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SKYE on AOL

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    The weather will be significantly colder this year when compared to last year at Times Square New Year's Eve, as temperatures hovered near the 50-degree mark.

    Brisk and cold conditions are forecast for New York City's New Year's Eve 2012 as the crystal ball begins its downward journey. Compared to last year, it will feel 30 degrees colder this year.

    For New York City and much of the Northeast, it will be a typical early winter night.

    AccuWeather.com RealFeel(R) temperatures will be dipping into the teens in the Big Apple.

    During New Year's Eve 2010, there was over a foot of snow on the ground in Central Park.

    However, crews had removed much of the snow from the vicinity around Times Square to make room for close to a million revelers.

    That storm brought part of the New York City area two feet of snow and a general one to two feet of snow to the I-95 Northeast spanning Dec. 26 and 27. For New York City and other areas, it would not be the last giant snowstorm of the winter of 2010-2011.

    AccuWeather.com Staff Writer Samantha-Rae Tuthill has more information on New Year's Eve weather history in Times Square.

    This winter continues to favor stormy conditions along part of the East Coast.

    The storm that hit during and just past Christmas will be followed by another storm during the last weekend of 2012.

    Yet another storm will be under way during New Year's Eve over the Southwest.

    That storm will bring snow to the Four Corners region, and rain and thunder to Texas and the southern plains.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos from 2012

     

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    Boats sit on the dry, cracked bottom in a dry cove at Morse Reservoir in Noblesville, Ind., Monday, July 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

    The drought that overcame more than two-thirds of the United States this year will continue into 2013, the National Drought Mitigation Center said yesterday.

    Although it's still unclear how many inches of rain or snow will be needed to recover from the drought, "it's fair to say it needs to be an above-normal year in the basins where water supplies are very low," said Michael Hayes, director of the center at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

    The Missouri, Platte and Colorado river basins in the center and west of the country are some that have seen the worst retreats in water levels, Hayes said. The West's river basins get 75 to 80 percent of their water from melting snow in the springtime.

    The drought was "historically unusual in its speed, its intensity and its size," according to a statement by the National Drought Mitigation Center. This is uncommon for a natural disaster that is defined by its slow but lingering nature, unlike rapid events like hurricanes or floods.

    According to the latest Drought Monitor report, nearly 70 percent of the country is in abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions.

    The mild winter last year left little snow and rain for soil to absorb in the spring. Plants began using moisture a month or two early, said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the center and author of yesterday's Drought Monitor. Heat and dryness from mid-May onward drove massive wildfires and widespread crop losses across the Midwest. Early predictions for an El Niño weather pattern did not come to fruition, and the Midwestern skies remained dry through the fall.

    The amount of rain and snow needed to recover from the drought will depend on the region of the United States, said Dale Mohler, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather. Drought measurements are partly based on the rain deficit from what's normal, so the Ohio Valley and eastern United States will need more precipitation than the typically drier Rocky Mountains or the Southwest.

    Arkansas, Oklahoma and eastern Texas will need about 15 to 18 inches of rain to recover over the winter, an unlikely event, Mohler said. Farther north into the Great Plains, the soil will need at least 3 to 6 inches.

    The good news for agriculture, he added, is that there needn't be a full recovery from the drought for crops to grow. If there is sufficient rain in the summer, that could be enough for a good fall harvest.

    The fate of the winter wheat crop through the Plains states - which needs a good dousing of water before it goes dormant until spring - remains worrisome, Mohler said.

    "There's still a lot of dryness to erase in Nebraska and Kansas," he said. "My concern is definitely for the wheat crop. It doesn't look like it will be an active winter in Nebraska, Kansas, and the [Texas and Oklahoma] panhandles."

    From abundance to scarcity

    What complicates matters further, Hayes said, is that water resource managers were caught off-guard.

    "Because the previous years were so good, we weren't worried on some of those issues," he said. The Missouri River Basin, which feeds into the Mississippi River, was the site of extensive flooding due to heavy rains in 2011.

    Now, the low levels are threatening the economic importance of the Mississippi, as the Army Corps of Engineers scrambles to upgrade the river's locks and infrastructure to accommodate the drought's damage. Last year, a paper published in the journal Science predicted that increasing temperatures and less snowfall in the north due to climate change would lead to lower peak stream flows in the Missouri, Columbia and Colorado rivers (ClimateWire, June 29, 2011).

    "As this drought becomes a longer-term drought, as it stays dry, we will see impacts on some of the longer hydrological supplies," said Hayes, referring to the Missouri River.

    Colorado's municipal water managers have also needed to shift from resting comfortably to taking action on their water supplies. Reservoirs in 2011 were plentiful, thanks to a good snow year in the Rockies, said Taryn Finnessey, a drought and climate change technical specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

    But last March, one of Colorado's historically heavy snow months was marred by higher temperatures and a dry atmosphere. Cities and towns began to see declining water storage.

    Denver, the state's largest city, instituted voluntary restrictions on water use. Steamboat Springs, population 11,951, implemented mandatory restrictions for the first time.

    "Going forward in 2013, there is some concern that reservoir levels are lower than we'd like them to be," Finnessey said. "We are hoping for a strong snowpack."

    Storms could replenish soils

    The state will need "normal or above-normal snowfall," Finnessey added. That would require at least 16 inches on average in the snowiest month, according to data from the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

    The storms across the Midwest that have disrupted holiday travel have brought some relief to the Midwest, with Des Moines, Iowa, receiving 67 percent of its monthly average for December rain. Fuchs, the author of the Drought Monitor, expects a "vigorous" system to exit the Great Plains and cover the Great Lakes and the Midwest before reaching New England.

    Colorado has experienced "consistent and heavy storms" over the past two weeks, a small source of hope, Finnessey said.

    An El Niño pattern, a weather effect driven by rising ocean temperatures, is not expected for at least another eight months, Mohler said. This would drench the area of the country most affected by drought.

    Although the Midwest may see some relief soon, the South is as dry as ever. Dust from the parched soil is rising in 55 mph winds, decreasing visibility and causing a 23-vehicle accident in Lubbock, Texas.

    "It looks like the Dust Bowl in the Texas Panhandle," Mohler said.

    For more weather news, visit AccuWeather.com.

    See on AccuWeather.com: Drought to Cause Dairy, Meat, Other Food Prices to Rise

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    The surveillance cameras at a Walgreens drugstore in Mobile, Ala., captured footage of a powerful tornado as it blasted through the parking lot on Christmas day, tossing cars and blowing debris. Check out the footage of terrified employees and customers at :22, as they try to flee the twister's destruction.

    More than 34 tornadoes were recorded in the South over the holiday.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos from 2012

     

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    The GoPro bomb squad took a road trip through Alaska to go "speed flying" - skiing with a large parachute-like wing that allows the rider to rapidly fly down the slope. Watch the guys get some incredible air in the pristine white mountains.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The World's Most Extreme Sports

     

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  • 12/28/12--09:02: 10 Travel Hot Spots for 2013
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    Breaking Weather: Snow Advances Northeast

    Snow is pushing across the Interstate 95 corridor Saturday - Boston is expected to get up to six inches of snow and New York could get three. Nova Scotia is predicted to get even more while south of Washington, D.C., will see a "wintry mix" or rain.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos from 2012

     

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    Heatwave Scorches Rio De Janerio
    While people in the U.S. are bundling up to stay warm in the chilly winter temperatures, people in Latin America are experiencing record-setting heat. Temperatures reached a scorching 109.7 degrees Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro, its hottest day since 1915.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Batters Northeast

     

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    The coldest air in at least a couple of years is aiming for areas from the Upper Midwest to the Northeast during the first few days of the new year.
    While the pattern looks progressive and will still feature a temperature rebound the following week, a dip in steering-level winds, known as the jet stream, will lock in long enough to drive Arctic air southward.
    Last year, a stubborn jet stream over northern Canada kept most of the cold air locked up near the Arctic Circle.
    During the few occasions when cold air made a southward move, it was negated by bare ground and unusually warm lake temperatures.

    RELATED ON ACCUWEATHER: Snow Not Enough to Eradicate Drought, Restore Water Supply

    Nighttime and early morning temperatures can be 15 to 25 degrees lower than the high temperatures in some areas away from the unfrozen lakes.
    While the lakes are still warm, they are trending colder due to the recent storms. There is currently a substantial area of snow on the ground now reaching well down into the United States.
    The waves of cold air will accelerate or initiate ice formation on some of the lakes in the region.
    Folks who have been saving some money on heating because of warmth last winter and this fall will burn through a few bucks.
    The snow acts as an insulator from the warm ground and also reflects some of the sun's energy back.
    The combination of reinforcing waves of cold air and natural snowcover is setting up some of the best early winter skiing conditions in the past several years.

    For more weather news, visit AccuWeather.com.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Massive Winter Storm Batters Northeast

     

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    Pittsburgh Hit With Heavy Snow

    BOSTON (AP) - Up to a foot of snow fell in parts of southern New England with the latest winter storm to move through the Northeast, national weather forecasters said Sunday.

    The storm began Saturday afternoon and ended by Sunday morning, with some power outages but no reports of critical injuries or major property damage. Dry weather was expected for days in southern New England, although strong winds may chill the bones.

    Meteorologist Frank Nocera of the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass., said southern New England appeared to be the hardest hit.

    Six to 12 inches of snow fell in Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts, including Foxborough where the New England Patriots play. The exception was at Boston and the Cape Cod area where rain was mixed with snow. There two to four inches fell. Many residents lost power after wet snow piled up on power lines.

    The storm spread over the Northeast and parts of Ohio on Saturday, just days after the regions were hit by another storm that moved in from the nation's midsection.

    New York City and Philadelphia saw a mix of rain and snow, and drivers throughout the regions were warned to be cautious. About 20 vehicles piled up in a storm-related chain-reaction crash on Interstate 93 in New Hampton, N.H., police said, and five people were injured.

    Officials lowered the speed limit on much of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, about 300 miles from the Ohio state line to east-central Pennsylvania, from 65 mph to 45 mph. Flights at Philadelphia's airport, mostly arrivals, were delayed about an hour, spokeswoman Stacy Jackson said.

    In Albany, N.Y., a regional jet skidded into a snow bank at the airport and became stuck, temporarily stranding passengers en route to Chicago. The 66 passengers and four crew members aboard the GoJet Airlines flight, operating as United Express, were put on a bus and sent back to the airport. There were no injuries, and the incident didn't cause any other flight delays, airport authority spokesman Doug Myers said.

    In Ohio, Dayton, Columbus and Cincinnati saw about 2 to 5 inches of snow by Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos from 2012

     

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    Columbus, Ohio, got 2 to 4 inches of snow on Saturday - and Russell Satori made the most of it. He took his 2-year-old daughter Aislynn on her first sledding adventure. She got a little snow in her face, but we're pretty sure she loved it.

     

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    Breaking Weather: Snow Streaks Through the Plains

    Snow and freezing rain will cause a messy Monday for many in the Plains, with big-time time travel delays for folks in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Snow accumulations will probably be on the light side, though.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos from 2012

     

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  • 12/31/12--01:27: Photos: A Snowy Weekend
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    Revelers, center, take pictures as confetti flies over New York's Times Square after the clock strikes midnight during the New Year's Eve celebration as seen from the Marriott Marquis hotel Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

    NEW YORK (AP) - Hundreds of thousands of revelers crowded into New York City's Times Square to watch the crystal-covered ball make its annual descent, ringing in the start of 2013.

    The festivities joined a slew of others around the globe, from fireworks in Sydney and Hong Kong to the first public countdown in years in Myanmar.

    New York City's countdown was the first in decades without television host Dick Clark, who died in April. One of the crystal panels on the ball was engraved with his name.

    Yvonne Gomez, a 53-year-old physician from Grand Forks, N.D., beamed with pleasure as the ball descended.

    "I couldn't begin the new year in a more beautiful way," she said pointing to her husband, Greg Halverson, a 63-year-old potato farmer. "I married him two weeks ago and here we are in the middle of Times Square celebrating the new year."

     

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    The Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig Kulluk aground off a small island near Kodiak Island Tuesday Jan. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - High seas and strong winds prevented crews from boarding an oil drilling ship to check for any damage after the large vessel went aground off an uninhabited island in the Gulf of Alaska.

    A Coast Guard plane and a helicopter flew over the Kulluk on Tuesday, but severe weather did not permit putting marine experts on board the drilling rig, which had grounded on a sand and gravel beach in stormy seas.

    Federal on-scene response coordinator Capt. Paul Mehler said the Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig is carrying about 143,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid, and appeared stable.

    "There is no sign of a release of any product," Mehler said during a news conference.

    A team of company, Coast Guard and local officials said they were mobilizing spill response equipment and preparing a plan in the event of a spill in the Partition Cove and Ocean Bay areas of the island. The area is home to at least two endangered species, as well as harbor seals, salmon, and sea lions.

    The storm eased Tuesday, with gusts up to 35 mph and waves up to 30 feet high, and similar conditions were expected Wednesday. Officials were hoping to get marine experts onboard to take photos and videos, and then come up with a more complete salvage plan once weather permits.

    The goal was to get salvagers aboard the Kulluk and the ship refloated, Mehler said.

    Mehler said a team of about 500 people was working on a plan, "with many more coming."

    A Shell official said the drilling rig was built with a double-sided hull of reinforced steel that is 3 inches thick. It recently had undergone $292 million in improvements before being put into service for a short time this summer in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska's north coast.

    It was being towed to Seattle for maintenance last week when it separated from a towing vessel south of Kodiak Island. Repeated attempts to maintain towing lines were unsuccessful as a severe storm passed through the area. By Monday night, tow boats guided the rig to a place where it would cause the least environmental damage and cut it loose. It grounded off the southeast side of uninhabited Sitkalidak Island, which is near the larger Kodiak Island in the gulf.

    U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, expressed his concerns in a statement Tuesday.

    "Oil companies keep saying they can conquer the Arctic, but the Arctic keeps disagreeing with the oil companies," Markey said. "Drilling expansion could prove disastrous for this sensitive environment."

    Sean Churchfield, operations manager for Shell Alaska, said once the situation is under control, an investigation will be conducted into the cause. He did not know whether the findings would be made public.

    The Coast Guard said it would be investigating and would make its findings public.

     

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    An artist's rendering of a proposed 625-foot Ferris wheel planned for the Staten Island waterfront in New York. (AP Photo/Office of the Mayor of New York, File)

    NEW YORK (AP) - New York City is pressing on with plans for the world's largest Ferris wheel on its shoreline, despite the challenges from the deadly Superstorm Sandy two months ago.

    Flooding led to some changes to the nearly $500 million project on Staten Island, which includes a mall and hotel, but developers haven't slowed it or scaled it back, even though parts of it are in a flood zone.

    Some residents, a city watchdog and a planning group have asked whether it makes sense to push ahead with the attraction, which will reach 625 feet tall.

    "It was in poor taste to be discussing a Ferris wheel and all this glamor - it was very hard to embrace this when you knew that your colleagues and their family members were devastated, and there were people who don't have heat or electricity or homes," said Nancy Rooney, a nurse who lives and works on the island.

    The storm gave wheel developer Richard Marin "momentary pause," he said. But he quickly decided to keep going. Private money will pay for the project.

    Mayor Michael Bloomberg envisions the attraction becoming one of the city's premier draws, offering vistas of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty to as many as 30,000 riders a day. Developers aim to get it going by the end of 2015.

    Since the storm, the developers have been making sure the buildings can withstand flooding, Marin said, and electrical and mechanical equipment will be 30 feet above sea level. The wheel itself will be designed to withstand sustained winds up to 129 mph, far stronger than Sandy's.

    The city Independent Budget Office, a watchdog agency, and the Municipal Arts Society, a nonprofit urban planning group, both spotlighted the Ferris wheel plan in separate blog posts wondering what development lessons the city will learn from Sandy.

    Building the Ferris wheel and other waterfront projects without a citywide look at coastal building "increases the risk that the next 'superstorm' will exact an even higher price tag," IBO spokesman Doug Turetsky wrote.

    But to Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, Sandy's blow is no reason to step back from what he sees as a transformative project.

    "We have to show the community, and we have to show the world, we're coming back," he said.

     

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    There is still the potential for the coldest air in a couple of years in part of the Northeast during the first week of January 2013.

    The cold push from the Arctic is coming in stages during the first week or so of 2013. During a couple of episodes into next week the flow could rival low temperatures achieved during all of the winters of 2011-12 and 2010-11 for part of southeastern Canada and northern New England.

    Highs could be in the single digits for a one to several-day stretch from northern upstate New York to northern New England with highs in the teens to lower 20s farther south.

    Two channels of cold air will drive southeastward from northern Canada.

    One channel will deliver solid cold, typical of average or below-average temperatures from the northern Plains to the central Great Lakes, Ohio Valley and mid-Atlantic. This air will also be modified by the open, relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes through the first week of 2013. Downwind and south and east of the Great Lakes, temperatures will fall short of the benchmark lows in most locations.

    A second channel, containing the coldest air may slip in between the Great Lakes and south of Hudson Bay, aiming for northern upstate New York, New England and southeastern Canada during the first weekend of 2013. It is in this area where benchmark low temperatures have the greatest chance to be reached.

    Fresh snow cover over much of the Midwest, Northeast and southeastern Canada will work to help preserve the cold air. Much of New England and neighboring Canada now have a deep snow cover.

    Cloud cover produced by the Great Lakes and weak disturbances will work against the severe cold at night. Clouds tend to act asa blanket, reflecting the escaping warmth back down to the surface.

    Where winds drop off and the sky stays clear much of the night, temperatures could fall into the abyss.

    Regardless of whether or not temperatures plummet at night, the sustained cold will allow some ski resorts in the region to make snow around the clock.

    While seasoned-veteran residents in the region may not think much of the cold weather in January, it will have some shock value for some folks given how warm recent winters have been.

    Sustained cold weather or arctic outbreaks are very hard on the elderly, homeless and those with respiratory problems.

     

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    January 2, 2013

    Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), left, joined by other New York area-lawmakers affected by Superstorm Sandy, express their anger and disappointment after learning the House Republican leadership decided to allow the current term of Congress to end without holding a vote on aid for the storm's victims, at the Capitol in Washington, early Wednesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The current term of the U.S Congress is set to end this week with no action on aid for the superstorm that left more than 100 dead and thousands homeless in three northeast states and lawmakers and officials from the area are furious.

    Republicans and Democrats from New York and New Jersey lashed out at the leader of the House, Speaker John Boehner, on Wednesday for withdrawing legislation on Hurricane Sandy aid, demanding that he reverse course and allow a vote as their constituents continue to struggle with the aftermath of the devastating late October storm.

    President Barack Obama and the governors of the two states pressured the House to act, calling inaction a "dereliction of duty."

    Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey said in a joint statement the "continued inaction and indifference" by the House "'is inexcusable."

    Just hours after he put off a vote, Boehner was scheduled to meet privately with Republican lawmakers from the two states. The speaker was caught between conservative rank and file lawmakers who want to offset any increase in spending with Northeast and Mid-Atlantic lawmakers determined to help their states recover from the storm.

    The new Congress is seated Thursday, meaning new efforts to line up support for billions of dollars in aid were likely to be delayed because dozens of new members have to be seated.

    The criticism of Boehner on the House floor was personal at times, and reflected in part the frustration among rank-and-file over the decision to press ahead with a vote on the fiscal cliff deal engineered by the White House and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. Boehner had been struggling with conservatives who complained that the economic package didn't include enough spending cuts.

    Obama called for House Republicans to vote Wednesday on Hurricane Sandy aid "without delay for our fellow Americans." Congress ends its current session on Thursday.

    The president said in a written statement that many people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are trying to recover from the storm and need "immediate support with the bulk of winter still in front of us."

    New York lawmakers from both parties lashed out at the decision by House Republican leaders not to hold a vote on Sandy aid in the current Congress, calling it a "betrayal."

    Reps. Michael Grimm, a Republican, and Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said in angry House floor remarks that while they did not agree on much, Boehner's decision would be a crushing blow to states battered by the late October storm.

    "There was a betrayal," said Grimm.

    The Senate approved a $60.4 billion measure Friday to help with recovery from the storm that devastated parts of New York, New Jersey and nearby states. The House Appropriations Committee has drafted a smaller, $27 billion measure, and a vote had been expected before Congress' term ends Thursday at noon. An amendment for $33 billion in additional aid, partly to protect against future storms, was also being considered but was seen as having less chance of passage.

    Grimm and Nadler were among several New York and New Jersey lawmakers who took to the House floor to complain about Boehner's move. The lawmakers said Boehner withdrew the bill without talking to them.

    "It's the most disgraceful action I've seen in this House," said Nadler. "It is a betrayal by the speaker personally of the members of this House," Nadler said.

    Rep. Peter King, a Republican, called it a "cruel knife in the back" to New York and New Jersey. He said some Republicans have a double standard when it comes to providing aid to New York and New Jersey compared with other regions of the country suffering disasters. Somehow, he said, money going to New York and New Jersey is seen as "corrupt."

    He said those same Republicans have no trouble coming to New York and New Jersey to raise millions of dollars. King urged donors from the two states not to give money to Republicans who are ignoring their needs on Sandy.

    King said Congress approved $60 billion for Hurricane Katrina in 2005 within 10 days, but hasn't appropriated any money for Sandy in over two months.

    More than $2 billion in federal funds has been spent so far on relief efforts for 11 states and the District of Columbia struck by the storm, one of the worst ever to hit the Northeast. The Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund still has about $4.3 billion, enough to pay for recovery efforts into early spring, according to officials. The unspent FEMA money can only be used for emergency services, said Pallone.

    New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, District of Columbia, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are receiving federal aid.

    Sandy was blamed for at least 120 deaths and battered coastline areas from North Carolina to Maine. New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were the hardest hit states and suffered high winds, flooding and storm surges. The storm damaged or destroyed more than 72,000 homes and businesses in New Jersey. In New York, 305,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed and more than 265,000 businesses were affected.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    Work continues on the construction of a new domed gym at Edna High School in Edna, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

    EDNA, Texas (AP) - Most of the time, the windowless building with the dome-shaped roof will be a typical high school gymnasium filled with cheering fans watching basketball and volleyball games.

    But come hurricane season, the structure that resembles a miniature version of the famed Astrodome will double as a hurricane shelter, part of an ambitious storm-defense system that is taking shape along the Texas Gulf Coast.

    Its brawny design - including double-layer cinder-block walls reinforced by heavy duty steel bars and cement piers that plunge 30 feet into the ground - should allow it to withstand winds up to 200 mph.

    "There is nothing standard" about the building, said Bob Wells, superintendent of the Edna school district, as he stood inside the $2.5 million gym, which is set to be completed by March. "The only standard stuff is going to be the stuff we do inside."

    The Edna dome is one of 28 such buildings planned to protect sick, elderly and special-needs residents who might be unable to evacuate ahead of a hurricane. First-responders and local leaders will also be able to take refuge in the domes, allowing them to begin recovery efforts faster after a storm has passed.

    Storm-defense structures are getting increased attention in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which inflicted heavy damage on the East Coast in October. The city of New York, for instance, is considering a multi-billion-dollar system of sea barriers.

    For Texas, a state always in danger during hurricane season, the domes offer the extra benefit of serving as recreation or community centers when not needed as shelters. They are being erected with help from the federal Emergency Management Agency.

    "I think it's good for FEMA, and I think it's good for us. And I think it's good for the taxpayers," Wells said.

    The gym in Edna, a town of 5,500 people southwest of Houston, is the second hurricane dome in Texas. The first was built in 2011 in Woodsboro, near Corpus Christi. Most of the domes will be around 20,000 square feet.

    The plan calls for structures in 11 counties in the Rio Grande Valley, around Corpus Christi and along the coast from Victoria to Newton counties, said Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

    So far, $34.5 million has been awarded. This month, FEMA approved funds for a hurricane dome that will serve as a community center in Brownsville, one that will serve as a wellness center and physical rehabilitation facility in Bay City and two that will serve as multi-purpose training centers in Kingsville.

    Inside the gym in Edna, Wells' voice echoed as he pointed to the ceiling, which has layers of sprayed-on concrete, insulation and rebar, all of which are under a heavy duty fabric that gives the structure its distinctive wind-resistant shape.

    The doorways are covered by awnings of heavy gauge metal and supported by concrete girders that go 15 feet into the ground.

    FEMA is paying for 75 percent of the dome structures, with local communities picking up the remaining cost.

    The funding is part of the agency's initiative to help homeowners and communities build hardened shelters that provide protection from extreme weather.

    Nationwide, more than $683 million has been awarded in 18 states, including Texas, Alabama, Michigan and South Carolina.

    Walking around the gym, Wells said it reminded him of when, as a teenager, he first walked into the Astrodome after it opened in 1965 in Houston.

    "It was like, 'Oh, wow, this is so cool,'" he said. "I'm still kind of in the 'oh, wow' stage with this."

    RELATED ON SKYE: How to Survive a Hurricane

     

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