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SKYE on AOL

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    The mesmerizing video was taken New Year's Eve in Melbourne, Australia.

     

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    Twitter user Robert Hodgin used U.S. Geological Survey data to create this graphic of the earthquake. Flight404/Twitter

    JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) - A powerful earthquake sparked a tsunami warning for hundreds of miles of Alaskan and Canadian coastline, but the alert was canceled when no damaging waves were generated.

    The magnitude 7.5 quake and tsunami warning that followed caused concern in some coastal communities, with alarms sounding and people rushing to higher ground for safety.

    But the Alaska Tsunami Warning Center later said the waves were too small to pose a threat, reaching just six inches above normal sea level in places such as Sitka and Port Alexander.

    "Initially, in the first 15 to 20 minutes, there might have been a bit of panic," Sitka Police Chief Sheldon Schmitt told The Associated Press in a phone interview. But he said things calmed down as the town waited for the all clear.

    The temblor struck at midnight Friday (1 a.m. PST Saturday) and was centered about 60 miles west of Craig, Alaska, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

    Seismologist Jana Pursley of the USGS said the quake was followed by six aftershocks, the strongest of which registered a 5.1 and came nearly four hours after the initial quake.

    "Houses shook; mine had things tossed from (the) wall," Craig Police Chief Robert Ely said. But he added that there were "no reports of any injuries, no wave, no tidal movement seen."

    The tsunami warning was eventually expanded to include coastal areas from Cape Fairweather, Alaska, to the northern tip of Vancouver Island, Canada - an area extending more than 700 miles.

    The center had warned that "significant widespread inundation of land is expected," adding that dangerous coastal flooding was possible.

    In its cancellation statement, the center said that some areas were seeing just small sea level changes.

    "A tsunami was generated during this event but no longer poses a threat," the center said.

    The Alaska Earthquake Information Center said the quake was widely felt but it received no reports of any damage.

    "It was the most intense earthquake I've felt in my 10 years here. I'm pretty sure there was stuff falling off of shelves," Chief Schmitt said. "There is no report of any wave activity here."

    He said that an evacuation sirens and announcements came shortly after the quake, prompting the temporary rush to higher ground.

    Some people in Craig also moved to safer territory.

    "Several citizens elected on their own to move to higher ground. Several locations in Craig were set up for staging (and) shelter," said Chief Ely, adding that "no evacuation was ordered."

    In addition to the warning, a tsunami advisory was briefly in effect for some Alaska coastal areas to the north of the warning zone, as well as to the south of the zone, from the Washington state border to the northern tip of Vancouver Island.

    A tsunami warning means an area is likely to be hit by a wave, while an advisory means there may be strong currents, but that widespread inundation is not expected to occur.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Incredible Natural-Disaster Photos from Space

     

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    A customer sips coffee in the freezing cold at Parker's Quick Stop on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 in Montpelier, Vt. AP Photo/Toby Talbot
    Beginning near or just past the middle of the month, signs are pointing toward waves of frigid air moving southward across North America from the North Pole.
    Much of the nation has been experiencing higher-than-average temperatures and lower heating bills so far during the cold weather season, with the exception of some bouts the past couple of weeks.
    However, there are signs of a potential change on the way beginning during the second half of January.
    A phenomenon known as sudden stratospheric warming has occurred in the arctic region during the past few days. The stratosphere is located between 6 miles and 30 miles above the ground.
    Often when this occurs, it forces cold air to build in the lowest layer of the atmosphere then to drive southward.
    The problem is the exact timing and location of the emergence of this cold air is uncertain. Typically, the movement of cold air begins 10 to 14 days later.

    During the next week or so, a flow of milder Pacific air will invade much of the nation. Because of the time of year, some locations (the northern part of the Great Basin and northern New England) may hold on to the cold they have now due to long nights, light winds and weak sunshine. However, most locations will experience an upswing in temperature for at least a several-day period.
    According to AccuWeather.com's Long Range Team, including Mark Paquette, "Overlaying this with other tools, we expect to see cold air spreading out from central Canada later next week into week three of January."
    It is possible the cold push will arrive in one big blast. However, it is more likely the cold will advance along in waves of progressively colder air with each wave driving farther south and east.
    According to Long Range Weather Expert Paul Pastelok, "The early indications are that the initial thrust of the brutal cold will be directed over the Northwest, northern Rockies or northern Plains first, with subsequent waves reaching farther east."

    RELATED ON ACCUWEATHER: January 1 Snow Coverage Sets New Record for US

    Expert Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson stated, "Initially, the cold may seem to be run-of-the-mill or even delayed, but once the cold air engine starts, it may run for quite a while with progressively colder and colder waves of air."
    According to Expert Senior Meteorologist Jack Boston, "As the waves of cold air spread to the south and east, some energy may be released in the form of a series of storms riding the cold air."
    The storms may initially track from the Southwest to the Upper Midwest, then the western Gulf to the Great Lakes, the eastern Gulf to the Appalachians and perhaps finally northward along the Atlantic Seaboard.
    Expert Senior Meteorologist Joe Lundberg added, "While a zone of high pressure off the southern Atlantic coast will offer some resistance to the cold initially in the East, most of the time in situations like this, cold air finishes the job and reaches the Atlantic Seaboard."
    AccuWeather.com was expecting a stormy pattern to set up beginning the second half of January in the Eastern states and much lower temperatures this winter, when compared to last winter from the Mississippi Valley to the East in its Winter 2012-13 Forecast.
    So while the atmosphere may seem to be settling into a pattern like last winter for some people, meteorologists at AccuWeather.com will be watching the evolution of the winter beginning in mid-January with great interest.
    The weather pattern so far this season and last year at this time may seem like a "Lion in Winter," but there are indications that the weather may be ready to roar beginning during the second half of January.
    Folks may want to check their supply of fuel for the second half of the winter sooner rather than later, in the event the waves of arctic air develop to their full potential. Folks in the Appalachians and parts of the East may not want to sell their snow blower and ditch their snow shovels just yet.

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

     

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    Steve Heckman, 6, shakes hands with an actor in character as Indiana Jones. Steven was battling leukemia as his family home was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy, and came back to the house in Amityville, N.Y. after a vacation to find it completely rebuilt by volunteers. Steven has his own bedroom now, complete with a drawing of Indiana Jones on one of the walls. AP Photo/Heckman Family Photo

    AMITYVILLE, N.Y. (AP) - A cancer-stricken 6-year-old boy whose family was displaced by Superstorm Sandy was back in his Long Island home Saturday after it was rebuilt by volunteers.

    The house in Amityville has a new, extra bedroom so Steven Heckman doesn't have to share space with two sisters while he undergoes chemotherapy for leukemia.

    His tearful mother, Danielle Heckman, said she was so excited she was hyperventilating as the family moved in on Saturday morning.

    "It was just really an incredible feeling - to walk in the door this morning and see that not only has the house been rebuilt, but it's also been furnished, literally from rugs to dressers, TVs and curtains," Danielle Heckman said.

    A wall in Steven's new bedroom was hand-painted with his favorite character - Indiana Jones.

    The Oct. 29 storm flooded the family's home and destroyed almost all they owned. For months, they were forced to couch-surf, including a stint with the parents and three children sleeping on a queen-size air mattress.

    "The kids were very stressed out; they lost everything they had," their mother said.

    The bigger worry was to keep her son away from people with colds or other ailments. An infection could have landed him in the hospital.

    The National Association of the Remodeling Industry, a not-for-profit trade group, heard about the family's plight and offered to rebuild the house with a team of volunteers. Retailers donated new interior furnishings, appliances and dishware.

    Heckman said all she wants to do now is tuck her kids into bed - finally at their own home.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    World's Largest Ice City Bursts Into Colour in China

    The city of Harbin in northeast China is known as the "ice city" thanks to its average temperature of minus-13 degrees Fahrenheit in winter. It's also famous for its annual Ice and Snow Festival, which brings a spectacular light show of illuminated ice sculptures and snow structures to the frigid temperatures.

     

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    Homes destroyed by a wildfire between Dunalley and Boomer Bay, east of the Tasmanian capital of Hobart, Australia, on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Chris Kidd, Pool)

    HOBART, Australia (AP) - Officials searched Monday for bodies among the charred ruins of more than 100 homes and other buildings destroyed by wildfires in the Australian island state of Tasmania. Around 100 residents remained unaccounted for, three days after the fires broke out.

    As scores of fires raged across Australia's parched southeast, a volunteer firefighter suffered severe burns to his hands and face while fighting a grass fire near Gundaroo village, about 138 miles southwest of Sydney, the New South Wales state Rural Fire Service said in a statement. The firefighter was flown to a hospital in Sydney.

    Tasmania's acting police commissioner, Scott Tilyard, said no casualties had been reported in the state from the fires. But he said it would take time before officials were certain that no one had died in the blazes, which have razed 50,000 acres of forests and farmland across southern Tasmania since Friday.

    Tilyard said 11 teams of officials were searching for the roughly 100 missing residents in places including the small town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, where around 90 homes were destroyed.

    "Until we've had the opportunity to do all the screening that we need to do at each of those premises, we can't say for certain that there hasn't been a human life or more than one human life lost as a result of these fires," Tilyard told reporters.

    Three fires continued to burn out of control in southern Tasmania and in the northwest Monday.

    Police charged a 31-year-old man with starting one of the southern fires, near Lake Repulse, by leaving a camp fire unattended last week.

    Police did not release his name, and it was not clear what penalty he could face if convicted.

    Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who flew to Tasmania on Monday, warned that New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, was about to move into a period of extreme heat Tuesday and that the wildfire risk would be high.

    "We live in a country that is hot and dry and where we sustain very destructive fires periodically," Gillard told reporters. "Whilst you would not put any one event down to climate change ... we do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions."

    New South Wales Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said more than 90 wildfires were blazing across the state Monday, including the Gundaroo fire. He warned that conditions would worsen on Tuesday. No homes were currently under threat.

    "It is going to be very hot and very dry. Couple that with the dryness of the vegetation, the grassland fuels, the forest fuels and those strong winds that are expected tomorrow," he said.

    Temperatures across much the state was expected to reach 113 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday, while winds were expected to be as strong as 50 miles per hour.

    Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. In February 2009, hundreds of fires across Victoria state killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes.

     

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    The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits grounded 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/U.S. Coast Guard, Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Painter)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - A Shell oil-drilling ship that ran aground near a remote Alaska island has been refloated, officials said early Monday.

    Royal Dutch Shell's Kulluk was floated from the rocks late Sunday night and teams were assessing its condition, the Unified Command said.

    Once they're satisfied that the vessel is seaworthy, it will be towed 30 miles to shelter in Kodiak Island's Kiliuda Bay.

    The oil drilling vessel, which has no engines of its own, was being towed for maintenance when it ran aground during a powerful storm on New Year's Eve.

    Officials said that so far there's no sign the hull of the Kulluk has been breached or that oil has spilled from the vessel. It is carrying more than 140,000 gallons of diesel and about 12,000 gallons of lube oil and hydraulic fluid.

    The main tow line was attached from a towing vessel earlier in the day in preparation for the refloating when ocean conditions were favorable. The Unified Command said three additional tugs are on standby along with the Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley and two oil spill response vessels.

    "Following this initial step forward, we will continue to remain cautious while we assess the Kulluk's condition," said Martin Padilla, commander of the refloating effort. "We will not move forward to the next phase until we are confident that we can safely transport the vessel."

    More than 730 people are involved in the response and recovery operation, the release said.

    The Kulluk is a circular barge 266 feet in diameter with a funnel-shaped, reinforced steel hull that allows it to operate in ice. One of two Shell ships that drilled last year in the Arctic Ocean, it has a 160-foot derrick rising from its center and no propulsion system of its own.

    The tow attempt is being made by the same vessel that lost the Kulluk last month while attempting to move it to Seattle. A line between the 360-foot anchor handler, the Aiviq, and the Kulluk broke Dec. 27. Four reattached lines between the Aiviq or other vessels also broke in stormy weather and went aground.

    Shell has reported superficial damage above the deck and seawater within that entered through open hatches. Water has knocked out regular and emergency generators, but portable generators were put on board late last week.

    RELATED ON SKYE: SKYESCAPES: 15 Stunning Photos of Alaska

     

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    In this Dec. 17, 2012, photo, Marion Johnston, left, with daughter Linda Monaco, sit in a lounge at the Bristal Assisted Living facility in Massapequa, N.Y. (AP Photo/Frank Eltman)

    MASSAPEQUA, N.Y. (AP) - For the first time in her life, Marion Johnston says she feels old.

    The petite 80-year-old retired school secretary who uses a walker is still adjusting as one of the newest residents at the Bristal Assisted Living retirement community. She moved in November after the howling winds and rising flood waters of Superstorm Sandy destroyed her Long Island waterfront condominium.

    Johnston had often thought about moving, but Sandy revealed an uncomfortable truth: "I just can't be on my own."

    Although New York and New Jersey health care officials say it's too soon to confirm a spike, some senior care operators say they've seen a surge in older people relocating to assisted-living or retirement communities after Sandy. Prolonged power outages, wrecked homes and flooded streets have helped convince even the most stubborn seniors that they may not be capable of living independently.

    "Very often you need that little push over the cliff to make you realize," said Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. She is not surprised to hear facilities are experiencing increased demand. "When your home is leaking and flooding and you're sitting in the dark, you come to realize you no longer have the skills of survivorship."

    Maryellen McKeon, senior vice president of operations for Ultimate Care New York, LLC, which runs eight Bristal facilities in the New York area, said the company's 5 percent vacancy vanished after the storm.

    "We have the same thing after snowstorms or heat waves," McKeon said. "Someone may be isolated in a house and realize, 'My daughter was right,' and the reality of your vulnerability sinks in."

    Wolf-Klein noted that the move to assisted living can be difficult.

    "There's an acceptance that the independence you cherished for a long time is now coming to an end," she said. "There's an acceptance of aging and time marching on."

    Johnston, a widow who raised three children with her late husband, had lived alone in an Amityville condo for the past 14 years. Amid dire storm warnings ahead of Sandy's arrival, Johnston's daughter took her mother to her home in nearby Lindenhurst. It was a prudent decision, since the condominium was destroyed by the storm surge, said the daughter, Linda Monaco.

    "The canal came up and went through her entire house; water came in the back door and went out the front door," Monaco said. Johnston has not wanted to return to see the destruction. "I have a china cabinet with Waterford crystal," Johnston said, only to be corrected by her daughter: "You had a china cabinet; that's shot."

    Although her own home was spared from flooding, Monaco said much of her community was not as fortunate. Several houses burned to the ground, and a neighborhood was without heat or electricity for two weeks. Monaco quickly realized she could not care for her mother, who was shivering under a mountain of blankets. Within days of Sandy's departure, Monaco said she was lucky to find a space for her mother at the Bristal facility in Massapequa, about two miles from Johnston's home.

    Johnston still is adjusting to her new surroundings, where residents are monitored by staff and given three meals a day, plus a spectrum of activities from music appreciation seminars and Bingo to trips to Broadway shows.

    "I have been an independent person," Johnston said. "This is the first time in my life that I felt old, and it's a little shocking. It is a tremendous emotional adjustment."

    Anne Pinter, senior vice president of the national assisted-living company Atria, said her company's Northeast facilities saw an 18 percent increase in occupancy during October and November, compared with a year ago.

    Patty Tucker, a spokeswoman for the Health Care Association of New Jersey - a trade group representing assisted living facilities and nursing homes - said there has been an increase in temporary admissions to assisted living facilities.

    But she said it may be too soon to know if those seeking shelter while their homes are repaired will remain permanently. Pinter said her company typically sees about a 30 percent retention rate in those who initially move in temporarily and then opt for permanent residence.

    Lorraine Miller lived in her ranch house in the Harbor Isle community of Island Park for 41 years until four feet of water came gushing in during the storm. Miller, who turned 84 on Dec. 24, used to work as a dental assistant for her late husband. He children had been prodding her for years to sell the house and move to assisted living. She finally relented after the storm.

    "I really didn't want to go because I love my home," she said. But Sandy was the clincher that convinced her to move; she now lives at an Atria facility in Lynbrook. "I can't go back at this age and start buying furniture and appliances and all the rest. I'm better off here where I get three delicious meals a day and they come and clean up your apartment and make your bed. What could be better?"

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    A runner passes a time and temperature sign in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, July 24, 2012. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

    The "Heat and Drought of 2012" caused crops to wither and Mississippi River levels to plunge while yielding the warmest year on record for the U.S.

    The year's average temperature in the United States has been measured at 54.5 degrees, breaking the previous 1921 record of 54.4 degrees. Across the country, 22 sites tied or broke their all-time high temperature records, while astonishingly, zero sites in the U.S. reported a record low temperature. It was, above all, a year of weather extremes.

    The Setup

    The drought and heat had their origins during the prior winter.

    A fast storm track over northern Canada during the winter of 2011-2012 prevented cold air from making many visits into the U.S. and kept the frigid air locked up near the Arctic Circle.

    According to Expert Senior Meteorologist Brett Anderson, "This pattern, in turn, resulted in mild Pacific air over much of the U.S. and southern Canada. Additionally, a lack of snow cover over southern Canada then allowed any air coming southward to further warm up before entering the U.S."

    The lack of cold air in the U.S. then greatly limited the intensity of storms during the winter and influenced the form of precipitation.

    Many stream and river systems are fed by the melting of snow cover and the release of frozen water in the ground through the spring and early summer.

    Drought Begins, Heat Blossoms

    The warm start to the spring allowed some crops to be planted early in the Midwest. However, the soil also dried out very quickly.

    As the days lengthened and the angle of the sun increased, temperatures climbed much higher than average over the Midwest and occasionally spread into the East as a result of the dry landscape. Many cities over the middle of the nation had weeks of 100-degree temperatures. The quick warmup is why also severe weather season spiked very early and was extremely brief.

    According to Agricultural Weather Expert Dale Mohler, "We had a lack of large complexes of thunderstorms during the spring and summer over the Plains and Midwest."

    Crops Shrivel

    The thunderstorm complexes are a major source of rainfall during the spring and summer.
    Mohler stated that corn was the hardest hit major crop during the drought and even though a record number of acres was planted the number of bushels per acre was down about 25 percent from what was originally anticipated.

    "The heat and drought hit much of the corn belt during the critical pollination period for the crop." Mohler stated.

    Soybeans were not hit as hard. This crop takes much longer to mature, and some rain came the rescue late in the period. However, yields were about 12 percent lower than originally expected.

    Last year's winter wheat fared better. The wheat, which matured during the beginning of the summer of 2012, had only a minor negative impact due to the drought.

    Streams Dry Up, Rivers Shrink

    The excessive heat and drought not only resulted in reduced crop yields and brown pasture lands, but it also forced water restrictions in some communities.

    Levels on the Mississippi River, which was near record high levels only a year earlier, plunged to 50-year lows during the summer of 2012.

    These levels continued to dip during the autumn as the lack of storms with heavy precipitation continued.

    During the summer and autumn, levels became so low that drudging operations on behalf of the Army Corps of Engineers were stepped up to keep the shipping channel open. However, barge companies were still forced to lighten their loads to avoid running aground.

    Concerns continue for possible closures along the waterway into this winter above where the Ohio River joins in. Most notably affecting the port of St. Louis.

    According to AccuWeather.com's Long Range Team of meteorologists, headed by Paul Pastelok, "During this winter, rain and snow is projected to be adequate over the Ohio Basin but still may be low enough over the upper Mississippi River for concern with low water levels. Little rain and snow is projected over much of the Missouri Basin and other areas farther south over the Plains."

    It will take more than one or two storms like that of the middle of December over the Plains and Upper Midwest to substantially turn things around over the upper Mississippi and Missouri valleys.

    Steven A. Root, President and CEO of WeatherBank, Inc., used hourly temperature data from 65 key cities in the United States (including Alaska and Hawaii) and southern Canada to come up with the average annual temperatures (F) depicted in the graph.

    Drought and Heat Extremes

    For some areas of the Central states, this year will finish high on the list of driest years on record. In portions of Nebraska and Kansas, 2012 was the driest year dating back to the late 1800s in some cases.

    It isn't so much individual cities that have record dryness, but more the number of locations that were abnormally dry throughout the nation. Only the Northwest and portions of the northern Gulf Coast were regions where rainfall was significantly above normal over a broad area.

    Following the warmest first six months of the year and the hottest summer on record across the lower 48 states, it soon became apparent that 2012 in its entirety would be in the running for the hottest years on record.

    According to Steven A. Root, President and CEO of WeatherBank, Inc., "2012 is set to be the warmest year on record in the United States and southern Canada since 1950."

    Not even cooler conditions during November, nor chill the last few day of December took 2012 out of the top spot. Unusual warmth occurred during much of December. Virtually every reporting site in the lower 48 states had temperatures averaging above normal during the first 20 days of the month.

    Chicago and Rockford, Ill., as well as Muskegon and Grand Rapids, Mich., and Fresno, Calif., were among the locations that recorded their warmest year on record. Records in Chicago date back to 1872. During 2012, temperatures averaged 54.5 degrees, breaking the old record of 54.4 degrees set in 1921. In Fresno, the old record set during 1986 with 66.0 degrees was breached with 66.7 degrees set in 2012. Records in Fresno date back through the early 1900s.

    Other cities that had or tied their warmest year on record include: New York City, Dallas/Fort Worth, St. Louis and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos from 2012

     

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    Source: NOAA

    WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States of America set an off-the-charts heat record in 2012.

    A brutal combination of a widespread drought and a mostly absent winter pushed the average annual U.S. temperature last year up to 55.32 degrees Fahrenheit (13 Celsius), the government announced Tuesday. That's a full degree Fahrenheit (0.6 degrees Celsius) warmer than the old record set in 1998.

    Breaking temperature records by an entire degree is unprecedented, scientists say. Normally, records are broken by a tenth of a degree or so.

    The National Climatic Data Center's figures for the entire world won't come out until next week, but through the first 11 months of 2012, the world was on pace to have its eighth warmest year on record.

    Scientists say the U.S. heat is part global warming in action and natural weather variations. The drought that struck almost two-thirds of the nation and a La Niña weather event helped push temperatures higher, along with climate change from man-made greenhouse gas emissions, said Katharine Hayhoe, director of the Climate Science Center at Texas Tech University. She said temperature increases are happening faster than scientists predicted.

    "These records do not occur like this in an unchanging climate," said Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. "And they are costing many billions of dollars."

    Last year was 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the average for the entire 20th century. Last July was the also the hottest month on record.

    Nineteen states set yearly heat records in 2012. Alaska, however, was cooler than average.

    U.S. temperature records go back to 1895 and the yearly average is based on reports from more than 1,200 weather stations across the Lower 48 states.

    According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. last year also had the second most weather extremes on record, behind 1998. There were 11 different disasters that caused more than $1 billion in damage, including Superstorm Sandy and the drought, NOAA said.

    The drought was the worst since the 1950s and slightly behind the dust bowl of the 1930s, meteorologists said. During a drought, the ground is so dry that there's not enough moisture in the soil to evaporate into the atmosphere to cause rainfall. And that means hotter, drier air.

    The last time the country had a record cold month was December 1983.

    "A picture is emerging of a world with more extreme heat," said Andrew Dessler, a Texas A&M University climate scientist. "Not every year will be hot, but when heat waves do occur, the heat will be more extreme. People need to begin to prepare for that future."

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

     

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    Jan. 8, 2012

    @LoverBoyGenius uploaded this photo and tweeted, "A guy is standing on the Jet Star rollercoaster in Seaside and hellicopters are out there trying to get him lmao pic.twitter.com/ifdJLXk5"

    SEASIDE HEIGHTS, New Jersey (AP) - Police have detained a man who apparently climbed the New Jersey roller coaster that was swept into the ocean during Superstorm Sandy and unfurled an American flag.

    The man came down from the top of the coaster and jumped into a police boat Tuesday. He was handcuffed, walked through the surf and was escorted to a police car on the beach in Seaside Heights.

    News 12-New Jersey says Christopher Angelo told the channel he wanted to raise awareness for storm recovery.

    Angelo's mother says her 38-year-old son is a bit of a daredevil.

    The remnants of the Jet Star Roller Coaster have become an iconic image of the October storm that ravaged the New Jersey and New York coast.




    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield uploaded video of his watch responding to zero gravity aboard the International Space Station on Jan. 8. Hadfield wrote, "CSA video of bizarre motion of my wristwatch, one of the first things that struck me when I got to orbit. Like it was alive on my wrist."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Syrian refugees stand outside their tents at a temporary refugee camp in the Lebanese town of Al-Faour, near the border with Syria, on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

    AMMAN, Jordan (AP) - The fiercest winter storm to hit the Middle East in years brought a rare foot of snow to Jordan on Wednesday, caused fatal accidents in Lebanon and the West Bank, and disrupted traffic on the Suez Canal in Egypt. At least eight people died across the region.

    In Lebanon, the Red Cross said storm-related accidents killed six people over the past two days. Several drowned after slipping into rivers from flooded roads, one person froze to death and another died after his car went off a slippery road, according to George Kettaneh, Operations Director for the Lebanese Red Cross.

    In the West Bank town of Ramallah, a Palestinian official said two West Bank women drowned after their car was caught in a flash flood on Tuesday. Nablus Deputy Governor Annan Atirah said the women abandoned their vehicle after it got stuck on a flooded road and their bodies were apparently swept away by surging waters. Their driver was hospitalized in critical condition.

    In the Gaza Strip, civil defense spokesman Mohammed al-Haj Yousef said storms cut electricity to thousands of Palestinian homes and rescuers were sent to evacuate dozens of people. Parts of Israel were bracing for snow a day after the military was forced to send helicopters and rubber dinghies to rescue residents stranded by floodwaters.

    The unusual weather over the past few days hit vulnerable Syrian refugees living in tent camps very hard, particularly some 50,000 sheltering in the Zaatari camp in Jordan's northern desert. Torrential rains over four days have flooded some 200 tents and forced women and infants to evacuate in temperatures that dipped below freezing at night, whipping wind and lashing rain.

    "It's been freezing cold and constant rain for the past four days," lamented Ahmad Tobara, 44, who evacuated his tent when its shafts submerged in flood water in Zaatari. A camp spokesman said that by Wednesday, some 1,500 refugees had been displaced within the camp and were now living in mobile homes normally used for schools.

    Weather officials said wind speeds exceeded 45 miles (70 kilometers) per hour and the rain left two feet (70 centimeters) of water on the streets.

    The storm dumped at least a foot of snow on many parts of Jordan and was accompanied by lashing wind, lightning and thunder. It shut schools, stranded motorists and delayed international flights, Jordanian weatherman Mohammed Samawi said. The unusually heavy snowfall blocked streets in the capital Amman and isolated remote villages, prompting warnings from authorities for people to stay home as snow plows tried to reopen clogged roads. It forced at least 400 families to evacuate their homes and move to government shelters overnight.

    Samawi called it the "fiercest storm to hit the Mideast in the month of January in at least 30 years."

    The snowstorm followed four days of torrential rain, which caused flooding in many areas across the country.

    In Lebanon, several days of winds and heavy rain along the coast and record snow in the mountains caused power outages across the country, blocked traffic and shut down mountain passes. Later Wednesday, snow is forecast at altitudes higher than 200 yards (meters), while rain that has already flooded suburbs of the capital, Beirut, should continue.

    In Egypt, rare downpours, strong winds and low visibility disrupted Suez Canal operations over the past three days and also led to the closure of several ports. The number of ships moving through the Suez Canal had fallen by half because of poor visibility, the official MENA news agency reported. A canal official said that by Wednesday, operations had returned to normal. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters.

    MENA also reported that ports in the northern Mediterranean city of Alexandria and Dakhila were shut down, while cities in the Nile Delta suffered power outages and fishing stopped in cities like Damietta, northeast of Cairo.

    MENA also reported ten fishermen went missing after their boat capsized near Marsa Matrouh on the Mediterranean.

    Snow was piling up in and around the Syrian capital of Damascus, where a civil war is raging. Officials said many villages in central Homs province and along the southern border with Israel have been cut off after heavy snow fall. Torrential rains are expected over the next three days and temperatures are expected to remain around freezing. Some 2.5 million people within Syria have been displaced in fighting that has stretched on for nearly two years now.

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    A woman and her grandchildren take refuge under a jetty as a wildfire rages nearby in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart, Australia, on Jan. 4. (AP Photo/Holmes Family, Tim Holmes)

    COOMA, Australia (AP) - Record temperatures across southern Australia cooled Wednesday, reducing the danger from scores of raging wildfires but likely bringing only a brief reprieve from the summer's extreme heat and fire risk.

    Australia had its hottest day on record Monday with a nationwide average of 104.59 degrees Fahrenheit, narrowly breaking a 1972 record of 104.31 F. Tuesday was the third hottest day at 104.20 F. Four of Australia's hottest 10 days on record have been in 2013.

    "There's little doubt that this is a very, very extreme heat wave event," said David Jones, manager of climate monitoring and prediction at the Bureau of Meteorology.

    "If you look at its extent, its duration, its intensity, it is arguably the most significant in Australia's history," he added.

    Cooler conditions brought relief to firefighters, who were battling around 200 fires across Australia's southeast, and gave them the chance to build earth breaks to try to contain the blazes. The risk from fire was expected to increase later in the week as temperatures again rise.

    No deaths have been reported from the wildfires, although around 100 people haven't been accounted for since last week when a blaze destroyed around 90 homes in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley, east of the state capital of Hobart. On Wednesday, police spokeswoman Lisa Stingel said it was likely most of those people simply haven't checked in with officials.

    Survivors have told stories of swirling flames, toxic fumes and desperate escapes.

    Tim Holmes fled his burning home near Dunalley on Friday with his wife Tammy and five grandchildren, aged 2 to 11, and took shelter in the sea beneath a wooden jetty.

    "The difficulty was there was so much smoke and embers and there was probably 200 millimeters to 8 to 12 inches of air above the water," Holmes told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television on Monday.

    "So we were all just heads; water up to our chins just trying to breathe because it was just - the atmosphere was so incredibly toxic," he added.

    The fires have been most devastating in Tasmania, where at least 128 homes have been destroyed since Friday and more than 198,000 acres burned. Hundreds of people remain at two evacuation centers in the state's south.

    "People have lost everything. We can't comprehend that devastation unless we are in their shoes," Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings said.

    In Victoria state, north of Tasmania, a fire injured six people, destroyed nine homes and caused the evacuation of the farming community of Carngham west of the city of Ballarat, the Country Fire Authority said.

    In New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, firefighters were battling 141 fires, including 31 that had not yet been contained. Fires burning out of control near the towns of Cooma, Yass and Shoalhaven were the most concerning.

    Wildfires are common during the Australian summer. Fires in February 2009 killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in Victoria.

    Jones, the meteorologist, said the current heat wave was a progression from the last four months of 2012, which were the hottest September-December period on record.

    With Wednesday's cool-down in southern Australia, the national capital, Canberra, dropped from a high of 97 F on Tuesday to 82 F and Sydney dropped from 109 F to 73 F.

    Jones expected that Wednesday would also rank among Australia's hottest days when the national temperatures are calculated. That's because the extreme heat has shifted from the heavier populated south to northern and central Australia.

    The bureau forecast above average temperatures for the remainder of the summer, compounding the fire danger created by a lack of rain across central and southern Australia over the past six months.

    "It is going to be very challenging," Jones said of the wildfire danger.

    The U.S. government announced on Tuesday that 2012 had been the United States' hottest year on record.

    A brutal combination of a widespread drought linked to a La Niña weather event and a mostly absent winter pushed the average annual U.S. temperature last year up 1.08 F above the previous record set in 1998 to 55.32 F.

    The same La Niña brought flooding rains to much of Australia in the cool first half of 2012. The second half was dry and hot, ending the year with a daily temperature 0.2 F above the daily average of 71.26 F.

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    New information is coming in on the cold outbreak set to roll in during the middle of January.
    Moderate cold will first settle southward over the West during the latter part of this week into the weekend. Temperatures are likely to slowly moderate next week in the West.

    Farther east, arctic air will spill into the northern Plains this weekend from central Canada and will progress southeastward in stages through next week.

    Multiple storms could ride up from the Gulf of Mexico along the slowly advancing cold air over the Midwest and lower Mississippi Valley. It is possible that it will take a larger storm to finally drive the cold air to the coastal Northeast during the middle of next week.

    While it appears the cold waves will not rival the great arctic outbreaks of January 1994, December 1989 and January 1985 in terms of severity, it is possible that temperatures will plunge 40 to 50 degrees over a 24- to 48-hour period as some locations pass from a warm air mass to the arctic air over the northern Plains.

    For example, Fargo, N.D., is projected to have a high temperature well into the 30s on Thursday, Jan. 10, but before midnight Saturday, Jan. 12, temperatures may be well below zero.

    RELATED:
    Brutal Cold Waves Could be Heading for the U.S.
    Warmup, Thaw Precede Brutal Cold


    Farther east over the Midwest, the cold air may advance and stop several times as storms roll up from the southwest.

    The coldest weather around Chicago is likely during the second half of next week, when nighttime low temperatures may dip to near zero with a breeze stirring.

    For the central Plains to the lower Ohio Valley, the mid-Atlantic and places on south, the arctic air may only be around for a few days before Pacific air mixes in from the west.

    In New England, it will take longer for the cold air to take root. However, once it does arrive, it could be difficult to get rid of. There is some indication that steering-level winds, known as the jet stream, could dip southward over the region for an extended period aside from a few wobbles.

    In New York City, the latest trends are that the coldest weather may not arrive until late next week into the weekend of Jan. 19 and 20 and the cold may be somewhat abbreviated. This is due to a persistent area of high pressure near the southern Atlantic Coast.

    According to Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams, "Long-range temperature forecasts have a strong root to climatology, or normal/average, so that arctic outbreaks and their low-level cold air may be washed out by this basis."

    The core of the cold air and the center of high pressure does not appear to be aiming for the Deep South, due to the persistent high offshore in the Atlantic.

    In South Texas, there may only be a couple of nights where temperatures get low enough for borderline frost or freeze conditions and that is highly contingent on cloud cover, wind direction, etc.

    More details on the cold air and adjustments to temperatures will continue in the coming days on AccuWeather.com.

    RELATED ON SKYE: The 10 Snowiest Places on Earth

     

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    USGS researcher surveying a San Francisco Bay marsh. (Credit: USGS Western Ecological Research Center)

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. - More than 80 percent of critical salt marsh habitat around San Francisco Bay will disappear in 100 years due to rising sea levels, according to a detailed, decade-long survey of the area by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

    The marshes are the bay's natural buffer against rising seas. Many of the Bay Area's cities and important services, including highways, airports and power lines, lie only a few inches to a few feet above sea level. As long as a marsh accumulates enough sediment to keep pace with encroaching sea levels, it can maintain its elevation, protecting nearby homes and infrastructure.

    Marshes can also retreat, but in the central and South Bay, development surrounds all existing marshes, leaving them nowhere to go.

    For its report, the USGS surveyed roughly 8 square miles of the remaining tidal marshes in San Francisco Bay, an estuary that contains about 80 percent of California's wetlands.

    If current trends continue, only 12 percent of this region will survive as marsh until 2100, the USGS found. The rest will turn into mudflats, or drown.

    The sole marsh expected to survive is in the South Bay, where sediment pours in from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. But it will be "low" habitat, dominated by cordgrass, not the mid-to-higher-elevation plants like pickleweed favored by local wildlife, such as the federally endangered salt marsh harvest mouse and the California clapper rail, a type of bird.

    High-marsh species, as result, face the most risk from rising seas, said Karen Thorne, a research ecologist at the USGS Western Ecological Research Center in Sacramento who helped author the report. Living at higher elevations, their habitat will disappear altogether by 2100, Thorne said.

    "I feel like these are really important results, and I hope people will take this information and do something with it," she said. "These are the results if we do nothing.

    "I'll be the first to acknowledge that [the high marsh] won't be there in 2100, but there is temporary value in restoration," Thorne told OurAmazingPlanet. "The 'how' part, that's the big question."

    Marsh restoration effects

    The projections heighten the urgency of completing restoration projects at marshes within the San Francisco Bay's national wildlife refuges, said Eric Mruz, manager of the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    "We have to start restoring these now, or else it's going to be too late," Mruz told OurAmazingPlanet. "You're going to have just sea walls and open water. We've already lost 85 percent of the tidal marshes in our open areas, so if we don't restore some of these areas now, we're never going to get [them] back."

    Billions of dollars have been invested in marsh restoration projects throughout the bay, from the South Bay Restoration Project in Mruz's home turf to projects that just broke ground. One recently begun project is the Cullinan Ranch Project in the North Bay, near the Napa River estuary and Highway 37, part of a grand plan to convert agricultural land in that area back to marsh.

    Don Brubaker, who oversees the Cullinan Ranch restoration for the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, said the planning accounted for sea level rise. Building marsh habitat now will help threatened and endangered species weather coming changes in the bay, he said. [Gallery: Species on Endangered 'Red List']

    "If we can get some of these restorations up and running, we'll have that much more time to farm these types of species that need this type of habitat," Brubaker told OurAmazingPlanet. The Napa River estuary also has room to move back with rising sea level, he noted. "We do have that ability to creep," Brubaker added. "Getting the marsh established now allows it to keep pace better with sea level rise."

    Projections and modeling

    The USGS projections are based on the WARMER model (published in 2008 in the journal Climate Change), which predicts 4 feet of sea-level rise in the bay by 2100. USGS researchers with the Western Ecological Research Center in Sacramento surveyed the marshes on foot and by air for 10 years, collecting records of plant and wildlife, soil, tides, water depth and ground elevation.

    Because the amount of predicted sea-level rise may change in the future, the projections for each marsh can be changed as new models for the Bay Area are published, Thorne said. The reports and data are also freely available online.

    The 12 marshes included in the report are in the following areas:

    San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge
    China Camp State Park
    Corte Madera Ecological Reserve
    Fagan Ecological Reserve
    Cogswell Marsh, Arrowhead Marsh
    Colma Creek Marsh
    Laumeister Marsh
    Coon Island Marsh
    Black John Marsh
    Petaluma Marsh
    Gambinini Marsh
    Arrowhead Marsh

    The next step is expanding the study to estimate the effects of sea level rise on marsh habitat along the entire West Coast, much as the USGS predicts hurricane damage for the East Coast.

    Pilot studies are underway in San Diego, the Corte Madera Marsh in Marin County and Humboldt Bay in Northern California, Thorne said. She hopes to expand to Seal Beach in Orange County, then Oregon and Washington.

    Reach Becky Oskin at boskin@techmedianetwork.com. Follow her on Twitter @beckyoskin. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

    Earth in the Balance: 7 Crucial Tipping Points
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    Copyright 2013 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

     

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    A whale-watching tour boat off the coast of Dana Point, Calif., was overtaken by a pod of up to 1,000 "stampeding" dolphins, darting past the boat in a wild herd, churning up water and delighting spectators on the boat trip. A dolphin stampede is a rare occurrence, often happening without warning or cause.

    The footage also captures the view from the boat's underwater "viewing pods," leaving little wonder as to what being in the midst of a dolphin stampede might look and feel like.

    Underwater fun fact: The water surrounding Dana Point has the world's highest density of oceanic dolphins per square mile, and some 450,000 dolphins can be found in the region.

    via The Atlantic

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