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    Monday, Jan. 14, 2013

    This photo from Jan. 12 shows frost on a tree with oranges in an orchard near Sanger, Calif., after a night of freezing temperatures. (AP Photo/The Fresno Bee, Craig Kohlruss)

    FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - As an unusual cold spell gripped parts of the West for a fifth day, some California citrus growers reported damage to crops and an agriculture official said national prices on lettuce have started to rise because of lost produce in Arizona.

    The extreme chill in the West comes as the eastern U.S., from Atlanta to New York City, is seeing spring-like weather.

    In California's San Joaquin Valley, where farmers are fighting to protect about $1.5 billion worth of citrus fruit on their trees, Sunday temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in some areas and stayed low longer than previous nights.

    Prolonged temperatures in the mid-20s or below cause damage to citrus crops.

    "It was our coldest night to date," said Paul Story of Exeter-based California Citrus Mutual, an association of the state's 3,900 citrus growers. "I think mandarin growers are going to see a range of significant damage, enough that they will have to separate their crops."

    Mandarins are more susceptible to cold than other citrus and start to freeze at about 32 degrees, Story said. Because many mandarin trees were planted in recent years as the fruit's popularity soared, they are grown in colder areas outside the traditional citrus belt.

    Other citrus crops saw little or minimal damage, Story said. This year's high sugar content in oranges helped protect them, he said, because sugar inhibits freezing.

    Growers deployed wind machines to keep the warm air closer to the ground and irrigation to raise the temperature in the groves. Rows farthest away from the protection could be damaged, Story said. And farmers who do not have wind machines could lose crops.

    Lindsey-based Robert LoBue - who grows 1,000 acres of citrus, including mandarins - said wind machines were critical in his groves, but saving the crop doesn't come cheap. LoBue runs one wind machine for every 10 acres and has to employ a crew to operate them.

    "We're very diligent, we run the wind and water all night," LoBue said, "but we're spending thousands of dollars to protect these crops."

    And farmers are on the hook for a fifth cold night: a freeze warning remains in effect until 10 a.m. Tuesday for central California.

    In Southern California, where strong winds helped keep some crops out of danger by keeping the cold from settling, farmers said any damage would negatively impact workers and consumers.

    "We have between 170 to 200 employees and if we can't pick we have to lay off our picking crews," said John Gless, a third-generation Riverside-based grower. And if there's less fruit to pick, he said prices will go up.

    Temperatures in downtown Los Angeles fell to 34 degrees, breaking the previous record of 36 degrees set on Jan. 14, 2007.

    In Angeles National Forest, where overnight temperatures have been dropping into the 20s, Arcadia hiker Danny Kim, 28, was found Sunday night after surviving 26 hours in the frigid West Fork wilderness. Kim was airlifted to a hospital for treatment of hypothermia.

    In Beverly Hills, fans brought heavy coats and scarves as they waited along the red carpet hoping to catch glimpses of stars arriving for the Golden Globes ceremony Sunday evening. Some of the actors shivered but weren't complaining.

    "I'd rather be nippy than boiling hot," said actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who arrived in a strapless dress. "No, I'm not wearing any leggings or long underwear."

    In San Diego, zookeepers offered extra heat and shelter for some animals.

    To the east, the freezing temperatures already have done enough damage to southwestern Arizona lettuce crops that prices are increasing, said Kurt Nolte, a Yuma, Ariz.-based agricultural agent for the University of Arizona.

    The area provides much of the nation's leafy greens during the winter, and farmers are reporting damage to many romaine and iceberg lettuce crops. The cold is freezing the heads of the lettuce and affecting the quality and yield, Nolte said.

    The price for a carton of lettuce in Yuma two weeks ago was $7 to $8. As of Monday, it cost around $20 per carton, he said.

    "That's a result of cold weather in the Yuma area for the last six weeks," Nolte said.

    Overnight temperatures this week have dipped into the 20s around Yuma, and Nolte said lettuce farmers can't protect their crops.

    "With lettuce, you don't have the luxury of wind machines to stir up the atmosphere," he noted. "You have to live with what Mother Nature brings. Very little can be done other than maybe running some water to protect what's going to be harvested the next day."

    Nolte said Yuma farmers haven't seen much damage so far with other crops such as spinach, cauliflower and broccoli.

    Metropolitan Phoenix marked one of its coolest stretches since 1988 and Sunday morning's low of 7 degrees in Douglas, Ariz., broke a record for January in the Mexican border town.

    In Nevada, the temperature in Ely plummeted to 24 below zero early Monday and wind chills were expected to drop to near 40 below into Tuesday.

    And in northern New Mexico, parts of Interstate 25 and some other highways were snow packed and icy Monday, and officials warned travelers that additional light snow could lead to hazardous driving conditions when coupled with the freezing temperatures.


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    CASCADA from NRS Films on Vimeo.

    We've seen some stunning footage of kayakers in southern Mexico, but this video takes the cake. Erik Boomer, Tyler Bradt, Galen Volckhausen, Tim Kemple, Anson Fogel, Blake Hendrix and Skip Armstrong went to incredible lengths -- in terms of hair-raising stunts and filmmaking. Exhibit A: Two of them dangling off a line over plunging waterfall, cameras in hand, to get just the right shot (5:14).


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    We've launched a new SKYE iPhone app, and we hope you'll check it out.

    SKYE Weather + Photo offers elegant weather reports and forecasts. What we love most, though, is the photo-sharing feature. You can share your own photos of the weather on the app, Facebook, Twitter and beyond. What's more, you can see real-time weather photos from places you care about. As the video shows, it's easy to use.

    It's free on the App Store. Check it out.


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    Jan. 15, 2012

    Children's bicycles are parked near the entrance to a section of the Ozark Trail at the Taum Sauk Mountain State Park entrance in Missouri. (AP Photo/James A. Finley)

    ST. LOUIS (AP) - On a weekend trip that was a surprise anniversary gift for his wife, an outdoors-loving Air Force veteran ventured out with two of his sons for a hike on a remote trail. Clad only in light jackets and sweaters, the three apparently didn't know how rapidly the weather would turn ugly, and that proved deadly.

    Searchers found the soaked bodies of 36-year-old David Decareaux and the two boys - ages 8 and 10 - on the Ozark Trail on Sunday, a day after Decareaux declined a passerby's offer of a ride back to the lodge where they had been staying, Reynolds County Sheriff Tom Volner said. The cold had killed them, he said.

    Only the family's 4-month-old yellow Labrador retriever survived the hike. He was found near Decareaux, who died at the scene, and the two boys, who were declared dead at a hospital after hours of efforts to revive them failed.

    The tragedy crushed Decareaux's father-in-law, Keith Hartrum, who described the family as tightly knit, "always on the go and adventurous."

    "Dave was a great guy, a good father, son-in-law and husband," Hartrum told The Associated Press. "Those two boys were just precious - smart, very nice kids."

    It was nearly 60 degrees Saturday morning when Decareaux and his sons set out on the popular trail that runs through a sparsely populated area of southeast Missouri. Decareaux was wearing only a light jacket, while one of his sons was clad in a fleece pullover, and the other a sweater, Volner said.

    They were ill-equipped as the temperature sank into the 40s, and a storm that would drop 2 inches of rain set in, making the trail all but impassable.

    Volner said there are no caves or other places of refuge along the trail. Although Decareaux had a cellphone and flashlight with him, both devices lost power at some point, his wife, Sarah, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday.

    A passer-by spotted the hikers more than three hours into their journey and asked if they needed a ride back to the Brushy Creek Lodge near Black, where Decareaux's wife and their three other children - ages 12, 4 and 2 - were staying. But Decareaux declined, telling the man they could make it back, the sheriff said.

    "They just missed their turn back to the lodge," the sheriff said. "By that time, their light played out. You don't have any ambient light down here because there are no cities or towns. When it's dark you can't see the back of your hand."

    Officials at the lodge called the sheriff's department about 7 p.m. Saturday, concerned that the hikers had not returned. A search involving more than 50 volunteers on foot, horseback and in vehicles lasted until about 12:30 a.m. Sunday, when flash-flooding in creeks forced searchers to back off until daylight.

    By then, it was freezing, and the temperature had dipped to the upper 20s by sunrise.

    It wasn't long after that that the hikers' drenched bodies were found, their dog beside them. No autopsies were planned, and the deaths were attributed to hypothermia, Volner said.

    Hartrum described Decareaux, who lived in Millstadt, Ill., as a doting father and spiritual man who had retired from the Air Force in recent years and was working with the Defense Department in a job he couldn't discuss, even privately. Karen Petitt, a spokeswoman at southwestern Illinois' Scott Air Force Base, said Decareaux worked there for the Pentagon's Defense Information Systems Agency.

    Decareaux and his wife, Sarah, were married about 14 years ago after a chance meeting that was "love at first sight," said Hartrum, who lives near Waterloo, Ill. They made the most of his overseas assignments, using them to explore Europe over much of the past decade with his family, he said.

    "They had a strong, good, healthy marriage," he said, noting the Decareaux was an experienced hiker "who just got caught up (last weekend) in a freak situation" that proved fatal.

    Sarah Decareaux said prayer and her spiritual faith were helping her press on.

    "We are a Christian family," she told the Post-Dispatch as she headed to a funeral home to make arrangements. "I know where they are now."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Awe-Inspiring Photos from 2012


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    This week at least two storm systems will ride northeastward into the mid-Atlantic and New England with a wintry mix in some areas.

    The first system brought relatively few problems across the region as mostly rain fell from Washington D.C into Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

    There were a few reports of sleet mixing in with the rain, and there were a couple snow flakes on the very northern fringe of ptrecipitaion, but there were no major travel problems.

    The second of the two storm systems will arrive in the Northeast later Tuesday/Tuesday night and depart early Wednesday will still be considered a minor event. However, it has the potential to be more significant than the first in that it has the best chance of bringing a wintry accumulation, compromised of mostly snow.

    There is a better chance of some snow or a wintry mix reaching into the I-95 swath from near New York City to Boston and perhaps the nearby Philadelphia suburbs with the second event.
    Road surface temperatures may still be too warm for much, if any accumulation on the major highways in the I-95 region. However, just enough wintry mix can fall just north and west of these cities for slippery travel.

    With the second storm, a general coating to an inch or two accumulation of mostly snow is possible on non-paved surfaces from part of southwestern Pennsylvania and perhaps western Maryland and the high ground of northern West Virginia to the lower Hudson Valley of New York, central and northern Connecticut, central and western Massachusetts and the southern parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

    Odds favor rain again in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas with an increasing chance of slippery spots as you head into the distant northwestern suburbs.

    Meteorologists call storms of this nature "flat waves of low pressure." In the right circumstances they can bring moderate to heavy precipitation. In the case this week, odds favor little or no precipitation with the first wave and light precipitation and the potential for moderate precipitation for some areas with the second wave.

    Dry air will hold on over northern Ohio to northern upstate New York and northern New England.
    Arctic air will overspread the Great Lakes, New England, neighboring Canada and upstate New York later in the week.

    There is a chance a third wave of low pressure rides northeastward later this week from the South.

    Additional pushes of arctic air will tend to punch a bit farther to the south next week as the implications of the stratospheric warming event that occurred earlier in the month near the North Pole are realized.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: The World's Best Snow and Ice Festivals


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    Snow Causes Havok in Tokyo

    Road and air traffic networks in Tokyo slowed significantly on Tuesday after record snow a day earlier surprised the city. About 71 domestic flights to and from Haneda airport were cancelled due to the conditions, local media reported.

    Parts of the metropolitan highway which services Tokyo were closed with teams shovelling snow to clear the entrances. Commuters were also extra cautious not to slip during their morning commute.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Photos: First Snowfall of Winter Blankets Tokyo


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    Early Tuesday morning, flood warnings blanketed states from Louisiana to Tennessee.

    Flooded fields, drenched farmland and closed roads marked the edge of rising water along creeks and rivers throughout the Southeast.

    Many of the flood warnings were for waterways meandering through rural land that has seen 4.00 to 8.00 inches of rainfall over the past week.

    As another disturbance gathers moisture near the Gulf of Mexico, more soaking rain is poised to inundate the already water-logged soil from eastern Texas to Virginia through the day on Wednesday.

    Towns most at risk include Huntsville, Ala.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Blacksburg, Va. and Roanoke, Va.

    Other locations where flooding is likely to continue include Baton Rouge, La.; Jackson, Miss. and Columbus, Miss.

    Flash flooding of smaller creeks and streams will be possible, along with exacerbated and renewed flooding along major rivers, bayous and swamps, such as the Mermentau River, Bayou Des Cannes, the Tombigbee River and Big Wills Creek.

    If you will be doing any traveling, keep in mind that barricades and road closure signs placed there by emergency officials are for your own protection. Driving around them into flood waters is very dangerous.

    Just 6 inches of swiftly moving water can sweep you from your feet, and 18 inches can lift your vehicle and whisk it, and yourself, into extreme danger.

    Most of the rain will miss central and southern Georgia into the southern Carolinas, where parched, drought-stricken and thirsty waterways would kill for even a taste of the rain only a few hundred miles to the west.

    Stay with AccuWeather.com for the latest updates on this flood situation.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere


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    Jan. 15, 2012

    A photo of the Wambelong Fire smoke plume in Australia, taken by a commercial airline pilot and posted by Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service. (Credit: Ku-ring-gai RFS)

    Fires continues to rage across Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, where blazes have torched at least 1.2 million acres of land. The fires began in Tasmania in early January, where more than 120 homes were destroyed by the flames, and have since spread quickly due to extraordinarily hot weather conditions in the region. In fact, the first six days of 2013 were among the 20 hottest days on record in Australia.

    On Monday, an enormous fire roared through the Siding Spring Observatory, Australia's largest optical astronomy observatory, strengthened by hot, strong winds. Authorities feared the observatory's telescopes, which are run by Australian, American Polish, British and South Korean researchers, would be destroyed, but they appear to be intact, according to Space Daily. Still, it is not yet known the extent of any damage on the equipment.

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


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    Credit: Alamy

    FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - A cold snap that has California farmers struggling to protect the $1.5 billion citrus crop has slowly started to ease.

    For a fifth night, temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley, the state's agricultural heart, dipped as low as 21 degrees.

    In urban centers, it was 39 degrees in downtown Los Angeles early Tuesday, while San Francisco had 37 and San Diego, 36.

    Motorists were urged to use caution because of icy conditions in some places. Black ice was blamed for a seven-car pileup in Oakland Monday and other crashes elsewhere.

    Several Lake Tahoe casinos are cleaning up after below-zero temperatures burst sprinkler pipes.

    In New Mexico, some public facilities in New Mexico opened later than usual Tuesday because of winter weather conditions that included freezing temperatures and poor driving conditions.


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    University of Memphis junior Doug Hall scrapes ice from his windshield while a cold rain falls on the Memphis area Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Mike Brown)

    JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Winter storms punching across the Southeast coated roads in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee with hazardous ice, causing several road accidents Tuesday, authorities said. There also were reports of scattered flooding and power outages around the region.

    Tennessee authorities announced they had gone on an emergency footing Tuesday afternoon because of reports of ice accumulating in some western counties of the state. They warned that problems with freezing rain and ice were likely to also effect middle Tennessee during the coming hours.

    Scattered flooding also was reported in Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama.

    Ice-covered roads caused numerous road accidents in northern Mississippi after temperatures plunged there, Mississippi Department of Public Safety spokesman Warren Strain said. Motorists were urged to avoid unnecessary travel.

    Several public schools remained closed Tuesday in northern Mississippi amid reports of scattered power outages and flooding of some homes in one county.

    Freezing rain began falling Tuesday in western Tennessee, where motorists were reporting ice buildups on roads and bridges, said Jeremy Heidt with the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency. The spokesman said the agency was opening its emergency operations center amid warnings that middle Tennessee should brace for the possibility of freezing rain and ice. Some schools closed early in Tennessee as foul weather set in.

    Much of Tennessee from its midsection westward was expected to remain under a winter weather advisory Wednesday. The National Weather Service also said the Tennessee River Valley region from Chattanooga to Knoxville also was under a flood watch because of recent, heavy rains.

    In northern Alabama, the rain-swollen Tennessee River overflowed into some farm fields. Forecasters are warning of a threat of scattered road icing in northern Alabama after days of rains, adding snow was also possible though any accumulations were uncertain.


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    Jan. 15, 2012

    A beachfront home that was severely damaged by Superstorm Sandy rests in the sand in Bay Head, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - More than 10 weeks after Superstorm Sandy brutalized parts of the heavily populated Northeast, the House approved $50.7 billion in emergency relief for the victims Tuesday night as Republican leaders struggled to close out an episode that exposed painful party divisions inside Congress and out.

    The vote was 241-180, and officials said the Senate was likely to accept the measure early next week and send it to President Barack Obama for his signature. Democrats supported the aid in large numbers, while majority Republicans opposed it by a lopsided margin.

    "We are not crying wolf here," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., one of a group of Northeastern lawmakers from both parties who sought House passage of legislation roughly in line with what the Obama administration and governors of the affected states have sought.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy
    Democrats were more politically pointed as they brushed back Southern conservatives who sought either to reduce the measure or offset part of its cost through spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

    "I just plead with my colleagues not to have a double standard," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York. "Not to vote tornado relief to Alabama, to Louisiana, to Mississippi, Missouri, to - with Ike, Gustav, Katrina, Rita - but when it comes to the Northeast, with the second worst storm in the history of our country, to delay, delay, delay."

    One key vote came on an attempt by Rep. Rodney Freylinghuysen to add $33.7 billion to an original allotment of $17 billion in aid. That roll call was 228-192 and Democrats broke 190-2 in favor, while Republicans opposed it overwhelmingly, 190-38.

    Similarly, on final passage, 192 Democrats joined 49 Republicans in support. Opposed were 179 Republicans and one Democrat.

    Earlier, conservatives failed in an attempt to offset a part of the bill's cost with across-the-board federal budget cuts. The vote was 258-162.

    Rep. Mark Mulvaney, R-S.C., arguing for the reduction, said he wasn't trying to torpedo the aid package, only to pay for it. "Are there no savings, are there no reductions we can put in place this year so these folks can get their money?" he asked plaintively.

    Critics said the proposed cuts would crimp Pentagon spending as well as domestic accounts and said the aid should be approved without reductions elsewhere. "There are times when a disaster simply goes beyond our ability to budget. Hurricane Sandy is one of those times," said Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

    Sandy roared through several states in late October and has been blamed for 140 deaths and billions of dollars in residential and business property damage, much of it in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. It led to power outages and interruptions to public transportation that made life miserable for millions, and the clamor for federal relief began almost immediately.

    The emerging House measure includes about $16 billion to repair transit systems in New York and New Jersey and a similar amount for housing and other needs in the affected area. An additional $5.4 billion would go to the Federal Emergency and Management Agency for disaster relief, and $2 billion is ticketed for restoration of highways damaged or destroyed in the storm.

    The governors of the three states most directly affected praised the congressional action.

    "We are grateful to those members of Congress who today pulled together in a unified, bipartisan coalition to assist millions of their fellow Americans in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut at their greatest time of need," said a joint statement issued by New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy. "The tradition of Congress being there and providing support for Americans during times of crisis, no matter where they live across this great country, lives on in today's vote in the House of Representatives."

    The governors said they "anticipate smooth passage when this package moves back to the Senate for final approval and for this long-awaited relief to finally make its way to our residents."

    The Senate approved a $60 billion measure in the final days of the Congress that expired on Jan. 3, and a House vote had been expected quickly.

    It is highly unusual for a majority party to bring legislation to a vote that its own rank-and-file opposes, but in this case, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and the leadership had little or no choice.

    Boehner unexpectedly postponed the vote in the final hours of the expiring Congress as he struggled to calm conservatives unhappy that the House had just approved a separate measure raising tax rates on the wealthy.

    The delay drew a torrent of criticism, much of it from other Republicans.

    "There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims, the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said on the day after the delay was announced. Rep. Pete King of New York added that campaign donors in the Northeast who give to Republicans "should have their head examined."

    Less than two weeks later, the leadership brought legislation to the floor under ground rules designed to satisfy as many Republicans as possible while retaining support from Democrats eager to approve as much in disaster aid as possible.

    Across the capitol, majority Democrats indicated they would probably not seek changes.

    "While the House bill is not quite as good as the Senate bill, it is certainly close enough," Sen. Charles Schumer of New York said. "We will be urging the Senate to speedily pass the House bill and send it to the president's desk."

    Congress has already approved a $9.7 billion increase in a fund to pay federal flood insurance claims, much of it expected to benefit victims of Sandy.

    The political veered into the personal at times during hours of debate.

    In remarks on the House floor, Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., said one South Carolina lawmaker who has criticized the measure "personally took a small business" disaster loan in the past. While he didn't mention any names, South Carolina Rep. Mulvaney has said he received such a loan.

    Mulvaney later told reporters the comparison was a poor one. He said that unlike funds in the Sandy legislation, the loan he received was approved within the budget, and not as an add-on that increased the deficit.

    In the weeks since the storm hit, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent about $3.1 billion for construction of shelters, restoration of power and other immediate needs after the late-October storm pounded the Atlantic Coast with hurricane-force winds and coastal flooding.

    Officials say Sandy is the most costly natural disaster since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The storm damaged or destroyed 305,000 housing units in New York, and more than 265,000 businesses were disrupted there, officials have said. In New Jersey, more than 346,000 households were destroyed or damaged, and more than 40,000 families remain living out of their homes, according to officials.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy


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    Aliy Zirkle leaves the White Mountain, Alaska, checkpoint during the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race on March 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, Marc Lester)

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) - Unseasonably warm weather in parts of Alaska has complicated training for some mushers already signed up for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

    It has also forced the cancellation of several qualifying races for future rookies of the famous 1,000-mile trek to Nome.

    But there's still plenty of snow along much of the route, Iditarod officials said. By Tuesday, temperatures had dropped somewhat. There's no need yet to worry about drastic changes to the race, which will start March 2 with a ceremonial run in Anchorage. The competition begins the following day in Willow, 50 miles to the north.

    Race marshal Mark Nordman said it's too soon to plan a repeat of 2003, when the restart was moved more than 300 miles north to Fairbanks because of too much open water in rivers and creeks that cross the route.

    "If we can get out of Willow, then we have an event," Nordman said Tuesday. "No panic mode yet."

    Veteran musher Jake Berkowitz of Big Lake isn't so sure. He's heard reports about overflow on the Yenta River past Willow. Unless conditions change drastically, he doesn't see how the race can start in Willow, although Alaska is a place where temperatures can plunge very quickly.

    "If we get a cold spell and everything freezes up again, I think we'll be good," he said.

    In Big Lake, about 15 miles southeast of Willow, it's impossible to train. There's standing water everywhere, he said. Berkowitz plans to head north and get in some 60- to 100-mile runs with his dog team to prepare for the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race in February before he runs the Iditarod.

    Conditions were pretty dismal during the just-concluded Copper Basin 300 race to the east.

    Berkowitz, who placed third in the 300-mile race, said the snow there was punchy with temperatures far above freezing. That made for a slow, difficult race that had his dogs sinking in the soft snow. Ideal conditions are closer to 15 below zero, so Berkowitz stopped regularly to let his dogs roll around in the snow to cool off. There was no snow in parts of the route, and sleds were covering everything from concrete and grass to gravel and rain-slick ice.

    "You know, 40, 50 below - that's a tough race, but I'd take 40 or 50 below over what we had in this race any day of the week," Berkowitz said. "There's not a musher out here that wouldn't say the same thing."

    The deteriorated conditions led to three qualifying races being cancelled. To qualify for the Iditarod, mushers must either complete the Yukon Quest or complete two 300-mile races and other matches for a total of 750 miles. Then they must be approved by a qualifying board. Once mushers are eligible to run the Iditarod, they generally don't have to qualify again.

    Iditarod hopeful Bill Piccolo, who handles sled dogs in Willow, said he was hoping to complete two 300-mile races, but one set to begin Saturday was cancelled, quashing his dream to be in the Iditarod next year. Now he's been offered a job in Cape Cod, Mass., that he can't turn down.

    "I'm angry at the weather," he said. "But you can't do anything about the weather."


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    Smoke and flames are visible at the site of a helicopter crash in central London, as people gather to view the scene early Jan. 16, 2013. (AP Photo / Victor Jimenez, PA)

    LONDON (AP) - A helicopter crashed into a crane and fell on a crowded street in central London during rush hour Wednesday, sending black plumes of smoke into the air as it smashed to the ground. The pilot and one person on the ground were killed and 13 others injured, officials said.

    The helicopter crashed just south of the River Thames near the Underground and mainline train station at Vauxhall, and near the British spy agency MI6.

    Police said one person had critical injuries. Several people were taken to a nearby hospital with "minor injuries," London Ambulance Service said.

    The pilot, who was killed, had requested to divert and land at the nearby London Heliport.

    "We received a request from Heathrow air traffic control to accept the helicopter, which had asked to be diverted due to bad weather," the heliport said in a statement.

    "The London Heliport never gained contact with the helicopter," the statement added.

    The Ministry of Defense said it was not a military helicopter, and a British security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press said the incident was not terror-related.

    The horrific scene unfolded at the height of the morning commute when thousands of pedestrians were trying to get to work. The weather at the time was overcast and misty with fog and poor visibility, according to the weather forecasting service, the Met Office.

    Video on Sky News showed wreckage burning in a street, and black smoke in the area. The video from the crash scene showed a line of flaming fuel and debris. Witnesses said the helicopter hit a crane atop a 50-story residential building, the St. George Wharf Tower.

    "I was 100 percent sure it was a terrorist attack," said Allen Crosbie, site manager for the landscape firm Maylim Ltd., who was working at the scene.

    "There was debris everywhere, a ton of black smoke. Parts of the crane, parts of the helicopter. I heard bang, bang - I presume it was the helicopter hitting the crane and then the ground. People were just panicking."

    William Belsey, 25, a landscape worker, also said he heard the helicopter hit the crane.

    "Luckily the crane operator was late for work this morning. He picked a good day to be late," Belsey said.

    Police Commander Neil Basu said one of the dead was the pilot of the commercial helicopter, which had been flying from Redhill, south of London. No one else was thought to be aboard, Basu said; the other fatality was a person on the ground.

    British aviation authorities had issued a "notice to airmen" warning pilots about the crane, which extended to 770 feet (235 meters) above ground. The crane is lit at night, and police said investigators would look at whether the light was faulty.

    The area, roughly 10 blocks from the major Waterloo train and Underground station, is extremely congested during the morning rush hour. Many commuters arrive at the main line stations from London's southern suburbs and transfer to buses or trains there.

    Aviation expert Chris Yates said that weather may have played a role. Investigators also would look at whether the crane had navigation lights.

    "The question then becomes whether the pilot was fit," Yates said.


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    The second of two quick-moving waves of ice and snow began racing through the mid-Atlantic and New England Tuesday night.

    The first system brought relatively few problems across the region on Monday into monday night as mostly rain fell from Washington D.C into Philadelphia, New York and Boston.

    There were a few reports of sleet mixing in with the rain, and there were a couple snow flakes on the northern fringe of precipitation, but there were no major travel problems.

    The second of the two storm systems will depart Wednesday, and it will be more significant than the first in that it has the best chance of bringing a wintry accumulation, comprised of mostly snow.

    Snow had already arrived in places like Hartford and Boston early Wednesday morning.

    There have already been reports of up to 4" of snow across central Pennsylvania, and some places in western Maryland have had nearly 1/2 an inch of dangerous glaze.

    Enough snow and wintry mix will fall during the late-night and morning hours from north-central Pennsylvania to interior New England to cause slippery travel. Major highways impacted include I-80, I-81,I-84, I-87, I-88. I-90, I-91 and I-93.

    With the storm into Wednesday, a general coating to an inch accumulation of mostly snow is possible on non-paved surfaces from part of southwestern Pennsylvania and perhaps western Maryland and the high ground of northern West Virginia to part of southeastern Pennsylvania, the nearby northern and western suburbs of New York to southern Connecticut, much of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts.

    The latest version of the snow accumulation map can be found on AccuWeather.com's Winter Weather Center.

    Meteorologists call storms of this nature "flat waves of low pressure." In the right circumstances they can bring moderate to heavy precipitation. In the case this week, odds favor little or no precipitation with the first wave and light precipitation and the potential for moderate precipitation for some areas with the second wave.

    Dry air will hold on over northern Ohio to northern upstate New York and northernmost New England.

    Arctic air will overspread the Great Lakes, New England, neighboring Canada and upstate New York later in the week.

    There is a chance a third wave of low pressure rides northeastward later this week. Odds favor this system passing off the southern Atlantic Coast before reaching much of the cold air up north.

    Additional pushes of arctic air will tend to punch a bit farther to the south next week as the implications of the stratospheric warming event that occurred earlier in the month near the North Pole are realized.


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    While a large part of the West got a taste of cold weather this past weekend, one blast of arctic air will roll quickly from the southern Canada Prairies to New England later this week. Another more extensive blast may follow next week.

    Seasonably cold air was filtering from the southern Plains to the Northeast during the first part of this week.

    Temperatures plunged below zero over part of the northern Plains this weekend, after experiencing high temperatures in the neighborhood of 40 degrees late last week.

    After temperatures peaked in the 50s Saturday morning around Chicago, freezing rain was falling by late in the evening. Temperatures bottomed out into the single digits and teens in northern Illinois Monday morning.

    Additional pushes of arctic air forecast to come to the Plains and Northeast are part of the result of sudden warming that took place high in the atmosphere (the stratosphere) earlier in the month near the North Pole.

    The warming causes weather systems to shift around in the lower part of the atmosphere in the polar region and drive frigid air farther south. Sometimes these frigid air masses reach the mid-latitudes.

    An arctic air mass later this week is moving too quickly to deliver below-zero daytime highs over northern New England, but after mild conditions from this past weekend it will have some shock value.

    Temperatures could fail to rise out of the teens (Fahrenheit) in some areas of northern New England with brutal cold holding up far north in Ontario and Quebec.

    The core of this air will fail to reach much of the southern mid-Atlantic. The cold air that settled over central and southern Plains will slowly moderate this week.

    A zone of high pressure over the Atlantic Ocean will prevent or delay the cold air's arrival in much of the southeastern U.S.

    The pattern this week is producing a series of weak storms with mostly rain, but also a swath of snow and ice on their northwestern flank.

    The effect of the stratospheric warming and compensating much colder air near the surface is still evolving and will not reach its peak until late this month and on into February.


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    A man sips water near Rome's Colosseum during a heat wave on Aug. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - While the U.S. was smashing heat marks last year, the world as a whole barely slipped into the top 10 hottest years on record, two American science agencies said Tuesday.

    The global average temperature for last year would have been a record 15 years ago, an indication that what used to be unusual heat is more commonplace.

    Now it merely ranks 10th, something climate scientists shows man-made climate change in action.

    Last year's average was 58 degrees Fahrenheit, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said. That's a full degree above the 20th century average of 57 F.

    The hottest was 2010 when the average temperature was 58.2 degrees. NOAA records go back to 1880.

    "We're playing in a new neighborhood as far as global temperatures go, compared to even the late 20th century and especially the mid-20th century," said Deke Arndt, head of monitoring for NOAA's National Climatic Data Center.

    A weather pattern called La Nina - the flip side of El Nino - and mildness in Alaska, Canada, the United Kingdom and parts of Asia moderated the globe's average temperature. The Lower 48 states in the U.S. recorded its hottest year last year with an average of 55.3 F.

    "In global warming, you expect warming to manifest itself in different locations in any given year," said Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria in Canada. "This year it was America's turn to feel the brunt of global warming's growing fury."

    NASA, which measures temperatures differently, ranks 2012 as ninth warmest. It put the temperature at 58.3 F. Both agencies announced the data Tuesday.

    Some global warming skeptics have claimed the world hasn't warmed in the last 16 years, but each decade is warmer than the last. Even the first three years of this decade were warmer than the last, the two agencies said. Since 1963, NOAA said the global temperature has increased at a rate of 0.27 degrees Fahrenheit a decade.

    Top NASA climate scientist James Hansen said in the past few years there has been a temporary "apparent standstill in global temperatures" that is heavily due to more frequent cooling La Ninas. What's significant, he said, is that temperatures are rising decade by decade.

    Hansen and other scientists said the planet is warming because the world is spewing ever rising amounts of greenhouse gases - mostly carbon dioxide. Those heat-trapping gases are from the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas.

    The La Nina pattern, which generally cools the ocean globally, happens every few years and was in play for much of 2011 and the early part of 2012. Yet both years were the hottest La Nina years on record and that shows the underlying global warming at work, said climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf of the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

    The last time the world had a cooler than average year was 1976, according to NOAA. That means more than half the people on Earth haven't lived during a cooler than normal year for the globe.

    Three groups keep track of global surface temperatures with records that go back more than a century: NOAA, NASA and the British meteorology office. The British records for 2012 aren't finished yet, but are hovering around ninth warmest on record, said monitoring chief David Parker.

    NASA and NOAA calculations differ mostly in the polar areas, where there are far less measurements.

    A fourth group out of the University of Alabama at Huntsville looks at temperatures measured by satellites and only goes back to 1979, but is preferred by climate skeptics. That measurement ranked 2012 as the ninth warmest on record and notes that 11 of the 12 hottest years in their dataset have occurred since 2001.


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    In mid-October 2011, NASA scientists working in Antarctica discovered a massive crack across the Pine Island Glacier, a major ice stream that drains the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. (NASA)

    By: Becky Oskin, OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer

    Like a plug in a leaky dam, little Pine Island Glacier holds back part of the massive West Antarctic Ice Sheet, whose thinning ice is contributing to sea level rise.

    In recent decades, Pine Island Glacier's rapid retreat raised fears that the glacier could "collapse," freeing the ice sheet it buffers to flow even more rapidly into the southern seas. The West Antarctic Ice contributes 0.15 to 0.30 millimeters per year to sea level rise.

    The big question is whether the hasty retreat is a recent change, caused by climate change, or a more long-term phenomenon.

    "We need to know if what we observe today is something that started perhaps at the end of the last Ice Age or something that started in more recent times," said Claus-Dieter Hillenbrand, a marine geologist with the British Antarctic Survey.

    Pine Island Glacier's small ice shelf, a platform of ice floating on the ocean's surface, acts as a plug, holding the rest of the ice stream in place on land. As warm ocean currents melt the ice shelf from below, inland glaciers flow down to the coast and feed the thinning ice shelf. Changes to Antarctic wind currents, driven by global warming, have pushed relatively warmer ocean waters beneath the ice shelves.

    In the past 20 years, Pine Island Glacier's grounding line, the location where the glacier leaves bedrock and meets the ocean, has retreated at a rate of more than 1 kilometer a year. The glacier itself has thinned at a rate of 5 feet a year since the 1990s, and its flow rate has accelerated by 30 percent in the past 10 years.

    Pine Island Glacier only stretches 45 miles across where it meets the ocean, but it drains an area of 62,665 square miles.

    To determine why Pine Island Glacier and its nearby cousin, Thwaites Glacier, are changing so rapidly, the British Antarctic Survey looked to the past. They studied sediments from Pine Island Bay, where the ice shelves stick tongues into the ocean.

    Microfossils in mud retrieved by ocean drilling aboard a research ship pinpoint when and were ice covered the bay. This is because the microscopic marine life is only present if the ice shelf is absent. Radiocarbon dating of the fossils gave researchers a 10,000-year history of the past location of the ice.

    "For the first time, we can put these modern observations of fast grounding-line retreat in a long-term context," Hillenbrand told OurAmazingPlanet.

    "We can show that the present grounding-line retreat is really exceptional over a longer time scale, over the last 10,000 years," he said. "In the previous 10,000 years, the grounding line retreated by just about 56 miles, but in the last 20 years, it retreated by 15 miles."

    The results appear in the January 2013 issue of the journal Geology.

    Hillenbrand and his colleagues also discovered there could have been three or four episodes of rapid retreat in the past 10,000 years, but these were short-lived, lasting just 25 to 30 years. Researchers found no evidence the glaciers had advanced in the past 10,000 years.

    "Some say the fast grounding-line retreat will stop in a few years, others in a few decades. Others say that this retreat will actually continue and may lead to the complete collapse of the Pine Island Glacier drainage system," Hillenbrand said. "What we know is that, on the basis of this data, the current retreat is unprecedented."

    As Pine Island Glacier retreats, it drops huge icebergs. In 2011, NASA's Operation IceBridge discovered a giant crack crossing the ice shelf. (The IceBridge expedition tracks yearly changes in the Antarctic ice.) The fissure, about 20 to 25 km inland from the edge of the ice shelf, could birth an iceberg the size of New York City.

    IceBridge scientists say the calving is part of the natural process by which glaciers flow to the sea. The last calving event (the sudden release of ice) let loose in an iceberg that measured 26 by 11 miles in 2001. The Pine Island Glacier seems to generate big bergs on a decade-long cycle, scientist say. [Photo Album: Antarctica, Iceberg Maker]

    The British team now plans to investigate what's driving the thinning of the glaciers in Pine Island Bay. "We're pretty sure the most important driver is warm ocean water, but this is still an open question," Hillenbrand said.

    "Now that we have this retreat history, we can study the past dynamic behavior of these glaciers, so we can predict better the future behavior of these ice streams and their contribution to future sea level rise."

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

    Video: Antarctic Glacier's Huge Crack Expands
    Gallery: Dazzling Images from Operation IceBridge
    Antarctica: 100 Years of Exploration (Infographic)

    Copyright 2013 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 10 U.S. Cities Most at Risk from Rising Sea Levels


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