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SKYE on AOL

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    (AP Photo)

    NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Forecasts of snow, sleet and freezing rain threatened to complicate Christmas Day travel around the nation's midsection Tuesday as several Gulf Coast states braced for a chance of twisters and powerful thunderstorms.

    A blizzard watch was posted for parts of Indiana and western Kentucky for storms expected to develop Tuesday amid predictions of up to 4 to 7 inches of snow in coming hours. Much of Oklahoma and Arkansas braced under a winter storm warning of an early mix of rain and sleet later turning to snow.

    Some mountainous areas of Arkansas' Ozark Mountains could get up to 10 inches of snow amid warnings travel could become "very hazardous or impossible" in the northern tier of the state from near whiteout conditions, the National Weather Service said.

    Early Tuesday, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety said some bridges and overpasses were already becoming slick. Also, Kathleen O'Shea with Oklahoma Gas and Electric said the utility was tracking the storm system to see where repair crews might be needed among nearly 800,000 customers in Oklahoma and western Arkansas.

    Elsewhere, areas of east Texas and Louisiana braced for possible thunderstorms as forecasters eyed a swath of the Gulf Coast from east Texas to the Florida Panhandle for the threat of any tornadoes.

    Storms expected during the day Tuesday along the Gulf Coast could bring strong tornadoes or winds of more than 75 mph, heavy rain, quarter-sized hail and dangerous lightning in Louisiana and Mississippi, the weather service said.

    "Please plan now for how you will receive a severe weather warning, and know where you will go when it is issued. It only takes a few minutes, and it will help everyone have a safe Christmas," Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said.

    Ten storm systems in the last 50 years have spawned at least one Christmastime tornado with winds of 113 mph or more in the South, said Chris Vaccaro, a National Weather Service spokesman in Washington, via email.

    The most lethal were the storms of Dec. 24-26, 1982, when 29 tornadoes in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi killed three people and injured 32; and those of Dec. 24-25, 1964, when two people were killed and about 30 people injured by 14 tornadoes in seven states.

    In Alabama, the director of the Emergency Management Agency, Art Faulkner, said he has briefed both local officials and Gov. Robert Bentley on plans for dealing with a possible outbreak of storms.

    No day is good for severe weather, but Faulkner said Christmas adds extra challenges because people are visiting unfamiliar areas and often thinking more of snow than possible twisters.

    "We are trying to get the word out through our media partners and through social media that people need to be prepared," Faulkner said

    During the night, flog blanketed highways at times in the Southeast, including arteries in Atlanta where motorists slowed as a precaution. Fog advisories were posted from Alabama through the Carolinas into southwestern Virginia.

    Several communities in Louisiana went ahead with the annual Christmas Eve lighting more than 100 towering log teepees for annual bonfires to welcome Pere Noel along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. That decision came after fire chiefs and local officials decided to go ahead with the tradition after an afternoon conference call with the National Weather Service.

    In California, after a brief reprieve across the northern half of the state on Monday, wet weather was expected to make another appearance on Christmas Day. Flooding and snarled holiday traffic were expected in Southern California.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Here Comes Santa Claus...Surfing?

     

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    An outbreak of severe weather, including tornadoes, threatens to ruin Christmas Day for families and communities across the Gulf Coast states.

    The area at greatest risk for damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes on Christmas Day stretches from southeastern Texas to the Florida Panhandle and southwestern Georgia.

    That zone is home to College Station and Houston, Texas, Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Orleans, La., Jackson and Gulfport, Miss., Montgomery and Mobile, Ala., Pensacola, Fla., and Albany, Ga.

    See Also:
    Important Tornado Safety Tips to Follow
    Major Oklahoma to Northeast Snowstorm in the Works

    AccuWeather.com meteorologists are especially concerned for the potential for loss of life with this outbreak since people may be busy with holiday activity and miss vital warnings.

    Strong thunderstorms will actually begin to erupt late tonight around southeastern Texas, including Houston. A tornado cannot be ruled out with this activity, but the tornado danger will be greater during the daylight hours.

    More numerous violent thunderstorms, including tornadoes, will erupt on Christmas Day from central and southern Louisiana, the southern half of Mississippi and Alabama and southwestern Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.

    In addition to tornadoes causing destruction, severe thunderstorms capable of unleashing damaging winds and flooding rain are a serious concern.

    Damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes will persist through Tuesday evening across central and southern Mississippi and eastern Louisiana.

    The violent thunderstorms should organize into a solid line by late Tuesday night and march across Alabama, northern Florida and Georgia with damaging winds.

    The severe weather danger should reach the Southeast coast, from eastern North Carolina to northeastern Florida, on Wednesday.

    Wilmington, N.C., Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., and Jacksonville, Fla., are among the communities at risk this day.

    The same storm set to trigger the impending severe weather outbreak will also spread a swath of significant snow from the southern Plains to the eastern Great Lakes and Northeast from Christmas Day to Thursday.

    Ahead of this storm, another system is triggering showers and thunderstorms across the South today. Thunderstorms causing damage this Christmas Eve would be extremely isolated occurrences, but the danger of lightning striking anyone spending the day outdoors still exists.

    SEE ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes

     

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    After slamming the southern Plains and Deep South on Christmas Day, a powerful winter storm will take aim on the East and central Great Lakes on Wednesday into Thursday.

    The post-Christmas storm will be far more potent than the system guaranteeing a white Christmas for more of the Northeast.

    The storm, which is currently moving through the Rockies, will instead be complete with substantial snow, an icy mix, soaking rain, strong winds and severe weather.

    Snow Totals to Top a Foot

    On the storm's cold northern and western flank, substantial snow will spread from the lower Ohio Valley to the eastern Great Lakes and interior Northeast on Wednesday into Thursday.

    More than a foot of snow will bury places from extreme northwestern Pennsylvania to northern Maine and neighboring communities in Canada's St. Lawrence Valley.

    Between 6 to 12 inches is expected over surrounding areas, including Portland, Maine, and back to Detroit, Mich., and Indianapolis, Ind.

    A half of a foot or more of snow will alone clog roads and severely disrupt travel and daily routines, but gusty winds will worsen the situation by blowing and drifting the snow around.

    Soaking Rain to Bring Flash Flood Threat

    Severe weather is not the only concern on the storm's warm side, but also torrential rain capable of causing urban and flash flooding.

    Soaking rain will develop late tonight across eastern Texas and the lower Mississippi Valley.

    The rain will then spread northeastward to the central and southern Appalachians through Christmas night, before invading more of the Carolinas, mid-Atlantic and southern New England on Wednesday into Thursday morning.

    For many in the Deep South, the soaking will precede the Christmas Day outbreak of damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes.

    Farther to the north, the heaviest rain and accompanying flash flood threat will reach Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon, Philadelphia and New York City on Wednesday night and Boston late Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

    Icy, Wintry Mix Another Concern

    This potent winter storm is expected to unleash nothing but snow from Missouri to northern New England, while plain rain soaks the mid-Atlantic coast. In between, the snow will either mix with or the rain will start as a wintry mix.

    The rain will mix with snow or sleet at its onset southward to the Interstate 81 corridor of Virginia, and all along the Interstate 95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston. The same can be said for the Ohio Valley.

    Accumulating snow will eventually mix with or change to the wintry mix in the central Appalachian Mountains and from central Pennsylvania to central New England.

    Just because heavy snow is not falling, motorists should not take the wintry mix lightly. With sleet (ice pellets) involved, roads could still turn slick for a time.

    Coastal Flooding/Damaging Winds Along Northeast Coast

    As the heaviest rain invades the Northeast, strong winds will develop along the mid-Atlantic coast on Wednesday afternoon.

    The burst of strong winds will then push northward along the coast into Thursday, whipping through Long Island and New York City on Wednesday night and Boston on Thursday morning.

    The strongest winds will gust to around 50 mph for a time, threatening to cause tree damage and power outages. The combination of the winds and higher astronomical tides could also lead to coastal flooding.

    Conditions throughout the East Coast will improve on Friday, when a new storm may be gathering in the Deep South.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Here Comes Santa Claus...Surfing?

     

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    Sierra Nevada Mountains (AP Photo)

    TRUCKEE, California (AP) - A 49-year-old California man died Monday after being buried in an avalanche while snowboarding at a Sierra ski resort, one of several avalanche-related emergencies in the Lake Tahoe area after recent storms dumped up to three feet of fresh snow.

    Donner Ski Ranch, about 90 miles northeast of Sacramento, closed as rescue teams began their search.

    The Nevada County Sheriff's Department identified the man as Steven Mark Anderson of Hirschdale, an unincorporated community outside Truckee, after notifying his brother.

    The sheriff's department received a call about the missing man at noon Monday, nearly three hours after the avalanche. Deputy David Lade said it took that long for Anderson's friends to determine he was missing. The friends had not been skiing as a group, but rather went their own way in the morning, Lade said.

    "They spent a lot of time trying to locate him," he said.

    A search dog found the man's body about 1:30 p.m. under two to three feet of snow at the base of the avalanche. Lade said the wind had blown snow to depths of 7 feet or more where the man was snowboarding, which was inside the ski area's boundaries near the main lodge.

    Anderson was believed to be the only person caught in the slide, Lade said.

    Tahoe-area ski resorts received at least three feet of snow in a wind-whipped series of storms from Friday through Sunday, leading to perilous conditions even within ski area boundaries.

    "With the extremely heavy snowfall we've gotten over the last three days and the conditions prior to that, it's prime avalanche conditions," Lade said.

    Two neighboring ski resorts, Squaw Valley USA and Alpine Meadows, also reported dangerous avalanches. A veteran ski patroller at Alpine Meadows was taken Monday to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno after being buried in a slide that had been intentionally set with an explosive device.

    "The charge triggered the avalanche, which broke much higher and wider on the slope than previously observed in past snow safety missions," the resort said in a statement.

    The patroller, who had 28 years of experience at the resort, was uncovered within eight minutes. Resort spokeswoman Amelia Richmond said she could not release his condition, and the hospital did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

    The ski patrol team was doing avalanche control in Sherwood Bowl, which is within the boundaries on the back side of resort.

    On Sunday, two skiers at Squaw Valley - a 39-year-old woman and 16-year-old boy - were treated for non-life threatening injuries after they were swept up in an avalanche, although neither had been buried.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    Updated Tuesday, Dec. 25, 8:30 p.m. ET

    A house in Tioga, La., is severely damaged after an apparent tornado tore through the area Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/The Daily Town Talk, Melinda Martinez)

    Editor's note: See video below

    NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A Christmas Day twister outbreak left damage across the Deep South while holiday travelers in the nation's much colder midsection battled sometimes treacherous driving conditions from freezing rain and blizzard conditions.

    Conditions were volatile throughout the afternoon and into the night with tornado warnings in Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. The storms were blamed for two deaths, several injuries, and left homes from Louisiana to Alabama damaged.

    In Mobile, Ala., a tornado or high winds damaged homes and knocked down power lines and large tree limbs in an area just west of downtown around nightfall, said Nancy Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Mobile County Commission. WALA-TV's tower camera captured a large funnel cloud headed toward downtown.

    "We haven't verified what it was, but we have an area that we heard has damage to homes," she said.

    Meanwhile, blizzard conditions were hitting the nation's midsection.

    Earlier in the day, winds toppled a tree onto a pickup truck in the Houston area, killing the driver. Icy roads already were blamed for a 21-vehicle pileup in Oklahoma, and the Highway Patrol says a 28-year-old woman was killed in a crash on a snowy U.S. Highway near Fairview.

    The snowstorm that caused numerous accidents pushed out of Oklahoma late Tuesday, carrying with it blizzard warnings for parts of northeast Arkansas, where 10 inches of snow was forecast. Freezing rain clung to trees and utility lines in Arkansas and winds gusts up to 30 mph whipped them around, causing about 71,000 customers to lose electricity.

    Blizzard conditions were possible for parts of Illinois, Indiana and western Kentucky with predictions of 4 to 7 inches of snow.

    No injuries were confirmed immediately, but fire crews were still making door-to-door checks in the hardest hit areas of Mobile. The Mobile Fire-Rescue Department, which was providing storm updates through Twitter, said Murphy High School was damaged and that there was a gas leak at a nearby apartment building.

    An apparent tornado caused damage in the west Alabama town of Grove Hill, located about 80 miles north of Mobile.

    Mary Cartright said she was working at the Fast Track convenience store in the town on Christmas evening when the wind started howling and the lights flickered, knocking out the store's computerized cash registers.

    "We've had some pretty heavy weather," said Cartright in a phone interview. "Our cash registers are down so our doors are closed."

    Trees fell on a few houses in central Louisiana's Rapides Parish but there were no injuries reported and crews were cutting trees out of roadways to get to people in their homes, said sheriff's Lt. Tommy Carnline. Near McNeill, Miss., a likely tornado damaged a dozen homes and sent eight people to the hospital, none with life-threatening injuries, said Pearl River County emergency management agency director Danny Manley.

    Fog blanketed highways, including arteries in the Atlanta area, which was expected to be dealing with the same storm system on Wednesday. In New Mexico, drivers across the eastern plains had to fight through snow, ice and low visibility.

    At least three tornadoes were reported in Texas, though only one building was damaged, according to the National Weather Service. Tornado watches were in effect across southern Louisiana and Mississippi.

    More than 400 flights nationwide were canceled by the evening, according to the flight tracker FlightAware.com. More than half were canceled into and out of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport that got a few inches of snow.

    Christmas lights also were knocked out with more than 100,000 customers without power in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.

    In Louisiana, quarter-sized hail was reported early Tuesday in the western part of the state and a WDSU viewer sent a photo to the TV station of what appeared to be a waterspout around the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway in New Orleans. There were no reports of crashes or damage.

    Some mountainous areas of Arkansas' Ozark Mountains could get up to 10 inches of snow, which would make travel "very hazardous or impossible" in the northern tier of the state from near whiteout conditions, the National Weather Service said.

    The holiday may conjure visions of snow and ice, but twisters this time of year are not unheard of. Ten storm systems in the last 50 years have spawned at least one Christmastime tornado with winds of 113 mph or more in the South, said Chris Vaccaro, a National Weather Service spokesman in Washington, via email.

    The most lethal were the storms of Dec. 24-26, 1982, when 29 tornadoes in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi killed three people and injured 32; and those of Dec. 24-25, 1964, when two people were killed and about 30 people injured by 14 tornadoes in seven states.

    The storm was moving quickly as it headed into through Louisiana and Mississippi and onto Alabama and eventually Georgia.

    In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant urged residents to have a plan for any severe weather.

    "It only takes a few minutes, and it will help everyone have a safe Christmas," Bryant said.

    'Large, extremely dangerous' tornado confirmed

    SEE ON SKYE: 18 Incredible Photos of Tornadoes

     

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    Tornadoes Cause Havoc on Gulf Coast

    More than a dozen tornadoes slammed into the Gulf Coast on Christmas Day, destroying homes and plunging tens of thousands into darkness. The storm system was headed east on Wednesday.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Hits on Christmas; Heads East

     

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    Updated Wednesday, Dec. 26, 7:28 p.m. ET

    James Hill, of Shamokin, Pa., rides his bicycle in Coal Township, Pa. through the snow on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012. (AP)

    A powerful winter storm system pounded the nation's midsection Wednesday and headed toward the Northeast, where people braced for the high winds and heavy snow that disrupted holiday travel and knocked out power to thousands of homes. The storm was blamed for at least six deaths.

    Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed, scores of motorists got stuck on icy roads or slid into drifts, and blizzard warnings were issued amid snowy gusts of 30 mph that blanketed roads and windshields, at times causing whiteout conditions.

    "The way I've been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that's sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex," said John Kwiatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis.

    The system, which spawned Gulf Coast region tornadoes on Christmas Day and a historic amount of snow in Arkansas, pushed through the Upper Ohio Valley and headed toward the Northeast. Forecasts called for 12 to 18 inches of snow inland from western New York to Maine starting late Wednesday and into Thursday and tapering off into a mix of rain and snow closer to the coast, where little accumulation was expected in such cities as New York and Boston.

    The storm left freezing temperatures in its aftermath, and forecasters also said parts of the Southeast from Virginia to Florida would see severe thunderstorms.

    Schools on break and workers taking holiday vacations meant that many people could avoid messy commutes, but those who had to travel were implored to avoid it. Snow was blamed for scores of vehicle accidents as far east as Maryland, and about two dozen counties in Indiana and Ohio issued snow emergency travel alerts, urging people to go out on the roads only if necessary.

    Some 40 vehicles got bogged down trying to make it up a slick hill in central Indiana, and four state snowplows slid off roads as snow fell at the rate of 3 inches an hour in some places.

    Two passengers in a car on a sleet-slickened Arkansas highway were killed Wednesday in a head-on collision, and two people, including a 76-year-old Milwaukee woman, were killed Tuesday on Oklahoma highways. Deaths from wind-toppled trees were reported in Texas and Louisiana.

    The day after a holiday wasn't expected to be particularly busy for AAA, but its Cincinnati-area branch had its busiest Wednesday of the year. By mid-afternoon, nearly 400 members had been helped with tows, jump starts and other aid, with calls still coming in, spokesman Mike Mills said.

    Jennifer Miller, 58, was taking a bus Wednesday from Cincinnati to visit family in Columbus.

    "I wish this had come yesterday and was gone today," she said, struggling with a rolling suitcase and three smaller bags on a slushy sidewalk near the station. "I'm glad I don't have to drive in this."

    Traffic crawled at 25 mph on Interstate 81 in Maryland, where authorities reported scores of accidents.

    "We're going to try to go down south and get below" the storm, said Richard Power, traveling from home in Levittown, N.Y., to Kentucky with his wife, two children and their beagle, Lucky. He said they were well on their way until they hit snow in Pennsylvania, then 15-mph traffic on I-81 at Hagerstown, Md. "We're going to go as far as we can go. ... If it doesn't get better, we're going to just get a hotel."

    More than 1,400 flights were canceled by evening, according to FlightAware.com, and some airlines said they would waive change fees. Delays of more than an hour were reported Wednesday at the three New York City-area airports, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

    In Arkansas, some of the nearly 200,000 people who lost power could be without it for as long as a week because of snapped poles and wires after ice and 10 inches of snow coated power lines, said the state's largest utility, Entergy Arkansas. Gov. Mike Beebe sent out National Guard teams, and Humvees transported medical workers and patients. Snow hadn't fallen in Little Rock on Christmas since 1926, but the capital ended Tuesday with 10.3 inches of it.

    Other states also had scattered outages. Duke Energy said it had nearly 300 outages in Indiana, with few left in Ohio by early afternoon after scores were reported in the morning.

    As the storm moved east, New England state highway departments were treating roads and getting ready to mobilize with snowfall forecasts of a foot or more that was expected to start falling late Wednesday and through Thursday.

    "People are picking up salt and a lot of shovels today," said Andy Greenwood, an assistant manager at Aubuchon Hardware in Keene, N.H.

    As usual, winter-sports enthusiasts welcomed the snow. At Smiling Hill Farm in Maine, Warren Knight was hoping for enough snow to allow the opening of trails.

    "We watch the weather more carefully for cross-country skiing than we do for farming. And we're pretty diligent about farming. We're glued to the weather radio," said Knight, who described the weather at the 500-acre farm in Westbrook as being akin to the prizes in "Cracker Jacks - we don't know what we're going to get."

    Behind the storm, Mississippi's governor declared states of emergency in eight counties with more than 25 people reported injured and 70 homes left damaged.

    Cindy Williams, 56, stood near a home in McNeill, Miss., where its front had collapsed into a pile of wood and brick, a balcony and the porch ripped apart. Large oak trees were uprooted and winds sheared off treetops in a nearby grove. But she focused instead on the fact that all her family members had escaped harm.

    "We are so thankful," she said. "God took care of us."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Hits on Christmas, Heads East

     

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    Members of the Washington tsunami debris experts team inspect a dock on 21, 2012, that just washed ashore on a Washington beach. (AP Photo/National Park Service)

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - Volunteers who patrol California beaches for plastic, cigarette butts and other litter will be on the lookout this winter for flotsam from last year's monstrous tsunami off Japan's coast.

    Armed with index-size cards, beachcombers will log water bottles, buoys, fishing gear and other possessions that might have sailed across the Pacific to the 1,100-mile shoreline.

    The March 2011 disaster washed about 5 million tons of debris into the sea. Most of that sank, leaving an estimated 1 1/2 million tons afloat. No one knows how much debris - strewn across an area three times the size of the United States - is still adrift.

    Tsunami flotsam has already touched the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii this year. The West Coast is bracing for more sightings in the coming months as seasonal winds and coastal currents tend to drive marine wreckage ashore.

    Like the past winter, scientists expect the bulk of the debris to end up in Alaska, Washington state, Oregon and British Columbia. Last week, the Coast Guard spotted a massive dock that possibly came from Japan on a wilderness beach in Washington state.

    Given recent storm activity, Northern California could see "scattered and intermittent" episodes, said Peter Murphy, a marine debris expert at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which recently received a $5 million donation from Japan to track and remove tsunami debris.

    To prepare, state coastal regulators have launched a cleanup project to document possible tsunami items that churn ashore. Working with environmental groups, volunteers will scour beaches with a checklist. It's like a typical beach cleanup, but the focus will be to locate articles from Japan.

    Until now, efforts in California have been haphazard. The goal is to organize tsunami debris cleanups at least once every season stretching from the Oregon state line to the Mexican border and then posting the findings online.

    Debris from Asia routinely floats to the U.S. It's extremely difficult to link something back to the Japanese tsunami without a serial number, phone number or other marker.

    Of the more than 1,400 tsunami debris sightings reported to NOAA, the agency only traced 17 pieces back to the event, including small fishing boats, soccer balls, a dock and a shipping container housing a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with Japanese license plates. No confirmed tsunami debris so far has reached California.

    Even in the absence of a direct connection, California coastal managers said it helps to know if a beach is being covered with more marine debris than usual.

    "We want to get an idea of where to focus our efforts. We have limited resources," said Eben Schwartz, marine debris program manager at the California Coastal Commission, which heads the $50,000 NOAA-funded project. "If we see the problem is hitting the north coast and not getting as far south as San Francisco, that tells us where to focus."

    Last summer, NOAA awarded $250,000 to five West Coast states to help with tsunami debris removal. Alaska spent its share to clean up a 25-mile stretch of beach before the weather turned too bitter. Hawaii and Washington state have yet to dip into their funds.

    Oregon racked up $240,000 to remove debris on beaches including a 66-foot dock that broke loose from the port of Misawa during the tsunami and splashed ashore over the summer. Part of the tab - $50,000 - was covered by NOAA.

    Charlie Plybon, Oregon's regional manager at the Surfrider Foundation, said the tsunami has raised beachgoers' awareness about marine debris plaguing the world's coastlines.

    "There's a bit of tsunami debris fever. It's like an Easter egg hunt," said Plybon, who has been cleaning up the Oregon coast for more than a decade. "People used to walk past debris. Now they want to be engaged."

    Health experts have said debris arriving on the West Coast is unlikely to be radioactive after having crossed thousands of miles of ocean. Tsunami waves swamped a nuclear power plant and swept debris into the ocean. The debris field, which once could be spotted from satellite and aerial photos, has dispersed. More than 18,000 residents were killed or went missing.

    Volunteer Julie Walters has combed Mussel Rock Beach south of San Francisco for wreckage, but all that's turned up so far are wave-battered boat parts and lumber of unknown origin.

    If she did find an object with a direct link, "I would find it quite intriguing that it made this incredible journey across the Pacific," said Walters, a volunteer with the Pacifica Beach Coalition. "It would also sadden me to think of the human tragedy."

     

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    Breaking Weather: Grinch-Y Weather

    After slamming the southern Plains and Deep South on Christmas Day, a powerful winter storm will take aim on the East and central Great Lakes on Wednesday into Thursday.

    As proven already today, the storm is complete with substantial snow, an icy mix, soaking rain, strong winds and severe weather.

    Snow Totals to Top a Foot

    On the storm's cold northern and western flank, substantial snow will spread from the lower Ohio Valley to the eastern Great Lakes and interior Northeast on Wednesday into Thursday.

    More than a foot of snow will bury places from northeastern Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania to northern Maine and neighboring communities in Canada's St. Lawrence Valley.

    Between 6 to 12 inches is expected over surrounding areas, including Portland, Maine, and back to Detroit, Mich., and Indianapolis, Ind.

    A half of a foot or more of snow will alone clog roads and severely disrupt travel and daily routines, but gusty winds will worsen the situation by blowing and drifting the snow around.


    Soaking Rain to Bring Flash Flood Threat

    Severe weather is not the only concern on the storm's warm side, but also torrential rain capable of causing urban and flash flooding.

    Rain will then spread northeastward to the central and southern Appalachians through tonight, before invading more of the Carolinas, mid-Atlantic and southern New England on Wednesday into Thursday morning. For many in the Deep South, the soaking has preceded the Christmas Day outbreak of damaging thunderstorms and tornadoes.

    Farther to the north, the heaviest rain and accompanying flash flood threat will reach Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore on Wednesday afternoon, Philadelphia and New York City on Wednesday night and Boston late Wednesday night into Thursday morning.

    Icy, Wintry Mix Another Concern

    This potent winter storm is expected to unleash nothing but snow from Missouri to northern New England, while plain rain soaks the mid-Atlantic coast. In between, the snow will either mix with or the rain will start as a wintry mix.

    The rain will mix with an icy mix at its onset from the valleys of southeastern West Virginia and the I-81 corridor of Virginia to southeastern Pennsylvania and the I-95 corridor from Washington, D.C., to Boston. The same can be said for the Ohio Valley.

    Accumulating snow will eventually mix with or change to the wintry mix in the central Appalachian Mountains and from central Pennsylvania to central New England.

    Just because heavy snow is not falling, motorists should not take the wintry mix lightly. With sleet (ice pellets) and freezing rain involved, roads could still turn slick for a time.
    Coastal Flooding/Damaging Winds Along Northeast Coast

    As the heaviest rain invades the Northeast, strong winds will develop along the mid-Atlantic coast on Wednesday afternoon.

    The burst of strong winds will then push northward along the coast into Thursday, whipping through Long Island and New York City during the evening and overnight hours of Wednesday and Boston later Wednesday night.

    The strongest winds will gust between 50 and 60 mph for a time, threatening to cause tree damage and power outages. The combination of the winds and higher astronomical tides could also lead to coastal flooding.

    Conditions throughout the East Coast will improve on Friday, when a new storm may be gathering in the Deep South.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Hits on Christmas; Heads East

     

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    (AP Photo)

    NEW YORK (AP) - A massive winter storm is disrupting travel plans for fliers trying to get home after Christmas. Snow, thunderstorms, sleet, tornadoes and high winds have grounded planes in the nation's midsection and are expected to slow operations on the East Coast.

    Delays racked up from Dallas to New York. By 9 a.m. Wednesday, more than 400 flights nationwide had been scrapped with more cancelations likely throughout the day.

    Passengers are pretty much at the mercy of Mother Nature and the airlines. But there are a few things they can do to improve their odds of getting home quickly.

    - If you miss your connection, the airlines will automatically rebook you on the next available flight. However, with flights near capacity, the next open seat could be several days away. Two years ago, some Christmas fliers had to wait nearly a week to get home.

    - If you're unhappy with your rebooked flight, get in line to speak to a customer service representative. But also, pick up the phone and call the airline directly, go onto the airline's website and even consider sending a Tweet.

    - Consider buying a one-day pass to the airline lounge. It's a nice place to relax away from the crowd and there are usually free drinks and small snacks. But the real secret to the lounges is that the airline staffs them with some of its best - and friendliest - ticket agents. The lines inside will be much shorter and these agents are magically able to find empty seats where nobody else can. One-day passes typically cost $50.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Hits on Christmas; Heads East

     

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    Around the Globe- A Snow Globe Timelapse Journey from Canada to London from All Cut Up Films on Vimeo.

    This beautiful video features time-lapse images from six different cities, including Calgary and London, set in sparkling snow globes.

     

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    Updated Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, 3:57 p.m. ET

    A truck parks on the side of the Ohio Turnpike in North Ridgeville, Ohio, during the start of a major winter storm on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

    CONCORD, New Hampshire (AP) - A winter storm that has killed more than a dozen people across the eastern half of the United States plodded across the Northeast on Thursday, trapping jet planes in snow or mud and frustrating travelers still trying to return home after Christmas.

    The storm, which was blamed for at least 16 deaths farther south and west, brought plenty of wind, rain and snow to the Northeast when it blew in Wednesday night. Lights generally remained on and cars mostly stayed on the road, unlike many harder-hit places including the southern state of Arkansas, where 200,000 homes and businesses lost power.

    Photos on SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Hits Northeast
    By afternoon, the precipitation had stopped in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, though snow continued to fall in upstate New York and northern New England. Parts of snow-savvy New Hampshire expected as much as 18 inches (450 millimeters).

    The Northeast's heaviest snowfall was expected to be in northern Pennsylvania, upstate New York and inland sections of several New England states before the storm heads into Canada on Friday, National Weather Service spokesman David Roth said.

    While the East Coast's largest cities - New York, Philadelphia and Boston - saw mostly high winds and cold rain, other areas experienced a messy mix of rain and snow that slowed commuters and those still heading home from holiday trips. Some inbound flights were delayed in Philadelphia and New York's LaGuardia, but the weather wasn't leading to delays at other major East Coast airports.

    On New York's Long Island, a Southwest Airlines jet bound for Tampa, Florida, veered off a taxiway and got stuck in mud Thursday morning. Officials said there were no injuries to the 129 passengers and five crew members. Though the area received heavy rain overnight, Southwest spokesman Paul Flanigan said it wasn't clear whether that played a role.

    In Pittsburgh, a flight that landed safely during the storm Wednesday night got stuck in several inches of snow on the tarmac about two hours. The American Airlines flight arrived between 8 and 9 p.m., but then ran over a snow patch and got stuck.

    Earlier, the storm system spawned tornadoes on Christmas along the Gulf Coast, startling people like Bob and Sherry Sims of Mobile, Alabama, who had just finished dinner.

    Deaths from wind-toppled trees also were reported in Texas and Louisiana, but car crashes caused most of the fatalities. Two people were killed in Kentucky crashes, a New York man was killed after his pickup truck skidded on an icy road in northwest Pennsylvania, and an Ohio teenager died after losing control of her car and smashing into an oncoming snowplow.

    In Arkansas, where two people died in a head-on collision, some of those who lost electricity could be without it for as long as a week because of snapped poles and wires after ice and 10 inches (250 millimeters) of snow coated power lines, said the state's largest utility, Entergy Arkansas.

    Farther east, the storm knocked out power to more than 7,000 homes and businesses in Maryland, and utilities were preparing for more outages as the wind picked up. In New Jersey, which is still recovering from Superstorm Sandy's destruction, gusts of more than 70 mph (112 kph) were recorded along the coast, and the weather service issued a flood warning for some coastal areas.

    Schools on break and workers taking holiday vacations meant that many people could avoid messy commutes, but those who had to travel were urged to avoid it.

    Few truckers were stopping into a TravelCenters of America truck stop in Willington, Connecticut, near the Massachusetts border early Thursday. Usually 20 to 30 an hour stop in overnight, but high winds and slushy roads had cut that to two to three people an hour.

    "A lot of people are staying off the road," said Louis Zalewa, 31, who works there selling gasoline and staffing the store. "I think people are being smart."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Batters Northeast

     

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    Breaking Weather: New England Nor'easter

    After slamming the southern Plains and Deep South on Christmas Day, a powerful winter storm will continue to invade more of the eastern Great Lakes and Northeast through Thursday.

    As proven already on Christmas Day, the storm is complete with substantial snow, an icy mix, soaking rain, strong winds and severe weather.

    Snow Totals to Top a Foot

    On the storm's cold northern and western flank, substantial snow will spread will continue to invade more of the eastern Great Lakes and interior Northeast through Thursday.

    More than a foot of snow will bury places from northeastern Ohio and northwestern Pennsylvania to northern Maine and neighboring communities in Canada's St. Lawrence Valley.

    Cities in line to receive at least or more than a foot of snow include Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, Burlington and Caribou.

    A half of a foot or more of snow will alone clog roads and severely disrupt travel and daily routines, but gusty winds will worsen the situation by blowing and drifting the snow around.

    Soaking Rain to Bring Flash Flood Threat

    Severe weather was not the only concern on the storm's warm side, but also torrential rain capable of causing urban and flash flooding.

    Rain will continue to spread northward across the mid-Atlantic and southern New England through Thursday morning.

    The heaviest rain and accompanying flash flood threat will reach Philadelphia and New York City tonight and Boston late tonight into Thursday morning.


    Icy, Wintry Mix Another Concern

    This potent winter storm is expected to unleash nothing but snow from Illinois to northern New England, while plain rain soaks the mid-Atlantic coast. In between, the snow will either mix with or the rain will start as a wintry mix.

    Rain will continue to be preceded by an icy mix at the winter storm's onset along I-95 corridor north of Philadelphia.

    Just because heavy snow is not falling, motorists should not take the wintry mix lightly. With sleet (ice pellets) and freezing rain involved, roads could still turn slick for a time.

    Coastal Flooding/Damaging Winds Along Northeast Coast

    As the heaviest rain invades the Northeast, strong winds will develop along the coast.

    The burst of strong winds will then push northward along the coast into Thursday, whipping through Long Island and New York City during the evening and overnight hours of today and Boston later tonight.

    The strongest winds will gust between 50 and 60 mph for a time, threatening to cause tree damage and power outages. The combination of the winds and higher astronomical tides could also lead to coastal flooding.

    Conditions throughout the East Coast will improve on Friday, when a new storm may be gathering in the Deep South.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Batters Northeast

     

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    Drivers on a Louisiana causeway had an unusual sighting on Christmas day, when a waterspout formed over the lake and churned over the water. Many drivers slowed down to watch the spectacle, causing a traffic jam.

     

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    Curious onlookers inspect an emaciated 60-foot finback whale that beached itself in the Breezy Point neighborhood of the Rockaways in New York, Wednesday. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

    NEW YORK (AP) - An ailing, endangered finback whale has been found washed ashore in a coastal enclave of Queens that was hard hit by Superstorm Sandy.

    Emergency workers and marine biologists responded to a report of a 60-foot whale that was stranded on the bay side of the Rockaways. The call came around 10:40 a.m. Wednesday.

    Biologist Mendy Garron says it's unclear what caused the whale to beach itself, but its chances of survival appear slim.

    She says the whale isn't moving around much and "looks very compromised."

    Garron says biologists are waiting for the tides to subside to determine what to do next.

    Breezy Point is still recovering from the October storm that caused serious flooding and a fire that destroyed 100 homes.

     

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    (AP Photo)

    A jet in Pittsburgh got stuck in snow on the tarmac while another one in New York got itself mired in mud.

    The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that an American Airlines flight arrived Wednesday evening during a storm, but then ran over a snow patch and got stuck. Airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny says workers tried for nearly two hours to tow the plane before deciding to bus passengers to the terminal.

    On Thursday morning at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma (rahn-KAHN'-koh-mah), N.Y., a Southwest Airlines jet bound for Tampa, Fla., got stuck in some mud after it veered off a taxiway following a night of heavy rain. Southwest spokesman Paul Flaningan says it's not yet clear whether the weather played a role.

    There were no injuries at either airport.

     

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    ST. LOUIS (AP) - The snowstorm that pummeled the U.S. Midwest last week hasn't done much to relax the grip of the country's worst drought in decades.

    The weekly U.S. Drought Monitor report released Thursday shows that roughly 62 percent of the continental U.S. remains in some form of drought, unchanged from the previous week. That number has been above 60 percent largely since July.

    Nearly 22 percent of the continental U.S. is in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories. That also is unchanged from the previous week.

     

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    A man shovels the sidewalks of businesses along Main Street in downtown Evansville, Ind., on Thursday. (AP Photo/The Evansville Courier & Press, Erin McCracken)

    LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - As a the muted ends of a powerful winter storm that has killed more than a dozen people plodded through the Northeast, many in Arkansas were seeking warmth and shelter against the cold prospect of life without electricity into the new year.

    A Christmas Day blizzard dumped more than 15 inches of snow on the state, causing massive damage to power lines that have affected more than 200,000 customers.

    With the bleak word from the state's largest utility that the lights could be out until after the start of the new year, many residents who awoke snowbound Wednesday morning found themselves jamming the city's hotel rooms by Thursday night.


    Photos on SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Hits Northeast
    "I'm coping with hot toddies and peanuts," said Lynda Johnson, who lined up a series of hotel stays through hotels.com to make it at least through Saturday night. She has already been to the movies - she saw "Django Unchained" - and checked in with neighbors multiple times to see if the lights are back on.

    They aren't.

    Deena Brazell spent a night in her car for warmth, though she hadn't planned it that way.

    "Everything in the apartment is electric. I stayed in the apartment the first night. After that, it got cold really quick," she said. "I went out to charge the phone and fell asleep, then I just decided to stay."

    After the storm's peak early Wednesday, homes and businesses from border-to-border had lost power. Johnson, and several others, said they were hoping the power would be back on Wednesday after spending Christmas night in the dark. Butut then the president of the state's largest utility announced that some of the outages would persist at least into New Year's Day. Little Rock was among the cities hardest hit.

    "We spent the first night at home and turned on the fireplace, but it doesn't give off a lot of heat," said Kathy Garner, who sought refuge at her sister and brother-in-law's house in Maumelle, a Little Rock suburb.

    In a typical year, tornadoes bring Arkansas' worst weather, but the damage is isolated and linemen have a relatively easy time fixing the power grid.

    This week's storm was epic by comparison, and despite the jokes - "In Wisconsin, we call this Tuesday" - as of Thursday night there was more snow on the ground in Little Rock than Milwaukee.

    "You run out of money fast," Johnson said. "The things you had planned to do, you can't do. You need food, clothing and shelter. Since I'm not home, I have to find someplace for shelter. Then you have to find something to eat."

    The storm system responsible for the misery roared out of the Rockies early Tuesday with blizzard conditions in southwestern Oklahoma and tornadoes along the Gulf Coast.

    After sweeping across Arkansas, giving Little Rock its first white Christmas since 1926, it rolled into the Midwest and Northeast before moving on to Canada. Up to 20 inches of snow fell in the Adirondacks of New York; Indianapolis had 7.5 inches, its greatest snowfall in four years; and 4-6 inches fell in and around Concord, N.H.

    "I'm going to be shoveling all day, just trying to keep up with the snow, which is impossible," said Dale Lamprey, clearing the sidewalk outside the legislative office building near the New Hampshire Statehouse.

    Nationwide, at least 17 people died because of the ice, snow and wind. Deaths from wind-toppled trees also were reported in Texas and Louisiana, but car crashes caused most of the fatalities.

    A Michigan woman who was riding in a car that struck a tree and two people riding in a car that slid across the center line of a road in Arkansas and hit another vehicle.

    Two people were killed in Kentucky crashes, a New York man was killed after his pickup truck skidded on an icy road in northwest Pennsylvania, and an Ohio teenager died after losing control of her car and smashing into an oncoming snowplow.

    Forty-two students traveling to London and Dublin were stuck in the Nashville, Tenn., airport thanks to poor weather in the Northeast. The frustrated students, from universities in Tennessee and Kentucky, were supposed to leave Wednesday and arrive in London on Thursday.

    "It's a two-week program, so it's shortened already," said Joe Woolley, spokesman for the Cooperative Center for Study Abroad.

    Farther east, the storm knocked out power to more than 7,000 homes and businesses in Maryland. In New Jersey, gusts of more than 70 mph were recorded along the coast, and the weather service issued a flood warning for some coastal areas. There were about 800 power outages in Vermont, but only a handful in neighboring New Hampshire.

    Back in Arkansas, utility workers struggling in freezing temperatures restored power to nearly a third of their customers that lost power during the Christmas storm, but that still meant that more than 135,000 homes and businesses were in the dark as forecasters predicted another round of freezing rain for Friday.

    "You just want to be home," Garner said at her sister's house. "You just want to be in your own bed. There's nothing like the comfort of your own home."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Batters Northeast

     

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    A new storm is in the works for portions of New England, the mid-Atlantic and the Ohio Valley hit by the storm just after Christmas.

    The new storm forecast during the last weekend of 2012 will bring more snow to areas that received snow from the post-Christmas storm and will bring snow to some areas that got rain or mostly rain.

    There is also the potential for the storm to strengthen to a strong nor'easter or blizzard in portions of New England and the Maritimes.

    For severe-weather-weary folks in the South, the storm will not bring a repeat of the Christmas tornado outbreak.

    A light to moderate snowfall is forecast by AccuWeather.com meteorologists from portions of the Ohio Valley late Friday into early Saturday and then the central Appalachians and the I-95 mid-Atlantic Saturday into Saturday evening.

    The cities of Louisville, Ky., Cincinnati, Huntington, W.Va., Pittsburgh, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City are projected to receive a general 1 to 3 inches of snow.

    However, while the storm will stay relatively mild-mannered while tracking eastward over the interior United States, it will strengthen upon nearing the Atlantic Ocean and take a northward turn.

    How quickly this strengthening occurs will determine how heavy the snow, wind, seas and tides become over New England and part of Atlantic Canada spanning Saturday night into Sunday.

    There is the potential for the snow and wind to ramp quickly just east of New York City (Long Island and Connecticut) through eastern New England.

    According to Canadian weather expert Brett Anderson, "An all-out blizzard appears likely over portions of the Maritime Provinces on Sunday."

    If the storm develops to its full potential some of these eastern areas could be walloped by a foot (30 centimeters) or more of wind-driven snow and gales that make for not only an angry sea, but the potential for power outages and coastal flooding.

    Since the storm will be relatively weak traversing much of the U.S., it is unlikely to throw much snow over the Great Lakes, northern and western upstate New York and northwestern New England.

    Even though it will be a colder storm for part of the I-95 corridor in the mid-Atlantic and southern New England, rain is still forecast for much of North Carolina, southeastern Virginia and the lower part of the Delmarva Peninsula.

    Regardless of what the storm brings during the last weekend of 2012, generally dry and seasonable conditions are in store for New Year's Eve at Times Square and in the Northeast.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos from 2012

     

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