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SKYE on AOL

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    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The third powerful storm in a week drenched an already saturated Northern California, but concerns of serious flooding eased as the system moved through faster than expected.

    The storm dropping as much as an inch of rain per hour Sunday in some areas, toppling trees and knocking out electrical service to tens of thousands of people, officials said.

    Rivers across Northern California swelled from the deluge, but did not flood as extensively as had been expected, officials said.

    Forecasters had issued flood warnings for the Napa and Russian rivers, two rivers north of San Francisco with a history of flooding, as well as the Truckee River, near Lake Tahoe, but by Sunday afternoon had canceled the warning for the Russian River.

    "It (the storm) moved through a lit bit faster than it was looking like it would, so it didn't plant on top of us and keeping raining," said Austin Cross, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "The period of heavy rain didn't last as long."

    In Napa, where officials had handed out more than 8,000 sandbags and about 150 tons of sand before the storm hit, officials breathed a sigh of relief Sunday afternoon after the heaviest rain moved out of the area and the city appeared to avoid any major damage from the storm.

    "There were predictions of the river getting above flood stage, but that did not occur," Napa city spokesman Barry Martin said. "We've had some minor street flooding and some of the intersections were flooded."

    Flood construction projects were credited with keeping the river within its banks through the city, while most of anticipated flooding, expected around 6 p.m. Sunday, was expected to hit a mostly agricultural area outside of the city, officials said.

    In Truckee, 30 miles west of Reno, city officials were focusing on snow removal Sunday afternoon instead of flood control after the town received 4 to 5 inches of snow in the morning, said Assistant City Manager Alex Terrazas.

    "We continue to keep an eye on the river, but things are certainly better than they could have been," he said. "We'll transition back to flood management if we need to."

    Besides the speed in which the system moved through the area, weather officials were heartened by colder temperatures than expected in the mountains, meaning more snow and less rain fell.

    In far Northern California, flood warnings remained in effect Sunday for the Eel, Navarro and Mad rivers.

    Meanwhile, as Pacific Gas & Electric crews worked on restoring power, about 57,000 people from Santa Cruz to Eureka, including about 13,000 people in the San Francisco Bay area, remained without electricity Sunday afternoon as the powerful winds from the storm knocked down trees and sent broken tree limbs and branches across power lines, officials said.

    "It really did broadside California," PG&E spokesman Joe Molica said of the storm.

    About 2,000 PG&E crews were working Sunday to try to restore power, Molica said.

    Wind gusts, recorded as high as 60 miles per hour in parts of the Bay area, were blamed for knocking over a big rig truck as it drove over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge at around 5 a.m. Sunday.

    Tow crews had to wait for the winds to subside later in the morning before they could remove the truck, officials said.

    Also, train service on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system was disrupted for about an hour Sunday morning because of an electrical outage blamed on the weather.

     

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    Smoke rises from a coal power station in Germany. (AP)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The amount of heat-trapping pollution the world spewed rose again last year by 3 percent. So scientists say it's now unlikely that global warming can be limited to a couple degrees, which is an international goal.

    The overwhelming majority of the increase was from China, the world's biggest carbon dioxide polluter. Of the planet's top 10 polluters, the United States and Germany were the only countries that reduced their carbon dioxide emissions.

    Last year, all the world's nations combined pumped nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, according to new international calculations on global emissions published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change. That's about a billion tons more than the previous year.

    The total amounts to more than 2.4 million pounds of carbon dioxide released into the air every second.

    Because emissions of the key greenhouse gas have been rising steadily and most carbon stays in the air for a century, it is not just unlikely but "rather optimistic" to think that the world can limit future temperature increases to 2 degrees, said the study's lead author, Glen Peters at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway.

    Three years ago, nearly 200 nations set the 2-degree temperature goal in a nonbinding agreement. Negotiators now at a conference under way in Doha, Qatar, are trying to find ways to reach that target.

    The only way, Peters said, is to start reducing world emissions now and "throw everything we have at the problem."

    Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria in Canada who was not part of the study, said: "We are losing control of our ability to get a handle on the global warming problem."

    In 1997, most of the world agreed to an international treaty, known as the Kyoto Protocol, that required developed countries such as the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 5 percent when compared with the baseline year of 1990. But countries that are still developing, including China and India, were not limited by how much carbon dioxide they expelled. The United States never ratified the treaty.

    The latest pollution numbers, calculated by the Global Carbon Project, a joint venture of the Energy Department and the Norwegian Research Council, show that worldwide carbon dioxide levels are 54 percent higher than the 1990 baseline.

    The 2011 figures for the biggest polluters:

    1. China, up 10 percent to 10 billion tons

    2. United States, down 2 percent to 5.9 billion tons

    3. India, up 7 percent to 2.5 billion tons

    4. Russia, up 3 percent to 1.8 billion tons

    5. Japan, up 0.4 percent to 1.3 billion tons

    6. Germany, down 4 percent to 0.8 billion tons

    7. Iran, up 2 percent to 0.7 billion tons

    8. South Korea, up 4 percent to 0.6 billion tons

    9. Canada, up 2 percent to 0.6 billion tons

    10. South Africa, up 2 percent to 0.6 billion tons

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Striking Images of Islands, Rivers and Seas from Space

     

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    This incredible timelapse video edited by Cy Kuckenbaker shows all the landings at San Diego International Airport on Black Friday, Nov. 23, 2012, between 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.



    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Irish explorer Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, in the southern party on board the vessel Nimrod, on their return voyage, after reaching a point 97 miles from the South Pole - a record at the time. (Photo by Spencer Arnold/Getty Images)

    Tim Jarvis, a renowned British/Australian adventurer who in 2007 re-enacted Mawson's 1912 odyssey across the frozen continent, is planning a similar trip in 2013 to follow Shackleton's dramatic 1916 voyage.

    Jarvis described the perilous 800 nautical mile (1,300 kilometer) Southern Ocean crossing in a spartan lifeboat and punishing traverse of South Georgia Island with very basic gear and rations as "the biggest survival journey of them all."

    Shackleton had hoped to complete the first land crossing of the Antarctic when his ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice, triggering a desperate mission on a lifeboat from nearby Elephant Island to South Georgia for help.

    Related on Discovery: Whisky Comes Home After Century on Ice

    The adventurer and five other men made it across the hostile ocean with little more than the clothes on their backs and the most basic of rations and battled across the rugged island to a whaling station to raise the alarm.

    It was a two-year ordeal that "well and truly bookmarked the end of the heroic era of exploration that started in 1895 when the first person set foot on the Antarctic and finished with the First World War," Jarvis said.

    Inspired by the story and hoping to map the dramatic changes that global warming has brought to the region, Jarvis and a crew of five sailors will repeat the ocean crossing in a replica boat with all the same privations.

    Video on Discovery: Divers Plumb Depths for U-Boats

    They will be without navigational aids or any modern equipment, live off the same lard rations as Shackleton's men and wear the same clothes as they battle high seas and icy, bleak conditions to reach Stromness on South Georgia.

    "I'm expecting constant hardship and vigilance; there are periods of darkness down there, we're on a boat with absolutely no modern navigational aids whatsoever, we'll just be going into darkness," Jarvis told AFP at the crew's official farewell from Sydney on Sunday.

    "Icebergs can loom up on the horizon, we wouldn't even see them until they're on us, there are whales, it's big, big sea," he added.

    Related on Discovery: Shackleton's 104-Year-Old Biscuit Sold

    "It's a very, very challenging boat journey and we'll require the luck that he had, I think. Expect the worst, hope for the best."

    Along with Norway's Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911, Australian explorer Mawson and Briton Robert Falcon Scott - his patron-turned-rival - Shackleton was among the great Antarctic explorers.

    Though his first polar expedition was with Scott in 1901, Shackleton and his mentor went on to part ways, sparking an intense rivalry that overshadowed his career. Scott perished on his return journey from the pole in 1912, having been beaten to the milestone by Amundsen five weeks earlier.

    Shackleton died of a heart attack off South Georgia in 1922 during his fourth Antarctic expedition, aiming to circumnavigate the continent.

    He is buried on the island and Jarvis said it would be "be fantastic to feel that he was there with us," almost 100 years on from his original mercy dash.

    The men will set off in their replica lifeboat, named the Alexandra Shackleton after the explorer's granddaughter, in early January 2013 from South America and expect the journey to take two months.

    It has taken six years and AU$2.5 million (US$2.6 million) to plan.

    The sailors are currently undertaking basic mountaineering training in the French Alps "testing gear and learning how to pull themselves out of crevasses with virtually no equipment - we've only got a tiny section of rope."

    A support vessel, the Australis, a modern and fully equipped steel-hulled motor boat will trail the lifeboat, but will only go to its aid in the event of a serious emergency.

    As well as honoring Shackleton's legacy, Jarvis hopes to raise awareness about the impact of climate change on the polar regions.

    "The irony is that Shackleton tried to save his men from Antarctica," he said. "We are now trying to save Antarctica from man."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 Amazing Mount Everest Survival Stories

     

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    Dec. 3, 2012, 8:29 p.m. ET

    A vehicle transits a flooded underpass in San Rafael, Calif., on Sunday as utility workers repair a downed power line. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Northern California residents recovering Monday from a series of wet, windy storms likely won't get much of a break as another system is expected to drench the area.

    Up to 5 more inches of rain could fall in the region beginning Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.

    The rain could be especially heavy at times in areas north of Redding and across the Sierra Nevada, meteorologist Dan Keeton said.

    Still, it should be nothing like the downpours that left between 15 to 20 inches of rain in some areas over the five-day period that ended Sunday. Forecasters said the latest storm left the area faster than expected.

    "It's going to be significant, but less impactful," Keeton said of the coming rain. "There will be some isolated impact in certain areas, but nothing as widespread compared to what we saw late last week. This was a down payment on our winter water supply accumulation."

    Pacific Gas & Electric crews continued to work on restoring power to about 8,000 users, a figure that was down from 57,000 on Sunday in areas stretching from Santa Cruz to Eureka and parts of the San Francisco Bay area.

    Three powerful storms drenched the region within a week. In the High Sierra, more than 5 feet of snow during the stretch forced the closures of a major road and a secondary roadway through Yosemite National Park, officials said Monday.

    Both roads typically close in the late fall when heavy snows arrive and reopen when weather conditions allow in the spring.

    Sunday's storm dropped as much as an inch of rain an hour in some areas while toppling trees, bringing flash flooding to roadways and knocking out electrical service.

    "I think everybody got nervous last week," Keeton said. "These storms came with plenty of warnings, but it rained so hard at times that many were still left surprised by what Mother Nature can do."

    Rivers across Northern California swelled from the deluge but did not flood as much as expected. Flood warnings had been issued for the Napa and Russian rivers north of San Francisco, and for the Truckee River near Lake Tahoe.

    In Napa, officials had handed out more than 8,000 sandbags and about 150 tons of sand, but the city appeared to avoid any major damage.

    In Nevada, rescue crews searched for a homeless man in Reno who reportedly fell into the Truckee River from a limb Sunday night.

    A sudden shift in the weekend weather turned rain into snow, keeping rivers and streams largely within their banks in Reno and Sparks, Nev., and Truckee, Calif.

    In southern Oregon, the Coquille and Rogue rivers were both about 2 feet above flood stage as a result of storms.

    The weather service said more rivers along the coast and inland in the Willamette Valley could be flooded amid heavy rains.

    A Southern Oregon man was being held on $40,000 bail after being charged with disorderly conduct and recklessly endangering rescuers after a disagreement on whether to save his three boats that went downstream, authorities said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Striking Images of Islands, Rivers and Seas from Space

     

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    Dec. 3, 2012, 8:49 p.m. ET

    Typhoon Bopha moves toward the Philippines on December 3. (NASA)

    A potential disaster is unfolding as Super Typhoon Bopha is making landfall on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, packing 160-mph winds.

    As of Monday, nearly 8,000 people in the likely path of Bopha had been evacuated from the coast and other low-lying areas, the Australian ABC News website said.

    Bopha is likely to be the strongest tropical cyclone of 2012 and has the potential to be the southern Philippines' equivalent to Florida's Andrew in 1992.

    Flooding rain along and near the storm's path could spawn mudslides on the nation's rugged southern main island.

    More from AccuWeather: Intense Winds, Feet of Rain, Snow Slam West

    Official estimates of top wind speed reached 160 mph, with gusts near 200 mph with the center just offshore. The storm was making landfall late Monday (Eastern Time) and moving toward the west-northwest at between 15 and 18 mph.

    Winds of this magnitude and a storm moving rapidly inland perpendicular to the coast can bring total destruction and great loss of life, due to storm surge, inland flooding, flying debris and collapsing structures.

    Evacuation efforts were focused on the area of Hinatuan, a coastal town of eastern Hinatuan. Schools were shut and travel at sea was temporarily banned, the ABC said.

    More from AccuWeather: Atlantic Hurricane Season Third Most-Active on Record

    Beyond Mindanao, Bopha, significantly weakened, will continue to threaten damaging winds and flooding rains over the southern Philippines as it tracks towards the South China Sea later Tuesday through Wednesday.

    Sunday, the potentially devastating wrath of Bopha narrowly skirted the island nation of Palau. The national capital, Koror, had top wind gusts of 70 mph as Bopha sidestepped Palau to the south.

    Packing 155 mph at its zenith of power, Bopha held the rank of a "super typhoon," making it a truly rare storm for December. The storm strengthened rapidly late Monday local time, prior to reaching the southern Philippines.

    A super typhoon is defined as a typhoon having highest sustained winds of at least 130 knots, or 150 mph.

    The last December super typhoon was Nanmadol, which briefly held the rank of super typhoon on Dec. 1, 2004. Nanmadol later struck northern Philippines.

    The name Bopha, pronounced "boe-fa," originates from Cambodia and means blossom or flower.

    See AccuWeather.com for more weather forecasts.

    ALSO ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    HERO3 Test- around JH from Andrew Whiteford on Vimeo.

    Andrew Whiteford attached a GoPro Hero3 to his helmet and hit the trail in the Grand Tetons. Great perspective.

     

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    This photo provided by NASA on Dec. 2 shows Typhoon Bopha moving toward the Philippines. (AP Photo/NASA)

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) - A Philippine governor says at least 33 villagers and soldiers have drowned when torrents of water dumped by a powerful typhoon rushed down a mountain, engulfing the victims and bringing the death toll from the storm to about 40.

    Gov. Arturo Uy says rain from Typhoon Bopha accumulated atop a mountain and then burst down on Andap village in New Bataan town in Compostela Valley early Tuesday.

    Uy says the victims included villagers who had fled from their homes to a village hall, which was swamped by the flash flood. An army truck carrying soldiers and villagers also was washed away.

    Typhoon Bopha slammed into the Davao region at dawn, its ferocious winds ripping roofs from homes and its 311-mile-wide rain band flooding low-lying farmland. The storm, packing winds of 99 miles per hour and gusts of up to 121 mph, toppled trees, triggered landslides and sent flash floods surging across the region's mountains and valleys.

    In the gold-mining province of Compostela Valley, the fierce wind and rain forced a wall of mud and boulders to cascade down on a house, killing three children. Their bodies were wrapped in blankets by their grieving relatives and placed on a basketball court in Maparat village.

    "The only thing we could do was to save ourselves. It was too late for us to rescue them," said Valentin Pabilana, who survived the landslide.

    A soldier died and 20 villagers were missing after a flash flood raced down a mountain in Andap town, washing away a truck, according to Compostela Valley Governor Arturo Uy and military officials.

    In nearby Davao Oriental, a poor agricultural and gold-mining province about 620 miles southeast of Manila, an elderly woman was killed when her house was struck by a tree felled by howling wind, said Benito Ramos, an ex-army general who now heads the government's disaster-response agency.

    A man died a few hours later when a tree knocked him down while he was traveling on a scooter on a road in Misamis Oriental province. One storm-related death was also reported on central Siquijor island, Ramos said.

    He said the death toll was expected to rise once soldiers and police gain access to some far-flung villages isolated by floods, fallen trees and downed communications.

    Regional disaster-response officer Liza Maso told The Associated Press by telephone that she was trying to confirm an army report that a flash flood washed away a truck carrying an undetermined number of people in New Bataan town, also in Compostela Valley.

    While some 20 typhoons and storms normally lash the archipelago nation annually, the southern provinces being battered by Bopha are unaccustomed to fierce typhoons. A rare storm that took the area by surprise last December killed more than 1,200 people and left many more homeless and traumatized.

    Officials were taking no chances this year, and President Benigno Aquino III made an appeal on national TV Monday for people in Bopha's path to move to safety and take storm warnings seriously.

    "This typhoon is not a joke," Aquino said after meeting top officials in charge of disaster-response.

    "But we can minimize the damage and loss of lives if we help each other," he added.

    Aquino outlined preparations, including evacuations and the deployment of army search and rescue boats in advance. Authorities also ordered small boats and ferries not to venture out along the country's eastern seaboard, warning of rough seas with up to 13-foot waves.

    In Compostela Valley, authorities halted mining operations and ordered villagers to evacuate to prevent a repeat of deadly losses from landslides and the collapse of mine tunnels seen in previous storms.

    Bopha, a Cambodian word for flower or a girl, is the 16th weather disturbance to hit the Philippines this year. Forecasters say at least one more storm may hit the country before Christmas.

     

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    A car navigates a flooded street in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/The Sacramento Bee, Randy Pench)

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Just as Northern California residents recovered from a series of wet, windy storms, another system on the way is expected to drench the area.

    With rain expected to start falling in far Northern California overnight Tuesday, some areas could see up to 5 more inches of rain before the storm moves out, the National Weather Service said.

    The rain could be especially heavy in areas north of Redding and across the Sierra Nevada, meteorologist Dan Keeton said.

    Still, it should be nothing like the three previous downpours that dumped between 15 to 20 inches of rain in some areas over the five-day period that ended Sunday. Forecasters said the latest storm left the area faster than expected.

    "It's going to be significant, but less impactful," Keeton said of the coming rain. "There will be some isolated impact in certain areas, but nothing as widespread compared to what we saw late last week. This was a down payment on our winter water supply accumulation."

    Pacific Gas & Electric crews were still working to restore power to about 5,700 users, down from the height Sunday of 57,000 in areas stretching from Santa Cruz to Eureka and parts of the San Francisco Bay area.

    Three powerful storms drenched the region within a week. In the high Sierra, more than 5 feet of snow during the stretch forced the closures of a major road and a secondary roadway through Yosemite National Park, officials said Monday.

    Both roads typically close in the late fall when heavy snows arrive and reopen when weather allow in the spring.

    Sunday's storm dropped as much as an inch of rain an hour in some areas while toppling trees, bringing flash flooding to roadways and knocking out power.

    "I think everybody got nervous last week," Keeton said. "These storms came with plenty of warnings, but it rained so hard at times that many were still left surprised by what Mother Nature can do."

    Rivers across Northern California swelled from the deluge but did not flood as much as expected. Flood warnings had been issued for the Napa and Russian rivers north of San Francisco, and for the Truckee River near Lake Tahoe.

    In Napa, officials had handed out more than 8,000 sandbags and about 150 tons of sand, but the city appeared to avoid any major damage.

    In Nevada, rescue crews searched for a homeless man in Reno who reportedly fell into the Truckee River from a limb Sunday night.

    A sudden shift in the weekend weather turned rain into snow, keeping rivers and streams largely within their banks in Reno and Sparks, Nev., and Truckee, Calif.

    In southern Oregon, the Coquille and Rogue rivers were both about 2 feet above flood stage as a result of storms.

    The weather service said more rivers along the coast and inland in the Willamette Valley could be flooded amid heavy rains.

    A Southern Oregon man was being held on $40,000 bail after being charged with disorderly conduct and recklessly endangering rescuers after a disagreement on whether to save his three boats that went downstream, authorities said.

     

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    Clean up continues on the site of a demolished home on the Rockaway Peninsula in New York. (AP)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Facing Superstorm Sandy's daunting toll of wreckage and displacement in America's largest city, officials have put much of their hopes and hundreds of millions of dollars into jump-starting repairs to make homes livable.

    They see the strategy - focusing on getting people back into their own homes, not temporary housing - as an innovative and nimble answer to the challenge of housing thousands of storm victims in the notoriously expensive and crowded city of New York.

    But with relatively few homes fixed so far, questions are emerging about whether the "rapid repairs" initiative can live up to its name.

    More than 10,000 homeowners have signed up for NYC Rapid Repairs in the three weeks since Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the initiative to bring in hundreds of contractors to restore power, heat and other essentials free of charge.

    Contractors have done initial assessments of about 7,000 homes in the city and 2,000 in similar initiatives on suburban Long Island, but just about 400 projects have been completed so far.

    Officials stress that they're still ramping up the program. But a community meeting last week in the hard-hit borough Staten Island boiled over with complaints that repairs and other aid aren't coming fast enough, a familiar refrain in storm-damaged areas.

    Noreen Connolly-Skammel's home on the Rockaway peninsula in Queens was hit by a basement fire and then a flood that swamped the cellar and two feet of the first floor. She said the NYC Rapid Repairs program was swift at first, conducting an assessment within two to three days after her call. But she heard nothing further for about two weeks, when she was told a new assessment had to be done.

    Anxious to get the work going, she and her husband spent about $8,300 (€6,400) of their own money on boiler, hot water and electrical repairs - the very sort the government program might have done for free.

    "I wish they were a little more rapid," she said, noting that the program has since pledged to help with other repairs.

    Officials are asking for patience with the first-of-its-kind effort.

    "We are moving as quickly as we can on these repairs," Michael Byrne, the Federal Emergency Management Agency official supervising Sandy recovery in New York state, said in a statement Monday.

    FEMA is paying much of the bill for the home-repair program, while also subsidizing hotel stays and apartments for thousands of Sandy victims - help some say has come promptly, but not without snags.

    For FEMA, Sandy represents one of the biggest tests since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005 rendered 300,000 homes uninhabitable along the Gulf Coast, displaced more than 1 million people and spurred a national examination of disaster housing.

    Byrne says he feels FEMA - which has OK'd more than $673 million in housing and home-repair aid so far in New York alone - has at least gotten a handle on the disaster. But "my job is to always feel like I'm missing something," he said.

    Roughly 6,700 buildings around the city require significant repairs to be habitable, and about 750 more are deemed structurally unsound, according to city Buildings Department statistics. And in one measure of the demand for help, about 2,100 households are in FEMA-paid hotel rooms. Some storm victims also have gotten money for apartment rentals; a number isn't immediately available.

    It's not uncommon for FEMA to pay for crucial fixes, such as replacing a furnace or fixing a flood-damaged electrical system. But usually, the agency assesses the damage and insurance and gives homeowners a check, leaving them to arrange the work.

    FEMA and city officials reasoned they could get homes fixed faster if the city hired contractors, coordinated repair requests, dispatched the workers and paid for it all directly. The free repairs come on top of the $31,900-per-family cap for FEMA aid.

    About a half-dozen NYC Rapid Repairs workers were busy last week in Stephen Murray's gutted Staten Island home, its windows about five feet off the floor speckled with debris. The line marks how high the water rose as Murray fled Sandy in a neighbor's pickup truck.

    The workers expected to spend several days replacing the flood-damaged wiring, furnace and hot water heater and putting down plywood where sodden floors were ripped out - not restoring the home completely, but making it safe. Murray and his wife are living in an apartment in the meantime, with FEMA's help.

    Both retired after workplace injuries; they couldn't afford flood insurance or the $60,000 (€46,000) estimate to repair the two-bedroom bungalow. But he figures the city repairs, FEMA aid and elbow grease from friends and family should be enough.

    "If the city didn't come in here and help me, I don't know what I would have done," Murray said.

    As he spoke, a light bulb flicked on overhead, a sign that the workers had restored the home's connection to the power grid.

    "Oh, man," Murray said. "You have no idea what it feels like."

     

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    NEW YORK (AP) - Flu season in the U.S. is off to its earliest start in nearly a decade -and it could be a bad one.

    Health officials on Monday said suspected flu cases have jumped in five Southern states, and the primary strain circulating tends to make people sicker than other types. It is particularly hard on the elderly.

    "It looks like it's shaping up to be a bad flu season, but only time will tell," said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The good news is that the nation seems fairly well prepared, Frieden said. More than a third of Americans have been vaccinated, and the vaccine formulated for this year is well-matched to the strains of the virus seen so far, CDC officials said.

    Higher-than-normal reports of flu have come in from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. An uptick like this usually doesn't happen until after Christmas. Flu-related hospitalizations are also rising earlier than usual, and there have already been two deaths in children.

    Hospitals and urgent care centers in northern Alabama have been bustling. "Fortunately, the cases have been relatively mild," said Dr. Henry Wang, an emergency medicine physician at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

    Parts of Georgia have seen a boom in traffic, too. It's not clear why the flu is showing up so early, or how long it will stay.

    "My advice is: Get the vaccine now," said Dr. James Steinberg, an Emory University infectious diseases specialist in Atlanta.

    The last time a conventional flu season started this early was the winter of 2003-04, which proved to be one of the most lethal seasons in the past 35 years, with more than 48,000 deaths. The dominant type of flu back then was the same one seen this year.

    One key difference between then and now: In 2003-04, the vaccine was poorly matched to the predominant flu strain. Also, there's more vaccine now, and vaccination rates have risen for the general public and for key groups such as pregnant women and health care workers.

    An estimated 112 million Americans have been vaccinated so far, the CDC said. Flu vaccinations are recommended for everyone 6 months or older.

    On average, about 24,000 Americans die each flu season, according to the CDC.

    Flu usually peaks in midwinter. Symptoms can include fever, cough, runny nose, head and body aches and fatigue. Some people also suffer vomiting and diarrhea, and some develop pneumonia or other severe complications.

    A strain of swine flu that hit in 2009 caused a wave of cases in the spring and then again in the early fall. But that was considered a unique type of flu, distinct from the conventional strains that circulate every year.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Could a Trip to Your Favorite Beach Make You Sick?

     

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    Massive Jam Maroons Thousands of Russian Drivers

    Thousands of cars and trucks were stuck in a massive, 125-mile-long traffic jam caused by heavy snow northwest of Moscow. Some of the trucks have been there for three days, prompting officials to visit the region and start organizing aid for the drivers. Although there is some food being handed out, drivers worried about running out of the gas needed to keep them from freezing in the wintry weather.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    Anderson Cooper tweeted this picture and wrote, "Temporarily blinded last week while on assignment. UV light bouncing off water. Much better now. Details t http://instagr.am/p/S0j-HekkEn/ " (andersoncooper/Twitter)

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - Anderson Cooper says a reporting assignment turned into a temporary blindness scare.

    On his talk show Tuesday, Cooper said he was in Portugal last week working on a story for "60 Minutes" and spent two hours on the water. The newsman says that later, he developed a burning sensation in his eyes and lost sight for 36 hours.

    Showing a photo he took of himself with an eye patch, Cooper joked it would be his new online dating picture.

    On a more serious note, Cooper said he wanted to warn viewers about the risk.

    Dr. Nancy Snyderman, chief medical correspondent for NBC News, explained to Cooper he had suffered a retina burn. Snyderman cautioned that "everybody needs sunglasses," adding that protection from the sun can prevent cataracts later in life.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 Most Weathery Weather Forecaster Names

     

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    Early this November, Superstorm Sandy's wrath was felt far beyond the East Coast. The storm churned unusually big waves in the Great Lakes, prompting at least one surfer to take to the water. Check out Josh Tyron braving the cold to surf Lake Michigan.

    (via 5 Things I Learned Today)

     

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    DOHA, Qatar (AP) - Rich countries are to blame for climate change and should take the lead in forging a global climate pact by 2015, a deadline that "must be met," the head of the United Nations said Wednesday.

    On the sidelines of international climate talks in Qatar, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was "only fair and reasonable that the developed world should bear most of the responsibility" in fighting the gradual warming of the planet.

    Ban's comments echoed the concerns of China and other developing countries, which say rich nations have a historical responsibility for global warming because their factories released carbon emissions into the atmosphere long before the climate effects were known.

    "The climate change phenomenon has been caused by the industrialization of the developed world," Ban told The Associated Press. "It's only fair and reasonable that the developed world should bear most of the responsibility."

    Many rich nations, including the U.S. and European Union, say the firewall between developed and developing countries that has guided the two-decade-old climate process in the past no longer reflects the world today and isn't helpful in dealing with the problem.

    Most of the emissions now come from the developing world, and China has overtaken the U.S. to become the world's top carbon polluter.

    "Rich countries will need to do more than poor countries, that is clear," European Union climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard told The AP. "But all of us will have to do the maximum we can because otherwise we can't cope with climate change."

    How to divide the burden of emissions cuts is at the core of discussions to create a new global climate treaty that would apply to all nations. The only binding pact so far, the Kyoto Protocol, only covers the emissions of industrialized countries.

    Last year, governments decided that the new treaty should be adopted in 2015 and enter force five years later. The Doha meeting is supposed to produce a work plan to ensure that the treaty is ready by 2015.

    "This deadline must be met. There is no time to waste, no time to lose for us," Ban said.

    "Climate change is happening much, much faster than one would understand," he added. "The science has plainly made it clear: it is the human beings' behavior which caused climate change, therefore the solution must come from us."

    Ban came to the negotiations in Doha in an attempt to "accelerate the process" of shifting the world to a clean energy pathway, and helping the most vulnerable countries adapt to inevitable warming.

    Governments represented at the talks in Qatar are also discussing extending the Kyoto Protocol, which expires this year, as a stopgap measure until the new deal takes effect.

    The United States never joined the Kyoto Protocol, partly because it didn't cover emerging economies like China and India. For similar reasons, Canada, New Zealand and Japan don't want to be part of the extension, meaning it would only cover Europe and Australia, who account for less than 15 percent of global emissions.

    Nevertheless, Ban said it is "imperative" that the treaty is extended, because it is "the only existing legally binding commitment when it comes to climate change."

    Dangerous climate effects could include flooding of coastal cities and island nations, disruptions to agriculture and drinking water, and the spread of diseases and the extinction of species.

    A small minority of scientists still question whether the warming seen in recent decades is due to human activities, such as carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. On Tuesday, Ban said it was time to "prove wrong all these doubts on climate change."

    Global warming skeptic John Christy of the University of Alabama said Ban's statement was "representative of a religion, not science."

    "Science requires questioning (i.e. skepticism) those who wish to stifle debate using arguments from authority (not arguments from evidence)," Christy wrote in an email.

    In 2010, a survey of more than 1,000 of the most cited and published climate scientists found that 97 percent of them believe climate change is very likely caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

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

     

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    Residents cross a river using suspended ropes at Andap in southern Philippines on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

    NEW BATAAN, Philippines (AP) - Stunned parents searching for missing children examined a row of mud-stained bodies covered with banana leaves while survivors dried their soaked belongings on roadsides Wednesday, a day after a powerful typhoon killed more than 280 people in the southern Philippines.

    Officials fear more bodies may be found as rescuers reach hard-hit areas that were isolated by landslides, floods and downed communications.

    At least 151 people died in the worst-hit province of Compostela Valley when Typhoon Bopha lashed the region Tuesday, including 78 villagers and soldiers who perished in a flash flood that swamped two emergency shelters and a military camp, provincial spokeswoman Fe Maestre said.

    About 80 people survived the deluge in New Bataan town with injuries, but between 50 and 319 others remain missing, according to varying estimates by government officials and the army.

    The farming town of 45,000 people was a muddy wasteland of collapsed houses and coconut and banana trees felled by Bopha's ferocious winds.

    On a roadside, dozens of mud-stained bodies were laid side-by-side, covered by cloth and banana leaves and surrounded by villagers. A man sprayed insecticide on the remains to keep away swarms of flies.

    A father wept when he lifted a plastic cover and found the body of his child. A mother, meanwhile, went away in tears, unable to find her missing children. "I have three children," she said repeatedly, flashing three fingers before a TV cameraman.

    Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, who visited the devastated town, said a day of searching by soldiers and volunteers did not turn up any of the 319 people reported missing in New Bataan.

    "These were whole families among the registered missing," Roxas told the ABS-CBN TV network. "Entire families may have been washed away."

    In nearby Davao Oriental, the coastal province first struck by the typhoon as it blew inland from the Pacific Ocean, at least 115 people perished, mostly in three towns that were so battered that it was hard to find any buildings with roofs remaining, provincial officer Freddie Bendulo and other officials said.

    "We had a problem where to take the evacuees. All the evacuation centers have lost their roofs," Davao Oriental Gov. Corazon Malanyaon said.

    Disaster-response agencies reported 13 other typhoon-related deaths elsewhere.

    Unlike the previous day's turbulent weather, the sun was shining brightly Wednesday, prompting residents to lay their soaked clothes, books and other belongings out on roadsides to dry and revealing the extent of the damage to farmland. Thousands of banana trees in one Compostela Valley plantation were toppled by the wind, the young bananas still wrapped in blue plastic covers.

    After slamming into Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley, Bopha roared quickly across the southern Mindanao and central regions, knocking out power in two entire provinces, triggering landslides and leaving houses and plantations damaged. More than 170,000 fled to evacuation centers.

    The typhoon, one of the strongest to hit the country this year, had blown past southwestern Palawan province into the South China Sea by midday Wednesday and could head to either Vietnam or southern China, according to government forecasters.

    The deaths came despite efforts by President Benigno Aquino III's government to force residents out of high-risk communities as the typhoon approached.

    Some 20 typhoons and storms lash the northern and central Philippines each year, but they rarely hit the vast southern Mindanao region.

    A rare storm in the south last December killed more than 1,200 people and left many more homeless.

    The United States extended its condolences and offered to help its Asian ally deal with the typhoon's devastation. It praised government efforts to minimize the deaths and damage.

    ALSO ON SKYE: Photos: Typhoon Bopha Slams into Philippines

     

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    Downtown Anchorage, Alaska. (AP/Anchorage Daily News, Marc Lester)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A strong earthquake Monday was felt over a 175-mile swath of Alaska, including the state's largest city, but there were no immediate reports of damage beyond items knocked off shelves.

    The Alaska and West Coast Tsunami Warning Center said the magnitude-5.8 earthquake occurred at about 4:45 p.m. and was centered about 30 miles northwest of Anchorage. The Alaska Earthquake Information Center said the center was 27 miles west of Anchorage.

    Guy Urban, a geophysicist at the tsunami warning center, said the quake wasn't expected to generate a tsunami.

    He said the center had reports of residents feeling the quake throughout the Anchorage metro area and beyond. It was also felt as far south as the fishing community of Homer, 125 miles southwest of Anchorage, and in Willow, 50 miles north of the city.

    "No reports of damage thus far," said Anchorage police spokesman Lt. Dave Parker, who felt the quake at his home in Wasilla, about 45 miles north of Anchorage. "Just a little shaker-upper," he said.

    Beyond the very minor damage of items being knocked off shelves, there were no reports of building collapses or major structural damage, Parker said.

    "It hit like a bam, really hard," said John Owens, who felt the quake at his home in East Anchorage.

    That was followed by low shaking, which he estimated to last about 30 seconds. "And then it ended with a second bam," he said.

    Karen Whitworth, an artist with an online gallery, was in her Wasilla studio when the rumbling began. She felt lightheaded as if her inner ears lost their sense of balance. Her paintings were swaying on the wall and the window blinds were going back and forth, but nothing was damaged.

    It seemed to last more than a minute, but Whitworth wasn't scared enough to get out of her chair. Her husband shepherded their young son and daughter under a door.

    Alaska is seismically active and has frequent earthquakes, although most are too small or too remote to be felt.

    Alaska is the site of the biggest earthquake recorded in North America - a magnitude-9.2 quake on Good Friday 1964 that struck 75 miles east of Anchorage on Prince William Sound. The quake and the ensuing tsunami killed 115 people in Alaska and 16 people in California.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    A storm darkens the sky at the mouth of the Russian River, north of Bodega Bay, Calif. (Credit: NOAA)

    SAN FRANCISCO - Nature generally doesn't time its storms so well. A "Pineapple Express" weather system - so named because of its origins near the pineapple-rich Hawaiian Islands - dumped large amounts of rain on San Francisco and Northern California this past weekend, just ahead of the announcement of a new system for forecasting and assessing exactly that type of storm.

    These storms, aptly and more technically known as atmospheric rivers, bring huge amounts of moisture across the Pacific. They are narrow bands in the atmosphere that funnel moisture from the tropics into more northerly latitudes. Over the course of several days, or even longer, the moisture in the system is dropped on a wide area and can potentially cause flooding and reservoir overflow, as has happened in some West Coast communities with the current system. That system also brought strong, hurricane-force winds to some regions and dozens of inches of snow to others.

    The installation of the first of a set of four instrument arrays to monitor these storm systems was announced by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other researchers here yesterday (Dec. 3) at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union during a two-day lull in the weather. More rain is expected today, and watches and warnings for floods, winter weather and high winds are in effect.

    "It turns out that atmospheric rivers are the cause of most of the floods in the Western coastal states, much like we've seen just in the last few days," said F. Martin Ralph, of the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, at a news conference announcing the installation. [The World's Weirdest Weather]

    Atmospheric rivers

    How do Pineapple Expresses pull that feat off? By carrying a stunning amount of water. A typical system could release 10 million acre-feet of water in a day; in comparison, the Colorado River transmits only 15 million acre-feet of water in a year.

    Even with only about 20 percent of the water vapor in a system being released, an average of six to 10 atmospheric rivers each winter provide about 25 to 50 percent of all the rain in a given year in some areas. The Pineapple Express that has hit the area in recent days already dumped more than 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain on some parts of California, according to NOAA, and left more than 35,000 without power.

    The potential for flooding with Pineapple Express storms is clearly enormous, so forecasting the systems and exactly what the impacts from them will be is crucial. The new network of sensors actually includes about 100 sites, three-quarters of which are already installed. These include soil moisture sensors - to help forecast whether or not the ground will be able to accept more water when a storm arrives - and sensors that measure total water vapor in the air, along with the four new radar systems that will be placed along the coast to monitor for atmospheric river conditions. These sites, the first of which will be installed at Bodega Bay in Northern California later this month, will measure at what altitude in the storm the precipitation turns from snow to rain.

    That "snow line" can have major implications on the ground: If the snow turns to rain higher up, that means that mountainous regions will get rain instead of snow, which yields a higher likelihood of heavy runoff and thus flooding.

    Forecasters can then use these other vital bits of data to improve forecasting abilities; if one storm yielded certain snow lines and rain totals, the models can use that information to improve forecasting of the next storm. It will also help forecast starting and ending times of atmospheric river conditions, which can play a big role in decision-making surrounding dams and reservoirs when flooding occurs. [Weird Weather: One Strange Quiz]

    Forecasting storm impacts

    Those attempts to measure and forecast impact, rather than details of the storm itself, are really the main goal of the sensors.

    "This network is really tuned toward setting us up to do that, to improve our ability to forecast what a particular storm will mean in terms of floods," said Michael Dettinger, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey.

    The sensor network will cost about $11 million in total, and the other three main observatory sites - separated from each other along the West Coast by about 155 miles (250 kilometers), will be installed over the next 18 months or so.

    Dettinger pointed out that Pineapple Expresses may also be feeling the effects of climate change. It is difficult to say exactly how warming will affect them, however; the systems will likely carry more moisture, but winds could also slacken and push less of that water on to land. Still, he said, climate change "is likely to add in a few megastorms, if you will, of a scale that we may not have encountered historically."

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

    In Images: Extreme Weather Around the World
    WATCH LIVE: Latest News from the 2012 AGU Meeting
    Weirdo Weather: 7 Rare Weather Events

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

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    SAN FRANCISCO - Scientists have re-created an entire city in miniature to model the way a tsunami crashes onshore, and have found that buildings can exacerbate the oncoming rush of water.

    The findings, presented on Monday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, show that even if a city overall tolerates the force of a massive tsunami well, certain buildings and alleyways may concentrate the rushing wave, generating 80 to 100 times the speed of waves without buildings.

    "When we think about designing structures or planning for city layouts, understanding the real, detailed tsunami flow through the built environment is very, very important," said study co-author Patrick Lynett, a civil engineer at the University of Southern California.

    In the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2011 Japanese tsunami, building engineers routinely noticed that there were often two buildings standing, while one located in the middle behind it was completely washed away. Lynett and his colleagues wanted to understand why that occurred. Such an understanding is particularly important given studies showing that the West Coast is more vulnerable to tsunamis than previously thought.

    To understand how a tsunami affects a coastal city, Lynett and his team created a 1:50 scale replica of the entire town of Seaside, Ore. They then flooded it with a simulated tsunami 7.9 inches (20 centimeters) high and 5 seconds long that mimicked the relative height and duration of a 200-year tsunami, Lynett told OurAmazingPlanet. [Image Gallery: Monster Waves]



    As water broke over the tiny buildings, the team noticed that certain hotspots concentrated the effects of the waves. A U-shaped hotel on the coast seemed to focus the impact of the tsunami, Lynett said. "We call it the tsunami-catcher because it really amplifies the speed," he said.

    Buildings arranged in a T, with two buildings in front of the wave and another building behind them, also seemed to emphasize the wave's impact.

    Overall, some parts of the city experienced 80 to 100 times the maximum speed and momentum that would occur without any buildings in the landscape, Lynett added. In addition to T-shaped building layouts, narrow alleyways could lead to much higher speeds of rushing water.

    The findings suggest that engineers designing seaside buildings should use some of the same modeling approaches used to assess wind forces on skyscrapers, Lynett said.

    "This is an argument here that, when we're trying to understand the fluid flow through a city, shadowing and concentration of fluid flow through the built environment becomes very important."

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

    Waves of Destruction: History's Biggest Tsunamis
    Tsunami Simulation Shows Wave's Path Of Destruction | Video
    WATCH LIVE: Latest News from the AGU Meeting

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

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