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SKYE on AOL

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    Cyclone Leaves Destruction in Fiji

    SUVA, Fiji (AP) - Fiji residents are beginning to clean up after a powerful cyclone blew through the Pacific island nation.

    Cyclone Evan on Monday ripped roofs from homes and churches, flooded roads and forced thousands to evacuate their homes. Strong seas near the capital, Suva, pulled two container ships onto a reef. Authorities say they hope to refloat them.

    Overall, Fiji appears to have come through the storm relatively intact, with some places yet to be assessed. There are no reports of deaths, the international airport at Nadi reopened Tuesday and most tourist resorts sustained only minor damage. Power and communications remain down in parts of the country.

    The storm earlier wreaked greater havoc on Samoa. Authorities on Tuesday abandoned a search for 10 missing fishermen, bringing the death toll there to 14.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    A man puts chains on his truck tires as he prepares to drive over Willamette Pass during the snow storm on Monday. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Chris Pietsch)

    SEATTLE (AP) - The strongest Northwest storm of the season blew in early Monday on winds that gusted to more than 80 mph on the coast, knocking out power in places and creating blizzard-like conditions in the mountains.

    The storm is headed east along the U.S.-Canada border, said meteorologist Danny Mercer.

    "It doesn't look like a big snow or wind producer for the rest of the U.S. It looks like the biggest impact was here," he said.

    But another storm is splitting off from that - "part of the same trough" - and heading south. It's likely to bring snow along the Rockies, include the Boulder-Denver area, late Tuesday into Wednesday, Mercer said.

    Weather in much of western Washington and western Oregon remained unsettled Monday.

    Wet snow pellets that looked like hail hit an area of south Everett during the Monday evening commute, depositing ice along Interstate 5, said Greg Phipps, a Washington state Transportation Department spokesman. That snarled commuter traffic in both directions.

    The highest winds hit Sunday evening with an 84 mph gust recorded at the mouth of the Columbia River and an 81 mph gust on the central Oregon coast, said meteorologist Scott Weishaar in Portland.

    Winds early Monday hit 60 mph on the Washington coast and 55 mph in the south Puget Sound area, said meteorologist Ted Buehner in Seattle.

    Winds brought tree limbs down on power lines. Seattle City Light had 11,000 customers out of service at one time. Puget Sound Energy had 17,000 outages, mostly in the south King County area, southeast of Seattle.

    Portland General Electric responded to dozens of power outages in the metro area. Pacific Power had about 10,000 outages throughout western Oregon.

    Winds knocked a tree onto a home in Lakewood, Wash., near where a 2-year-old child was sleeping, but it missed the baby's crib. Winds also were blamed for sinking two boats on Lake Washington at Kirkland, Wash., and the fire department helped two people who were sleeping on one of the boats, KOMO Radio reported.

    Heavy snow fell in the mountains. Accumulations from the storm that started Sunday were likely to total 2 to 3 feet by Tuesday morning in the Washington Cascades, Buehner said.

    Snow is already on the ground in parts of Eastern Washington, including Spokane, but downtown streets were clear by Monday afternoon.

    "A wide variety of winter weather is clearly affecting the entire state," Buehner said. "It's the strongest storm of the year, so far."

    Wind speeds of more than 60 mph were reported in Eastern Washington at Pullman on Monday morning, and power company Avista reported thousands of customers without power in its large service area. Winds of more than 50 mph were reported in Spokane, and a tree fell on two homes. No injuries were reported.

    Winds delayed work on the Hanford nuclear reservation in southeast Washington. A large accumulation of tumbleweeds blocked some roadways, the Tri-City Herald reported. Washington Closure Hanford canceled outdoor environmental cleanup work because of the winds.

    Snow accumulations in the Oregon Cascades will total 1 to 2 feet, Weishaar said.

    Four construction workers at a cellphone tower project on Steens Mountain in southeast Oregon were stranded when their snow cat became stuck in a drift Saturday. They waded through waist-deep snow to reach a heated shelter with electricity.

    Harney County rescuers were turned back both Sunday and Monday by white-out conditions. The weather was expected to improve Tuesday, said Matt Fine, Harney County search and rescue coordinator.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    By Meghan Evans, Meteorologist

    While some areas of the U.S. already have a high chance of a white Christmas* this year, an active winter storm track across the country is increasing the odds for others.

    *Since many people may have a different idea of what constitutes a white Christmas, it is being defined in this story as a snow depth of an inch or more on Christmas Day.

    Mountains in West Have Highest Chance of White Christmas

    While a western storm train continues this week and into next week, the Cascades in Washington and Oregon, the Sierra in California and the Rockies are expected to have a white Christmas this year.

    As much as 2-4 feet of snow has blanketed the mountains of the West over the past weekend, so there is a substantial snowcover.

    Flagstaff, Ariz., has a decent chance of a white Christmas. There is currently a snow depth of more than a foot on the ground from heavy snow that fell over the weekend. While some of the snow will melt, there are a couple more snow opportunities leading up to Christmas Day.

    "Flagstaff could have around half of a foot of snow left on the ground by Christmas Day," AccuWeather Expert Senior Meteorologist Jim Andrews said.

    RELATED ON ACCUWEATHER: Climate Origins of a White Christmas

    While there is not much snow on the ground now in Salt Lake City, Utah, two chances of snow may be just enough to provide a true white Christmas. One round of snow will fall before midweek and a second round of snow may arrive on Christmas Eve.

    "It's still open in Denver. There is no snow on the ground now. They have two shots at snow, including one the night before Christmas into Christmas Day," Andrews said.

    Good Chance for a White Christmas Across Upper Midwest

    Meanwhile, a huge storm will bring wind-blown snow from the Rockies to the central Plains and the Upper Midwest during the middle of this week. Cities from Kansas City to Green Bay may receive substantial snow amounts from the storm.

    Whether areas impacted by the storm have a white Christmas or not will depend on where cold air sticks around to keep snow on the ground.

    The Upper Midwest, including the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Wisconsin, and portions of lower Michigan may stay cold enough for a white Christmas. In fact, reinforcing cold air and lake-effect snow showers downwind of the Great Lakes through the weekend will increase the chances for many communities.

    The chance for a white Christmas may be lower for the central Plains, including portions of Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa, where temperatures may warm up enough to melt snow.

    Northern New England May Have White Christmas, Mid-Atlantic Not Likely

    Northern New England and areas to the lee of the Great Lakes have the best chance for a white Christmas in the East.

    There will be a round of snow for northern New York and northern New England Tuesday into Wednesday.

    More snow will arrive with a storm across northern New England late this week and into the weekend. This storm will drag much colder air into the Northeast, triggering lake-effect snow downwind of the Great Lakes.

    Boston will have the highest chance of a white Christmas of the I-95 cities, since snow is not entirely out of the question with the storm on Saturday. Even still, the snow may melt before Christmas Day.

    It does not appear likely that New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., will have a white Christmas.

    RELATED ON SKYE:50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2012

     

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    On Friday, Dec. 21, some say, the Mayan apocalypse will arrive and the world will end. Fortunately, it won't.

    A bold claim, we know, but if it's good enough for NASA, it's good enough for us. The space agency has already issued a press release dated Dec. 22 entitled "Why the World Didn't End Yesterday."

    The Mayan apocalypse predictions arise from a misunderstanding of the ancient Maya Long Count Calendar, which wraps up a 400-year cycle called a b'ak'tun on Dec. 21, 2012, the day of the winter solstice. This just so happens to be the 13th b'ak'tun in the calendar, a benchmark the Maya would have seen as a full cycle of creation.

    Did you catch that? Cycle. In other words, the Maya had a cyclical view of time and would not have seen the end of their calendar cycle as the end of the world. It wasn't until Westerners began reinterpreting the calendar in the past couple decades that it got its apocalyptic overtones. [Images: Mayan Calendar Carvings]

    Mayan apocalypse rumors have proliferated on the Internet, running the gamut from beliefs that Dec. 21 will bring a new era of peace and universal understanding to predictions of a devastating astronomical event. We're all in favor of world peace, but we're here to put your fears to rest about the likelihood of planetary annihilation. Read on for five common Mayan apocalypse fears and why they won't come true.

    Prediction 1: The sun will kill us all

    Much has been made by Mayan doomsday fear-mongers of the fact that the sun is currently entering a maximum activity phase. The sun rotates through periods of quiet and activity that peak roughly every 11 years; active periods are marked by an increase in solar storms and flares. [See stunning solar flare photographs]

    Some of these flares can indeed influence Earth. When the sun releases electromagnetic particles in such a way that they interact with our atmosphere, solar storms can disrupt telecommunications, though there are ways to protect satellites and other electronics. These charged particles are also responsible for the aurora - the Northern and Southern Lights.

    Predictions of a Dec. 21 solar storm that will devastate the planet are not based in reality, according to NASA scientists. This particular solar maximum is one of the "wimpiest" in recent history, according to NASA heliophysicist Lika Guhathakurta, who spoke during an online panel on the Mayan apocalypse on Nov. 28. In other words, scientists have no reason to expect solar storms capable of disrupting our society.

    Prediction 2: The Earth's magnetic poles will flip-flop

    What is it with the Mayan apocalypse and electromagnetism? This rumor holds that the North and South Poles will suddenly and catastrophically change places on Dec. 21.

    The idea isn't as totally leftfield as it sounds: The Earth's magnetic field does actually flip-flop occasionally, though not in the course of a day. The pole swaps happen over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, according to NASA. The switching of magnetic poles could lead to a slight increase in cosmic radiation, but previous flip-flops have not disrupted the life seen in the fossil record.

    Predicting the magnetic-pole switch is also tough. The last swap occurred about 780,000 years ago, which puts the planet about due for another change in the next several thousand years. However, there has been at least one period where the magnetic poles stayed put for 30 million years.

    Prediction 3: Planet X will collide with Earth

    Planet X, sometimes known as Nibiru, does not exist. Nevertheless, some doomsday theorizers have predicted that on Dec. 21, this "rogue planet" will slam into Earth, annihilating all life.

    Planet X rumors got their start in 1976, when the late author Zecharia Sitchin claimed to have translated a Sumerian text to rediscover the lost planet Nibiru, which allegedly orbits the sun once every 3,600 years - supposedly explaining why modern man and telescope had failed to notice this planetary neighbor. In 2003, self-described psychic and alien-channeler Nancy Lieder warned that this planet would collide with Earth. When that didn't happen, the date got pushed back to 2012 to coincide with Mayan apocalypse myths.

    Of course, a planet set on a collision course with Earth in mere days would be extremely visible to the naked eye. In fact, Nibiru should have shown up as nearly as bright as Mars in the night sky by April 2012, if that scenario were true. Given NASA's capacity to peer into deep space, a nearby planet headed for Earth is not going to escape detection.

    "We would have seen it years ago," said Don Yeomans, the manager of NASA's Near-Earth Object program office in Pasadena, Calif.

    Prediction 4: The planets will align

    Another fear is that the planets will align on Dec. 21, somehow impacting our planet. This one is easy to debunk. Take it away, NASA:

    "There are no planetary alignments in the next few decades," according to the space agency's 2012 doomsday myths webpage. "[E]ven if these alignments were to occur, their effects on the Earth would be negligible."

    There have been planetary alignments in 1962, 1982 and 2000, according to NASA, and we're all still here.

    Prediction 5: Total Earth blackout

    This rumor, circulating in spam emails, claims that NASA is predicting a total Earth blackout between Dec. 23 and Dec. 25. Way to ruin Christmas!

    Some emails claim that this blackout will occur as the result of the sun and Earth aligning for the first time, while others spin a wild tale about Earth entering "a still ring" called the Photonic belt. Whatever the alleged cause, this is simply not going to happen, according to NASA.

    "There is no such alignment," agency officials write.

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

    Top 10 Ways to Destroy Earth
    Full Coverage: The Mayan Not-Apocalypse
    Oops! 11 Failed Doomsday Predictions

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

     

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    Jesse Billauer suffered a spinal cord injury while surfing in 1996, leaving him wheelchair-bound and with limited use of his arms and hands. Now, for the first time in 15 years, he's able to surf practically independently, without the aid of multiple friends. Using a WaveJet electronic surfboard, Jesse catches waves by himself, using his teeth to push a button that controls the board's motor. "That board just changed my life forever," he says. "It's just mind boggling."

    (via Outside)

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Extreme Sports

     

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    Blowing and drifting snow will cause travel headaches along the I-25 corridor in Colorado today as a powerful winter storm gathers strength and races northeastward.

    The same storm that will spread blizzard conditions across the Plains and Midwest into Thursday began on Tuesday night in the Southwest, bringing several inches of snow to Flagstaff and southwestern Colorado.

    Although conditions along the Front Range and the rest of eastern Colorado may not be as bad as locations farther east, wind-driven snow can still create poor travel conditions.

    Strengthening winds can gust to 40 mph in areas such as Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, significantly reducing visibility when combined with the snow.

    The heaviest snow amounts will be contained to the Rockies and farther east across the central Plains, but residents in the I-25 corridor of Colorado can expect several inches of fresh powder.

    Motorists venturing out today should take extra caution when driving through wind-driven snow.

    Interstates I-25 and I-70 can be adversely affected at times with the worst conditions existing east of Denver toward Limon. In this area, winds can gust close to 55 mph at times creating blizzard conditions.

    Despite the travel troubles, this will no doubt be good news for the ski resorts and snow enthusiasts who have been "snow-starved" to begin the winter season.

    Just 8 inches of snow has fallen in Denver this season, which is well below the normal of around 20 inches. Thus far in December, only about an inch of snow has whitened the ground when the average is near 8 inches.

    The snow is expected to wind down tonight as the storm pulls away from the region. Dry, milder weather should build in for the end of the week and into the pre-Christmas weekend.

    RELATED ON SKYE: How to Survive a Winter Storm

     

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    A mudslide hit and derailed a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNFS) freight train traveling between Seattle and Everett in Washington State earlier this week. The mudslide pushed seven carriages were off the tracks, but thankfully, no injuries or deaths were reported.

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

     

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    This map depicts the spectrum of severe weather warnings, including blizzard and high wind warnings, spread across the central United States. (NOAA)

    As the season's fourth winter storm churns its way across a huge swath of the Rockies and Upper Midwest over the next two days, storm watchers needn't call it a generic "blizzard." This wintry mess has been coined "Winter Storm Draco" by the Weather Channel, which announced earlier this year that it has incorporated its own winter storm naming system.

    So, why call a storm "Draco"?

    Draco is the Latin word for "dragon," a fierce and fiery beast, and is also the name of a constellation visible in the far northern sky.

    Winter Storm Draco has some notable namesakes, including the cargo ship USS Draco, and the wicked character Draco Malfoy in JK Rowling's "Harry Potter" book series.

    RELATED ON SKYE:50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2012

     

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    It's a popular experiment in very cold places. "Winter fun in Siberia!" Dmitry Klimensky, a Russian in Siberia, declared on Twitter, with a link to a video of him throwing a boiling pot of water into the freezing air.

    The video went viral, spreading across the globe.

    More on AccuWeather: Stormier Pattern Increasing White Christmas Odds

    "I'm on the top of the cover page right next to the news about a conflict between Putin and the Ukrainian president," Klimensky posted on his Facebook page. "Are there any more important things in this World than a pot of boiling water? :)"

    What makes this trick work? Boiling water thrown into the air quickly freezes into tiny ice crystals. According to an article posted on University of California Riverside's physics page, hot water can freeze faster than cold water thanks to the "Mpemba effect." Author Monwhea Jeng theorized that one reason warm water freezes more quickly than cold is that the "lack of dissolved gas may change the ability of the water to conduct heat, or change the amount of heat needed to freeze a unit mass of water."

    More on AccuWeather: Damaging, Disruptive Midwest Snowstorm on the Way

    According to Facebook, it looks like Klimensky lives in Novosibirsk, Russia. Novosibirsk, a city of around a million and a half people, sits almost 1,800 miles east of Moscow. It's a cold place, with an average December high of -10.1 C (13.8 F) and low of -17.5 C (0.5 F).

    A cold wave started there around Dec. 10. Since then, low temperatures in the area have been near to below 40 degrees below zero C and F on as many as seven nights. The Fahrenheit and Celsius scales cross at 40 degrees below zero.

    The nearest meteorological site to Novosibirsk registered consecutive lows of -41, -38, -42 and -43 degrees F, as of Wednesday, making these nights 40 or more degrees Fahrenheit colder than usual.

    Find more weather news at AccuWeather.com.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2012

     

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    Wednesday, Dec. 19, 7:10 p.m. ET

    A woman and her husband shovel their walk as a blizzard dropped snow over Boulder, Colo., Wednesday Dec. 19. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

    DENVER (AP) - A storm that has dumped more than a foot of snow in the Rocky Mountains was causing problems for travelers as it spread across the Plains on Wednesday.

    The main east-west route across Colorado, Interstate 70, was closed from east of Denver to the Kansas line because of poor visibility due to blowing snow. Smaller highways were also closed in eastern Colorado.

    Drivers in Iowa and Nebraska are being warned to be careful or stop driving altogether starting Wednesday evening as the Plains gets its first major winter storm of the season.

    Light snow is also expected at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport on Thursday and strong winds could make visibility poor. That, combined with low clouds, could cause delays at the nation's second-busiest airport. National Weather Service forecaster Jamie Enderlen said.

    Iowa officials advised drivers to avoid most roads from Wednesday night through noon Thursday, but native Laurie Harry, a manager at a Casey's General Store, expects to drive to work Thursday morning.

    "If I need to get into work, I'll be here," she said. "We've had snow before. Iowans know what to expect. We're used to it."

    Conditions improved in Denver by midday Wednesday. At the height of the storm, Denver's airport, the nation's fifth-busiest, reported delays averaging 30 minutes because of snow and ice, but operations have since returned to normal.

    Delta and United Airlines reacted by announcing plans to allow many affected travelers across the nation to change schedules without incurring fees.

    The snow is a gift for ski resorts in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah ahead of the busy holiday week. The weather might also tempt backcountry skiers but prompted avalanche warnings in Colorado and Utah.

    Colorado officials near Vail, about 90 miles west of Denver, planned to trigger some small snow slides in order to remove larger threats.

    In Utah, a backcountry skier triggered a slide near a Park City ski resort. Authorities said no one was injured.

    The moisture is also a relief after an extended wildfire season in Colorado. Drought conditions persist especially in the mainly agricultural eastern half of the state.

    Farmer Fred Midcap welcomed the snow even though 25 mph winds were blowing some of it away from his land near Hudson in northeastern Colorado.

    "The snowflakes are mostly going sideways," he said.

    Midcap doesn't plow his land, a move intended to help improve the soil, and said the stubble leftover from this year's weak millet crop will help hold some of the snow in place, hopefully setting up for a better growing season next year. If the snow keeps coming, it will also provide some welcome insulation to his winter wheat crop before the coldest weather of the season.

    In Arizona, two recent storms had combined to blanket the mountains north of Flagstaff with 2 feet of snow, and about 20 inches in Flagstaff and along the Mogollon Rim.

    The storm is also expected to hit Wisconsin and Michigan, where up to a foot of snow was forecast in the north by Friday.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Blizzard Dumps Snow on Colorado, Heads East

     

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    Updated Dec. 20, 12:33 p.m. ET

    Snow sticks to the trees along Levee Road during a winter storm Dec. 20 in Baraboo, Wisconsin. (Getty Images)

    DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Four people died as the first major snowstorm of the season hit the U.S. Midwest early Thursday, threatening to disrupt some of the nation's busiest airports ahead of the holiday weekend.

    Forecasters warned that heavy snow coupled, with strong winds, could create blizzard conditions from Kansas to Wisconsin after the storm blanketed the Rocky Mountains earlier in the week.

    In Chicago, officials at O'Hare International Airport reported more than 90 cancellations.

    In Iowa, state police said a 25-vehicle pileup killed one person.

    In Wisconsin, sheriff's officials said slick conditions led to at least two deaths late Wednesday when a driver lost control of his car. In Utah, a woman who tried to walk for help after her car became stuck in snow died Tuesday night. Search and rescue crews on snowmobiles found her buried in the snow.

    Iowa and Nebraska took a heavy hit from the storm, with nearly a foot of snow in Des Moines and 8.6 inches in Omaha, Neb.

    Thomas Shubert, a clerk at a store in Gretna near Omaha, said his brother drove him to work in his 4-by-4 truck but that some of his neighbors weren't so fortunate.

    "I saw some people in my neighborhood trying to get out. They made it a few feet, and that was about it," Shubert said. "I haven't seen many cars on the road. There are a few brave souls out, but mostly trucks and plows."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Iowa Blizzard Leads to 25-Vehicle Crash

    The heavy, wet snow made some unplowed streets in Des Moines nearly impossible to navigate in anything other than a four-wheel drive vehicle. Even streets that had been plowed remained snow-packed and slippery. Jackknifed semitrailers were reported on sections of Interstates 80 and 35 east and north of the city, with portions of the roads closed until the accidents could be cleared.

    While the snow had tapered off by sunrise in Des Moines, transportation officials warned drivers to stay off highways until midnight. Strong winds were creating whiteout conditions. The airport at Creston, Iowa, recorded the highest winds, with a gust of 53 mph, said Kevin Skow, a National Weather Service meteorologist in the city.

    Strong wind contributed to tens of thousands of power outages in Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska. While snow pulled down most lines in Iowa, others were felled by big gusts, said Justin Foss, a spokesman for Alliant Energy, which had 13,000 customers without power in central Iowa.

    "The roads have been so bad our crews have not been able to respond to them," said Justin Foss, a spokesman for Alliant Energy, which had 13,000 customers without power in central Iowa. "We have giant four-wheel-drive trucks with chains on them so when we can't get there it's pretty rough."

    Along with Alliant, MidAmerican Energy reported power out to more than 36,000 customers in Iowa, most in the Des Moines area. The Omaha Public Power District said more than 36,000 customers in eastern Nebraska lost power. Entergy Arkansas reported more than 41,000 customers without power, most as a result of thunderstorms and strong wind.

    Meteorologist Scott Dergan said the snow cover would drag temperatures much lower in Nebraska and Iowa.

    "We're talking single digits," Dergan said. "We may even see some sub-zero temperatures in Nebraska. This cold weather will stick around for several days, maybe until the day after Christmas. So, we're definitely going to have a white Christmas."

    Before the storm, several cities in the Midwest had broken records for the number of consecutive days without measurable snow.

    Chicago commuters began Thursday with heavy fog and cold, driving rain, and forecasters said snow would hit the Midwestern metropolis by mid-afternoon. Officials at O'Hare International Airport reported some flight delays and more than 90 cancellations. United Airlines said it would waive change fees for travelers who have to change their plans for travel through O'Hare because of the storm.

    The weather service warned of poor visibility due to driving snow in much of the region and told drivers to stay off roads in some areas. Transportation officials shut down parts of Interstate 29 in Missouri and Interstate 80 in Nebraska remained closed due to blowing snow.

    In southeastern Wisconsin, where a blizzard warning was in effect and winds of up to 45 mph were expected to create whiteout conditions, sheriff's officials said slick conditions led to at least two fatalities late Wednesday when a driver lost control of his car in Rock County, about 90 miles northwest of Chicago. In southeastern Utah, a woman who tried to walk for help after her car became stuck in snow died Tuesday night. Search and rescue crews on snowmobiles found her buried in the snow just a few miles from her car.

    The owner of the Norske Nook restaurant and bakery in Osseo, a town in west-central Wisconsin that woke up to at least 10 inches of snow, said "blizzardy" conditions were not unusual for the area and that the weather would not upset her business.

    "It's our policy to stay open for the customers," said Jean Zingshiem. "In case someone is stranded, they'll have somewhere to go."

    Bill Riggins of Madison said he wouldn't let a little blizzard stop him from riding his bike into work on the University of Wisconsin campus, about five miles from his house. Riggins said his metal-studded snow tires did the trick for the early morning commute at 4:45 a.m.

    "I honestly think it would have been more trouble to drive," Riggins said. The ride, which normally takes about 25 minutes, took 40 in the snow. As conditions worsen during the day, Riggins said he expected the ride home to take about an hour.

    On the southern edge of the storm system, high winds damaged homes and downed trees in central Arkansas, the weather service said. A powerful storm peeled the roofs off buildings and toppled trucks in Mobile, Ala., but injured no one. Tornado warnings remained in effect in parts of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama early Thursday.

    Hundreds of schools across the Midwest canceled classes Thursday because of heavy overnight snow. Government offices in Iowa and Nebraska were closed.

    The moisture was welcome to farmers in the drought-parched region, but Meteorologist Kris Sanders said the storm wouldn't make much of a dent. In Kansas, for example, some areas are more than 12 inches below normal precipitation for the year.

    "It's not going to have a big effect, maybe only a half-inch of liquid precipitation. It's not helping us out much," Sanders said.

    Sanders said another storm similar to the current one could bring additional snow on Christmas or the day after.

    Blake Landau, a cook serving eggs, roast beef sandwiches and chili to hungry snow plow drivers at Newton's Paradise Cafe in downtown Waterloo, Iowa, said he has always liked it when it snows on his birthday. He turned 27 on Thursday.

    "It's kind of one of those things where it's leading up to Christmas time," Landau said. "We don't know when we get our first snowfall, and I hope we get it by my birthday. It's nice to have a nice snowy Christmas."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Blizzard Dumps Snow on Midwest, Rockies

     

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    Drivers make their way cautiously in a snow storm on Wednesday in Santa Fe. (AP Photo/The Santa Fe New Mexican, Clyde Mueller)

    SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - A woman is dead after she tried to walk for help when her car got stuck during the snow storm in southwestern Utah.

    Washington County Sheriff's detective Nate Abbott says the woman and a man were driving when their car got stuck in rural Washington County Tuesday night during the storm that hit the Rocky Mountain region.

    He says the pair started walking for help, but the woman couldn't go any further and sought shelter while the man continued on.

    He eventually took refuge close to a reservoir and stayed there until morning when he located some snowmobilers.

    Search and rescue crews who used snowmobiles to look for the woman found her dead in the snow, a few miles from the car.

    An autopsy is planned. No names were released.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Blizzard Dumps Snow on Midwest, Rockies

     

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    (AP Photo)

    By Meghan Evans, Meteorologist

    High winds may result in flight delays for holiday travelers across the Northeast, while lake-effect snow around the Great Lakes may cause dangerous driving conditions.

    Meanwhile, a storm train will continue to impact the West with rain and mountain snow. Travel may be difficult both in the air and on the ground.

    Showers and locally dense fog from Texas into the central Gulf states may also lead to slow holiday travel at times.

    See Flight Delay Risk Chart for Big U.S. Cities

    AAA predicts that 93.3 millions Americans will travel 50 miles or more this holiday season, an increase of 1.6 percent compared to last year. Of that estimate, 90 percent (84.4 million) of them, more than a quarter of the U.S. population, are projected to travel by automobile. Meanwhile, air travel is expected to increase 4.5 percent from 2011.

    High Winds May Delay Flights; Lake-Effect Snow May Cause Nightmares for Motorists

    A storm that will first cause blizzard conditions across the Midwest during late-week will spread snow across the interior Northeast, northern and western portions of New York and northern New England on Friday. Rain will dampen the coast of New England.

    Following the storm's cold front, very windy conditions will blast the Northeast by Friday evening. Early holiday airline travelers may run into some problems as a result.

    RELATED ON ACCUWEATHER: Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Check out the forecast here.

    Snow will generally be winding down across northern New England on Saturday as the storm departs; however, other travel problems will linger. High winds will persist across much of the Northeast.

    Areas just south of the eastern Great Lakes, including Cleveland, will endure the highest winds with gusts of 50-60 mph on Saturday. Flight delays and localized damage are possible with winds of this magnitude.

    Winds gusting to 40 mph may lead to flight delays in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore.

    Brisk winds will continue in the Northeast on Sunday, particularly across New England.

    The cold winds will trigger lake-effect snow showers downwind of the Great Lakes through the central Appalachians Friday into the weekend. Motorists should be prepared for suddenly reduced visibility and slippery travel through snow squalls, including along I-90.

    One to two feet of snow will fall over typical snowbelts of the Great Lakes, according to AccuWeather Expert Senior Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. Locally higher amounts are possible.

    Rain, Mountain Snow May Cause Delays, Hazards in the West

    Yet another Pacific storm will have an impact on portions of the West through this weekend. Low-elevation rain and heavy mountain snow will continue.

    Southern Oregon and northern California are expected to receive the brunt of the heaviest rain. Travelers of the I-5 corridor should be prepared for blinding rain.

    Flight delays will be possible in both San Francisco and Sacramento.

    Meanwhile, heavy mountain snow is expected to clobber the northern and central Sierra. Travel along I-80, including Donner Pass, is likely to be impacted.

    Low clouds and some rain will also cause some delays farther north, including in Seattle and Portland.

    Snow in the Washington Cascades may lead to slippery and dangerous driving conditions along major mountain passes in Washington, including Snoqualmie, Stevens and White passes.

    On Sunday, some low-elevation rain and mountain snow will also advance farther inland across Idaho, western Montana, Nevada, Utah and western Wyoming.

    Late-Weekend Showers, Fog in the South

    No weather-related travel issues are anticipated for the Deep South on Friday or Saturday as dry weather will dominate. Showers may blossom across portions of Texas into the central Gulf states as moisture is ushered in from the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.

    While the showers are not expected to be particularly widespread or heavy, there could be lowered visibility in isolated downpours along I-10 and I-20.

    Depending on how strong the flow is from the Gulf, the potential exists for some areas of dense fog during the morning and midday hours Sunday. Travel along I-10 may be slowed in lowered visibility. Flight delays may be possible at times in Houston and Shreveport, La.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Blizzard Dumps Snow on Midwest, Rockies

     

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    Cars navigate along the Marsha Sharp Freeway during a dust storm in Lubbock, Texas, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Zach Long)

    LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) - A dust storm in West Texas triggered a series of accidents Wednesday that killed one person, injured at least 17 others and led authorities to close part of Interstate 27 north of Lubbock, a spokesman with the Texas Department of Public Safety said.

    Cpl. John Gonzalez said 23 vehicles were involved in a series of chain-reaction crashes south of Abernathy as sand and dust from nearby fields were whipped by winds gusting up to 55 mph.

    "It was like a white-out, only this would be black," Gonzalez said. "You couldn't see past the hood of your vehicle."

    Gonzalez said the accidents occurred in the southbound lane of Interstate 27 early Wednesday afternoon. He said about a half-dozen crashes occurred in "domino fashion" as visibility in the area dropped to zero.

    Gonzalez said a man died at the scene after the sport utility vehicle in which he was traveling slammed into the back of a tractor-trailer. Gonzalez said he was unable to provide other details about the fatality.

    None of the other injuries appeared serious, Gonzalez said.

    The accidents prompted authorities to close about a five-mile stretch of the highway in both directions between Abernathy and New Deal for about six hours.

    Although the road was reopened, the DPS issued a news release "strongly discouraging any travel along the I-27 corridor between Lubbock and Amarillo due to extremely dangerous conditions."

    Prolonged drought causes sand to blow off hot, dry dirt, and landowners in the area were being asked to plow their fields, making it more likely that the sand remains settled, Gonzalez said.

    "The wind is just terrible, and that's something we hope will help," he said.

    Eric Finley, a spokesman for University Medical Center in Lubbock, said 12 people involved in the accidents arrived at that hospital and were treated for what he described as moderate or minor injuries.

    "There was nothing to indicate anything major," he said.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 50 Must-See Weather Photos from 2012

     

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    In this June 6, 2012, photo, a man looks at the tsunami dock that washed ashore on Agate Beach in Newport, Ore. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

    FORKS, Wash. (AP) - Tsunami debris experts are setting out to examine a dock that washed ashore on a remote beach in Washington.

    David Workman, a spokesman for the state Marine Debris Task Force, said the team left Thursday to try to confirm the dock drifted across the Pacific after the March 2011 tsunami in Japan.

    It also will look for any invasive species that may be carried by the debris.

    The Coast Guard spotted the dock Tuesday on a wilderness beach in Olympic National Park. Stormy weather has contributed to trouble reaching it.

    Officials say it appears to be similar to a Japanese dock that washed ashore last June in Newport, Ore. That debris was cut up and removed.

    The team represents federal, state and tribal agencies.

     

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    Thursday, Dec. 20, 7:09 p.m. ET

    Photo courtesy of Iowa State Patrol.

    DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The first widespread snowstorm of the season crawled across the Midwest on Thursday, with whiteout conditions stranding holiday travelers and sending drivers sliding over slick roads - including into a fatal 25-vehicle pileup in Iowa.

    The storm, which dumped a foot of snow in parts of Iowa and Wisconsin, was part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week before trekking into the Midwest. It was expected to move across the Great Lakes overnight before moving into Canada.

    The storm led airlines to cancel about 1,000 flights ahead of the Christmas holiday - relatively few compared to past big storms, though the number was climbing.

    On the southern edge of the system, tornadoes destroyed several homes in Arkansas and peeled the roofs from buildings, toppled trucks and blew down oak trees and limbs Alabama.

    In Iowa, drivers were blinded by blowing snow and didn't see vehicles that had slowed or stopped on Interstate 35 about 60 miles north of Des Moines, state police said. A chain reaction of crashes involving semitrailers and passenger cars closed down a section of the highway. Officials said two people were killed and seven injured.

    "It's time to listen to warnings and get off the road," said Iowa State Patrol Col. David Garrison.

    SEE ON SKYE: Blizzard Dumps Snow on Midwest
    Thomas Shubert, a clerk at a store in Gretna near Omaha, Neb., said his brother drove him to work in his truck, but some of his neighbors weren't so fortunate.

    "I saw some people in my neighborhood trying to get out. They made it a few feet, and that was about it," Shubert said.

    Along with Thursday's fatal accident in Iowa, the storm was blamed for traffic deaths in Nebraska, Kansas and Wisconsin. In southeastern Utah, a woman who tried to walk for help after her car became stuck in snow died Tuesday night.

    The heavy, wet snow made some unplowed streets in Des Moines nearly impossible to navigate in anything other than a four-wheel drive vehicle. Even streets that had been plowed were snow-packed and slippery.

    The storm made travel difficult from Kansas to Wisconsin, forcing road closures, including a 120-mile stretch of Interstate 35 from Ames, Iowa through Albert Lea, Minn. Sections of Interstate 80 in Nebraska and Interstate 29 in Missouri that had been closed were reopened Thursday afternoon. Iowa and Wisconsin activated National Guard troops to help rescue stranded drivers.

    Those who planned to fly before the Christmas holiday didn't fare much better.

    Shanna Tinsley, 17, and Nicole Latimer, 20, were both headed to the Kansas City area to see their families for the holiday when their flight Thursday morning out of Milwaukee's General Mitchell International Airport was canceled. Neither cared about a white Christmas, and were hoping to get on another flight later in the day.

    "It would be cool I guess, but I'd rather be there than stuck without family with a white Christmas," Latimer said.

    Added Tinsley, "Wisconsin is full of snow, you see it all the time."

    In Chicago, commuters began Thursday with heavy fog and cold, driving rain, and forecasters said snow would hit by mid-afternoon.

    Airlines delayed and canceled hundreds of flights out of Chicago's O'Hare and Midway international airports. Southwest Airlines canceled all of its flights at its Midway hub that were scheduled for after 4:30 p.m., and American Airlines said it was shutting down its O'Hare operations after 8 p.m.

    Airlines were waiving fees for customers impacted by the storm who wanted to change their flights. They were monitoring the storm throughout the night to determine if more cancellations would be necessary on Friday.

    The cancellations were getting a lot of attention because the storm came just a few days before Christmas. But Daniel Baker, CEO of flight tracking service FlightAware.com called it "a relatively minor event in the overall scheme of things."

    By comparison, airlines canceled more than 13,000 flights over a two-day period during a February 2011 snowstorm that hit the Midwest. And more than 20,000 flights were canceled during Superstorm Sandy.

    Before the storm, several cities in the Midwest had broken records for the number of consecutive days without measurable snow.

    In the Des Moines suburb of Urbandale, Kristin Isenhart, 38, said her three kids, ages 9, 5 and 3, were asking about going outside to play after school was canceled for the day.

    "They are thrilled that it snowed," she said. "They've asked several times to go outside, and I might bundle them up and let them go."

    As far as the region's drought, meteorologists said the storm wouldn't make much of a dent. It takes a foot or more of snow to equal an inch of water, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center.

    Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people lost power in Arkansas, Iowa and Nebraska as heavy snow and strong winds pulled down lines. Smaller outages were reported in Alabama, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Louisiana.

    "The roads have been so bad our crews have not been able to respond to them," said Justin Foss, a spokesman for Alliant Energy, which had 13,000 customers without power in central Iowa. "We have giant four-wheel-drive trucks with chains on them, so when we can't get there it's pretty rough."

    Tom Tretter and his wife, Pat, had been without power since Wednesday night, and temperatures Thursday were dropping. The retired seniors were shoveling their steep driveway Thursday afternoon and scraping ice off the walkway to their Des Moines home.

    "It's getting cold in the house," Tom Tretter said, leaning on his shovel in the driveway. "And I'm getting too old for this."

    Blake Landau, a cook serving eggs, roast beef sandwiches and chili to hungry snowplow drivers at Newton's Paradise Cafe in downtown Waterloo, Iowa, said he has always liked it when it snows on his birthday. He turned 27 on Thursday.

    "It's kind of one of those things where it's leading up to Christmas time," Landau said. "We don't know when we get our first snowfall, and I hope we get it by my birthday. It's nice to have a nice snowy Christmas."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Blizzard Leads to 25-Vehicle Crash

     

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    A truck makes its way down a snow covered Interstate I-35/I-80 on Thursday, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

    CHICAGO (AP) - Travelers facing canceled flights and closed roads were hoping to finally head to their holiday destinations Friday as a widespread snowstorm that dumped more than a foot of snow in parts of the Midwest moved across the Great Lakes toward Canada.

    The storm, part of a system that began in the Rockies earlier in the week, led airlines to cancel more than 1,000 flights Thursday and caused whiteout conditions that left roads dangerous to drive on. It was blamed for deaths in at least five states, with parts of Iowa and Wisconsin hit with more than a foot of snow.

    While some people went to work on digging themselves out, others had less control: They were stuck waiting for word of new flight times.

    In Chicago, aviation officials said more than 350 flights were called off at O'Hare International Airport on Thursday and more than 150 at Midway International Airport.

    But on Friday, as the storm continued its crawl eastward, only about 50 flights were canceled and a similar number faced delays of up to two hours at the Chicago airports.

    Chicago Department of Aviation spokeswoman Karen Pride told CLTV that Friday would be the busiest air travel day of the holiday period, with 200,000 passengers traveling through O'Hare and another 60,000 at Midway.

    High winds were blamed for lingering airport delays further east, with three-hour waits anticipated at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and La Guardia Airport in New York.

    The National Weather Service issued a high wind warning for New York City and Long Island, forecasting gusts of up to 60 miles per hour. Winter storm warnings and advisories were issued for Pennsylvania, where snow was forecast starting late morning and through the day.

    Southwest Airlines, which canceled all of its flights out of its Midway hub after 4:30 p.m. Thursday, was running its full schedule Friday. United Airlines also planned to operate a full schedule, though spokeswomen for both airlines cautioned travelers to check their flight status before heading to the airport.

    Erin Henderson was among those hoping to fly from O'Hare on Friday morning. The 20-year-old college student was trying to return home to Kansas City after five months of studying in Italy. She arrived in Chicago early Thursday evening to learn that the last leg of her flight had been canceled.

    Exhausted and teary-eyed, Henderson said she planned to get some sleep at a nearby hotel before trying to catch a flight to St Louis early Friday. She said her father planned to drive across Missouri to collect her.

    "It was the closest I can get," Henderson said.

    In Madison, Wis., more than 19 inches of snow fell, prompting the University of Wisconsin at Madison to cancel Thursday's finals. Senior Elle Knutson, 21, said she spent most of the day in her apartment chatting with friends on the Internet and staring out her window at the snow.

    "At first it was kind of nice, but I'm going a little stir-crazy," Knutson said Thursday night.

    The storm made travel difficult from Kansas to Wisconsin, forcing road closures, including a 120-mile stretch of Interstate 35 from Ames, Iowa, through Albert Lea, Minn. Iowa and Wisconsin activated National Guard troops to help rescue stranded drivers.

    In Iowa, two people were killed and seven injured in a 25-vehicle pileup. Drivers were blinded by blowing snow and didn't see vehicles that had slowed or stopped on Interstate 35 about 60 miles north of Des Moines, state police said. A chain reaction of crashes involving semitrailers and passenger cars closed down a section of the highway.

    The storm was blamed for traffic deaths in three other states. There were at least two deaths each in Nebraska and Wisconsin, and one in Kansas.

    In southeastern Utah, a woman who tried to walk for help after her car became stuck in snow died Tuesday night.

    On the southern edge of the storm system, tornadoes destroyed several homes in Arkansas and peeled the roofs from buildings, toppled trucks and blew down oak trees and limbs in Alabama.

    On Friday morning, tens of thousands of homes in Wisconsin, Nebraska, Michigan and Illinois remained without power and some schools canceled classes for a second day. The weather service said up to 20 inches of snow fell in the Madison area, and that high winds and drifting snow was making travel treacherous.

    The flight cancellations were a concern during the traditionally busy holiday travel period, but Daniel Baker, CEO of flight tracking service FlightAware.com, called it "a relatively minor event in the overall scheme of things."

    By comparison, airlines canceled more than 13,000 flights over a two-day period during a February 2011 snowstorm that hit the Midwest. And more than 20,000 flights were canceled during Superstorm Sandy.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Blizzard Leads to 25-Vehicle Crash

     

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