turkey itself.

    This year, NASA astronaut Kevin Ford, commander of the space station's Expedition 34 mission, will celebrate with his Russian crewmates Evgeny Tarelkin and Oleg Novitskiy.

    "Thanksgiving is not a holiday that the Russians celebrate, but we have found that on orbit the crewmembers celebrate each others' holidays," said Vickie Kloeris, manager of the Space Food Systems Laboratory at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "They will take part in Kevin Ford's celebration of Thanksgiving, just as American crewmembers will take part in some of the Russian holidays." [Thanksgiving Feast in Space - The Menue (Video)]

    The space station's Thanksgiving delicacies will come in somewhat different forms than what may be on most holiday tables, though. Space food falls into two categories: freeze-dried (just add water) or thermostabilized (comes in a pouch). And all food sent to the space station has to meet certain microbiological requirements and have a sufficient shelf life.

    For example, the cornbread dressing on offer is a replacement for the traditional bread-based stuffing that many people are used to. However, break makes too many crumbs that float around in all directions in weightlessness and are difficult to clean up.

    Still, the current Thanksgiving menu is a huge improvement over what earlier space travelers had available.

    "If you want to go all the way back to Mercury and Gemini, there were no holiday meals back then," Kloeris told SPACE.com. "All you had was cube foods and tube foods. We've definitely expanded greatly the amount of traditional items that we have made available for holiday times, and that only makes sense because when we started having crewmembers stay on space station long term, we knew every year we'd be hitting Thanksgiving and Christmas with somebody."

    In addition to the standard holiday menu items, each astronaut gets a certain number of "bonus containers" to pack whatever particular foods they'd like, provided they meet the basic requirements. Most pack off-the-shelf products like cookies and other treats.

    "We have crewmembers who take icing in tubs and cookies, and they'll ice them at Christmas time," Kloeris said. "We've even had crewmembers take food coloring so they could color the icing."

    The importance of having traditional holiday foods varies from crewmember to crewmember, she said. "That's always evident when they go to plan their bonus containers. You immediately know who has the strongest ties to holiday food because they'll be the first ones to bring up the fact that, 'Hey, I'm going to be up there at Christmas.'"

    Each of the holiday foods that are provided by NASA have made it through a thorough vetting process.

    It starts with a basic recipe for, say, cherry blueberry cobbler. Then the NASA food scientists modify the recipe so that it can be packed in pouches, which is similar to canning. After that, they test its texture, color, and taste.

    "When it goes through the thermostabilizing process, the chemistry of the food changes quite a bit," Kloeris said. "Often what happens is we'll take a formulation and we'll try it afterwards, and it's like, 'No, that's not acceptable.'"

    The scientists often have to go through many iterations of a recipe, including scaling it up so it still tastes good if made in large batches, before a food is ready for orbit. And some recipes just never quite make it.

    "We tried for a while to come up with thermostabilized cheesecake, and we just flat gave up on it," Kloeris said. "The color changes we got were just too severe. Not everything works."

    But other foods that are stereotypically associated with space are actually rarely eaten there.

    "The freeze-dried ice cream actually only flew once" on an Apollo mission, when a crewmember requested it, Kloeris said. "It's more like hard cotton candy. Certainly if [astronauts] wanted to request that they could, but that's not something that adults want. Kids like it; they sell it at the gift shop."

    Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    NASA's Recipe for Space Cornbread Dressing
    Holidays in Space: An Astronaut Photo Album
    Thanksgiving: 10 Tips to Avoid Overindulging

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    Nov. 21, 2012

    Backhoe operator Keith Henry levels a storm-damaged home in the Breezy Point section of the Queens borough of New York on Nov. 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

    NEW YORK (AP) - It will be a subdued Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday for U.S. families hit hard by last month's Superstorm Sandy. But they will not be left to fend for themselves.

    Restaurants are donating meals, strangers and churches are opening their doors and people from across the nation have sent an outpouring of donations.

    Near the coast in New York City, Ray Marten is thankful his two children are alive. At the height of the storm, he saw flames from burning homes dancing over the floodwaters. The three of them narrowly escaped just before the blaze engulfed their house. A neighbor in a scuba suit materialized out of the darkness and towed Marten's 13-year-old daughter to safety on a surfboard.

    A restaurant in New Jersey is donating a catered Thanksgiving dinner for his family and other displaced relatives at his mother's overcrowded home, where they are staying.

    "We won't be sitting at a dining room table. We'll be eating off of paper plates," said Marten's wife, Linda. "But at least we'll be together."

    New York City and Macy's have set aside 5,000 bleacher seats along the Thanksgiving Day Parade route for families affected by Sandy. Occupy Sandy, the storm-relief offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, will host a Thanksgiving dinner in Manhattan.

    Jennifer Kaufman of Washington Township, New Jersey, started a Facebook page called "A Place at the Table" that matches willing Thanksgiving hosts with families who have been displaced.

    "No one should eat alone on Thanksgiving," Kaufman said.

    In the the mildewed home of Amin and Rachael Alhadad on New York's Staten Island, the stove is still caked with mud, and they run a borrowed generator for a few hours every night to keep themselves and their four children warm.

    The Alhadads say they have nowhere else to go, no family or friends to rely on. And they refuse to live in a shelter.

    "They keep asking, 'Are we going to have turkey?'" said Rachael Alhadad, indicating her sons, ages 14 and 15, who were playing restlessly on their smartphones. "Nope. We can't."

    But for Marge Gatti of Staten Island, the kindness of strangers has been almost too much to handle. There was the Australian man who raised $35,000 and handed out gift packages on the street. An elderly rich man pulled up in a black Mercedes and peeled off $100 bills for everybody on the block. Dozens of girls cleaned debris off her front lawn.

    Her younger son has invited the entire block over for Thanksgiving dinner at his house. But the Gatti family will not be completely reunited for the holiday. The oldest son, Anthony, has been sleeping in a tent that he pitched among the ruins on the front lawn of the house where he grew up.

    "I'm going to stay here and protect what we have left," he said, his eyes filling with tears. "Which isn't much. But it's still ours."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Before and After Superstorm Sandy

     

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    Water reaches the street level of the flooded Battery Park Underpass Oct. 30 in New York, following Superstorm Sandy. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano, File)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The nation's lifelines - its roads, airports, railways and transit systems - are getting hammered by extreme weather beyond what their builders imagined, leaving states and cities searching for ways to brace for more catastrophes like Superstorm Sandy.

    Even as they prepare for a new normal of intense rain, historic floods and record heat waves, some transportation planners find it too politically sensitive to say aloud the source of their weather worries: climate change.

    Political differences are on the minds of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, whose advice on the design and maintenance of roads and bridges is closely followed by states. The association recently changed the name of its Climate Change Steering Committee to the less controversial Sustainable Transportation, Energy Infrastructure and Climate Solutions Steering Committee.

    Still, there is a recognition that the association's guidance will need to be updated to reflect the new realities of global warming.

    "There is a whole series of standards that are going to have to be revisited in light of the change in climate that is coming at us," said John Horsley, the association's executive director.

    In the latest and most severe example, Superstorm Sandy inflicted the worst damage to the New York subway system in its 108-year history, halted Amtrak and commuter train service to the city for days, and forced cancellation of thousands of airline flights at three airports in New York and New Jersey.

    Wild weather is taking a toll on transportation across the country.

    In Washington state, "we joked we were having 100-year storms every year," said Paula Hammond, head of the state's Department of Transportation.

    Last year flooding threatened to swallow up the Omaha, Neb., airport, which sits on a bend in the Missouri River. The ground beneath the airfield became saturated, causing about 100 sinkholes and "soil boils" - uplifted areas of earth where water bubbles to the surface. The airport was spared through a massive effort that included installing 70 dewatering wells and stacking sandbags around airport equipment and buildings.

    Record-smashing heat from Colorado to Virginia last summer caused train tracks to bend and highway pavement to buckle. A US Airways jet was delayed at Washington's Reagan National Airport after its wheels got stuck in a soft spot in the tarmac.

    Dallas had more than five weeks of consecutive 100 degree-plus high temperatures. "That puts stress on pavements that previously we didn't see," Horsley said.

    States and cities are trying to come to terms with what the change means to them and how they can prepare for it. Transportation engineers build highways and bridges to last 50 or even 100 years. Now they are reconsidering how to do that, or even whether they can, with so much uncertainty.

    No single weather event, even a storm like Sandy, can be ascribed with certainty to climate change, according to scientists. But the increasing severity of extreme events fits with the kind of changing climate conditions that scientists have observed.

    For example, several climate scientists say sea level along New York and much of the Northeast is about a foot higher than a century ago, mostly because of man-made global warming, and that added significantly to the damage when Sandy hit.

    Making transportation infrastructure more resilient will be expensive, and the bill would come at a particularly difficult time. Aging highways, bridges, trains and buses already are in need of repair or replacement and no longer can handle peak traffic demands. More than 140,000 bridges are structurally deficient or obsolete. The problem only will worsen as the U.S. population grows.

    A congressional commission estimated that all levels of government together are spending $138 billion a year less than is needed to maintain the current system and to make modest improvements.

    "The infrastructure of the nation is aging and it's at risk because, quite frankly, we're all not investing enough to take care of these facilities," said Hammond, the chairwoman of the climate committee. "And now we're facing extreme weather threats that cause us to need emergency response capabilities beyond what we've had in the past."

    In the state of Washington, "we have seen more erratic weather patterns that we haven't had before, so we really can't imagine what kind of winter or summer we're going to have anymore," Hammond said.

    More frequent heavy rainfalls in the western half of the state have increased the volume and velocity of water in rivers and streams, undermining the foundations of bridges. Rising sea levels are eroding coastal roads. In the drier eastern half of the state, more frequent wildfires have forced road maintenance crews to change their methods in an effort to prevent sparks that might cause a blaze.

    "Each time you replace a bridge, states have to be thinking about not just what kind of traffic demand there is, but how do I make sure this is a bridge that will withstand the future given the erratic weather patterns and climate change we're seeing," Hammond said. "It's a new layer of analysis."

    About half the states have taken some steps toward assessing their most critical vulnerabilities, experts said. But few have gone to the next step of making preparations. New York was an exception. Not only had transit officials made detailed assessments of the potential effects of climate change, but they'd started to put protections in place. Subway entrances and ventilation grates were raised in low-lying areas to reduce flooding, but that effort was overwhelmed by Sandy.

    "They got hit with what was even worse than even their worst-case scenario," said Deron Lovaas, a transportation expert with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. "This was an active test of ... climate preparedness, and they failed."

    While more than 97 percent of the scientists who publish peer-reviewed research say that global warming is real and man-made, the issue remains highly charged. In conservative states, the term "climate change" is often associated with left-leaning politics.

    Planning for weather extremes is hampered by reluctance among many officials to discuss anything labeled "climate change," Horsley said.

    "In the Northeast, you can call it climate change. ... That's an acceptable term in that region of the country," he said. "Elsewhere, in the South and the (Mountain) West, it's still not an acceptable term because of ideology or whatever you want to call it."

    For example, Horsley said, in North Dakota, where there has been severe flooding in recent years, state officials avoid bringing up global warming, preferring to couch their discussions on how to shore up infrastructure as flood preparation.

    The Obama administration has also shied away from talking publicly about adaptation to climate change. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's office refused to allow any department officials to be interviewed by The Associated Press about the agency's efforts to help states adapt. The Transportation Department and other federal agencies are involved in preparing a national assessment of climate change impacts and adaptations that may be needed. Their report is expected to be finished in the next few months.

    Steve Winkelman, director of transportation and adaptation programs at the Center for Clean Air Policy, said he uses terms like "hazard mitigation" and "emergency preparedness" rather than climate change when talking to state and local officials.

    "This is about my basement flooding, not the polar bear - what I call inconvenient sewer overflow," Winkelman said. "It makes it real."

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  • 11/21/12--23:53: Thanksgiving Travel Forecast
  • Breaking Weather: Thanksgiving Break

    Fairer weather returns to the northwestern corner of the nation this Thanksgiving Thursday as a cold front impacting the regions heads eastward through the Plains towards the Upper Midwest and high pressure fills in behind it. This transition will allow any leftover rain and snow showers in areas from the Pacific Northwest to the Northern Rockies to diminish early Thursday as the moisture supply from the Pacific Ocean becomes cut off.

    Meanwhile, in the center of the nation, the cold front and associated area of low pressure from the West will push through the Northern and Central Plains and will extend from the Upper Great Lakes through the Southern Plains by Thursday evening. While shower and thunderstorm activity from this disturbance will be limited at first, a wave of energy in the Southern Plains will shift northeastward and help kick up active weather ahead of the cold front from the Southern Plains through the Upper Great Lakes through the day.

    Additional precipitation is anticipated from North Dakota through northern Wisconsin as low pressure anchored at the head of the cold front near Lake Superior sends wrap around snow showers into the region. Snow accumulations of 3 to 7 inches are expected in the northern tier of North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. Expect cooler temperatures in the wake of the passing cold front as strong north to northwest winds of 25 to 35 mph and gusts to 45 mph usher a colder airmass from the north into the region.

    In the East, high pressure remains dominant across the eastern third of the nation, providing generally fair and calm conditions across the region this Holiday.

    Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Wednesday have ranged from a morning low of 7 degrees at Alamosa, Colo. to a high of 84 degrees at Alice, Texas.

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    A tree trunk rests on the bed of a dried lake, the outcome of severe drought, in Waterloo, Neb. (AP Photo)

    ST. LOUIS (AP) - The worst U.S. drought in decades has deepened again after more than a month of encouraging reports of slowly improving conditions, a drought-tracking consortium said Wednesday, as scientists struggled for an explanation other than a simple lack of rain.

    While more than half of the continental U.S. has been in a drought since summer, rain storms had appeared to be easing the situation week by week since late September. But that promising run ended with Wednesday's weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report, which showed increases in the portion of the country in drought and the severity of it.

    The report showed that 60.1 percent of the lower 48 states were in some form of drought as of Tuesday, up from 58.8 percent the previous week. The amount of land in extreme or exceptional drought - the two worst classifications - increased from 18.3 percent to 19.04 percent.

    The Drought Monitor's map tells the story, with dark red blotches covering the center of the nation and portions of Texas and the Southeast as an indication of where conditions are the most intense. Those areas are surrounded by others in lesser stages of drought, with only the Northwest, Florida and a narrow band from New England south to Mississippi escaping.

    A federal meteorologist cautioned that Wednesday's numbers shouldn't be alarming, saying that while drought usually subsides heading into winter, the Drought Monitor report merely reflects a week without rain in a large chunk of the country.

    "The places that are getting precipitation, like the Pacific Northwest, are not in drought, while areas that need the rainfall to end the drought aren't getting it," added Richard Heim, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center. "I would expect the drought area to expand again" by next week since little rain is forecast in the Midwest in coming days.

    He said there was no clear, scientific explanation for why the drought was lingering or estimate for how long it would last.

    "What's driving the weather? It's kind of a car with no one at the steering wheel," Heim said. "None of the atmospheric indicators are really strong. A lot of them are tickling around the edges and fighting about who wants to be king of the hill, but none of them are dominant."

    The biggest area of exceptional drought, the most severe of the five categories listed by the Drought Monitor, centers over the Great Plains. Virtually all of Nebraska is in a deep drought, with more than three-fourths in the worst stage. But Nebraska, along with the Dakotas to the north, could still see things get worse "in the near future," the USDA's Eric Luebehusen wrote in Wednesday's update.

    The drought also has been intensifying in Kansas, the top U.S. producer of winter wheat. It also is entirely covered by drought, and the area in the worst stage rose nearly 4 percentage points to 34.5 percent as of Tuesday. Much of that increase was in southern Kansas, where rainfall has been 25 percent of normal over the past half year.

    After a summer in which farmers watched helpless as their corn dried up in the heat and their soybeans became stunted, many are now worrying about their winter wheat.

    It has come up at a rate on par with non-drought years, but the quality of the drop doesn't look good, according to the USDA. Nearly one-quarter of the winter wheat that germinated is in poor or very poor condition, an increase of 2 percentage points from the previous week and 9 percentage points worse than the same time in 2011. Forty-two percent of the plantings are described as in fair shape, the same as last week.

    Farmers who might normally irrigate in such circumstances worry about low water levels in the rivers and reservoirs they use, and many are hoping for snow to ease the situation. But it would take a lot. About 20 inches of snow equals just an inch of actual water, and many areas have rain deficits of a foot or more.

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    Credit: NASA/GSFC/Suomi NPP

    Climate scientists who have been warning of the dangerous effects of global warming now have the World Bank on their side, after a new report from that organization calling for action to prevent climate catastrophe.

    "The World Bank did a great service to society by issuing this report," said Michael Mann, a climate researcher at Pennsylvania State University and the author of "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars" (Columbia University Press, 2012).

    Climate deniers often claim that solutions to global warming are part of a "global socialist agenda," Mann told LiveScience.

    "The fact that the World Bank - an entity committed to free market capitalism - has weighed in on the threat of climate change and the urgency of acting to combat it, puts the nail in the coffin of that claim," he said.

    A changing world

    The report, issued by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics for the World Bank, urges nations to work to prevent the Earth from warming 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit past preindustrial averages. Already, global mean temperatures are running about 1.3 degrees F hotter than before the onset of the industrial revolution.

    Likewise, carbon-dioxide concentration in the atmosphere is high and rising. As of September, the concentration was 391 parts per million, a record high, up from a preindustrial 278. That number is now rising by about 1.8 parts per million each year.

    All of these changes are accompanied by ice loss, including accelerating melting in Greenland, according to research published this week. As a result, average sea level has risen between 6 and 8 inches or so on average around the world. [8 Ways Global Warming Is Already Changing the World]

    Dire warnings

    But what the World Bank warns of is an even bleaker future. Even if the world's nations deliver on their promises of emission limits and global warming mitigation, there is a 20 percent chance that the world will hit the 4 degrees C mark by 2100, according to the report. If emissions continue as is, the planet may reach that point by the 2060s.

    International negotiators have agreed that warming should be limited to just half that, or 3.6 degrees F, in that time. A world that is 2 degrees warmer would have its own consequences, but it is crucial to hold that line, the World Bank report argues. A 4-degree warming would mean a sea-level rise of 1.6 to 3.2 feet on average, with the tropics catching the brunt of the change.

    Climate research also suggests tropical storms would strengthen and drought would increase across much of the tropical and subtropical world.

    "A world in which warming reaches 4 degrees C above preindustrial levels (hereafter referred to as a 4 degree C world), would be one of unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on human systems, ecosystems, and associated services," the authors wrote in the World Bank report.

    Climate scientists agree.

    "I am inclined to think that things will break before we get there," Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, said of a 4-degree-C world. Ecosystems would change so much and agriculture would be so disrupted that the result would likely be "major strife, conflicts and loss of population," Trenberth told LiveScience.

    Among the flashpoints, according to the World Bank report, would be sparse water availability, food insecurity and loss of resources such as coral reefs, which are threatened by acidification as more carbon dioxide is dissolved in the oceans. Coral reefs provide not only food to many local economies, but also tourism dollars. Areas becoming unsustainable would likely lead to mass exodus, creating environmental refugees, Mann said. [10 Surprising Results of Global Warming]

    Avoiding the 4-degree world

    Avoiding the 4-degree-warmer world is a matter of political will, said Mann, who sees signs of optimism, including increased awareness and more calls to transition away from fossil fuels.

    "The alternative energies (wind, solar, geothermal, etc) are there," Mann wrote in an email to LiveScience. "We just need to deploy and scale them up by investing immediately in the necessary infrastructure."

    Slowing the warming may be as useful as stopping it, Trenberth said.

    "It is not just the absolute amount of warming, but also the rate at which
    we change things to get there," he said. "Two degrees warming in 50 years is extremely stressful, but 2 degrees warming in 500 years is perhaps manageable through adaptation."

    If the world fails to act, the world will become a more disrupted, damaged place, the World Bank concluded - and the poor will suffer most.

    "The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur - the heat must be turned down," the authors wrote. "Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen."

    Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas or LiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

    The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted
    Image Gallery: One-of-a-Kind Places on Earth
    Colorful Creations: Incredible Coral

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    Credit: Via Stuff.co.nz | Lomi Schaumkel/Tamatea Intermediate School

    New Zealand's Mount Tongariro volcano erupted for the second time this year on Wednesday, sending a plume of ash 2.5 miles skyward and raising the odds that another eruption is imminent.

    Tongariro, one of three active volcanoes that stand over Tongariro National Park in the heart of New Zealand's North Island, lay dormant for more than a century before blowing open its Te Maari crater in August.

    That eruption was augured by an increase in seismic activity, but Wednesday's eruption came without any warning, said volcanologist Tony Hurst, who spoke to Radio New Zealand.

    There were hikers in the area at the time of the eruption, including a group of schoolchildren, but no injuries have been reported. Hurst said the eruption was relatively non-threatening because it didn't eject many rocks, suggesting it may have originated from the same vent that had been mostly cleared out by the August eruption, which rained rocks on a hiker's shelter a mile away from the crater.

    Middle school teacher Paul Lowes was hiking on Tongariro with his class when Wednesday's 5-minute eruption began, at about 1:25 p.m. local time.

    "We were sitting there celebrating with the kids, the achievement of them getting up there, and next thing, one of them pointed out, 'Look what's happening.' I turned around and there [the volcano] was, just starting to blow," Lowes told Stuff.co.nz. "We stopped in a bit of awe of it to start with, and didn't realize what was actually happening. And as it was getting bigger, then it was sort of, 'Right-o, it's time to move everyone out of here.'"

    Scientists had no reason to expect the eruption, but one no-warning eruption serves as a warning for the next. That's because, historically, the Te Maari crater has had a tendency to break a silence and keep talking.

    "In 1892 and 1896, it sort of had eruptive periods that went on for months with a number of different events," Hurst told Radio New Zealand. "Having [now had] two events, it could well have more than two in this sequence. There's an enhanced risk at the moment, certainly."

    But Tongariro is not the only potential loose cannon in the park right now. Last week, GNS Science, an official monitoring body in New Zealand and Hurst's employer, issued a warning that Mount Ruapehu, a neighboring volcano, is showing signs that it may erupt in the coming weeks or months.

    Tongariro National Park served as the backdrop of numerous scenes in the "Lord of the Rings" film trilogy, standing in for the fictional land of Mordor.

    The park's third active volcano, Mount Nguaruhoe, featured as the movies' Mount Doom in long shots. That volcano last erupted in 1975.

    Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

    The World's Five Most Active Volcanoes
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    The 10 Biggest Volcanic Eruptions in History

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    Macy's workers unfold a balloon to be inflated for the 86th annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

    NEW YORK (AP) - The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade kicked off in New York on Thursday, putting a festive mood in the air in a city still coping with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.

    The young, and the young at heart, were delighted by the sight and sound of marching bands, performers and, of course, the giant balloons. The weather was a sunny 47 degrees. Some parade-goers had camped out to get a good spot, staying snug in sleeping bags. Others came well-prepared with folding chairs.

    Airports, train stations and highways were expected to remain busy Thursday as people made their way home to reconnect with family and friends for Thanksgiving - though some reunions might be bittersweet because of the damage and displacement caused by Superstorm Sandy.

    For some, the once-sacrosanct harvest feast now starts the holiday shopping season - and store openings keep getting earlier. Black Friday now starts on Thanksgiving Day itself at many national stores, and some shoppers planned to race from their dinner tables to line up for bargains, delaying their second helpings until they've purchased the latest toys or electronic devices.

    The popular Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, attended by more than 3 million people and watched by 50 million on TV, includes such giant balloons as Elf on a Shelf and Papa Smurf, a new version of Hello Kitty, Buzz Lightyear, Sailor Mickey Mouse and the Pillsbury Doughboy. Real-life stars were to include singer Carly Rae Jepsen and Rachel Crow of "The X Factor."

    Other cities planned to have showy marching bands, cartoon character balloons and musical extravaganzas, as well. Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit were among the big cities hosting parades.

    Among the scheduled highlights were a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey spectacular in Chicago; Phillies star Ryan Howard and Miss America 2012 Laura Kaeppeler in Philadelphia; and a group of 2012 U.S. Olympic champions in Detroit.

    The holiday came as portions of the Northeast still were reeling from Sandy's havoc, and volunteers planned to serve thousands of turkey dinners to people it left homeless or struggling.

    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said his office would coordinate the distribution of 26,500 meals at 30 sites in neighborhoods affected by Sandy, and other organizations also were pitching in.

    The Long Beach Surf Association and a charity called Surf for All were sponsoring a Thanksgiving dinner in the Long Island community of Long Beach.

    U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, whose New York district includes the heavily battered Rockaways neighborhoods, said he planned to stop by Thanksgiving dinners at three churches and a school.

    "They are still giving thanks," Meeks said of his constituents. "They are thankful that they're alive and thankful to the people who are coming to help them."

    Some used social media to coordinate Thanksgiving volunteering. Elle Aichele, of Toms River, N.J., started a Facebook page called Hurricane Sandy Thanksgiving Adopt a Family for Dinner.

    "Please host a family that needs something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving!" she wrote. "I have been thinking about what I can do to help and this is it!"

    For some travelers, the need to stretch their money dictated how they were to arrive at their destinations.

    Ashlee Denaro, 35, of Irvine, Calif., was at Los Angeles International Airport Wednesday with her three children. The divorced woman had flown to Salt Lake City to pick up the children from her ex-spouse for a flight back to Southern California.

    To economize, Denaro, a physical therapist, flew to Phoenix, changed planes for Salt Lake City, then returned to LAX instead of landing at her local Orange County airport. She then planned to drive an hour to Irvine.

    The circuitous route saved her $500 on plane fare.

    A Pennsylvania Turnpike service plaza just outside Pittsburgh was packed early Wednesday afternoon, with occasional lines of cars waiting for gas.

    Linda Lapp-Stout, 64, was traveling from Cleveland to see family in Parkesburg, between Philadelphia and Lancaster. Lapp-Stout, who has driven a school bus for 32 years, said she was thankful for the holiday break and the warm weather, but she was worried about the economy.

    "It's hard to even afford gas," she said.

    Landscape designer Anne Murphy, of Gorham, Maine, was waiting for an Amtrak train at Boston's South Station as she and her husband, Ken, headed for Thanksgiving dinner in Gibbsboro, N.J. She said she travels smarter by searching for deals online, using cheaper airports farther from home and packing fewer bags to avoid baggage fees.

    "I think we probably travel a little bit less because of costs, but we've definitely traveled more public transportation in order to save on gas," said Murphy, 56.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Before and After Superstorm Sandy

     

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